Beyond and Within

beyond and within hdr

Beyond and Within. What’s it all about? I don’t know…you tell me. Anyway, this one is dedicated to my little Sara, and all the little Saras out there – watching and waiting, for a friend to play with.

(2/22/20) Look for fragments of something new within a few weeks. Sorry for the silence, but medical issues have been out of control for a while.


Beyond and Within

He was lost to the fire, in a dance above the embers. In that glow – pulsing red tinged with black and white – feeding ascent, always to the stars, force always dissipating. Always beyond. Always within.

A snapping sound in the glow, mind pulled from trance, and he watches sparks lift in the twilight, climbing towards fronds leaning on errant currents. He saw them then. The girl – no, she was a woman now – and the little dog. He met both so long ago. Impossible, he knew, the fragments of that other king that remained. Such a story. So many sudden turns.

His eyes followed another floating ember until it disappeared high among the early stars.

“What was it like then, Grandfather?”

“Hmm? Oh, our mother was a much smaller place in those days. People from the far side came to swim in the sea for a few days, they came in vast machines. We could not sail so far in a lifetime. But things change.”

“So? Is change so important?”

He closed his eyes to the thought. “Mother is large again, as she must be. That is what must be, what is important.”

“As she must be, Grandfather?”

“It is a question of balance. Nothing is as it should be when life is out of balance.” He turned and looked at the girl and the dog sitting on the point above the rocks, watching that same place in the sea.

“Are they out of balance, Grandfather?”

He turned and looked at his children’s children, and he could see that they had followed his eyes. They too were staring at the girl and the dog.

“I did not see the signs – until it was too late. But in the beginning, all was as it should be. As I thought it should be. We were so far apart, and yet so close. He studied ways to move around the mother, and so did I. That is how we became friends.” He turned his face to the dome of the night and listened to a star for the longest time. “Yes,” he sighed a moment later, “I should have listened to you. But, you see, I had forgotten how.”


On another night years before he turned to face the night sky and studied patterns caught within the fabric of time; sometime later he turned and studied the surface of the sea for signs he had memorized when he was very young. Signs that were echoes of stories his father had told him, stories of currents and wind patterns, stories of what had been, and, sometimes, stories about the music of things to come – about the music of the stars. What seemed like hours later, at least to the men rowing that night, he turned his face ever so slightly and closed his eyes, and with his face just into the wind he saw the scent of blooming flowers and fresh rain borne on a freshening breeze.

He pointed to a star low on the horizon and one of the men adjusted their course; moments later the great sailing canoe turned ever-so-slightly, tracking true on the new course. He looked at the star once again, listened to the music that had crossed the gulf of memory and he nodded, acknowledged the blessing.

His name was King – because his name reflected his place among the people, and King was sailing now, visiting his many islands before the season of storms. He looked at the star until the point of light was lost behind the line that divided the earth from the sky, then he looked down at his wife – still lost in the fever sleep. There was nothing he could do now but wait for the music, so he turned his face to the ringed one and opened his arms, waiting at the edge of the world for the first chord… 


“American two-two-tango, turn right to one-three-three degrees, descend and maintain one-nine-hundred and report passing NITER; expect a straight-in one-three left, contact Love tower one-two-three-decimal-seven and good-night.”

“Center, two-two tango to one-three-three and nineteen hundred, one-two-three-seven.”

He turned and looked at the FO candidate in the right seat and tried not to shake his head. An FAA examiner was sitting behind the rookie – writing down every mistake the kid made – and he knew, just by listening to the pen grating across the paper, this would be a report for the record books.

The kid’s father was a board member and had somehow gotten this boy into a transition class, and yet already the word was the kid had blown every sim-check but one. He shouldn’t even be on this ride, he thought as he shook his head. Had things really grown so warped? Could money indeed buy anything?

Lining up for runway 13L at Dallas Love Field, all the kid had to do was hold 133º and nineteen hundred feet and he’d be golden. The examiner would check to see if the kid could hold their altitude at plus-or-minus fifty feet and a heading within two degrees, yet already to kid had blown the limits and was three hundred feet below their assigned altitude.

“Captain?” the examiner asked.

He sighed. “My airplane,” Captain Denton King said, taking the yoke in his left hand and putting his right on the throttles.

“No,” the kid said, contradicting his captain and breaking one of the biggest safety rules in a commercial cockpit, “I’ve got it.”

“Stewart – ?” King said, his voice now sudden, deep growl. “Get off my flight deck. Right – now.”

The kid seemed to shake when he caught the tone behind this captain’s words, and he nervously shook off his harness and scrambled out of cockpit door. 

Without saying a word, the FAA examiner slipped into the first officer’s seat and buckled in. “Your airplane, Captain. I’ll handle the checklist.”

“Thanks, Ben.”

“That pecker-head is even worse than the scuttlebutt. He’s got no business being in an airplane.”

“Yeah, and he’ll be right back up here next month – at least until someone passes him, anyway. You wanna call us in?”

“Got it,” the examiner said, putting on his headset. “Love tower, two-two-tango passing NITER.”

“Two-two-tango, roger, wind now out of the north at one-seven, gusts to two-three knots. Thunderstorm now three miles north of the airport.”

“Two-two, we have the lights.”

“Understood. Clear to land one-three left.”

A bolt of lightning arced across the sky, seemingly between their 757 and the threshold, and then the bottom fell out. “Uh, a little wind-shear,” the examiner said, his voice steely calm.

“Got it,” King said. They’d lost another three hundred feet in a heartbeat and now the old Boeing 757 was just a few hundred feet above some apartments buildings. He watched the rate of climb indicator register positive and he eased off the throttle a little, at least until he was back on track to intercept the glide-slope, then he shrugged his shoulders, eased the tension in the small of his back. More lightning, one arc hitting Bachman Lake, and the runway lights flickered once – then lights all over the airport blinked out.

“Uh, two-two-tango, I think we’re going around now.”

“Two-two, missed approach approved, turn right to one-eight-zero passing one thousand, contact Center one-two-five-two.”

“One-eighty at one and one-two-five-two,” King said as one of the other instructors came into the cockpit.

“Real vomit-comet back there, Cap. What’s up?”

“Just lost power at Love.”

“Was that wind shear, or what? How much did we lose?”

“Three hundred and a little bit.”

“Ouch. Glad Stewart was off the stick.”

King thought about that for a moment then got his ass back in the cockpit and worked the new approach into KDFW that they picked-up from Dallas Center. Still, the thought was out there waiting for him, and driving home on LBJ an hour later it was all he could do to get the kid’s mistakes out of his mind – and the inrushing memory of all those apartment buildings just below. Stewart had already lost almost 300 feet when ordered off the flight deck, but what if he’d let the kid figure it out for another few seconds? What if the examiner hadn’t chimed-in when he had? At the very least they’d have burned some shingles off those apartments, but he couldn’t bring himself to think about the other likely outcome.

He turned south on Central and got off on Mockingbird – and made it home in time to see Sharon and Jennifer load-up and head off to school. After he kissed them both he watched them drive away, and after he closed the door to the house he peeled off his uniform and went straight to the shower, tried to wash all the lingering uncertainties out of his mind – yet in the hot mist the vision returned. All those rooftops down there in the night, all the people sleeping, dreaming, every one of those souls oblivious to the little drama playing out just over their heads. 

The line between life and death was often razor thin, but this night had been a little too tricky. How many times, he wondered, had he cheated death. How many more times could he get away with it? When would the bill come due?

He let the hot spray beat down on his neck and shoulders long enough for the water to cool a little, then he turned off the tap and toweled himself dry, put on his pajamas and went to his office to check email before grabbing the officially mandated eight hours. Nothing, not even the usual junk mail – then he realized this was Saturday and even the spammers took weekends off. But no, Sharon and Jenn had just left for school – so it was Friday…? He shook his head but knew he was too tired to think about anything else. Bed was calling now…

He had just slipped under the sheets when he felt sleep running through the dark, then a giant hand pushing the 757 down towards inrushing rooftops just below…he looked to his right, to the FOs seat, saw Stewart sitting there – grinning maniacally as the rooftops reached up for them…like the very earth was reaching up to swat them out of the sky – like an impudent fly.

Then he heard warning bells and distant impacts, noises that did not belong in his cockpit and his eyes opened. He still heard the bells – no, the doorbell – and it was ringing insistently. His eyes felt like burning gravel as he sat up and reached for his bathrobe, then he staggered for the entryway. By the time he got to the double-doors he could see two cops out on the walkway, one with an aluminum clipboard in hand. He rubbed his eyes as he opened the door…


“Sorry, sir,” one of the cops said. She had her clipboard in hand now, a pen poised to write. “May we come inside?”

He shook the cobwebs from his mind as he looked at the girl, then he stepped aside and opened the door. “Please. Could I get you some coffee?”

The policewoman was older, and he thought the other cop with her looked impossibly young, almost a teenager.

“Thanks, no,” the girl said.

“You’ll excuse me,” he said, “but I didn’t get in from work until almost eight this morning and I’m still a little beat. I’ll be right back. There’s bottled water in the fridge,” he added, pointing somewhere towards the kitchen. “Please, help yourself.”

He walked to the head and relieved himself, threw on some cargo shorts and sneakers, then a clean t-shirt before heading back to the living room. Both of the cops were still standing at the door, waiting stoically, if a little impatiently…

“Sorry ‘bout that,” King said.

“No problem, sir. Is a Sharon King your wife?”


“And are you the owner of a 2021 Volvo e90 wagon, silver in color?”

“Yes? What’s wrong? Has something happened…?

“I’m sorry to tell you, sir, but another vehicle hit the car she was driving this morning. Your wife was killed in the collision, sir, and…”

He felt her words, saw the rooftops reaching up through the night – clawing into the sunlight for him once again. “I’m sorry? What did you say?”

“Sir, is there someone I can call? Someone to be with you right now?”

“Was she alone?”


“Was there anyone in the car with her?”

“Oh yes, sorry. A young girl, and she’s reportedly stable and on her way to Baylor.” She looked at the man, at the calm professionalism etched on his features and she wondered what he did for a living as she watched him pull a cell phone from his shorts and dial a number.

“Dad? Look, it’s Sharon – she’s been in an accident of some sort and they’re taking Jenn to Baylor. Yes…I think so; look, I know it’s early but could you come over? I just got in and I’m in no condition to drive. Yeah Dad, thanks.” He flipped off the phone and turned to the cop with the clipboard. “You say she was hit by another…”

“Actually, sir, it was a dump truck. Ran a stop sign, hit the driver’s door broadside at a fairly high rate of speed. Looks like airbags saved your daughter from the worst of it.” She watched her words penetrate the fog this time, looked at his shaking hands and knew the dam was about to break. She put her clipboard down and moved to him, took him in her arms as the tears started, and by the time she had cupped his head to her shoulder he was almost out of control, sobbing as he realized his world had just come undone.

His eyes were closed tight, the flames of burning wreckage all around him, the apartment buildings on fire as tons of jet fuel cooked-off several wood-framed buildings. “Oh God,” he cried. “Not again!”

The girl held him, not really sure what had happened in that moment – only that this fellow human being’s need was real, and she felt she could meet that need. “Are you all right,” she whispered a moment later, and she felt him stiffen as resolve and control reasserted and pushed aside that other layer of feeling. Another gulf of infinite space passed and he finally pulled away. 

“When you’re ready, we need to ask you a few questions,” the patrolwoman stated, calmly reasserting another layer between herself and this sudden stranger. He walked to the kitchen and she followed, watched as he popped a pod into a coffee-maker on the granite counter and started a brew.

“Sure I can’t make you something?”

“Have any decaf?”

“I think we have half-caff. Will that do?”


“What about you?” King asked the other officer – the one that looked about thirteen.

“Water, sir – if you have any handy?”

“Bottles in the ‘fridge, or grab a glass and help yourself. Ice and water dispenser in the door, glasses in the cabinet,” he added, pointing in the vicinity of the refrigerator. When he finished her coffee he walked to the living room and sat down heavily, rubbed his eyes once. “You said Baylor? They’re taking my girl to Baylor?”


“Could you tell what kind of injuries she has?”

“No, sir…I’m not qualified, but she was sitting up and talking the last time I saw her.”

He nodded his head, rubbed the bridge of his nose. “You have some questions for me?”

“Yessir. When did you see your wife last?”

“As I was coming in this morning?”


“Training flight, all night.”

“Training? Who?” the young officer asked.

“I was the senior captain on a training flight last night. We take off from DFW with a half dozen first officer candidates, a couple of captains up for a recurrent check-ride, and we cycle back and forth between Houston-Hobby and Love Field, let each pilot make one take-off or landing.”

“Really?” the patrolman said, now clearly interested. “Who do you fly for?”


“What type…”

“Look, if you want to talk about this stuff some time, call me and come over. Right now I need to grab a shower and put on some clothes…”

The doorbell chimed and he went to the front door, then walked off to his bedroom, leaving a wizened old man at the door – staring at the two cops. “What’s happened?” Bennett King demanded, and the two cops snapped-to when they recognized the old man’s face, and that voice.

Pushed by the unseen hand of protective obedience, the patrolwoman came to the old man and told him everything she knew.


King stood before the towering flames and watched his wife’s wreathed form disappear within tendrils of crackling black smoke; in time he watched embers pulse and fade, and as one last orange spark left her body – beginning their journey to the stars – he stood and watched the glowing orb ascend past the known…and on – to what? The unknowable? 

He remained with his people – as cold and quiet as stone – through the night, yet when the great star came and chased away the night everyone saw that King too had gone. Had he journeyed to the stars – again – and would he return this time?

His people stood around their morning fire, watched the night’s last embers fade in the coming of day, and they looked for comfort in the afterglow – but they were afraid now – afraid of the stars, and what waited beyond. Where was he, they wondered?


When he and his father made it up to surgery they learned Jennifer had a ruptured spleen and other, suspected, internal bleeding, but that “the best surgeons in Dallas were working on her.” It would be, a candy-striped volunteer told them, a few more hours before word came down from the O-R, but they were welcome to wait here or in the well-stocked cafeteria… 

The policewoman and her rookie showed up a half hour later and she produced a photo of Sharon – taken at the Medical Examiner’s basement facility over at UT Southwestern-Parkland – and she asked him to identify the body.

He had looked at the image, a quick, evasive, sidelong glance and then he turned away quickly – somehow nodding his head while trying not to fall down. Her beautiful face looked purple and contused in the greenish light, the left side of her skull was grossly deformed, but yes, it was Sharon. The same girl he’d met on a flight to Amsterdam once upon a time…now more than fifteen years ago. 

He turned away from this cops portion of reality and drifted back to that night. The captain asking him to make a round through the cabin, a “meet and greet” to calm passengers after a little rough air off St Johns. Sharon had been sitting alone, was obviously terrified of flying, and when she looked up, saw his uniform she had almost burst out in tears. He knelt beside her in the aisle and talked with her, and later the next day he met her at her hotel and they talked some more. Within a week he loved her and knew his life would never be the same.

And now, looking around the corridor outside of Surgery he knew that was irrevocably true.

His daughter, fighting for her life. Sharon, on a cold stainless steel table just a few miles away, her remains now a broken, misshapen shell. Suddenly it was impossible to reconcile the various images in his mind – then he saw Sharon looking up at him through a veil of tears, asking…“What happened to us? Why am I here?” 

‘I’m sorry, babe. There’s nothing left of us now but the memories,’ he whispered, and her bruised face nodded.

“If there’s anything I can do to help,” the policewoman said, her voice softly sincere as she handed a card to him, “please call me.”

He looked up at the girl and nodded as he fumbled her card into a pocket. “Thanks. Thanks for, you know, being there.”

She nodded, then turned abruptly and walked away. And he was surprised to see tears in her eyes – and that the image of those tears remained with him for hours.

Were all women, he wondered, destined to cry after they met him?

“Her spinal cord is intact,” Jennifer’s surgeon advised when he finally came out the double doors, “though we found some swelling around the third cervical vertebre. Internal bleeding appears to be under control…” and they heard that Jennifer’s prospects were guarded – but good. He tried to listen to the surgeon after that, but waves of relief surged over him and he knew he was drifting off. When the physician went back inside the double doors he walked to a window and looked at the setting sun, then at his watch. He and his father had been in the same squalid waiting room for almost ten hours, and that meant Jenn had been under at least that long. Something wasn’t right. Her injuries were worse than the surgeon was letting on.

He was aware his father was beside him and he turned and looked at his old man.

“It’s tough, son, but she’ll get through it. So will you.”

He nodded.

“After all you’ve been through,” his father added, his old voice now a whisper as he rubbed his eyes.

He put his arm around his father’s shoulder and held him close.


She was sifting through the dead woman’s effects at the station when she came across the letter. From someone professing eternal love. Someone obviously not her husband. She held the paper in her hands and looked at the handwriting – very feminine, and very strong. She looked at the envelope, and at the return address, and she frowned. 

She decided to visit the address after she finished-up the days supplemental reports. There were no felonious crimes involved involved in the accident, so the woman’s effects would soon be returned to her husband. And, obviously, he would find the letter, then doubts and questions would forever cloud his memory of the woman – the wife he thought he knew.

And so she wondered. Should she? Should she destroy the letter?

She decided to talk to the woman first.


He leaned over his daughter, looked down at her groggy smile, at the hope and fear and confusion he saw in her eyes. 

‘But isn’t that just what I feel?’ he asked himself as he looked into his daughter’s eyes. ‘So much like Sharon’s,’ he thought, ‘but kind of like me, too. Confused – ’

“What happened?” she asked as she came out of the ether.

“You were in an accident, honey. On the way to school.”

“Where am I?”

“Baylor. You’ve been in surgery and your head is immobilized now, so don’t panic if you feel closed in. I’m right here, and so is Pa-Pa.”

“Your father’s here?” Jennifer asked, her voice now unsteady.

He smiled. “Yeah, I broke down and called the old goat. Sorry to disillusion you.”

And she had smiled then. “I’ve been hoping you two would kiss and make-up one day,” she added, smiling a little more now. “Where’s Mom?”

He took her hands and looked his daughter in the eye, then simply shook his head.

“Oh,” Jenn said, and that was that.

He squeezed her hand as gently as he dared but there was no response and he wondered if she could feel him – yet he was afraid to ask. “I haven’t had a chance to think about it much,” he whispered.

“I remember you leaving last night,” she said, trying to brighten things up – like she always did. “A training flight, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“How’d it go?”

“Not bad. Did you hear the thunderstorms?”

“Yeah, big winds, then some hail. Were you in that stuff?”

“Almost. We managed to run away in time.”

She looked at him now, looked deeply into his eyes. “Was it bad?”

“A little,” he said, thinking of the inrushing apartment again, then the flames and burning people came by for another visit. It was always the same, and he knew she knew all about it. Of all the people in the world, he wondered, his fourteen year old daughter knew him best of all. As Sharon had grown more cool and distant over the last year, Jenn had stepped in and filled the emotional void.

“Am I going to be okay, Daddy?”

The words tore through him like gales of doubt, and he shrugged as he looked into her eyes. “From what they’ve told me so far, yes. But a lot depends on how well the surgery went.”

“I can’t feel your hands,” she whispered as she looked away. “Daddy…I’m so scared.”

“I am too, Honey. I am too.” He wiped away her tears as she fell asleep again, and this time he got up and walked out to talk with his father.

“Well?” his old man said, his eyes burning now.

He shrugged. “She couldn’t feel my hands.”

“Damn. What did the doc say? Two to three days ‘til we know for sure? If the swelling goes down?”

He nodded. “Let me take you out, buy you a steak and some whiskey.”

“You sure you can stand to be around me that long?”

“I’m not sure I can stand to not be with you any more, Dad. I need you, and I know Jenny does too.”

His old man nodded and he watched as his father wiped away a tear. “That sounds good to me, son.”

He put his arms around his father’s shoulder and they walked down to the elevators.


The door opened and a woman stood there. Attractive, controlling, almost domineering. She knew the type…all too well.

“Yes?” the woman said, looking at the policewoman – and at the clipboard under her arm.

“Is your name Goldstein?”

“Yes? What’s going on? Is something wrong?”

“May I come in, Ma’am. This is something personal, and private.”

“Yes, of course,” Goldstein said while holding the door open, and she stepped into the living room, looking around the ornately decorated room as she did. Tasteful, almost elegant décor. A few framed photos on a bookcase, a diploma on the wall over a little writing desk. University of Texas, Austin, a B.S. in sociology twenty years ago.

“What’s this about?” Goldstein asked, then her eyes went wide when she saw the letter on the cop’s clipboard. “Where’d you get that?”

“From Sharon King’s purse.”

“What’s happened?”

“An accident. She was killed earlier today.”

Not a blink, not one tear, just the shallowest layer of recognition before cold, hard denial set-in.

“Denton? How is he? Does he know yet?”

“Yes. He’s at the hospital.”

“The hospital?”

“His daughter, Jennifer. She was injured.”

And that caused the woman to come apart at the seams. She sat, buried her face in her hands and started crying. 

And after that first unravelling they talked. For a long, long time.


“You seem distracted, Denny. What is it? What else is happening?”

“The dreams again.”

“What? From that accident?”


“It’s been, what? Two years?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Close enough.”

“Are you seeing someone?”

“Yup. The flight surgeon hooked me up with a counselor over at Southwestern. She teaches grief counseling, if you can imagine that.” He paused, looked up at the ceiling. “I wonder, Dad. What kind of society have we become that we need so many grief counselors?”

“We probably always did, son. There just wasn’t anyone like that waiting in the wings.” His old man chuckled as he looked down at his hands. “We’re not where we thought we’d end up, are we?” He was trying to smile now, but the look in his son’s eyes was troubling. He’d never seen so much uncertainty in his boy before, and to find it now, when he needed to believe in himself most – if not for his own sake, then for his daughter’s? “What are you going to do now?”

“I’ve got to get Sharon’s family down here for some kind of service…”

“They’re the religious ones, right?”


“Still broke, I take it? Wallowing around in their superstitions, living on the edge of yesterday? On the outside, looking in? Isn’t that the way her father put it…?”

“They worked hard to get Sharon to school, Dad. They’re not bad people.”

“I suppose. They’ll want a full service, no doubt.”

“Yeah. You know, Sharon and I took care of that a few years ago. Everything is all set; I called the funeral home a few hours ago…”

“And you called her family, too? Where do they live now?”

“Kentucky. Near Frankfurt.”

“Hillbillies. How’d you get involved with a bunch of hillbillies?”

“You never got to know Sharon’s people they way I did, Dad.”

“Oh, she was a sweet gal, sure enough…I’m just not sure about those mountain people.” The old man took a long, deep breath, then let it slip out slowly. “Geezus, it’s hard to talk about her like that, in the past tense already.”

He looked away, didn’t quite know how to respond to words so inward looking, but his father had always been somewhat callous, almost a narcissist. But, he knew, most politicians were, especially the successful ones – the ones just like his father. “When do you go back to Washington,” he asked, though he already knew the answer.

“Hmm? Oh, the next session starts in another week, but I’m supposed to go to Dubai the day after tomorrow.”


“I’m trying to broker a deal with the Saudis – that Yemen shit.”

“Waste of time, Dad. Those people live to die, worse than samurai culture.”

“Too much invested to walk away now, son. We can’t, so we won’t.”

“They keep buying our funny money, isn’t that what you mean?”

“Something like that, yes.”

“What was that the kids on campus used to rally ‘round? No more blood for oil?”

“When was that?”

“‘91, during Desert Shield. Not much has changed since, has it?”

“Too much money in the chase, son. Musical chairs. No one wants to be the last man standing.”

“You want to come to the service?”

“No, but I will if you want me to.”

He looked at his father, at the implacable foe that had chased his generation from the start. If his father’s generation had been consumed with getting out from under the Greatest Generation’s shadow, his generation would be cleaning up their mess. And now, even now, there was no duty to family in this man – unless someone happened to be filming a campaign spot, when suddenly family values shot back into the spotlight. He shook his head, looked away, then stood and held out his right hand.

“Always nice seeing you, Bennett.”

But he turned away before his father could react, and he walked from the restaurant and into the night.


She walked out of Goldstein’s home and down to her squad car, checked-in with dispatch and drove back to Central where she finished her last report. A few minutes later she walked out to her personal car and got in, checked her watch and pulled out her cellphone. She thought it over then dialed his number.

“King,” said the voice on the other end of the connection.

“It’s Officer Green, from this morning.”

“Oh, yes. What can I do for you?”

“I need to talk with you. Tonight, if possible.”

“I’m sitting on the patio right now; just come around the side and let yourself in the gate.”

“Thank you, sir.”

On the patio…now? She looked at her watch and shook her head.

She drove up Central to Mockingbird and then took the backstreets to his house and parked on the street a few houses away, then walked to the side gate and let herself in. He was sitting by the pool on a dark slate terrace, looking down into the black water.

And he must have heard her because as she drew near he began speaking.

“Have you ever wondered what its like down there?” he asked, his head nodding towards the water.

She stopped and looked into the pool, and only then noticed the walls and floor of the pool were finished in deep slate-colored tile, even the grout, and so the effect was like looking into a grotto at midnight.

“Wondered what – about?” she thought – aloud.

“What it must be like to live down there, in the sea?”

She walked up to him and waited for the moment to pass.

“You’re off duty, I take it?”


“I see. Scotch and water?”

“Scotch, neat.”

“Good girl.”

She smiled – because in a way he reminded her of her grandfather, and she watched him disappear into the house. He came out a minute later carrying two glasses, and he put hers down on a little glass-topped table between two wicker patio chairs. “Have a seat. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

She sat, picked up the drink and took a long pull, then set the glass down. 

“Doris Goldstein.”

She was watching him as she said those two words, but he didn’t flinch – or even blink an eye.

“And…?” he asked.

“What do you know about her?”

“She works with my wife, as a guidance counselor for the school district.”

“Anything else?”

“Oh, only that she and my wife have been lovers for a while.”

“And you know about that how?”

“How? Oh, a million little things. You put all the pieces together and you just know. What’s this got to do with…”

“I found a letter in your wife’s purse. I didn’t know what to do with it?”

“I see.”

“How’s your daughter?”

“They tell me its even money right now, and to top it all off she’ll be on antibiotics for the rest of her life – until those stop working, anyway.”

“And, if you don’t mind me asking, how are you?”

“Me? I’m peachy.”

“So, you’re Senator King’s son? What’s that like?”


“I take it you don’t like peaches?”

He laughed at that, then looked up at the cop. “Why are you here?”

“Because I didn’t want you to be alone tonight.”

He nodded, tried not to smile then shook his head. “And, I wonder, why is that?”

“Do you want to talk?”

“About what? Twisted Swedish metal or my wife, now in a refrigerated box at the morgue?”

“About what comes next.”

“Oh? What comes next?”

“That girl, for one. Doris Goldstein too, I guess.”

“My wife’s lover? Really? She comes next?”

“She’s devastated. And she still loves you.”

“You talked with her tonight, I assume?”

“Long enough to know what her feelings are, or were, about you?”

“The ghost of Christmases Past, eh? So, she told you we had an affair?”

“Not the details, but…yes.”

“Jesus. And let me guess. That’s why she homed-in on Sharon.”

“Seduced was the word she used.”

“To get back at me?”

“She seemed to think so, at least tonight she did.”

“You know, once upon a time I thought about joining the Jesuits. Think I made a big fucking mistake on that one.”

“I doubt your daughter would agree with that.”

“How’s your drink holding up?”

“Fine. Did they chase you off the floor?”

“Yup. Told me they’d call if there was any change and to go home, try to get some sleep.”

“And then I called.”

“And I couldn’t sleep anyway, so glad to have the company. You have to go in tomorrow?”

“Three days off, then I’m on reassignment. Teaching at the academy.”

“Oh? What do you teach?”

“Penal Code 101.”

“Sounds thrilling.”

“So, you’re involved with training now?”

“Kind of involuntarily, but yes.”


“I was involved in a crash a few years ago. Nightmares ever since, unless I sleep during the day.”

“What happened?”

“The shit hit the fan. Outside of Hartford, Connecticut, a few years ago.”

“Windsor Locks? That one?”


“I thought they called you a hero after that.”

He shrugged. “Doesn’t make the memory any less intense, I guess.”

“So…do you like training new pilots?”

“No, not really.”

“You want to go back to flying a schedule?”

She saw him look up at the sky and she looked up too, perhaps involuntarily – and she wondered: what did he see up there? What must it feel like to live, and work, up there…?

“Never see the stars anymore – at least not from the city, ya know? I hear it’s called light pollution. Like we’ve fucked up everything else on this planet, so why not fuck up the stars, too.”

“They’re still up there, or so I hear.”

“Not here, they’re not.”

“Is it so important?”

“Maybe, but whatever else you might say about all this,” he said, spreading his arms wide, “we’ve lost our since of magic, or maybe our sense of wonder. All that’s left is entertainment, and social-fucking-media.”

“So, why flying? I mean, why not the family business?”


“It’s an honorable profession…”

“No, it’s not. Maybe it used to be, but those days are long gone.”

“You mean there are no more honorable men?”

“There’s too much money in it these days, and now, to put things in perspective, you don’t serve the common good. And cops…you serve the interests of your puppeteers, somewhere off in the shadows.”

She almost laughed. “Oh, is that what I do…?” She paused, looked at him still looking up at the sky. “Is that what I was doing this morning?”

“Sure. It serves the puppeteers’ interests to preserve the appearance of normalcy. Of security. The puppets have to be happy in order to keep the whole show running, because without the system the puppeteers are nothing but shadows on the back of a cave wall.”

“You sound like someone right out of the sixties.”

“No such luck. I was born the day Kennedy was killed…”

“Which one?”

“You mean…you know the difference? I am amazed.”

She laughed. “I got my degree in U.S. History.”

“An educated cop. Now ladies and gentlemen, there’s an oxymoron just for you – behind curtain number three.”

“So, you hate cops too?”

“I hate what cops have become.”

“That’s an awful lot of hate you’re carrying around inside,” she said.

“Yeah. Ain’t it the awful truth,” he said, trying an awful lot to sound just like Cary Grant.

“What was that all about?”


“The voice, the accent.”

“A Cary Grant movie, from the thirties.”


“I like the popular perception of moral certainty in those films. United by the depression, all of us working for the common good.”

“Except that wasn’t how it was. Not really. Films were usually stories of the jolly escapades of the ultra-rich…”

“Ever see Sullivan’s Travels?”


“You should. Might shatter a few misconceptions.”

“The thirties weren’t all about…”

“Oh…I know. There have always been puppeteers. There always will be.”

“When we got here this morning…when you first came to the door…you were sweating and looked anxious. What was going on?”

He looked down at his hands for a moment, then turned and looked at her. “I don’t know you well enough for that one, kiddo.”

“Try me.”

He shook his head. “Maybe some other time…”

His cell phone chirped and he picked it up… 


He listened, but he was up and running for the garage even as he listened, and she got up and ran after him. As he approached his car he paused and turned to her: “You’d better drive. Keys are in the ignition.”

She nodded without comment and got behind the wheel; while she adjusted the seat and mirrors he opened the overhead door and she looked at him, thought about the number of men she knew who might so openly trust a stranger – let alone a woman – and she wondered about this man once again. He was so self-aware, yet not self-possessed, yet the idea this came from flying never entered her mind.

“I assume you know the quickest way there,” he sighed – and she noted no tension in his voice, just a calm “let’s work the problem” way of talking she found utterly unnerving. ‘If this was my daughter,’ she thought, ‘I’d be coming apart at the seams…’

She stuck to surface streets and made her way to Gaston Avenue, dropped him at the main entrance and drove off to park his car – and only then did she notice the time – after three in the morning…

Then she realized she’d had nothing to eat or drink but half a shot of Scotch – how many hours ago? – and she rummaged in her uniform pocket until she found a roll of antacids and popped two, chewing the chalking crud and swallowing hard as she walked over to the main entrance. Half expecting King to be on his way to his daughter’s room she was surprised to find him at the main information desk, eyes hooded and red, the volunteer behind the desk looking more concerned than apologetic.

“What’s happened?” she said as the pieces began falling into place.

“She never woke up,” he said. “An aneurysm of some sort. Undetected. Massive. She’s gone.”

His was a robot-like demeanor now, even the motions of his arms and face while he talked seemed mechanically contrived, almost ritualized, and the old man behind the counter motioned to her, ‘asked’ her to come close with a nod of his head.

“I’ve called someone down to talk to him,” the old man whispered conspiratorially. “Shouldn’t be long.”

She nodded, smiled, then turned back and looked at King. He had gone rigid, was staring at an unseen spot somewhere beyond the floor, and the only movement she saw was a line of muscle twitching from his temple to his jaw, and when she stepped closer still she watched his carotids pulsing in his neck. She counted the hammer blows – 120, maybe 130 – and she saw a fine bead of perspiration had formed on his upper lip.

She took him by the arm and led him to a row of standard-issue hospital waiting room chairs and guided him down, then she knelt in front of him and put her hand on his cheek…

Nothing. Not even a blink when she snapped her fingers in front of his eyes.

She felt someone kneel beside her on the flecked terrazzo, saw a while lab coat and a stethoscope and she moved aside, watched the rapid assessment and the knowing nod. Orderlies appeared, a wheelchair summoned – and fearful of career consequences she dashed to intervene.

“Denton, it’s time to go home now.”

“Hmm – what?”

“It’s time we went home. Now. You need to get some sleep. We can deal with all the rest in the morning.”

“Oh, yeah. Nothing to be done now, is there?”

“That’s right, we can tackle it all in the morning, make all the calls. Come on, Honey. Up-you-go.” She pulled him upright and put an arm around his waist and forcibly led him out into the night. Moving from the heated lobby into the cool air of another autumn dawn she felt him stiffen, then shake his head. He stopped walking and looked around, then turned and looked at the policewoman by his side.

“You know, I hate to seem forward right about now, but I don’t even know your name.”

For some reason they both found the idea hilarious. He looked at the woman for a moment and then they both started laughing. And they laughed all the way to his car, oblivious to the stares of early morning visitors arriving at the hospital.

After she drove inside the garage she went around and helped him out of the car, and in that moment – in their just coming together – a gentle need came for them both.


King was sailing now, alone and with his eyes closed, feeling the direction of the wind and the spray on his upturned face, contours of the seafloor through subtle variations in the little boat’s motion. From time to time he opened his eyes to the music of the night sky, followed a star as it left the rim of the known and climbed the ladder of the night, then another, and another. When at last the great star lightened the far rim he smiled and sat for a while, drank some water and ate some fruit, and he even slept before resuming his journey. 

When the great star was high overhead on the seventh day he stopped and looked at the color of the water, then his eyes swept the horizon for the sign – but when all he saw was hollow nothingness he frowned and sat in the hollowed hull. He ate another piece of fruit and savored the taste of faraway land, then he closed his eyes and waited for sleep. 

The dream came again, the dream that made no sense. Chaos and screams, tumbling water and pointless death – all within fragmented images that made no sense to him.

He woke with a start, saw the great star now close to the far rim, the coming of darkness not far now. He stood and scanned the horizon again, saw her plume and smiled.

She was old now, almost ancient, and she moved with the fullness of age – and she was moving away from him.

He knelt and pounded on the side of the boat several times, then stood and saw she was coming for him now. He watched for a moment then began paddling her way, and just as the great star met the rim they came to one another – she to him first, as always – and his spirit soared when he met her eyes.

The first time he met her his father’s father had been there, and the old man had shown him the hidden ways to this place. The old man had slipped into the water and caressed his friend’s face, then his father had, too. After a time they invited him into the water and his ancestors had introduced her to their future, and then they had left him with her. She swam and he held on, and when she dove he listened to the infinite within her beating heart, and once, when he thought she went too deep he learned the truest meaning of trust. Once, in a place that looked like a field of stars she showed him the fires of creation and he knew after that whoever this creature was he loved her as much as his fathers ever had.

Now he gathered bones and ash from his wife’s pyre and joined his friend in the sea. They watched as he let her earthly remains go – and as his wife settled toward the sand so far below they sang a song of life together, and they sang with the stars.


He had two small urns when he left the funeral home, and when he got home he wondered what you did with dead people in jars. Put them on the mantle, perhaps? Or over on the Steinway that had been his wife’s pride and joy. Or…why not in a shoebox? In his wife’s closet? Or his daughter’s? He was numb, all the more so as no one he was close to had died before.

Many of his friends from work had come to the service, and of course Sharon’s family was there. His father was, of course, somewhere over there, doing whatever it was he thought he did, and that was that – though his mother came. Later that day he called an estate agent and made arrangements to get rid of all their belongings, then he called a realtor and made arrangements to list the house. He packed a suitcase and put the thing in his car, then went back inside for the urns. He looked at them for a while, not quite knowing what to do with them but resisting the urge to leave them where they sat – and run from them as fast as he could.

In the end he put the two urns in a box and wrapped them in hand towels, and then he carried them out to the car – and he stopped and looked up, thought he heard singing…

“There, on the wind…I know that voice, that song…”


He stopped, looked at his next door neighbor. 

“Sassy! Where are you?”

His neighbor turned and looked at him, started jogging his way.

“Denton, have you seen Sassy?”

“No, Bruce, I sure haven’t.”

“She’s pregnant, due to give birth today and now she’s bolted. Bet she’s holed up under a bush somewhere.”

“Need a hand?”

“You bet.”

“Okay, let me put Sharon and Jenn in the car.”

His neighbor, his friend, looked at the urns in the box: “What?”

He pointed at the two urns and scowled. “There they are. My family.”

“Jesus, Denny. I, uh, well…Jesus…”

“Yeah. I don’t know what to say either.” They looked around the front of their houses, then he looked up at the sky again. “It’s getting dark…I’ll get a flashlight,” but he still heard music on a dying breeze. He shook his head, popped the garage door opener and came back with two big Mag-Lites. “I have an idea,” he said as he handed a light to his neighbor. “Follow me.”

They went around the side of his house and into his back yard, and he led them to a thick hedge-row that lined the back of his property, a thick bramble just this side of a tall, wooden fence.

He stopped about five feet from the first clump of bushes and held up a hand.

“I hear it,” he said, yet the singing only seemed more insistent now.

“Hear what?”

“A bunch of pups.”

He had been feeding Sassy doggie treats for years, and on his days off the little Springer had been known to come to his yard and jump in the swimming pool when he was in the water, so he had a pretty good relationship with the old girl – enough to know where she might be, anyway.

He got down on the thick St Augustine grass and crawled to the edge and looked between two thick clumps – and there she was, licking the placenta from a squirming bundle of life.

“Howya doin’, girl?” he asked in quiet, even tones, and Sassy looked up, startled – but more than a little relieved.

He crawled into the bushes and looked at the scene: two pups out already and squirming in the undergrowth, and another just coming out the chute.

“Bruce, we’re gonna need some towels, maybe some warm water to wash off these guys. I can see two out already and another’s on the way.”


He heard his neighbor taking off as he crawled deeper into the undergrowth, and then… 


He saw another pup just then, this one impossibly small, pushed away from the others – like it had been discarded. Hadn’t he read somewhere that mothers often pushed ‘the runt’ away? This one couldn’t have been three inches long and already it was shivering…glistening wet with placental fluid and cold as hell.

He scooped the little creature up in a cupped hand, felt it respond to his touch as he backed out of the bramble, and after he stood he took off for his kitchen – leaving his flashlight to mark the position.

“What’s wrong?” Bruce shouted.

“Got one in distress,” he said as he ran through his open garage door and into the house

“Now…where does Sharon keep that humidifier? And her heating pad…?” He took off for their bathroom and started rummaging through her things, knowing she would understand why he’d just made such a mess…then it hit him. 

She’d never care again.

But this little pup needed him. Now.

Now. Right now – and then suddenly, just when that little creature became the most important thing in his life, the singing stopped.

Within minutes he had Sharon’s heating pad set up inside a little plastic crate. He folded washcloths over the pad and made a tent over the top of the crate, filled the humidifier and set it to make a warm mist – venting inside the little tent-crate – then he ran back out to help Bruce.

“Oh, thank goodness you’re back! I can’t get down on my knees yet – the hip replacement, remember?”

“Oh. Right.” He dove for the undergrowth and started handing pups up to Bruce, and after he had the situation in hand he coaxed Sassy out of the bushes – just as another pup’s head crowned.

She looked frantic as she turned and looked at him, and he helped her to the ground again just as another little contraction hit. He watched the girl’s muscles pulse, watched the glistening head appear, then the shoulders…

“It’s alright, Sassy-girl,” he said, stroking the bridge of her nose – just the way she always liked him to. “Just a little more and I’ve got her.”

The next pup slid out of girl’s vulva and into his waiting hands, and he peeled open the placental sac and massaged the pup’s back and stomach until it coughed and took a breath, then he held out the cord and let Sassy nip the pup free just as a red mass of afterbirth slid out of her vagina – only he saw yet another head crowning… 

“Jesus, Sassy, you sure have been sleeping around. How many is this now, Bruce?” 

“With the one you have inside, this is number six,” Bruce said, holding the latest up to the flashlight. “Another Girl. Odd…”

“Number seven is in the chute. Odd? Why odd?”

“All girls so far. What was the one you took?”

“No idea. Didn’t get that far.”

He heard someone else walking up, saw Ellen Green, the policewoman – still with her ever-present rookie in-tow.

“What’s going…oh-my-God…” she managed to say as she got her flashlight trained on Sassy’s vulva.

“Come on, girl,” King sighed. “One more time. This has got to be it…”

“There’s usually one more about an hour after you think they’re done,” Ellen said.

“Swell. I need to go check on that little one.”

“I think I’ve got it for now,” Bruce sighed. “Thanks, Denton. I mean it.”

“Not a problem. I’ve got the little one in a makeshift tent on a heating pad and with a humidifier running…”

“A runt?” Ellen asked.

“Yup…think so.”

“Can I see?” she added.

“Come on.”

She turned to her rookie. “Stay here with this man. See if you can help without fucking things up, alright?” She turned and followed King through the garage. “You leavin’?”

“I am.”

“Where you headed?”

“I have no fucking idea.”

“Quit your job?”

“Not yet, but I’m leaning that way.”

“Not happy flying anymore?” she asked as they walked through the house.

He stopped. “No, that’s not it.”

“The nightmares?”

“Yeah, I guess,” he said as he resumed walking to his bathroom.

“Wow,” Green said when she caught sight of King’s makeshift incubator. “You better take a patent out on this thing. Denton, this is amazing.”

“If I haven’t cooked the pup, you mean.” He pulled open the tent and peered down into the mist, Green looking over his shoulders.

“Damn, looks like she’s in good shape. What did you do?”

“Rinsed her in warm water…trimmed the umbilical cord back some. Then made this tent.”

“You better pick her up, stimulate her a little.”

He took a deep breath and reached down, picked up the little thing. “The eyes seem so prominent…and geesh…her ribs feel almost, well, transparent is the only word that comes to mind.”

“She’s fragile, probably always will be. Most breeders just put these things down.”

“Over my dead fucking body,” he growled.

She looked at him, at the ferocity – and the love – in his eyes. “Have a name for her yet?”


“Nice,” Green said, understanding all too well what had happened. “She’ll need to start nursing soon.”

“How soon?”

“As soon as you can get her over to her mom.”

“She pushed her away. Tried to kill her.”

“That’s nature’s way, Dennie. The mother only has so much milk, and she only puts it out for so long. Strong instinct…she doesn’t want to waste a precious resource.”

“God, look at her. She’s precious.”

“Her head has a good shape, big brain pan. She might be a real smart one.”

“You been around dogs?”

“My dad raised Setters. I probably helped with a dozen litters growing up.”

“What should I do next?”

“Make sure she’s dry, keep her warm, take her over to her mother. These first few hours are critical feedings.”

He grabbed a bunch of microfiber towels and wrapped up the pup, then he marched over to Bruce’s place and walked right-in through the sliding glass door off the kitchen. “Bruce! Where are you!”

“In the laundry room!”

He followed the sound of the voice, found Sassy curled up on a bunch of towels with six pups nursing on the floor, then he presented the runt to her, let her sniff the tiny creature a few times – and she looked up at him like he was mad, then she let him put the tiny thing on a nipple. 

He looked up a minute or so later and saw Green standing there, looking down at the pups and once he saw the runt was taking to the nipple he stood and walked over to her.

“What time do you get off tonight,” he asked – somewhat directly.

“Midnight, unless we have a late call.”

“I’ll be on the porch.”


He turned back to Sassy and her brood, lay down beside the runt and made sure she was getting through the scrum to a nipple – and he stayed there until it look like she was about to explode.

“Denny, I’ve got to go into work first thing…I have a procedure at six…”

“You want me to come over, or bring them over before you leave?”

“You’ll, I mean, you can take care of them?”

“Of course. I’m on six weeks survivors leave. They won’t let me in the cockpit until I pass a psychiatric review, so I’m home for the next month. Besides, I’d love to take care of them.”

“Have you named the little one yet?”


“Good. Well, she’s yours if you want her.”

He looked at Bruce, then down at the mass of puppies – and his eyes filled with tears as he nodded his head. “Thanks, Bruce. Yeah, I’d love that.”

“Well, you know where the key is. Just come in and get them if you want, or stay here with them.”

“Yeah. We’ll stay here ‘til you get back.”

“I have rounds at noon, so I should be home by around two or so.”

He nodded, amazed how his little pup was filling up – and out. “She looks like she’s about to explode,” he whispered.

“She is. Better take her off now. You still have the little tent set up?”


“May be best to keep her there tonight. Keep her warm, let her lungs take in that humidified air. I can’t believe how small he is, Denny. If she was human she’d be in the neo-nate unit.”

“I’ll handle it, Bruce. I won’t let anything to happen to her.”

The physician looked at the pilot and nodded his head in understanding.


She parked in the drive and walked around the side of the house, found him on the porch with the humidifier rigged on a rolling cart, the little pup sound asleep within. He had two glasses on the little glass-topped table set between the chairs, and a bottle of Scotch there, too.

“Did you start without me?” she asked, noting that he was still looking up into the night sky.

“No. Pour me one, would you?”

She sat, poured two drinks and handed one to him. “Here you go. How’s Jenn.”

“Her breathing sounds good, but when she tries to move, well, her head wobbles and she gets, well, it looks like tremors.”

“She’s got a lot to overcome.”

“We will.”

“She’s lucky to have you, Denton.”

“I’m lucky to have her,” he said, still looking up into the dome of the sky.

“What are you looking at?”

“Hmm – what? Oh, hell, I don’t know. Just a feeling, I guess.”

“A feeling?”

He shrugged, and she just caught the motion in the darkness. “I lookup there sometimes and I wonder what’s out there, maybe beyond all that nothingness…”

“I always thought it was just infinite space, on and on, forever.”

“Yeah,” he sighed, “maybe it is. I went to a Jesuit school and it was odd, you know? Most of the Jesuit Fathers hovered along the razor’s edge, some almost atheists, others pretending to be True Believers, in the classroom, at least…”

“I grew up in Hope, Arkansas,” Green whispered. “Most of the people there were True Believers, especially in the classroom.”

“Where’d you go to college?”

“Texas Christian.”

“History, right?”

“Yes. Where’d you go to school?”

“Annapolis, then ten years in the Navy.”

“Wow. And you flew…in the Navy?”


“Carriers? All that stuff?”

“All that stuff.”

“Maybe it’s been glamorized into a cliche, but that seems like a pretty cool way to make a living.”

“What? Flying from a boat? Or killing people while flying from a boat.”

“Did you kill people?”

“I suppose so, but like most of us I tried not to think about it.”


“Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, even Somalia. You know…what I remember most was a mission there, in Somalia. Some warlord we were trying to get on “our side” wanted a village bombed and so someone in Washington decided we’d bomb this shithole in the middle of nowhere. Four of us made the OP, four aircraft with a combined worth of almost 200 million dollars, and we put almost 20,000 pound of high explosives on target. We’d been told it was a terrorist stronghold, but of course it wasn’t. Turned out the warlord knew one of his opponent’s families was hiding out there, somewhere in that little village. Maybe two hundred people lived there, but after the four of us visited that evening not one soul was left alive. Turned out something like ninety percent of the people there were women and children, and sometimes I get lost in the idea that the four of us in our hundreds of millions of dollars worth of hardware killed a couple thousand women and kids on the whim of some warlord.”


“I’m pretty sure Jesus had nothing to do with that one, Ellen. Matter of fact, I think Jesus turned his back on our country back in the sixties. Something went wrong with us, ya know? Something inside us broke, as a people, and whatever it was that made us special just went away.”

She heard it in his voice then. Profound despair. Despair that would never be excused by a just God. Despair that wouldn’t go away, no matter how many well-intentioned platitudes were hurled his way. Despair that lingered in the night, in the far side of nothingness – in a place even God didn’t go anymore.

“Are you angry?”

“Angry? I don’t know why I would be? I’ve done everything I set out to do; I did what I was told to do. I was promised that ours was a just cause…”

“And now you’re staring into the night, asking questions that don’t have answers.”

“Oh, I think that’s the real problem, Ellen. We’ll never find answers when we aren’t even asking the right questions.”

“Is that why you’ve grown so attached to that pup?”

“That little girl has the most pure soul I’ve ever felt…”

“Because she’s so helpless?”


“She would have died out there if you hadn’t…”

“But I did. I was the one there when she needed help the most, I balanced the equation. The universe will make sense of the how and the why if and when it wants to. All I know is for some reason I was there when she needed me. For some reason we’re connected,” he said, pointing at the heavens. “For some unknown reason, that little girl is meant to be the most important thing in my little universe.”

“That dog?”

“Yes, that dog.”

“Do you think it’s possible you’re reading too much into this?”

He shrugged. “I think it’s possible I might never know why this happened.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“I wanted to talk to you about that.”


“I taught a cop to fly once, here in the city, and he ended up moving to the South Pacific somewhere and flying for a little airline down there. He called me a few weeks ago and told me the airline is looking for a new chief pilot…”


“I’ve talked to them.”

“Okay. So, why do you need to talk to me?”

“I don’t know, really. What would you do?”

“What? You mean…if I was you?”

“Something like that.”

“It sounds impulsive. Dangerously so.”

He nodded his head again, slowly. “That’s kind of what I thought, too.”

“And you’re thinking of going, aren’t you?”

“For some reason impulsive sounds good right now,” he said as he leaned back and resumed staring at the stars.

“Denny? Why’d you want me to come here tonight?”

“What are your plans?”

“My plans? For what?”

“The future.”

“I don’t have any.”

“Oh? None? Like not even work twenty years, retire and buy an avocado farm?”

She laughed, the pup stirred – and he leapt to the tented enclosure, felt it’s heartbeat and rubbed the little girl’s forehead. She watched, fascinated, as the little thing turned it’s head and licked his fingers before falling back into a deep sleep. “You know,” she said, “you’ll never be able to leave that pup alone. Not ever.”

He was staring at the little girl’s breathing now, counting her respirations, and he stopped a minute later and started writing in a logbook. “I’d as soon she never left my side. Not ever. So you…no plans?”

“Nothing…beyond retiring someday. Why?”




“Geez…no. What makes you say that?”

“Hey…it’s a brave new world, and you never know.”

“Well, no, no relationships, just work.”

He nodded his head while he secured the little tent over the pup. “Work get in the way?”

“Sometimes. Other times, I think it’s an excuse.”

He turned and looked at her. “Oh?”

“Being a cop isn’t exactly a surefire way to meet the man of your dreams, Denny. Most men don’t like the idea of dating a cop, in case the idea slipped your mind.”

“Have you ever met the man of your dreams?”

“You mean – besides my grandfather?”

He chuckled at that, then turned to look her in the eye. “Yeah, besides him.”

She looked away, then up at the stars. “You, maybe,” she whispered.


“It’s too soon for you, and I don’t want to get hurt when you finally figure that one out.”

“No one does.”

“So? Did that come as a surprise?”

“Surprise? I guess so; I can’t imagine why, however. You probably know more about my life than anyone left on earth.”

“Is that such a bad thing?”

He shook his head. “No, not really. But maybe part of getting to know someone is finding out all those things over time – and not in one morning.”

“And maybe it’s finding out all those things in one morning.”

“Ah, yes. Doris Goldstein. The thing we never mention. The things you two talked about.”

She looked down at her hands, shook her head. “You know something, Denton. Something weird. The more she described you the more I wanted to get to know you.”

“Is that why you came back that night?”

“You needed someone.”

“You were very sweet. Very gentle.”

“So were you.”

“Sharon and I…we hadn’t been together in a long time. I think because I knew. About Doris. I tried once, but I moved in to my study after, started sleeping on the sofa after Jenn left for school…”

“She didn’t know?”

He shrugged. “I hope not, but she was pretty smart about people.”

“You miss her, don’t you? I mean, really, really miss her.”

He didn’t answer that question, but neither did he look away. He just held her in his eyes, and yet she had the feeling he’d just come to a decision.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked you that.”

“Okay,” he said, an air of tired finality in his voice.

“So? The South Pacific?”

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have dragged you into all this. I need to get Jenn’s tent inside. Condensation’s forming now…getting too cool out.”

He stood and unplugged the rig from the extension cord, then rolled the cart into his study. He made polite noises about sleep and a long day after that, and she didn’t need to be told what those words meant.

“Too soon,” she sighed – after he saw her to the front door.

Once she was behind the wheel of her car, once she was beyond the moment, she closed her eyes, then she cried for a very long time.


‘This water is too clear,’ King thought as he steered the canoe through the last ragged remnants of the storm. He was counting intervals between swells while looking at colors within the sea, and at certain times that morning he measured the angle of the sun above the horizon – but by then he knew the island was close. Maybe two more days, he told himself, perhaps a little less.

Still, the colors he saw in the sea troubled him, enough to make him doubt his position.

So he was not surprised when he first saw the island’s jagged spires on the horizon later that afternoon. The tops were one fist over the horizon line, and with that one vital piece of information he knew he was almost close enough to make the island before the sun disappeared.

He felt a shimmer in the air just then and he turned, saw towering storm clouds gathering in the midday heat. He looked deep into the clouds, listened to the wind, even analyzed the colors of the sky around the base of the storm, then he frowned – because suddenly he felt a new danger in the air, and this one was closing-in fast.

If he did not make the island before nightfall he would have to fall off the wind and wait until the large star up came again, for he dare not attempt the reef at night – not in a storm of this size – and not without the moon to show the way. There were too many black-tips in this passage to risk falling into the sea, especially in a storm.

He let-out the densely woven sail, fell off the wind just a little, and he felt the canoe pick up speed. He sighed, relaxed, knew he had done all that he could for now, so he concentrated on the spires – and only so often did he turn and look at the massive storm coming up from behind. By the time he saw the line of surf just off the reef’s edge he knew it would be close; the sky behind was now almost black while thunder and lightning rippled the wind all around him.

So close! Oh, so close! He stood with his feet wide and felt the canoe rise as a large wave overtook him, then he steadied his track as the canoe surfed down the face of the wave.

Soon, waves as high as his mast crashed on either side of his canoe as he slid into the narrow channel between coral canyons, then a large wave came up from behind and lifted the canoe’s stern again. As his little ship lifted the sail caught the clear air above the wave, and he steered away from the closest rocks towards an inlet in the sandy beach. The wave fell away as he entered the lagoon, and then he saw it just ahead…

He saw the town first, only a few rooftops visible in the fading light, then at last the flashing lights at the new airport, with the control tower illuminated by long, uneven flashes of lightning.

At last he sailed past the rooftops to the old long wharf and tied off.

The thunder and lightning were worse now than he’d ever seen it before, but then he saw them standing above him on the wharf and he felt a new fear. The old man looked like King – the crazy American pilot, and so did the little girl.

They watched as he climbed up the oil-stained, time-splintered rungs to the landing by the Harbormaster’s Office.

And the little dog was with them, and yet that made a strange kind of sense. The little girl was holding the dog, yet still holding onto the old man’s hand, and he knew the only thing that could come of this was heartbreak.

Part II

King had not seen his friend in many months, and he had a favor to ask so decided to go see him. One of his older sons wanted to learn to fly, to go to America and become a pilot, and Denton was the only person he knew who might help with such knowledge, and it would only take a few days to sail to the island where he lived.


She used to drove by his house from time to time, but never when she had a rookie with her. She’d noted the For Sale sign one day and had felt gut-punched; she had parked her patrol car in the drive that evening and gotten out to check the house. The neighbor – Bruce? – came out just then, apparently when he saw her police car, and he walked up to her just before she let herself in the gate to the back yard.

“Officer Green, isn’t it?”

“That’s right. I’m sorry, but I don’t think I ever caught your name?”

“Bruce Goldstein,” he said, extending his right hand.

“You’re the doc, right? With the pups. Nice to meet you.”

“You’re not looking for Denton, are you?”

She looked down, nodded her head slowly. “Did he leave – take the position overseas?”

Goldstein nodded in silence, prodding her to make eye contact. She looked up and he could see she was upset. More than upset, really.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Did he leave a way to get in touch?”

“Yes. Do you really need too?”

“What does that mean?”

“I think what I’m trying to say is that Denton left everything behind. Literally everything. I think he took some underwear and socks, probably a toothbrush, but for all I know that’s about it.”

“What about the pup? The little girl?”

“Jenn? Yeah, he took her too. In his shirt pocket, as a matter of fact. I think the only reason he hung around as long as he did was to see her weaned and to get her first shots, then that was it.”

“How did she do?”

“Jenn? Healthy, strong, but very, very small. Always will be. Look, I don’t mean to stick my nose in your business, but was there something going on between you two?”

“I’m pregnant.”

The physician nodded; he’d already seen the signs and had only wondered who the father was. “Do you think Denton is…”

“I know he is.”

“Does he know?”

“No, there’s no way he could. I’m not even sure I want him to.”

“Are you going to have the baby?”

She looked away for a while, then turned to the physician: “Yes, I think so.”

“He was a good father, you know. Doted on that girl. Hell, he doted on Sharon…”

“She was having an affair, with a woman.”

“Doris. Yes.”

“You knew?”

Goldstein nodded. “You could say that. Dennie was locked into the DFW to Manchester run for years, so he was gone all the time, until the…”

“The accident?”

“He told you?”

“A little. Enough, really.”

“It changed him. Three-hundred-sum-odd people in those apartments – gone – in a heartbeat. His first officer, too. A good friend. That changes a man.”

“Wasn’t it something mechanical?”

“Yes. Nothing anyone could’ve done, totally exonerated, but he had a hard time even going inside a cockpit for about a year. I think he still has a hard time.”

“Did he retire – from American, I mean?”

Goldstein nodded. “Early retirement. He’ll be able to fly commercially for a while longer, more where he went…almost five years more if he wants.”

“So, you have a way to get in touch with him?”

“In an emergency, yes. Mainly because of his father…he was worried about his father when he left…how his father would take his leaving, what he might do.”


“Maybe get his passport revoked, or his licenses. Something like that.”


“So far not a peep.”

“Then he’s gone, isn’t he? I mean, really gone, as in – never coming back?”

“Dennie was always a fragile soul. Losing Sharon and Jennifer like that was the last straw, I think…”

“What about that woman…Doris…?”

“My ex-wife, you mean?”


“I take it you didn’t know that?”

Green stood there in mute disbelief, then she looked at the physician. “If you don’t mind me asking, what happened?”

The physician shrugged. “Bits and pieces…that’s all I know…all I guess I want to know.”

“Were you two close?”

“Dennie and me? Yeah, I guess so, especially after he and Doris had a go at it, then after we learned about the thing with Sharon. We went out a few times, shot some tequila, that kind of thing. He’s a strange soul, ya know. Kind of hard on the outside…but very simpatico once you get past all that.”

“You forgave him, then?”

“Doris has always been formidable, a real seductress. No, I couldn’t blame him for her appetites.”

“You like him, huh?”

“Like? He’s probably the last best friend I’ll ever have, and nothing will ever change that. Fact of the matter is, Officer, I love the guy. I ain’t gay, and yet I love him.” 

Suddenly she felt like she was going to throw up – and it must’ve shown. 

“You know…you really have no business being out on there on the street…” the physician said as he put his arm around the police officer’s shoulder and helped her inside his house.


The name on the back of the black-hulled sailboat was, he saw, Chimera, and he wondered why. He saw an older couple lounging in the cockpit, feet up on the coaming like they were hiding from the late afternoon sun. He sailed past the Chimera and dropped anchor on the far side of the inlet, then carried another rode ashore and tied it off to a palm tree, and only then did he pick up the tiny dog in the inflatable and carry her over to a patch of grass in the shade of a stately tree. 

He liked this harbor almost as much as Cook’s Inlet on Moorea, but this time of year Cook’s was overrun with tourists; still, he’d half expected to find Fa’anui empty, but no, there was Bellerophon, complete with British ensign flying off her red stern rail. He turned and watched Jenn skipping across the sand, looking for just the right bush, or coconut husk, to make her deposit on, and when she finished he picked her up and carried her back to the Zodiac and pushed-off the beach. He paddled back out to his boat and put her on the swim platform before tying-off and climbing aboard – but by that time the Brits were staring at Jenn, one of them using binoculars and pointing.

He knew what would come next, and sure enough he heard their outboard sputter to life and saw them puttering across the harbor, so he stood and watched their progress while Jenn made her way up into the enclosed cockpit.

“I say,” the older man began as he pulled alongside amidships, “what sort of creature is that? It almost looks like a Springer puppy, but it runs too well.”

“That’s Jenn, and yes, she’s a Springer. Four years old last month.”

“Oh, I see,” the wild-haired woman said. “I thought she looked like an otter of some sort.”

“Nope. She can’t swim at all, no fat on her anywhere. Sinks like a stone as soon as she hits the water.”

“May we?”

“Sure, come on up,” he said, taking the offered line and tying it off on an midships cleat. He helped the woman up, admiring her practiced form as she nimbly climbed over the life-lines, while the old man made it up on his own with no need of assistance. The woman had on a sun hat that must’ve had a brim a half yard wide, and big square sunglasses to fill out the jet-setting tourist look, and he tried not to shake his head as she hopped over the coaming and down into the cockpit. The old man followed him up into the cockpit – where they found Jenn in the woman’s hands, licking her on the chin.

Which kind of surprised him. Jenn was normally shy and tended to stand back from strangers – at least until he sounded the all-clear – but here she was, licking away – like she was trying to take the woman’s measure.

“How old is she?” the woman behind the square sunglasses asked.

“Four – years,” he answered. “I’ve had her since birth.”


“Found her in some bushes, pushed away by her mother.”

“They do that,” the old man said, “to keep the gene pool strong. As soon as you start taking care of the weak evolution is stopped dead in its tracks. Civilizations, too. Look at America. Look at Europe. Coming apart at the seams as we try to take care of humanity’s garbage.”

“Duncan, really?” the woman sighed, clearly exasperated. “Must we have this conversation everywhere we go?”

Jenn was looking up at him now and he held out his hands; as if on-cue she leapt from the woman’s hands into his, and he pulled her close, held her as if sheltering her from the evils of another world. “You know, I rather like this little girl,” he said to the old man. “No matter what she represents – to you, or anyone.”

“Of course. I meant no disrespect.”

The woman chimed in at that point: “We wondered if you’d like to join us for dinner tonight, but I suppose that’s out of the question now.”

“Actually, the two of us come over here to get away from the world for a day or two,” he replied, adding, “so we usually stick to ourselves.”

“The two of you?” the old man asked, his voice on the edge of incredulity. “You don’t mean you and that…dog?”

“I find her company infinity more civil than even you could possibly imagine, sir. Now, is there anything else you’d care to share?” He said as he walked to the gate in the lifelines just above their little inflatable, his meaning clear.

The old man returned, scowling: “My, aren’t we an irascible sort?”

“You have no fucking idea,” he whispered, and it was all he could do not to shove the old bastard overboard – then he saw the woman, and the thought passed that she knew exactly what was going through his mind.

And then she lifted her sunglasses and winked at him.

They motored away in silence and he climbed back into the cockpit, then down the companionway steps, and there he waited for the pup. She came to the edge and looked for him, waiting for his hands, and when they appeared she stepped into them. He carried her to his face and let her lick the tip of his nose, then he put the little pup in her nest above the chart table.

She watched as he made their dinner, and they ate together, as they always did, with her on the table beside his plate. He cut little pieces of fish and steak for her, rolled them in a protein supplement, then fed her – piece by piece until she was full – while he ate his own dinner. He read in his bunk after that, as he did every night, and she curled up on his pillow when he turned out the lights. She fell asleep, as she did every night, with her chin resting on his neck.

But something was wrong. Some disturbance in the night. A scream, a human scream, and she leapt out of the way just before he bolted upright in the dark.

Another scream, followed by a woman’s fearful voice shouting in the night.

“Help! Somebody…help!”

He ran to the chart table and flipped on the spreader lights and turned on the generator, then he dashed topsides.

The woman on Chimera was shouting again. “Help, quickly – please!”

He pulled the crank on his outboard and motored across the harbor to the other boat and tied off on the stern platform, then he hopped aboard – only now the woman was nowhere to be found.

He slid over to the companionway and looked down into the brightly lighted saloon, and there he was – the old man from earlier yesterday – his lips dark blue, his eyes a lifeless void, and he climbed down, took the old man’s wrist and checked for a pulse…

But his skin was already quite cool, his fingernails as blue as his lips.

He pulled open an eyelid and looked at the blown pupils and he knew there was nothing left to be done. He looked up at the woman, saw dawning realization in her eyes, then abject fear in her quivering expression.

He went to Chimera’s chart table and turned on the breaker for the radio, then called the  Joint Rescue Coordination Center on channel 16.


They had departed Britain two years earlier, sailed to Gibraltar, then the Azores before sailing direct to the Panama Canal. From there, Devlin Wood and April Raines had spent a year and a half sailing – slowly – through the Marquesas and Tuamotus Islands, and they had only reached Papeete three weeks ago. They had planned to spend a few weeks on Moorea, then Bora-Bora, before sailing on to New Zealand – but now all that was over. Leaving when he was almost seventy years old, Devlin had simply waited too long to chase his last dreams.

April Raines was something of an odd choice to take on a slow, round-the-world sailing trip. She’d had a somewhat illustrious career in the adult entertainment industry, more specifically staring in a series of films that would never be eligible for any mainstream awards. She’d met Devlin through work on one of her last films, and as he’d been both decent looking – and more than a little wealthy – she’d signed onto the Chimera’s crew.

She’d never been able to convince Devlin to tie the knot and so was now, quite literally, stranded in French Polynesia with barely enough money to survive on while his affairs were sorted out. And she had no one to turn to for help – no one, it turned out,  but Denton King.


She was an attractive woman, he thought, in a way. In a very certain way. Once you cut through the pseudo Euro-posh thing, anyway. The floppy faux-silk hats and the white-rimmed sunglasses, the strappy, high-heeled sandals and the orange lip-gloss. She put on, all-in-all, quite a show. Did she really think him so naïve?

Yet…he hadn’t been with a woman since Sharon. Not one. Because not one woman had seemed attractive enough to bother with.

So, he wondered, why this one? Was it the almost overt sexuality she wore like lip-gloss? What was that all about? Was that all she had to offer?

And the funny thing was…that was the least attractive thing about her.

No, she was vulnerable, and alone, and he wondered if that’s what he found attractive about her. After all, wasn’t that what had impelled him to rescue little Jenn? Did he still really think he’d somehow let Sharon down? Did he have to over-compensate now? Would he always – to atone for the sin of fucking Doris once-upon-a-time? But hadn’t she, in the end, broken down too, cast aside their vows to one another? And…with another woman – like the affair grew from some kind of vapid, post-feminist cliché?

He was looking at her, ignoring the constant stream of noise coming from her mouth – while he concentrated on the curves of her lips. Then he was looking past the shadows cast by those dark lenses onto her eyes – when she became evasive and turned away. Why wouldn’t she talk about her past? What had she done?

He pulled out his iPhone and made a cursory search and there it was, all of it. A stream of lurid x-rated videos beginning in the 90s. Drugs, lots of drugs. And parties on the Med. Big parties. Ibiza, Mallorca, Cannes…all off season, of course. He looked up, took in the orange lips and figured she was about as far away from Sharon as he could get. Maybe she just wanted a revenge fuck.

Like Sharon.

The thought made him laugh and she looked at him.

“You think that was funny?” she snarled, taking on the role of sudden inquisitor.

“Sorry. A passing memory.”


“The way you spoke just then. It reminded me of someone I knew once. What did you find out from the consul’s office?”

“There’s no Will, nothing on record. He has two children, so they’ll inherit unless I can make a case that we were somehow more than just lovers.”

“Seventy years old? How did that work?”

“Poorly. And this last year he had no interest at all, so…” 

He watched her movements – something like a shrug, yet somehow even more dismissive – like the last year had been a barely endurable nightmare. Then again, he felt like he was being measured for a suit. Sized-up, categorized. Like: would he be a good fuck, a worthwhile diversion?

Did he even care anymore?

Then he thought of Jenn, out there waiting for him on the boat.

“The look in your eyes just now? What were you thinking about?”


“That little dog?”

“Yes, that little dog.”

“What is it about that thing? Why does it have such a hold on you?”

“I don’t know, April. Perhaps the purity of her soul. No machinations, no ulterior motives. She looks at me and I know I’m loved. I look at her and I understand why love is such an important part of our lives.”

“But Denton, it’s a dog. Doesn’t that bother you?”


“What people say, or what they think about you?”

“No. Not in the least. You’re assuming something lurid, yet all I can say is my relationship with that little pup is the exact opposite of lurid. Besides, what people think is not my business, and the people I do know, the people who do know me, understand what she means to me. Simple as that.”

“I think it’s a little unusual.”

“Okay. So, tell me, what can I do for you?”

“I need to get back to the U.K.”

“Yes, I’d imagine you should.”

“I haven’t any money.”

“I see.”

“Could you buy me a ticket home?”

“I thought you had to post a bond on arrival here? What happened to that?”

“They’ve impounded the funds until the boat is removed from France.”

“Ah, Brexit. The gift that keeps on giving.”

“Yes, exactly.”

“No one at home to lend a hand?”

“No one,” she said…her eyes misting.

“Please, no tears – okay? So? Heathrow?”

“If possible, yes.”

“Alright. When?”

“I was hoping you and I might…”

He shook his head.

“No room in your life, eh?” she sighed.

“Something like that.”

“Lucky dog.”

“I’m the lucky one, April.”

“Oh? How so?”

“To know love of such purity is a gift. Perhaps the most important gift we can receive.”

“You sound like some kind of monk.”

The thought made him smile. “Maybe I am now.”

“I’ll send you an orange robe.”

“Are you packed?” he said – ignoring her, looking down at his phone, checking the time.


“There’s an Air France to CDG this evening, or we fly to Honolulu tonight, then on to LAX later in the morning. Or Air New Zealand in the morning. Cost is the same, so your choice. You can hook up with BA in LAX either way.”

“Maybe the morning, if I could convince you to join me for the evening.”

“Sorry, no, I have to work tonight. I’d be happy to drop you at the airport for the direct to Paris flight. You have time to make it if we leave now.”

She seemed confused now, confused because no man had ever walked away from such an offer before, and it made her doubt herself. But no, this wasn’t really a man, was he? He was a lost, wretched soul – in love with a fucking dog – so this was no great loss. And besides, she’d just suckered the loser out of a one-way fare to London.

She smiled. “I can be ready to go in a half hour.”


He watched her walk away, and in a way she seemed almost almost agitated – while he felt an odd mix of regret and elation. She was pretty, in a sun-bleached way, and he thought of Sharon as he looked at the deliberately exaggerated sway of her hips. 

“Now why do you think she thinks she needs to do that?” he asked Jenn. She was, as she always was when in his little car, in her padded carrier and now perched on the front seat of his old Austin-Healy 300. It was blissfully cool out and he had the top down for the short drive to the airport, and now that Miss April Raines had blown through it seemed like the air had once and truly cleared – if only because now he knew precisely why he stayed away from such women…

And then an old Alan Parsons song popped up on his phone’s random sifting of memory. Siren’s Song…an old favorite. He picked up Jenn from her carrier and held her close, looked into her eyes while he listened to the lyrics, and when he saw his reflection in her eyes…he wondered…was that all he’d ever seen in there? Or did this little girl really, truly feel love for him?

Had he truly been a fool all this time? To lavish such fidelity on this poor creature?

Or had he stumbled onto the most important secret of the universe?

Could he escape? Did he even want to now?

The sun was just setting, the color in her eyes shading through black now – almost to purple – and apricot colored clouds danced inside these sudden reflections. He held her up to his face and she kissed the tip of his nose, only he closed his eyes just then, awash inside her perfect love, and he felt like crying. His face on her chest, he felt her beating heart under his skin, through her impossibly frail ribs, and he drifted back to the moment of her birth. Squirming in the dirt, alone, her need desperate – and complete. 

“Did you choose me then,” he whispered. “Did your soul reach out to me?”

He felt her pull away and he opened his eyes and for a moment he saw Sharon’s eyes in Jenn’s…then a shimmering inside that left him breathless. He shook his head, saw Jenn again –looking at him now, smiling the way she smiled when she was content.

“I love you, little friend,” he sighed, and of course she licked his nose again…but then she touched her nose to his lips…something she rarely did.

He nodded his head. “I know you do, girl.”

He kissed her forehead, put her back in the carrier on her seat and he put the old car in gear and drove around the airport to the dispatch office, pulled the top up and picked-up her carrier. He looked at the sunset one last time, then carried her inside… 

“You’re taking 501 tonight,” the dispatcher began, without even looking up, “but there’s a change in service now. She’s going out of service in Honolulu, and after your eight hours you’re taking her to LAX. You’ll have two days on the ground there, then you’ll fly the direct back here.”

He nodded understanding though inwardly he groaned with displeasure. He hated this run, hated going back to the states, if only because he knew his father would already know he was coming – and he’d probably be waiting at the airport – for one more showdown.

“What’s the weather like tonight?”

“Remnants of Typhoon Doris southwest of Hawaii, tracking west now so it shouldn’t be a problem. Nothing else.”

“Anything on the squawk sheet?”

“A minor hydraulic leak on two, a bad start on the APU in Auckland, some smoke in the aft galley.”

“Anyone check it out?”

“Yup. Oil leak. Fixed.”

“How many pax?”

“Light. Five in first, forty in the back.”


“Yup. We won’t break even tonight, so go easy on the gas.”

He laughed at the dispatchers dry humor, but nevertheless he was glad government subsidies were helping offset these wild, constantly rising fuel prices – even as tourist revenue continued its free-fall. “What are they doing to her in LA?”

“Swap-out the hot section, do a firmware update on the FMCs, a couple of deep electrical squawks,” the dispatcher added as he handed over the night’s manifest and his fuel load-out and chit for LAX. “Have a good one.”

“Yup.” He picked up Jenn’s case and rode over to ‘501’ – a twenty-five year old 757-200 “ETOPs” model – and after he found his usual patch of grass for Jenn they walked up the air-stairs and into the cockpit. It was hot and stuffy and he reached to the overhead, flipped on the bus and hit the GPU button, then turned on the climate control system for the cockpit. Footsteps in the galley turned out to be his FO for the trip, a kid from Amsterdam who wanted nothing more out of life that to fly old 757s.

“Good evening, Captain, Miss Jenn – how are you tonight?” the kid said to the carrier.

Jenn yapped once, and they could hear her tail whomping away inside the soft nylon carrier.

“Light load tonight, eh Skipper?”

“Yeah. Let’s do a high-perf takeoff, put on a little airshow.”

Pers Andersen laughed at the thought, yet he knew his captain better. King was a “strictly-by-the-book” type, not one to put on an airshow in a twenty-plus year old airframe, though the thought was worth a smile or two.

They settled into their routine and woke up the bird as flight attendants started filing onboard, and after they finished their walk-around down below the first class cabin passengers started boarding. Catering and fuel trucks pulled away, then, after engine one began turning, all the ground power carts withdrew. When the ship’s IRS sequencing was complete they confirmed their initial waypoint was entered correctly, then switched all three NAV systems to active. He checked waypoints and flight-levels while Andersen finished off the pre-taxi checklist.

“Clear to start two,” the chief on the ground advised.

“Starting two,” he replied, then he checked in with ground control, got their clearance and waved at the chief down on the apron. “Okay, looks like no inbound traffic,” he added, looking out the left side of the cockpit. “Jenn? Are we nominal?”

Two yaps.

“Got it.”

“What did she say?” Andersen asked, incredulous as ever.

“No champagne tonight. Just caviar.”


They laughed as they taxied out to the end of runway 22, and after the tower cleared them for takeoff he eased on the power and steadied the ship on the centerline, then applied full takeoff thrust.

“V-one…and rotate!” Andersen advised thirty seconds later, and he gently brought the nose up to eight degrees pitch until a positive rate of climb indicated.

“Positive rate, gear up,” he said moments later – as he watched their speed build. “Flaps two.”


“Clean the wing.”

“Clean, three red.”

He started a slow turn to the right for their initial heading, then he turned on the autopilot and flight director, watched as headings and rates of climb steadied on assigned values. Andersen started on the next checklist and he looked out the windshield as Moorea slipped away to port, then Bora-Bora. At twenty thousand he spotted the Little Dipper, then Polaris almost dead ahead – then the thought struck him: what had drawn him to these islands? He could’ve stayed in Dallas with Jenn, kept flying for American, maybe even taken up with that cop…?

He could see her in his mind’s eye just then, in that uniform. She’d been a good lover, an attentive listener. Why had he run from her? What pulled him away?

An arc of lightning pulled him back to the present…

There were big thunderstorms ahead and to their left, and the lightning on display out there was, as always, fascinating. “Bad night to be on a boat down there,” he said, then he leaned forward and set the range on the weather radar to MAX and watched the first returns come in.

“That’s doesn’t look right,” Andersen sighed.

“Welcome to the South Pacific,” he added as he changed frequencies and contacted Papeete. He asked for a course around the storm and copied the information as it came back, then he entered the new figures on the course and heading displays, and he watched, satisfied, as the ship settled on her new course around the storm – then he got on the PA and made an announcement:

“Ladies and Gents, we’re on our way up to thirty eight thousand, and we anticipate arriving Honolulu about ten minutes early. If you happen to be sitting on the left side of the aircraft look out your window in about five minutes and you’ll see some spectacular lighting. Other than that it looks like a quiet ride up to the city tonight… 


King looked at the storm behind his canoe, then up at the flying machine headed north – and he felt a troubled shimmer in the air. Without thinking he adjusted his sail, tried to pick up more speed…


After landing at Honolulu, and after securing the aircraft at a ramp well away from the main terminal, he and Andersen went to the Marriott and checked-in, grabbed a lite dinner – and he went to bed after Jenn hosed down a few bushes by the pool. They were back out at “501” at a little before ten the next morning, seeing that the aircraft was fully fueled as they made their pre-flight walk-around. The belly was loaded with freight and dozens of bags of “priority mail” were unceremoniously dumped in the main cabin before their only passengers, a half dozen or so pilots from other airlines deadheading back to the mainland, climbed up the air-stairs and sprawled out on seats in the first class cabin.

He recognized a few of them and they exchanged nods, then he went to the cockpit and woke up the bird. Thirty minutes later they were wheels up, headed for Los Angeles… 


“Are you sure you want to do this, Ellen?”

She had her carry-on bag in one hand, her daughter Jennifer in the other, and she just smiled at Bruce for the hundredth time. There was no point beating this dead horse, was there? No, it was time for decisive action – time for her to take decisive action. Now. Today.

“Walk us to security?” she asked, ignoring his scowl.


They walked slowly so Jenn could keep up, and he took her carry-on while she got their tickets and passports ready for inspection. She hugged him once they made their way to the snaking queue, and she turned and looked at him standing where she’d left him before walking out the concourse to their flight, and even from that distance she saw the old physician’s tears. She nodded and he smiled again, then he shook his head and hurried away.

“Mommy? Why is Uncle Bruce crying?”

“Because he doesn’t want us to go, Sweetie.”

“He doesn’t want us to go see Daddy?”

“No, Sweetheart, he’s just sad because we won’t see him for awhile.”

“Oh. Mommie, do you really know where Daddy is?”

“Yes, Sweetie, I do.”

“Then why haven’t we gone to see him before?”

“He’s been busy, Jennifer.”


There were only a few people at the gate and they let her board early, and once they were buckled-in she looked out the window at the old terminal. It had once been so busy, she thought, but not after fuel skyrocketed, not after the war in Europe. Almost overnight the low-cost airlines shut down, then even the big carriers began to wobble and fall, and that’s when governments stepped in. With almost no trains and with travel by air impossibly expensive, everything felt like it was contracting, turning in on itself. It wasn’t the world she remembered. Nothing was as she remembered.

She thought about Bruce again, wondered why he had taken her in, helped her raise another  man’s daughter. She knew he loved them both, that he would have cared for them both as any good husband and father would, but he wasn’t Jenn’s father and a few weeks ago she’d suddenly felt compelled to make the journey to Polynesia to find Denton, to find her daughter’s rightful future, and maybe her’s, too.

Maybe it was the wrong thing to do. Maybe she should have stayed with Bruce. In four years Denton had never once asked about her…but then again he had no idea about Jennifer, so who was right and who was wrong? 

Then it hit her. Right and wrong didn’t matter now. The world seemed to be spiraling out of control; all the conventions and norms of prior experience were dissolving before her eyes, and now, she thought, was the time to find Denton. He’d know what to do…if there was still time. 


With almost forty-eight hours to kill in LA he’d been at a loss, at least until Pers chimed-in.

“Have you ever been to Disneyland?”

He’d had to stop and think about that one. “Once, I think, when Jennifer was about five or six. We usually went to Disney World those days.” And, he didn’t have to say, Florida was still recovering from the colossal hurricane that had swept the state – now more than a year ago. Word was it would take Disney years to rebuild, but he knew he wouldn’t go there again and he doubted Disney would invest in Florida again. It was just too risky now.

“I think we should go,” Andersen said, and he could see the eyes of a child light up when he agreed. “But, how do we get there?”

“I’ll rent a car.”

Anderson’s eyes went wide; after all, he’d seen the prices at the rental kiosks.

“Come on…we’re burning daylight…”

And then he saw his father walking across the lobby – directly for them.

“Oh, God no,” he whispered.

“What is it?” Andersen said.

“My father.”

“Ah, the prodigal son returns,” Bennett King said as he walked up.

“Well, well, there he is, ladies and gentlemen. Mars, Bringer of War.”

“You know, you can’t blame everything on me.”

“Sorry Dad, we’re off to Disneyland. Maybe after your next war…”

“There won’t be a next war, son. Not for me, anyway.”

That brought him up short. “Oh?”

“Look, can we go somewhere and talk?”

“Bring a car?”

“Yes, of course.”

“To Anaheim, then. We can talk on the way.”

His father’s motorcade and security detail were waiting curbside when they all came out of the Marriott, and Andersen’s eyes went wide as the senator told his head-of-detail where they were off to. Soon the group of black Chevrolet Suburbans was on the 405 headed south.

“So, are you ill, or just going into hiding. Perhaps in a bunker somewhere?”

“The former, son.”

“I see.”

“I’d like you to come home with me. We need to settle our differences while there’s still…”

“What? Time? You know something, Dad. You always framed things in such Homeric detail, like you were on some kind of…”


“Yeah, maybe. Only guess what? I’m the only Odysseus in this story, pops.”

“Is that dog still with you?”

“Right here, Dad,” he said, holding the nylon carrier up so he could see. “Why? Want to kill this one, too?”

“Will you never forgive me for that?”

“She was my dog, Dad. She was the only thing in life that truly loved me, and you killed her. You killed her…!”

“She had cancer, son. As do I.”


“That pup had cancer, Denton. The vet advised we put her down before her suffering grew too severe.”

He look at his father, then looked away. “Why didn’t you tell me, Dad?” he whispered.

Bennett King shrugged. “I think I wanted you to grow up, son.”

“So you told me you killed my dog? You thought that would make me grow up?”


“Dad, do you see a pattern here? Always manipulating, never dealing in truths? And now look where we are…”

“And look at you,” Bennett shouted. “Off to a goddamn amusement park. Still awash in juvenile fantasies, just like your whole goddamned generation!”

“What did you expect, Father. Did you really think people wanted to embrace one war after another? That one day, maybe, you’d start a war we’d lose? A big one? Not against one of those two-bit Asian dictators you love to set up, but a real war?”

“You have a child’s worldview, son.”

“Thank God.”

Bennett King looked out the car at the passing cityscape, then he simply sighed. “I guess it had to end this way. We tried to make things so easy for you, for your generation, but in the end you had no stomach for the hard work that has to be done from time to time.”

“No, I guess not, Father. What did you expect? How can endless war compete against the likes of Disneyland?”

“You’re correct, of course. You always were.”

“What’s wrong with you, Dad?”


“How far along?”

“Too far, I’m afraid.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

“Go home, read a few books, maybe putter in the garden. I’m afraid you’ll have to finish your odyssey without me.”

“That doesn’t sound like you, father.”

“I don’t feel like me, son. For the first time in my life I feel like I’m on the outside looking in.”

“Maybe because you are.”

“I know that must fill you with a kind of wild glee, but try not to rub it in.”

He ignored his old man, could see the sprawling parking lot just ahead. “Ever been to Tomorrowland, Dad?”

“No, son, I can’t say that I have.”

“Well, you know what, Dad, I hear it’s never too late…”


For some reason 501 looked like a brand new aircraft. She even smelled new.

The ground crew had the GPU up and running when he walked aboard, and Andersen was already in his seat, programming the FMS for their flight home.

“And how is Miss Jenn this morning?” Andersen asked, turning to look at Jenn in her carrier.

“Still miffed about getting soaked on Splash Mountain.”

“I have never seen a pup sulk like that. Your father, too.”

“She takes things personally,” he said, grinning. Jenn yapped once, scolding him. 

“He did not look well.”

“He isn’t. I read up on glioblastoma last night. He’s got eight good months left, and that’s with or without treatment.”

“I think he enjoyed himself, even so.”

“Yeah? I hope so.”

“I never pictured you having a father like him. He seems very tough.”

“That’s my old man. Tough. Tough, to the core.”

“Why did he keep calling you Odysseus?”

“It’s an old joke. From high school, I think.”

“He thinks you are a wanderer, but I think he loves you. Maybe very much.”

He looked at Andersen, and the look in his eyes must’ve been enough because Pers turned back to his FMS and resumed entering waypoints and altitudes.

“I forget to pick up some stuff in the terminal. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“Yeah, sure.”

He walked through the galley and up the Jetway into the departure lounge, then down the long corridor to the newsstand. He browsed the magazines for a minute or two then picked up a couple of bottles of water, then walked across to a restaurant and ordered two pastrami sandwiches – to-go – and when they were ready he walked back to the gate.

Ellen Green was waiting for him there. Smiling.

And when he saw the little girl by her side, holding her hand, he felt that same shimmer inside… 

“Hello, Denton.”

“Ellen. And who have we here,” he asked, not able to take his eyes off the little girl.

“My daughter. Her name is Jennifer.”

He knelt, looked into the girls eyes and yes, he knew beyond question the girl was his.

“Jennifer? Are you going from an airplane ride today?”

“You’re my father, aren’t you?” the girl said.

He looked up at Ellen – who only nodded now – and he turned to this little girl and smiled. “Would that make you happy? If I was your father?”

The girl looked into his eyes for the longest time, then she backed away from him, hid behind her mother’s legs, so he stood and looked into Ellen’s eyes. 

“I think she’s a little scared,” she said, looking into his eyes too.

“Understandable. Where are you two headed?”

She pointed to the gate, to his airplane.

“I see. Going on vacation?”

“My daughter needs her father.”

“Don’t we all,” he whispered, then he looked down at the girl again, and this time he held out his hand. “You’d better come with me,” he said. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”

He picked her up, carried her to the gate agent’s desk and explained what was going on, and Ellen handed over their tickets then followed Denton down the Jetway and into the cockpit.

The girl’s eyes went wide when she saw the crowded space. “What’s this?” she whispered.

“This is where I work, Jennifer, and this is my other Jennifer,” he said as he pulled the pup from her carrier.

“I’ve heard about you,” his daughter said.

He knelt again, held the pup out and then watched these two souls collide, come to terms with one another, then his little Jenn leaned forward a little and licked his little girl on the tip of her nose – then, gently, on her lips.

“I think you two are going to be friends,” he said.

“I think so too.”

He stood, put the pup in her carrier then picked up this other brave soul and looked her in the eye again. “I think you and I are going to be okay now, don’t you?”

She nodded her head and smiled, then she put her arms around her father’s neck and held him close, and when he looked up he saw the world through a veil of tears. Ellen stood there, crying a little too as she took it all in, and even as he led them to their seats he felt something he never expected.

Complete. Whole. Where he was supposed to be, at last.

“I wish you could sit up front with me today but it’s against the rules. I tell you what, though. I’ll see if I can come back and talk to you in a little bit.”

“We have a lot to talk about, don’t we, Daddy?”

He looked in her eyes again, then held her close. She seemed to wrap herself around his soul in a way that seemed so familiar, so right, and he closed his burning eyes while he cupped the girl’s head in his hands, feeling another little girl’s head once again – like an echo.

He put his little girl in the window seat and buckled her in, then hugged Ellen once before turning quickly and walking to the front of the plane.

“Who was that?” Andersen asked.

“An old friend.”

“Jenn seems very quiet.”

He knelt and lifted his friend from her carrier and she looked into his eyes, licked the tears from his face.

“I know, I know,” he whispered, “but nothing will ever change how I feel about you.”

He kissed her nose, looked into her eyes, then she kissed his lips before he put her gently into the carrier. He strapped it down, made sure she was comfortable, then slipped into his seat…


King is sailing now. The storm was colossal, bigger than any he had been in before, yet the shimmer in the air was insistent now, as was the voice coming from the far side of the sky.


His grandfather’s voice. He was sure of it now.

Hurry. Hurry – now.


There were two active hurricanes south of Baja making their way towards Hawaii, so the flight’s course had been adjusted much further west than usual for this time of year. As a result, this added more than a hundred miles to their flight time, and stretched the 757s fuel reserves to the limit. To compensate, King planned to get the aircraft up to flight-level 3-9-0 much sooner than usual, and he could only do this because the Boeing was, as was the norm these days, carrying only a few passengers. By noon he could just make out the tops of the closest storm, still far to the east, and the flight management system predicted they would arrive with fifty minutes of fuel still in the tanks, so with almost half the flight complete he was happy.

“I’m going to go take a walk aft,” he said to Andersen, but as per procedure he waited until his FO had donned his mask before leaving the flight deck. He stopped off in the galley for a bottle of water, then walked all the way to the aft galley and checked-in with the flight attendants back there. 

Then he made his way forward to Ellen and Jenn’s seats.

“How’s it going so far?” he asked the little girl as he knelt in the aisle by her mother. “Can you see out the window okay?”

“There sure is a lot of ocean down there,” Jenn sighed. “I think it’s scary.”

“It sure can be.”

“How can you tell where you’re going?”

“Remember all those screens and buttons up front? All those things help us figure out where we are, and where we’re going. They even tell us when we’ll get there…”

He felt an unusual vibration just then, and a moment later the cabin turned to cold fog about the same time the explosion registered in his mind. He leaned over his daughter and saw the containment shroud on the number one engine was in tatters, and then he looked aft, saw a gaping hole just ahead of the first over-wing emergency exit door… 

Oxygen masks blew down from their overhead compartments and dangled over his daughter’s head, so he grabbed one and slipped it over her face and pulled to activate it, then he put one over his own face and took several deep huffs before dashing to the cockpit…

“What happened!” Andersen yelled, trying to make himself heard over all the alarms and the last rushing noises of the explosive decompression.

“Looks like we threw a fan blade, went into the main cabin,” he said, struggling to breathe and reaching for his mask. “My airplane!” he said as he tightened his harness.

“Captain’s aircraft!”

He scanned the engine instruments, checked hydraulic pressures – and so far everything was holding steady, then he trimmed the aircraft for a rapid descent while he countered the asymmetric thrust with heavy pressure on the rudder. “Okay,” he said as he continued scanning his instruments, “looks like we’re losing fuel. Isolate the tank.”

“Got it.”

“Deploy the RAT…we’re going to get a bus one undervolt…”

“Want me to start the APU?”

“Not yet. Lets get our fuel stabilized first, see what the numbers look like.” He reached around and pulled Jenn’s carrier to his lap, pulled out a small oxygen cannister he kept in one of the pouches and popped the lever, let oxygen flow over her nose for a moment, then he put her carrier down by his feet and worked the rate of descent out in his head. “Five more minutes,” he said, thinking out loud. “Atuona has about four thousand feet paved…”

“Fuel’s still leaking…and fast,” Andersen said.

He thought about what his daughter had just said – ‘There sure is a lot of ocean down there’ –  and her words brought a smile to his face. 

“See if you can get on to Ocean Rescue. If not, send a mayday through ACARS and an sms by wifi.” Andersen dialed 121.5 on COMM 1 and transmitted their position and situation, and Ocean Rescue came back, faint and scratchy, but they weren’t alone and that felt good. He cued his mic and spoke next. “Uh, Tahiti, relay to Atuona we’re headed their way. I don’t think we’re going to make it, but it’s gonna be close so they might want to get their boats and helos ready. With our current rate of loss we’re right on the line.”

He checked altitude and threw off his mask, then he reached down and pulled Jenn’s carrier up and had a look; she looked perturbed but her tail was whomping the sides of the bag and she woofed once just for good measure.

“Looks like we might have to go for a swim today, girl. You up for that?”

Two yaps.

“Well, don’t worry. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

One yap.

“I love you too, girl.”

Andersen shook his head. “She’s your soulmate, isn’t she?”

“That she is.”

“Didn’t you tell me once she can’t swim?”



“Look, if anything happens to me, get her to King, would you?”

“I will.”

“You’re a good man, Andersen. How far out are we now?”

“One-fifteen. Thank you, Captain.”

“Well Hell, it’s gonna be closer than I’d like. You remember what the north coast looks like?”

“Reefs are in close, then a steep wall right after the last ring – and it gets real deep, real fast.”

He looked out his side of the aircraft, saw whitecaps and large, breaking waves on the surface and shook his head. “Must be blowing thirty-plus down there. Put me on the intercom, would you?”


“Uh, flight attendants, prepare for a rough landing, get ready for a possible water evac if our approach doesn’t work out. Everyone listen up, we’re trying for one of the Marquesas Islands, a little airport outside the town of Atuona, but we’re losing fuel a little too fast so we may end up in the water. Remember, the emergency exit slides convert to large rafts and odds are we’ll have boats on the scene even before we get over the island, so keep calm and listen to your flight attendants. Hopefully we’ll be on the ground in about ten to fifteen minutes, but lets get your life-preservers situated now.”

“How’s your leg holding out on the rudder?” Andersen asked.

“Manageable. How many minutes left?”

“Less than fifteen at current rate of burn.”

“That’s not gonna work. Tell the girls we’re going in the water.” He looked down at the sea again, saw the wind and waves were not as bad as before and he thought at least that was working in their favor…then he saw the mountains of Hiva Oa in the distance and remembered the airport was almost fifteen hundred feet above sea level. Even with the wind hard out of the north he just didn’t see a good approach without their circling the island to land into the wind…and that would take time they just didn’t have.

He peered ahead, could now just make out the crenelated coastline, and he saw a village just to the left – and the pulsing strobes of one rescue helicopter making for the coast.

“Have you ever ditched before, Captain?”

“No. You?”

“Only in nightmares.”

He laughed at that, and so did Andersen. “We’ll be okay,” he added. 

“We are officially burning fumes now, Captain.”

“Okay, tell Center, then the girls,” he said, then he decided to head for the only village visible. “Isn’t that Nahoe right there,” he asked, taking a hand off the yoke long enough to point.

“Yes, I think so, Captain.”

“I wonder…maybe we could almost beach this thing…or get close enough so people could wade ashore…”

“It’s possible, but a risk, too.”

“Everything’s a risk now, Pers,” he said – and then the cockpit fell to silence as their number two engine ran out of fuel. “Glad we didn’t try for the airport.”

He watched his airspeed now, looking up at the coastline, and the tiny village just ahead – gauging distances, trading airspeed for altitude when he thought it safe. The village looked to be about two miles ahead and already the rescue helo was circling overhead. Wave height looked perilous but manageable, but with the strong wind on his tail he knew he’d have to carry a lot of airspeed until the last possible moment.

“Look!” Andersen said, pointing. “There are already several boats headed our way.”

“Give me some leading edge, would you?”

“One or two?”

“Go direct two, get ready to give me flaps five at about fifty feet.”

“Got it.”

“Tell the girls…brace now.”

The water was incredibly blue down here, the water still thousands of feet deep, and he could see wind-driven spume cresting off the wave-tops…then he thought he saw the yellow helicopter off to his left as he bled off as much speed as possible…

“Flaps now,” he said softly.

“Coming down.”

“Brace now, Amigo.” He took his feet off the pedals and tried to hold Jenn’s carrier in place, then he saw the breaking waves – and the rocks –

The aircraft skimmed off the tops of the waves for a few hundred feet, then the left wingtip hit the rocks and she spun wildly out of control, the fuselage breaking into two segments at first, then a third after the tail caught a breaking wave and broke free. He was aware of some of this as the forward part of the fuselage, now almost free of the wings, began to roll to the right as his ship stopped and settled in the water.

He looked at Andersen, saw he was moving but bleeding from a deep scalp laceration.

“Can you move?” he asked.

“Yes, Captain.”

“Okay, let’s head aft…”

The motion was violent, the breaking waves pushing the hull towards the surf line a few hundred yards ahead, but all he could think of now was Ellen and his daughter. He fought his way out of his seat and out the cockpit door…

No flight attendants in the galley, he saw, then he spotted one of the girls helping an elderly couple out of their seats. The hull righted for a moment and he went to the main door and forced it open, deploying the slide just as Andersen arrived.

“You stand-by here,” he said, “and get ready to detach the raft when she’s loaded. And grab that first aid kit!” he added, pointing to the box hanging in the galley, and as he started aft he felt his feet. 

His daughter was wide-eyed but unhurt, while Ellen appeared dazed. Yes, he saw a welt under her right eye, and she was squinting but otherwise unhurt as he got to their seat.

“Let’s get you two moving,” he said, this time more calmly than he felt. The water was up to his knees and rising fast, the hull settling fast now. He grabbed his daughter when Ellen passed her over, then he took Ellen’s hand and pulled her up, then forward…

“Captain, you must hurry!” Andersen shouted. 

He noted the hull was settling by the cockpit as he passed his daughter to Andersen, then he helped Ellen into the raft… 

“Where’s Jenn?” he yelled. “Did you get her carrier?”

Andersen looked at him. “No, sorry. I thought you had her…”

He pulled his body through the waist-deep water into the cockpit, saw her carrier floating near the overhead panel. “Damn, girl, we’re going down fast,” he said as he grabbed her carrier by the strap and pulled her close – as his head slipped underwater.

Her carrier floated free for a moment and when he tried to pull it under it got caught on the ceiling so he stood on the seat-back and unzipped her case, pulled her free.

“Sorry about this, girl,” he said as she licked the tip of his nose. “We’re going to get wet today, but hang on tight…”

He held her to his chest as he made his way through the cockpit door, then after his head emerged from the swirling water he saw the raft was gone, the main door almost completely awash. There was still daylight ahead, where the sundered, open hull lay, and he saw a breaking wave hit the opening and push the hull into another roll. He pulled them along, walking on the overhead bins and seat-backs, until he was at the opening. He pulled himself free with one hand, the other holding Jenn securely to his chest…

“There they are!” he heard Andersen shout. “Paddle that way!”

Another wave broke over the hull and he felt a piecing pain in his gut, looked down and saw a long shard on metal sticking out of his belly.

“That can’t be good,” he said, and Jenn was looking at him now, and he thought he saw sorrow in her eyes. Or was he looking at a reflection of his own feelings?

He tried to pull free but couldn’t, and as his face slipped under the sea he held the last love of his life to the light, and he felt grasping hands take her. He could see her as the wing began to sink and pull away from the hull, and then he could see he had been impaled by a fragment of the wing, but that didn’t matter now. He watched her now, saw her looking at him as he fell away from her, then he turned his face to the stars and soon all was lost in their blinding light.


King watched embers flicker and lift on a passing current, and as one settled his eyes went to the point, and he fought back a tear as he looked at them sitting by the sea. 

“What is it, Grandfather,” one of his girls asked.

“I was thinking of him.”

“Who? The airplane man?”

“Yes, the airplane man.”

“Is he still out there?” his little girl asked.

“Yes. Still. The people from far away found his airplane, most of it, anyway. But they never found him. They looked and looked, but he had left by then. I think he sailed away, maybe to the stars.”

“Was he your friend, Grandfather?”

“Yes, he is.”

“Where is he? I mean, where did it happen?”

King stood and pointed. “Look past the girls, just past the waves breaking over the rocks. He went down there, or so they say.”

“Is that why they look at the rocks, Grandfather?”

King looked at the two girls, at these two Jenns down on the point overlooking the sea, but it was always the same – it had been for years. So many years. They watched, and they waited.

“Yes,” King said. “That is why.”

People told him from time to time it wasn’t natural for a little dog to have lived so many years, but what did they know? What did people really know about a love like hers?

She watched as the big star fell from the sky, and when her King failed to walk out of the sea and come back to her, the little pup turned to face the stars once again and she sang her song to the wind.

(C) 2018 Adrian Leverkühn | abw |

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.


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 |

fiction, all of it…

Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars 3

corcovado 3


He looked at the chart plotter again, checked their depth carefully as he motored slowly into Squirrel Cove, a convoluted inlet on the southeast side of Cortes Island – and deep inside Desolation Sound. It was almost seven-thirty, and while the sun was still up, somewhere up there behind the clouds, they’d been at it all day – setting sail at four in the morning and pushing-on through one heavy rainstorm after another. Now, with the end of their journey at hand, visibility was down to fifty feet and at ferocious wind, right out of the south at sixty knots, was pushing Altair towards the rocks on the right side of the narrow, westernmost inlet. Tracy looked terrified; Ted looked bored. He knew his father, knew he was enjoying this, the extra challenge at the end of a long, hard day…

A violent gust rocked the boat and he turned Altair into the wind a little, though she rolled more than thirty degrees right for a moment – and Tracy shrieked her displeasure then, now, suddenly, beyond terrified. Yet Altair stood up again and he added power, his eyes now fixed on the chart plotter…and the way ahead.

“Another hundred yards or so and we’ll be out of this wind,” he said for Tracy’s benefit – just as another gust slammed into Altair, sending her almost on her beam.

“Jesus, Dad, the wind gauge hit ninety…!” Ted called out, but he was still focused on the rocky ledge about fifteen meters ahead – because these gusts were pushing him right for it…

He waited for the wind to settle a little, then slipped the transmission into reverse and backed down hard, his rudder to starboard a little, and as Altair’s bow pointed away from the ledge he put the transmission in forward again and gunned the engine, kicking the old girl with his spurs on one more time. A minute later they were inside the sheltering cove, and the wind, just as he said it would, fell off to the gentlest breeze imaginable.

“Get the eighty pound ready first,” he said, quietly, to his son, and Ted ran off to the bow to get the anchor ready to drop. “How you doin’, kiddo?” he added, looking at the disbelief in Tracy’s eyes.

“How did you do that?” she asked.

“Do what?”

“Get us in here…?”

“Badly, I’m afraid. I should have anticipated those last two gusts.”


“Yeah. Sorry about that…that really could’ve gone smoother,” he sighed, but his eyes were on the plotter again. He overlaid radar on the display and he could see the contours of the cove now, and every boat anchored inside, too, even though visibility in the heavy rain was still under fifty meters. He changed range scales and fiddled with the gain setting, knocking back the rain-clutter, then he saw a likely place near the far east end of the cove.

Ted had the eighty pounder on the roller now, ready to go, and he waved him back to the cockpit. “No reason for you to stand out there,” he said as his cold, wet son clambered back into the cockpit.

“How far?”

“‘Bout a half mile, and I don’t think this rain is gonna let up anytime soon.”

“What’s the forecast look like?”

“More of the same, like maybe two, three more days.”

“Swell,” Ted grumbled. “Just what the doctor ordered.”

“It’s pretty here,” Tracy sighed, peering into the murk. “Nothing but trees…”

“Oh,” he said, grinning, “there’s more here than meets the eye.”


“You’ll see,” Ted added, though he was grinning now, too.

“What’s the big mystery,” she whined.

He looked at the plotter, confirmed there were no wayward currents pushing him around inside the cove, then he looked up, checked the radar against the boats he saw looming out of the mist and rain just ahead. “About three hundred yards, Ted.”

“I’m gonna get another fleece, my gloves, too.”

He powered back a little, turned away from a group of boats anchored along the south side of the cove, then noted several were rafted-up together, forming a sort of floating community out here in the middle of nowhere…then Ted was bounding out into the rain again. He picked his spot and throttled down, let Altair drift to a long, arcing stop, then he toggled the windlass and let the anchor down…slowly…and then, when Ted gave him the signal, he backed down until he felt the anchor set.

He shut down the engine, marveled at the quiet of this place once again – even as he listened to the wind through the pines and rain pelting the cockpit enclosure…then he noticed Tracy looking at him.

“Does anything bother you?” she asked.


“That storm…the rocks…you could’ve lost your boat, maybe our lives, but it was like you were, well, on heroin. Nothing seems to upset you…”

“People get in trouble when they panic. When they stop thinking the problem through, when they just start acting. That’s probably the first thing a student pilot learns, too, by the way.”

“So, that’s it? You run into things like this all the time, so it’s like…just no big deal? Is that what you’re saying?”


“What happens if you screw up?”

“People die.”


He opened his eyes, looked around. Navy gray everywhere, and ductwork…the thrum of air conditioning and heavy machinery buried deep within the bowels of the living, breathing ship. A medic of some sort fiddling with his bandaged leg, then adjusting an IV hanging from a tree over his face.

“Oh…you’re awake…”

“If this isn’t a dream,” he replied, “I am.”

“No, sir, Lieutenant, no dreams allowed in here.”

“Where am I?”

“Back on the Roosevelt, sir. Docs operated on both legs, and turned out that snake’s venom was pretty mild, like maybe he didn’t get a good strike or somethin’, but I’ll go get the doc…”

He nodded, then looked down at his legs and shook his head. “Fuck,” was about all he could think to say, then he just stared ahead until a man in blood-splattered green scrubs came up to his gurney.

“Guess you had a helluva night, Lieutenant.”

“What happened?”

“Beats me. By the time the Seals got to you, well, you were out cold and seriously fucked up. Good thing you powdered that wound on your right leg…that shard got close to, well, let’s just say you had a close call and we’ll leave it at that.”


“We still don’t know what kind of snake got you. One of the Seals got it with an M16, brought back some pieces so we could ID the thing. I think what saved you was, well, your vascular network down there was already pretty compromised, so the venom just couldn’t spread. It’s responding to anti-histamines so it’s probably a hemotoxin, so it wasn’t a cobra or something like that.”

“When can I get back to flight status?”

“Well, that’s the good part. No fractures and no major muscle damage, so assuming no infection I’d give it about two months…”


“Believe me, Lieutenant, when you get on your feet again you’ll realize how close a call you really had…”

“Can I go back to my quarters now…” he asked, clearly perturbed.

“You’re leaving for Germany on the next COD,” the physician added, “then stateside.”

The squad CO, Dan Green, came in a few minutes after the doc left, and Green looked at his leg for a while, then came closer. “Close one, Jim. You remember what happened?”

“First SAM – went wide right, the second went just aft. What about the Sukhois? Did I get ‘em?”

“Yeah, you sure did. Nothing got airborne, and the base is history. We got some Seals in there to secure the place this morning. It’s a done deal now, anyway. Saddam’s people are bugging out, disappearing into the hills, and their air force is, well, they split too, flew to Iran.”

“Iran? I thought…”

“Everyone thought they’d go to Jordan. They didn’t.”

“So, what? They’re just going to sit this one out?”

“Guess none of them felt like being martyred this week, if you know what I mean.”

“I guess, yeah.”

“So, they tell me you’re headed to Wiesbaden?”

“Can you talk to someone, Dan? No broken bones…shit…I ought to be ready to fly in a few days.”

Green laughed at that. “Hell, Jim, this thing is going to be over in a few days, for us, anyway. They’re already talking about moving a couple of the carriers back out to the Indian Ocean, maybe to the Med. Seems like Saddam is getting ready to shoot off some Scuds, and the thinking is he might try to hit Israel.”

“Too bad for him if he does.”

“Yeah, anyway, by the time they get that leg fit for duty we’ll probably be back at Pearl. I wouldn’t sweat it, but if it heats up again you’ll be ready to go. You’re a short-timer, aren’t you? You weren’t thinking of extending?”

“I wasn’t, until this thing. My hitch is up in June.”

“Call it four months, then? Well, who knows. If we’re still here in a few weeks I’ll put in a request. About all I can do, Jim.”

“Thanks, Skip.”

“Yeah. Well, some of the ground-pounders wanted to talk to you…”

“The Seals? Great…!”

And with that, five men came into the compartment.

“Hey, L-T!” their CO said as he led his men into the little compartment. That was some mean shootin’ you did out there…”


“That cat. You nailed it, right in the throat. Dropped him like a sack of potatoes. Pretty good for a 1911 – at that range, anyway.”


“Yeah, that spotted thing. Looks like a leopard, only it’s not. Some kind of swamp-cat…but man, you got him…”

“All I remember is the snake…coiled up by my feet…”

“Yeah, he was still there when we got to you. Hernandez got him, emptied a whole fuckin’ magazine into his fat ass, too.”

He looked around at the Seal team and nodded. “Thanks, men. Appreciate your laying it out there for me.”

He heard their chorus of “You bets…” and “No problemos,” then they were gone, Green too, and he felt himself coming down hard and fast now.

“Germany…?” he sighed. “Well, at least I can call the folks from there, and Babs, let ‘em know I’m okay…”

Then the throbbing started.

By the time he arrived in Germany his right leg was splotchy blue and the docs told him some kind of bug had gotten into the tissues of his lower leg…something from that swampy marsh…

“A bug?”

“Yeah. They get in through the wound, find their way into the space between the muscle and your skin. They multiply like crazy in there.”


“We try antibiotics, three or four of ‘em, over the next 24 hours.”

“We try? And what happens if they don’t work?”

And the doc shook his head. “Let’s not go there right now…okay?”


Tracy was shivering and Ted was almost as white as snow when they came in from setting the anchors, so, as much as he didn’t want to, he fired up the generator then turned on the cabin heaters. He set about making dinner then, though he kept his eyes on the weather every few minutes. The forecast was for almost freezing temps overnight, the mid-30s, anyway – and that was for Vancouver! – yet three days from now sunny and in the 70s.

“What a roller coaster…” he sighed as he turned to the chicken in the skillet.

“What’s for chow?” Ted asked as he came out of the aft cabin.

“Lettuce wraps and that coconut soup you like.”

“Ah…nothing like Thai on a rainy night.”

“You’re cooking Thai food?” Tracy asked. “On a boat?”

“Why not?” he replied. “It’s not that difficult, and it doesn’t take long.”

“Lettuce wraps?” she added. “Really?”

“Sure. I washed the lettuce and made the soup this afternoon. All I have to do is grind the chicken and put the soup in the microwave.”

“The microwave? You have one of those, too?”

He shook his head – again – then turned to the stove – again. He added lemongrass and basil, and finally one crushed cardamom pod, then he turned down the heat and let the chicken simmer for a while. “Tea’s ready, if anyone wants some.”

“Don’t tell me,” Tracy sneered. “Fresh chai?”


“This is ridiculous,” she sighed. “This is like a floating restaurant…”

“You’d rather I opened a can of dog food for you?” he asked, trying to keep calm.

“I just don’t get it,” the girl said. “Getting away from it all…”

“Doesn’t mean I have to deprive myself of the things I like to eat, Tracy. You forget. This is my home, and the idea of living like a backpacker doesn’t appeal to me all that much.”

She nodded. “Yeah…I get that…”

Ted was rummaging through a pantry about then, and he stood up, beaming, holding forth a can: “Dad! Look! Pork and beans, with weenies, even! Trace? Want some?”

She sneered again. “No thanks.”

Ted looked at his old man – and winked.


She helped with the dishes, and he let her know he appreciated the help, then he went to the chart table and looked over the batteries.

“Gonna have to run the generator all night?” Ted asked.

“With this water temp the fridge and freezer won’t draw too much, but the heater? That won’t run off batteries.”

“So? We’ve got good blankets…”

“Yeah? At 36 degrees and with three bodies in here there will be enough condensation on the ceiling in the morning to take a shower with…”

“Dad? We’re like, ya know, laying down a smoke-screen out there. The fumes are overwhelming.”


“Well, do the words ‘pristine’ and ‘wilderness’ ring any bells?”

“Does freezing your ass off all night mean anything to you? Then dealing with an unholy mess in the morning?”

“I vote for warm,” Tracy said, tossing her two cents into the up. “I kind of like warm.”

“Me too,” he said. “Don’t you just love democratic systems of governance, Paco?”

Ted sighed, shook his head. “I like warm, too. I also hate turning this harbor into a cesspool. Like, we came here to get away from all that crap?”

“Right, Paco. Who’s up for a movie?”

“Movies?” Tracy said…and he sighed – then turned the generator to AUTO and flipped the heater to STAND-BY – and complete silence enveloped Altair…and the entire cove, for that matter.

And moments later he heard cheers and applause coming from all the boats anchored around Altair, and he shook his head as he retreated into his cabin.


He slept late – ‘til three a.m., anyway – then he got up – shivering – and turned on the generator, then the heater. He put on coffee and took his shower, then fired up the chart table and looked over the current weather. “Wind still out of the south, at forty, forty-five, and rain all day. A high of fifty-five? Well, well, well…sounds like a good day to read.”

He decided to check on Ted and poked his head in the aft cabin – and saw Tracy curled up by his son’s side.

He closed the door gently and tip-toed to the galley, trying not to grin, then he put on some hot water to make that tea-like crud Tracy was using to help back off the heroin. He got out “her” cup and added the recommended amount and let it steep for a while, then he went back to her room and woke her.

“Is it time already?” she asked, and he nodded.

He went back to the galley and a few minutes later she came out, looked at him getting ready to cook breakfast and she walked up behind him, put her arms around him.

“Good morning,” she said, then she disengaged and walked to the main table in the saloon and sat – as usual, tucking her bare feet under her thighs.

“Sleep well?” he asked, handing her the mug.

She looked at him and grinned. “I wish I’d known he was a virgin,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. “I’d have baked him a cake or something…”

He shrugged. “All things being equal, I’m kind of glad it was you.”

She teared up at that, then turned away. “Me?” she said a minute later. “The lying heroin addict?”

“Sorry. That’s not the girl I know. I know this girl named Tracy, the one who meets problems head-on, and doesn’t quit.”

“That’s not the girl I know.”

He shrugged again, then smiled at her. “Looks like were in for a long, rainy day. You like to read?”


“Well, I’ve got a few books stowed for a rainy day…”

“You said you have movies?”

“Yup. On my laptop. Play ‘em through that iMac over there,” he said, pointing.

“Do you have any oldies?”

“Oldies? How old does a movie have to be before it’s an oldie? The first Star Wars, maybe?”

She grinned at that. “No, I mean old…like Elvis kind of old.”

“Ah. Well, I do have Paradise, Hawaii Style, if that counts?”

“Which one’s that?”

“He plays the fired airline pilot who comes home…”

“That figures,” she said, grinning. “I bet you have The High and The Mighty, too.” And he started whistling John Wayne’s iconic theme at that, and she broke out laughing. “My God, you do have a one-track mind, don’t you?”

“You could say that.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask…what happened to your leg? The right one, there?” she said, pointing.

He turned away from her question, went back to the galley. “Just a bad night,” he said as he pulled out a skillet. “A bad night, a long time ago.”

“Was it serious?”

“No, not really.”

“You don’t want to talk about it?”

“No, not really.”

“Okay. Can I help?”

“I’m just gonna whip up some breakfast. You hungry?”

“Actually, yes. Want me to wake up Ted?”

“Just see if he wants to get up yet…”

She walked past, brushed up against his back as she passed and a chill went up his back, and he leaned forward, put his outstretched hands on the counter and closed his eyes, trying to remember the last time he’d been so attracted to another human being…


“Hey, Pumpkin,” he said as he came into their apartment. He was carrying his flight bag in one hand, his car keys in the other, and he could hear Barbara working away in the apartment’s tiny kitchen, so he put his bag down and walked in. He could smell bourbon and the realization unsettled him – if only because it was not quite lunch time.

“How was your night?” she asked.


“Ben Chambers called this morning. He wants you to call-in as soon as you get settled.”

“Oh? Did he say anything?”

“Nope. You want to grab a shower? Lunch will be ready in about ten minutes…”

“Yeah. I’d better,” he said, thinking he might have to run back out to the training center after lunch. He walked into the bedroom and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Something didn’t feel right, he thought. Something was – off.

He shook it off and hopped in the shower, washing away the night – and the sudden panicky vibration gripped him again, then he dried and got dressed…in a hurry. She had huevos rancheros and fresh guacamole on the table and he dug in. “Jeez, darlin’ – you’re getting better and better at these…”

“Thanks, Jim. Glad you like ‘em.”

“Well, I love you, Pumpkin. It’s sweet of you to do this for me. When do you go in?”

“Three to midnight again. You off tomorrow?”

“Three days off, then I start Atlanta to CDG – for three months, anyway.”

“Paris…? Think we could spend a long weekend there?”

“You know it, babe.”

She sat beside him, leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, then she smiled. “That could be fun,” she added…a little too suggestively.

“Where would you like to stay?”

“I don’t care…somewhere old, away from… No. Maybe by Notre Dame. Are there any hotels over by that part of town?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I can ask one of the guys when I start…”

“Could you?”

“Sure. You need help with the dishes?”

“No…you’d better go make your call,” she said, and he nodded, went to their bedroom again, and again, the hair on the back of his neck shot up in electric warning.

He shook it off, called Chambers’ office at the training center and held while someone went to find him.

“Jim? You haven’t put on your pajamas yet, have you?”

“No, sir. What’s up?”

“An opportunity, I think, if you’re up to it?”


“Listen up. Word is headquarters is dead set on unloading most of our widebodies, including the L-1011s. I don’t know what the timeline is yet, but even if we keep the TriStars around you’re way back on the seniority list. It could be ten years before you get to the left seat, and then what? You make it just as we dump the type? Then what?”

“Jeez, Ben. When’d you hear this?”

“Couple days ago. Look, I know you’re getting ready to start this week, so here goes. We’re getting our first 752s in this year, and from what I hear management is really going to get behind this hull. I’m thinking, with your experience you could make captain in two, maybe three years, and the 57 is Delta’s future. You hearin’ me?”

“I am. And, what’s the punchline?”

“Our first school starts in three weeks. You can start the Paris run as scheduled, put in your app and wait, but I think they’ll take you.”

“What do I need to do?”

“I’d get down here pronto and get the paperwork in.”

“Like, this afternoon?”

“Like yesterday, Jim. The word’s out. Tomorrow will be too late for the first group of FOs.”

“I’ll be there in an hour,” he said as he hung up the phone, and when he turned around Barbara was standing in the doorway, glowering at him.

And that’s when he noticed the used condom on the floor by her shoes. He looked at it for the longest time, then he picked it up and carried it right past her on his way to the bathroom. He flushed it down the toilet, washed his hands then left – without saying a word to her.

He missed the smile on her face as the door closed behind him.


“Two days of this rain is enough, Paco. I’ve had it. You ready to run down to Nancy’s, grab some chow?”

“Oh, man, I thought you’d never ask!”

“Is Nancy’s that place you two keep talking about?” Tracy asked.

“Nancy’s is only the best place for breakfast on earth,” Ted sighed, suddenly almost salivating.

“And what that really means,” he added, “is that he’s tired of my cooking.”

“I’m not,” Tracy said, smiling.

“Well, I am,” he said. “I could use a break. You ready to pull up the hook?”

“You wanna leave now?” Ted asked.

“Yup. Maybe we can get there before the early morning rush.”

“The early morning rush?” Ted croaked. “In Lund, B.C.?”

“You see all these boats anchored here, Paco? Well, there are probably two hundred more over in Gorge Harbor, and in about an hour they’re all gonna wake up and have the exact same thought – at the exact same time. My-oh-my, but a fresh cinnamon roll over at Nancy’s sure sounds good!”

“Alright, alright…let me grab my gloves, Captain Bligh.”

“Good. I’ll warm up the diesel.” He preheated the water lines and flipped on the spreader lights, then went to the cockpit and started the engine, watching the gauges as it warmed. When Ted pulled up on the trip-line and gave him the thumbs-up, he ran the windlass, pulling the anchor, and it’s chain, up onto deck, and he verified their position on the plotter while he turned to leave the cove.

Light rain and a wind-driven, four-foot chop greeted them outside, and he set his course to 1-5-6 and engaged the auto-pilot, then went topsides to roll out the headsails. When both were pulling he and Ted raised the main, then he ducked below and fell off the wind a little, letting the sails fill, then he fiddled with the heading on the AP for a while, until a gust hit and Altair heeled over dramatically.

“Whoa!” Tracy shouted, grabbing the cockpit coaming and holding on for dear life. “Where’d that come from?”

He chuckled. “Where did what come from?”

She scowled as she looked at him, then she smiled too. “It is kind of fun, isn’t it?”

“Kind of.” With her port-side rail over far enough to ship water in the troughs, Altair bit into the wind and began racing south towards Lund, and still the sun was nowhere to be seen. The sky was simply sifting through shades of gray as night turned to day, and the water looked impossibly black out here…like India ink. He saw the lights of a fishing boat ahead, and a few channel markers were flashing in the darkness, but there was almost nothing else…

“Dad! Logs!”

He saw them then – almost invisible in the rolling waves – a half dozen trees had broken loose from their raft and were adrift mid-channel, so he fell off the wind and they picked their way through what turned out to be several hundred fifty-to-seventy-foot-long timbers, knocked free from their rafts by the storm, so he did what he thought best and called the hazard in to the Canadian Coast Guard…

It took two hours to make the run down to Lund after that, and he was more than ready for a cinnamon roll, too, by the time they tied off at the nearby fuel dock. He was stressed now, afraid of hitting an errant log and holing the hull, maybe losing his home.

“Stayin’ long?” the owner, a very old man asked, and when he pointed to Nancy’s the old guy just smiled and nodded. “Take your time. No crowds ‘til nine or so. See many logs out?”


“I heard some guy called ‘em in to the Coast Guard. That’s a laugh…”

“A laugh?”

“They’re too busy running down the druggies to do much about it. Besides, happens every summer up here…”

“Oh? I’ve been up here a few times, never seen it so bad.”

“They’ve been cuttin’ trees like nothin’ I’ve seen before, and all winter, too. China, I guess. They’re building like crazy over there – and usin’ our lumber to do it, I reckon.”

“Lot of drug running up here?”

“Non-stop. Word is most of it’s comin’ from North Korea, too. Chinese heroin, I’ve heard, for the most part. That’s kind of funny, don’t you think?”

“China has made an art out of playing both sides of the street – for a long time.”

“Playin’ us the fool, too, and laughing all the way to the bank.”

He shook his head then went about topping off both tanks, but he turned to Ted then and told them to go on up and get a table.

“Want a roll?” Ted asked.


“Need water?” the old guy asked. “The hose is right here…I can watch the pump if you want to top off your tanks…”


He was chilled – and soaked to the bone – by the time he made it inside Nancy’s, and he made it to the table just as his cinnamon roll arrived.

“Coffee, sir?” their waitress asked.

“Yup. A big one, French roast if you’ve got it. You know what? Make mine a latte, if you can.”

She nodded, smiled at him and walked off to the counter.

“Man,” Ted began, “that’s some snotty weather, Dad…I don’t know about this…”

“Not the weather that bugs me, Paco. It’s all the wood out there…”

“Wouldn’t they just bounce off?” Tracy asked. “It’s just wood…?”

“Maybe, if you hit one just right, but that wood is soaked with water, almost as hard as iron. Odds are, I think, a strike would knock a hole in the hull. A big one.” Her eyes went wide as she realized what they’d just been through, how close they’d come to a real emergency, then she looked away – out to sea. “Talking to the guy at the dock,” he continued, “he says this is the worst summer for rafts breaking up, ever. Been a lot of incidents in the main channel, too.”

“What do we do?” Ted asked, his mouth scrunched up into a lopsided frown.

“Well, for one, I think when we leave we’ll head back slowly, only on days when the visibility is good, and only in daylight. Next…we’ll have to set a bow watch.”

“Oh…joygasm…” Ted sighed, knowing what that meant.

“We won’t head back until this weather clears, and it’s warmed up a bit…man, these cinnamon rolls haven’t changed one bit, have they?”

“I just saw a yummy looking bagels and lox,” Tracy said. “I’m gonna get that.”

He looked at her, wondered just how much she could put away. She’d been eating non-stop for the last two days, nauseated if she didn’t eat, and he felt for her. Again…

“Yeah, it looked pretty bad,” Ted added.

“Bad?” he asked.

“Bad…sick…that means they really kick ass these days, Dad.”

“Ah. Well, good to know I have a translator.”

The door opened and a girl came in – a woman, really, he noted. Short, squat, almost soft looking, and she peeled off her rain gear – then turned and shook them off just outside the door. She came back in and hung them on a hook, then took a microfiber cloth and cleaned her eyeglasses as she walked to the counter – and he found he couldn’t take his eyes off her.

The place was empty now – but for the four of them and the staff, and he wondered what had gotten her out so early. He watched her order coffee at the counter then she turned and looked right at him – right in the eye – and he couldn’t turn away.

Red hair, white skin set in a nebula of freckles, and even across the room he could see her eyes were deep blue – then the woman walked right up to their table…!

“You came in on the blue boat, right?” she asked – and her accent was pure Georgia, thick as molasses.

He was watching her lips, entranced by the shape of them as she spoke, then her words registered. “That’s right. What brings you out this early in the morning?”

She looked puzzled hearing that, shook her head. “I was trying to get over to Cortes Island,” she said, the question she wanted to ask hanging in the air, apparent.

“Oh? What’s over there?”

And again she shook her head, the tone of his question obviously unsettling. “Seals, for the most part. I wanted to take pictures of seals over there, because I’ve heard it’s lovely at dusk.”

“It might be,” Ted interjected, “if the sun came out every once in a while.”

She laughed a little at that. “Yes. Nice weather so far.”

“How long have you got?” he asked.

“Excuse me?” she replied.

“To spend on the island?”

“I was hoping to make it a day trip, but it seems that’s impossible from here.”

“Yup,” he added. “About a two-hour trip. From here, anyway.”

“You’ve been?”

“Yup. We’ve been anchored at Squirrel Cove…”

“Really! That’s just where I wanted to go. The pictures I’ve seen of the area are really just amazing.”

“We had fifty-foot visibility,” Ted began, a little sarcastically. “Great for looking at, what, Dad? What could we see?”

“Trees. Once.”

“And a whole lot of fog,” Ted added.

Her coffee came and she took it, still standing by their table.

“Would you care to join us?” he asked.

“You wouldn’t mind?”

“Not at all.”

“So, you see, I wanted to get to the island, walk around, take pictures, then get back here, to the hotel…”

“I thought there was a boat to Whaletown…?”

“There is, but not for two days.”

Not too many places to stay over there, by that cove,” he added. A few guest cottages, but they’re…”

“Well, it’s too early in the season. Not open yet.”

“So,” he said, then he paused, thought over the options running through his mind, “you could hop over with us. We’re headed back after breakfast, we’ll probably stay for a few more days, so you could look for a place to bunk out over there, then hitch a ride back with us.”

“You wouldn’t mind?”

“No, of course not.”

“When are you leaving?”

“As soon as we have some chow.”

“I ask as I’ll need to go pack my things and check-out…”

“Why don’t you sit down and have some breakfast. We’ll help with your bags…”

And when she looked at him this time the still, unsettled look in her eyes rattled him. “I don’t mean to be forward,” he added. “Probably just be easier that way.”

She nodded her head then looked at the dock where Altair was tied-off. “Is she an Island Packet?” she asked.

“That’s right. How’d you know?”

“I’ve had a couple. Last was a 325 I kept down at Destin.”

“I hate that harbor entrance,” he said, lost in a memory. “When the wind picks up it’s snarky.”

Now it was her turn to take a deeper look – at him. “You’ve been there more than once, I take it?”

“My folks retired there. He kept a Tashiba 40 down there by the pass.”

“Oh? Nice boats, beautiful interiors.”

He nodded. “Yup.”

“That’s what got you into sailing? Your parents?”

“I guess so, yes, but I was always interested, even as a kid…”

He looked at Ted just then, looked at Ted looking at this stranger, then back at him. And his son was grinning, or trying not to grin…and that got to him…as in – just what kind of signals am I putting out?

“So,” the woman asked. “This is your first boat?”

“Yup. Probably my last, too.”

“Really? Why do you…”

“Well, it’s home now. And I’m not big on moving.”

“You’re full time? A liveaboard?”

“Seems to be the general consensus,” he said, grinning.

“What do you do?”

“I fly, for Delta.”

That seemed to take her back a notch, too. “No kidding?”

“No kidding.”

“My husband flew for them…I mean, my ex-husband flies for them?”

“Oh? What’s his name?”

“Terry Goodway…”

And he laughed at that. “Small world,” he sighed. “He flew with me a bunch when he first got his type. What’s he up to these days.”

“I don’t know, besides hanging out with his brand new, nineteen-year-old wife.”

And he laughed again. “You’re kiddin’ – right?” But he could tell by the expression on her face that no, she wasn’t kidding. Not in the slightest. “I’m sorry,” he stumbled, “but I don’t recall your name.”


“Jim,” he said, reaching out with his right hand.

She took it, but at the same time added: “And let me guess. Your wife got the house, and you got stuck with the boat…?”

Ted bristled. “Not quite,” his son snarled, his voice dripping with malice. “Dad gave her the house, and he took the boat.”

“Oh, really?” Melissa said, her disbelief plain to see.

“Really!” Ted said – as he pushed his chair back and walked outside.

“Wow, sorry…” the woman said. “He’s…uh…”

“Pretty sensitive about things right now. It happened not long ago.”

“And, well, still waters run deep, I guess. What happened, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“She’s had issues. We decided it was a good time to go our separate ways.”

And she looked at him again, this time as if she was changing her mind, then she looked at Tracy.

“And you are?”

“Staying out of this,” Tracy said, matter-of-factly.

“No, dear. Do you have a name?”

“No, not right now I don’t.”

“Ah, well,” Melissa said, looking at him, “perhaps I’d better let you and your happy brood  go your merry way.”

He stood as she stood, then held out his hand again. “Nice to meet you. Hope you get to your island.”

“Thanks,” she said, then she went back out into the early morning drizzle.

He watched her go, saw Ted walk up to her and he watched them talk for a few minutes, then they shook hands and Ted came back inside.

“What was that all about?” he asked.

“Nothing. I just needed to clear the air.”


The rest of their breakfast passed in near silence, and when it was time to pay-up he went to the counter and had more cinnamon rolls boxed-up to-go, some bread, too, then they walked down to the fuel dock together.

Melissa was there, a large blue duffel at her feet, waiting for them.


He was waiting outside the operating room, pacing back and forth in quick, anxious strides. She was eight months pregnant – but had gained almost a hundred and ten pounds – and now her blood pressure was off the charts. 223 over 130 earlier that afternoon – when someone at her office had insisted she go to the hospital, and when her obstetrician arrived she’d insisted they try to induce labor, or, failing that, take the baby before he was compromised.

He’d been somewhere over Florida when the SELCAL chimed, someone on the company frequency calling. He’d taken the news calmly, outwardly at least, but he was hurt, almost angry as he listened to the chief pilot telling him what was happening. He’d done everything he could to get her to stop eating, had cooked the healthiest meals he knew how – only to find out she’d been eating several candy bars – an hour – all day at work. She was, he understood now, content to not merely kill herself. She was going to take as many people down with her as she could, and he wondered what he might try next.

At least he’d gotten her off the sauce. He’d begged her to do at least that much, at least until the baby came, and she’d relented, promised him she wouldn’t – until he came.

Pacing the floor he had wondered…had she scarfed down the most damaging crap in the world simply to put on as many pounds as possible – so she could resume drinking that much sooner? Had his faith in her fallen so low? Had his faith in himself fallen so far…?

Her doc came out a while later, told him that both she and their son were alright now, that the boy was a little premature but nothing serious, and he had fallen away inside the moment, tried to hang on to that one bit of good news for as long as he could.


She let him know, in no uncertain terms, that she had no intention at all of staying home with Ted, not even for breastfeeding, and he’d simply nodded.

“You’re going back to work, I take it?”

“That’s right,” she said – bitterly. “And don’t you dare try to stop me!” she’d screamed.

“Oh, I wouldn’t think of it, Barbara,” he’d whispered, then he’d gone to change the boy’s diaper. Later that morning he called his mother, told her what was happening. She’d flown up that night, moved into the guest room and taken over – and had never once uttered a bad thing about anything, or anyone. In time he realized that Barbara loved his mother more than she loved her own, this his mother was the mother she’d never known. Babs began watching his mother, learning from her, and in time she learned to love honestly, without condition, perhaps for the first time in her life. On Ted’s second birthday she had promised him she’d never drink again, that she’d try to be a better mother…

And, within a few weeks, she was drinking again.

And his mother came back, resumed her duties while he flew and Barbara worked, then got drunk. Night after night. He tried to get her to seek help, any kind of help, but she would curse him and flee into the night.

In time they, he and Ted, started spending time down in Destin, spending time with his father on Altair. His father’s Altair. When the weather was nice they’d go out the cut and sail offshore, and Ted had always loved those bouncy rides best of all, and other times they had motored down the intra-coastal waterway, all the way to Panama City most trips, then they’d come back by way of the sea.

One day they’d been offshore when Ted spotted a weird, drooping fin of some sort and they’d altered course, gone over to see what it was…

“Oh,” Ted’s grandfather said, “that’s a Thresher shark. Not real dangerous, but he’s pretty weird looking, isn’t he?”

Other days they went out and ran across pods of dolphin and Ted would lean over and reach out for them as they swam alongside; he’d learned early on that his son had fantastic balance, and was fearless, too. He’d held on protectively until Ted was seven or eight, then he knew enough to just let go.

His father had been a pilot, too, in the war. The Big One, as it was called. Flown B-17s over Germany and lived to tell the tale, or so his old man liked to say – when he’d had a few too many, anyway, then he’d come home and gone back to work for his father…at the family’s hardware store in St Johnsbury, in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. He’d married his high school sweetheart and they’d had one girl – and then him, many years later. His sister Becky died when she was in kindergarten, and so he’d learned all about love and loss and life and death – and at an impossibly early age. Lessons, he knew now, that had never slipped away…lessons he’d learned from his father.

When he went away to college, to Boston College, his father had known it was all over, but really, he had known for years. His father had managed to get hold of a Cub, a Piper Cub, and had started teaching his son to fly. They flew the Green Mountains, up and down the Connecticut River Valley and all around Lake Champlain, and before long he knew that’s what his son wanted to do. His father knew all too well, if only because that had been his dream, too.

But there had been the family business lined up against all those distant hopes and dreams, his son taking over the family business chief among them, yet in the end it had been easier to sell out than to hold on a little longer, so his father had done what he had to do, then moved to Florida and settled in for the duration. And somehow Altair had become a part of his father’s new life down there. Not golf, not tennis, not even flying…no, it was sailing – something he’d never imagined his father doing…and yet his old man had taken to it with a vengeance – like a duck to water. His old man had even bought an old Greek fisherman’s cap and had been known to hang out around the docks, talking the talk.

Then Ted came, and Barbara flamed out.

And there he was again, like he’d always been. Shoulder the burden, help as best he could, and that first Altair had become the means to an end. Grandfather and grandson, tied together forever by a boat, and yet he’d not been the only connective tissue holding this family together, because his mother was always there too, always taking on the role Barbara should have…

And that had confused Ted.

Once Ted went to kindergarten, once he learned how other families got on, he’d begun to wonder why his family was so different, and, naturally, soon enough the boy had begun to wonder if it was something he’d done. If it was all his fault.

And, of course, as a new father, he’d never seen it coming.

But his mother had. And she’d done her best to answer all Ted’s questions – but, he knew, it’s never enough.

In time he watched his son grow up in the shadow of benign neglect – on Barbara’s part – and an almost smothering love – on his own mother’s part – and then one Sunday, against his wishes, his mother had taken Ted to Sunday School.

(c) adrian leverkühn | abw | | fiction, always fiction…

Corcovado | Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars

Corcovado 1

So, while working on Deep End I started work on a new story, a sailing story, of course. I don’t like working on two stories at once – which is why I usually ending up doing just that – but this is a work-in-progress, too, and unfinished (boo-hiss). Still, have fun. I’ll finish this before Deep End, I guess.

The title? A song, of course. I like Sinatra’s version, but there are dozens out there, including a nice one by Queen Latifah (oh, try her rendering of Poetry Man).

So… Pour yourself a Drambuie and settle in, put on some music and have a read.


Corcovado | Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars


She was gone now. Gone just now, and he was alone in their house, their home, and memories seemed to push in on him.

Twenty-three years together. Gone, down in flames, an assumed destiny reduced to the lowest common denominator by depositions and faultless recriminations. Contrived recriminations, he reminded himself. False memories, misplaced motives.

He heard it first, through a grapevine he’d never known existed, that she was having an affair. Young guy. Some guy who had time on his hands…time enough to take care of her liquid dreams. First, a quiet confrontation, then an equally quiet agreement, and once arrived at it was over – there was nothing left to say, little left to do.

Or…was there? Like…what comes next?

He moved his belongings down to the marina, moved onto the little boat they had sailed on weekends – together. It was big enough, he told himself, to hold onto the things left, the things worth holding onto.

He went to work two days after he moved aboard, drove out to SeaTac, walked to the dispatch office, picked up and scanned through the preflight briefing for the leg to KSLC. He read the met synopsis, checked off the squawks and signed the fuel load-out, then walked through the quiet terminal to the security line. He checked his watch – 4:20 in the morning – while he shuffled through the crew line, then, when he was through, he walked out to the gate and onto the old 757.

All the lights were off – save a few in the galley that cast oblique little pools of blue and amber where the Jetway met the doorway, and he grinned at other memories. How long had it been, he wondered, since he had been the first to board? How long ago had he worn three stripes on his sleeves?

He went to the cockpit and reached into the darkness, feeling for the switch on the overhead panel that would turn on the dome light, but it was second nature now – and had been…for fifteen years. He had to admit…this confined little space was home, his real home. Barbara had never understood that, not really, and had never been willing to share him with this other world. Even if she was proud, in a way, of his calling, she hated him for this one chaste passion.

He sat and started flipping switches, activating electrical buses and checking ground power status, then he started entering data in the old girl’s nav system. He heard a couple of flight attendants come aboard, listened to their careless banter – because they assumed they were the first aboard this morning – and he smiled when he heard one of them notice there were lights on in the cockpit.


A knock on the door.

“Captain? You here already?”

He turned, looked at Marcy Stewart and smiled. “Yup. That seems to be the case.”

“Can I get you some coffee, Jim?”

“No thanks, darlin’,” he said. He liked Marcy, had been to her wedding two summers ago and, because her father had recently passed and he had walked her down the aisle, given her away as best he could.

“We heard about Barbara,” she said, walking into the cockpit just a little. “I’m so sorry, Jim.”

He nodded, turned back to the panel and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment – then he felt her standing right behind his seat, her hand on his shoulder.

“You okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m copacetic.”

“How many we got this morning?”

“Looks full. Sorry. No rest for the wicked.”

“Orange juice?”

“Oh…sure. A little one?”

“Comin’ right up.”

He watched the fuel boss supervising the truck for a moment, then heard his FO walk through the galley on his way up…

“So, it’s true,” Will Eberling said as he came in and hung up his coat. “How long you been here?”

“Half hour, maybe.”

“Leave anything for me to do?”

He almost laughed. “Maybe. I hear the aft head portside is clogged. Why don’t you go do some of that plumber shit…”

Eberling ignored that one, contorted his way into the right seat and ran through his procedures, and even managed to set up his FMS in less than ten minutes. “Ready to hit the bricks?” Eberling said when it was time to do their walk-around down on the ramp.

“Starting to rain a little,” he said as he made his way to the galley. It was cold out, too, like not quite 40 degrees yet, and it was still snowing like crazy in Salt Lake. He made it down to the concrete and walked to the number one engine, confirmed oil and hydraulic pressures were good, then he walked around the gears and tires, giving them a practiced look over. When he was finished he walked over to the fuel boss and took the chit, looked it over once and signed it.

Eberling was waiting for him at the metal stairway, looking southeast. Mount Rainier was barely visible – just – in the dim, early morning light, and he stopped and looked into the shades of gray for a while, then they walked up to the vestibule that connected the old girl to this earth.

Marcy was waiting for him, a glass of orange juice in hand when he came back to the pools of light.

“You sure you don’t want something hot?” she asked, looking at the water running off his rain-coat, and his nose.

He took the juice and downed it, shook his head. “Maybe before we shut the door?”

“Got it,” she said.

He noticed the way she looked at Eberling just then. Kind of a “keep an eye on him this morning” look.

“There are no secrets between crew members,” he remembered one of his training captains telling him once – almost thirty years before. Just the opposite of life in the Navy, he’d had to remind himself. Everything was different – again.

Yet there’d been one constant all through his life so far: Barbara. And Ted, he had to remind himself.

She’d been by his side since their second year together, at school. She’d stuck with him when he’d decided to go into the Navy after graduation, and she’d visited while he struggled through OCS, and he couldn’t have finished without her, he knew. She was his future even then, and they knew it. They got married after he finished up at Pensacola, and when they moved to Pearl she seemed to love him all the more for his calling.

But…things change, don’t they? People change, too.

Eberling was calling out the pre-start checklist now, and he woke up the old girl with her old, familiar routines, got her ready for another day in the air. He was on automatic pilot too, and he knew it…going through all the old, easy motions. He didn’t have to think about what he was doing now; all these motions were in deepest muscle-memory. His fingers found switches without any need to look, because every little thing in this cockpit had it’s own sound and feel.

“Yaw dampers – ”

“One and two, check…”


“One, check…two…and three…”

He watched the pushback truck line up, felt the slightest jolt as they mated – then he was talking to the ground boss…

“Clear to start One, Captain…”

“Starting one…”

Eberling finished the switch from ground power to internal buses while he kept his hand on the tiller, then the truck was free…

“Delta 217, clear to taxi Bravo to one-six left. You’re number two behind a Scandinavian 340, contact tower one-nineteen-nine. Good day.”

“217 to left and nineteen-nine,” he said – and suddenly, in that moment, he knew he’d be okay. All the weight from the past couple of days slipped from his shoulders and he took a deep breath, shook his head.

“You okay, Jim?” Eberling said – a little too quietly.

“Yup. Five by five.” He watched the taxiway lights slip by – in an order he understood all too well – and he braked when they were still about a hundred yards behind the A340 – while Eberling called out the last items on the pre-takeoff checklist.

He watched the -340 turn onto the active, it’s drooping wings heavy with fuel – then it’s engines ran up and she lumbered down the runway.

“217, taxi to position and hold.”


He turned onto the runway, lined up on the centerline, flipped off the taxi-lights, turned on the wing lights…

“217, clear for takeoff, contact departure one twenty decimal four for a Summa One departure.”

“217, 120.4, Summa Four, roger.”

He advanced the throttles to 40%N1 then cut them to idle for a moment, turned on the auto-throttle and the flight director, then engaged the auto-pilot…and the old girl eased down the runway for a few seconds – until she transitioned to full take-off power – then she screamed down the runway and leapt into the sky.

“Positive rate,” he called out, and Eberling raised the gears, then: “One-sixty, slats two. One seven five…clean the wing…”

He watched the autopilot track in on the Summa intersection, then as it made the transition to the Baker City VOR…

He didn’t remember much about that day, only the feeling of normalcy that seemed to come for him so gently, so quietly. He remembered having dinner with Marcy that night, at some raucous place in Malibu. How she’d held his hand after, telling him that it would be alright soon.

“It already is, Marcy.”

She’d nodded once, then looked at him long and hard. “Divorce is like death, Jim. You’ll grieve…”

“No, I won’t. She was cheating on me, Marcy. I won’t grieve over that. I can’t…”

Then she had just nodded her head again. Slowly. Knowingly. Just like Barbara might have…


And, of course, it hadn’t been quite that simple…because at points both lawyers were trying to run up the hours…but the thing about it was – he didn’t want a fight, and neither did Barbara. She was willing to give him the house and the boat, but then he’d asked “Where the devil will you live? That guy’s apartment?”

And so…he’d let her have the house, because, he told her, he knew she loved it so.

And when she broke into tears and ran into his arms he’d held onto her, instinctively, protectively – just as he had for the past thirty years – then he’d kissed her on top of her head and slipped free, that one last time. He signed some papers a few weeks later and it was a done deal, and somehow it was like the last thirty years had never really happened.


Altair was inscribed on the boat’s navy blue stern…which was how his son found it that morning. He’d moved the boat from Shilshole Bay Marina to Lake Union a few weeks before, and only remembered to let Ted know the night before, before he boarded his overnight flight in Boston for the trip home. His own flight got in a half hour after Ted’s, and by the time he made it to the dock Ted was already lounging in the cockpit.

“Ah…the prodigal son returns, but – my God…you look just like Jesus! When’s the last time you went to a barbershop…?”

“Hey, Dad. How’s it hangin’?”

“Still down to my knees.”

“Yeah…but does it still work?” Ted quipped as he hopped down to the dock and hugged his ‘old man.’ “Well, at least you still look like you could…”

“You might, too, someday, if we could only get you out of diapers.”

“Ooh…low blow.”

“Get your stuff stowed?”

“Yup. You sure you want me to take the aft cabin?”

“Yeah, I like it up forward. Where I put my stuff when…”

“You really got three weeks off?”

“Almost four. I don’t have to report back until June 28th, and man-o-man, am I looking forward to some downtime.”

“So? Where we headed?”

“Feel like hitting Desolation Sound?” He watched his son’s eyes light up like a little kid’s and they both smiled, then he looked around the deck. “Got everything you need?”

“I think so, yeah.”

“Did you call your mom? Let her know you’re in…?”

The change that came over his son looked just like a fat summer’s cloud racing across a hot August prairie – bright sunshine to cool, lingering shadow in a heartbeat, then the heat again. Ted was still sorting through his anger, trying to understand her sudden, final betrayal, but he had yet to reconcile with her – said he never would. He had been content to let it go at that while Ted was so far away, but now that he was “home” he was going to have to do something about it. Barbara was still fragile where Ted was concerned.

“No,” was Ted’s final stony, sullen reply.

“Okay.” Which seemed to take the wind out of his son’s sails. “You wanna grab the bowlines while I warm up the motor?”

“Will do.”

A few minutes later he backed out of his slip into Lake Union, and he let Ted take the helm while he tidied up the deck, making Altair ready for sea –

– but first – they’d have to transit Ballard Locks, and Ted had never tackled them before.

So he ran the lines needed while Ted steered down-channel, then he took the wheel when the lock’s entry signal turned green –

“When we get lined-up in there, toss your lines up to the lock-keeper on the dock. He’ll tie us off – our job is to let out line as the water drops and we fall, keeping us off the wall – and the boats around us. It gets pretty turbulent, so brace yourself.”

A half hour later they were running through Shilshole Bay – leaving Seattle in their wake – when the sun broke through early morning, low-scudding cumulus.

“You bring any beer?” his son asked.

“Diet Dr Pepper and chicken salad sammies today.”

“No beer?”

“No beer.”

“Dude…you’re sick.”

“Dude…you’re twenty.”

“But…I thought it was like against the Law of the Sea to leave port without a case of Budweiser.”

“Yup, that’s probably true.”


“Sorry, Dude. I’m just not into that stuff.”

“Got any new books, at least?”


“Jeez, Dad…a month without beer…and no books? You going for the priesthood or something?”

“No. One in the family will be enough.”

Ted looked away. “What makes you say that?” he said a while later.

“Jesuit school, Jesuit college all those theology classes. Or maybe I don’t know you that well.”

“You’re the only person who ever got me, Dad.”

“So…seminary school is next on your horizon?”

“I think so, yeah. But…”

“What about med school?”

“Yeah, that too.”

“Still no girlfriend?”

And again, Ted turned away, lost, trying to find the right words. “I was kinda hoping to try that this summer.”

“Try – what?”

“The whole sex thing. Girls, that kinda thing.”

“Oh,” he said, grinning at the irony. “No girls in Beantown?”

“Just hasn’t been right.”

“I see. Would you grab me a DDP?”

“Sure. Want a sandwich?”

“Nope, not yet.”

He watched his boy amble down the companionway and come back up with four Diet Dr Peppers, and they both downed one in a fast gulp, then opened their second and sipped that one slowly.

“What about that gal from Rhode Island? Didn’t work out?”

Ted shook his head. “She was weird, like she was looking for someone to be her daddy.”

He laughed. “I know the type.”


“No…a couple of stews I’ve known…”


“No, not that. It’s more like I’m a, well, a Father Confessor to a lot of the girls. When they get in trouble it seems they always come to me.”


“Abusive boyfriends, husbands. Unwanted pregnancies. That kind of thing. I guess I have that kind of face.”

“You always have.”


“As long as I can remember. You remember Pete Baker?”

“The kid with eyes like a smallmouth bass? Used to sleep over weekends?”

“Yup. He thought you were God Almighty Himself. You’d come in from a flight in your uniform and all he wanted to do was stay up all night talking airplanes…”

“So? What are you getting at?”

“Remember when he broke his leg? Playing football?”

“Yeah…we went to see him at the hospital.”

“Yeah. All he wanted was to hear you tell him everything would be alright. Didn’t matter what his mom said. To him, well, you were his dad.”


“You didn’t know that, did you? You have no idea how you affect people, none at all. I think that’s what’s so hard to take about you.”

“Hard to take?”

“Yeah. It’s like you’re this high priest, the High Priest of Boeing.”

He laughed at that – for quite a while. “Of Boeing. I like that.”

“Yeah? Well, it’s true. You’ve always had that effect on people. Half the kids from school who came over hoped they’d get a chance to talk to you…”



“I think we need to stop off for some beer.”

“See? There’s a method to my madness.”


They docked in Friday Harbor that night, and though the sun was still up when Altair entered the little harbor, once the boat was tied-off in the tiny marina they decided to head below and grab some sleep. It was just past two in the morning when he woke up – at his customary time – and headed topside to look things over.

Altair was a chunky forty-five feet long, broad-beamed with an enclosed center cockpit that provided better-than-decent shelter from the often drizzly weather on Puget Sound. The tradeoff with this design was simple enough to understand, however, because while it kept the sun and the wind and the rain out, he had lost the stars, and his most beloved star of all – Altair.

Old habits die hardest, he grumbled as he stumbled around the deck in the dark. He woke up at least once every night and to check the dock-lines – more often when the weather was wild – and he held onto stanchions and lifelines as he made his way forward, stubbing a toe once on a cleat and trying not to curse.

“You up already?” he heard Ted say, and as his eyes adapted to the dark he spied his son sitting on the bow pulpit.

“Every morning at two, come rain or shine.”

“You know…that’s not normal.”

“It is…if you have to be in the cockpit by four.”

“Maybe that’s why Mom always slept ‘til noon. Or…maybe it was the bourbon.”

“It wasn’t easy for her, you know.”

“She knew what she was signing up for, Pops. You were her meal ticket, her free ride.”

“She’s your mother, Ted, and I’m not sure she deserves that.”

“You always went too easy on her.”


“The booze. The fucking around.”

“Don’t talk like that.”

“Jeez, Dad…she’d been cheating on you since I was in middle school.”

“And your point is?”

“My point? Well, when you were gone she was either stone drunk and passed out by the time I got home from school, or…”

“Ya know, Ted, it’s water under the bridge. I don’t want to hear it and you don’t need to live there. It’s over, and it seems to me a little forgiveness is in order – eh, Padre?”

He stood in the silence that followed, looking down at the stars reflecting off the water, searching for Altair.

“What about you, Pops? Did you fuck around?”

“Not once.”

“Figures. You’re the most saintly soul I’ve ever known. Too bad you’re an atheist.”

“I am not an atheist.”

“Oh, come on, Pops. The only time you’ve been in church was for a wedding or a funeral…”

“What does church have to do with God?”

They laughed at that one, one of his favorite lines, but he knew in his heart he might be wrong about all that stuff.

“I spend a lot of time in church now,” Ted added. “With the Fathers.”

“That sense of community is a powerful thing, son.”

“I know.”

“Is that what attracts you to the idea?”

“Maybe a little, but it’s the idea that there’s some purpose to all this, that maybe things happen for reasons we can never really fully understand.”

“My father was the same way. Said the only religious experience he’d ever had in his life was when he climbed a mountain over in Switzerland.”

“Sound like hypoxia to me.”


“Yup, and I have the SAT scores to prove it, too.”

“You got your brains from my dad, and your mother. Man, she was a real rocket scientist.”

“Until Jack Daniels came calling, anyway.”

“I guess we all have our crosses to bear.”

“You know what her’s is?”

“No, not really. A hunch, but she would never open up about it.”

“What’s your hunch?”

He sighed, shook his head. “You know what? Maybe you should ask her someday.”

“You’re just not going to speak ill of her, are you?”


“You still love her?”


“Jesus, Dad. Why…?”

“Why? Oh, I guess it has something to do with standing before God and making a promise to that effect.”

“But she…”

“There are no buts, kiddo. A promise is a promise, even if the other person can’t keep up their end of the bargain. You’re only as good as your word, and don’t you ever forget that.”

“I don’t imagine you’ll let me.”

“I won’t always be around, Ted. That’s something you’d do well to remember, too.”


“You and your mother need to clear the air, come to terms.”

“Is she sick?”

“Not that I know of, but…”

“I’m not ready for that, Dad.”


They heard it then…a disturbance in the water…a rippling in the air, and they turned and looked down into the inky starscape, saw a sea otter swimming on it’s back, looking up at them as it circled lazily under the bow pulpit.

“I’ll be…” he said.

“I thought these guys were extinct,” Ted whispered.

“Not quite. I see ‘em every now and then, even in the lake.”

“Damn…he seems almost tame.”

“Not likely. More like brazen confidence. They don’t fear us anymore, I guess.”

“Did they hunt them for their pelts?”



“Yup. They’re kinda cute, ya know?”

“Kind of? I don’t know about you, but I’d like one as a pet.”

“Yeah? Well, aside from being aquatic mammals, they’re also wild. I don’t think that’s a such a good combination, even for a dorm room, but go ahead – ask her.”


“Hey, Paco, she’s laying on her back…see any relevant hardware?”

“When did you start calling me Paco? I was still a spud, right?”

“Oh, when we went down to Mazatlán that Christmas. You were, let’s see, four? You couldn’t eat too many tacos, and, well, Paco rhymes with…”

“Gee, that sounds original, Dad.”

He looked up into the night sky, found Altair in an instant and felt suddenly reassured that it was still there, and that struck him as odd. Had his life changed so much, been so thoroughly disrupted that now he felt unsure of even the stars? Then images of Ted eating tacos in a Mexican village filled his mind’s eye…

“You had to be there, I guess, as a parent. You stuffed those things in so fast…your cheeks were so puffed-out…you were a sight. You had your first beer then, too.”

“I – what?”

“Well, you don’t drink the water down there…”

“I remember…the Aztec two-step…”

“And then you bit into a huge jalapeño. Your face turned beet red and you started to tear up, and I had a bottle of Carta Blanca in hand. You reached up and grabbed it, downed about three-quarters of that bottle in one go…”

“And I’ve been madly in love with beer ever since.”

“I guess you thought it saved your life.”

“It probably did, ya know? Hallelujah, and praise the Lord!”

“Milk does a better job, so does Coke.”

“Thank God you drank beer those days.”

“Well, too late. There she goes,” he said as the otter rolled over and disappeared beneath the still waters.

“Damn. And I was really hoping…”

“So, you wanna get moving?”

“Now? It’s still kinda dark out, Pops.”

“Track’s laid in on the GPS…no problemo.”

“Well, sure; I’m still on east-coast time, so I’m up for the day.”

“Okay…I’ll fire up the diesel. You better go below and stow your gear…”

“I know the drill, Dad.”

Ten minutes later they were motoring out of the little harbor, north towards Little Flattop Island – and Canadian waters – and still there was no sign the sun was ready to put in an appearance. He sat behind the wheel, looking at chart symbology as Altair motored through the various channels between all the big and little islands that formed the way north, and then he heard Ted down below fixing coffee and warming croissants.

“You still do the Nutella and orange marmalade thing?” his boy, his “Paco,” called out over the rumbling diesel, and he shot a thumbs-up back at him. A few minutes later they were eating in the rumbling silence, the only sound the diesel working down below, but soon enough an apricot-salmon sky appeared over the mountains to the east, and he wondered what the day would bring.

“So, we putting into Vancouver tonight?” Ted asked.

“Yeah. Nanaimo is still kind of dead.”

“Suits me. Is Nancy’s still around?”

“Yeah, think so. Some traditions are still too strong for time to kill.” Nancy’s was THE place to meet and eat on the Sound, literally. It wasn’t called Desolation Sound without reason, but it helped the food was truly good. “You wanna steer for a while? Time to drain the main vein…”

“What? No autopilot? No flight director with auto-land capability?”

He shook his head while he flipped on the autopilot, then walked to the aft rail and pulled down his shorts just enough to fire a stream into their wake, his knees braced against the rail as he looked up at the fading stars. Altair was gone now, disappeared beneath the southern horizon, and he felt that old familiar tinge of sadness – when he heard Ted walking aft, by his side, and soon draining his vein into the sea, too.

He took the cut between Deer Harbor and Jones Island, adjusting his course on the chart-plotter and executing the change, then he cycled the radar, saw there was still no traffic on the water…but then he saw Sucia Island ahead, and Echo Bay. Probably the worst weekend of their lives lived in those returns…

“Echo Bay?” Ted asked, pointing at the screen.

“Yup.” And he saw his boy shrink from the memory. Barbara, drinking more than usual that weekend, decided it was time to shred her son to pieces, and with her razor sharp tongue had belittled and berated him while he’d been out on the water in one of their kayaks. He’d looked on as Ted dove off the bow and swam ashore, so paddled in to see what had happened.

Ted was sitting on the rocky beach, knees pulled up to his chest, tears falling from reddened eyes – trembling like a leaf – again.

They’d sat and talked until the sun went down, then he’d gone back to get another kayak to bring back to the beach – and he noticed Barbara wasn’t in the cockpit. When they both got back to the boat she still wasn’t there so he’d gone below – only to find Barbara passed out, only this time with an empty bottle of Valium in hand.

She’d been carried out by the Coast Guard that night, airlifted to Bellingham. Stomach pumped, three long days and nights in the hospital there, then back home. Ted a total wreck by that point too, but nothing compared to Barbara…

And here it was again. All those feelings tied to this place.

“I know it still hurts,” he said, “and I guess it always will…”

“I don’t know why you think I should forgive her.”

“Because of human frailty, son. Nobody’s perfect…”

“That’s a laugh, Pops. She’s the meanest human being that ever lived.”

“She wasn’t always that way, Ted.”

“Oh? What changed her?”

“Lots of things, I think, but first among them was, well, me.”


“Yeah. When we started to drift apart maybe I could’ve…”

“Dad…stop. You can’t take the blame for who she is, all the things she did. She’s a crazy narcissist, maybe she’s even a goddamn psychopath, but all you did was fall for her, once upon a time, but you don’t have to carry that around for the rest of your life. YOU need to move on, YOU need to find someone else – while you’re still young enough.”

“You think so, huh?”

“Fuck yeah, you old goat.”

“So…you wanna get laid this summer?”


“You said you wanted to try the whole girl thing this summer. What’d you have in mind? Falling in love, the whole nine yards, or just getting your rocks off?”

“I’d like to, well, both, maybe.”

“Has this got something to do with the whole priesthood thing?”


“So, you’re really serious about this seminary thing?”


“But…what if you meet some girl this summer, and you fall in love? Then what?”

“Then that whole thing wasn’t for me.”

“Okay. Then what?”

“I don’t know, Dad. Maybe…like…take one thing at a time?”

“Maybe, but if being a priest is what you really want to do, well, maybe you should just turn away from these things. It might just fill you with all kinds of regret later down the road.”

“Father Murphy talked to me about that, ya know?”

“Oh, how is the old goat?”

“Fine. He sends his regards, by the way.”

“Hard to believe we both had him as a prof.”

“Yeah…those Jesuits…they seem to hang on the longest. He turned eighty last year.”

“And still looks like he’s fifty, I bet.”


“All that clean living.”

“Yeah, right. Those guys love their vino, that much I’ll say.”

“So…a girlfriend. You want to try a one night stand first? Vancouver is probably a target-rich environment.”

“Isn’t that line out of Top Gun?”

“Top Gun was right out of real life, Paco. Art imitates life, remember?”

“You mean, you guys really talked that way…?”

“Sorry. Yes.”

“Sorry? Why are you always apologizing?”

“I don’t know…kinda feels like the thing to do. So. Vancouver? We goin’ on a pussy-hunt?”

“Jeez, Dad, you sound like Trump…”

“You mean, I take it, that Trump sounds like ninety percent of every other white-Anglo-Saxon-male in this country? Man, what a double standard that guy has to live up to… Ya know, I heard that W was at a birthday party down in Texas, like before he was governor, and he was drunk as hell and walked up to the honoree, a woman who had just turned fifty. He asked: “Gee, does it feel the same to fuck after fifty as it did before?”

“Yeah, I heard that one. Did you know he was arrested in Maine, for driving while intoxicated…?”

“Yup, and did you hear he assaulted the trooper who arrested him?”

“Yup. Kinda makes me think there’s a double standard at play here, don’t you think?” Ted asked.

“Oh? How so?”

“Well, Clinton gets a BJ in the oval office and gets impeached, while W skated on all that stuff.”

“W had smarter people around him. Politics is the art of not getting caught.”

“Man, have we sunk so low?”

“We? What do you mean? There’ve been politicians for thousands of years, of one stripe or another. All this crap is nothing new, and all of which seems like a good way of you avoiding the question. Do you want to get laid tonight?”

“So, just like that…you can get me laid tonight?”

“No. That’s up to you.”

“Jeez, Dad…”

“Hey, Paco, you need to remember this: girls like sex too. Got it? You act like a Neanderthal and you’ll never get anything, but take it easy, be yourself and then let nature take its course.”

“I’m scared around girls.”

“Yeah? That’s been programmed into you by millions of years of evolution. You SHOULD be scared of ‘em, Paco, because once they sink their fangs into you, you’re doomed.”

Ted laughed, a nervous laughter full of expectation and insecurity, then: “Is that what Mom did to you?”

“Exactly. Didn’t I ever show you the bite marks?”


“I’d say the trick, given the biology of the situation, Ted, is to not fall in love. At your age you’re programmed to fall in love, it’s a biologic imperative. The drive impairs your thinking, too, makes you say silly shit and do even sillier shit. Like marry a gal you hardly know, promise to spend your life with her…”

“You mean, it all comes down to testosterone?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“And that’s what happened to you?”

“I don’t think I’m any different than any other red-blooded male out there, Paco. I say stupid shit under the influence of either testosterone or tequila. Or, as the case may be, both testosterone and tequila. You mother got me at a Cinco de Mayo thing over by the commons.”

“She…got you?”

“Got a couple shots of tequila into me, showed me some thigh. I was a goner after that.”

“You make it sound so simple…”

“Falling in love IS simple, Ted. You just gotta let it happen. You’ll know when it does, too. Take my word for it.”

“And, if I went for the priesthood…?”

“That’s a calling, Ted. In the purest sense of the word, and you’ve always been interested in this stuff so I’m not all that surprised.”

“You’re not? It sure surprised me…”

He looked at the chart-plotter again, noted they were abeam the island now and he checked the depth under the keel, then watched as the autopilot changed course to 315 degrees – about thirty miles to the next course change – and already he could see jets angling in for their approach to Vancouver International. How many times had he shot the same approach, he wondered? How different everything looked from up there.

“Want a DDP?” Ted asked, and he nodded.

He swept the horizon while his boy was below, and he saw a Coast Guard cutter on radar – then visually just as Ted came up from below.

“I think we’re going to have company,” he said, pointing at the display, then at the white hull arcing through a turn in their direction.



“You got any dead bodies stowed below?”

“Two or three, why?”

“Just wonderin’?”

They watched in silence as the cutter drew near, near enough to see half a dozen-or-so men looking at them through binoculars from the bridge.

“I thought you have one of those stickers?”

“Yeah, still do, but that just allows me to clear-in without having to go to the Customs Dock in Seattle.”

“What are they looking for?”

“Drugs. Terrorists. Horny college students. You know…the usual.”

One of the men on the bridge-deck waved at them and the cutter changed course towards Bellingham, and he waved back. “Well, we’re in Canadian waters now, or will be in a few minutes. Guess it wasn’t worth the hassle.”

“When will we get to Vancouver?”

“Oh, about ten hours,” he said as he popped the top to the Dr Pepper. “I think the wind will pick up in about two hours, so if you want anything hot to eat, now’s the time to do it.”

“You got bacon and eggs down there?”


“Stove still work the same way?”

“Yup, it does.”

“How many eggs? Still do three, over easy?”

“I do.”

“Okay, comin’ right up, Master.”

After ‘growing up’ together with Altair, there’s was an easy routine. Ted knew where everything was, how everything worked, even how to break a few non-essential items, too, but he knew his way around the boat almost as well as his father did. And soon enough, the smells coming out of the galley hit all the right buttons and he began to feel hungry – as they skirted along the Saturna Islands.

He watched the water closely as the sun poked up beyond Mt Baker, and he thought he could see Garibaldi’s crown beyond Vancouver as the first puffs of breeze filled in. They’d be able to make sail within an hour or so, he thought. Then he wondered where he could take his son to get laid in Vancouver.

And how long had it been, he wondered, since he’d had any?


They tied-up at the Coal Harbour Marina an hour before the sun slipped under the horizon, and after he showered he walked up to the Harbor Master’s office and talked to a few guys there while he waited for Ted. The locals recommended a few places overlooking the marina and once Ted arrived – off they went.

Loud music and watered down drinks seemed to be the order of the day, and though there were a few womenfolk around nothing seemed to call out to either of them so they left after a few minutes. They walked to another place that happened to have a deck overlooking Altair, and they took a table on the deck overlooking the marina – about fifty feet from the boat – and a waitress came to take their drink order.

“Dark rum collins for me,” he said. “Ted? Name your poison.”

“The same,” Ted said – cooly.

“I’ll need to see some ID, sir,” the waitress said.

“He’s my son.”

“Doesn’t matter, sir.”

“How about a ginger ale,” Ted sighed. “Maybe with the cherry on the side?”

The girl grinned. “What do you want?”

“A beer. I’d kill for a cold beer.”

“Been out on the water,” she asked.

“Two days,” Ted said. “Coming up from Seattle.”

“Oh? Where are you headed?”

“Desolation Sound,” Ted added. “Been there?”

She smiled then walked off to grab their drinks.

“She’s kinda cute,” he said.

“Kinda?” Ted added. “Man, she’s hot.”

“Sounds like an Aussie accent.”

“Is that what it is?”

She came back a minute later with his drinks, a ginger ale and an ice-cold Moosehead. She put the beer down away from Ted and put the soda down in front of him.

“You from Australia?” Ted asked.

“Melbourne. Been there?”

“Not yet. You been there, Dad?”

“Yup. Once or twice.”

“My dad’s a pilot,” Ted sighed. “He’s been everywhere.”

The girl turned on him then, curious. “Yeah? You fly for an airline?”

“Delta,” he said.

“You fly to Australia?”

“I’ve been down there. Sydney once, Melbourne a few times, but not on duty. When we had a run to Hawaii from Seattle, I did that for a while. These days it’s mainly LA and San Francisco, sometimes Salt Lake or Cincinnati. What are you doing here?”

“Spending the summer here, then headed to McGill.”

“I’m at Boston College,” Ted added.

“Oh? What year?”

“I’ll graduate next spring.”

“What are you studying?”

“Pre-med, philosophy.”

“Really? Me too.”

He smiled when he saw Ted’s reaction. “So,” he added, “you didn’t answer. Been to Desolation Sound?”

“No, I haven’t, but then again I’ve only been here a few weeks.”

“Done much sailing?” Ted asked.

“No,” the girl said, then she just walked off.

“Too fast, kiddo. Ignore her when she comes around next time.”

“Right. We gonna have dinner?”

“You want to stay put, or move on?”

“Stay. There’s something about her, Dad.”

“Yes, there is. Interesting type, that one.”

“For me, Dad. Not you…”

And he had to laugh at that. “Don’t worry, Paco. I’m not looking.”

“You could’ve fooled me.”

“Just trying to back your hand.”

“Okay…well, the menu looks good.”

When she came back to take their order Ted didn’t even look up at her.

“Maybe you could find some sort of middle ground,” he said.

“What?” Ted said, confused. “You said to ignore her.”

“Give her a smile next time. Make eye contact.”

“Jeez, Dad. Maybe you should be a priest…?”

“You’re right, Paco. Just be yourself…”

“Right. Nervous and unsure of myself. That’s a winning combination, every time.”

“Probably better than ignoring her.”

“Now he tells me…”

She came back with their salads a few minutes later.

“So, what’s in Desolation Sound?” she asked.

“Killer whales, sea otters – and Nancy’s.”


“Bakery. Best cinnamon rolls in creation.”


“You wanna come with us?” Ted asked – with a straight face.


“Would you like to come with us?”

“For how long?”

“How long you got?”

“Let me see,” the girl said before she disappeared back into the restaurant.

“Jeez, Paco…!”

“Hey, you said to just be me.”

“You are direct, I will say that.”

“You think she’ll come?”



“Well, she just got here, but she’s cute as hell so the manager is probably hitting on her. She’s away from home for the first time, maybe trying to earn a few buck before school starts but just figuring out that with the cost of living here she’s barely going to be treading water. Then there are the visa problems…”

“Jeez, Dad. What are you – like some kind of clairvoyant?”

“Nope, but I have been around the block a few times.”

“So, what do you think?”

“Don’t be too surprised if she says yes.”


She was different the next time she came out, when she dropped off their dinners. Not so distant, her smile full of curiosity, her eyes ready for the next adventure.

“She’s coming,” he said. “Mark my words.”

“You think so?”


The next time she came by Ted pointed out the blue-hulled boat across the way: “See that one? Altair on the stern?”

“The stern?”

“On her bum?” Ted added, helpfully.

“Oh. Yeah?”

“We’re here tonight, leaving in the morning around eight. If you feel like coming along, you know where we’ll be.”

He watched the girl looking at his boat, wondering what was going through her mind, wondering what sort of calculus a girl made at a time like this. Unknown versus an unknown-known, an adventure versus a slow-motion train wreck.

If what he supposed was indeed going on.

But then the girl nodded her head and moved off again.

“Well?” Ted asked.

And he shrugged, but maybe he smiled just a little, though he thought he already knew the score. “Just have to wait and see,” he added – knowingly.

“I knew it. She’s coming…”

And again, he only smiled, yet he wondered why he thought he knew the answer. Jaded, perhaps? Getting a little too cynical about things? Or…simply judging other people through the prism of his life with Barbara…?

“Ya know,” he sighed, “wouldn’t surprise me either way.”

“That’s kind of a…”

“A cop-out? Yeah, I guess it is.”

“What’s wrong, Pops?”

“I think I need a change of pace, Paco. A real change of pace. I’m getting close to sixty years old, you know? I can retire next year…in fact, I think they want to push some of us old-timers into early retirement. We’re getting expensive, and a lot of us still have pension obligations the company will owe us. All these new guys? Mainly 410Ks, matching contributions, that stuff…”

“How long could you fly, Dad?”

“Well, a few more years, like four, but I could matriculate over to the training academy, teach there, do check-rides…”

“What did you used to call those guys? The Silver Eagles?”


“Could you do that?”

“I could, but I’d have to move to the east coast.”

“Yikes. You wouldn’t…?”

“I used to think so. Now, I’m not so sure…”

“Dad! Leave Seattle? You’ve lived here, what…twenty-two years?”

“Yup. Year you were born. It would be hard, have to give up the boat, that whole thing.”

Ted shook his head. “That’s not you, and you know it.”

“What do you think you’re gonna do, Paco. I mean, really…getting laid is one thing, but…”

“Dad, I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a priest…”

“What? That’s a big change…when did you start feeling this way?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s like the more science I take the more incongruent religion and science become. Two competing worldviews, I guess, but one feels more and more like a child’s fairytale to me.”

“You think medicine’s the answer?”

Ted nodded his head.

“Why now? Just exposure to new ideas?”

“Maybe. But sometimes,” his son added, pausing to take a deep breath, “it just feels like growing up.”

“Ah. So, religion is childish?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Oh? What did you say?”

“I’m not sure I want to spend my entire life cloaked in a mystery that, well, there’s nothing about religion grounded in fact, is there?”

He shook his head. “You can’t confuse fact and faith, son. You have faith, then that becomes bedrock; if you don’t, well, it’s easy to turn and walk away.”

“But it’s not always so easy, is it? I mean…”

“I know what you mean. That’s why I’ll never deny the existence of God, and why I can’t go to church. I have my doubts about the whole thing, but I don’t have the courage of my convictions so here I sit, still sitting on the fence, looking at life go by and wondering what all the commotion is about.”

“What about Mom?”

“I think, in a way, the question drove her to drink.”


He laughed a little, inside, at his son’s sincere expression. “I don’t know, Ted. Look at the Irish…they brought Christianity to the British Isles, and then they turned around and invented whiskey. Talk about cause and effect…”

“Is that true?”

“Hell, I don’t know. One of the Fathers told us that in a history class…but then again, he was Irish…”

Ted shook his head. “Why do you think she drinks, Dad?”

“Because she hurts, son. She drinks to make it all go away because she doesn’t have the courage of her own convictions.”

“What? How so?”

“Because she has no faith, either in God or in herself. She always turned to anyone who’d offer to ease her pain…”

“You mean, like, buy her a drink?”

He nodded, but, in his mind’s eye he remembered coming home early more than once and finding her and another man in the throes.

“What is it, Dad? What are you thinking?”

“About her.”

“About her, what?”

He shook his head. “I don’t want to go there, son.”

Ted shook his head too. “I know. I came home from school more than once…”

“Ted, please. Just stop. I don’t want…we neither one need to spend any more time there than we already have, do we?”

“No, sir. Question?”

“Fire away.”

“What do you think? Would I be a better priest than a physician?”

“Wow, now there’s a question.” He looked out at the night, looked up at the stars. “Maybe they’re not as far apart as you think?”

“Hmm? Why do you say that?”

“Well, they’re both grounded in a kind of rigorous curiosity, and at the same time they’re both concerned with helping people find answers about themselves, maybe even their truest natures.”

The boy nodded his head slowly, but for the first time he saw something odd in his son’s eyes. A man’s eyes. Thoughtful, yet full of understanding.

“Anyway, I doubt you’ll ever be able to turn away from the Church, not completely. Maybe you’ll just turn out like a lot of the rest of us…you’ll go once a week and leave those mysteries to someone else.”

“But, me?”

He shrugged. “What I think really doesn’t matter, does it? You know, in your heart, what the answer to that is, and you don’t need all my baggage cluttering up the floor…”

“Maybe, but I’d like to know what you think.”

“Well, of course, I’d like to see you find your way to happiness. I think medicine would…well, I think you’ve got the right temperament for medicine. You’ve always been a kind of scientist, even when you were in Sunday school. You’ve always asked the hard questions, the kind of questions your teachers couldn’t answer, not effectively, anyway. Their easy answers always seemed to…”

“They pissed me off. They still do.”


“The answers never change, Dad. Someone is senselessly killed and there’s only one answer. It’s all a part of God’s mysterious plan, or we can never really know why…”

“Which presupposes there’s a why out there.”

“Exactly. Which means an order, a purpose to all this, which is comforting…”

“So, what do you tell an old man when you find out he has something like pancreatic cancer? That he’s going to die? Do you tell him the facts, turn him loose to find comfort in senseless emptiness?”

“I’m not sure I believe in the whole heaven and hell thing anymore, Dad.”

“Then you just answered your question, Ted. Case closed. Do you want dessert?”

They laughed at that and were still giggling when the girl came by and asked if they wanted something sweet to finish off their meal. She looked puzzled when they started laughing again…


He slept late that morning, didn’t get up ‘til three-thirty. He showered and put on his running shoes, then went topsides and filled the water tanks before he went for his run. There was a huge, forested park across the little inlet and he stretched first, then took off, as always sure running was the most stupid form of exercise ever invented. After fifteen minutes he was sure running was the greatest thing ever, and after forty minutes he was wrapped in the familiar warmth of his runner’s high. He slowed as he returned to the little marina, then walked it out for a few minutes – looking at his watch only once as he took in a few more really deep breaths.

He saw her on the dock just then, sitting on a dock-box, a large duffel on the planks by her feet – and he smiled.

When he walked up she looked up, saw him and smiled.

“Sorry about the hour,” she said.

“You brought everything, I see. Burned all your bridges, did you?”

She nodded – but she turned away, too. “Yup, looks that way.”

“You sure about this?”

She looked him in the eye then. “Yes. You’re a good man. I can tell that much just by looking.”

“I see.”

She laughed at that, and he did too. “It’s your son I’m not so sure of…?”

“Ted? Oh, he’s harmless. Confused as hell, but harmless.”


“No spoilers, young lady. Oh, by the way, my name is Jim. Yours?”

“Tracy. Tracy Singleton.”

“Well, Tracy, I hate to ask, but do you have your passport handy?”

That seemed to take her back a little…

“We may be boarded by the Coast Guard…in fact, odds are we will be more than once. They’ll check, and as it’s my boat it’s my responsibility.”

“So, you’re a pilot? I mean, really?” she said as she pulled out her passport and handed it to him, hardly taking her eyes off him as he looked over her passport.

He looked up at her then, sizing up her words as a record of her experience so far. “Yup. Really.”

“Can I see your pilot’s license, then?”

He laughed at that. “Sure. You wanna come up, or wait here?”

“I think I’ll wait here.”

He nodded then hopped aboard, went below for his wallet – and he found Ted stumbling out of the aft head, rubbing his eyes. “Oh. You’re up,” he groaned.

“So is Tracy.”


“Tracy. The gal you’re going to marry.”


“Better put some clothes on, Paco,” he added, on his way to get his wallet. He went back out a minute later, stepped down to the swim platform on the stern and handed his license over to the girl – who looked duly impressed.

“So, no-foolin’, eh? You’re not a pretender?”

“I take it you’ve seen your fair share?”

“That’s all there seems to be lurking about these days…if you know what I mean?”

As if the word ‘lurking’ wasn’t enough, there was the look in her eyes: distrustful, alert, lonely. Distant. The literal opposite of Barbara, in other words. Where Barbara had always been reaching out, this girl had turned inward at some point. Her good looks had probably invited too much-unwanted attention…

“I suppose it’s always been that way, Tracy. You ready to come on up, or having second thoughts?”

She handed her duffel over, then looked at his outstretched hand before she took it.

He saw it took an effort on her part, then he watched her looking at all the stuff that made Altair work.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “You can just sit back and watch…”

“Could you teach me?”

“Teach you?”

“To sail.”

“Sure…but Ted’s a better teacher than I ever was…”

“I doubt that,” the girl said, looking him in the eye.

“Well, let me show you around down below.”

“Do I have my own room?”

“Yes. It’s small, but…”

“Oh, that okay.”

He led her down the companionway, showed her the galley and the head, then led her to the tiny cabin under the cockpit. “Well, here it is…”

“You weren’t kidding,” she sighed.

“It’s kind of a storeroom that happens to have a bunk,” Ted said, now standing behind his father. “If it bothers you, we could switch places.”

“No. I’ll be fine here,” the girl said.

Yes, he thought, you will be.

(c) 2017 | adrian leverkühn | abw | just a little bit of story-tellin’…



Here are all the chapters in the Predator series, as well as Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, all wrapped up in one giant burrito. I’ve made a few changes and additions along the way, mainly to smooth transitions and to better integrate Beyond into the main story arc.

This was not the initial intent, however, so the two will, I think, reside side by side rather uneasily. And I wouldn’t be surprised if I come back to this one oneday, make a few tweaks here and there. It’s not finished yet, really, but what really ever is? As she stands, about 240 pages, single spaced, and I’ve divided the tale into Parts and Chapters.

If you’ve just finished reading the original (parts of the) story, I’m not sure you’ll find enough new material to justify the time, but who knows what works best on a rainy Sunday afternoon?



Part I – Shadows Beyond the Reef

Chapter 1


He was about forty, forty five years old, very tall, almost gaunt, and not very well groomed. The man was, in every way imaginable, a slothful looking creature, yet in a soiled, potbellied way, and he was wearing greasily tattered green chinos and an old, plaid short-sleeved shirt – not quite tucked-in all the way. His sneakers were foul looking and, to anyone unlucky enough to get close enough, truly foul smelling. Officer Amy Breedlove watched the suspect through binoculars from an unmarked patrol car, a battered, twenty-six year old Pontiac Grand Am coupe that had, once upon a time, been painted a nice, bright silver. She was parked beside a fragrant trash dumpster off Harry Hines Boulevard, deep inside the industrial wastelands of central Dallas, Texas, in an almost war-torn district full of taquerias, strip joints, peep shows and barren industrial warehouses. She had been following this ‘perp’, a 45 year old habitual offender named Bruce Walker, for three days – ever since CID had received an anonymous tip that Walker was downloading kiddy porn from the so-called ‘dark web’ – and that he had been roaming around schools and playgrounds. Walker had been released from from federal prison a month ago, and as a registered pedophile-rapist, local law enforcement had been tasked with keeping an eye on him.

Yet here he was in an area full of homeless addicts, scabby-legged hookers and tired old gays cruising glory holes for their next load – and not working the parks and playgrounds the detectives in CID were hoping for. Still, Breedlove had her orders – document all his activities –  so she pulled a battered old Canon 1Ds from the seat beside her and slapped a 400/5.6 on it, then swung it to her face. She lightly depressed the shutter and centered his face in the viewfinder, then fired off a five frame burst when his face was clearly visible, then she snapped a few of the adult bookstore he was coming out of.

It was around two in the afternoon, two hours to shift change, and it was hotter than hell outside – maybe ‘110 in the shade’ hot, and of course the air conditioner in this stinking, fucked-up old car had seen better days – ‘like maybe ten years ago,’ she thought. Breedlove was baking in the afternoon heat, and with summer thunderstorms brewing sweat had been pouring down her neck for hours; now it was running down her back, and she wanted an ice cold Coke in the worst sort of way. She leaned forward and tried to pull her water-logged bullet-proof vest away from her skin, sure the goddamn thing was adding about ten extra degrees to her internal temperature, when she caught sight of really odd looking person following the suspect.

“What the fuck! Is that – a woman?”

The woman was short, dressed in black fatigues – including a black hood covering her head – and every instinct Breedlove had screamed “wrong!” – that this woman was not simply following the suspect, she was stalking him – like a predator. Breedlove raised the camera to her face, fired off a long burst of the woman, but just then the woman stopped, turned and looked directly at her unmarked car. Breedlove instinctively fired off a burst with the Canon – and perhaps sensing this, the woman turned and disappeared in the shadows between two warehouses. Breedlove noted the time and location on her notepad, started the engine and slowly made her way over to the area where she had seen both the suspect and the woman, and when she came up empty she started to drive around the area, looking for any trace of either.

“I don’t fucking like this,” Breedlove said to the hot air in the car, so she picked up the mic dangling from the radio and pushed the transmit button:

“317 to 310 on two,” she said, calling the district patrol sergeant on the tactical frequency.

“310, go head.”

“Uh, 310, I’ve got a female over here in what looks like black fatigues, including a hood, following a signal 7 suspect.”

“317, what’s your 20?”

“Harry Hines at Freewood.”

“10/4. 247, are you clear yet?” the sergeant said on the primary frequency.

“247 to 310, 10/4, clearing now.”

“247, back up 317, Harry Hines at Freewood on a signal 13. Contact 317 on Tac2 for more information.”

“247, code 5.”

“Central received, 247 en route at 1420 hours.”

Breedlove circled the area, was driving north on Harry Hines when she saw someone running west from a Church’s Chicken a block ahead, so she jumped on the accelerator.

“317 to 247, got the suspect running west on Mrytle Springs, away from the chicken place, black fatigues, black hood, looks like a large knife or machete in hand.”

“10/4, almost code 6.”

“310 to Central, get me some units heading to 317s location, and notify CID.”

“Central received at 1422 hours.”

“317, suspect running south on Maybank, through the trees!”

“247, code 6 in the area.”

“247 at 1426 hours.”

“247, this is 310 and I’m about a minute out.”

“Received, uh, 247, Signal 33, officer down, repeat, 33, officer down on, on Maybank, just south of Myrtle Springs…”

“310, get air support headed this way, and all responding units go Code 3, now!”

“1426 hours.”

“310, code 6, oh, crap! 310, two officers down, repeat two down! I want a full tactical callout, now! Advise Watch Commander…oh, shi…”

“310, received at 1427 hours.”

“141, Code 6 in the area.” ‘141’ was Ben Acheson, a traffic officer a motorcycle cop, assigned to the northwest district that day, and as he was close when the call came out, he headed to the area to provide extra back-up. He was the next unit to roll up on the scene, and he nearly lost it when he saw the carnage in the street.

He jumped off his BMW R-1200-RT-P motorcycle and let it fall to the ground while he drew his Sig-Sauer P-226 from his holster and covered the scene.

“141, I’ve got three officers down, decapitated, no suspect in sight.”

“141 at 1429 hours.”

Acheson kept his 9mm moving, his senses acutely tuned to pick up the slightest sight or sound, but all he heard now was a rolling avalanche of sirens, then a helicopter overhead. Within a minute he was relieved to hear a herd of patrol cars approaching, and he knew a mobile Command and Control Unit would be on the scene soon. He holstered his weapon and walked over to the three slain officers; their bodies were artificially positioned, leaning against one another, the heads placed neatly in their laps, and he fell to his knees and vomited, just as the first back-up units screeched to stop behind him.

Chapter 2

Acheson could hear several helicopters over the crime scene now, and he knew the entire area was being cordoned off as detectives and Crime Scene Units from the department arrived. He saw techs from the Medical Examiner’s office looking over the bodies and his stomach lurched again. Looking around, Acheson guessed there were more than fifty patrol cars searching the area now, and news helicopters were circling overhead too. He poked his head in Breedlove’s unmarked car, looked it over, read her notes, and walked back to his BMW. Now he was trying to re-trace Breedlove’s route from where, he’d read on her notepad, she’d first sighted the female suspect.

He circled around a particularly seedy area on Harry Hines, a bunch of bunch of small businesses just south of Lombardy Lane, looking at a cluster of adult bookstore/video arcades that were usually full of gays, and worn-out hookers, worshipping cock on their knees, when he thought he saw something odd behind a tire store on the corner. He motored over and saw a leg sticking out from behind a pile of old, discarded truck tires, and got on the radio.

“141, out on a possible Signal 1 at 10499 Harry Hines, believe this is related to 317s case.”

“141 at 1455 hours.”

“105, get some backup and CID over there, Code 3!”

“1455 hours, 309, 315, respond Code 3 to 10499 Harry Hines, at Lombardy, back up 141 on a possible Signal 1.”

Acheson got off his bike and walked over to the tires, looked down and suddenly felt like vomiting again. There on the ground lay what was left of an old man, his head severed and his green pants pulled down past his knees. The man’s penis had been cut off, his abdomen cut open from the sternum to the pubic area, and his intestines were spread out randomly on the dirty concrete. He walked around the tires, heard sirens closing in on his position when he found the man’s head.

Acheson fell to his knees again and vomited uncontrollably when he saw what he assumed was the man’s severed penis lodged in a hideously contorted mouth.

Chapter 3

Captain John Wayne Dickinson, usually called “The Duke” by his team in CID, or the Criminal Investigations Division, was in charge of the Breedlove investigation, and he was tired, dog-tired, having been at the scene on Maybank since late afternoon – the day before. He picked up another glazed donut and took it down in one bite, then downed a pint of ice cold milk in one long pull.

“Look, I want to get some sleep sometime this month,” he said as he looked over the crime scene photographs one more time, “so let’s summarize what we know so far.

“First, Breedlove was assigned to tail this perp, Walker, and had been for three days;

“Second, she had him near the cum-palaces on Harry Hines, south of Lombardy;

“We also know she was detailed to photograph the perp, so she had one of the department’s Canons with her, a 1Ds with a 200 macro and a 400, and those are both missing;

“Third, she calls-in and advises she has a suspicious person, dressed in some sort of black, maybe a ninja-style get-up, stalking the perp, this Walker guy…

“So, do we assume she got some images of this suspect?”

The Duke looked around his briefing room.

“Sounds reasonable to me,” Ben Acheson said.

“Remind me, Officer Vomit, just why you’re here?”

“Watch Commander assigned me, sir, in case I can fill in any gaps.”

The Duke sneered derisively. “Fine, but if you barf on my floor, you’ll be working Animal Control for the next five years. Got it, Meathead?”


“Well, again, assume she got some images of the suspect, as well as the perp she was tailing. So, where does that leave us?”

The Duke looked around the room. “Anyone have any ideas?”

“I do,” Acheson said.

“I don’t give a fuck if you do or don’t, Meathead. Anyone else?”

The room was silent.

The Duke fumed.

“Okay, Meathead, let’s hear it.”

“Well, okay, assume she shoots them both, but the suspect sees her with the camera. Taking her photograph, that is. If that’s the case, it seems to me the suspects first priority would be to recover the camera, get the memory cards. So she disappeared, briefly, then lured Breedlove into a kill zone, took her out but then had to deal with two other officers who got on the scene quicker than anticipated. So, she took ‘em out too.”

The Duke nodded, grunted his approval. “Then what?”

“She circles back to her original target, Walker, and takes him out, then gets the fuck out of Dodge.”

“Okay, I like it, makes sense. What about the crime scene? What does that tell us, Meathead?”

“First, she treated the officers’ bodies with respect. She placed the heads neatly on their laps, so my guess is she killed them reluctantly, out of perceived necessity. I guess we can assume the suspect was pretty pissed off when she did Walker, sir.”

“Okay, the rest of you take off, get some sleep. I want to talk to Acheson for a minute before I go home.”

The room cleared, leaving The Duke and Acheson alone.

“That’s pretty much what I took from things, kid. Good work.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“No sirs when we’re in here chewing the fat, kid. So, why are you on motors?”

“Calculus, I guess, sir.”


“I have an engineering background, BS in Mechanical, UT Austin. When I finished my probation they moved me to Traffic, sent me to reconstruction school…”

“Oh? Where?”

“Northwestern, sir.”

“No shit. So, you’re one of those hotshots, eh? You’re not exactly young. What did you do before?”

“Air Force, sir. C-17s.”

“Really? Why aren’t you flying for American or Delta, or some such shit?”

“I did. For a couple of years. Layoffs got me, in 2008.”

“Oh, yeah. Shitty times all over.”


“Duke. Call me Duke.”

“Sorry sir, ain’t in my DNA.”

“Alright. So. Did you know her?”


“Breedlove. Did you know her.”

“Yessir. Academy.”

Ouch, Dickinson said to himself. Academy classmates were always close. “You okay about that?”

“I will be, sir. In a few days, I guess.”

“Okay, understood, but don’t keep it bottled up. Any interest in coming to CID?”

“No sir, none. I love it out there on motors.”

“Yeah, I did too.”


“I was in motors, Traffic, for about five years. Bad crash, fucked up my arm.”

“You miss it, sir?”

“Somedays, but not when it rains.” The Duke laughed, then shook his head. “Fucking shoulder is like a goddamn barometer now. Every time a fucking storm heads this way my whole fucking arm feels like it’s going to implode.”

Acheson nodded. “Sorry, sir.”

“You ride out there long enough and you’ll know what it’s like to feel like a barometer. Don’t you forget that.”

“Yessir. You still ride?”

“Yup. A hawg, every now and then. Electra-Glide.”

“Heavy bike. Where do you ride around here?”

“Hill Country. Llano. Usually run down to Cooper’s Bar-B-Q and pig-out, then come back up next day.”

“I’ve heard about that place, sir. Good grub?”

“The best.”

“Well, next time you head that way, give me a yell if you want some company. I’d like to get out on the open road, away from all this traffic, anyway.”

“Sure, kid. Well, I guess you’re with us on this one. You finish your report?”

“Yessir, the original and two supplementals, one for each crime scene.”

“Okay, I’ll look ‘em over later, but tomorrow. I’m going home now, get some shut eye. Report to me after briefing tomorrow morning, but write up your theory about what happened, put it in a supplemental and drop it in the Watch Commander’s box. Tell him I told you to.”


“And good work, Meathead.”

Acheson turned, grinned. “Thank you, sir.”

Chapter 4

Acheson wrote the report Dickinson wanted, dropped it off at the lieutenant’s office then walked to the locker room, grabbed his helmet and a fresh ticket book before he ambled through the station and out to the parking lot. He started the BMW’s motor and turned on the strobes, then walked around the bike, checking to see that all the emergency lighting was working properly. He mounted the bike, turned off the lights and was getting ready to retract the side-stand when a patrol car pulled up alongside.

“Hey,” Carol Denison said as she rolled to a stop.

Acheson looked at her and smiled. “Hey, yourself.” Then he looked at the thing next to her, and groaned. “Hey, Rookie,” Acheson barked.


“Don’t you ever, and I mean ever, ever let me see you picking your nose when you’re in a department squad car. You got that?”


“And that bugger on your fucking finger? If you put that mother fucker in your mouth and I’ll put three rounds in your fuckin’ face. You, like, hear me, Rookie?”

“Sir! Yes sir!”

“You his FTO?”

“Yup. Hey, someone’s gotta train these kids…”

“Guess so.”

“Well,” Denison said – rolling her eyes, “How’s it hangin’?”

“Low. Like down in the weeds low.”

She nodded. “I don’t know how you did it, man.”

He looked away, didn’t really want to go there today.

“So,” she said when she saw his eyes, “Would you like to come over for dinner tonight? Me and Brad are doing up some steaks by the pool. Maybe a salad and ice cream?”

“Y’all still over in that complex off Northwest Highway?”


“Well, sure. Unless…”

“Yeah, I know, I know. There he is, ladies and germs: Joe Ace, Traffic Reconstructionist Extraordinaire. Gets called to go work every bad wreck in the county.”

Acheson grinned. “I never, ever shoulda taken calculus. No good ever came from taking too much math.”

“You finally figured that one out, like all by yourself?” Denison smiled. That knowing smile, the one he remembered from academy.

“With a pencil, too. Say, that reminds me. Rookie!”

“Yes sir!”

“Do you know how a mathematician gets rid of constipation?”

“No, sir!”

“Works it out, with a pencil.”

Stone cold silence.

“So, you get it?”

“No, sir.”

“Where do they dig up these morons,” Acheson moaned.

Denison shrugged. “He’s not too bad, Ben.” But not as good as you were, she said to herself. She and Amy Breedlove and Acheson had become inseparable halfway through their academy class, and for a while there had been even money on who loved Acheson more, Carol Denison or Amy Breedlove. Yet Acheson had been oblivious to everything, was always the serious student and had never let on he noticed what was going on.

And who knows, Denison thought, maybe he really hadn’t caught on. Better for him now if he hadn’t.

“So, got a girlfriend yet? If so, bring her along!”

He shrugged. “You know me, still flying solo. You and Brad engaged?”

“No way! He’s still married to his job…”

“Still selling cars?”

“Cadillacs, Ben, not cars.”

“Oh, right. Silly me.”

They laughed.

“Well, okay. Seeya around four thirty or five?”

“Sounds about right, and Rookie? Keep that finger out of your nose.” he said, then he looked at Carol: “Be careful out there.”

“You too, Ben.” She slipped the car into gear and eased away, pulled out into traffic and was gone.

“141, are you in service?”

“141, 10/4,” he groaned, knew what was coming next.

“141, 27B, Lemmon at Turtle Creek. Vehicle on fire, one fatality reported.”

“-41, Code 5.”

“141, at 0910.”

“Well,” he said as he pulled away from the station, “there goes the day.”

Chapter 5

Acheson cleared from the wreck a couple hours later, then headed out Lemmon Avenue past Love Field, then wound his way over to Harry Hines and began cruising the area Amy had been working the day before. He didn’t have any idea what he was looking for; in fact, he felt kind of lost as he cruised up and down the streets around the crime scene. He stopped on Maybank, looked toward the tire store as a Southwest 737 lined up on final for Love Field, then made his way back to Harry Hines. He was waiting to make a left onto Lombardy when something, some sort of insight, flashed through his mind. The light turned green and he turned east on Lombardy, rode a few hundred yards, then stopped on the shoulder and looked around again. Something was bugging him, but after a minute he pulled back onto Lombardy, then turned south on Denton Drive. Another few hundred yards and he crossed a little concrete bridge over a paved storm-water runoff ditch that carried floodwaters down to the Trinity River, and there it was again – he knew he was missing something important. But what? He pulled the bike over onto the shoulder again, and something in his gut twitched, some little alarm in his head went off.

“So, if I ran from Maybank to Lombardy, killed Walker there, where would I go next?”

He looked through the trees to his right. He could just see the tire store, there beyond the drainage ditch. And the crime scene on Maybank – was at the far end of an imaginary line running from here through the tire store.

“Well, I’d keep on running, away from the scene on Maybank.”

He drew a line on the map in his head, and it led to right here. He pulled the BMW off the road, parked under a shade tree and walked down the sloped concrete to the drainage ditch, then over to the bridge that carried traffic on Denton Drive over the ditch. He saw a couple of water moccasins in the shallow, brownish water and skirted them warily, then walked under the low bridge.

He saw it immediately.

A white towel, folded neatly on top of a small blue duffel bag.

He walked over to pile, took a pencil and unfolded the towel.

A blood-soaked knife. A notepad.

And some writing on the notepad.

“Better luck next time, Ben,” was written on the pale yellow pad, and in a daze Acheson ran up to the BMW and called dispatch.

The mobile crime scene unit arrived before anyone from CID, and they secured the scene while Acheson paced ‘round and ‘round, obviously agitated.

One of the techs came up a few minutes later.

“Any idea who this ‘Ben’ is?” the tech asked.

“Yeah. Me.”

“No shit? That’s fucked up, man.”

Acheson looked at the guy, cold smoldering fury in his eyes.

“Well, right, anyway, the camera is in the duffel, along with a bunch of shots of that Walker dude, probably from the CF card.”

“That sounds about right,” he said as the implications of the note pounded away inside his head. He went to the radio again, shook his head, took a deep breath.

“141,” he said into the mic.

“141, go ahead.”

“141, would you contact Captain Dickinson, advise him he needs to come to this location.”

“141, at 1347 hours.”

Acheson walked over to a telephone pole and put his hands out, leaned against the creosoted wood as his head began swimming in the currents of his doubts and fears.

Then he vomited. Again.

Chapter 6

Dickinson arrived on the scene about an hour later; Acheson led him down into the ditch and over to the bridge. The CSU techs had left everything pretty much as they’d found things, primarily to let Dickinson look things over before they tagged and bagged the evidence and took it all down to Central Evidence.

Dickinson read the note, then whistled.

“Holy fuck-a-doodle-do,” he said. “I didn’t see this one coming.”

“No, sir. Neither did I.”

“So, how the fuck did you find this shit?”

“I worked a major accident first thing this morning. When I cleared I decided to come over here, just poke around. I thought, well, I tried to picture a vector, a trajectory, from the crime scene on Maybank to the tire store, and I carried that line forward. I, well, it pretty much leads to the bridge, sir. I came down there, and bingo. Here it is.”

“Are you, like, a weirdo, or some kind of fucking genius?”

Acheson shook his head. “Not hardly.”

“I guess there’s no memory card in the camera?”

“Uh, no sir,” the CSU tech replied, “it was in the bag. Probably wiped, but there are images on it.”

“And no fingerprints?”


“Fuck-a-doodle-do,” Dickinson said again. “Any theories, Meathead?”

“It’s either a cop, sir, or an ex-cop. And maybe she put this stuff here yesterday, or saw me a while ago and dumped it then.”

“Damn right it’s a cop, and a pissed off cop, too. Fuck-a-doodle-do.” He walked down the ditch towards Harry Hines. “Anyone check the area for footprints?”

One of the detectives from CID answered that she and her partner had just finished walking both sides of the ditch down to Harry Hines and back, and had found nothing.

“Figures. Well, fuck-a-doodle-do. Guess we’d better send the towel and the bag over to the Federales, see what the fuck they can come up with.”

“Yessir,” the CSU tech said. “Can I bag it now, sir?”

“Yeah, go ahead. Acheson, let’s go grab some chow. If I can’t sleep, we might as well eat.”

“Sir, one of my Academy friends is cooking steaks this evening. Meeting her around five. Could we head over there?”

“Steaks? Well, why the fuck not. Never turned down a steak in my life.”

“It’s not far from here, sir, if you want to follow me.”

“Lead on, boy. Just don’t lose my ass. That fucking bike looks like it’s going a hundred miles an hour just standing still. Hey, come to think of it, we’d better stop off and pick up some extra meat. I’m fucking hungry!”

Chapter 7

“So, just what did you run into over on Denton,” Carol asked when Ben and The Duke had settled down in lawn chairs out by the pool behind her apartment building.

Ben looked at Dickinson, who nodded it was okay to talk about it.

“Some evidence. From the thing, uh, yesterday.”

“What Mr Articulate here is trying to say, Officer Denison, is that he found the missing camera and the murder weapon.”

“Really? That’s, uh, pretty wild. How’d you put that together?”

“I can’t wait to hear this,” The Duke said. “I swear to god, Meathead, you ought to go into politics. You could bumfuzzle a raccoon.”

“Yessir. Uh, well, I had a picture of the area, uh, in my mind. I just drew, well, a line. Well, in my mind…”

“I just fuckin’ love this guy,” The Duke interrupted. “He’s like Cary Fuckin’ Grant. Suave, man, I mean fuckin’ grace under pressure.”

Carol laughed, then looked at her watch.

“Heard from Brad,” Ben asked.


“Well, I’m starved,” The Duke said. “Got some charcoal handy? I’ll get us a fire going…”

Carol’s cell phone pinged, she answered, walked away from the pool while she talked, then came back a few moments later.

She did not look happy.

“Well, I guess that’s that,” she said.

“What’s up?” Ben asked.

“Brad. He’s done with me, with us, the whole police widow thing.”

“Hot damn!” The Duke yelled. “A purdy girl all to ourselves, and an extra steak for me! Fuck-a-doodle-do!”

Chapter 8

“That guy’s a trip,” Carol said a few minutes after The Duke left.

“Kind of a force of nature. And a legend in Texas law enforcement, from what I’ve heard.”

“You know, he kinda looks like John Wayne, too. Spooky.”

“I think he’s even bigger,” Acheson answered. “How’re you holding up?”

She shrugged, turned away, walked into the kitchen.

Ben heard tears from the living room, walked into the kitchen, stood behind her. “You going to be alright?” he asked.

She turned, walked into his arms and buried her face in his neck. “I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to blow off two years. You know what I mean?”

“I reckon so.”

“Haven’t you ever had a serious thing with a girl before?”

“Yeah, once.”

“Once? When…”

“In college. Well, we were together from our second year ‘til we graduated.”

“And you split up after…”


“What happened?”

“Killed. An ice storm up in the panhandle, on 287. She was headed home for Christmas, a truck lost it on the ice, hit her head on.”

“Oh. I’m sorry, Ben. I didn’t…you never…”

“Nope, no reason to. Never been a big fan of pity parties.”

“And, well, has there been anyone since?”

He shook his head.

“No one?”

“Nope. Not a soul. Actually, I thought I’d make a decent priest, gave it some serious thought, too.”

She laughed, then stopped. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Oh, yes, but see, the thing is, I’m not big on the whole God thing. I figured that might not be the best way to approach the ministry.”

“I can see that might present a few problems,” she said gently, almost smiling again.

“A few?”

“You know, Amy and I were both in love with you. Back in Academy.”

His eyes didn’t register the words, but his head shook a little. “What?”

“We were both in love with you. Amy and…”


“Me. I. Yes.”

“Sorry. I had no…”

“Idea. Yes, we figured that out. It still surprises me, though. I thought we were kind of obvious.”

“That’s so…weird. I just never thought…”

“Of me that way. Yup, I know.”


“Yessiree. Good ole Carol, the invisible girl.”

“What? Why do you…”

“Why do I say that? Well, Officer, let’s look at the evidence before the court, shall we? See? There’s this girl in his arms, this suddenly available girl, and this girl’s had like a mad crush on him for like five years, and you aren’t even going to kiss me, are you? You aren’t even going to, like, throw me down on the kitchen floor and fuck my brains out, even though she’s just standing there, right in front of you, practically begging you to do just that?”

“You want me to kiss…”

“Oh-my-fucking-God! Do you like have some kind of brain tumor or something, some weird-ass-fucking-thing in your head that makes you totally stupid when it comes to girls?”

“A tumor?”

“Would you just shut the fuck up and kiss me now, you moron?”

Chapter 9

“So, did you and Officer Carol swap some spit last night,” The Duke asked when Acheson made it into CID the next morning.


“Are you, like, totally stupid? Or are you some kind of fuckin’ space alien, from, you know, like Mars or someplace like that?”


“Jesus H Fucking Christ, Meathead! I have never, and I mean never, ever seen a girl as crazy in love with a guy like that gal is with you! Tell me, really, you weren’t like, you know, picking up on that even just a little bit?”

“I think she kinda got me dialed into that, sir. Took a while, though.”

“Man, and I thought you was like half way smart, too. Shame on fucking me.” The Duke shook his head, grinned a little, then said: “You’d better go wash your hands again, son. I think I can smell a little, well, you know, on them fingers.”

Acheson turned a deep crimson purple, put his hands behind his back.

“I’m serious, slick. That hand smells like a can of tuna that’s been sitting out in the sun for a week. Now, git! And use some soap this time, too.”

Acheson took a leak, washed his hands, then went back to CID.

“So, did y’all set a date yet?”


“Jesus, this is fun.”


“Okay, Meathead, okay…where do we go with this case? Any ideas?”

“Forensics. On the bag and towel. Any idea when we’ll get those back?”

“Probably a week. Thereabouts, anyway, but I don’t feel like waiting. So? What’s next?”

“We bait a trap.”

“And how would we do that?”

“We find another perp, another Walker, get CID onto him, put a tail on the guy.”

“Tether a goat, wait for the lion?”


“Might work. What else?”

“Unmarked patrols around the bookstores and arcades. Clear out all the marked units from Harry Hines, for a while, anyway.”

“Oh. Did you finish that accident report? From yesterday?”

“Yessir. I came in early, 0600, and wrapped it up.”

“She’s seems like a helluva girl, Ben. You figure that out yet, or are you going to pass?”


“God, I’m sure there’s a fucking brain in there somewhere,” The Duke said as he squinted hard and looked at Acheson. “Yes, Carol. Did she say how long she’s been in fucking love with you?”

“Since Academy. She’s says, sir.”

“That fits. What district is she working?”

“She’s floating, Field Training Officer this month. Working with a rookie around Love Field, I think.”

“I’m going to pull her off the street, until this is over.”


“Well, first Breedlove is killed, then the note to you. It could be random, or you might be the common denominator in this case, and if that’s true then she’s at risk.”

“Unless she did it, sir.”

“Already checked that one, slick. Last night, while you had your fingers in the pie, so to speak. She was here in the station when you checked out on Maybank, doing paperwork, and she didn’t leave until it was all over. So…”

Acheson nodded, felt a chill run down his spine. “Have to wait until the woman strikes again,” he almost whispered.

“No way, Meathead. No fuckin’ way, and don’t ever let me hear you thinkin’ like that again, not even to yourself. We don’t wait for people to get killed, got it?”


“Now, don’t make a fuckin’ stink about it, but go check your bike in, write it up on a mechanical or something, then check out an unmarked and head over to Harry Hines, just start setting up, scoping out those dirty movie places, them glory holes where the hookers hang out. My bet is she’s going to hit some guy who’s about to take out a hooker.”

“What about the pedophile angle, sir?”

“Possible, but we’ve got the district squads handling that, putting pressure on the parks, so maybe that’ll push her to the peep shows. Assuming she’s smart, but I’m assuming that’s her kill zone.”

“Sir, if she’s inside, she probably knows every unmarked car we have.”

“Hadn’t thought of that,” The Duke said as he looked out a window while he stood by a water cooler in the corner of the room. He bent over, took a little paper cone and filled it with cold water, then tossed it down while he looked out the window. He filled it again, tossed that one down too, then crumbled up the little cup and threw it across the room to a waste can by his desk.

He didn’t miss; the wadded paper flew straight in the can, and The Duke smiled.

“That’s kind of like life, kid. You gotta take the shot, every time. But you can’t afford to miss.”


The Duke looked around the room, walked over to a long table, opened up a white donut box sitting by some folders.

“Empty! Motherfuckers! Not one fuckin’ donut left! Bunch of goddamned vultures! What kind of fuckin’ police station is this! Where are my Goddamn donuts!” The Duke screamed as he rambled off down the hall…

Chapter 10

Acheson was driving an old, impounded Toyota past Love Field, on his way out to Harry Hines, and he stopped by the old Braniff hangers on the north side of the airport and watched as a Southwest 737 flared over the threshold and roared to a stop. He looked at the jet and had to admit that he missed it. Flying. Being in the cockpit. The economy that had ruined his career had turned around again – and he wasn’t too old, yet. He could get back on with a major again, or even Southwest, if he really wanted to. Get a type rating on 737s, or go back to 777s.

Still, he really loved police work, and he’d never expected that. He loved riding motors, working wrecks. Even arresting people from time to time, those that really needed it, anyway. He could see himself doing the work, doing it for the rest of his working life, but every time he saw a 737 coming in to Love, or a heavy out at DFW, his heart fluttered a bit. It was a lot like loving two women, each with a lot of good things going for her, and then being forced to choose between them.

He shook himself back into the present, got back on Lemmon Avenue and headed toward Northwest Highway – then that instinct hit him in the gut again and he swung off Lemmon into a parking lot, cursing himself as he jumped a curb. He opened his briefcase and pulled out a map of the city, penciled in a line from the initial scene on Maybank to the tire store on Lombardy, then extended the line out in both directions.

“Fuck!” he said. The line extended south, straight to Love Field, right through runway 1-3 Right until it veered slightly into a new parking garage across from the remodeled main terminal building. His stomach lurched as he got back into traffic, then he U-turned and backtracked on Lemmon until he hit Mockingbird Lane, then after another half mile he turned right on Cedar Springs and into the airport.

“Now what?” he asked himself as he drove on to the terminal area. He slowed, looked at his marked-up map again, looked where the line crossed the runway and veered through a new parking garage, and so he headed for it. He came to a pay gate and took the time-stamped card the machine spit out at him, then drove inside.

The garage looked to be three, maybe four stories tall, so he started cruising the lanes, looking between parked cars as he worked his way up to the next level. There were construction trucks parked on the second level, and construction materials were stacked in a few corners of the building, but there were still a lot of parked cars, just normal airport traffic mixed in with the trucks and pallets…

“What the hell is that?”

He stopped near a corner of the garage on the second level, and while there was some sunlight flooding through other parts of the building, this corner was dark, almost pitch black. He could just make out a large pile of what looked like garbage stacked in this corner, some construction debris maybe, but a blue plastic tarp covered a large part of the pile – but something else caught his eye.

Acheson picked up his flashlight and got out of the car, then walked over to the pile, lifted the tarp, fell to his knees and started vomiting. Again.


Captain Dickinson got to the scene fifteen minutes later, along with a few dozen patrol cars, and he made his way up to Acheson’s location as quickly as he could. The Duke got out of his Ford and walked over to the CSU van; he saw Acheson standing away from the scene, then he saw the fresh pile of puke Acheson had just deposited on the concrete.

He walked over to the victim, looked at the poor fucker and turned away before his own stomach started to heave.

“Fuck-a-doodle-do-do!” he said as he made his way over to Acheson. “Man-o-man, she field dressed that poor sumbitch. Phew-whee, poor fucker must’ve eaten at Taco Bell. Wow! You ever small anything like that?!”

Acheson stifled a heave. “Could you stop it, please?”

“So, what got you this time? The olives? Or the sour cream?”

Acheson dropped to knees again, and The Duke walked away with a big grin plastered all over his face, then ‘high-fived’ a CSU tech as he walked inside the van.

“Got anything interesting?”

“Nothing much, but a few differences. Same MO. Cut his head off, probably same type of blade, maybe a Special Forces K-Bar. Disemboweled, as before, only this time looks like she took a bite out of the large intestine.”

“No shit? Hungry little bitch, I guess. Bite marks worth a damn?”

“Still working on that. Anyway. Cut his penis off, same type knife, then put the pecker in the guy’s mouth, tip sticking out, just like the one yesterday. Another something different. She took the guys testes, put them where his eyes used to be.”

“Now, that’s a nice touch. Find the eyes?” The Duke heard Acheson ask.

“Not yet,” the tech replied.

“Oh, you back among the living, Meathead?”

Acheson was standing behind The Duke. “Yup.”

“So, what do the eyes tell you?”

“She thinks we’re blind. And we’re thinking with our balls, or think like men, I guess you’d say.”

“Uh-huh. We probably are, but that’s the problem with having nuts. Anything else?”

“Yeah, the shoe-print.”

“She left…a shoe-print? Didn’t see that…”

“Well, it’s over here, and I’d say it’s a plant. It’s too perfect.”

“Show me.”

The tech, Acheson and The Duke walked over to the corner by the body; there were bright work lights set up now, and a team of techs was dusting everything down for fingerprints. A few feet away, bright yellow tape on the concrete demarcated a dark red shoe print on the concrete, and a tech was photographing it when the three of them approached.

“So, what is it? Blood, or paint,” The Duke asked the tech.

“Best guess right now? Blood.”

“The shoe?”

“Woman’s high heel, probably size 7. Imprint on the sole says Pepe Jimenez.”

“An imprint?”

“Yeah, that’s the giveaway. Probably a new shoe, never worn.”

“Search the building. I’d make bet it’s in here somewhere.” He turned to Acheson. “So, what’s that shoe supposed to mean?”

“Either, uh, wait a minute…” Acheson said as walked back to his unmarked car. He rummaged around on the floor, then came back carrying a compass and a map of the city in his hands.

“Hey, look! It’s…Dallas!” The Duke cried when he saw the map. “Holy shit, what a clue!”

Acheson ignored him, put the map down on the concrete, spread it out to show most of the city.

“Okay, sir. Here’s how I found this scene. I drew the line…”

“Yeah, from Maybank to the drainage ditch. You told me that. What of it?”

“Well sir, I extended the line. It leads to the runway over there,” he said, pointing to the threshold of 1-3 Right, “but veers into the garage. Right here, as a matter of fact.”

The Duke kneeled down to the pavement and studied the map. “I’ll be damned.”

“Now, that bearing is roughly 130 degrees true. My guess is if we take the heel and the tip of the toe on that shoe print and use that as a vector, we’ll get roughly 130 degrees.”

“Do it.”

Acheson walked over to the print and gently placed an edge of the map along the heel-toe axis, then placed the compass on the axis. “132 degrees, sir.”

“Fuck-a-doodle-do,” The Duke said, looking at Acheson. The tech nodded, clearly impressed.


“So, think she’s pointing us to her next kill? What’s along that axis, Ben.”

Acheson placed the map on the pavement again and extended the line on the map to the very edge of the paper. “Condos and high rises on Turtle Creek…”

“Gucci Gulch, you mean?”

“Yessir. Then along Haskell, on to the other side of Central, and then out to the north side of Fair Park.”

“A lot of potential kill zones in there. Anything stand out?”

“Besides the fair grounds? No, nothing jumps out at me, sir.”

“What about the shoe? You were about to say something. What was it?”

“Well sir, it’s feminine. The shoe, I mean, and it’s a woman’s size. She’s either telling us something about herself, or her next victim.”

“Assume it’s hers. Then what?”

“First, we find out about the shoe, find out who carries that brand, then try to find anyone in the area who bought one in that size, then cross check that info with women in the department, with that shoe size.”

“Like we have that kind of information on file, Meathead!”

“Then we get it, sir. Daily briefings. Shouldn’t take more than a few days.”

“Okay. So I think we should extend that line north and south, plot it out on a really accurate, really big fucking map. Start patrols along that line. Like, today.”

Acheson shook his head again. “Probably isn’t going to matter much, sir. Whoever it is, she’s probably inside, very dialed in to what we’re doing, my guess is she’s monitoring all our frequencies, and my guess is she has whatever equipment she needs to de-scramble every channel we use. She’ll know the patrol districts, squad numbers, you name it.”

“Ben, you and I are going downtown, talk to the Chief. Leave that piece of shit car here, ride with me. Give the keys to…what’s your name?” The Duke asked the tech.

“Logan, sir.”

“Logan, have someone get that unmarked back down to Central when you clear.”


“I’ll go get my stuff out, sir,” Acheson said as he jogged over to the old clunker. Then…

“What the FUCK!” he cried.

The Duke and an army of detectives and crime scene techs ran over to Acheson’s car.

Down on the driver’s seat was another notepad, open to a fresh page.

Acheson leaned over, read it aloud:

– Not bad, Ben, but you’re not there yet. And time’s running out, so don’t waste any more of my time. Luv, C –

Everyone stood up and looked around. Whoever planted the notepad had done it in the past few minutes, while the group had been over next to the body looking at the shoe print, only now the car’s passenger door stood open – and there was a stairwell just beyond the car’s open door.

Thirty cops and detectives took off running for the stairs; half ran up, half ran down, and nobody found anything or anyone in the least bit suspicious.


“You know,” the Chief said as The Duke looked on, “you took the sergeant’s exam, scored high, could have had your stripes but you turned ‘em down. I’m curious. Why?”

“I would have had to give up motors, Chief. I like Traffic, I like what I do.”

“I can relate to that,” he said. “I was on motors in LA for nearly fifteen years. Still, no ambition beyond motors?”

“I’m not sure, Chief,” Acheson said as he looked away.

The Chief opened Acheson’s personnel file. “Oh, yeah, you’re one of the pilots. I understand now. Southwest’s hiring. So are United and Delta, maybe American, too. When are you going to apply?”

“I haven’t decided what I want to do yet, Chief.”

“You mean, you might stick it out here?”


“You miss flying, son?”

“Something awful, sir.”

The old man nodded. “Yeah, once it gets in your blood it’s hard to shake, and life’s short.”

“Did you fly, sir?”

“Me? Yup, a little – ‘Nam. Navy. RA-5C, recon bird. You know it?”

“Yessir, probably the prettiest aircraft ever made. Must’ve been a hoot and half, sir.”

“You flew, what, the C-17? Then for American? What did you fly with them.”

“Right seat, 757s, then 777s, just before things turned south.”

“Pretty bird, too. Still a lot of carriers using ‘em,” the Chief said, pointedly. “Bet you could get a job tomorrow.”

Acheson shrugged, looked back at the man.

“What could I offer you? To keep you here?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“What about…if you could have ‘em both. Would that work?”


“Go get your job, just keep yourself based here in the Dallas area, work some days off as a Reserve.”

“Could I stay in Traffic, Chief?”

“Maybe, sure, but the Duke wants you pretty damn bad. Over in CID.”

“Maybe Traffic for a few more years, then jump over to CID?”

“Duke? Would that work for you?”

“Hell, Mike, we’re short downstairs, and I could use him full time, right now. I’d bump him up to sergeant tomorrow, get him on the list to take the Lieutenants Exam in September. I’m retiring in five years. He’s got the chops to take my place, the only one I’ve been around the past few years that has the mind for the job. Anyway, that’s what I want, Ben.”

“Ben,” the Chief said, “I’m not a high pressure type of guy. You want to fly, you go fly. Do whatever you can in this life that makes you happy. I believe if you’re happy, your family will be happy, and the people you work with will be happy. That said, we can sure use you. We need men and women that can think on their feet. Hell, the world’s changing faster than ever and, well, we need officers like you more than we ever have. Ya know, the days of redneck policing are over, the job is simply getting too complex. Anyway. We need you. Please think about that…before you make any decisions. Okay?”


“Oh, one more thing. I’ve got a complaint from a rookie about you. Says you threatened to blow his head off?”

“Yessir, I did.”

“Oh? I guess I’d kinda like to know why…?”

“He was right seat, in a patrol car, saw him pick his nose, and I think he was getting ready to eat a pretty big bugger, sir.”

The Chief’s and The Duke’s eyes went round, the Chief made a small retching sound.

“Tell you what, Ben; you see that sumbitch do that again you put that pistol of yours right in his mouth, and tell him I told you to pass along that’s his last warning. We clear on that, Officer?”

“As a bell, sir.”

The Chief stood, held out his hand. “It was good to meet you, son. I hope you decide to stick around, and if you do just let Duke know. Now, Adios you two.”

“Yessir. Thank you sir.”

The Duke and Acheson walked in silence down the hall to CID, the old man stopping once to look at a particularly nice pair of legs, then they went into the briefing room and sat down.

“Nice set of stems on that one, eh?” The Duke said.

“Hmm? Oh, yeah. That your secretary?”

“Yup. New gal. Took her on a few months ago. Sweet as can be, had a sad life. Well, nice chat with the Chief. Guess you know where things stand.”

“Yessir. Thanks. For what you said in there. I appreciate it.”

“Well, you’ve got a report to write, me too, for that matter. Then why don’t you get over to that gal’s place, Carol, and take her out to dinner? You two might have a few things to talk over tonight, too.”

Acheson smiled, nodded. He hadn’t thought about her all day.

“Oh, by the way, I’ve got her detailed to dispatch for the time being, until we get this little fracas settled, anyway. In case you want to drop by or call her or something.”


“Oh, man, you do disappoint the shit out of me sometimes, Meathead.”



“Sounds like you had another weird day,” Carol said as they settled in a dark corner booth at a decent little Mexican place close to her apartment.

“Yup. Weird’s a good word.”

“You found…another body?”

“You want some guacamole or something?” he asked, hoping to change the subject.

“Sure. Maybe about ten Margaritas, too!”

“Yikes! Hope you got kneepads, and your plumbing works!”

A waiter came by and Ben ordered a couple of Maggies and some green stuff…

“Anyway, I had a ‘two-on-one’ with Dickinson and the Chief this afternoon.”

“Uh-oh,” she said, turning serious. “About my rookie and that stuff about picking his nose?”

“Oh, no, not really. More the ‘are you going to stay with the department?’ kinda stuff. Am I going to go back to flying, in other words, and Duke wants me to move to CID as of yesterday, will bump me to sergeant right away if I do, and as much as said he wants me working towards taking over CID when he leaves.”

“Holy shit, Ben, that’s wonderful news. What did you tell them?”

“Nothing, yet. It was more a ‘you need to go home and think about this for a few days’ kinda thing, but Duke seems to think you might have something to do with this decision.”

“Oh, really? Me?”

“Well, he seems to think you love me, and that I’d be crazy not to jump all over you…”

“Or maybe he’s just using me to manipulate you?” she said.

He shook his head. “Maybe, but I doubt it.”

“You like him, don’t you.”

“Kinda reminds me of my grandfather. Hard around the edges, but a real softie inside.”

“You trust him, then?”

“I think so. He’s a natural leader, but an honest one, too. Rare, in other words.”

“Loves donuts, or so I hear.”

“Loves? Shit, he drinks ‘em down. I mean it, in like one bite. And he inhales a pint of milk after almost every one. Fucking amazing. Amazing he doesn’t weight four hundred pounds. Anyway,” he leaned forward, took a folded up letter from his shirt pocket and opened it. “It’s from United. Got it today. First officer’s position, 757s. Probably Seattle, maybe Denver. Pay is about twice what I’d make as head of CID five years from now.”

“Uh-huh? But?”

“But the Chief said I could fly and, if based out of Dallas, still do motors in the Reserves.”

“But aren’t you still in the Air Force Reserves?”


“So, you’d be flying three days a week, then maybe a day or two per week on the street, and what is it, a weekend a month driving C-17s for the Air Force? Sounds an awful lot to me like you’d be burning the candle at both ends.”

“To me, too.”

“So, you’ve got a big decision to make, don’t you?”


“And do I fit in there, somehow?”

He sighed, nodded his head. “I, well, I guess that’s the question. I say we give it time, see where it goes.”

“Yup, no need to rush.”

“So, this stuff…when you say you loved me in Academy? Were you serious?”

She smiled, shrugged her shoulders. “I wasn’t making that up, Ben, but maybe it was more an infatuation, for a while, anyway. But over time, as I watched you, well, I don’t know. I began to feel something more, as I got to know you better. Amy did too, but I never thought it was anything like love – with either of us. It was more like we respected how you picked yourself up after getting dropped by American, how you didn’t give up. But it was more than that, too; it was how seriously you took becoming an officer, like you really respect the job, the problems we deal with, that people have to care enough about the world to try and make a difference. The funny-sad thing about Amy, though? I think she fell for you, hard. Like she really wanted to love you, somehow needed to…but she never really got over the idea when it looked like, well, you two just weren’t going to happen. I tried to move on, tried to tell her to, too, but really, it’s funny, I could never commit to Brad, and I think he guessed the real reason why. But Amy? Like I said, she never really tried to move on. I think she wanted to be near you any way she could, maybe even just to talk to you every now and then. Who knows, maybe she thought if she was around you long enough she’d get an opportunity.”

“That sounds sad. And it’s like, well…I never had a clue.”

“She was poor, I mean her folks never had anything. She never had anything, either. Then she met you.”

“Why didn’t she say something? To me?”

“What would you have done if she had?”

“I don’t know. She was nice, I guess, but not my type. A little too wild.”

“She could be. Remember the party, after graduation? When she started stripping?”

“Not sure I’ll ever forget that. She was toasted.”

“And she did come on to you, didn’t she? That night.”

“Yeah, but she was coming on to everyone that night.”

“No, Ben, she wasn’t. She was, well, she was making her play for you.”

“Drunk people are a real turn off – to me. Maybe if she had…well, no, we just never clicked.”

Carol nodded. “Did you feel anything last night? With me?”

He looked at her, wasn’t sure what he wanted to say. “Kinda hard to put into words.”

“You’re off the next three days, aren’t you? What are you going to do?”

“Going up to Denver, to United, and talk with them.”

“It must be like a dream come true for you.”

“In a way, yes. I never thought the choice would be anything but clear…like I always knew I would fly for a living. It’s what I always wanted to do.”

“Then you should, Ben.”

He nodded his head. “If that’s the choice I make, well, would you stay with the department?”

“It’s too soon to make those kinds of decisions, Ben, but if you want me there with you, I will be. If not, I’ll understand, and I like what I do. Life goes on.”


“So, Ben,” The Duke said as Acheson walked into the CID briefing room, “how was Denver?”

“Decent. Good package. Shitty city.”


“Uglier than this place, and I always thought that would be just about impossible.”

“But the mountains…”

“They’re there, all right. I guess. Smog was so thick I couldn’t see ‘em.”

“Well, the Rockies are something else. Best motorcycle roads in the country.”

“Yeah, imagine so.”

“So. United? Good pay package, you say?”

“Decent. Yessir.”

“Did you sign with ‘em?”

“No, not yet. Hung up on how long I’d have to wait before I could make Captain. I was due at American. United wants me there five years before they’d consider it. Not sure I want to wait that long.”

“Hallelujah!” The Duke said as he slapped his desk. “Their loss! Anyway,” he said as he walked over to the wall behind his desk, “here’s the map, with your 130 degree vector drafted on it. City surveyor did it, so it’s accurate.”

Acheson walked over and studied it, slid his finger along the line. “Oak Lawn, Holland, Turtle Creek, then…that Frank Lloyd Wright building. The Dallas Theatre Center, it’s right on the line.”

“Theatre? Why – is that important?”

“Maybe, but, well, this is, in a way, someone’s scripted drama unfolding slowly, isn’t it? What better place than a theatre!”

“Let’s go!”


They came down Blackburn, turned left on Sylvan and approached Wright’s cream colored masterpiece slowly, then turned up the hill into the little parking court and got out of The Duke’s Ford. Acheson walked up the stairs and over to the glass entry doors and peered inside. He tried a door – it was locked, so he walked over to a little fountain and stopped dead in his tracks.

“I think this is what we’re looking for, Captain!”

Duke walked over, looked down into the water and saw a woman’s shoe; it was already in a department evidence bag, sealed from the water. “The bitch is playing with us now, isn’t she?”

“Gotta camera?”

“In the trunk.”

They both heard it, at the same instant. Footsteps, running on gravel, then on pavement. Acheson ran to the car, looked on the front seat.

“Mother fucker!” he yelled. Duke trotted up right behind him and looked down into the car.

A note pad, open to fresh page.

“What’s it say, Ben?”

Acheson read it silently first, then aloud:

– What? No back up? You guys are pathetic. Ben, you most of all. Expected more from you. Come on, get with it. Oh, Ben. I hope you enjoyed Denver as much as I did. Luv, C –

“What the fuck?” The Duke said.

“She followed me?”

“Okay, let’s grab some pictures and bag that shoe, then get the fuck out of here…”

“You think I should try to follow her?”

“There?” The Duke said, pointing at the bamboo, and the trail beyond.

“Used to be a railroad track up there, now it’s a jogging trail. She ran towards Lemmon…”

“There are hundreds of joggers on that trail every hour. Forget it; let’s get to work. And I want to get you out of here, out of the city, before she nails you.”

“Calm down, Duke. She wasn’t in Denver. It would be too damn easy to check passenger manifests against our employee roster, and DHS could run that down in about two minutes flat. Remember, look where we are. This is theatre, she’s the director, and she’s fucking with us.”

The Duke turned and stared at Acheson. “If you go to Denver it’s gonna be a black day for law enforcement in this town, Ben.”

“Come on, let’s get the camera.”

“Yup. We were stupid, Ben. Shoulda had the area surrounded before we got here.”

“She would have known, Duke, and wouldn’t have shown up here, or maybe just jogged on by when she made us.”

They got back to the fountain, and Acheson looked at the shoe for a moment, then looked up and drew his pistol. Dropping into a combat stance he moved forward toward some deep bushes at the periphery of the building, then stepped into the undergrowth. He looked back at the shoe once, then pushed his way deeper until he came to the next body, then he jumped back out of the bushes, fell to his knees – and vomited.


“So, the shoe is made by Pepe Jimenez, style is ‘Lola,’ a 4-inch pump, size seven, made in Spain and imported into the US by a firm in Illinois called Classic Pumps; in the past 12 months they’ve shipped this size and color to 21 addresses in the Metroplex. If you look at all sizes and colors shipped here, then it’s to almost a three hundred addresses in the region. None of these addresses collate in any obvious way to any officer in the department.”

“What about P O Boxes?” Duke asked.

“Just six, sir,” the CSU tech advised.

“Let’s get to those POs, pull the cards, see who signed for those boxes,” The Duke said to the detectives from CID, “and let’s get those by lunch time, okay?”

He motioned to the tech by the video projector to move on.

“Now, the bodies,” the tech resumed. “The victim at Love Field was one Jonah Feldman, 42, lived in an apartment over off Northwest Highway. Mister Feldman is, or was a registered sex offender, three convictions for child pornography, a couple misdemeanors for lewd conduct, exposing himself in adult movie theaters…”

“Sounds like my father-in-law,” someone said.

“Knock it off!”

“Anyway, his parole officer noted some porn in his apartment on his last home visit, wrote him up…”

“Parole officer?” The Duke sat up. “Cross check all female parole officers with the shoe data, and the post offices.”

“Maybe we should cross check with female sheriff’s deputies too,” one of the detectives added.

“Do it.”

“Right on it, sir.”

“What about his computer? Anything on it?”

“About twenty thousand encrypted images sir, mostly young boys being sodomized, but there’s a bunch snuff porn, again, young boys, looks like southeast Asian stuff, some south of the border stuff too, and more recent. His email contacts were sent to the FBI, and to Interpol.”

“Anything else on this guy?”

“Not much at this time. Nothing much on phone records, neighbors didn’t say much one way or another, parole officer thinks he was born again, reformed, but he ran his PC through a maze of fire-walled networks set up by other kiddy pornsters. How he hid his activity. Pretty common.”

“What about that duffel and towel from the Walker crime scene? Anything back on that yet?”

“Lands End duffel, both mail order and sold at Sears, more than four thousand sold in the area over the past two months, in this sales region alone, sir. The towel is worse. Target’s house brand, pretty generic, maybe twenty plus thousand sold over the past year in Dallas County alone.”


“Could be our girl chose these items for their anonymity,” Acheson said. “What did you find on Walker’s computer?”

“Lot of porn, kiddy porn. Boys, sodomy, mainly stills, but a few snuff videos, too.”

“Well, there’s a link,” Acheson added.

“Rodriguez,” the Duke interjected, “did you check air traffic to Denver and back for the weekend?”

“Yessir. Nada. DHS ran a broader crosscheck of all LEOs in the region. Only one made the trip, a male, Tarrant County SO lieutenant, went up to Ft Collins for his mother’s funeral.”

“Okay, that’s a blank, just like you called it, Ben. What about the victim on Turtle Creek?”

“That would be,” the tech resumed, pausing to look at his notes, “one Rueben Salazar, thought to be a mule for one of the big border cartels, been running junk and girls out of Oak Cliff, DeSoto, Cedar Hill, and The Grove, and with some recent moves into Waco reported. Been using girls to move product, works ‘em for a while then allegedly dumps ’em.”

“Dumps? You mean kills ‘em?”

“Well sir, no one knows. Most of his girls, well, all of ‘em, probably, are illegals. There’s just no record of them, no way to track ’em.”

“So, what are you telling me? There are drug runners up here using girls to move product and possibly killing them off after a while? And we have no idea how many have been killed, or even where the bodies are?”

“Yessir,” the tech said, looking down at his notes. “That about sums it up.”

“Holy Mother of God. So, this Salazar? Any porn on his drives?”

“Stuff’s still downstairs in Evidence, not in the lab yet, sir.”

“Expedite that. So,” The Duke said to the detectives in the room, “why does this one feel important? Why hit Salazar? Maybe he into porn. Or was he?”

“Well,” Acheson replied, “he’s trafficking women, now purportedly killing them, too. That makes our Ninja an avenging angel, doesn’t it? Out doing what we can’t, or haven’t been able to do.”

“Like that movie, Death Wish,” one of the detectives added.

“Maybe,” Ben said. “Could be as simple as that, but I kinda doubt it. That Bronson character in the movie is motivated by revenge, isn’t he? Hoods break into his apartment, rape and kill his wife, beat up his daughter, rape her too, and the cops seem powerless to do anything about it so he goes on a killing spree. Becomes known as a vigilante killer. Public see him as doing the cops’ work for them, crime goes down as ‘scrotes get taken out, and in the end he becomes an invisible hero.”

“So,” The Duke said, “are we missing something big here? Motive? Revenge is the oldest motive in the world, isn’t it?”

“My guess is Salazar is the key,” Acheson replied. “He seems atypical, as a victim anyway, but something atypical might be on his computer, something that links him to the first two perps. Say,” Acheson said to the tech, “that email list? Is it possible that Feldman was getting images from either Walker or Salazar? Or the other way around? Are they linked somehow?”

“Haven’t checked that angle, sir.” The tech got on his cell and made a call.

“Well, Salazar was running women and drugs up here,” Acheson continued. “He had a working pipeline, a renewable, fresh supply of talent, so who’s to say he wasn’t running families, and families have little boys in ‘em. Maybe he was providing kids to these perps, for them to photograph, or have, uh, sex with. Or…oh sweet Jesus.”

“What, Ben? What is it?”

“Or to kill. Snuff vids,” Acheson groaned. “What if these guys were making snuff vids, then dumping the bodies. Kill the kids, then kill their moms. Leave no trails…”

“BINGO!” cried the CSU tech. “Multiple IP hits on Feldman’s drive with Walker. As soon as we know Salazar’s IPs we’ll run crosschecks on that one too.”

“Cloud storage,” Acheson said. “Check to see what kind of Cloud storage facilities Feldman used, see if Walker…”

“Right! Got it!” The tech was back on his phone, relaying instructions.

“Cloud storage?” The Duke asked.

“Places to store huge files off site, video files mainly, encrypted and easy to share with known associates. Be hard to locate because he’s got so many…was he using Tor?”

“Yeah,” the tech said, “they all do, but it’s not as bullet proof as they think. NSAs been inside Tor for years.”

“So, we ask NSA to run down these guys, see if they were running a network together. Captain? That might have to go through the Chief, via the FBI.”

“Got it, Ben. I’ll go have a chat with him. Say, do you think our suspect is leading us to these guys?”

Acheson leaned back in his chair, looked up at the ceiling. “There’s not a doubt in my mind now, Captain. That’s exactly what she’s doing.”

“So. Do we really want to run her down?”

Acheson looked at The Duke. “She killed three of our own, sir.”

“Yeah. She’s gotta pay for that.”

“Uh-huh, but my guess is she’s always going to be at least two steps ahead of us. So in the end, Captain, when she’s got what she wants she’ll either turn herself in, or just disappear.”

The Duke nodded, left to go see the Chief, grateful this stuff hadn’t got too much attention in the press. Yet.

But it would. Stuff like this always did.


The Duke, Acheson and a handful of detectives from CID were sitting behind little school-desks eating ribs and brisket at Sonny Bryans’ on Inwood Road, and had been talking about the case and where it was leading them – before their food was ready.

“You know, potentially, this shit’s going to go international. Those pedophiles had, have, a huge network set up,” Acheson said, “so there’s just no way of knowing where this is going lead.”

“God damn, these are good fucking baked beans!” The Duke cried. Acheson took that to mean it was time to stop talking shop.

“Ribs ain’t too bad today, neither,” Deke Slater, one of the senior detectives added. “Still, too much sauce. Like mine dry, any-who.”

“How’s that sam’ich, Ben? Got onions and relish over there if it’s too dry.”

“It’s fine, sir.”

“Ya know, this is still the best place in town,” The Duke continued, “Has been since the sixties, when Sonny was still cookin’. Heard he was a dentist! Did y’all know that? Come in and stoke the fires on his way to his office. Course, don’t know if that’s true or not, but it sounds good. Died of cancer. Shame. He was a good man.”

“You knew him, Captain?”

“Yup. Short man, nice smile. Had this old 60-something Mercedes, silver I think, drove it in every morning, always around four or so, almost always had a police escort, or so legend has it. When they opened up in the mornin’ there’d always be about ten squad cars out back, just waitin’. Shame he didn’t sell donuts, ya know? He’d a been a gozillionaire.”

Nods around the group, then The Duke’s cell phone pinged.

“Dickinson,” he said into the thing as he took out a notepad. “Okay, go ahead…yup…yup…you don’t say. Well, fuck-a-doodle-do. Alright. We’ll see you back at CID in, say,” he looked over at the desert menu on the wall, “in about forty five minutes. Right. Bye.”

“Anything new?” Acheson asked.

“Probably. That cloud shit? They’re all linked. Internet addresses, too. Looks like twelve more here in town, on Feldman’s list anyway, and seems they share the same cloud storage thingy, so presumably we got eight or nine more potential targets. FBI’s running down the addresses now, they’re gonna meet us at the station, go over what they got with us, then maybe we’ll go pay some of these boys a little visit this afternoon. Say, Slim, is that peach cobbler worth a shit today?”


The group got back to Central CID just before noon, just before a small contingent of FBI agents arrived, and The Duke took a seat, loosened his belt a notch, then lifted a cheek and cut loose a monster fart.

“Jesus H Christ, Captain, smells like you ate fuckin’ road kill for lunch.”

“Don’t smell half as bad as that after-shave crap you’re wearin’, Slim,” The Duke parried. “By the way. You ever heard of deodorant?”

Then, a knock on the door.

“Y’all come on in.”

A handful of federal agents, easily identifiable in their blue suits, white shirts and red ties, walked into the room, but all the detectives’ eyes zeroed in on one agent in particular.

About five foot six, trim, navy blue blazer and mid-length skirt, sheer stockings and…

‘Navy blue pumps…’ Acheson said to himself. ‘About a seven, seven and a half.’ He stared at her shoes, then up at the woman’s eyes. ‘And looks exactly like the shoe in the fountain,’ he thought as he looked at her legs and shoes again. ‘A she’s got a runner’s legs, too.’

He looked up at her again, only now saw she had stopped in her tracks – and was staring at him.

He pursed his lips, turned red and looked away, then the woman came and sat next to him.

“Genie. Genie Delaney. And you are?”

“Ben Acheson.”

“Oh, right, the motor-jock.” She held out her hand. “Read your reports, good work. Nice to meet you.” She then leaned over, almost conspiratorially, and whispered: “Say, you got, like, a shoe fetish thing going on there, Ben?”

Acheson pulled away, turned even redder in the face.

“Not your thing, huh?” Delaney said triumphantly as she leaned back in her chair.

“Guys,” The Duke began, “This here’s Red Gibbons, SAC Dallas. Red? Why don’t you make up a few introductions?”

“Well, let’s see, that’s John, Paul, George and Ringo,” the Special Agent in Charge of the Dallas Bureau said sarcastically as he pointed at four of the sunglass’d agents, “they do computer crime when they’re not playing video games. The shady looking pervert over there is, uh, Mick Jagger. Sex Crimes are his thing, when he’s not in the bathroom jacking off. The chick with the legs is, what the fuck, she’s Twiggy today, and she’s our profiler. A psychologist too, so watch what you say around her, boys, or you’ll be on the couch.”

“So,” Acheson said. “We’re keeping this on a bogus, first name basis. Cool.”

“Yeah, well, these guys are from D.C., but they’re not here, if you know what I mean.”

“Ah. Quantum teleportation, is that it?” Acheson said.

“Whatever, slick,” the SAC said sarcastically. “Anyway, where are you guys on this thing?”

“Ben, this is pretty much your show. Why don’t you get these freaks up to speed?”

Acheson jumped a little, looked down, saw Delaney’s shoe rubbing against the inside of his right ankle, then he looked up, caught a faint smile on her lips. He stood and went to the map on the wall, the new one with the vector drawn on it, then recounted events of the last week.

“So, you’re the one that figured out the line linking the kill zones?” Gibbons said when Acheson finished. “How’d you come up with that?”

“I’m not really sure. I think I was looking up at a jet on final, landing at Love. I was over on Maybank, and I could see the tire store, well, some trees by the store, and everything was lined up just right. From where I was to the tire store, and then there was this aircraft, a 737, right above the store, and on the same line. Anyway, I just started looking along that vector…”

“Vector? You a math freak?”

“BS in Engineering, UT Austin, sir.”

“No shit? Not exactly common for a traffic cop?”

“He’s a pilot too, Red,” The Duke added. “Air Force, American Airlines. Got dropped when the shit hit the fan back in ‘08.”

“Okay,” Gibbons nodded. “So, that’s how you found the duffel?”

“Yessir. And that’s when I started thinking more and more about the vector. Anyway, that’s what took me to Love Field, and that confirmed the theory.”

“Interesting. And the shoe? You figured out the compass thing from that?”

“Yessir, and the shoe at the Theatre Center, that it pointed to Salazar, in the bushes.”

“How long had Salazar’s body been in there, Duke?”

“About two hours, plus or minus.”

“So she knew you were out of town, when you’d get back to the station, and about how long it would take you to figure out the next kill zone.”

“Yessir, and I’d say her note mentioning Denver proves that.”

“Why didn’t you guys set a trap for her there?” Delaney asked.

“I fucked up,” Acheson said.

“We fucked up,” The Duke added. “My fault. Shoulda seen that one coming.”

“She wouldn’t have shown if you had,” Delaney said.

“I know,” The Duke said, “and Acheson told me that too, at the time.”

“Solid work, Acheson,” Gibbon said. “Why don’t you take a seat. We’ll fill y’all in with what we found, then we’d better hit the street, see if we can round up a few of these fuckers.”

Acheson returned to his seat, Delaney leaned over again and whispered in his ear: “You have a cute ass, too.”

He turned beet red. Again.

Her shoe was on his ankle a second later, and she poured it on now: “I wore these today, just for you.”

He sat back, pushed his chair away from her, then she winked at him.

“Hey, Ben,” Gibbons said, smiling, “don’t let her fuck with your head too much, okay? She’s a pro, but I think she’s having way too much fun today.”

Delaney sat back in her chair, a mock pout on her face, her lower lip leading the way. “You’re no fun, Red, you know that?”

“Yeah, well, deal with it, Delaney – and stop dangling that shoe,” Gibbons smirked as he began handing out papers, “Anyway, these are the addresses associated with the IPs and links you gave us this morning. Most are known sex offenders, a few are registered, all have been confirmed as using the cloud storage box Feldman was using, and it shows a lot of recent activity from these guys, within the past 48 hours too. I say we break up into two man teams and hit them right now.”

“Warrants?” Acheson asked.

“No time, exigent circumstances.”

The Duke nodded. “Agree.” He looked at the printout in his hand, then around the room, and called out assignments. “Ben, why don’t you take Miss Twiggy there and hit the guy at 4408 McKinney.”

‘Swell,’ Acheson groaned as he looked over at Genie – again.

“Oh, this is gonna be fun,” Delaney said – as she rubbed his ankle again.

They left the station and were making their way through town to Central Expressway when she started in on him.

“So, you a leg freak?”

“Excuse me?”

“You were practically drooling over my legs when…”

“I was looking at your shoes. They look like a match…”

“But the color’s off, don’t you think, Darling?” Delaney said in a patently sultry voice.

“Are you for real?”

“Oh, alright. I’ll be good. So, you have a girlfriend?”

“Jesus H Christ! Would you like me to pull over right here? Fuck you now, so we can get it over with?”

She laughed. “Not a bad idea, Ace, worth thinking about anyway, but maybe we ought to check out the place on McKinney first?”

He grumbled, looked ahead, still shaking his head. “And yes, I have a girlfriend.”


“Well, sort of.”

“Uh huh.”

“But your legs aren’t bad,” he said, smiling.

“You oughta smell these things…”


“The shoes! The leather! Spanish…and, well, it’s just kinky as hell.”

“So, are we kinky?”

“Play your cards right Ace, and you might find out.”

“Uh-huh, So, I take it, you just got them?”

“The shoes? FedEx, this morning. Hit the web, called the owner, ordered ‘em after I read your report. You know, for follow up, evidence, that kinda thing.”


“So? You think they’re sexy?”

“If you want to get there in one piece, you’ll knock it off, right now.”

She laughed again. “Never had anything quite like ‘em. Ever since I put ’em on this morning it’s been nonstop stares. Kinda cool.”

“If you dig giving men woodies, yeah, I guess that’s kinda cool.”

“Oh? You feeling a little stiff?” she said as she started to go for his ankle again.

“Stop it!” Acheson said as he pulled onto Central.

“Traffic’s not too bad,” she said, suddenly all business and looking at her GPS. “Better take Henderson.”

“I know…”

“Of course you do, darling. I’m so sorry.”

“You just won’t let up, will you?” he said as he rolled his eyes. He exited on Henderson, turned across the highway, then south on the frontage road.

“Looks like Oliver is the best cross street – and park just after you make the turn.”

He turned, pulled to a stop and parked the car, then checked out on the radio.

“Is it an apartment?” he asked.

“Yeah, back right corner, looks like,” she said, glancing at her iPhone. She looked up, then around the area, before pointing – “Right over there.”

“Okay, let’s do it,” he said.

“Glad you’re not in uniform,” she said. “What are you carrying?”

“Sig, 226.”

“Great, me too. Got extra clips in my coat pocket if you need ‘em.”

“Yup, got three in mine.”


They walked to the alley behind the building, stopped at the tall iron fence that surrounded the parking area in the rear; Acheson hopped over, then drew his pistol and went into a low combat stance. When he heard Delaney, cursing her high heels now, behind him as he moved towards the building, a maroon brick two story affair that looked – vaguely – like Frank Lloyd Wright had inspired the design.

“Which unit?” he whispered.

“That one,” she pointed, then they ran for the door.

“Fuck!” they whispered – in unison. The door was ajar, there was blood on the sill and on the floor just inside the door, and Delaney bent down, touched it, rubbed it between her fingers.

“Still warm,” she whispered.

Acheson kicked the door gently, stuck the Sig, then his head inside the doorway.

“Stairs right here, covered in blood, looks like someone was just pulled down.”

“You lead,” Delaney said, and Acheson slipped inside, began heading up the stairs – with his 9mm in the lead. There was a living room at the top of the stairs, a dining room to his left in the far corner. The kitchen was to his left, and he guessed the bedroom and bath would be behind and to his left. He led off to the kitchen and walked through it, then headed back toward the bedroom…

“Oh, shit,” Acheson said as Delaney came up behind him.

“Oh, bloody fucking…” She bent over, retched once, then vomited.

The little bedroom was almost completely bathed in blood, there were splatters on the ceiling, huge sprays on the walls, but worst of all was the bed. A middle aged male, decapitated, penis in mouth, lay on the floor, and a little Mexican kid was tied by wrists and ankles to bedposts, spread-eagled, obviously dead and floating in a pool of almost black blood; what appeared to have been a fairly sophisticated video recorder, on a tripod, lay by the foot of the bed. Acheson looked at the rig, guessed it had been set-up at the foot of the bed, but now lay in pieces on the carpet. The CF card was gone, the battery too, so everything in memory was wiped.

“You better call Gibbons; I’ll go get the car, get dispatch on…”

“Okay…” Delaney groaned.

“You alright?” Acheson looked at Delaney. She seemed pale, more than upset.

“No. No, I’m not.”

“I know. Sometimes it helps if you barf, sometimes it doesn’t.”

“So I’ve heard.”

They laughed.

“Yeah, I must be famous by now. Well, I’ll be right back.”

“I’m going with you,” she said.

He turned, looked at her. “What is it?”

“Something, I don’t know, monstrous. Evil. It’s everywhere, and it’s close, too,” she said, shivering, then she looked at the bed again. “Poor fucking kid. Never had a chance in this world, did he?”

“Don’t think about that right now. Think about the evidence, the scene.”

“You’re right. Sorry.”

“Okay, let’s get downstairs. You stand outside the front door; we have to secure the scene.”

She nodded her head, seemed unsteady. “Yeah.”

“Give me your hand,” he said when he got her to the top of the stairs. “You look kind of shaky.”

He led her down the stairs, noticed she was still shivering when he got her out under the mid-summer sun. “Can you call Gibbons?”


“Okay, I’ll be right back.” Acheson ran to the iron fence and jumped it, then ran over to the car and got on the radio.

“741 to 700,” he called, using his temporary and The Duke’s call numbers.

“Go ahead, 41.”

“We have multiple Signal 1s at this location.”

“You aren’t the only one, 41. Does it look fresh?”

“10/4, yes sir, maybe an hour, maybe less.”

“700, get back-up headed to 741s location, Code 3!”

“700, at 1418 hours.”

Acheson grabbed his hand unit, cursed himself for forgetting it, then jumped out of the car and drew his weapon just in time to hear Delaney scream, followed by rapid bursts of gunfire.

Then… silence.

“741, shots fired this location!”

“741 at 1419 hours.”

He ran for the fence, jumped it, sprinted across the parking lot and found Delaney breathing heavily, blood all over her blouse and jacket and a defensive knife wound on her left forearm.

“That way,” she said, pointing towards McKinney Avenue. “Black one piece suit, hood, about a fifteen inch blade,” she said, gasping. “Black hair maybe,” she said airily as she slumped to the ground.

“741, Signal 33, officer down behind 4408, am in foot pursuit of suspect at this time!” he yelled into the hand unit.

“741 at 1420 hours.”

He heard sirens everywhere as he ran between buildings and out onto the grassy lawn in front of the apartment building. He shuddered to a stop, turned and looked both ways down McKinney.


“What the Fuck!”

He heard a car peeling out behind 4408 and ran back between the buildings for the alley, ran right past Delaney and hopped the iron fence again, then stopped in the alley.


“741, lost contact, heard a car leaving the area at high speed, going back to down officer.”

“741 at 1421 hours, paramedics advise ETA less than two minutes.”


He jumped the fence again and got to Delaney’s side; she was pale, breathing rapidly, and he pulled her coat open, saw a massive slashing wound across her belly, could make out her intestines through a pool of blood.

“Did you see the car?” he asked.

She nodded. “Bla-ck. Camaro. May-be – mid 80s. T-tops. Clean. Two people inside, both masked.”

“741, stand by for BOLO!”

“741, go ahead at 1422 hours.”

“741, BOLO black mid-80s Chevrolet Camaro, t-tops, two occupants. Vehicle described as clean…”

“I seen ‘em.”

Acheson spun around, saw an old homeless man standing in the alley behind the fence, and he could smell alcohol on his breath from ten feet away.

“Describe them!”

“Yeah, okay. Only one I saw good was a gal, had on some kind of leotard like thing. Black. Her skin was real white, black hair. Had on…”

Sirens were close now, Acheson ran to the gate and hit the inside release and the powered gate started retracting just as the Fire Department’s ambulance unit pulled onto Oliver.

“In here!” he yelled, waving his arms. When the driver saw him he turned and ran back to Delaney.

“They’re here, kid, just hang on.”

“Not feelin’ too hot, Ace. Sorry.”

He ran his hands through her hair, looked her in the eye. “C’mon. Just fight it a few more minutes. Keep breathing! You can do it!”

She nodded her head just as the first paramedic ran up.

Acheson backed out of the way, turned to the homeless man. “Okay, she had on what?”

“Well, like that girl there. High heels. Real nice ones.”


“Black, man, like everything else she had on.”

“741, more BOLO information. Suspect one, white female, black leotard, black high heels, very white skin, black hair, and, wait one…what did you say?”

“She had a big knife, man, and a gun, a pistol, in a black shoulder holster.”

“741, suspect one armed with a knife and a handgun in a shoulder holster.”

“741, at 1424 hours.”

“Okay, did you see the driver of the car?” Acheson asked as he watched one paramedic starting CPR, while another started an IV.

“Not real good.”

“Male, or female.”

“Oh, a girl, same black hair, same clothes.”

“Anything else stand out?”

“Yeah, the car. It had Oklahoma license plates.”

“You sure?”


“741, BOLO update, suspect two probably a white female, same description, black hair, black clothing. Suspect vehicle reported to have Oklahoma license plates.”

“741, at 1426 hours.”

“700 to 741 on tactical, how’s your partner?”

Acheson switched to the encrypted TAC channel, then keyed the mic: “Alive. Multiple knife wounds, bleeding out, looks bad. CPR and IV going now.”

“Be there in about five.”

“10/4. Sir, the suspect dragged a body from here, to their car, wherever that was. There’s gonna be a blood trail. We need a lot of manpower here, right now.”

“I’ll take care of it, you look around but stay close to Delaney, ride with her in the box if we don’t get there first. Find out anything you can, got it?”


“We’re going to transport now,” a paramedic said. “You coming?”



“We’ve got a blood expander going now, and her BP’s stabilized. Bad belly wound, but it doesn’t look like the intestine or stomach is cut, so probably no peritonitis. There’s a really, really good cutter at Parkland right now, guy named Sanchez, and he’s standing by in the ER. My guess is she’s going to be fine.”

Acheson held her hand, squeezed it, and he felt her squeeze his hand in return: “Hear that, kid,” he said gently in her ear, “everything’s going to be okay.”

She opened her eyes, looked at him oddly. “Are you crying?” she asked through the clouded green oxygen mask.

He rubbed his eyes. “Guess so. Sorry.”

She squeezed his hand again. “Don’t be sorry. It’s not so bad.”

“Shouldn’t have left you alone.”

“Bullshit. You did everything right. I screwed the pooch, lost my concentration.”

“You remember anything?”

“Pretty sure I hit her in the arm, left arm, maybe her side too, like near the left ribcage. And her eyes. They were bright blue. Like really bright.”

“Contact lenses?”

“Probably. And the hair. It’s a wig.”

“Witness said she was wearing shoes like yours.”

She thought for a moment. “Didn’t see that, but it wouldn’t surprise me.”


“They’re nice shoes, Ace. Got you going, didn’t they?”

“They sure did, baby.”

“Why’re you calling me that?”

“Because I don’t want you to leave me.”


He shrugged, shook his head. “I guess because…”

Her eyes fluttered, closed. The EKG began to dance, her BP started falling.

“Step on it, manno!” the medic called out to the driver. “She’s crashing!”

“‘Bout three minutes, Steve! Pump some more of that secret sauce in the bag!”

The ambulance pulled into the ER’s parking area and backed up to the huge, covered unloading ramp; a team of nurses and medics was waiting and pulled Delaney from the box, then rushed her through sliding doors into Trauma 2; Acheson ran in behind them, only to be pulled out of the room by a uniformed officer. Acheson stepped back, pulled out his badge and the other officer let him go.

“Who is that,” the officer asked.


“Oh, shit. Say, you wouldn’t be Acheson, would you?”


The other officer stepped back. “Hey, man, that’s cool…just don’t, you know, like barf on me, okay?”


The Duke, Red Gibbons and Acheson sat in the surgical waiting room somewhere in the UT Southwestern hospital complex, and they were worried. Delaney’s operations was supposed to last two hours max, but she had been under now for almost five hours.

For the first hour or so they had talked about the case, and the fact that the Camaro had been abandoned a few miles away and, not surprisingly, that the car had been reported stolen a few days hours earlier by some kids visiting from Tulsa. And again, no surprise, there were no unaccounted for fingerprints in the car, only a single Pepe Jimenez pump in the back seat, size seven, this one Navy blue.

Just like Delaney’s.

As the second hour approached – and passed, the talk turned more to Delaney, her background, and Gibbons talked about her like he knew her pretty well.

“She’s just a kid, you know? Bright as hell, a psych major at Penn, went from grad school straight to the Academy at Quantico. Valedictorian. Hates guns, so with her background went into profiling. Seemed a natural, ya know what I mean? But she likes to play games, fuck with people’s heads. Been bounced out of two postings, doesn’t make friends. Probably intimidates too many people, those she doesn’t irritate the hell out of, anyway.”

“No boyfriend we need to call?” Acheson asked.

“She’s cute, Ben, but watch out. Still waters – know what I mean?”

“So that means, I take it, no boyfriend?”

“No one. You spend enough time around her and you’ll get it.”

The Duke watched this exchange knowingly, looked at Ben and saw all the signs, then shook his head. ‘Well,’ he said to himself, ‘you never know when it’s going to hit, do you?’

Passing four hours, Ben was almost beside himself. He was up and down, pacing back and forth, looking at the clock on the wall one minute, at his wristwatch the next, then a few minutes later a surgeon in bloody scrubs came into the waiting room.

Red and The Duke came over, stood next to Ben.

“A real mess in there,” the doctor began. “Thought all we had was a knife wound, but we found this in there.” He held up a bullet, and the three cops’ eyes went wide. “.223, best guess, anyway. AR-15 probably. Too bad she wasn’t wearing a vest.”

“Is she okay,” Acheson asked, now almost pleading.

“Well, yeah. Her gut’s a mess, the bullet’s the problem, though. Why she crashed, anyway. Nicked her aorta. Close call. Tim Snyder, a great vascular cutter, just happened to be around the corner when we put out the first Code Blue, but he was there when we needed him. He’s still in there, finishing up. Her lucky day, I guess. Not too many docs around here could’ve handled a clusterfuck like this, and he’s the best we got, period.”

“So, she’s gonna make it?” Acheson asked pointedly.

“Well, yeah. Didn’t I just say that?”

“Thank you, doctor,” The Duke said, taking Ben by the shoulder and turning him away. “Say, let’s go get some dinner. Red? Wanna tag along?”

“Might as well,” he said, looking at Acheson and shaking his head. “Where to?”

“Want some ribs? Sonny’s is still open, and they’re just across the street?”

“Didn’t we eat there, for lunch?” Acheson asked through a fog.

“What, you some kinda Yankee? Can’t eat Bar-B-Q two times in one day?”

“Well, I kinda wanted to keep my cholesterol under 1500, at least once in my life, anyway.”

“Shee-yit, then don’t eat two desserts this time, Meathead!”


He went up to her room after The Duke and Gibbons took off, sat up beside her while she slept – until he too fell asleep – sitting up in an old blue vinyl recliner. Sometime in the night a nurse came in and reclined his chair, covered him with a blanket, and he slept through a world of nightmare images: little boys being cut up by butchers, drowning in oceans of blood. Then he woke with a start around five in next morning – when another nurse was drawing blood and checking vitals.

“You’ve been here all night?” he heard Delaney ask.

He sat up, rubbed his eyes, smiled when he saw her face. “Yeah, guess so. Where are all the horses?”

“Horses?” Delaney said. “What are you…”

“The ones that walked through my mouth. Tastes like one took a shit in here.”

“Goddamn!” she cringed. “Don’t make me laugh, you asshole!”

He came to her side. “Hurts, huh?”

“Feels like I’ve been shot.”

“You were.”


“.223. Just missed your right kidney, nicked your aorta.”


“In the back, kid. Whoever these bitches are, they’re playing hardball.”

“That’s right. There’s more than one.”

“It’s worse than that, kiddo. Best estimate is, as of now, anyway, there’s at least four two-girl teams out there.”


“Three of the other search teams ran into them, when they went to their target houses.”

“This is unreal. Have you ever heard of anything like this before?”

Acheson shook his head. “No one has. Gibbons told me last night the FBI is bringing a few hundred agents down from D.C. Full court press, I think he called it.”

“How long am I going to be here? Anyone tell you?”

“Depends on your aorta, how it heals. Maybe a while, so maybe you’re taking an early medical retirement.”

“That bad?”

He nodded. “Could be, from what the doc told Gibbons. You’re lucky to be here right now; that’s what an OR nurse told me, anyway.”

“Got that right, sweetie,” the nurse finishing up her rounds added. “You coded, twice. Lucky ain’t the half of it, sister!”


“You was dead, sweetheart. Dead times two. Now, can I get you anything? Pain alright?”

“Feels okay. Kind of a bad burn in my back, that’s all.”

“Okay, I’ll slip you something in your IV. You’ll sleep good for a while, too.”

“Could you give us a few minutes?” Delaney asked.

“Sure. Just hit that call button when you’re ready.” The nurse left the room.

“So, I remember you crying,” she said.

“Yup. Like I said. Sorry.”

“And I remember you squeezing my hand.”

“Guilty, your honor.”

“So, uh, I’m not going to ask any questions. Well, maybe one.”

“Fire away.”

“Are you, like, crazy or something?”

He laughed. “I wasn’t. Not until I met you.”

“Oh. What was it? My sparkling wit, or the shoes?”

“I’ll never tell.”

“Prick,” she said with a smile.


They both laughed, then she winced, one eye closed tightly.

“Time for Mister Morpheus, me thinks,” she said.

Then Acheson’s phone rang.

Number blocked. He ignored it. Then it rang again. And he ignored it.

Then again.

He answered.


“Tell her we’re sorry.” It sounded like a middle aged woman, mid-western accent.


“Delaney. Agent Delaney.”

“And who would you be?” He reached down, put the phone on speaker.

“A friend of Anne’s. I shot Agent Delaney.”

Delaney’s eyes went wide.

“So, why’d you shoot her?”

“I was trying to knock the gun out of her hand.”

“Nice shooting. Any of your people hurt?”

“No. Tell Delaney, when she gets back to D.C. she needs more time on the range.”

“Right. So, when is this going to end?”

“We’re almost done. In Dallas, anyway. Then we’re moving on.”

“Moving on? We?”

“We accomplished what we set out to do. We’re moving on.”

“Don’t suppose you want to tell me who ‘we’ is, do you?”

“Hang on.”

They heard a phone being exchanged between people.

“Hello?” It was a new voice, an older woman’s.

“Acheson here.”

“Oh, hello, Ben.”

“Excuse me, but have me met?”

“Only indirectly, but yes, we have.”

“Oh? Are you Anne?”

“No names, Ben. Not yet.”

“Got it. So, maybe someday?”

“Maybe, but I owe you another apology.”

“Oh? What for?”

“Amy,” she said, “and the other officers. I didn’t find out Breedlove was a friend of yours until yesterday. Were you close?”

“Friends. From Academy.”

“Oh. I understand. Well, I’m sorry.”

“I’m curious,” Delaney interrupted, “why are you calling now?”

“Agent Delaney? You’re awake?”

“It’s either that, or this is one seriously fucked up dream…”

The voice on the other end laughed, and they heard other women’s voices in the background laughing as well.

“Obviously I’m not going to answer that, Agent Delaney, but you’re on the right, shall we say, track?”

Then the line went dead.

“Now what did she mean by…Ben, what is it?”

But Acheson had gone stiff, as if an icy hand had suddenly gripped his heart.

He looked at his iPhone, found The Duke’s home number and dialed it.

“Ben? That you?”

“Sir, I know where the bodies are, and there’s something else.”

“Ben, it’s like five in the morning. Where are you?”

“Sir, with Delaney. They just called, here.”

“Who? Who called you?”

“Them. The suspects. Just now.”

“Fuck-a-doodle-do!” Acheson could tell the old man was now wide awake.

“Meet me at Fair Park, sir. On Washington, by the train exhibit, and get a CSU rolling.”

“Do we need a TAC team?”

“I doubt it, sir, but better safe than sorry. They told me they’re finished in Dallas, and moving on.”

“What? Told you? You believe ’em?”

“Yessir. I think so. Still, it could be a trap.”

“Okay. Give me…uh…we’ll be there in about forty five minutes or so.”

Acheson cut the connection, looked at Delaney.

“Holy mother-fucking guacamole,” she said.

“I know. Gotta go, but…mind if I kiss you first?”

“If you don’t, I’ll shoot you myself.”

He leaned over, kissed her gently on the lips.

“That feels nice,” she sighed. “I could get used to that.”

He kissed her again. Longer this time, and deeper, then he leaned back, ran his fingers through her hair, and noticed her eyes were locked on his.

“I’ve been waiting for you, for a long time,” Delaney said.

“Have you now?” She winced again, took a deep breath. “Pain getting worse?”

“A little, yes.”

“I’ll get the nurse.”

She nodded, but the skin on her face looked pale and waxy, and her brow was lined with beads of perspiration. “Ben, be careful. I doubt this is over. These aren’t the kind of people that leave loose ends, and I sense something much bigger is going on.”

He nodded. “I think you’re dead right.”

Chapter 11

Acheson took surface streets through town as dawn came to the city, and he made his way to Haskell Avenue and streaked east through light traffic towards Fair Park. As he approached Washington he turned off his headlights and wound around the convoluted intersection until he was sitting a few hundred yards away from a fairly large exhibit of old steam engines and passenger cars.

Within minutes he spotted The Duke’s Ford, followed by several large dark blue step-vans, all with their headlights off.

Acheson flicked his lights once, and the caravan headed for his position.

“Seen anything,” The Duke asked as he pulled up to Acheson’s open window.


“Okay, so why are we here?”

“A pun.”

“A pun?”

“She said we were on the right track. This exhibit is right on the line, sir.”

“Oh, fuck-a-doodle-do.”

“Yessir. My sentiments, exactly.”

The Duke picked up his radio’s mic: “700 to all units, let’s move in on foot, surround the train exhibit. Anything in there moves, kill it, ask for ID later. Got that?”

Seventy Tac Team officers poured out of the vans and sprinted around the fenced-in exhibit; Acheson and The Duke followed and went to a gate in the fence; the lock was destroyed. Some sort of acid had been poured on it, the metal had simply melted away, leaving the gate ajar.

“Blood?” Acheson said, pointing down at the ground. “Is that blood?”

A Tac sergeant came over, took out his SureFire and hit the ground with it’s intense beam.

“Looks red to me,” the sergeant said.

“Okay Collins, get ten of your best over here, and let’s follow the trail.”

The sergeant turned, called out names and a new team formed and assembled by the gate.

“Weapons free,” The Duke whispered hoarsely. “Y’all follow me.” He led off, the TAC sergeant by his side, Acheson just behind, and the rest of the team fanned out beside and behind the leaders, H&K MP-5s sweeping the area as they followed the blood trail…

…which led between two rows of old “heavyweight” passenger cars, and ended at an old Railway Post Office baggage/mail car…

…and the lock on this car had been similarly defeated; drooping bits of melted metal lay on the sill, and had dropped down onto the ballast below in slagging heaps…

…The Duke slid the door open…

…The Tac sergeant shined his light inside…

…and Acheson looked in, then fell to his knees and started vomiting. Again.


The rest of the pedophiles were inside the baggage car, hanging from meathooks strung out evenly from the ceiling – heads lay below each disemboweled body, a severed penis in each mouth, testes in each eye socket, and seething piles of warm intestine lay oozing all over the old oak floor.

The sun was up now, and it was getting hot – very, very hot. Acheson took notes for his report but was already getting tired of all this detective crap. He wanted nothing more than to get on his BMW and hit the streets, write a few tickets even, if only because all this ‘blood & guts’ crime shit was starting to get on his nerves. He popped another Tums and chewed the chalky crud, then swallowed it.

“Here, have a donut,” The Duke said, holding out a fresh, warm glazed one.

Acheson scowled at the thing. “No, thanks.”

“Man, ain’t you figured out why cops eat donuts yet?”


“Well, Meathead, it’s because nothing, and I mean nothing neutralizes stomach acid faster than a fresh glazed donut and a pint of ice-cold milk. And besides, they kinda help keep things in perspective.”

“Well then, you better give me a couple.”

“See? You ain’t as dumb as you look, Meathead.”

“Got Milk?”

“Hey, beggars can’t be choosers.”


“Got any more of them Tums?”

“Yup.” Acheson handed his bottle over. “Perspective, huh?”

“One born every minute, Meat. Did you stay up with her all night?”

“Think I slept some.”

“How is she?”


“I could see it in your eyes last night. She hit you like a ton of bricks.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Gibbons had a good laugh over it, anyway. Seems to think she’s a handful. Personally, I don’t doubt that. Good legs, though.”

Acheson looked at The Duke. “Yessir, reckon they are.”

“What about Carol, what’s her name? Denison?”


“Think she’d go for an old fart like me?”

“She’d be a fool not to, sir.”

The Duke smiled. “We’d better head for the barn, lots of reports to write.”

They walked back to their cars, still parked side by side, down on Washington Street. Ben opened the door, saw a piece of folded up paper on the passenger seat as he got in. He sighed, looked at the thing like it was a cobra, then picked it up and read it:

– Ben, if you want, check the old man’s laptop, in his desk drawer. Go to C:photos:personal:99eXMFM. Mostly girls, lots of girl on girl, a few dirty movies, nothing too bad. Probably enough to get him fired, enough to get you promoted to Lt pretty fast, if that’s what you decide. Anyway, that’s for you to mull over. We’re not going to do anything about him. Again, sorry about Amy, and for what it’s worth, you should stay with the department. Luv, C –

“What’s that?” The Duke asked, looking at Acheson while he read the note. “Is it – from them?”

Acheson handed the note to The Duke, watched him read it, watched his face turn pale gray. After a minute, The Duke handed it back.

“Well, like it says, it’s for you to decide, ain’t it?”

Acheson reached into the car’s glovebox, found an old box of matches, struck one and held it up to the paper. He watched the paper ignite and held it out the window, watched it burn, let the ashes fall to the ground. When it was completely destroyed, he let go of the last fragment, then started the car.

“Seeya at the station, Duke.”

“Okay, Meathead. I’ll stop off and get some fresh ones on the way in.”

“Better get some milk, too. Cold.”

Chapter 12

Six Months Later


The 757 from Seattle flared over the threshold of Runway 17 Right and touched down in a light freezing mist. The First Officer applied the spoilers and reverse thrust, then applied the brakes gently with his toes, and the old Boeing slowed smoothly and turned off the active half way down the runway. Flaps and slats were retracted while the jet taxied to Gate E7, and after Delta Flight 322 mated with the Jetway, the FO cut the engines and began working his way through the Engine Shutdown Checklist.

“I’ll handle the passengers,” the Captain said, referring to the post landing ‘meet and greet’ one of them had to attend to after every flight.

“Yessir,” the First Officer said. “I got it here.”

The Captain exited the cockpit, walked back to the doorway just ahead of the wing port-side; he smiled at the older folks, waved at the kids, then his eyes locked on a gorgeous pair of legs and he smiled at the woman appreciatively, if for no other reason than she was dressed well enough to make any man drool. Still, her high heels were over-the-top old school, the kind movie stars and pin-up queens back in the fifties and sixties used to wear, and he was old enough to appreciate them, yet still young enough to feel a certain welcome stiffness setting in.

The woman passed him on her way out the door and her coat swung open just enough to reveal a gold badge clipped to the belt around her waist, and his eyes moved quickly to the old couple behind her and he smiled at them, waved to a kid behind the old people, but his head turned to catch one last glimpse of the legs as they started up the Jetway.

Genie Delaney walked up the sloped ramp and into the terminal, then turned toward the escalator that would carry her down to the baggage claim area. She found the assigned carousel and a nice spot to watch for her bag, then waited for all the flight’s luggage to start coming down the chute – when she felt someone move in close, too close.

“Hey, douchebag,” the man by her side said.

She turned, looked at the DPD motor-jock standing by her side. “Hey, prick, didn’t anyone ever tell you it’s stupid to ride a motorcycle when it’s icy out? Or did they finally put training wheels on your scooter?”

People nearby listened, some moved away, not sure what the cop would do after such a deadly insult, while others thought it was great fun, like ‘who the Hell puts down a cop that way, and lives to tell about it?’ ‘What would he do next?’ ‘Beat her over the head with his flashlight?’

The cop slowly took off his helmet, then his sunglasses, and he put these in a shirt pocket, and all the while the woman looked him in the eye. He put his helmet on a seat-back and took the woman’s face in his hands, then leaned down and kissed her. It was a long, deep kiss, and people all around the couple smiled and laughed a little, while more than a few men’s gazes lingered on the woman’s legs – and for way too long.

Delaney’s bag came; the cop grabbed it and, holding her hand in his, they make their way out to the short term lot, to a rain spattered Ford SUV clearly belonging to the Dallas Police Department. He opened her door, helped her get in, then put the bag on the seat behind her. Once he was strapped-in, he started the engine and made for the north airport exit, then turned eastbound on Highway 114 and drove on into the city. He knew just by looking she was exhausted so they drove in silence, and by the time they passed Las Colinas she was fast asleep. He drove through the city towards the SMU campus, then a few blocks north to Milton St, and into the driveway of his little house. He quietly went around, got her bag and carried it in to his bedroom, then went back out and woke her, gently.

“Did I fall asleep?” she said, yawning.

“You sure did, darlin’. Let’s get you in, and to bed.”

“Um, that sounds kinda good,” she purred. “Dinner?”

“I can make you a salad. Anything else sound good?”

“Maybe you should just come to bed.”

“I can try…”

“…But you’re on call. I knew it. You’re always on call.”


“Can’t people in this town go just one night without killing themselves in a car?”

“Come on, I’ll carry you.”

“Ooh, really?”


“You haven’t done that in a while, Officer Studly PooRight.”

He leaned over, picked her up, carried her into the house and on into his bedroom.

“Right there,” she pointed, “right on that there bed!”

“Coming right up, M’am.” He put her down gently, then settled down next to her.

The telephone rang.

“Oh, fuck! Already?!”

“Don’t answer it, Ben.”

“Sorry. Got to.”

He picked up the phone. “Yo!” he said.

“Ben? That you?”

“Duke! How’s it hangin’?”

“Fine, fine. Say, is Genie back?”

“Just picked her up. What’s up?”

“Wanted to know if you two were up for dinner.”

“Duke wants to know if you’re hungry.”

“Sure. Here, or out?”

“Yeah, Duke, come on over. Steaks and salad here?”

“No, gonna need some curry tonight.”

“No shit! Curry?”

“It’s that gal of ours. Broadening my horizons. Again.”

“Wow. I’m impressed. She’s coming, then?”

“Yeah,” The Duke said. “We’ll be there in about fifteen or so.”

“Okay. See you then.”

“Duke?” Delaney asked. “Man, it’s been awhile. Carol with him?”

“Yup. But he sounds a little tense. On edge.”

“Oh? Well, I’d better throw a little water on my face, brush my teeth. Any mail today?”

“I’ll go see.” He was gone a few minutes, then came back with a handful of letters. “Couple of letters from schools, one from D.C.”

“You need to shower?” she asked.


“Why don’t you hop in?”

“Okay,” Acheson said, but he was thinking about the tone in The Duke’s voice. He hadn’t heard that kind of stress since last summer, and hadn’t seen him in weeks. He showered, dressed in a fresh uniform and got his hand unit’s spare battery out of the charger and slapped it onto the bottom of the radio just as the doorbell rang.

He heard Genie and Carol talking about how good the Christmas tree looked, about how crowded the malls were, then The Duke – asking where Ben was.

Knock on the bedroom door.

“Ben? Mind if I come in?”

“Nope. Entrez vous!”

“What was that? Frog?”


“So, are you still flying that Paris route.”

“Yup. One day over, one day on the ground over there, then one day back and three days off, then repeat as often as necessary until the desired results are achieved. Gives me two days to work wrecks, though.”

“Almost sounds fun. I know the Chief appreciates it. So, what are you flying?”

“777s. Fun airplane. Huge, though.”

“I’m a little jealous.”

Acheson grinned, then turned more serious. “You also sound pretty stressed-out, Duke. What’s up?”

“Those gals have been in Portland and San Francisco. West coast, anyway. Lots of rumbles in Orange County, Irvine area. And now Seattle, too. A couple of cops taken down again.”

“Same MO?”

“Yup. Decapitations, disembowelments, the dicks and balls…all the same shit.”


“And, well, I got this is the mail yesterday; it’s addressed to us, but you were still airborne so, well, just read it.” He handed Acheson a letter, still folded neatly in it’s envelope.

Acheson took the letter out and looked it over; it had already been dusted for prints.

– Hi, boys. We’ve been busy, as I guess you know, but we’ve been recruiting and our numbers are growing. This note is just to let you know that we’ve got a permanent team set up and operating in Dallas now, and we’ve got a few new targets lined up and ready to go. Real fun ones, too, I promise. As I doubt there’s anyone around the department who can figure us out quite like the ‘Junior Birdman’ can, it’s our hope you can convince him to join us on our next wild goose chase. The last one was fun, and this one promises to be even funner! Oh, and tell him to look near the Inner Marker; he’ll know what to do. The next one will start with a bang, too! Luv, C  –

“Well, that’s quaint,” Acheson said. “Nothing like goading someone along, is there?”

“Look, the Chief wants you back, full time…”

“Ain’t gonna happen, Duke. If y’all want to pull me off traffic to work on this, fine. I don’t much like driving that mastodon-mobile around on the ice, anyway. Bikes are one thing, but that fucker ain’t no fun at all.”

“So, two days a week? That’s all?”

“I don’t think it’ll matter much, Duke. Sounds to me like they’ll set up their kills when they know I’m around. Either that or they’ll be so mad at me they’ll take me out.”

“You know, it sounds like they’ve got the department completely infiltrated.”

“Oh, you can count on it.”

“You don’t sound surprised. Why?”

“Simple, really. It’s just history, so look at it that way. We’ve got hundreds, maybe thousands of women coming back from wars in the Middle East, and many have seen combat operations, but they’ve been working in close proximity to the most misogynistic culture on the planet. In other words, they’re battle tested, but they’re pissed off, too. They get back here and see the same old misogynist bullshit they always have, the same old male patriarchy keeping them down, the same old predatory bullshit where rapists get a slap on the wrist while their victims get pummeled in court and victimized over and over for the rest of their life. Then the President from Hell gets into office, and things only promise to get worse, much worse. So what are these women supposed to do? Well, they plan, they think and plan for the long term. They organize, they look at where the real problems lay, then they join police departments, sheriff’s offices, any kind of law enforcement agency they can, any kind of job that helps them gather intel on whatever kinds of targets they want to go after. They develop hit teams, intel teams, logistics teams, then, probably, political action teams, and in time, when they’re ready, they’ll move into politics, begin to reshape the political agendas in targeted regions, then nationwide. Then in fifty years or so, who knows? The cultural landscape will be completely altered.”

“You think they’re that well organized?”

“Sure. Why not?”

“Well, why?”

“Because these women want change, real change. The kind of change they want will only come about through some kind of revolution, maybe even civil war.”

“Maybe the family values people are right…” The Duke sighed.

“What? A woman’s place is in the kitchen?”


“Maybe a hundred years ago you could justify that kind of thinking, when religion dominated social discourse in much of the country. Today? All you have to do is look at Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, places like Iran to see where that leads. And guess what? Our new President is leading us right down that path, to a Christian theocracy, to putting women back in the kitchen. My dad always taught me to put yourself in the other fella’s shoes, you know, kind of a ‘do unto others as you’d have them do unto you’ kind of thing. How would you like to be objectified, subjugated, put down at every turn, then for good measure have your spouse beat the Hell out of you every time you displease him?”

“Ben, really, do think this is linked? I mean, they went after pedophiles…”

“Yeah, so what? Serial pedophiles are just the worst of the worst. Remember, these aren’t “just women” – I’d guess a bunch of them are mothers, too. What would represent the worst repression possible to a woman and a mother – than men who prey on their children?”

“Jesus, Ben, do you know what you’re saying?”

“Yeah, sure, I’ve been thinking about this for months, and it’s about the only thing that does make sense. And you know what? More power to ‘em.”


“Duke, look, it’s simple. Women want equality, right?”


“Well, the thing is, nobody is ever “given” anything, especially things like equality or freedom. These things are earned over time, usually earned with the tip of a spear, through force. Look at the civil rights movement, the equal right’s movement. You can pass all the laws you want but in the end nothing changes. Fifty years after women began burning bras very little has changed, and a lot of what has changed is little more than window dressing. Fifty years after LBJ and the civil rights movement, what’s happened? The welfare state was dismantled and black men have been incarcerated in record numbers. Why? Because no one’s going to “give” them equality, and rather than face the music, rather than endure more cities burning, like what happened in 66 and 68, it’s far better to warehouse all that anger. So we put blacks in prison, we arrest them for the slightest provocation, let ’em rot in hot cages, at least until they acquiesce, and by then all the revolutionary fervor is burned out of them, and then we ‘let’ these burned out hulks spend the rest of their lives on the streets, maybe sleeping in shelters.”

“Hey,” they heard Genie say from the living room, “you guys coming out, or should I get a salad going?”

“We’re coming now,” Dickinson said, then he turned to Acheson. “Okay, so what do I tell the Chief?”

“You know what? That secretary of yours? The one with the great legs? Start giving her all our plans, what we’re thinking of doing, how we’re going to respond…”

“You don’t think…?”

“I’m going to assume so until proven otherwise. You’d be well advised start thinking that way, too.”

“But, why?”

“I’d want them to know what I’m doing, at least until I don’t want them to know, but by then they’ll trust the intel they’re getting. Then I’d be in a better position to confuse them.”

“Okay, got it. But, what do I tell the Chief?”

“For now? I’ll work in CID a couple of days a week. I’ve got three weeks in June, I’ll spend those working downtown. That’s when they’ll make their big move, if my hunch is correct. The one year anniversary would be nice timing.”

“Yeah, makes sense. Well, guess we’d better head on out,” The Duke said, “before we have some seriously pissed off womenfolk out there.”

“Reckon so,” Acheson replied, shaking his head at life’s little ironies. The Duke would never change. How many men could?

“Ben!” Carol Denison almost screamed when he and The Duke came back out to the little living room. “She got in!”

“What?” Ben said, smiling.

Genie looked up from the letter in her hand; “UT Southwestern. Here’s the letter.”

“What’s this?” The Duke asked.

“Med school,” Acheson said, glowing with pride. “She got into UT Southwestern! Hot damn! Baby, I’m so proud of you!”

Carol turned to him, smiled that knowing smile of her’s and came over to him, hugged him. “And I’m so proud of you, too,” she whispered, and he felt her slip a little piece of paper into his hand before she slipped into The Duke’s protective embrace.

They walked out the front door, out to their cars, discussed where to get curry in Dallas on a Friday night and decided on a place out on Greenville Avenue, but because Ben was ‘on call’, they broke up into two cars, and he helped Genie up into huge SUV while The Duke and Carol went over to his Ford.

He walked around to his side of the car, paused to read the note Carol had slipped him:

–  We knew you’d understand. Luv, C  –

Ben Acheson looked across his ice coated lawn at Carol Denison sitting beside the head of CID, and he understood. He saw her eyes, the love, the compassion, the cool fury, and he wondered where all this would lead, and what the world would look like after all this wild passion burned it’s way through – to the scorched heart of the earth.

Part II – Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Chapter 12


I took the call a little after midnight, and yes, it was a dark and stormy night, but in my line of work nights tend to get stormy – in one way or another. Dispatch called in the middle of a dream, just as I ran across an ex-wife in a very interesting situation, but the sleepy voice on the other end of the line had no way of knowing that, and even if she had, there wasn’t a damn thing either of us could do about it. Sometimes late night calls are just the luck of the draw, some nights you end up in the wrong place at the right time, and everything goes to hell from there. No one’s fault, you know what I mean? But still, some calls are like a stone skipping across a pond, they ripple through time, across the windmills of your mind – before they sink from view. This one sure would.

I slid out of my berth up forward and looked at the puffy-eyed stranger I saw in the mirror, threw on some clean pants and ran my belt through the loops, then hooked my badge over the left front pocket and strapped my old Sig P-220 into the crusty leather shoulder holster a wife – which one? – had given me twenty years and more than a few nightmares ago. Funny how some things from marriages last longer than others, even if the joke turns out to be on you. On second thought, maybe that isn’t so funny.

I hopped off the boat – another consequence of one wife too many – and walked through the fog-shrouded marina to the department Ford sitting in the parking lot. I was soaked-through by the time I got seated, and I checked ‘in-service’ with dispatch, groaned when the light rain suddenly turned heavy. As if losing another night’s sleep wasn’t enough, I’d forgotten my raincoat, something you do in Seattle at your peril. Oh well, it’s only water, right? Just like water under the bridge. You live and learn; at least, you’re supposed to, anyway. Funny how we never do, and how all the unintended consequences pile up around us on our march to the big sleep.

The windshield wipers beat like drums ahead of a funeral march, lightning rippled inside clouds just overhead, and reflections of city streets drizzled by in the tired, mechanical cadence. My mouth tasted like horse manure, too, and to make the morning even more interesting I’d felt a sore throat coming on during the night, but that didn’t matter: sick, well – or even dead – this was my call and I had to take it. Mine to ‘make or break,’ to solve or to seriously fuck-up. You never know what’s out there, but that’s the real fun of police work. Hell, at least the rain was supposed to let up later in the day. But would it? I’ve heard some rains last forever. That’s why there’s Prozac and bourbon, right? But that dark, endless rain is why some cops give up and swallow a hot chunk of .38 caliber ambivalence, too…

The address dispatch read-off didn’t mean a thing to me, neither did the run-down apartment building I parked in front of ten minutes later: both were in a run-down, bleak area just south of downtown – an area full of docks and warehouses – and home to lots of broken dreams and burned-out souls. It’s funny, well, maybe not, how such places seem to reek of despair. How phrases like ‘income inequality’ and ‘collapsing American dream’ take on a pathos of uncertainty and despair when you get up real close – and smell that reality in every shadow you desperately try to ignore. But cops can’t ignore the shadows, if you know what I mean.

Three squad cars were already parked out front, their red and blue strobes pulsing in the waterfront rain – crystalline echoes caught in gravity’s embrace. The frenzied light created strange moving shadows on the walls of this brick canyon, and the feeling was unsettling, even to my tired eyes. An ambulance was out front, too, and a couple of firemen sat in the brightly lighted back of the box; they looked bored – tired and bored – because they’d seen it all before, and probably ten times this week. Still, those guys looked as though they were sitting in an island of intense light, and that kind of clarity looked out-of-place here in this landscape of lightning and foggy shadows.

Out-of-place, too, because this part of the city is a land of shadows, and clarity isn’t really welcome in the shadowlands. Truth is a painful subject to the down-and-out, a reminder of all the wrong turns some people made along the way to here – to the last stop on their long road to nowhere, and I guess it can be kind of rough to turn around and everywhere you look you’re reminded of how far you’ve fallen.

Like that pain in your gut where hunger used to live isn’t enough?

A medical examiner’s rain-streaked van, dull blue with official looking white letters on it, pulled up behind my old Ford right as I got out of the car; Mary-Jo something-or-other was behind the wheel writing on a clipboard but she looked up and waved at me as I walked away. I nodded and wished I’d worn a hat; no one ever told me when I was growing up that cold rain on a head with three hairs left on top could be so interesting.

Anyway. Mary-Jo something-or-other and her assistant got out of their van (both wearing rain coats and hats, by the way) and followed me into the building; I made it to an elevator just before the door closed – and they squeezed in.

“Messy night,” her assistant said. “Gonna rain for a week.”

“No shit,” I said. “Welcome to Seattle.”

“Hey, Woody, you still on the boat?” Mary-Jo asked.

Funny, but I couldn’t remember telling her I lived on the lake, but that’s just another one of the joys that go along with white hair and hemorrhoids, and I’d known Mary-Jo through work for more than a few years. She was cute in a thirty-something kind of way, but the work had taken a heavy toll on her – yet. She’d filled-out a little too much over the last few years, yet she wasn’t what I’d call fat, either. She was like everyone I’d ever met on the M.E.’s staff: puffy dark circles under her dulled eyes, cigarette ashes on her blouse, and of course, the requisite weird sense of humor. Working around dead people does that to you, I guess. Even so, working around victims of violent crime sucks the humanity from the marrow of your bones – and living that life soon leaves people like her pale and dried up. Having worked homicide for fourteen years, that’s a statement I feel I can make with some authority. You get used to human degradation, to the meanness that lurks our there, waiting, yet even so there are things waiting for you out there you never get used to. Not and still consider yourself human, anyway.

These cheap apartment buildings are all the same. Grimy, rickety old elevators spit us out into a dingy, dimly lit hallway, and why the hell are the ceilings so goddamn low in these shit-holes? Virgil’s “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here” should be carved in stone over the entries to these hovels, because it’s my guess that’s exactly what happens to the poor souls living in them. And man, did I feel it just then, looking down that empty, piss-soaked hall to the open door at the end. The walls even smelled like this was a place broken people came to die, to give up and drop dead on the floor, even if it took them years to get around to doing it. This was a world of frayed carpets and peeling, cracked linoleum, of bare light-bulbs hanging from broken fixtures – like the necks of old men after that last trip up the stairway to heaven, into the hangman’s waiting embrace. If I had to write building code violations for a living, I could have turned this place into a career.

Still, the essential truth of places like this is simple: nobody cares whether you live or die. All you need to do is make rent and everyone will just leave you the fuck alone. That’s just the way it is when you live in the shadows: life is all the shit that rolls down on your head – then you die.

Up on that third floor it was the same story: dim grunge everywhere I looked, haunted eyes looking through cracked doors, maybe a little curiosity – but a whole lot of indifference too – mixed with a little fear of the unknown, and the known. Just ahead, right down there in the gloom, I could see the door to Apartment 321 standing wide open, and I saw the indirect light of a camera flash strobe off an unseen wall – so someone from forensics was already up here photographing the scene. A patrolman stood outside the door, looking bored, of course, and because, I guess, some things never change. A couple of nervous neighbors had gathered in the gloom across the hall and were hopping around like birds in a broken cage, but there was no place to fly now, and they knew it. Life had them trapped now, and held them fast to their despair.

I walked past a couple patrolmen on my way into the room and – stopped dead in my tracks.

The first victim was a middle-aged man and what I saw was a shattered wreck; the sight of so much blood still gets to me. The young M.E.’s assistant walked-in – but he turned away a little too late. I watched him stagger back from the sight, watched as he flashed hash by the doorway, and within seconds the poor guy fled to the safety of the elevator, retching as he stumbled away.

“Fuck a duck,” Mary Jo said quietly as she came in the room.

“I don’t think so, Ma’am,” I said in my best Joe Friday. “No duck did this.”

The guy was sprawled out on the living room floor, and the worn green carpet under him had been unable to absorb all the blood. Now vast pools of the stuff had coagulated under his head and torso. His throat had been cut and he’d been stabbed in the chest and belly too many times to count, and for good measure his penis had been cut off and stuffed in his mouth.

“Jealous wife?” Mary-Jo said as she bent down beside the guy.

“Or boyfriend,” one of the techs from forensics said.

I bent down to have a closer look, saw something odd under the blood on the guy’s belly.

“Somebody get me some gloves, and a wad of four-by-fours. Maybe some saline, too.”

A paramedic brought me a wad of gauze pads and a one liter bottle; I gloved-up, popped the cap and poured a little saline on the guy’s belly, just below the sternum, then I wiped away the coagulated – and just had to shake my head at what I found.

Letters, carved in his flesh.

“What does it say?” Mary-Jo asked, looking over my shoulder.

“Love me,” I said absently. Whoever had killed the guy had taken something really sharp and carved the two words into his flesh, even taken time to underline them with a nice, bold slash.

“Well, sometimes love hurts, I guess,” Mary-Jo chuckled.

See, I told you working around dead people sucks.

Mary-Jo had her tackle box open and was taking samples from under his fingernails a minute later – when I saw something in his hair.

“Better take a look here,” I said, pointing at his scalp.

She came up, her gloved fingers sifting through the victim’s hair: “Semen?” she thought out loud.

“Well, I sure ain’t gonna smell it. Tell you what? Why not take a sample and do some of that science shit, maybe tell me just what the fuck it is? Okay? Maybe even whose it is?”

She chuckled: “Maybe he shot his load all the way up here…”

I rolled my eyes: “Mary-Jo? You need to get your fat ass laid. And bad, too.”

“You volunteering, Woody?” she said as she removed some of the stuff with a sterile swab. She held it up and looked at the gunk with a UV light, then put it in a vial, before turning around and saying: “Cause, ya know, I swallow…”

I had to get away from her then. Even the dude from forensics stepped back and looked at her all wide-eyed, like she was some real crazy shit. Me? I didn’t know quite what to say. Neither did the tech. Mary-Jo just laughed and laughed, before she looked at me and licked her lips, letting her tongue linger like a writhing phallus.


But the guy in the living room wasn’t the only victim.

I moved to the bedroom, started poking around, trying to come to terms with one more senseless crime scene, but this one just didn’t fit with what had gone down in other room. There was another middle aged white guy on the floor, but this one had a single entry wound in the middle of his forehead, his brains splattered on the wall behind, forming one vector. And he’d been shot at close range, very close – almost execution style. I could see powder marks by the entry wound, and the entire back of his skull was simply gone. Vaporized. And there wasn’t another mark on him that I could see.

And then there was the kid on the bed. And the camcorder on the tripod, aimed at the kid.

He was asian, maybe ten years old. Maybe. And the kid was dressed up like a girl. Stockings, high heels, makeup…the whole ten yards. Wrists and ankles tied to the four corners of the bed. Sex toys everywhere.

So, someone had been filming this scene. Maybe the guy on the floor with the headache? If so, who was fucking the kid…assuming that’s what was being filmed.

I walked back to the living room. “Has this place been searched?” I asked the patrolmen standing at the door.

“Not really, sir. We came in, saw this shit on the floor and called it in, stepped out here.”

I drew my pistol and wheeled around, walked quietly to the bathroom. The door was by the bed’s headboard, and it was closed.

I tried the knob.


I heard a patrolman come up behind me, turned, saw his gun out – and I motioned him to take one side of the door, then stood back and kicked the door in.

The little room was basically all white tile, but the room as red now. It looked like a slaughterhouse, too, after a busy day.

White guy, twenties, was my first best guess, but his head had been cut off, and neatly, too. Like in one blow. His body was hanging from the shower head by the wrist, his gut had been sliced open from sternum to groin and his intestines had simply spilled out on the floor. His head was in the sink, the stump of a penis stuffed in his mouth.

“What the fuck is that?” I heard Mary Jo ask, and she in the doorway now, pointing at the bottom of the bathtub.

A white fabric shower curtain, blood soaked. Several light blue towels, ditto. And a foot. A woman’s foot. I pulled the stuff back, saw a woman, handcuffed, and terrified. Very much alive, and out of her mind as pure terror filled her waking mind.

“Paramedics,” I screamed at the patrolman. “Now, you fucking moron!”

I was furious. Not only had the idiot failed to search the place, there was a victim in need of serious medical attention just laying here, and for how long?

I heard paramedics running down the hallway, then turning into the room. I listened to their “Oh, Gods!” and “No fucking ways!” as they were led to the bathroom, and when the stepped inside it was like someone hit a switch. One of them retched, then made it to in the toilet and flashed hash, the other ran to the kitchen and let go in the sink there.

Let me tell you something…when paramedics can’t stand a crime scene, you know it’s bad. This was the worst I’d ever run across, and it was getting more so by the minute.

We got the woman out of the bathtub and I took off her handcuffs, put them in an evidence bag and sealed it, but then I looked at them, saw an FBI identifier stamped in the metal and shook my head, really confused now. The medics guided her through the slaughterhouse, and a few minutes later I heard the ambulance below, leaving with sirens on, but I was still caught up in the mess in the bathroom.

Caught up?

Well, yeah. Crime scenes like this one are usually loaded with symbols. Actions are metaphors. One kind of knife wound says anger, another type screams fear. Looking at a crime scene like this was like trying to read a book – in a language you barely understand – because each scene is created by a different writer. A monster with a language all his, or her, own.

The dicks, all savagely cut off and stuffed in mouths? Anger. Sexual anger. Or reprisal? A woman’s sexual anger, or revenge? This was patient and methodical, not to mention seriously messy work, and it would take someone with a fair amount of intestinal fortitude to carry it out. And strength, too.

Or, more than one?

But everything was carried out with knives, except for the guy on the floor with the headache. FBI handcuffs? Where the fuck did those come from?

Turn around, walk back to the main entry, walk through the apartment again, play it back in my mind like a video recording of the event. Look at the guy on the floor with ‘love me’ carved on his gut. Clean cut, no beard, physically fit.

“Law enforcement?” I whispered. “FBI?”

Had he come in – but why? – and found this going down? Taken out the guy working the video camera? Had he interrupted the people in the bathroom? What happened then?

Too many questions.

The answers would be in the crime scene, but then I thought about the camera, and the kid.

A pedophile, making a film?

I shook my head, knew I couldn’t put off getting my hands dirty any longer, yet I didn’t know where to start.

I remember thinking you have to start at the beginning, and the beginning was the kid. Asian. Woman in the bathtub was too. Who the fuck was she? A hooker? The kid’s mother?

Pulled out my notepad, started writing down ideas, theories, impressions. Leading the photographer around, take this picture, no, from this angle, over here, that smudge on the wall, that one too, lift the kid up, see the semen running out his ass, get that too…

When you do this for a living you get into the zone, you move like a robot, analyze this, bag that, get the ME to take samples of x, and y, and z. It’s bursts of movement, interludes of pure thought leading to another burst, another insight, and on and on and on. Hours of it.

Ligature marks on the wrists and ankles on the man in the living room, and a few deep, small cuts inside his thighs – like the victim had been tortured before he was killed – yet the things I’d seen so far just weren’t adding up to a routine murder. All the evidence was contradictory. Tied-up but no signs of a struggle? So had been some element consensual behavior? That was nonsensical. And if that was the case, then everything I was looking at had to have been some kind of pre-arranged encounter. A paid encounter – with some really weird ideas about foreplay? Or…some kind of set-up? Lure the cop here, let him…? What?

Like I said.


Because all the evidence – out here, anyway – said most of his wounds had been the result of an aggressive – and hardly consensual –  assault.

Before things went way south anyway, so the guy probably didn’t really know his assailant all that well.

But what if he had?

Then he didn’t know the perp well enough to have trusted her (or yeah, him) with his life. Probably, but then again, what if he had? But then, there was the explosive nature of the wounds on his torso, the penis stuffed in his mouth, the carved words on the gut – Love Me! – and all that added up to evidence of pure rage. The murderer, or even murderers, were uncontrolled or consumed with blinding rage at this point, either wild with rage or completely off-the-wall in some sort of frenzied lust.

Then there were the basic assumptions. Was the ‘perp’ a woman? What about motives? Envy? Jealousy? I went back, looked at the kid again. Still, without more to go on, I was grabbing at straws now, because without evidence, real evidence or witness statements, the scene was loaded with conjecture. What about the woman? Had she seen anything? Heard anything? What was her relationship to the scene?

“Yo! Woody!” Mary-Jo called out from the living room. “Better come take a look at this.”

What else was I missing? I looked at the bed again before I turned to the other room.

“What you got?” She was bent over the guy now, her assistant holding his legs up, shining her UV light up his ass.

“Semen. All over the external anus.”

“Swell.” So there was another angle to consider.

“We’ll have to wait until autopsy,” she said as I bent over to take a look, “to sample what’s inside.”

“Peachy. Can’t wait to read the results.”

“Woody? You ain’t going all soft on us down there, are you?”

The woman was merciless, just annoying, and merciless. Hell, it would probably be a month before my poor dick would get up again after seeing that smile – while shining her light up that guy’s ass. “You know, M-J, if I have to listen to anymore of your shit I’m going to go somewhere and join an order. Maybe the Benedictines.”

“Yeah, sure thing Woody. You’ll get all you want there.”

“You’re a twisted bitch, you know that, don’t you?”

“Yeah, ain’t it the truth? But I know you love me.”

I looked at the words carved on the guy’s belly and shook my head, then walked back into the bedroom with my back to her laughter. “Very punny,” I said over my shoulder as I disappeared around a corner.

I looked around the bedroom again and poked around the head of the bed; a pillow was stained and still wet with what looked like some sort of clear fluid, and not semen from what I could smell. Urine? There was a length of discarded rope on the floor, and in the corner a pair of pantyhose: “Johansen! Did you get these yet?” I called out to the photographer shooting in the bathroom.

“What? The rope and stuff?”

“Yeah. The pantyhose. Did you get those?”

“Yeah. You ready for me to bag ‘em?”

“Let the M.E. have ‘em, see if they can get some hair or fluid. Maybe we’ll get some DNA.”

“You got something in there for me, Woody?” Mary-Jo asked suggestively as she came into the room. There are days when I wish my last name wasn’t Woodward, and this was one of them. When I heard Johansen snickering in the bathroom I’d have gladly settled for Smith. I guess I should be grateful my folks didn’t name me Richard. Dick Woody. Yeah. That would have been just the thing on a night like this.


The sun was coming up, the rain had tapered to a drizzle and paramedics were loading bodies in a large coroner’s van; they’d be transported to the lab, get logged-in for autopsy. Forensics had a pile of evidence to log-in at Central and I had a headache – like I’d just come out of a bad slasher movie and eaten way too much buttered popcorn. I rubbed my eyes while Mary-Jo joked with one of the patrolmen, then groaned when I saw her headed my way. I rolled down my window as she walked up.

“You hungry?” she said.

“You’re like, kidding, right?”

“No, not at all. Seeing a guy’s severed cock stuffed in his mouth like that always makes me hungry.”

“Brings out the man-eater in you, does it?”

She looked down after that, turned serious. “Woody, I need to ask you something. Some serious shit.”

“I could use some coffee,” I said, nodding. “If you’ll stop with all the creepy shit for a while.”

“Right. Pike Place?”

“Sure. The alley? There ought to be a place to park on Pine or Stewart this early in the morning. Oh, and be sure to park that heap in front of a good restaurant. Good PR. Know they’ll thank you for it.”

“Gee, Woody – that’s nice,” she said, looking at her Medical Examiner’s van. “And you call me creepy?”


I beat her there, made my way to Post Alley then followed the scent of roasting beans and got a table inside; rain had given way to fast-scudding clouds over the sound, and now the tops of the Olympics were all aglow in the sunrise.

Cool, clean air, roasting coffee, fresh pastry…life suddenly felt good again, and Mary-Jo showed up a few minutes later. I got a couple of two-liter quadruple-shot espressos and she waited at the table.

Nothing like a slight buzz to start the day, I always say.

“Geesh, I didn’t know they made ‘em that big,” she said while she stared at the cup, considering the implications of so much caffeine.

“Oh, sure. Gets the main pump throbbing.”

“Really? My guess is your heart’s going to explode one of these days.” She looked nervous, like she didn’t know how to say what she had to say.

“You know, I find it best to just spit it out, M-J.”


“You had a question? Some serious shit, I think you said?”

“I got divorced, you know,” she began, “a few years back…”

“Well no, M-J, I didn’t know that. In fact, just to set the record straight, I’m pretty sure I didn’t know you were married. Come to think of it, I don’t even know your last name.”

“What? Oh, shit,” she said as she laughed. “Right. Kopecki. Maria Josephina Kopecki.”

I held out my hand: “Ed Woodward. Nice to meet you.”

“I’m sorry,” she continued, “I just took it for granted, ya know, having worked around you all this time…”

“No problem. Now, what’s up?”

“Well, see, I’ve been trying to hook up with someone for a while, like, through the internet. Well, see, I did, sort of, but it didn’t really work out. Turns out the guy, the last one, was kind of creepy. I mean really creepy.”

“Is that, like, ‘really, really creepy’?”

“Don’t make fun of me, alright?”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“Right, well, see, the problem is, the dude’s a cop.”

“Uh-huh. Define creepy.”

“Well, see, he wanted to meet the first time at this club. A swingers’ club.”


“Yeah, well, see, I did, and he had already hooked up with another couple by the time I got there. He wanted to go back to their place and I don’t know why, but, well, see, I did.”

“Really? Why?”

She looked down, just shrugged. “I dunno,” was all she could say – yet everything she said, even the way she said it – looked a little like an act to me.

“So, what’s the problem?”

“Well, the guy has shown up a couple of times, like, see, at things where I was.”



“Clubs? You mean like…”

“Yeah, swingers’ clubs.”

“This is, well, see, your thing, then?” I was trying my damnedest not to laugh, or even smile for that matter, but the stupidity of young people sometimes leaves me breathless. And if she said ‘well, see’ one more time I was going to have to hurt her. Strangling her came to mind.

“I’ve done it a few times, yeah.” She was speaking quietly now, very self-consciously. “It’s fun.”

“Yeah, well, whatever floats your boat.”

“Well, see, I wasn’t sure if he was following me, or if it was just, like, a coincidence…”

“Well, see, I’m still not seeing the big problem?”

“Well, see, he’s got a big tattoo on his chest. ‘Love me.’ That’s what it says.”

Now she had my attention. “Uh-huh. What’s his name?” I asked as I took a notepad out of my shirt pocket.

“I don’t know, for sure.”


“Well, see, like I only know his internet address and his screen name.”

“And how do you know he’s a cop?”

“He, like, told me so.”

“Uh-huh. Did he like show you a badge or anything?”

“No,” she said.

Sometimes I wonder how people so fucking stupid could possibly live long enough to reproduce. Then again, maybe more than a few don’t. “Can you describe him?”

“Tall. Six feet, maybe a little more. Not fat but like really buff…”


“Muscular. Like a weight-lifter.”

“How old?”

“Late-forties, maybe fifty. Red hair and freckles. You know, he’s got like a faint scar on his right cheek.”

She had just described Mark Tottenham, one of the department’s assistant chiefs, to a T; Tottenham had been in charge of Internal Affairs for years, and while I’d heard rumors he was flaky, this was off the charts.

“Got an email address?”

She gave it to me.

“When’s the last time you saw the guy?”

“Night before last.” but her eyes darted to the left when she said that, always a sure sign of deceit. Hiding something. A lie.

Hinkey. Cops call it that, but don’t ask me why.

I looked over my glasses at her, tried not to judge the kid too unkindly. “I’ll see what I can find out. Where can I get in touch?” She gave me a number.

“Thanks, Woody. Maybe I could buy you dinner?”

“Yeah. Maybe.” I flipped my notebook over and made a few more notes then put it away. “Well, see, like I got to go now. Do like some cop shit. I’ll give you a call this afternoon.” I made my way to the Ford, felt a little sick to my stomach. I checked in with dispatch, then drove over to Tate’s office.

Richard Tate had been a detective for almost thirty years; now he was doing the PI gig, doing sensitive background checks for corporations and taking photographs of cheating spouses. For the past ten years we had been best friends – I had his back and he had mine – that kind of thing, and Tate has been the only friend I’ve ever had who I’d trust with my life. Now I wanted him to run down the internet stuff for me because I didn’t want any traces of a search on department computers, or my private one for that matter. I gave him the run-down on what Mary-Jo had told me and he whistled, leaned back in a squeaky leather chair and steepled his fingers.

“You ain’t gonna believe this,” he said, “but this ain’t the first time Tottenham has been in the shits for something like this. The tattoo thing, the wife-swapping shit; he’s been into some pretty creepy shit over the years. He supposedly likes, or used to, anyway, to rough-up girls. I heard once he was into kids, too?”

“Kids? And?”

“Nobody found anything, but I’m not sure how hard they looked.”

“What about guys?”

“Guys? What do you mean? Gay shit?”

I told him about the murder scene this morning and he whistled again. “No shit?”

“That’s a fact. No shit, but maybe a little piss – on the bed.”

“Crap. I can get a friend in Tacoma to run down the IP. Can you get a picture of Tottenham to show to the girl? Just to confirm things?”

“I dunno. Might be better to get someone outside the department. Maybe a reporter,” I said, grinning.

“Are you kidding?” he said. “Then what? They’d want some inside angle or some other tit-for-tat, or fuck, they could get hold of something you’d missed and then what the hell would you do?!”

“Fuck, I don’t know, Tate. I’m tired, been at it all night. And this one took something out of me. I need a change – I can feel it now.”

“Yeah, I know. I’ll see what I can do.” He steepled his hands again and sighed. “Shit, it’s probably nothing anyway. No telling how many people have that tattoo.”

I nodded. “Yeah. Who knows? But it couldn’t be that common, could it?”


I drove back to Central and went up to my office in CID, called dispatch, asked them to run-off the NCIC data I’d called in earlier. I wanted to know more about the background of the guy in the living room, because I had a really bad feeling about that one. The voice on the phone told me to come down to her office.

“He’s clean, Woody,” Trisha Wickham told me when I walked in. “You won’t believe how clean.” She was the lead dispatcher on duty that morning, and an old friend.

“FBI?” I said, now really on edge.

She looked at me, shook her head. “How’d you know? White-collar crime unit, mainly computer crime. Talked to the SAC a while ago; he filled me in. The guy’s as clean as they come, too; fifteen year veteran, wife, two kids, straight as a razor.”

“Shit. Anyone told his family yet?”

“Nope. SAC wanted to talk to you first.”

“Got a number handy?” She read it off to me. “Thanks, Trish. Appreciate it.”



“Something big is going on, maybe. You be careful, okay?”

Now just what the fuck was going on? How the hell did she know something big was going on? Something she heard from her call to the FBI?

This was beginning to feel a little like I’d just been shoved down the rabbit hole, but where was Alice leading me?

I went back to my office, wanting to look through recent intel reports, see if we’d picked up any new pedophile stuff, but first, I had to call the FBI.


Peter Brennan was the SAC, or the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s SeaTac office; I’d known him for years and he was generally a straight-shooter, a no nonsense, old school kind of Irish-American cop, the kind of guy who has your back when the chips were down.

He was waiting for my call, too, and he sounded anxious.

“Woody, what can you tell me? Any suspects?”

I gave him the basics but left out the grittier details. “Hell, Pete, we haven’t confirmed anything yet, don’t even have the other fingerprints processed. Was your guy supposed to come in this morning?”

“Yeah. He was a no show, his wife said he went out early last evening on a call, never came back. She called in about six-thirty this morning, worried.”

“Sounds about right.”

“Yeah. Anything you can tell me now?”

“Let me pull the prints and I’ll run ‘em over in a bit. Got any time this morning?”

“I’ll make time.”

“Okay, Pete. Seeya later.” I hung up, walked down to the locker room and picked-up my mail, then dropped by dispatch to pick up the NCIC and DL print-outs that would have to be attached to my preliminary report. Trish was not there so I turned and walked back to the elevator.

And Tottenham walked into to the elevator right after I did.

“Hey Woody, how’s it going?”

“Fine, Chief. You?”

“Can’t complain. You still livin’ on the boat?”

I laughed to avoid the question. “Well, it worked for a while but it got real small, real quick.”

“I can imagine. Brennan called me a while ago. You got the case?”


“Any leads?”

“Not a thing, Chief.” The elevator binged and the door opened.

“Well, keep me posted.”

“Right, Chief.”

“Seeya later.”

“You bet.”

The door closed and lurched up to the next floor; I walked to my office and got my coat, then called forensics and told them to fax a copy of the fingerprints to Brennan. My other line lit up and I took the call: it was Dick Tate.

“Hey Woody! Long time no see, amigo. Wondered if you’d like to have lunch and swap lies.”

“Hey there yourself! What the hell have you been up to? You still chasin’ lyin’ husbands and cheatin’ wives?”

“Only when I’m not screwing their wives!”

“Yeah. Ain’t Viagra a wonderful thing?” We laughed. “Listen, I have to drop by and see Pete Brennan for a minute, but how ‘bout I meet you for a bowl of chowder at Betty Lincoln’s?”

“Be good; like old times. Say about noon?”

“That’ll be fine.”

“Okay, buddy. Can’t wait. Be good to catch up on things.” He hung up; I’d managed to tell him of FBI interest in the case and told him to meet me near Ballard Locks, and he’d told me he had something important to discuss. Hopefully, if anyone was monitoring the line they’d not get too suspicious.

I drove over to the main FBI office by the Wa-Mu building and talked with Brennan; he told me they’d handle the notification and I thanked him.

“Any leads yet?” he asked.

“Nothing yet. I’ll let you know as soon as something breaks. I assume you’ll start your own investigation?”

“Already have.”

I nodded.

“You got a private number?”

“No, sir.”

He squinted, sat down and wrote out two numbers: “The first is unlisted, anytime. The second is my home number.”


“You got something, don’t you?” he asked.

“Nothing definitive, more like a hunch, need to make a few calls.”

He nodded. “You need me, just call.”

“Pete, if I need you it’ll be too goddamn late to call.”

“That bad?” he said, sitting down.

“Worse,” I said, looking out the window.

He leaned back, looked me in the eye. “You sure you don’t want to fill me in?”

I shook my head. “Not there yet,.”

“Okay,” he said, but I could see the gears turning now.



“Don’t put a tail on me, okay? I’m halfway expecting someone to try, and I don’t want you to run ‘em off.”


“Promise, Pete?”

He stood, held his hand out. “Scout’s honor, Woody,” but his eyes darted to the left.

I smiled. Like I said, Pete was ‘good cop’ – and by that I mean – predictable.

I drove down to my boat on Lake Union and put the Zodiac in the water, then took off toward the locks. So far I hadn’t seen anyone on my tail, either on the ground or in the air, but the game is best played by people who know how to blend in. It’s a hard game to play well, and the stakes are highest when the feds get in on the action.

Tate was standing on a dock about a hundred yards shy of the locks and I pulled over, let him hop on; if anyone had followed him they’d have to hustle to follow us now – but he hadn’t seen a thing either – and that worried me. I puttered over to the south side of the channel and we both watched the shore as we trolled along.

“Victim was an FBI agent, supposedly clean.”

“His name Dan Harvey?” Tate asked.

“Yeah. How’d you find that out?”

“Through IPs of Mary-Jo’s contact. It’s Tottenham alright, and there’s been a lot of activity between him and this Harvey fellow over the past few months. A lot of meets at a code name, some place they refer to as the Hole in the Wall.”

“My. How original.” I’d need to look at my notes, but MJ hadn’t mentioned that name.

“So Harvey was FBI, huh?”

“Yeah, and supposedly clean. White collar crime.”

“Think maybe he got onto someone, maybe Mark?”

“Possible, but I doubt it. Why all the contact?”

“Maybe they were working a joint task force? Undercover?”

“Maybe. Ran into Mark this morning; he didn’t let on he knew the guy. Any luck on a photo?”

“Yeah. Pulled one off the net, from the Post-Intelligencer; about a year old, so it ought to do.”

“Good deal.”

“So Mark knew the guy and didn’t own up to it? And the tattoo? You think the girl might know the name of the club?”

I smiled. “Yeah, I think so, but she’s acting a little hinky, too.”

“Say, think we could grab a bowl while we’re out?”

“Yeah. You know, that actually sounds pretty good.” I rolled on the throttle and scooted up channel toward Fisherman’s Terminal and tied-off below Chinook’s. With any luck we’d miss the lunch crowd; we got lucky and sat way back from the entrance, looking out over the fishing boats, and from this vantage Tate could cover the entrance while I watched the docks. We ordered clam chowder and coffee and had just begun to relax when Dick sat upright and coughed attention.

“Tottenham,” he said under his breath. “At the desk, trying not to look this way.”


“What the fuck have you gotten me into, Woody?”

“Your guess is as good as mine?”

“Well, here he comes…”

The waitress came by and dropped off two huge bowls of chowder – and a gallon jug of Tabasco. “Damn, that looks good!” Tottenham said as he walked up. “Tate! What are you doing here? Where’s your Nikon?”

I turned and looked up at Tottenham.

“Sheesh! Well, looky who’s here!” Tate said. “Surprise, surprise.”

“Hey Chief,” said yours truly, feigning a little surprise of my own.

“Shit. This is like old times, huh?”

“You alone, Mark?” Dick asked. “Can you join us?”

“Kind of you to ask, but no. I’m meeting Pete Brennan, should be here any minute.”

My heart lurched. So, he had me tailed – surprise, surprise.

“Well, good to see you Dick. Woody, check in with me this afternoon, would you?”

“Right, Chief.”

Brennan walked in and they took a table across the restaurant from us.

“I think I’ve lost my appetite,” Tate said.

“At these prices? Better go find it, and fast.”

He laughed. “Too bad you’re on duty.”

“Ain’t that the fuckin’ truth. Nothing like a real cold one with hot chowder.”

“So. What the fuck do you think’s going on?”

“I have no clue, Amigo. Maybe Harvey found something on Tottenham, or maybe they were just into the same shit and met up with Cruella de Vil in that apartment. Anyway, I asked Pete not to throw a tail on me. I didn’t think he was lying when he said he wouldn’t, but guess what?”

“Really? I wouldn’t count on that prick to not sell out his mother.” He sighed, looked out over the water for a minute, then looked at me. “Well, anyway, Woody, you’re missing something. Something big. Why the hell would Tottenham and Brennan both be here? Right now? I hate to say it, but it sure feels like someone’s following you. Someone’s really uptight, too.”

“Besides us?” I chuckled.

“Right. Besides us.” He coughed, looked over at Brennan. “Thanks, I think, for coming over this morning.”

“Doesn’t matter. Food’s good, sun’s out… what else is there?”

“A pretty girl with a warm mouth?” Tate sighed and looked away. “Yeah, I guess, Woody.” He shook his head, and I really couldn’t blame him for feeling put-upon. “You’d better think about lining something up with the girl soon.”

“Yeah. Name is Mary Jo, works for the ME. You working anything major right now?”

“Nope. Not even anything minor.”

“Things that slow?”

“Slower. In a recession nobody gives a damn if their spouse is cheating ‘cause nobody has any money. I’d sure hate to be a divorce lawyer these days.”

“No, you wouldn’t. I can guarantee you they made enough off me the last twenty years to keep themselves in Guccis the rest of their sorry, goddamn lives.” We laughed, but we’d both been there and done that. Most cops have, and I guess that’s why most cops grow old by themselves. Bitter and cynical doesn’t even begin to describe it.

We finished up and paid the bill, Dick went over to say ‘bye to Tottenham and Brennan while I washed up, then we hopped into the Zodiac and continued up channel to the lake, and my boat. The shore was lined with boat dealers and houseboats, and even Tate wanted to linger and look over the little floating shack where they filmed “Sleepless in Seattle.”

Whoever it was tailing us was doing a good job, because neither of us picked up anything until I turned into the little marina where I kept my boat – and even then he was hard to see. Standing up on the second deck of a parking garage overlooking the lake, we saw a man with binoculars and a walkie-talkie watching us; he looked away when we looked at him, then stepped inside a van.

“Dark suit,” Tate said, snickering.

“Sunglasses,” I said, scowling.

“FBI,” we both said, laughing. It was an old joke. Never seems to get old, too.

“Yeah, but pretty good anyway,” Tate said, then we looked up at the garage again.

“Why would they be watching us?” I said, thinking out loud. “I mean, we’re not suspects?”

“Wanna follow you, I guess; see where you lead ‘em?”


“Maybe? What else?”

“Keep us from getting too close to something.”

“Woody? You’re getting paranoid.”

“Damn straight. I just hope I’m getting paranoid enough.”

“Amen to that, Amigo.”


I dropped Tate off by the locks as the sun dropped behind some clouds; the plan was for him to fall way behind me on an agreed-upon route – and see who was tailing me. I took my phone out and slipped it into my shirt pocket, hooked up a hands-free headset and took off down Market Street, then turned right on 15th Avenue and crossed Ballard Bridge.

The phone chirped and I looked at the screen. Dispatch. Trish?

“Woodward,” I answered.

“Detective, there’s an urgent call for you from the Medical Examiner’s office.”

“Gimme the number.” I scribbled the info on a pad and hung up. The phone chirped again – immediately. Tate this time.


“Two cars. Fed plates, and I’m pretty sure there’s one on me too.”

“Right. Go to the barn.”

There was no way to beat this kind of operation; too many resources had been allocated – and that, really, told me all I needed to know. The FBI had been running some kind of op; Special Agent Harvey had been made and neutralized. Now, the question was: what role was Tottenham playing, and what did Brennan know, or not know about Tottenham’s role? But lunch together? This was getting weird, and fast.

I drove back to the lake along Mercer, wound around to Westlake and pulled into the MarinaMart lot and locked the car; I stopped at the pay phone outside the gate and called the MEs office. Mary-Jo picked up on the first ring:

“You alright?” I asked her.

“Yeah. You know who the guy is yet?”


“Okay. So do I.”

“What about the stuff you found inside the back door?”

“His property.”

“No shit. Want some dinner?”


“Ray’s Boathouse, Shilshole. Six o’clock.”


“And you’ll be followed.”

“Oh, okay?” She sounded pretty uncomfortable now. There was a little quiver in her voice when she continued: “You too?”

“We’ll talk then.” I hung up, took out my mag-key and held it up to the gate; it buzzed open and I walked though, then turned when I heard a lot of cars pulling in the lot. Two black Fords slipped into the lot and parked near mine; I thought I might as well wait for Tate – and he pulled in a few moments later – trailing his own caravan of black Fords. Tate got out and surprisingly all the other feds did too – Brennan in the lead. As Tate walked my way the entire entourage did as well, so I stood by the gate and held it open, watched as all the Men in Black filed past – silently – and there was something almost comical in their clinging uniformity – like every black suit and all the Ray-Bans in the Pacific Northwest had been scooped up by all the FBI agents in Seattle, and here they were now, my very own parade.

I walked past them and hopped on the boat – Brennan and one other agent I didn’t know followed me up and Tate brought up the rear; we went down below and I put on a shitload of coffee.

“Why’d you have to bring him in on this?” the unknown agent said, pointing at Tate.

I looked at the man and took in his smug swagger, his pompadour hair, then looked at Brennan: “Don’t y’all still administer a test that measures the basic stupidity of your applicants?”

Brennan laughed; Pompadour bristled.

“Look, Woodward,” Pompadour said, “its hard enough keeping a lid on things without you, well, without you bringing in every broken down old cop in Seattle.”

“I guess you don’t plan on getting old?” I said. “Does that about sum up your little corner of the universe, asshole?”

Pompadour huffed-up, stepped toward me. “Sit down, Rollins,” Brennan commanded. Pompadour sat, just like any other well-trained Doberman might, but he kept his eyes locked on mine. Did I see him drooling, too? Foaming at the mouth, maybe?

“I thought you weren’t going to throw a tail on me, Pete?”

“I didn’t know you were bringing in reinforcements.”

I nodded. “Hard to know who you can trust, isn’t it? I’m sure you understand.”

SAC scowled. “Did you get the ME’s preliminary yet?”

“Nope,” I said, and he handed me a faxed copy.

“Read it. Enlightening, to say the least.”

I read it. The conclusions were pretty freaky. “Someone dosed him with Viagra?”

“Yeah. He might have been unconscious, by the time they killed him, anyway. Apparently some people can pop a woody, even in their sleep.” Pompadour laughed at the pun, I flipped him the bird. “Best guess is they jacked him off, then shot him up with potassium, caused a massive heart attack, then started hacking away.”

“They didn’t find any…”

“No, it doesn’t hang around too long… not much of a half-life. But there are a couple of puncture wounds consistent with injection sites…”

“Insulin, maybe?”

“Fuck, are you kidding?” Brennan said.

“Had to ask. Induces a coma. Kind of a double tap.”

“Anyway, I hope he was out – before they did that to him. Would freak anyone out, you know?”

I shrugged. “Okay Pete, why were you with Tottenham this morning?”

“He called, wanted to meet.”


“And nothing. He didn’t even mention the case. Wanted to talk about some Homeland Security shit.”

“You know about the tattoo on Tottenham’s chest?”


“Says ‘Love Me’, right there in red and blue, right over his heart.”


“No shit, Sherlock.” Pompadour, on hearing that little tidbit, turned livid white.

“Know any people in your office with something similar?” Both men shook their head.

“So, there’s no tail on Mark,” Tate stated, a dour look on his face. “That’s great. A roman legion on our ass and not one on the prime suspect. Perfect.”

“Hey, not our fault,” Pompadour said. “You kept us out of the loop, remember?”

“I have a hunch,” I interrupted, “that we’re dealing with a club of some sort, some sort of organization. There may well be a lot of guys with that tattoo. Anyway, I hate jumping to conclusions.”

“Right,” Brennan said, but I could tell he was still holding something back. Who the fuck was this clown he’d brought with him?

“So, what’s your interest in the case, other than losing an agent?”

“Sorry,” Pompadour said. “Need to know only.”

“So, let me get this straight, just so I’m crystal clear on this. You think I don’t need to know?”

“No. Not yet, anyway.”

I looked at Brennan. He shrugged, said not one word, and didn’t even bother to look at the Doberman.

“Fine,” I said. “That’s just fucking great.”

“Your tax dollars at work,” Tate said, shaking his head.

“When are you meeting the girl from the MEs office?” Pete said.

“What? You don’t know?” Tate shot back.

“There’s a limit to what we can do, Bucko. You know? Congress? Surveillance courts, all that shit? Ring any bells?”

“Doesn’t seem to have stopped you guys much lately,” Tate fired back.

Brennan’s face was a blank mask: “So anyway,” he said, “we’re not monitoring your phones. Yet.”

“You going to drop the tail?”

“No. Not unless you’ll wear a wire, and a locator.”

“No way. Not yet.”

“Then we’ll be around.”

“So, why this meet?”

“Just don’t try to shake us, alright,” Pompadour said. “Waste of time; anyway, your field-craft sucks.”

“Bet you didn’t know your mother gave me a blowjob under the table at lunch,” Tate said. “She’s coming back for seconds as soon as you leave.”

Pompadour fumed, stomped up the companionway ladder and jumped off the boat.

“Nice, Tate. Real class,” Brennan said sarcastically. “By the way, Harvey was his partner.” We looked away, things jumped into focus. “Alright, the low-down is this: we’re going to be on you, that’s the point of this meet. And don’t try to drop the tail, you’ll just make my guys angry, and you don’t want to do that.”

“Why, Pete? What are you saying?”

“Just listen to me, Woodward. Don’t think. Just listen. Act like you don’t know or don’t care, your choice, but don’t shake the guys on your six.”

“I don’t like it,” Tate interjected. “Not one fucking bit.”

“I don’t care, Dick. I’m perfectly happy to lock you up for a few days if you won’t play ball.”

I got it then. Pete’s reasoning was clear. “Okay, Pete. I got it.”

He looked at me, relieved. “Be careful, Woody. I mean it.”

“I hear you.” I looked at him then, and knew it was an organized ring. So, this WAS big. And they were on it, too.

He tromped up the steps and all of the Feds trooped off behind him.

“Okay,” Tate said, “what am I missing?”

“We’re the bait, the tethered goat.”

“Oh, shit.”

“I couldn’t have said it better.” Because Brennan had told me what I really wanted to know. This was big. Bigger than big. And I was in real danger, too. Then we went below and I told him what I knew, and let him read my notes.

Chapter 13

I looked at my watch: a little after three. “Better call Tottenham now,” I said to myself as I fished out my phone. I called dispatch, they transferred me.

“Chief? Woodward.”

“Woody! How was ole Richard doing? Is he getting along well?”

“Not much business, he says. Barely making ends meet.” Tate flipped me the bird.

“Oh really? Too bad. Well, pensions don’t make up for sloppy retirement planning.”

“No sir, they sure don’t.”

“Do you have the medical examiner’s report on the FBI guy?”

“I’ve got to go over and pick it up, sir.”

“Oh? Well, fine, fine. Keep me posted on this, would you? Pete seemed pretty bent about it at lunch.”

“Will do, sir.” And with that, the line went dead.

“You gonna meet the girl?” Tate asked.

“Yeah. At Ray’s.” I shook my head. “Guess what they talked about at lunch?”

“Yeah. One lie leads to another. Always does.” He grinned. “So, Shilshole for dinner?”


“You’re gonna put on ten pounds today.”

I looked down at my stomach. It was still flat – except when I sat. Well, maybe a little when I stood…

“I gotta take a nap,” I said. “Feel like I’ve been up for two days.”

“Okay if I sit here for a while?”

“Sure.” I went forward and crawled in my bunk; I think I was out before my head hit the pillow. I dreamt again, about an ex-wife giving me a hand-job, with razor blades between her fingers.


Someone was shaking me, shaking me from somewhere far away.

I opened my eyes. “Fuck, that hurts…” I think I said.


“I said fuck. As in, ‘why is that whenever someone wakes me up it’s not an insanely gorgeous redhead wanting to sit on my face.’”

“Ah. Yeah, I pretty much have the same problem. It’s called getting old, Dickweed.”

I sat up, rubbed my eyes. They burned, burned like someone had thrown acid in them. I reached over and grabbed some eyedrops, asked Tate what time it was while I struggled to put them in.

“Five-ten. You got time to take shower?”

“Thanks, yeah. What have you been up to?”

“Looking through your porn stash.”


“I was reading a book. ‘Cruising in Serrafyn,’ by a couple named Pardey. Pretty cool stuff.”

“Yeah, I met ‘em at the boat show a couple years back. Nice people.”

“Well, I get it now. The whole boat thing, keep it simple.”

“Right. Well…”

“Oh, shit, excuse me…”

I shut the head door behind him and hopped in the shower, looked in the steamed up mirror when I got out and freaked when I saw that stranger in there again. Man, getting old hurts, and in all the wrong places.

We locked the boat and went up to the parking lot, and all the black Fords were nowhere to be seen. Spooky.

“Okay. You sure you don’t want me to join us?”

“No. I’m gonna go home. Got to feed my cat, commune with some old Hustler magazines for a while.”

I laughed. “As long as you keep the two activities separate!”

“That’s just gross, Woody.”

“Well, it’s nice to know you’re still getting some pussy.”

He stared at me, then shook his head. “You need to get out more.”

“Hey, where do ya think I’m going?”

“This ain’t a date, Woody,” he said, serious now. “Don’t forget that. Anyway, she sounds like damaged goods to me.”

I nodded. “Probably right.”

“I’ll keep my phone on,” Tate said.

“Right. Be careful.”

“You too.”

We got in our cars and I took off towards the bridge, then retraced my earlier route out past the locks and pulled into Ray’s. The lot was nowhere close to full, and I wondered where the Feds were – because if they were tailing me, I sure hadn’t noticed. And I had to admit I was worried about Tate, too – dragging him in on this…whatever this was.

Mary-Jo pulled into the lot and parked next to me; I got out and walked around, opened her door and helped her out. She’d gotten dressed for the occasion – and my khakis and boat shoes were a little shabby next to her rig. I held out my arm and she slipped hers in mine and we walked in, checked-in and we walked out to a table looking over the Sound.

“You look fantastic,” I told her, and the truth of the matter was she really did look good. Sexy as hell. In fact, she didn’t look anything like she had earlier: her hair was down, her face was made-up discreetly, the dress… well, classy described it well. Black, low-cut in front, and her legs were simply stunning – there was a lot to see, too, and I felt myself responding to her before I knew what was happening. We ordered drinks and looked out over the Sound – a ferry was making it’s way across the water to Bainbridge Island, the snow-capped Olympics stood beyond the Sound, beyond the ferry, and I suddenly wanted to get away from all the ugliness in this world – to just leave it all behind – while I still could.

“What are you thinking about?” Mary-Jo asked.

“Out there,” I said, pointing.

“What about it?”

“I think,” I sighed, “I’m ready to retire.”

“What? Out there?”


“Oh, right. The boat.”

“So, have a look at this.” I pulled out the image of Tottenham and handed it over; she unfolded the paper and looked at it for a split second then folded it up and handed it back. “Is that him?”

“Yup. No question.”

“What can you tell me about the club? Where you two met?”

“I think he called it the Hole in the Wall, but the building doesn’t have a name on it. Anywhere. It’s a red brick building over on Leary.”

“By the docks?”

“Yeah. I don’t know the address but I could take you there, show you where it is.”

I nodded. “Tell me about the people in there.”

“Like what?”

“Anything that comes to mind. Rich, poor, black, white – whatever.”

“Well, I’d say mainly middle-aged white people, probably pretty educated group as a hole. Some nights they have erotic poetry readings, other nights erotic art shows.”

“Do people just hook-up there, or do people have sex there as well?”

“To tell you the truth, Woody, I’m not sure. I think the place is pretty big, but I’m not sure how big. I’ve only seen a few rooms, but I think it was an old warehouse, looks like it’s been redone. A lot of money out into it, too.”

“Is there a bar?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Any people doing drugs? You know, out in the open?”

“I saw some guys doing lines off the top of a girl’s thighs. Does that count?”

We laughed.

“Probably so,” I added, then I looked her in the eyes: “How many times have you been?”

She looked away: “More than a… more than once.”

“With Tottenham, or with other people?”

She didn’t answer.

“What are you into, Mary-Jo? Swinging? Or is it something else?”

Again, she just looked away, didn’t answer. She was either embarrassed, or acting that way.

“I need to know, Mary.”

She nodded, looked down. “Yeah, I know.” She seemed to gather inward on herself, as if to protect herself from a storm, then she looked up at me. Her eyes were really lovely, soft, kind, but something darker than confusion lurked in her shadows.

“Tell me,” I said again, and I remember that now. I commanded her to tell me, and something seemed to snap-to when I spoke in that tone of voice.

“I’m a Bottom, Woody.”

“A Bottom? What’s that? Like something to do with anal sex?”

She laughed. “No Woody, it means I’m submissive. I do what people command me to do.”

“What do you mean, ‘what they command you to do’?”

“Sexually, though sometimes it’s more than just role playing. You know, like the French maid and the Gestapo interrogator?”

“What? You mean like bondage and stuff?”

“If that’s what my master wants to do.”

“Your master?”

“Yeah. The Top, the person in charge.”

“The person? You mean, like, see, a man, or a woman?”


I coughed, took a long pull on my drink.

She reached up, wiped my forehead: “You’re sweating, Woody. Does that turn you on?”

It was my turn to look away.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Woody. Everyone has fantasies, everyone wants to let go a little.”

“Yeah? I suppose so.”

“What would it be, Woody? Would you like to tell me what to do? Would you like to do that?”

Her hand was under the table now, it was resting on my thigh. I cleared my throat as her hand drifted up to the zipper on my khakis.

“Or maybe you’d like it better if I told you what to do. Would that do it for you, Woody? Would that trip your trigger?”

She was squeezing me through my pants, and I’m pretty sure I felt an eyelid trembling.

“Ooh, Woody! I think that’s it! I think you’d like it if I told you what to do!” She squeezed again: “Do you feel that, Woody? Feel that need? To let loose, lose control? Let me take control? For a while? Would you let me?”

“Let you? What?”

“Let me take you there, Woody?”

“You keep squeezin’ my dick like that and you won’t have to take me anywhere. I’ll pop-off right here.”

Her eyes smiled, she licked her lips. “Really?” I felt her foot on my ankle, my heart hammering in my skull.

She slowly pulled the zipper down, undid the belt, then she reached in and pulled my cock out; our waiter came over to fill our water glasses and she looked up at the kid: “Would you bring me a clean glass?” she said to him. “An empty one, please?”

“Certainly, Ma’am.”

He disappeared and she started squeezing my cock again, milking it. Every now and then she’d pause and run her fingernails up and down the shaft, then she’d jerk it fast a few times before squeezing it again, milking me, bringing me to the edge and letting me float there.

The waiter came back and dropped off the glass.

“Take it, Woody. The glass. Hold it down there.”

I did as she said, felt my balls boiling, my cock getting hard as a rock.

“Hold it there, Woody; let me shoot it in the glass.”

I did as best I could, but within a blinding flash I started to cum. And cum. And cum some more.

“Jesus, Woody! How long has it been?”

I couldn’t answer. I was biting my lower lip, holding on to the edge of the table with one hand and the glass with the other…I was still cuming…and it felt like it lasted forever…

“Hand me the glass now, Woody.”

I brought it up from under the table and put it on the table.



“No, Woody. Not yeah. It’s ‘Yes, Mistress.’” She squeezed my prick with her fingernails to drive home the point. “Woody, I said hand me the glass.”

I picked it up and put it in her hand, then she released my cock and I groaned.

A couple at the table across from ours was looking at us, they were leaning close and whispering something to one another. Mary-Jo held the glass up to the dim light like she was examining a fine wine, then she drank the cum – all of it – in one smooth motion. The man across from us squirmed in his seat, the woman with him was directing all her attention to his lap, and soon he held up his own glass, as if toasting us, and then he handed his glass of cum to the woman.

I guess it really hit me then; the couple across from us were our minders, here to keep an eye on us. Just part of the club, I guess, but I felt cold dread as I looked at the smiling couple across from us, as I watched the woman drink down the milky contents of her glass.

I felt my phone go off in my coat pocket and excused myself, went up on the front desk and called dispatch, trying to conceal the contradictory alarms I felt going off in my head. The only way anyone could have found out about our dinner plans was through Mary-Jo – or Tate, and the latter just wasn’t possible – was it?


“Detective, we have officers at the scene of a homicide; they want to talk to you directly. Can you take a number?”

“Go ahead,” I said as I fumbled for my pad. I scribbled as she spoke, then hung-up and dialed the new number.


“Detective Woodward?”

“Yeah. Go ahead.”

“Ah, yessir, we’re going to need you to come out here.”

“What’s going on?”

“Can’t say sir. Not on an unsecured line.”

“Well okay, where the hell are you?” I wrote down the address of a hotel out north off the Interstate. “I’ll be there in about an hour,” I said as I closed the phone, then: “Fuck!” I walked back to the table, sat down beside Mary-Jo, avoided looking at her.

“You okay?” she asked. The couple across from us had departed, I noted.

“A call.” I couldn’t even look her in the eye.

“You have to take it?”

“Apparently so.” Fuck! What had I just let happen, and just who the fuck was this girl?

Our waiter had brought our dinner while I was out; I had a beautiful King Salmon and some steamed broccoli Hollandaise and I was damned if I was going to walk away from it, so I lit into it as fast as I politely could.

“Goddamn, someone back there sure knows how to cook fish!” I said as I finished up. I flagged our waiter, got the bill and paid up. “Sorry,” I said as I stood.

“I understand. Will you call me later? Let me know you’re alright?”


“Ed? I liked this. I like you. Could we do it again sometime. Maybe soon?”

I leaned over, kissed her once, then leaned closer and kissed her again, for a long time – then I turned and left, clouds of confusion and uncertainty hanging over me as I fled. I walked out to the Ford, saw a note tucked under the windshield wiper and plucked it up while I opened the door.

‘Watch your six, and they’re close…T’

Goddamn! Tate hadn’t gone home after all, and he’d seen something. I closed the door and my phone went off again.

“It’s me,” he said. “Did you get the note?”


“Need to twenty-five with you,” he said. “Betty Lincoln west?”

“Four.” I started the Ford and drove three blocks to the visitor’s parking lot by the locks; Tate winked his lights and I drove over and parked next to him.

“There’s a shitload of traffic on the scanner. I mean, even the Chief’s on the air, en-route to a Signal One.”


“No, no, not an A/C… I mean THE Chief.”


“Nice night to dawdle over dinner, Dickhead!”

“I just got the call, I think. That girl…something’s not right.”

“Your face is flushed. You alright?”

I shook my head. “Not sure yet. I know she’s out there, though.”

“What did she do to you?”

I told him.

“Shit. Nobody ever done that to me, Amigo. How come you get all the fun calls?”

“I dunno. Not sure that was fun, ya know?”

“Want me to tag along?”

“If you’re not too tired, sure. The Silver Cloud, in Mukilteo.”

“Wow, out of jurisdiction, no less. Oh well, I’ll follow you.”

We made our way over to I-5 and blended with northbound traffic, and I didn’t even bother to look for a tail; we probably would have looked like a freight train if I had. Twenty minutes later I exited and we wound our way west between huge Boeing assembly buildings, then down to the waterfront. More patrol cars – local ones, more flashing lights, a couple of ambulances. I could see Chief Anders waiting in the lobby, looking at his watch. Then looking at my car.

“Great! Just fucking Great!”

I grabbed my stuff and walked in, looked for the Chief and walked over to him. He was on his phone talking in hushed tones: “Okay, he’s here now. I’ll call you in a half hour.”

“Chief Anders,” I said as I walked up.

“Where the hell have you been? And wipe that shit off your shirt!”

I looked down, saw a nice, shiny glob of salmon on my shirt and groaned.

“Who’s that with you? Richard Tate?”


“He’s retired, isn’t he? What’s he doing here?”

“Chief, I’m still active in the reserves; just putting in my hours.”

“You were homicide, weren’t you?”


“Oh, well, come on, then.” We walked up a flight of stairs and down a hall that stretched off into infinity to an area cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape. We walked past two local patrolmen into the room.

Mark Tottenham lay face-up on the bed, his penis had been cut off and was dangling from his mouth. The tattoo on his chest had been cut out of his flesh, and it looked like he’d been stabbed about a hundred times in the chest, belly and thighs.

And now I didn’t know what to think.

My prime suspect was dead, afloat in a sea of blood.

I looked at the Chief. There was a tear running down his cheek and his teeth were clenched so hard the side of face was trembling. Tate walked over to Tottenham’s body while I walked around to the other side of the bed. There was a glass there, the rim smeared with red lipstick, and obviously, whoever she was, she’d drunk a shitload of cum from the glass.

I groaned inside, thought of MJ, and I just knew her little performance hadn’t been coincidence. Tate knew it too, as soon as he saw the glass. I heard her say “Call me Mistress” and wanted – no, I needed – to turn and run away.

Some nights are worse than others, I guess. Nature of the beast; no two nights are ever the same – yet somehow they all are. After a while you learn to put up The Wall. How to compartmentalize your feelings. Things that would make a combat vet flinch and turn away don’t get through the wall. If they did, even a patrolman wouldn’t last on the streets for more than a few years. After a while, The Wall becomes automatic, a self-defense mechanism. When you run into a cop on the street, that hard, faraway stare is The Wall, ready to come up and shut you off.

But this wasn’t just déjà vu all over again. Even with more than a decade of looking at wrecked and mutilated bodies, this one got to me. I don’t care what you have to say about it, or even what you think about cops: when you look at one of your own, a brother officer, your feelings are…well, they’re different. The Wall can’t get up fast enough. you’re left wide open and vulnerable – and just like every other Joe on the street you feel a big, cold slap on the face as reality breaks over you like a wave of black hate. There’s no other way to look at it: without The Wall you feel everything in the scene around you, and it fuckin’ hurts. It hurts because you don’t get to play the objective observer anymore, you’re not just a cop. It hurts because the pain hits you where you live – and there’s no place to hide. And you can’t run from your feelings, either. They come for you hard and fast, grab you by the throat, like a leopard grabs a goat by the throat, and you know that cat won’t let go until you stop breathing.

Chief Anders was shook up bad, too. He was standing at the foot of this perverted hotel bed looking down at Tottenham’s body and I couldn’t even begin to guess what was running through the old man’s head. They’d gone to Academy together, been close friends for just a little longer than forever – and now this. This wasn’t a random drive-by or another officer run-down by a drunk driver; this wasn’t a pissed-off veteran blowing his brains out after a bitter divorce or a forced retirement. No, this one was different…because everything in that room was so goddamn dark and twisted – so evil – and what was left of The Wall came tumbling down.

Because it looked like the body on the bed had gotten there on its own, so this was a consensual encounter. So – what happened? Had Tottenham been betrayed, or set up? Still, as I looked around the room it hurt most of all because it hinted that something immeasurably dark and vicious – was on the inside, prowling within our ranks.

Whoever it was had not bothered to untie the wrist and ankle restraints this time, and Tottenham’s body was obscenely splayed; he looked like da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man – drawn in blood on bleached white sheets. There were deep impressions all over his body, too, marks not easily explained.

Only Tate seemed relatively unaffected. He’d never really cared for Tottenham, thought he was a martinet and had done sloppy work in Internal Affairs, yet Tate seemed to be the first to grab hold of the implications of having the head of IAD compromised; I didn’t get it yet because none of us had grasped the depth of departmental penetration this murder implied.


This was another city’s jurisdiction, but after learning the identity of the victim we’d been asked to join their investigation; given the FBIs tertiary interest I wasn’t surprised when Brennan walked through the door. Tate and I helped the local detectives, a crusty old veteran named Spiros Pantazis, and a new detective, a four year veteran – who also happened to be a woman.

Her name was Susan Eklund, and my first impression of her was that she might make a good cop – when she got out of high school. To my eye she looked like a teenager, but then again I’ve been a little slow to admit that just about everyone under the age of forty looks like a teenager to me these days. Eklund had a cute, round face and wavy red hair, sort of reddish-blond, but not quite, and there was a zit on her chin that looked like it was about to go Vesuvius on us. She was wearing a dress. A very sexy dress, like she’d been called away from a family dinner. She was putting on a good show, too. Miss Know-it-all, and her partner, Pantazis, regarded her knowingly, yet we could tell he was embarrassed by her show. I would have thrown her off my crime scene, but that’s just me. I like it quiet, I like to think, and showboats are a distraction. They come and go, and usually leave a mess in their wake, but I had to admit…her legs were cuter than hell, and I had a hard time not looking at them.

Their photographer was moving around as directed, taking photos then standing back, waiting for orders; Eklund seemed intent on ignoring Tate and myself but was deferential to Chief Anders, but neither of them, it seemed to me, knew what the fuck what they were doing…and that bothered me. It became apparent to both Tate and myself that we would have to teach these yahoos how to work a crime scene, around the Chief, and that made me uneasy.

I went over to the bed’s headboard and looked at the grain of the wood. “Prints here, I think,” I said; Pantazis came close and looked too, held up a little UV lamp and looked again.

“Good call,” he said. “Missed that one.”

That had been Eklund’s first mistake and he wanted her to know it, too. She glowered at me and came over with her kit and began taking the print.

I walked over to the sliding glass door; it was unlocked. “Anyone been here yet? Dusted the door?”

No one had. “And don’t let anyone in the bathroom!” I said. The carpet, I could tell, was already useless.

Pantazis came over and looked with me. There was dozens of prints on the glass, and we wouldn’t be able to tell about the door-handle and lock-lever until Eklund tried to lift prints from them, but I was guessing there’d be a relevant one or two – at least – on both.

Pantazis groaned.

“You’re gonna have to ride her ass,” I whispered. “She’s sloppy, and a know it all. Bad in the line of work.”

“I know, but she’s a councilman’s daughter.”

“Ah.” I shook my head, knew he wouldn’t have made it in our department. “You shootin’ film?” I asked their photographer.

He looked like he was – maybe – fourteen, then shook his head.

“No, sir. We haven’t in years. Canon 1Dx Mark II, with data verification.”

“Can you shoot IR?”

“What’s IR?”

“Never-mind,” I grumbled as I took out my phone. I called dispatch, had them transfer me to the lab.

“Woodward here. Is Harker on tonight?”

“Yeah, hang on.” I heard some hollering in the background, banging sounds of stools falling over onto the floor, then the always and ever diminutive: “Jonathan Harker here.”

“Jon? Woody. You got any high speed infrared loaded?”

“Yeah, sure. Tons. What’s up?”

I filled him in; he got excited and loaded up his stuff and was headed our way in a flash, he got to the room about a half hour later – somehow keeping his velocity just under the speed of light. I had managed to keep everyone away from the patio door, and the bathroom, until he arrived, then told him what I needed. I moved off and let him do his thing. He knew what I was after, and I didn’t have to ride herd on him.

We finished the crime scene about five hours later, and only then did we let the M.E.’s people move the body. I had Harker shoot some IR where Tottenham’s body had been, then pulled down the comforter and had him shoot the blanket, then each sheet underneath. Pantazis and Eklund looked on like I was nuts.

“You need a new photographer, too,” I told Pantazis after their useless teenager left.

Anders and Tate were down in the lobby when I got off the elevator, and there were a couple dozen reporters outside on the sidewalk – too late for the morning editions, I told myself as I walked over to the Chief – and Tate handed me a cup of coffee when I got there.

“Thanks. That was rough…”

“Woodward, I want a total black-out on this for now. Strictly ‘no comment’ – got it?”


“Of course that goes for you, too,” Anders said as he looked at Tate.

“I know.”

“Did you get what you needed?” Anders asked.

“Think so, Chief. If the locals cooperate, anyway.”

“They will.”

The way Anders spoke left no doubt in my mind: he would turn up the heat when and if needed. Even Brennan had taken one look at Anders and moved off.

The elevator dinged; Pantazis and Eklund walked out; a photographer pointed and all the gathered reporters got ready. Obviously they didn’t know who I was, maybe not even Anders, so it was a cinch Tate was totally off their radar.

“There a way out of here?” I asked the girl behind the reception counter. “To avoid that?” I added, pointing at the press.

She pointed to a hallway: “Down there, door at the end of the hall. Leads right into the parking garage.”

“Thanks.” I turned to Anders and grinned. “You sure you don’t want me to talk the reporters?”

“Get out of here, you bum,” he half-snarled, half grinned at me, “and keep on Harker and the lab until you know something.”

“Right.” I turned to Tate, motioned with my head and we walked-off down the hall to the covert exit. I opened the door and recognized her immediately: Liza Mullins, crime reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. She’d staked us out, been waiting for us.


“Got anything for me, Woody?”

“Well, does ‘No comment’ count?”

“Heard it’s a cop. Any truth to that?”

“I heard there’s a shuttle headed up to the mother-ship. It’s already on the roof and they’re holding a place, just for you.”

“Can I quote you on that? ‘Seattle PD claims alien Mother Ship wants Ace Reporter?’”

“So, you’re an Ace Reporter?” We laughed, then: “You never give up, do you?”


“You ever been married, Liza?” That seemed to shut her up…

“I’m not now. Why?”

“Well then, would you marry me?”

Her left eyebrow shot up: “Sure, Woody, right after the aliens get through probing your asshole.”

“That’s just about what I thought you’d say. Always the same story with us, isn’t it.” We all laughed – even as Tate and I turned and walked off, leaving her standing there. Then I heard her high heels clattering along behind us and we stopped when I got to the back of my Ford. “You still here?” I pointed at the ceiling: “They ain’t gonna wait forever, ya know?”

“Knock it off, Woodward. Gimme something!? Please?”

“Sorry. No can do.”

“How ‘bout coffee later? Or some breakfast?”

I looked at her; cute kid, maybe a pest – but cute. I could handle some cute after a night like this. “I don’t know how long I’ll be?”

She handed me her card. “Call me. Whenever.”

I looked her in the eye. “Cute,” I said, and that eyebrow shot up again.


“I said, cute. As in, you-are-cute.”

She started to blush as I opened the door and got in, started the engine and let it warm up. She moved closer, until she was blocking my open door, then she knelt down beside me.

“Do you mean that?” she said.

“What? About the mother ship?”

She didn’t have a come-back ready, or maybe she was being serious, but she just looked at me.

“Yeah, Liza, I think you’re cute. Maybe 99 percent gorgeous. Why?”

“Just didn’t expect you to say that, that’s all.” She was looking all kinds of serious now, but it was kind of odd because for some reason I didn’t regret saying it. I’d know her for years, we’d bantered back and forth over cases – the normal back and forth between cops and reporters – and yet for any number of reasons nothing had ever developed. We’d certainly never exchanged Christmas cards or birthday greetings, let alone met for coffee, so I considered this a most unusual, and interesting development.

“Well, maybe I should have told you years ago, but there it is.”

“Will you call me?”

“For coffee? Sure, why not?”

She looked at me. She got it. “Okay. I’ve got to get some sleep, but I’ll answer.”


She shut my door and I backed out and drove out from under the building; Tate fell in behind me and called as soon as we were clear:

“What did she want?” he asked.

“Anal sex. With me and a goat.”

“You wish, Dickhead. Seriously, Woody, what’s she after.”

“A warm shoulder, I think. Who knows?”

“Aren’t we all. What else.”

“Coffee. Chit-chat.”

“No shit? You need a chaperone or anything, you let me know.”


“I’m wasted, Woody, gonna head to the barn and crash for a while.”

“Yeah, you old farts! Gotta get your rest or you…”


“Yeah, Tate?”

“Suck my dick.”

“No thanks. Tryin’ to quit.”

“Well, then, be careful…”

The line went dead.


Forensics was in an annex to the original Central Precinct building; it had been cobbled together over the years to make room for new gadgets and ever newer technologies, but somehow digital had yet to replace film completely in our lab, and I for one was grateful. Digital is good, don’t get me wrong, but a fine grained film in the hands of a good photographer with a Leica can reveal all kinds of things better than digital, particularly in the infrared spectrum, and that’s why I’d called Harker.

Infrared excels at picking up things the human eye misses; things like leather scuff marks on floor tiles, or the impression made by knees or shoes on blankets and sheets. Harker knew exactly what I was looking for; he hadn’t needed to ask because we’d danced this dance a hundred times before. He came out of the darkroom a little after nine that morning with a big smile on his face.

“Bingo!” he said.

“Yeah? Let’s see.”

He laid out a pile of 11×17 inch prints on a drafting table and flipped on an articulated desk-lamp/magnifying glass and pulled it over; I sat down and looked at the first print…

“She probably stood over him, on the bed. High heels, probably a size seven, maybe a seven and a half. Look at the next one.”

I picked up the next image and put in under the light.

“Scuff mark on the tile in the bathroom, and a couple of other prints in the next shot. Same shoe, same size.”

“So… female for sure.”

“Yeah. Probably pretty small, too. Like five four, five five, maybe a shade more. Look at the next one… close.”

“This the bathroom floor again?”


“What is it?”

“Two sets of prints, really. The same high heels, and a man facing her. About a size nine, maybe a ten.”


“Size thirteen. I checked.”

“Bingo, indeed. Good work, Amigo.”

“Woody? It’s pretty weird you know, even so.”


“Well, all the usual places you’d find prints were wiped down, like a cop was in on it, but an insider would know we might use infrared. Any competent lab would.”


“Well, I had just assumed an insider, you know, what with that FBI guy and the A/C.”

“How’d you hear the other was FBI?”

“Shit, Woody, are you kidding? Everyone was talking about it yesterday.”

I bunched my lips, frowned. It would be in the papers today. Had to be. It would be interesting to find out their source someday. “So then, what are you thinking? Amateurs?”

“Yeah. Or just sloppy.”

“Or tryin’ to throw us off the trail.”

He shook his head at that one. “Glad this is your case, Woodward.”

“Yeah, ain’t life grand?”

Chapter 14

Anders wasn’t in; he’d gone home and left a note for me to call him that afternoon. I pulled Liza’s card from my pocket and dialed the number.

“Hello?” She sounded half asleep.

“So, let me take a wild guess. You blew off the Mother-ship?”



“You find out anything?”

I didn’t answer.

“Oh, right,” she said. “Sorry. No questions allowed.”


“I could do that.”

“Starbucks on Westlake, by the Marriott. Half hour.” I broke the connection then checked my messages. First one was from Tottenham, telling me to check in with him in the morning. Okay, nothing unusual going on there. Next one was from Mary-Jo, late last night.

“Woody, sorry about last night. Maybe we could so something this weekend?”

Uh-huh. Sure. Right after I get back from the mother-ship.

Next was from Tate, this morning when he got home: “Just checkin’ in, Woody. Call me if you haven’t heard from me by noon or so.” I dropped by my mailbox and then walked out to the Ford, got in and drove over to Lake Union, went into the Starbuck’s and bought a New York Times. I looked around, took a seat away from the windows.

The Times, I thought, really ought to piss her off.

She came in a few minutes later; the dark circles under her eyes were almost as puffy as mine.

“I didn’t take you for a bird owner, Woody.”

“Hm-m…what’s that?”

“The only reason to buy a rag like that. To line the bottom of a bird-cage.”

“Ah. Gee, I didn’t even think…”

“You order anything yet?”

“Nope; thought I’d wait and see what you wanted. You know, like bein’ chivalrous and all that crap.”



“Cram it.”

“Here? Now? Are you sure?”

She laughed. “Yeah, man. Bend over.”

“What do you want?”

“Hi-test. Big.”

“I hear that.” I came back a few minutes later and sat across from her, slipped two fingers up to my carotid and felt for my pulse.

“I didn’t take you for a Lake Union kind of guy,” she said as I sat. “You got a boat?”

I ignored the question. “So, what are you hearin’ on the street about this?”

“At least two cops dead, same MO.”

“Someone inside tell you?”

“Is that a confirmation?”

“Nope. A non-denial denial.”

“Then I’m sorry. My sources are confidential.”

“Tit for tat, huh?”

“No other way in this biz, Woody.”

“C’est la vie.”

“Il ne doit pas etre de cette facon.”

“Yes it does. It wouldn’t work for very long if we expected each other to compromise our integrity.”

“Guess so.” She looked me in the eye: “You lonely, Woodward?”

“No, I’m tired.”

She nodded. “When’re you going to retire?”


She laughed. “How long ‘til you can?”

“Oh, I could now. Just not with full benefits.”

She sighed. “So, why are you staying?”


“The bad ones are tough to break.”

“The hardest. May I ask you a question?”

“I’m forty three, was married once, divorced about ten years ago.”

“Touché. Damn, I hate being so predictable.”

“Well, if it means anything to you, Woody, I’m lonely.”

I nodded, looked at her eyes, saw the long nights typing stories, just meeting deadlines by minutes day after day, year after year, and pushing everyone she cared for right out of her life. It was all right there – hiding in plain sight.

“What about you?” I asked. “You gonna work ‘til you drop?”

“I’ve thought about quitting but I have no idea what I’d do. Guess I could teach somewhere.”

“Where you from?”

“Portland. You?”

“Military brat. All over.”

“Married? No. Wait. How many times?”


She whistled: “Just didn’t work out, huh?”

“The hours. You have to be around every now and then in order to have a relationship. Took me awhile to figure that out. Funny thing is, we’re all still good friends. No alimony, none of that bullshit. Just friends. Like the marriage thing never happened.”

“That’s why I never remarried, I think. No good reason to, really, because I was never ready to put my work in second place.”

“Any regrets?” I asked. She was so easy to talk to, like an old friend.

“No, not really, not then, anyway. The prospect of growing old, alone? Well, that’s not so comfortable anymore.”

“Perspectives change a little bit, don’t they?”

She nodded. “If you retired tomorrow, what would you do?”

“Depends. If it was just me I’d take off, maybe just go wandering.”

“Really? What, like on a motorcycle or something? A motorhome?”

I took a deep breath, wasn’t sure I wanted to put so much about myself out there in the public domain. Then it just sort of slipped out: “I have a boat.”

She went wide-eyed on me: “No shit!?”

“No shit.”


“Hell no, are you serious?”

“Good for you. Always thought that would be fun. Sea of Cortes, Baja…”


“Now you’re talking. When do we go?”

We laughed at that one, but it was an uneasy, loaded laughter, like we were all of a sudden finding something in common and grasping to make something out of nothing and see where it took us. Maybe we were. Maybe we could…but this was rocky terrain.

My stomach growled.

“You hungry down there?” she said to my belly.

“Always. How ‘bout you?”

“You know? I could eat.”

“Follow me.” We walked out and went over to the Ford, I opened the door for her then got in behind the wheel, drove the few blocks down Westlake. We walked down to the slips and I buzzed-in the gate, then led her out to the boat.

“She’s nice. How big?”

“Forty one.”

“About right for two people.”

“Yep.” I unlocked the companionway, slid back the hatch and stowed the boards, went down and offered her my hand. She ignored it and hopped down with practiced ease.

“It’s nice, Woody. Comfortable.”

“Thanks. Eggs and bacon sound okay?”

“Maybe. How ‘bout some juice or something…”

“Okay, comin’ up.” I poured a couple glasses, put them on the table.

“You don’t have any tissue handy, do you?”

“Sure. Be right back.” I went to the head, rummaged around for a fresh box and went back. She had some eye-drops out and her eyes were watering; I handed her the box.


“No problem.”

She took her juice and drank most of it. “Good stuff.”

I took my glass and downed it. I thought it had a funny aftertaste – kind of bitter.

She smiled at me now. “I don’t really feel like bacon and eggs, Woody.”


“No, I had something, well, firmer in mind, something a little more satisfying…”

She was looking right at my groin and I swear she was licking her lips.


“Come on,” she said as she stood. “I’m going to fuck your brains out, Woody.”

She came over, took my hand and pulled me up, led me forward. I felt a little light-headed, suddenly sleepy. She pulled me up to the berth and turned me around, pushed me gently and laughed as I fell back. I felt like the world was spinning now, like the whole world was careening wildly out of control. She leaned over and unbuttoned my shirt, undid my belt, then she yanked down my pants. “Sit up,” she commanded; I felt her tugging my pants all the way down, pulling my shoes off, pulling them over my ankles.

I could hardly keep my eyes open now.

“Woody, push yourself up, to the head.” It was hard, my arms and legs felt like hot lead, nothing worked right anymore. “Here, I’ll help you…” I felt her arms under my shoulders, wanted to say something but couldn’t. She fluffed-up some pillows, propped me up in a reclined position and I watched as she took off her clothes, folded them neatly and put them aside.

She opened her purse, took out a bottle and opened it, then she came over, opened my mouth, slipped a pill under my tongue. “I want you nice and hard, Woody. Real hard.”

“What?” I think I managed to say.

“Don’t try to talk, Woody.”

“What? Why?”

She had my handcuffs now and she came over and put them on me, clamped them down hard. I think I winced.

“Is that too tight, Woody? Hmm?”


“That’s right… I heard you like it rough. You like it rough, don’t you Woody?”

I felt cold fear in the air all around me. “Who?”

“Mary-Jo told me, Woody.”

I blinked. I wasn’t tired anymore, just…paralyzed. She had pantyhose in her hands now and she leaned over and tied my cuffed hands behind my head with them, then draped the moist crotch over my face. “Does that smell good, Woody? Do you like that?”

I could see her moving through the fabric; no details, really – just her body moving slowly around the cabin. It was getting hard to swallow and I felt fear for the first time, wondered how it was going to feel to die, then I felt her leaning close, felt her hot breath on my cock, her tongue stroking it. It felt like a hot, wet glove had gripped me and I saw her shadowy head moving back and forth, up and down…

“Oh, Woody, you’re getting so nice and hard.”

“Glad…you like…it…” I managed to say.

“Oh, Woody. I do, I do like it.” She leaned forward and licked my lips through the fabric, stuck her tongue in my mouth, forcing the nylon in with it. My left eye was clear now and I watched her as she leaned back over my cock and took it in her mouth again. I tried to move my legs, felt some kind of rope around my ankles and gave up.

I was aware of the smell now, the smell of her pantyhose up against my face, then I felt her get off the berth and walk to the rear of the boat. I turned my head, saw her talking with someone out there. There was someone with her, a man. It was too dark to see anything clearly but everything was becoming all too clear.

She came back a minute later and leaned over me, kissed my open eye as she reached down and stroked my cock. “You ready for me, Woody?”


She straddled me, rubbed the head of my cock against her cunt. I felt the heat, the unbelievable wetness, felt her hand grab the head and guide it inside, then she slid up and down a few times – until I could feel my cock getting unnaturally hard. She slid off me, then up my body and I watched as she moved the nylon from my face and hovered over me.

“I’m going to mark you now, Woody. Mark you as mine…”

I felt hot liquid splash my face, smelled urine, tasted it as it ran down my face and across my lips. She lowered herself onto my face and mashed her wetness all over me, pissed some more – filling my mouth until it spilled down my chin and onto my chest – then as quickly she lifted herself from my face and slid down onto my cock again.

“It’s hard, Woody. So hard. I think you liked that. You ready to cum for me?”

I couldn’t speak at all now but I saw her lean forward and take a cotton ball and moisten it with alcohol, then she wiped my arm, took out a syringe.

“It’s not going to hurt, Woody, I promise.”

She stuck the needle in, pushed the plunger down slowly and I felt a sudden warmth flooding through me.

I didn’t feel too different at first, then the dizziness returned. My vision changed, everything looked cast in blues and purples, and I felt her hand around my cock. She was jerking it furiously now.

“Not much longer, Woody…not much more…”

I could see her holding a glass under the head of my cock, then felt an incredible orgasm wrenching through me, pulsing into the glass…

“Ooh, Woody! So much! And so soon, too!” She kept jerking it, mouthing her surprise as she looked first at the glass, then at me, then she held the glass up and looked admiringly at the pearlescent flow. She came up to me again, sat beside me so I could see her face clearly and she drank it down, licked the sides of the glass to get every bit of it, then she put the glass aside carefully and turned to me, kissed me. She forced her tongue into my mouth and painted broad strokes of cum across my face, dribbled a huge wad down onto my forehead, then licked it off and spit it down again, this time onto my lips.

She got up suddenly and the man came into the cabin. He had a mask on, and she stood beside him silently while he looked down at me.

“Did I do well, Master?”

He only nodded, but then he whispered in her ear.

“Yes, Master,” she said after a moment. “I will obey you.”

He handed her a knife.

She came up to my face again and looked at me, spoke gently, almost kindly: “My Master says I must tell you that this is a warning. A warning to stop, now.”

She held the knife at my neck, I could feel the point just beneath my chin and she pressed gently.

“Will you stop now, Woody?”

The knife pressed it into my skin; I could feel my heart beating, then the knife slid through skin – into muscle.


“Do you swear it?”

The knife pressed deeper, and I could feel my pulse hammering in my head…

“I… swear…”

She turned, looked up at the masked man. He nodded and she withdrew the knife, then he turned and left the cabin.

She leaned into me, kissed me again – this time gently.

“You’re a sweet man, Woody. So sweet. I wish I’d met you a long time ago.” I could see she was crying, like she hated what she had done – but that she had been powerless to resist, as well.


“Don’t try to talk now, Woody. You’re going to sleep now.”


“It’s okay, Woody. This is it. It’s all over now. As long as you don’t break your promise, this is it.”

I felt sleep coming, powerful, irresistible sleep. I could feel her cradling my face, kissing my forehead, telling me that everything would be alright again, that everything would be fine…but I knew nothing would ever be fine again…nothing would ever be the same…

I hoped it wouldn’t hurt. Hoped they wouldn’t find me with my dick hanging from my mouth and take pictures of me and wonder what the hell had happened to get me mixed up with this bunch of crazy, fucked-up monsters, then I felt myself falling…falling…and I wondered if this was how Lucifer felt when he was forced out of Heaven and fell from the sky.

Chapter 15

My head hurt – as if from a series of violently spinning falls, and my gut burned like nothing I’d ever felt before. Everything was dark, pure unadulterated black, but I saw distant glowing flashes of light that were like a lightning – yet not quite, more like flashing, streaky pinpoints of reddish light.

Then the thought hit me: these flashes were a sign or some sort. What were they trying to tell me? What had I missed?

Obviously, I was dead… or maybe still just dying. That was clear if only because nothing in my experience had ever felt even remotely this –. The sensation of falling was so real, so vertiginous, it overwhelmed almost every other sense, yet it was more the supporting elements that were so disturbing.

I could feel my hair fluttering in the slipstream, hear vast oceans of wind howling as I fell downward, and those strobing pinpoints…those signs? Photons might be passing through me on their way to wherever they went, leaving just the faintest impression of their passage. Was that what they were?

Then I could hear something like muffled surf, perhaps wild breakers crashing on a distant shore. The sound would come – and as suddenly fall away.

It went on like this for hours, days…the pulsing light and distant surf that defined this windward passage…yet from time to time I felt a jabbing in my arms, pressure in my chest…then one day: An eye opened. No, not that. It was opened by someone. Someone was above me, holding my right eye open, shining a light in my eye. I tried to see beyond the woman, the woman holding the light, but she followed my eye, followed my movements and kept shining the light in.

Then I saw her hand. Fingernails. Sharp fingernails. She was pressing my forehead with her fingernails, right between my eyes. Son-of-a-bitch – that hurt!

I wanted to tell her to stop, but couldn’t.

Then she had an earlobe; she was pinching it with those fucking talons of hers and I found all I could sense or feel now was the pain she was inflicting. I struggled to tell her to stop. Stop it… stop…


And she did, too.

And it was like I heard people letting go after holding a deep breath… or was it me struggling to breathe?

Both my eyes were open now, but it was like someone had smeared Vaseline in them… everything was a coarse blur, coarse and watery. I wanted to move my hands, rub my eyes – but I couldn’t and I felt a familiar panic grab my chest…

“Mr Woodward… you’re in the ER, the emergency room at Mason. You’re alright now so try to relax.”

Her words found me and I understood what she was saying but panic still gripped my chest… like a vice…gripping…darkness again, coming for me…

“Oh fuck!” I heard the woman say. “He’s going into arrest again…get me a…”

Then darkness. Darkness and falling, all consuming darkness…and the wind and the surf returned.


I knew I was awake. Knew something wasn’t quite right, but I was awake. But what was with all the incessant beeping?

Beeping. I heard beeping everywhere, just like I was on the set of some hokey medical show, and I remembered thinking I must have become an actor somewhere along the way because here I was, starring at a television show about a man dying in an unknown hospital.

I opened my eyes, looked at banks of streaming monitors in black and green and I tried to swallow but my throat was too goddamned dry. My tongue was stuck…to the roof of my mouth. I tried to raise my head, to say something…something, to somebody…but I couldn’t see anyone…

“Hel…” I gasped. “Hello!”


“Hello! Help!”

Footsteps. I heard footsteps! Then a woman, huge and black. I remember thinking I was in Star Wars, I was a prisoner and someone had brought me before Jabba the Hut. Her eyes were round and huge too, and even the room looked kind of like a cave.


I was an actor now. This was my big chance…

“Mista Woodward? Can you hear me?”

“My name is Luke,” I said, proud I’d remembered the lines, “Luke Skywalker. If you let me have the Princess and Han, I’ll let you live…”

And Jabba was laughing now, right on cue: “Oh, Mista Woodward! You ain’t no Luke Skywalker, and I sure ain’t no Princess Leia. Now. You thirsty?”

“Not Leia?” I was – crushed.

“How about some ice?”

“Yes. If you’ll tell me where I can find her?”

“Shit! Don’t dat beat all…” I heard her say as she left the room, laughing as she went…

She came back a few minutes later, and an old man was with her:

“Obi-Wan?” I said.

“I’ll be damned,” my old friend said to Jabba. “You weren’t shittin’ me, were you?”


“Yeah, Luke, old buddy. It’s me. Howya feelin’.”

“Obi-Wan? The Princess…she…the Dark Side. Oh, I’m so tired…”

“Woody, come on… snap out of it. What are you saying, what are you trying to tell me?”


“Yeah, that’s you. Me Richard. You Tarzan. Now come on, Woody. Concentrate.”

“Woody? Woodward?”

“Yep. Now, what about this princess? Who are we talkin’ about, Woody?”

“Reporter. Liza.”

“Mullins? She did this? You sure?”

I nodded. “It was a warning. They told me it was a warning.”

“They? You mean she wasn’t alone?”

“A man. And Liza. ‘This is a warning,’ she told me. I have to stop. Stop, or they’ll kill me.”


“Obi-Wan? Got to find out what size shoe she wears?”

“What? Woody, what the fuck?”

“Harker. Photographs.”

“Woody. Jon’s dead. Fire. In his apartment.”


“Yeah, Woody. He’s dead.”

“When? When did…”

“It’s been a few weeks now.”

“Weeks? What do you mean, weeks?”

“You’ve been out a while, Woody. Almost a month.”


“Yeah. Probably drug induced. You were high as a kite on morphine and LSD when I found you.”

“You… found me?”

“Yeah. When you didn’t call I went down to the boat.”

“The boat?”

“Yeah, Woody. She’s alright. I’ve been taking care of her.”

“Can somebody lift my head or something?”

The nurse hit a button and a motor under the bed whirred, my back inclined. “Dat better, Mista Woodward?”

“Yeah, thanks Princess.” I winked at her and she laughed, put a cup full of ice on the table over the bed and left the room.

“I remember the ER. Did I have a heart attack?”


“Three? Heart attacks?”



“You’ll be joining the ranks of the disabled and retired now, Woody. Sorry.”


“Ain’t it the truth.”

“Harker took photographs, in infrared. Tottenham. Woman, small. Like size seven shoes. High heels. Man. Size nine or ten.”

“You want me to see what size shoes she wears?”

“No, wait. It was a warning, right?”

“I can’t do this without you, Woody.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t do it, Richard.”

He nodded. “I understand.”

“Have there been any more? Murders?”

“No. Not a one.”

“I wonder what the hell we were on-to?”

He shrugged. “No way to know now, is there?”

“Call her.”

“Call? Who?”

“The reporter. Liza. Tell her I want to talk to her.”

“Are you out of your fucking mind?”

“No. Now, do it now.”

He looked at me – his eyes hard, then he nodded and left the room.

Everything was coming back to me now, in a flood. Memories were flooding in, out of control, like water pushing through a cracked dam, running unrestrained across a vast, empty plain, soaking it all in…


Tate came back in a few minutes later.

“Did you get her?”


“She coming?”

“Yeah, Woody. She’s coming.”

“Can you find out about the photographs? The infrared prints?”


“The only evidence. If they’ve penetrated the department, compromised us, then the photos will be gone. They’ve won if that’s the case.”

“If I ask around that might alert whoever, ya know?”

“Who said anything about asking?”

“Gotcha. Look, Woody, I don’t wanna be anywhere near this place when that bitch gets here, ya know?”

“I understand. Not sure I want to, either.”

“Then, why?”

“Something I gotta know.”

“Dangerous, man. This is real fuckin’ dangerous.”

“I think I got that. Something I need to know before I take the next step.”

“I sure hope you know what you’re doin’, man.” He seemed reluctant to talk, like he was afraid of something else.

“What’s bothering you, Richard?”

“Later. We’ll talk later. I’m gonna split now. I’ll come back tonight.”


“Crushed ice! Man, I love it.”

The nurse, another one, basically ignored me as she went about the little room scribbling down readings from various machines, then she injected something into my IV and started to leave the room.

“What is it this time?” I asked. “Heroin? Potassium?”

She stopped, turned and looked at me and she smiled, then said: “Not this time, Woody.” She looked at me for what felt like an hour, mouthed the words ‘Love me’ – then walked out of the room.

There are certain moments in your life that run up on you fast, like lightning out of a clear blue sky, and time stops because nothing makes sense anymore. I think dying must be like that.

This was one of those moments.

She came back in a little later, adjusted the drip on the IV. “Can I get you anything?” she asked.

“Think I could have a Coke?”

“Yeah, sure.” She looked at me again, this time with real human kindness in her eyes, then leaned forward, ran her fingers through my hair. “Don’t do anything stupid, Woody.”

“I’m doing my best.”

She lifted up her skirt and ran her hand inside her panties and rubbed herself, then she brought her fingers to my face and wiped her juices under my nose. She smiled at me the whole time; her eyes were bright, almost feverishly bright, then she ran her fingers over my lips. “You know you want to, Woody. Go ahead.”

I opened my mouth and she slipped her fingers in, I tasted her cunt on the soft skin of her fingers and sucked them for a moment, then she smiled, laughed a little before she turned and walked out of the room.

“What the fuck…” I think I said.

She came back some time later with a cup; she sat by my bedside and spooned ice into mouth, then opened a can and poured some Coke into the cup. She put a straw in and handed it to me. “Suck it, Woody.”

I laughed, took a pull on it, then chewed on the ice.

“We’re going to have fun, Woody. You and I.”

“Are we?”

“Oh, yes. Yes, very much.”

“Who do you belong to?”

“My Master, you mean?”


She smiled. “It doesn’t matter now, because he’s given me to you.”


“Oh yes. I am yours now. Your property.”

“Indeed. And if I don’t want you?”

“Then I will have failed. I will die.”


“I will be killed.”

“Just like that?”

“Yes. Just like that, Woody.”

“And you must do whatever I ask of you? Is that it?”

“Yes. That is The Way.”

“The Way?”


“And if I commanded you to tell me who your old master was?”

“I will tell you, but then I must kill you.”

“I see. But then, you would have failed. Is that right?”

“Yes. And I would die.”

“So, why have I been given… this honor?”

“You were marked. By my sister?”

“Your sister?”

“We are all sisters. Think of us as belonging to a religious order.”

“You say she marked me?”

“When you opened your mouth to her, and took her inside.”

“I see. Your sister; I am expecting her.”

“Oh, she is here. She has been, for a while.”

“Why didn’t you…let…”

“Master, she can only come to you when commanded.”

“I see. Well, I’d like to talk to her. Alone.”

“Yes, Master.”

“Please don’t call me that.”


“Just…Woody, for now. Okay?”

“Okay, Woody.” She stood by the bedside, waiting. I think she was waiting for me to dismiss her and the thought was mildly silly.

“Dismissed,” I said… and she turned to leave the room. “Stop!”

She turned to face me again: “Yes, Master?”

“I don’t know your name.”

“My name? Master, that is yours to choose. Each master chooses.”


She stood solidly still.

“Go on, then!”

This was exasperating. Stupid, silly – and totally exasperating. And not even mildly interesting, I told myself.

The door opened and Liza came in. She was dressed in black from head to toe, like she was in mourning, yet even so I looked down at her shoes. Her feet were small, too small, but she was wearing high heels.

“Hello.” She said when she got to my bedside. “How are you?” Her voice seemed flat, almost forced.

“Not bad, considering.”

“I’m sorry. We didn’t know your heart was so weak.”

“Neither did I.”

“I feel very bad. For what happened.”

“Was the man with you your master?”


“Who is?”

“Do not ask me this. It is very dangerous to talk about these things.”

“But if I ask, you must tell me.”

She hesitated. “No, that is not so.”

Why did she hesitate? Was it that simple?

“And if I command you?”

“Then I must tell you. But do not, please.”

“Alright, I won’t.”

She looked at me and I saw a great weight fall from her; her eyes became kind and I wanted her so much it hurt inside. But I needed to know more, and fast. I couldn’t fall under her spell again.

“You said something, before you left. You said you wished you’d met me long ago. What did you mean?”

She looked at me with those eyes and I struggled, simply because I was powerless before the weight of the lust I felt for her.

“It doesn’t matter now, Woody. Truly.”

“Did you kill Mark Tottenham?”

“Only a servant may kill a master. I will say no more.”

“Can a master kill his servant?”

“If it is his pleasure, yes.”

“And if I wanted to be your Master?”

She looked at me and beamed: “Would you?”

“If that was what I wanted, how would I make that happen?”

“If you pass the trials, if you are accepted, you have only to ask the council.”

“I see. But in the meantime?”

“You have a servant now.”

“I can have only one?”

“For now. Yes.”

“Would you want to be with me?”

“What I want is of no importance. To be wanted is all I could ever hope for.”


“Yes, it is all to be worthy of a Master’s desire. It is all one could ever ask for.”

“I desire you. With all my heart.”

That broke her. Clean through. She leaned over, put her hand on my cheek and rubbed my face.

“Then you forgive me?”

“You changed me. I can’t think about anything but you.”


“Yes, truly.”

“Will you join us?”

“If that is what I must do to possess you, then yes, I will join.”

She nodded. “I had hoped this would happen.”

“Will you tell your Master?”

She clouded over. “No. I cannot.”

I understood then. Tottenham had been her master.

“Then you will tell who you must of my decision.”

“They know now.”

“Can you come by from time to time? While I’m here?”

“If that is your wish, then yes. I will come.”

“Well then, it is my wish that you visit me each evening, until I leave this hellhole.”

She smiled. “Then I will. Are you tired?”

“Yeah, think so.”

“I’ll leave you now.”




“I think you will be a good master.”


“Fair. I think I meant to say fair, as in just.”

I nodded. “Would you send my nurse in?”

“Yes. Good night.”

“Good night, my love,” I whispered, when she was leaving.

I knew she heard me, too.

This was going to be a very dangerous game, indeed.


“I have decided on a name for you,” I said to my nurse when she returned. “Persephone.”

“Thank you, Master.”

“I assume you heard our conversation?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Well, I accept you as my property so long as you accept me as your one master.”

She hesitated, the conflict immediate.

“Get out of my sight!”


“Now! Leave! Find me a new nurse.”

She fled in tears.

That was easy, I told myself.

Too easy?

I waited a few minutes then hit the call button. She came in; it was obvious she’d been crying, and was probably scared to death. What did she say? If she failed – she was toast?


“Master, no. You must never apologize.”

“Of course. Nevertheless, I was careless. I should have understood the conflict I put you in.”

She was looking at the floor but I could tell she didn’t know what to say.

“Your friend has returned.”

“Tate? Already?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Send him in.” She left the room, came back in with him and lingered in the back of the room. I didn’t send her away – probably no point. I had to assume complete surveillance from now on.

“What did you find out?”

“No photographs, Woody. Sorry.”

“Well, it probably doesn’t matter anyway.”


“It doesn’t matter, Richard. If the department wants to continue the investigation, well, then, that’s their business. Like you said, I’m retired.”

His face creased as he scowled, and it looked like he was chewing the inside of his cheek as he turned my words over in his mind. “You feeling okay?”

“Yeah, fine. You say the boat’s okay?”

“Yeah. There wasn’t too much to clean up.”


“Yeah, you know the score. It was a potential homicide scene.”

“You had any new cases?”

“A couple new ones. Cheating husbands, angry wives.”

“Have Nikon, Will Travel!”

“Paladin! Man, that was a great show!” he added.

“You know it, amigo. You need anything? Hustler? Penthouse?”

“Nah, you know me… I was always a Leg Show kinda guy!”

He laughed, so did the nurse – my Persephone.

“Well, I guess I can leave now. Looks like you’re in able hands.”

“Yeah, she seems very dedicated to her profession. Right, nurse?”


“See? How ‘bout that, Richard?”

Did he see? Could he make the leap? If he had, he didn’t show it.

“Well Woody, if they cut you loose I’ll drop by the boat in the morning; maybe see you around lunch time.”

I closed my eyes after he left, felt myself dozing, then ‘Persephone’ came in with “dinner”.

“Sorry. Restricted diet for a while.” She rolled the table over my lap and I looked at red Jell-O and green yogurt and felt very ill indeed.


“Sorry,” she said again. “And you won’t be going home for a while.”

“I know. All things being equal, I think I’d rather suck on your fingers again.”

She smiled, came next to the bed and lifted her skirt.

“I’m glad I can please you, Master. Do you like the way I taste?”

As a matter of fact, I did.


I was discharged from the hospital a couple of weeks later. “Persephone” had somehow, astonishingly no doubt to those of you following along here, been assigned to the hospital’s home health care division and presto! – she came home with me. Again, I ask for leniency here; please do consider, despite your misgivings, that a boat can be a home – and anyway, she took to it like a duck to water. But I want to be clear: as I have never been particularly adept at housework I was glad to have the help. The fact that she had sworn a blood oath to serve me until death? Hey, man, icing on the cake.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You see, it’s like this: having three heart attacks over the course of a week – while in a coma, no less – fucks with your head. You stand up from a chair too fast and you hear the grim reaper walking up behind you, his scythe whizzing through the air – right for your carotids. Which were already, I had reason to believe, pretty well clogged after a twenty-five year binge on Quarter Pounders and Krispy Kremes. Having a nice, sexy-as-Hell blond-haired, blue-eyed nurse following me around begging to please me was – well, frankly – kind of unexpected, yet this was just one of the unforeseen perks accrued by hooking up with a bunch of homicidal sadomasochists. Hey, I’ve always said if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Who am I to question the logic of this fucked-up world? Join ’em, then beat ‘em?

And Sephie (and frankly, she hated being called that, but calling out “Persephone!” in a crowded grocery store will get you all kinds of unwanted attention) was a miracle. She was like Carnation Instant Love; add a few teaspoons of cream and she was all kinds of happy. She’d chosen this life, too. She even told me it was true. She wasn’t some Central American or Asian kidnap victim sold into a life of sexual servitude. No, she’d been a nurse for years and had met someone who knew someone and before you can say “beat me, spank me, make me write hot checks!” she was into the scene and loving every ass-smacking minute of it. Honestly, have you ever whacked a girl on the ass and had her fall to the floor in orgasm?

Well, right, neither had I.

Like I said, this whole scene was fucking with my head, and I think I may have mentioned my head was already pretty well scrambled, and, so, everything about my life now was pretty fucked up. One day I went down to Central to fill out some paperwork and bang, just like that – it was all over: I was a retired cop. Since I was officially retired, I didn’t have to turn in my gun and badge, so like Tate I signed up for the reserves. I week later I got a call; they’d had a bad one and wanted my help. Would I mind coming down?

Would I mind? Fuck. They even sent a patrol car over to pick me up! Limousine service! If only I’d figured this out sooner!

Sephie claimed she preferred being chained to the floor by the foot of the bed but I wasn’t having any of it. A cold teak floor? Am I heartless? No, I had her curl up behind me and scratch my back all night. I’d never had a wife do that for me before, so what the hell was wrong with this picture? Sex? Don’t ask… just command! It was like Nirvana. On steroids:

“Say baby, I’d like to screw upside down hanging from the top of the mast!”

“Sure thing, Woody. Let’s do it!”

– or –

“What say we read poetry tonight, to each other?”

“I’d love to…”

It was every misogynists’ dream come true, enough to make Susan B Anthony turn barrel-rolls in her grave. There was only one problem, but it was a big one. I hated it. Everything about it. When she asked me to get rough with her I cringed inside, then I hated myself afterwards. If I left a red mark on her ass I had to go into the head and somehow keep myself from puking. Let me be perfectly clear: I was not then and am not now wired that way. Causing pain or administering corporal punishment for her supposed infractions did not make me happy, did not help me get my rocks off.

It was a means to an end.

Let me explain.

I’d made my decision the first time I saw Liza after I came out of the coma. I knew I loved her. I don’t know how, or why, and anyway, I don’t give a damn. When she walked into my room in the ICU the lights got brighter, my heart suddenly felt young and strong, and I wanted to live – but only with her by my side. That feeling became bedrock, too.

But she, apparently, belonged to – if not someone – then something that made it impossible for her to just drop off the map and sail away. She let me know in no uncertain terms that there was no running from these people. They weren’t limited to Seattle, to the Pacific Northwest, or even to the good ole U. S. of A. They were, she told me, everywhere. Literally. Senators belonged. Federal judges too. And – pointedly – chiefs of police belonged. FBI agents, CIA operatives, even a former President were regular adherents. I had no idea. My tax dollars at work! And here I’d thought all these years that politicians took no pleasure from screwing us over!

Just goes to show ya, huh?

The ‘local affiliate’ had been started years ago, she told me, by a bunch of uppity-ups at Microsoft (hey, that figures, doesn’t it?); now, she said, more than a thousand of the most influential people in the area were deeply involved, but they were always on the look-out for talent that could help in a pinch. She told me if I wanted to get an idea of what the group was like to watch Kubrick’s last film. You know; the one with Tom and Nicole and all those nice people wearing leather beaks. She let me know these people were, however, just a touch meaner than those in the film. Having been at two crime scenes and admired their handiwork, I was prepared to take this appraisal at face value. Then it hit me: If the cops and the courts were compromised, then what? If you took down a couple, or even a couple dozen, there were hundreds more buried everywhere ready to hunt you down and feed you your dick.

And the simple fact of the matter was you’d never know who to trust, or who not to. With that simple maxim as gospel, then trusting Tate – maybe especially Tate – was out of the question. If you don’t know who to trust, you trust no one. If there is any doubt, then there is no doubt. This arithmetic is simple, the kind I understand. If I was going to do anything, if I was going to extract my pound of flesh, it was going to be a solo operation. Either that or I could just go with the flow and enjoy Persephone and Liza and learn how to use a riding crop.

And believe me, there were times I thought that was an attractive proposition, too. How fast we fall, eh Lucifer?


The first time Liza came down to the boat after Sephie joined the crew was, well, interesting. Like every red-blooded male in America my favorite fantasy involved making it with two women at the same time. Let’s ignore the fact that I had never known two women at the same time that I’d have even been tempted to do this with; now I had two women who, simply stated, were more than willing. Way more than willing. The biggest problem now was I’d recently had three major coronary vapor locks: my V-8 was now an inline four, and Viagra was a major league no-no. What would I do, enquiring minds wanted to know?

But did that stop these two girls? My two girls? In a word: No. In two words: Hell No.

They were gentle, at least at first, and not very demanding – which was highly appreciated. Remember, all it took to send Sephie over the edge was a good smack on the ass. Liza was simply oral, like Linda Lovelace was oral; apparently her tonsils and clit had merged years ago – and to wondrous effect. The only thing she liked more than giving head was receiving a little. She could lay back and take a licking – for hours at a stretch, too. Fortunately the only thing I enjoy more than receiving is giving, so we were perfect for each other. And face it, all either of us had to do was smack Sephie on the ass every now and then and we were all three in carnal heaven. Hard to do on a boat, believe me, but we managed.

And this went on for months. Whoever or whatever this organization was, they were content to sit back and watch and listen for any signs that I might be trying to plot my revenge. I, however, was equally content letting Liza and Sephie clean my clock any time the mood hit.

And then there was the poor guy on the boat next to mine?

Every time I poked my head out into the sunlight the guy bowed at me like I was Krishna or the Buddha. I never really considered that sound carries through water, but our exploits were becoming the stuff of legend. So, like I said, I was retired now, and in goods hands. An equitable exchange, don’t you think? And now I had groupies.

I thought you’d enjoy that, too.

So, life took on all the aspects of a comfortable routine – but things were, in truth, not quite what they seemed. Once or twice a month the department would need me and someone would come for me and I’d go do my cop thing for a day or two. Tate joined me from time to time, then he sponsored me and I got my P.I. ticket and bought my own Nikon. Well, a Canon, but you know what I mean. I went out with him every now and then and took photos of philandering husbands and cheating wives; the rest of the time Sephie and I puttered on the boat: I taught her to sail and believe it or not I taught her how to love. Someone paid her salary, everyone left us alone, and three or four times a week Liza came over to spend the night, and along the way she taught me how to love, too. It was a trip, a real slice of life.

I think after a year of this routine I’d have been quite content to live out the rest of my days doing this, and only this. Tottenham’s murder receded into a dim and hazy past, dreams of sailing south to the tropics began to feel unnecessary, even narcissistic. I was content, even happy. I hadn’t made any waves and all indications were that I wouldn’t.

In short, they had me right where they wanted me.

And I was counting on that, too.

Chapter 16

It was right before Christmas, more than a year later, when the call came.

They were apparently sentimental characters and wanted me to attend their annual Christmas get-together. Liza told me the Satanists in the group tended to boycott the affair but it was, generally speaking, a rather low-key orgy followed by the ritual sacrifice of a few goats and a seminar or two on the proper use of riding-crops. Everyone there would be masked except, of course, me. I would, if I chose to attend, be examined, judged, and if found wanting, killed. By Sephie. Who would then be killed.

No pressure or anything. Just your average holiday get-together. Mistletoe over the spiked punch and all that jazz.

“Don’t we, like, exchange gifts or anything?” I asked. This could be fun!

“Woody, this is serious.”

“I am. It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake!”

The girls laughed at my naiveté. They had no idea how naïve I was, or am – for that matter. Old dogs and new tricks and all that nonsense. I mean, come on: I like Christmas, always have. I still get the warm fuzzies when I watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. I like it when the Grinch finds his heart is still pure. I love watching kids open their presents on Christmas morning, and don’t mind opening one or two of my own – so shoot me! How cold-hearted could a bunch of homicidal sadomasochists be?


It was the thought of spiking their Christmas punch that intrigued me. How could I do it and not get caught? And what could I spike it with that might drive the point I was trying to make home? More to the point, what could I spike it with that would break no laws but really fuck with them where they lived?

Acid? I mean LSD, not hydrochloric – geesh – cut me some slack, wouldya? Anyway. No. Too common, and they’d used it on me.

An overdose of Viagra? Nope, I could cause a couple of heart attacks that way, yet even so the idea of a hundred or so men turning up at local ERs with permanent hard-ons did have a certain “use it or lose it” appeal.

No. What I was looking for was the anti-Viagra. Something I could give these guys that would make it impossible for them to get up for a long, long time. Permanently would be even better, but hey, do you think I’m a heartless son-of-a-bitch? Even better, to keep them from killing me I could allude to having an antidote, and my remedy would of course be the only way to restore potency.

Fuck me! This might even be fun!

But this was really only a nice daydream, perhaps, because I didn’t know any biochemists or physicians, and anyway, these guys probably had half the scientists in Seattle in their back pockets. Maybe I was just going to have to play their game, which led to one inescapable conclusion. Maybe I’d just have to be content to live with these two beautiful women the rest of my life, because the choice, as it was being presented, seemed pretty obvious to me: go along with their way of life and remain alive, or refuse their offer and die. But what would I do, I wondered, if I acquiesced only to find I was getting pulled in deeper? Maybe into something really dark? What if there really was no third option, no way to get away from these people and secure some sort of happiness? They’d tried to warn me off but had damn near killed me. Still, I was under no illusions – they didn’t owe me a thing.

Killing two cops had been dangerous for them, but they’d had the right people in the right places to mitigate the damage. Killing me might have been over the top, and they might have seen endless security issues as a result, but the other option kept gnawing away at the back of my mind. What if the man I saw on the boat with Liza had a plan? Or, what if he was the intermediary between me and this ‘council’? Had he had kept me alive – for a reason? And, I reasoned, the real key to to figuring all this out would involve what was the first domino to fall…why kill Harvey, the FBI agent? Was he inside. or had he been investigating something peripheral and stumbled onto the group? Had he been compromised, or warned like me, then tried to join the group – and failed?

But, and this was a big but, I was now on the outside, looking in. I wasn’t a cop anymore, not a real one, anyway. Weekend warriors don’t have the same administrative rights and access to information that full-timers have, so that left my new PI ticket as my only way inside, and that left me dependent on Richard Tate.

And what if Tate was the intermediary, the man on the boat who’d spared my life. He was smart enough, skilled enough to pull off most any subterfuge, and he was my friend – and that alone might have been motive enough to cause his intercession.

And what about Anders, the chief. What if he was inside, and wanted to put a stop to things before they got out of hand and exposed this seamy underside of his life? And SAC Brennan, or anyone else in the Bureau’s SeaTac office?

What I was left with was a ‘no-win’ situation, there was no way out, and I only had a week to come up with something if I decided to make a break.

That was when Mary-Jo dropped by, and paid us a little visit. That was something I hadn’t been counting on, and for quite some time too, if you know what I mean.


“So, you’re really going to join?” M-J asked when she came on board, meaning, was I really going to go to meet the council, and seek membership in their little club?

“Well, it’s either that, or Seph is going to go all Sunni on me with a knife,” I replied with a shrug, smiling a little. So much for idle chit-chat, anyway.

“That’s not a real positive attitude, if you get my drift, for wanting to come in out of the rain,” she added.

“Maybe if they’d just let me be, not bunked me down with the hottest nurse in the Pacific Northwest?”

“They couldn’t trust you, Woodie. Simple as that.”

“Well then, what made them think being held almost incommunicado for a year would make me more trustworthy?”

“I suppose, but…what did you call her? Seph?”

“Persephone. Queen of the underworld.”

“The underworld? Like Hell?”

I smiled. “Not quite.”

“Well, what I was going to say is I think they weren’t counting on Persephone’s ability to control you.”

“Even though I am her master?”

Now it was M-J’s time to smile. “Yes, funny how these things work, isn’t it? Isn’t control almost always an illusion? Anyway, just what do you feel towards Persephone?”

“Feel? I love her completely. Aside from that, she’s the best friend I’ve ever had.” Persephone, sitting by his side, smiled demurely, knowingly. “If she were taken from me tomorrow I think I might wither and die.”

“Really? Die?”

“I don’t think I’m trying to be disingenuous here, M-J. We’re very close.”

“Well then, suppose I order her to leave you, right now. What then?”

“Well then, I suppose I would begin to wonder just who you really are? What you’re role in this little organization really is?” Truth of the matter is I thought I knew exactly who she was, yet even so at this point I was more than a little concerned. I knew a lot was riding on my answers the next few minutes, and that M-J was holding all the Aces.

“You still think like a cop, Woodie.”

“True blue, all the way through.”

“And you’ll never change, will you?”

“Are you kidding? Persephone has changed me, completely.”

“How so?”

“Because I love her, M-J, and I love what she is. What she is has been defined by the role she plays within your organization.”

“My organization? You presume too much.”

“I don’t think so.”

She smiled. She knew I knew. Everything hung in the balance now.

She stood, looked undecided, first at Persephone, then at me.

“You’re dangerous, Woodie. You always will be.”

I stood, came to her and held out my hand. She looked down and took mine, and I kissed her fingers.

“We were almost friends,” I began, but she cut me off.


“We never had a chance to see where we could go.”

She shrugged. “Some things are never meant to be.”

“And Persephone? Was she meant to be?”

“She was always meant to be your executioner.”

“You know, I think I’m too old to be a danger to anyone.”

“But you’re not.”

“So then, it comes down to…”

“Allegiance, Woodie.”

“What are your aims, I wonder?”

She smiled. “Allegiance is complete, or it’s meaningless.”

I kissed her hand again, and said “I agree,” and that was really all there was to it.

M-J smiled at me, then to Persephone she said, “I release you, Persephone. You belong to no one now but this man. You have no conflicting orders or purpose. You belong to him now, and will serve him until his death. Do you understand?”

“I do, Mistress.”

She turned to leave, this Mistress, my almost friend, and then I saw her entourage in the cockpit. Girls dressed in black, women who looked like ninja warriors, and then I remembered an intel briefing I seen the last time I was at Central, something about a group that had started taking out pedophiles in Dallas. Ninjas? So, was this another piece of the bigger puzzle I’d wondered about last year – when this first started going down?

I started to follow M-J but she turned and stopped me. “You will stay here now. Down here. Do not leave for a week. Do not communicate with anyone outside. Do you understand?”

“Yes. And Liza?”

“She is masterless. Do you want her?”


“You must understand one thing. Once she is yours, it is to the death. She killed her master, and she is marked. If she fails you, you must kill her. Do you accept?”

“Yes,” I said without hesitating.

I could see surprise in M-J’s eyes, but no doubt, and she nodded her head in appreciation. “Perhaps one day I will trust you,” she said as she looked at me.

“But not today.”

“No, not today.” She pulled my face to hers and bit my earlobe so hard I was sure she had severed it, and when she pulled away I could see my blood on her face. “Not yet, Woodie, but the day may come when you will be given the opportunity to prove yourself.”

She disappeared into the night, leaving me and Persephone down below, with only lapping waves hitting the hull for company. A strong gust shook the boat, and wind moaned in the rigging. I turned to Persephone, and when she saw my wound she ran to get first aid supplies from the head.

“She marked you,” Persephone said as she worked on the injury.


“I don’t know. Either she wants you for her own, or she intends to kill you.”

“Now, there’s some good news.”

“Did you really mean what you said to her? About me?”

“Every word.”

“Even though I was meant to kill you?”

“I meant every word.”

“You really love me?”

“Yes. Completely.”

“And Liza? You really love her too?”

“Yes, but not like I do you. It’s different. You are like a wife to me, Persephone. Liza is more…”

“A concubine? For your pleasure?”

“Perhaps, yes. But she brings me comfort, too.” I looked at this woman, this care-giver, and I did indeed feel something unique when I looked into her eyes. Love? Yes. Fear? Way too much. Would she still kill me if ordered? I doubted that not at all.


The next morning I felt the boat move as someone hopped aboard, and went to the companionway and looked up into the cockpit. Liza was there, sitting beside the wheel, and she looked at when I poked my head up into the light.

“You here to stay?” I asked.

“Could we talk? Up here?”

“Sorry. I’m down here, for the week. Orders.”

“I’m glad you said that,” Liza said. She had been testing me – as I assumed she might.

“Well, not sure I’ll cook you breakfast again, in case you were wondering.”

She smiled, but there was pain in her eyes as she confronted the reality of being a murderer.

“It doesn’t go away, does it?” I said to her indecision.

She shook her head.

“So, you coming down?”

“Could I sit up here for a while?”

“Suit yourself.” I ducked below, started working on the alternator’s belt. Sephie was forward, I assumed, reading a nursing journal, but then I heard her coming up behind me. She knelt down, put her hands on my shoulders and whispered in my ear: “We’re going to need a bigger boat…”

I turned, looked at her, saw the smile on her face – and I smiled too.

“We’ll need a bigger bed, too,” she added.

“Hadn’t thought of that,” I grinned.

“I have,” Liza said. She was sitting on the cockpit sole, leaning into the companionway.

I looked up, was kind of surprised to see her so soon.

“I have a question for you,” I said to her. “Kind of an important one, too.”


“You marked me, remember?”

Her eyes were half closed, but she nodded her head.

“What does that mean? To mark me?”

“That I marked you as my property.”

“I understand that, but what are the consequences?”

“You are mine.”

“But that’s where I’m a little fuzzy, Liza. I am your master, am I not?”

“You are. True.”

“Yet you say, ‘you are mine’? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?”

“No, not at all. ‘You are mine’ simply means that I am sworn to you, that my soul belongs to you.”

I turned away.

“You do not believe me?” she asked.

“No, I don’t.” I looked at Persephone. “Is she telling me the truth?”

She nodded her head.

“Why haven’t you marked me, Persephone.”

“I can not answer.”

“That’s okay, I think I get it.” I turned back to Liza. “Lying to me is the same as failing me,” I said to her. “Or do you disagree?”

“Oh, no, I agree. Will you kill me now?”

“When it pleases me, I will.” That seemed to penetrate the fog, and she nodded her head slightly. “Come below now, and go forward.”

She didn’t hesitate. She climbed down the steps and went to the forward cabin, and I let her stay up there the rest of the day, by herself.

Sephie helped me change the alternator belt, then we fixed lunch and I sat at the chart table for a few hours looking over sailing routes from Puget Sound the Polynesia.

An hour later, Liza called out; she needed to use the head.

“Show her how, Seph,” I said, and she went forward. When Liza came aft I saw she was naked, and I wondered why but kept my mouth shut. I heard the head being pumped clear a minute later and watched as Liza walked back to the forward cabin, but I let her stew in silence a little longer. When the sun was sliding behind the hills to the west I told her to come to me.

“No more lies, Liza. When I ask you a question, I want a truthful answer.”

“If I can.”

“That’s not good enough.”

“I’m sorry.”

I nodded my head, opened up chart table drawer and pulled out my old Kimber 45 ACP, and screwed on a silencer. I racked the slide, chambered a round, and leveled the pistol at her chest.

“Care to change your answer?”

She looked at the pistol, then at my eyes, judging me.

“Only members of the council may mark a master,” she said.

“And Persephone isn’t a member?”


I unscrewed the silencer and put the pistol back in the drawer.

“Woodie, were you going to shoot me?”


“You are a master! I knew it!”

“Don’t ever lie to me again,” I growled.

She dropped to her knees. “Yes, Master.”

“Why did you mark me?”

“Because I killed my master. I was masterless, and afraid.”

“Afraid? That is your truth?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Yes, Master.”

“I will cook you something.”

“No, Master, let me…”

“No, you need to understand, it pleases me to cook. Even for you.”

“As you wish.”

“It would also please me no end if you’d stop calling me Master, and talking like you’re some kind of medieval vassal. And, get off the floor, for heaven’s sake –  unless you’ve dropped a contact lens or something…”

Liza smiled, stood, and looked at me.

I opened my arms, she came to me, and I held her close. Persephone looked at us, and she smiled too, but there was something new in her eyes, something that hadn’t been there for the past year.

I told Liza to go forward and put on some clothes, and when she was gone I went to Persephone and kissed her passionately for the longest time. When I was sure she was completely confused I let her go, and turned to the galley with a smile in my little black heart.

Phase One was now underway.


Tate came over a few weeks later, and, he said, he just wanted to just shoot the shit for a while. Liza was off doing her thing as a reporter, while Persephone remained on hand like my very own two legged Golden Retriever. That is to say, she was right by my side, my ever faithful, golden haired companion, so talking would be a little restrained.

“When I have my big heart attack, can I have one just like yours?” Tate said when Persephone came up into the cockpit carrying a tray loaded with orange juice and heart-healthy snacks. That’s code for saw-dust, by the way. There’s no such thing as a heart healthy snack, unless of course you’re talking about oral sex.

Anyway, Sephie smiled, handed Tate a glass of fresh squeezed, then settled in by my side.

“You look like you could use some sun,” Tate said. “You’re pale.”

“It’s her fault,” I said, pointing at Sephie. “She sleeps all day and flies away at night, in search of fresh blood.”

“That explains everything,” Tate said. “Listen, I think I’ve got a case I can’t handle alone. Think you’re up to it?”

“I’ll have to check with his doctors,” Persephone said. “The last time he went out with the department he had some strange rhythms, and was light-headed.”

“Oh, still bothering you, is it?”

“Well, it’s pretty much a permanent condition now.”

So, in pidgin-cop talk he’d just managed to ask if I was still under house arrest, and I’d confirmed his suspicions.

“Well, it’d be nice if you could. The case is going to involve a lot of camera surveillance, and you could make a few bucks while just sitting back in your car with a Nikon for company.”

“If the doctor approves, could I come with him?” Sephie asked.

“No reason why you couldn’t, as far as I can see.”

“That might be fun,” she said.

“Do we have any avocados?” I asked out of the blue, knowing full well we didn’t.

“I could run out and get a few,” Tate said, helpfully.

“No big,” I said to Sephie. “Next time we’re out, I think we should get a few.”

“Have a craving?” Persephone asked.

“Oh, you know me. Put avocado on shoe leather and it’d taste good.”

“Want me to run out and get a couple?” she asked.

“No, next time we…”

“Don’t be silly. It’ll just take a few minutes, remember? The farm stand’s open down the street!”

Like, really, I’d forgotten? “Would you?” I asked innocently. “That’d be great.”

And a few minutes later Tate and I were alone. I pointed to my ear, indicating possible listening devices might be planted, so we continued with small talk about his difficult case, but at one point I bent over to pick up a napkin and slipped a note under his shoe. A minute later he knocked his napkin off the little cockpit table and retrieved the note, just before Sephie returned.

“Want me to make some guacamole?” I asked them.

“Sure,” Sephie said, and Tate nodded his head.

So, what was in the note? Just an innocent question concerning the PI business, but it would be enough to trip up Tate if he was part of the group, and if he wasn’t he’d understand in no uncertain terms that I was not free to move around on my own.

And yeah, I made some guacamole, and Liza got back just in time to have some, too.


Every couple of years I haul the boat and get the bottom scrubbed and re-painted, and it was coming up on that time again. We, the girls and I, packed overnight bags and checked into a hotel down the street, then Tate and I drove the boat to a yard across the lake, then hopped into the Zodiac and puttered back across to the hotel’s marina. Somewhere along the way Tate slipped a note into a coat pocket, but otherwise kept quiet. End result, I thought he was clean, but wouldn’t do anything compromising – for a while longer, anyway.

As summer approached, Liza started making noises about wanting to take some time off, some real time off, and wanted to know what I thought about taking a trip.

“On the boat?”

“Yes, of course. Why own a boat like this? Certainly not to let it sit in a slip and rot?”

“Guess that depends on what my doctors say. Isn’t that right, Persephone?”

“That would depend on how strenuous a journey we make? Like, where to, how long?”

“Like Tahiti,” she said. “How long would that take, Woodie?”

“Did we have a bad day at work, dear?” I asked. I swear I tried to keep the sarcasm out of my voice, too, but that did it. She broke down, went into a rant about an editor at the paper who had been riding her ass for months, and that got me wondering…

Were there limits to the interventions this group was willing to make? To preserve their identities, and the group’s security? Or was this editor of hers in the group? Interesting, I thought, but the answer to her original question still hung in the air, apparently waiting to be answered.

“So, Tahiti. What do you want to know?”

She looked at Sephie: “Could he do it?”

Persephone looked a little hesitant, like she wasn’t sure this was something she was allowed to talk about, but then she looked at me and shrugged her shoulders: “Assuming we were both there to do most of the heavy work? I think so.”

The heavy work? I had to laugh. These two had been out on the boat in the Sound a bunch, and under a variety of conditions too, but they had no idea what lay on the other side of the Olympic Peninsula. There was a malevolent beast waiting out there, a sleeping monster called the Pacific, and neither had ever been ‘at sea’ – not even once.

So, I kept my mouth shut about that, and launched into the less intimidating aspects of such a voyage. Like: most people from the Northwest hop down the coast, stopping at Astoria, San Francisco, and usually in L.A. too, before pausing for a long breather in San Diego, where supplies are replenished and gear maintained, then it’s a non-stop thirty-two hundred mile grind to the Marquesas, the gateway to French Polynesia from North America, then another nine hundred miles on to Tahiti. Boats like mine can make almost two hundred miles a day under optimal conditions, but a more likely average is closer to a hundred and ten, which puts a voyage from San Diego to the Marquesas in the forty day range. But the trip down to California can take more than a few weeks, and most people stop off in the Marquesas for several weeks. Trip time by that point is almost three months and climbing, and most people who’ve made the trip then spend a year or more wandering around the islands before heading to New Zealand.

“New Zealand? Why there?”

“Well, I suppose because it’s lovely down there, but there’re other reasons as well. It’s like sailboat heaven, and after a year or more at sea boats need work. Serious work. And a lot of people sour on the dream by that point, and decide to either sell their boats there or ship them back to the states and start over.”

“Start over?”

“Well, just looking at the experiences of people I know who’ve made the trip, if they make it that far one of two things happens. Married couples either divorce and sell the boat and return to the states, or they double down and head west for Australia and on to the Med.”

“You mean…”

“Yup. Circumnavigate. That’s a five to seven year deal, assuming you stop to smell the roses from time to time.”

“Holy cow. Do many people do that?”

“More than you might think, but that’s a trip for people like you. Starting off in your forties is the norm for a trip like that. People starting a circumnavigation in their sixties are rare. My guess is if I started a trip like that now you’d probably get to spread my ashes somewhere in the Indian Ocean.”

“Now, Woodie…”

“No, I think that’s realistic, and it wouldn’t be the most horrible thing in the world, you know? Life is a one way ticket, I seem to recall. To leave this life doing something you always wanted to do isn’t the worst outcome imaginable.”

“Is it something you always wanted to do?”

“I used to think so.”

“And now?”

“Are you kidding? I’m getting older by the minute and haven’t a care in the world, but to make matters worse I live on my boat with two stunning women I just happen to adore. And yes, I know we need a bigger boat. If we made such a trip, we’d need a newer, bigger boat, or spend a heck of lot upgrading the hardware on this one. But there’s a more important question: why make the trip now?”

“Because you’d be happy.”

“You’re assuming I’m unhappy, aren’t you, Liza?”

“I know you’re unhappy,” Persephone said.

“Well, if anyone knows what I’m feeling, it’s you. And I mean that in the best possible way, of course.”

Sephie came to me and put her head in my lap, and I ran my fingers through her long hair for the longest time. Liza came and sat by my side, and she leaned in close.

“Do you want to at least try?” Liza finally asked.

And there I was, hesitating on the precipice, lost in the vertigo of a great decision. Two years ago this had been the dream, the plan. Retire and head south, then make for the Med or the South Pacific, and I’d even considered making the voyage solo, maybe meeting some wahini along the way and making a run at it together, but now…everything was different. And it was different in the most sinister way possible.

Just what the Hell were they up to? Get me offshore and push me overboard? Or just shoot me in the head and let me wash up on the shore somewhere?

“I couldn’t make it without both of you,” I thought aloud, “and I couldn’t ask that of you. Wouldn’t be fair, you know.”

“You don’t have to ask, Woodie,” Persephone said.

“Yes, I do. I could never impose my dreams on someone else, especially the only two people left in the world I love.”

“That’s not what I meant, Woodie,” Persephone said. “I love you too, and I’d want to share this, be a part of this.”

I could see the end of my life in her words, and it was fascinating. Simply fascinating.

All in all, the air around me felt exotic, heavy with portentous meaning, and suddenly it felt as if I was sitting in an Indian bazaar, flute in hand, watching a pair of cobras dancing to a tune only they could hear.


We decided to head out for a sail a few weeks later, kind of a trial run out towards Vancouver Island. Blue water, if you know what I mean. Real ocean, not that calm stuff in Puget Sound. That was the idea, anyway.

Mother Nature always has her own plans, and this was one of those days. No, not stormy. Far from it. The water in the Straits resembled a Wal*Mart parking lot – in Kansas. Flat. Flat as a billiard table, and not a breath of air all morning. We were off Port Townsend just after noon and still heading west northwest, and the only excitement we’d had had been dodging the occasional log. That, and my pointing out the passing fins of the odd blue shark that happened along from time to time. Odd how focused people get when they spot a man-eater.

By mid-afternoon we were past Victoria harbor and still motoring west, a Seattle-bound ferry crossing southbound off our stern the only company to be had. I hopped down the companionway and made some log entries, grabbed a few Cokes and went back up to the wheel and noticed the girls weren’t in the shaded cockpit. I looked around, saw them up on the foredeck deep in conversation. I saw the Beretta 92SBF in Liza’s right hand within the span of a single heartbeat, and it didn’t take me too long figure out what was on their minds. I reached down and let off the main sheet and the traveler lines, then moved all the way aft and got behind the wheel, and waited.

Persephone saw me first, maybe a minute later. She turned and looked at me – and I could see the sorrow in her eyes, the pain in her soul. She didn’t want to kill me, she never had. Then I looked at Liza. What I saw in her eyes made my blood boil. It was lust, pure blood-lust. In all my years on the street I’d encountered such savage evil only a few times, and I recognized what I saw in her eyes immediately. She smiled at me then, smiled as she drew the pistol and leveled it at my chest.

Liza moved towards the starboard shrouds as she started aft, and Persephone followed close behind. The Beretta is Liza’s right hand barely wavered as she drew near the canvas awning over the cockpit, and that’s exactly when I threw the wheel over hard to port.

Right as rain, the main boom rocketed off to the starboard rail, and with the satisfying ping of a four iron on a par five fairway, both Liza and Persephone were knocked high over the lifelines and into that deep blue sea.

It was time to make a few quick decisions, and though I’d had a few days to think about what I’d do if my worst-case-scenario came to pass, the sadness in Persephone’s eyes called out to me across that mirrored sea. In point of fact, Persephone began calling out to me at that very moment, and she looked pathetic. Helpless, and pathetic.

Liza, on the other hand, looked ferocious. Pissed off, and ferocious. Her hands were flailing away, no Beretta visible now, but she soon settled down and starting swimming after the boat. I dropped the RPM down to twelve hundred and tightened the turn, then straightened out, aiming to come alongside Persephone; Liza saw what I was doing and started back towards her.

The dilemma facing me was simple. The first thing that crossed my mind was that it would never be possible to trust either girl ever again, not right now – and probably not ever again. So, the next thing that hit me? Well, simply put, bringing one or both back to shore would leave me in exactly the same predicament. It would only be a matter of time before the order would come to kill me again. So, I reasoned, the simplest thing to do would be to run them down, kill them out here in the Pacific and let the sharks have them. There were no witnesses and, I calculated, I could do this with a clear conscience. They had set this up, all this talk about going to Tahiti, with nothing more in mind than killing me. They were predators, merciless, mercenary predators.

And then I saw the Beretta. Right there on the cockpit cushion, hard by the companionway. Leaning forward, I scooped it up before coming alongside Persephone. I throttled back a bit and turned away from her, watched as the panic set in. Liza arrived by her side a moment later and I just watched them. I watched them watching me, watched them study me, looking for the first sign of hesitation, or resolve.

And then I saw the shark.

A white. A Great White. Rare in these waters, but not completely unheard of, and now the huge fish was circling perhaps thirty yards away from the girls, probably trying to figure out exactly what they were, and how they might taste.

So here I sat – fat, dumb and very unhappy – on my boat, and just a few yards away two very nervous women paddled away in very deep water, completely oblivious to the danger that had entered their very precarious orbit.

I raised the Beretta, let Liza see it for what it was as I cut power and dropped the transmission into neutral. The boat slowed, but was still a good ten yards from the girls, and then I pointed at the fin.

“I think that’s a Great White,” I said.

Synchronized swimmers had never executed such a precise, coordinated turn in any venue, nor had any actress in any horror movie ever made shown such wide-eyed awareness of her impending doom as those two girls did.

Personally, it was kind of gratifying, but almost three decades of carrying a gun and a badge made what happened next a completely forgone conclusion. I swung the wheel hard to starboard and slipped the transmission into reverse and backed down slowly, then I slipped it into neutral and hopped down onto the swim platform and dropped the ladder into the water. Predictably, Liza made it to the stern first, and I reached down and hauled her aboard in one smooth motion. As she clambered into the cockpit I reached down and took Persephone’s frantically grasping hand in mine and hauled her onto the platform, then I grabbed her shaking body and held her close to mine.

I knew Liza had the Beretta even before I turned around, but when I looked at her she held it out to me, handed it over without so much as a murmur.

“Go grab some towels, would you, darlin’?” I said softly. I helped Sephie into the cockpit, took the towels Liza carried up a moment later and wrapped them both up and held them tight, kissed each on the forehead.

“Don’t ever do anything like that again,” I whispered in Liza’s ear. “Okay?”

I could feel her head nodding assent through her violent trembling. When she calmed down a few minutes later I handed the Beretta back to Liza, and with my head I motioned her to toss it overboard.

She didn’t hesitate. When I heard that definitive ‘ker-plonk’ I took her face in hand; I kissed her hard on the mouth, kissed her until she responded with an authenticity I’d never felt from her before, then I kissed Sephie, and more deeply than I ever had before.

It hit me hard, that irrational moment out there under then sun. Despite everything, I knew I loved them both, I mean really and truly loved them, and that I could never let go of them. Still, a part of me clung to the knowledge that I could never really trust them. Yet…there had been something so unexpectedly tender about those fleeting seconds that had caught me so completely off-guard. Something about the way we loved one another as we turned back towards the Sound, about the desperate gratitude we shared as we clung to one another, something about the looks I found in their eyes that told me the tables had finally turned.

You can’t have love without trust, after all. Or is it the other way around?


We didn’t talk too much about what had happened out there on the water. There wasn’t much to say, the way I saw things. They’d been ordered to do away with me, but up to that point in time whoever controlled them had never seen any reason to question their loyalty. By the time we tied up at my marina on Lake Union that assumption had been turned on it’s ear. I was alive. They’d failed – for whatever reason, and now there would be consequences. Whoever was calling the shots in their world, I assumed, just might expose themselves to get this done. Someone would have to give the order, and then someone would have to execute the operation against “their” girls. That’s what I was counting on, at least, and that, hopefully, would give me the opening I had been hoping for.


And so I wasn’t entirely confused when Mary Jo came down to the marina a few hours later. I had just sent the girls to the market for some grub, which wasn’t all that surprising either. The slip, my boat, were under constant surveillance, and again, I’d kind of assumed that for quite a while. But here she was, and all alone, which did confuse me. I had expected a return appearance of her ninja warrior girlfriends, but no, that was not the case. At least, they weren’t visible, but that’s the point with ninja, I suppose.

“Hello, Woody,” she said as she stood on the dock below the cockpit. “Kind of surprised to see you.”

“Are you, indeed,” I said as I climbed out the companionway and stepped into the cockpit. “Why’s that, I wonder? And where are those delightful girlfriends of yours?”


“Yes, of course.” I looked at MJ, remembered that night and her hand under the table. “Well, you’re looking good,” I said as I smiled at her. “Would you like to come aboard?”

“Assuming you’re not going to try to kill me, then yes.”

I almost laughed as I gave her my hand and helped her aboard. “So, to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”

“Why are you still alive?”

“Well, as long as we’re asking questions, why do you want me dead? I thought we had an understanding?”

“We did.”

“What changed.”

“Circumstances.” Only the voice I heard wasn’t Mary Jo’s. It was a man’s voice, and one that sounded very familiar.

“What the fuck!” I said as Mark Tottenham stepped out from behind a pillar and back into the land of the living.

He walked over to Mary Jo, pulling a little Walther PPK/s from under of his jacket as he drew near. “Get down on your knees, you stupid bitch,” he said as he came up behind her. He screwed a silencer on the barrel, then put the tip up to the base of her brain and squeezed off one round. Mary Jo fell into the water between the dock and the boat and disappeared; Tottenham tossed the Walther into the water after her.

“You didn’t need to kill her, Woody. That was unnecessary, and stupid.” He took black leather gloves off his hands, then walked up to the gate without saying another word. As he left the marina, I took a remote control from my pocket, and hit the pause button. “This might be easier than I thought,” I had the audacity to say, but in truth, Tottenham’s resurrection was troubling.

I heard the sirens a few minutes later, and a half dozen patrol cars careened into the marina parking lot moments later. Their guns drawn, dozens of officers stormed towards the gate, but as they didn’t have a key, I had to walk up and let them in.


“Long time no see, Woody,” Chief Anders said as he climbed aboard.

“Hey Chief. How’s it hangin’?”

“Down to my knees, Peckerhead.”

“Good to hear it. Come on down. I think you’ll enjoy this.”

A couple of grunts from CID were already down below, and SAC Brennan was as well. They’d of course seen the recording already, which was why I wasn’t being booked-in at that very moment, but Chief Anders hadn’t seen it, which was why he was here now, and Brennan had thought it important he see it as soon as possible.

First, and for his benefit, I explained what had been happening for the past fourteen months, during my impromptu retirement, then I played the tape.

When he saw Tottenham step into view, when he heard his voice, Chief Anders just about came unglued. “What the fucking Hell is this!” he shouted. “Some sort of CG bullshit!”

Liza stepped into the cabin, right on cue. “Not quite, sir,” she said. “It’s his brother, Paul. Identical twins. I think Mark wasn’t going to cooperate, so Paul had him killed. Oh. He’s also the head of the local council.”


“Whatever you’d like to call them sir. They’re usurping control all around the country, coopting officials at every level of government.”

“A silent coup, Chief Anders” Brennan interjected. “A complete government takeover, using blackmail. Sexual blackmail, one of the oldest tricks in the book. Minimal personnel involved, very quick, very efficient. Even the Romans used to do it this way.”

“Shit,” Anders said, no small amount of wonder in his voice. “And this Paul Tottenham? He’s in charge?”

“I don’t think he has much power beyond Seattle,” Liza said.

“Do you know, Miss… Hell, I don’t even know your name, but you sure look familiar.”

“I’m with Woodie,” my dear little Liza said. “Have been for a while.”

I took her hand in mine.

“So you don’t know much about their operations, beyond the local structure?” Anders asked. “Brennan? You need to keep her for a while?”

“I don’t think so, Chief. She’s cooperating, and we have enough already to make a few dozen arrests. We may break open a larger investigation that way. I think it depends on how deep their penetration is, but it sounds like this could be a very sticky operation.”

“Woody, you think you’re well enough to come back?” Anders asked.

“Me? Hell Chief, I hadn’t thought of that. I wouldn’t count on me, though. Liza and I have been thinking of taking a trip, on the boat.”

Anders looked at Liza and almost smiled, but I could see the envy in his eyes. He just nodded his head, mumbled something that sounded a lot like ‘wish I could’, then he climbed up into the night and was gone. I’d already burned several copies of the recording, and everyone had their discs now, as well as Liza’s statement, and soon they were all gone.

Persephone was still forward, and she came aft as soon as I gave her the all clear. She had recorded the proceedings on board that evening, ‘just in case’, and Tate was buried away in the parking garage making recordings of all the people coming and going as well.

Divers recovered MJs body early the next morning, and they found the little Walther, too, so ballistics wouldn’t be a problem, and with the recordings there wouldn’t be any problem getting a conviction. There was certainly no ‘reasonable doubt’ about what had happened, anyway. For good measure, Tate took copies of all our recordings to multiple safety deposit boxes around the city, and I did the same at a few other banks. That done, we met back to the boat.

“So,” Tate asked when we were safely back on board, “are you really going to head out? Do the trip?”

“I’m thinking I might just give it a try?”

“You going solo?” he asked, and I could see he was wondering where the girls were.

I just smiled.

“Man, wish I could make that trip!”

“Yeah, I bet you do.”

It took a few weeks to square away the new boat and provision her, but I guess you know I had some help. She’s a little bigger boat, not by much, but she’s a lot stronger…yet the most important thing, more important than anything else, is the bunk in my cabin is a whole lot bigger.

Hey, I’m just sayin’, you know, but I’m pretty sure you understand.

Part III – Welcome Back My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends

Chapter 17


She sat at her desk, listening to the man drone on about his wife. About how the wretched woman just didn’t understand him. How she never wanted to have sex anymore. How life had become totally empty, devoid of all meaning, all happiness.

She looked at this little maggot and wanted to laugh. ‘Have you looked in a mirror lately, you fat slob,’ she wanted to say. ‘Who’d want to fuck you? Who the hell would want to understand your pathetic, empty life? Jerking off to porn in the basement at two in the morning? Not even having the balls to jerk off in her face? Hiding in the shadows, afraid of your own shadow – all the shadows in your life…’

“Well, Mr Peterson,” she said after she’d listened to about as much as she could stand, “it looks like our hour’s about up. I’d like you to reflect on some of the strategies we discussed today, and keep writing in your journal.”

“Okay. How do you think I’m doing?”

“Fine, Mr Peterson. Just fine.”

“How many more sessions do we have?”

She looked at her appointment app, scanned his court-ordered sentence. “Another eight weeks ‘til your next mandated evaluation. Then I make my report to the court.”

“You think I’ll do okay?”

“I can’t discuss these matters with you, Mr Peterson. You know that, so please don’t make me remind you again.”

“Yes, doctor.”

“Now, it’s time for you to leave. I’ll see you on Friday, at ten.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

He even walked like a worm, she thought as he stood and made to leave, but he turned and looked at her – tried to look at her, anyway – but she was behind her desk and so denied him the view he sought.

He’d been sneaking down in the middle of the night to jerk off to online porn for years, then one night his wife came down – quietly – and caught him in the act. She belittled him for days after, until one evening he couldn’t take it anymore. After she hit him with a long string of insults he snapped, and he pushed his wife against the wall and screamed at her. He’d fallen to the floor, crying, and she’d called the police.

Domestic violence wasn’t tolerated in this city, Judge Thornton Thomas told him at one point during his sentencing, and in addition to the twenty-five hundred dollar fine – as well as all court costs – he’d been sentenced to six months of psychiatric counseling – again, at his own expense. And of course his wife filed for divorce, so now he was living in a flop-house by the warehouse district near Love Field. He could at least walk to work these days, flipping burgers at a nearby fast food place, which was a good thing – as he’d lost his car after being fired from his job.

But now he was infatuated with this psychiatrist – Dana Devlin – and her endlessly long legs. She usually left her office just after their session, and he knew this because he waited and watched for her, and for the limo that waited for her just outside the medical office building. The limo would whisk her to TV studios downtown, where she had a syndicated noon-time call-in self-help program, where she would discuss issues surrounding domestic violence and substance abuse – with a nationwide audience. He liked to watch her as she left the building, liked the feeling of hiding and watching her surreptitiously, but he loved looking at her long legs and high heels most of all.

So he was waiting for her downstairs this morning, behind some trees not far away, and he watched her as she walked out, watched her legs as she turned and climbed into the limo, and he relished that one fleeting moment most of all – when, with one leg outstretched her skirt rose up, revealing stocking tops and garters. He shuddered when he caught that glimpse this morning, wanted to crawl home and turn on his laptop.

But no, not today. Today he wanted to see more, so he caught the bus downtown – with a smile on his very happy face.


“Yes,” Devlin said, “bi-polar disorder has become, I’m afraid, a too-broad definition, a catch-all phrase being used to justify all manner of inexcusable behavior. Like a doctor’s note to get you out of gym, it’s become almost trendy, and now, today, people are calling themselves bi-polar without any sort of formal diagnosis, thinking their swings in mood can be excused away with a shrug and a smile – and a hastily contrived diagnosis. So, the point I’m trying to make is simply this; if someone is indeed bi-polar, they need medication, they need treatment, and that won’t happen without seeking help from a qualified medical professional. Absent that, people need to stop self-diagnosing the problem, and applying labels they simply do not understand.”

“Okay,” the show’s host said, “this has been The Help Desk, with Dr Dana Devlin. This is Dick Durban, and we’ll be back next week with a frank examination at post-pubescent bed-wetting, and what you can do to move on from suffering the consequences of this humiliating nighttime scourge.”

The lights dimmed and Devlin unclipped her mic and set it on the desk in front of her, then leaned over and thanked Durban.

“You coming tonight?” she asked.

“Oh, wouldn’t miss it,” he said, smiling.

“Good,” she said, then she left the studio, stopped off at the gym before going out for the evening. She did not, apparently, notice she was being followed as she went inside the gym.


He had been planning this night all week, and now it was time. He was going to follow her, wait until she was alone then take her. He’d been looking on from afar for too long, he told himself, and she had given him the courage he’d need to see this night through. He was sitting in the back of the taxi he’d called when she came out, and it fell in behind her Mercedes as it took off from the gym.


They had been waiting until night fell, and perhaps a half hour after the sun set a rope dropped noiselessly from the roof, and two shadows slipped through the night and into Peterson’s grimy little room.

They left a half hour later, the contents of his computer downloaded onto a card.


He looked up as a jet roared by just overhead, and barely made it in a back door without being caught; he followed the driving beat of the music down dark service stairs into an obscure, poorly marked basement, and slipped unnoticed to the back of the room, his heart racing as he looked at the action on the floor. It was dark in the big room, a few strobes pulsed in one corner,  beating like a sick heart to raw music, and he saw her down there, dressed in latex and PVC – everything black, everything shiny, almost wet looking – even the huge phallus she had just strapped-on was shiny-wet and black.

Then he saw the judge – his judge – down there on the floor, strapped down to a high bench. She was whipping him – savagely, too, he thought – then she moved between the jurist’s splayed legs and planted her strap-on over his anus – and plunged-in – then began mercilessly pounding the man’s ass. When he cried-out in pain she only whipped him more fiercely.

He pulled out his phone, slipped it into video mode and began recording, and after just a few minutes he slipped back out of the building and disappeared into the night.

Shadows within shadows watched his movements, and one broke off and retraced his steps into the building, into the basement. She came out a few minutes later and her team disappeared into waiting shadows.


The next week, at his scheduled therapy session, she noticed he was looking at her differently – almost leering at her, she thought.

“What would you like to talk about today, Mr Peterson,” she started, unsure of his mood.

“I’d like you to call me Pete.”

She smiled. “Oh? Why?”

“First, could you tell me the difference between love and lust?”

She seemed amused at this new line of thought. “What’s on your mind today, Pete?”

“It’s a question that’s been on my mind a lot lately, and I’ve been thinking about what might be different between the two.”

“Well, what do you think the difference is?”

“That’s not my question, Dana.”

“I’ve told you before, Mr Peterson, I’d prefer that you refer to me by my title.”

“I really don’t care what you want me to call you, Dana. I would like you to tell me the difference between love and lust.”

She looked into his eyes and unconsciously crossed her arms over her lap, then caught herself and sighed. “The difference, you say?”

“Yes. How are they different?”

“Well, love is about continuity, about seeking permanence in life, while lust is all about the moment, impulses and needs. I’d say lust is more about impermanence, instant gratification, while love is about long term fulfillment. Now, Pete, what’s this all about?”

“I’d like to show you something, and I wonder if you could conjure up a definition of hypocrisy out of your black hat.” He stood, took out his phone and came close to her desk, turned it on and opened the video player. He put the phone on her desk and pressed play…

She leaned over, picked up the phone and watched as images unfolded; her hands began to shake, a line of perspiration formed on her brow. When the recording stopped he took the phone and returned to his chair.

“Interesting,” she said. “So. You’ve been following me.”

“No, I’ve had a private detective following you, and Thornton.”

She smiled at his bluff. “What do you want?”

“Right now? Right now, I want to fuck you in the ass. When I’m finished I want a letter from you making all this go away. A week from now, I want to read about that fucking judge’s resignation from the bench, and it better be front page news.”

“Oh, is that all?”

“Yes, that’s all. And I’m assuming you think I’m a moron. That I haven’t taken precautions to make sure this video shows up all over the internet if something happens to me. I could disappear, you know, or men in white coats could show up at work, throw me to the ground and put me in a straight-jacket, take me to the funny farm. Just let me tell you if anything like that happens to me, you and the judge are going viral. Youtube city, if you get my drift, and that’ll be just for starters.”

“And if we comply?”

“I hit delete.”

“Simple as that, huh? And we get to trust you, that you won’t publish?”

“Simple as that.”

The shadows listened intently now, confirming all their recording devices had good signal.

Devlin turned in her chair, hit a button and all the drapes in her office closed, the lights dimmed.



“Take off your clothes, Pete. And from now on, when you answer me, you’ll say only ‘yes, mistress,’ or ‘no, mistress.’ Is that understood?”

“Sorry, but no. I’m not playing that game with you.”

“Pete? Please? Just play along a little, would you? Make it easy for me?”


“Pete? Get your clothes off, then I need you to come over and lick my legs, suck my toes.”

“Uh…well…if you insist…”

“Oh, Pete…I had no idea your cock was SO big…”

And still the shadows listened.


He wasn’t exactly sure, but it looked to him as if someone had been in his room. Nothing too out of place – not exactly – but just enough, and he had to admit he hadn’t counted on this. He went to his laptop and opened it up, and everything – seemed – okay…so why this feeling?

He saw a shadow, or thought he did, and he turned, looked out the window –

“What the fuck!” he screamed. “Who the fuck are you?!”

It, whatever it was, looked like a giant, black owl – like something out of one of those Whitley Strieber books he used to read.

An alien, he said to himself, now sure someone, or something, had been in his room – and suddenly he rubbed the back of his head again and again – for he had been sure, once, that he’d been abducted, and that they’d implanted something in his skull.

Now, the more he thought about it, the more aliens made sense. Who else could have told Molly he was in the basement? How else could he have run into a psychiatrist as warped as Devlin, a judge as twisted as Thornton? They had to be in on it, all of them, and he bet they had been, for years, from the beginning.

That spot on his head was itching now, and he was sure he could feel it getting hot. They had to be transmitting now, transmitting instructions to him. Again. That’s why it was getting hot – that had to be the reason. He felt the room spinning, his eyeballs starting to itch – and he wanted to scratch them out of his head – because the noise was getting so loud now, the voices so insistent…


“What the fuck’s going on with him now?” one of the shadows said.

“I don’t think he took his meds this morning,” another one said.

Yet another laughed.

“No, I’m serious,” the second one said. “I don’t think he took anything, and two of them are anti-psychotics.”

“Too bad for him,” the first said. “Look, he’s going to whack-off again!”

“I can’t fucking believe this guy. It’s like anything sets him off.”

“This is like the third time today…”

“Did you see the recording from her office?”

“No. What about it?”

“He popped her in the can, then blew a load all over her face. He made her lick the shit off his dick after.”

“That woman has no pride.”

“I think she’s desperate.”

“You’d have to be fucking desperate to let that cretin anywhere near your asshole.”

“You should’ve seen what was on his hard drives.”

“I don’t want to know. Did the committee reach a decision?”

“Yes. He made the list, too.”

“Well, one more won’t make much difference, I guess.”

“No, it won’t.”

They had been in the basement earlier that day, and the team had epoxied all the windows shut, then had placed shaped charges in the ceiling, taped to a dozen 20 pound LPG tanks. No, it wouldn’t matter at all…


She had invited Pete to tonight’s event – “just to show you there are no hard feelings!” – and she’d picked him up a little before eight, driven him to the warehouse. A jet taking off from Love Field flew by just overhead as she got out of her Mercedes, and he followed her to the front door, then past the security guard beside the main basement stairs. She led him downstairs to the big playroom and told him to make himself comfortable while she changed into her play clothes, or so she called them. He looked around, didn’t see Thornton anywhere, and for some reason that bothered him. Someone handed him a drink and he tossed it down, then walked over and looked at a girl being sodomized by someone in a gorilla suit…but no, he was pretty sure it was an alien on top of the girl…then the room started to spin, he felt like he was about to suffocate – then the room went dark.


They watched on their video feed as Thornton and Devlin tied him down to a bench, then as someone gave him an injection. He’d begun to come around after that, but he was gagged now, and they couldn’t make out more than a few words that Devlin and Thornton were saying.

Soon Thornton walked over to Peterson, and they noted he had a large cordless drill in his hand; the judge put the drill above Peterson’s ear and pulled the trigger…

“You know,” one of the shadows said, “I really don’t want to watch this…”

“So, hit the detonator – whenever you’re ready.”


“Southwest 227, taxi to position and hold.”


“227, clear for take off. Contact departure one two two niner and good night.”

“227, two-two-niner. Rolling.”

“Give me ninety eight percent.”

“Ninety eight.”

“Helluva crosswind tonight.”

“Yup. Passing eighty. One-ten. EP at ninety eight. V-one – and rotate!”

“Positive rate, gear up.”

“Gear up…what the hell was that?!”

“Uh, Southwest 227, this is Tower. Looks like a large explosion under you at this time. Lot’s of flame and airborne debris.”

“Tower, 227, Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! We’ve lost number two engine, lost primary hydraulics, and we’re getting fire alarms from the cargo deck. We’re gonna try a right turn, try for runway three six.”

“227, say souls on board.”

“48, Tower. We’re three eight zero A-G-L, have about 5–5 percent on number one, can’t hold a climb at this weight.”

“Roger, 227, emergency services notified.”

“What the hell was that?,” the Captain said. “Did ATC say they saw an explosion?”

“I think so. Felt like a large IED.”

“Hit the APU, deploy the RAT.”

“Got it.”

“Might as well start dumping fuel, too. Okay, I’ve got Harry Hines and Mockingbird, I’m going to line up off them. Start reading off the radar altimeter, would you?”

“2-7-0 feet, gears still down and three green, flaps at twenty. Now 2-5-0 AGL, rate of descent is 3-5-0 feet per…”

“Landing gears are going to come right off at this weight.”

“Now 2-1-0 feet, speed 1-7-7, rate of descent now 400. Looks like Denton Drive in about a quarter mile.”

The computer chimed: “Minimums, minimums!”

“This is gonna be close, Mike.” The Captain keyed the intercom, her voice calm now: “Flight attendants, brace for impact.”

“Over Denton, now 1-1-0 feet, speed 1-5-5.”

“Mike…? I think we’re gonna make it…”

“You got it, Captain.”

“Crosswind’s a headwind now – good – okay, over the threshold.”

The computer began talking again: “Fifty – forty – thirty – retard – retard!” She felt the main gears hit, was going for reverse thrust when she felt the entire aircraft lurch – hard – to the left…

And that happened when the left main gear failed – which then blew through the top of the wing. The wing tanks ruptured, vaporizing thousands of pound of jet fuel – which ignited. The left engine nacelle dug into the runway, causing an immediate, violent yaw to the left, and the right main gear collapsed. The main spar failed next, then the entire right wing separated from the fuselage. Eight fire trucks began chasing the flaming wreck down the runway, spraying thick white foam on everything. When the wreck ground to a stop, doors and slides opened, dozens of dazed people tumbled to the ground and were soon coated in thick white goo.

First responders from all over North Texas converged on Love Field, while the FBI’s counter-terrorism task force was convened in Washington D.C. Survivors walked down the runway, some fell to the ground as soon as they cleared the flaming hulk. Off duty police and fire investigators all over the city heard their beepers go off, and families turned on their TVs, trying to figure out what that huge explosion was…

And Ben Acheson looked at his phone, rolled out of bed, showered and kissed Genie on the forehead, then got in his Yukon, drove across town to Love Field. The Duke was already there, walking around the wreckage on the runway, looking tired and very put-out.

“Took you long enough to get here, Meathead,” Dickinson said, glowering.

“Bring any donuts?”

“Couple dozen,” The Duke growled. “Back seat.”

“What happened?”

“Warehouse, over off Cedar Springs, blew up. Well, I mean was blown up. Powerful stuff. Jet was taking off, got hit by debris, force of the blast apparently did most of the damage.”

“So the warehouse was the target?”

“Yup. Firefighters still working it. As soon as they’re done we’ll move in. We’ll have lead, I assume FBI will back us up – unless terrorism is the initial conclusion, anyway.”

Acheson grumbled.

“How’s Genie? Still liking school?”

“It’s tough. Tougher than expected.”

“Miss the Bureau yet?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Good. World needs more doctors, not a bunch of cops.”

“World needs both, Duke. Nothin’s ever gonna change that equation.”

Dickinson grumbled, then his hand unit crackled. “700, are you still on scene at Love?”

“700, 10/4.”

“700, Fire Department would like someone from CID on scene at this time.”

“700, 741 code five.”

“Code five at 2310.”

“It’s gonna be a long night, Ben.”

“Glad you got two dozen. Nexium ain’t working anymore.”

They drove over to Cedar Springs, then down Manor Way to the burning building and got out, walked over to the Fire Department’s Mobile Command Unit; the Chief was waiting for them: “You come from Love?” the fireman asked.

“Yessir.” Dickinson knew it was rare for the FD’s chief to be out on a call like this – unless something way out of the ordinary was suspected. “What’ve you found so far?”

“HE residue everywhere, on everything. On the remaining structure, all over the debris field.”


“Maybe. Maybe something more exotic.”

“FBI here yet?”

“Nope. Thought I’d let you handle that. And, well, we’ve no way of telling if there’s any unexploded ordnance in there.”

“That’s nice. Who do you think – FBI, or Army?”

The chief shrugged. “FBI ought to be able to handle it; Army might be better equipped.”

“Okay,” Dickinson said as he turned to Acheson – but the kid was across the street, walking towards a dumpster, so he took out his hand unit and called dispatch: “700, notify SAC/Dallas he’s needed at this location, advise him we’ll need an EOD team here code three, and FD thinks Army may by better equipped for this one. Have Traffic shut-down on Cedar Springs from Mockingbird to Inwood, and we need to evacuate apartment buildings in the area.”

“700, 10/4 at 2335. Did you want us to notify 100?”

“Ah, 700, this is 100,” the Chief of Police said, “code five your twenty.”

“100, code five at 2336.”

“700 received.”


Dickinson looked at Acheson, who was looking around the area across the street.

“Oh, no,” Acheson whispered. “Not again.”

But The Duke could tell the boy had seen something as he walked up to the trash dumpster in a parking lot, and now Dickinson could see the envelope taped to the side of the dumpster. He watched Ben pull it free, open it up, then look up and around the area again. “Fuck-a-doodle-do,” The Duke whistled, waiting for Acheson to walk back, but he knew in his gut already.

They were back and it was happening again – and tonight was just the opening salvo. “Oh Carol,” Dickinson sighed, “what have you done to us now – what have you gotten me into?”

He turned, walked over to the charred, smoldering building, and looked down into the crater at shattered basement. Many bodies were recognizable in the rubble, though they too were charred, while other’s had simply been blown apart, then the nature of the facility came into sharp relief. Racks, benches, a viewing area, all of it, he’d seen all of it before, and more than once over the years.

He felt Ben walk up, felt him staring down into the pits of Hell.

“It’s them,” he said at last.

“I know,” The Duke sighed. He turned, looked at the package in Acheson’s hand. “Well?”

“A couple of discs, list of names, of the people down there. A brief synopsis of why they took ‘em out.”

“The names. Give me that list.” Acheson handed it over and Dickinson read down the list, then whistled again. “Fuck-a-doddle-do…”

“Yup. Three judges, and look at the last name, on the second page.”

“Oh, no.”

“He was officially running, so we’ll have to notify the Secret Service. Oh, and there’s this,” Ben said, handing the Post-it note to Dickinson.

“Where was this?”

“Windshield of your car, under the wiper.”

“Figures.” He read the note, whistled again. “Copies already sent to the Morning News, and to CNN. Well, that’s another big fly in the ointment.”

“No way to make the names on that list go away.”

“You know, Ben. They’re always one step ahead of us. Here, out west too.”

“We’re penetrated, at every level.”

“I know. Carol. She told me she was done with them.”

“Go on the assumption she isn’t. I would, anyway.”

“Do you think that’s why she expressed interest? In me, I mean?”

“Possible, but doubtful. I know her pretty well, and if she did something like that it would be way out of character. Still, I don’t know what motivated her to join that organization in the first place.”

“Neither do I…”

“Captain?” one of the Fire Departments unit commanders said, jogging over. “Could y’all take a look at something?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Over here, sir.” He led them to the edge, pointed with his flashlight at a large, 1500 pound gas cylinder. “Any idea what that is on top of that tank?”

Dickinson looked at the tank for a moment, then turned to everyone within earshot – “Everyone out of here, NOW!” – then he turned to Acheson, grabbed him by the arm and began pulling him away from the edge. “Detonator – countdown timer…”

They were almost to their cars when the device triggered, and the concussive wave knocked them both off their feet – hurled them through the air – and both landed about fifteen feet away, in the street. Their clothes scorched, the skin on the backs of their heads burned badly, they turned in time to see a wall of flame flaring up from the original crater…

“Well, there goes all the evidence,” The Duke said, picking himself off the asphalt. “Looks like they gave us just enough of a glimpse to substantiate their allegations.”

“Like you said, sir. Always one step ahead.”

The Duke was feeling the back of his head, not liking what he felt, then out of the blue he turned and looked at the raging ruins. “When your basic assumptions prove wrong, it’s time to challenge all your assumptions.”


“It’s time to go on the offensive, Ben.”

Chapter 18

“So, what do we know so far?” Special Agent in Charge Red Gibbons asked.

“First on my list,” Dickinson began, “the airplane appears to be collateral damage, not an intended target.”

“You mean – they actually fucked up?” Gibbons said, chuckling dryly. “That’s a first.”

“Yup. Maybe. Next up, the building was targeted because that’s where this group was meeting up. Records show an entity called Argosy Partners have been renting the space for a few years. They were, before they rented this one, meeting out near White Rock Lake, in a private home.”

“Who’s home?” Gibbons asked.

“Thornton’s,” Acheson said. He’d dug up that information earlier this morning.

“This is a fucking nightmare,” Gibbons said. “We’ve got a US Senator, three local congressmen, two local and one federal judge down in that crater…and one presidential candidate.”

“Not to mention a half dozen local big-shots,” Dickinson added. “That TV shrink and her co-host, the CEO of SimCON, and well, we’ve yet to ID a bunch of bodies that aren’t even on the list.”

Gibbons shook his head. “I heard they found a head…with a drill-bit stuck in the side of his skull. That true?”

“Yessir,” Deke Slayton said. “The bit is drilled in, wasn’t blow-in during the explosion.”

“Fuck, those were some strange-rangers,” Gibbons sighed.

“I doubt this was entertainment, sir,” Acheson replied.

“Go on,” the SAC said, “let’s have it. The unvarnished version.”

“Probably retribution. Someone crossed them, so they took him out. Publicly, I’d say.”

“Retribution, huh?” Gibbons said, then he started writing on a notepad. “Okay, what else?”

“The charges, sir,” Acheson said. “One of the firemen ID’ed the detonators we saw as a so-called ‘shaped charge’ – and in case…”

“I know what they are, Ben. So, some sophisticated firepower, not available on the street, not easily cobbled together in a basement.”

“Stolen, would be my guess,” Dickinson interjected. “From a weapons lab, or a nuclear storage facility.”

“Oh, well, let’s kick it up a notch. Weapons from a nuclear facility, and all of sudden these chicks go to the top of the FBI’s most wanted.”

“It’s not going to be that easy,”Acheson sighed.

“Why not?”

“Well, first, look around this room. Not one woman in here. Next, we’re having the room swept for bugs, and have been – for months. For all intents and purposes this has become a ‘woman free zone’ – and simply because we have no idea who’s on the inside, who might be working for them.”

“So? What does that tell you?”

“Well, for one thing, this could easily ramp up into some sort of civil war. Look how rapidly their movement, hell, their ideology, has spread. What we first thought was a series of copy-cat crimes turned out to be well-coordinated by a national organization. They’re taking out scumbags all over the country, but what happens if this is a first move on more political targets?”

“You think,” Dickinson said, “that last night was a political act?”

“I don’t think we have enough information on hand,” Acheson said, “to make that call. Not yet, anyway. It’s certainly a possibility, though.”

“You know,” Gibbons said, his voice uncertain now, “there’ve been several BDSM groups, mainly on the west coast, that have merged their activities with political action groups, mainly by bringing prominent business and political leaders into their operations. We’ve been working in Seattle, trying to get one such group under control, for a while. We lost a couple of agents, and Seattle PD lost a few two, including an AC.”

“That was one of the last cases Genie was working on before she accepted the slot at Southwestern.”

“I know,” Gibbons said, looking away. “I wish she was still with us. I have a feeling we could use her insight.”

“You know,” The Duke said, “I remember reading about that Seattle thing. Seems to me the ‘ninjas’ were part of some BDSM group’s hierarchy.”

Gibbons looked around the room. “Okay, what I’m going to tell you has got to stay in this room, but that mess is a lot more complicated than we’ve previously let on.”

“Oh?” Dickinson said.

“It wasn’t just law enforcement that was compromised. Legislators, judges, prosecutors…even people in broadcasting and newspapers…all either compromised or actively taking part in the group’s organization.”

“You’re saying that this group had infiltrated almost all levels of government, and had, in effect, neutralized people in media?”

Gibbons nodded his head. “Yup. Reporters to owners, papers and television stations.”

“So,” Acheson sighed, “why do I get the feeling you haven’t gotten to the bad part yet?”

“Because I haven’t gotten to the bad part yet.”

“Swell,” The Duke said, reaching for a donut.

“Could I have one of those?” Gibbons said, eyeing the dwindling supply.

“Help yourself, Red. Ben, you haven’t eaten this morning, so for God’s sake, eat a donut – before you bleed out.”

“Yessir. So. What’s the bad part?”

“We’re picking up chatter inside FBI headquarters now; we may be infiltrated. Furthermore, it appears that a few members of congress may be compromised, and a few White House staffers, as well.”

“You’re saying,” The Duke said quietly, “that the federal government may have been compromised in some way by this group? The group in Seattle?”

Acheson jumped in before the SAC could respond: “But what if there’s no operational difference between the Seattle group and the one operating here? What if it’s just one organization?”

“Why go after a BDSM group, if that’s the case,” Gibbons asked.

“I don’t know. Competing objectives? Or maybe this group didn’t have anything to do with the Seattle group. Friends in need, that kind of thing.”

“That’s interesting, Ben,” The Duke said. “About competing objectives, I mean, and that makes a certain kind of sense. Once an organization gets big enough, especially one with political objectives, that group will begin to fracture internally as sub-groups form, as competing interests vie for supremacy. What if this group, the one taken out last night, wasn’t simply a group of perverts – and I say that advisedly. Recall, if you will, that they went after pedophiles last time, and that drug runner too. And here we go, operating under the assumption that taking out sexual deviants is still the primary objective.”

“But, what if it’s not?” Ben asked.

“Exactly,” The Duke sighed.

“Going after a bunch of politicians and judges is a helluva way to make your point,” Gibbons said.

“Not if this was an intramural skirmish of some sort,” The Duke said softly, “or not if this is an internal power struggle. This could be a message, to us, and to any other internal factions watching.”

“Wait a minute,” Acheson said, suddenly agitated. “This group in Seattle? You said it’s a BDSM group, but was it an all female group?”

“No,” Gibbons said, the point suddenly hitting home, “it’s not – or wasn’t.”

“So, two possibilities,” Ben said quietly. “The first; this has always been one group, and now it’s splintering due to internal dissent. Or the other possibility: there are multiple groups, but they came together through a marriage of convenience, and now there’s a power struggle underway.”

“That might explain,” Dickinson said, “the targeting last night. Assuming members of this group, or faction, had come into conflict with the, uh, well, the parent organization.”

“I, uh,” Gibbons said, coughing on a bit of donut, “well, can we just call them – the Ninjas – for now?”

The Duke shrugged. “They’re not ninjas, Red. They’re radicals subverting the system to achieve an agenda, in effect radicalizing a distinct segment of the population to undermine the rule of law, preying on those gullible enough to think there’s no other way to effect change.”

“Okay, predators,” Red said. “Let’s just call ‘em Predators.”

“No, I don’t think so,” The Duke said, shaking his head.

“Why not?”

Ben sighed: “Because we’re objectifying their actions, projecting motives we may not fully understand, and until we do calling them anything is premature.”

“All their handwritten notes to us have been signed ‘– C’, haven’t they?” Gibbons said. “Who do you think that is?”

“My guess,” Ben said quickly, “is Committee?”

“Okay,” Red said, “so we call them The Committee.”

Ben barely looked at Dickinson, tried not to feel guilty for such a brazen lie, but he’d spoken to protect her, to protect The Duke – and his relationship with her. “So, what’s the next step?”

“What about your vector theory,” Gibbons asked. “Does the location of this latest attack fit along the axis of the earlier string of murders?”

“It’s close to Love Field,” Ben said, “where we found the victim in the parking garage, but even this close it’s several hundred yards off the other established vector.”

“They’re not going to try that again,” The Duke said. “We were getting close a couple of times, probably too close for comfort…”

“And you’re assuming they want to play games with us,” Ben added. “Last night was different. Last night was a statement. When that list hits the Morning News and CNN, the lid is going to be blown right into orbit, and there’s not going to be any way to deny the group’s existence after that. Within a week, the talking heads will be putting two and two together, talking about nothing else. And if there’s a second incident? Or if this ‘Committee’ releases a manifesto of some sort? Hell, it’s going to hit the fan big-time, and open warfare won’t be far off.”

“Ben, turn up the TV, there’s something on CNN right now…”

All eyes turned to the huge flat-screen, to a hotel on fire, apparently burning furiously, out of control – yet one wing of the building was simply gone, like it had been blown away…

“Yes, Wolf, officials here at the scene believe this was caused by an explosion of some sort, a large explosion, but they’re not speculating at all about the cause…”

The helicopter circling overhead pulled back, and the motel’s tall highway sign came into view: ‘Manor House Lodge’ it read, and Ben felt a chill run down his spine.

“Manor House?” he sighed. “Manor House? – OF COURSE!”

“Ben? What the devil…?”

“Manor House!” he said, this time loudly. “And last night, the explosion was on Manor Way. If these are linked, well then, this isn’t a coincidence…”

The intercom crackled, and a voice from dispatch entered the room: “Anyone down there?”

“Dickinson here,” he replied.

“Patrolman out on a call advises he’s got a signal one, wants CID and a CSU code two.”

“Okay, where is it,” Dickinson said, nodding to Acheson it would be his call.

“Hotel out on Central. The Manor House, off Royal Lane.”

Everyone’s eyes went to Acheson – who only seemed to smile.


They drove out Central in a tight convoy: CID, the FBI, multiple Crime Scene Unit vans, but The Duke rode with Acheson, let him drive while he thought. “Why a murder there? Why this morning?”

Acheson shook his head. “Not even an hour after the explosion in Maryland? It doesn’t make sense, unless…”

“Unless what?”

“It’s to draw us in.”

“What? Why?”

“Shit!” Ben said as he picked up the radio’s mic. “741, notify units on Central to begin an immediate evacuation of buildings around their location, get EOD units to the area, notify fire and rescue to respond…”

“You don’t think…?”

“If last night was an announcement, a change in strategy, not just tactics…”

They were two miles away just then, when they felt more then heard a deep ‘woomp’ rolling through the air.

“Oh-sweet-Jesus,” Dickinson said when he saw the explosion further out Central, just as their Tahoe passed under Northwest Highway. “700,” he said into the mic, “large explosion, vicinity Central and Royal.”

They heard dispatch calling the patrol units already on scene – and none responded. More calls, more silence, then an avalanche of units responding to the scene checked in.

Dickinson pulled out his cell, called the chief’s office: “Chief, you got this stuff on the radio?”

“No, I’ve been in a meeting.”

“Large explosion, officers already on the scene not responding. Looks similar to the thing in Maryland.”

“What thing in Maryland?”

“Turn on CNN, get caught up. We’ll get a command post set up somewhere on Royal, and you’d better think about getting out here, getting a statement ready for the press.”

“What do you think’s going on?”

“The ninjas are back. Nationwide, would be my guess. And they just declared war.”


News helicopters were still circling overhead three hours later, and while both Acheson and Dickinson had been up for over thirty hours they could see no end in sight. Ten officers down, six dead, four in the burn unit at Parkland, and more than sixty bodies found in the hotel – and in three nearby buildings that collapsed in the primary blast. One person tried to flee the scene and her car had been wired; as soon as she hit the ignition she – and everything within a hundred meter radius – was vaporized.

Reports came in that attacks similar to this one, as well as the one in Maryland, had been discovered, and possibly thwarted, but by late morning three more occurred – one in Atlanta, the next in Phoenix, and the third in Tacoma – and each blast occurred in a facility that had the word ‘manor’ in either the place-name or the address.

There was now, literally, nothing else on the news – on any channel – and as letters taking credit for the attacks began showing up at major broadcasters and newspapers, the group’s objectives were being splattered over the airwaves – and the ‘net – at an alarming pace.

Acheson and Dickinson walked the rubble after firefighters secured the scene, and it didn’t take them long. A large bedroom, far from the lobby on the second floor, hadn’t been completely destroyed by either the blast or the subsequent fires, and they found the shattered remains of a young boy, dead, tied to the four corners of the bed. He had been tortured, sexually, and apparently for an extended period of time, according to the initial forensic examination conducted on scene. The boy’s rectum had been savaged, and more than a pint of semen remained in his lower colon. ID, driver’s licenses and credit cards, had established that the pastor of a local, politically very active Baptist church was one of the pedophiles, and the other was Clive Thornton, brother of one of the judges found in the aftermath of the first blast on Manor Way.

And before CID or the FBI could confirm these identities, let alone finish their reports, news outlets on the national level were broadcasting not only who was at the Manor House Lodge in Dallas, but what they had been doing to deserve retribution – complete with audio – and video – of their actions.

By nightfall, people around the country had begun to doubt the integrity of their leaders as never before, and a great, shuddering sigh of anxiety could be felt all across the land.


“How bad is it?” a dour Genie Delaney said when she saw Ben walk in the door.

Acheson just shook his head, looked at her books stacked on the dining room table, noted the silent kitchen and groaned his way to the shower. He looked at his watch before he took it off and almost stumbled into the shower, trying to do the math in his head. Fifteen hours until he had to be out at DFW, fifteen hours until the next flight to Paris – then two days away from this Hell. Two days of – room service, two days of endless sleep.

Then what? Two days off. Then two days downtown, two more days of this never-ending Hell. Genie, ass-deep in her studies, too wrung-out to do even the simplest household chores, nail-biting anxiety as exam after exam rolled over her like waves breaking in a hurricane – and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do for her but try to help maintain some semblance of order around the house.

At least she wasn’t a slob, he thought as the hot water pounded the back of his neck. He put his arms out, leaned forward and let the water hit his lower back, then he felt a little blast of cool air. She was beside him then, then in front of him, on her knees. He felt her mouth engulf his need, felt her arms encircling his thighs and he moved into the zone, relaxing completely. How many days had it been, he wondered, but soon that calculus didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, nothing at all, only the smooth, easy rhythm that came so naturally to her.

He stood, moaned, put his hands behind her head and added his motion to hers, but then she picked up her pace. He felt her fingernails on the insides of his thighs, the water running down his legs, the electric flutters building in his gut…

“I’m close,” he said, and she picked up the pace. Swirling tongue, jackhammer rhythm, so much need – “I’m coming…” he managed to say, but still she kept up her driving pace…

He slipped into the clouds and the rain, felt the world dissolve, heard her sharp intake of breath as his cum screamed in release. Her head swirled now, creating a waterfall of new, overwhelming sensation and he felt his knees buckling, felt her swallowing, then bobbing for every last drop.

She came up to him a moment later, rinsed her face in the spray then nestled into his neck, holding him tightly.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

“I couldn’t help it, Spud. You looked like you needed it – almost as much as I did.”

He looked into her eyes, felt himself adrift on the ocean of their love, basking in the light of her…

And he saw a red laser’s beam dancing across the back of the shower – and turned – saw a woman dressed all in black, standing in the doorway from the bedroom.

“What is it,” he heard Genie ask.

“I think we’re having company for dinner.”


“That was sweet,” the woman said. She was middled-aged, possessed peregrine eyes that took everything in, yet she was attractive, Acheson thought. Actually, more than attractive. Pure coiled energy, like a predator, yet still quite feminine.

And they were in the bedroom now, all curtains drawn, and there were five of them standing by the doors and windows – her guards dressed in black, all carrying H&K MP5s. All looked very focused, and more than a little menacing.

The woman looked at him, sighed, put her hands together. “Sorry to interrupt,” she said, handing him a towel, looking at his groin.

“Thanks,” Ben said. “If I’d known I was giving a performance I might have lasted a little longer, gone for a classier exit.” He was staring at the woman, memorizing her features: maybe fifty years old, sandy reddish-blond hair, very fit, hazel eyes and straight teeth. Maybe 5’5”, 120 pounds, and her feet were small, almost tiny. And her eyes: clear, intelligent, cool and calculating. Adversarial – predatory. He kept thinking peregrine, like a falcon’s eyes.

The woman smiled, just a little, then moved towards the door, shut it and locked it. “Sit down,” she commanded.

They sat. “Whatever you say,” he didn’t need to add. “Uh, to what do we owe this little visit?”

“Your conference, this morning.”

“So, you’re listening-in still?”

“You’re still on the right track,” the woman said, smiling broadly now, “and that surprised me.”

“That your group has gone political? All terrorist acts are political – so why should it surprise you that we came to that conclusion?”

“I wasn’t sure. Not after the airliner.”

“Collateral damage?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, sighing. “Unfortunate timing.”

“Well, it certainly got a lot of attention.”

“Not the kind we wanted.”

“What do you want? Why are you here?”

She opened a case, took out a large manilla envelope and handed it to him. “I’d like you to read this tonight, pass it on to your superiors if you deem it interesting.”

“You could have slipped this under the door mat. You haven’t answered my question: why are you here, now? This evening, in my house?”

“I wanted to meet you.”


“And I wanted to tell you that as much as I admire you, and what you do, if you get too close I’ll hurt you. I’ll hurt you by killing her,” she said, pointing to Genie. “She won’t be able to hide, so think about what I’m saying.”

“You can’t expect me to not do my job?”

“I suppose I could simply tell you to quit the reserves, go fly full time, but the truth is, Ben, I admire your tenacity, your sudden flashes of insight. And I want…no, I need a worthy adversary.”

“Well then, logically, you think I’ll get too close, eventually. So, logically, you want me to succeed, and you want to kill Genie.”

“No. No I don’t.” She looked him in the eye, then stepped close, leaned over and kissed him, hard, on the lips. She slipped her tongue between his, reached down and pulled on his cock, then she stood over him, a look of triumph in her eyes. “No, Ben, I don’t want you to get too – close.” Then woman laughed a little, then the group simply walked out of the room and into the gathering night.

“Jesus,” Genie said, letting out a breath too long held, “what the fuck was that all about?”

“I have no clue,” he said, now shaking inside. “I felt like a cobra had coiled around me, uh, my neck when she did that.”

“Well, you must have liked it.”

He could feel it now, his cock standing straight up again. “Oh, no.”

“At least she didn’t give you a blow job,” Delaney said, but she appeared shook up, at least a little, he thought.

But something wasn’t right.

No jealousy, he sighed. No possessiveness.

Why not?


“At least she didn’t give you a blow job,” the woman heard on the video feed. She was watching the live feed from inside an agency van, watching Ben and Genie and the aftermath of their encounter, and she leaned over, turned up the volume.

“You think she wants me?”

“Did you hear what she said, about needing an adversary? Oh, yes, she wants you, Ben, she needs you, big time. That’s what she was saying. Killing me will, in her mind, only make you more available. You’ll be crushed after she kills me, but then she’ll pull you back out of yourself, back out into life among the living – her living. In the beginning, she’ll be your tormentor, then she’ll become your savior. In her mind, she’ll redeem both your sins and hers by claiming, and reclaiming, you.”

She listened to Delaney’s words and wanted to deny the truth she heard, but she too had been a profiler, and, like Delaney, had been with the FBI for years, before she moved to the NSA. She too was capable of extraordinary empathy, prone to sudden flashes of brilliant insight, but usually not where her own feelings were concerned – so as the girl’s words rocked her, she knew they may very well be true. The feeling in her gut when she saw him come out of the shower, the way his nakedness aroused her? She had wanted to fuck him like she had never wanted fuck anyone before, and yet even so she’d felt herself coming undone when he walked by, then felt the need to run from her feelings before they overwhelmed her. There had been more to tell him, instructions to relay, and now she’d have to contact him again.

She wasn’t used to making mistakes of this sort, and the idea bothered her. The very idea of him bothered her. She finished changing clothes as she watched them talk, and by the time the van drove out onto the private jet ramp at Love Field she was ready to play her part again. The dutiful Assistant Director sent by the President to ascertain the political fallout of the attacks in Dallas.

She hated this President, with all his blatant, corrupt hypocrisies – but he had been so useful. Until now, anyway. Now she had to deal with his buffoonery, his slip-ups on Twitter, and she was sure now his usefulness was at an end.



“Yeah, Ben.”

“They just made contact.”


“They did. Their leader, I think.”

“In person?”

“They came inside the house, five of them, all heavily armed. The station is compromised, they’re listening to everything we say. I’d assume they’re listening to us right now.”

“Interesting. Were their faces covered?”

“Not the leader, but we need to talk. Echo all right with you?”

Dickinson seemed to hesitate. “It may be a while.”

“Carol?” Ben asked, sensing trouble in The Duke’s voice.

“Yup. Can it wait ‘til morning?”

“I don’t think so. I’ll be gone, and something big is brewing.”

“Right. Gimme an hour.”

Acheson hung up the phone, turned to Genie. “Something’s not right.”

“With what? Dickinson?”

“Yup. Are you sure that was her?”

“I am. It took me a minute, but I know who she is.”

“And she must know you know.”

“Safe assumption,” Genie said, looking away.

“So you really are in danger.”

She walked over to the window, looked out into the back yard. “I don’t like this weather. It’s unsettled, the clouds are moving too fast.”

He joined her, put his arms around her and held her close. “Everything is moving too fast. Maybe you should come with me. To Paris.”

“That would be nice.”

He felt a tremble pass between them, like insatiable need coming to an untimely end. “Come on. We’d better get some clothes on…”

“You don’t want to go naked?”

“Somehow I don’t think that’ll work out very well.”

“You’re no fun.”

“I know, but you still love me, don’t you?”

She turned, fell into his arms. “‘Til the end of time, Spud. ‘Til the end of time.”


It was called Flippen Park these days, but for ages it had been known as Echo Park, so-called after the little Renaissance-Romanesque gazebo in the center of the park that produced a surreal echo effect. The park surrounding the gazebo, though small, made for a nice place to walk, and to talk while keeping an eye out for someone following, or watching from a distance. Ben and Genie were standing not far from the gazebo when they saw a Highland Park Police patrol car drive by, the officer inside staring at them as she passed, then Dickinson’s car turned on Versailles from Lomo Alto. He pulled to a stop behind Delaney’s personal car and watched the patrol car make a u-turn and drive by again.

The officer stopped her car and got out, hands on her service pistol, and she walked up to Dickinson’s window.

“Good evening,” the officer said. “This is a residential neighborhood, what are you doing here?”

“I’m with Dallas, captain in CID. Badge is in my back left pocket.”

“Slowly,” she said, her hand on the holstered SIG. He took it out and handed it to her, and she flipped it open, looked at the badge and ID, then handed it back to him.

“I’m meeting them,” Dickinson said, pointing to Acheson and Delaney, and he thought he saw her smile.

“Okay,” the officer said, he thought a little too casually. “Y’all be careful out there.”

“Yeah, you too.” He watched the patrol car leave, but it went a block up Versailles and turned off it’s lights, the girl obviously watching them, so he got out and walked across the park to Ben and Genie.

“What was that all about,” Ben asked.

“I hate to say this, but my guess is she’s with them. So, what’s this all about?”

“The woman who came to the house,” Delaney began, “the woman Ben and I assume is this group’s leader, is Anne Rutherford. She was with the FBI, worked as a profiler in DC for fifteen years, but she moved over to NSA a few years ago. Right after I started with the Bureau.”

Dickinson whistled. “Fuck-a-doodle-do.” He looked up at the clouds, and they all turned when lightning lit the sky a few miles away. “You think she knows that you know?”

“Absolutely,” Delaney said.

“So that was part of the message. What was the other part?”

“This,” Ben said, holding out the envelope “and she told me if we get too close they’ll kill Genie.”

The Duke nodded his head, seemed to draw inward on himself. “When Carol got in this evening she seemed different. Unaffectionate, all business. Then she said pretty much the same thing to me: if we get too close she’d kill me.”

“She what?” Ben said, clearly alarmed now.

“I told her she’d better leave, and she just laughed. ‘Not a chance,’ she said. I guess the implication’s are clear enough. We’re penetrated, and I’m compromised. So. What’s in the envelope?”

“A manifesto, of sorts. A declaration of war, I think you could call it, but the gist of it is simple enough. Rights are never given, they’re earned, usually through blood sacrifice. The civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement were all shams, and women have banded together to take what is rightfully theirs. They’ve been gathering intel for years, who their friends are, and who’s the enemy. They’ll be taking out their enemies over the next few weeks.”

“Sweet Jesus,” Dickinson sighed. “I’d hate to be a Republican right about now.”

“I don’t think this is about party affiliation,” Delaney added, a hard, brittle edge in her voice. “I think this is about revenge, and retribution, and that’s going to cross party lines.”

“I think so, too,” Ben added. “There’s more than enough anger out there to turn this into a full-blown civil war, and enough military and law enforcement in their ranks to make them a more than credible force.”

“All those pedophile murders,” Dickinson said, suddenly thinking about last summer, “were just training exercises. Perfecting tactics, working out the kinks in their command and control network.”

“I think they’ve moved beyond that now,” Delaney said. “The problem is how do we…”

“Genie,” The Duke said, “there ain’t no ‘we’ in this deal, not now. You’re in medical school now…”

“And they just put me in the crosshairs, too, Duke,” she shot back. “You think I’m going to wait around until someone decides to shoot me in the back of the head, or cut open my belly again?”

He seemed taken aback by that – for a moment, anyway – then he nodded his head. “I hadn’t thought about it quite like that, but I think your finishing school is a higher priority.” He sighed, turned to Acheson: “Ben, I think you ought to turn in your notice, turn your back on the department, focus on your flying and getting a family started. There’s no telling how bad this is going to get, let alone who’s going to get hurt, or how long this is going to last. This isn’t the time or the place for heroics.”

The lightning was getting close now, the thunder growing louder, more insistent, and Acheson held out his right hand. “Okay, Duke,” he said, slipping a note into his hand. “We’ll be seeing you.” They turned and walked to Genie’s car, and The Duke walked back to his. The girl in the patrol car a block away took out a rarely used cell phone and hit a speed dial number, and reported what she’d seen.

The drone overhead had captured both the audio and video, so while her report was redundant, almost superfluous, Anne Rutherford was glad to have another layer of confirmation. With Acheson out of the way, and with Dickinson compromised, North Texas was no longer a concern.

Only four more cities to go, she told herself, and they’d move on the Federal Reserve, but first, she decided, it was time to neutralize the President. All she needed was a well-placed lie – and gravity would take care of the rest.

Chapter 19

Acheson sat behind the wheel, looked at Genie sitting beside him in the dark, then he flipped on the overhead light, picked up a notepad and began writing. “I need to get packed,” he said as he wrote, “and stop by the pharmacy on the way to the airport.”

“What time’s your flight?”

“I have to be in dispatch by nine. Scheduled departure is 10:20.”

He finished writing and handed her the pad, and she read while he started the car and drove up Versailles, then turned on Lomo Alto. At Mockingbird he turned right, and they drove in silence until he stopped at the light at Hillcrest, then he motored slowly through the SMU campus, checking for a tail, before he pulled into the driveway to his little house. He took the pad from her, tore the page from the pad and wadded it up as they walked inside.

He packed his clothes, took an envelope he kept inside a small, wall mounted safe and put it in his flight bag, then he sat beside her for a long time, rubbing her head.

She shook her head after a few minutes, stood and walked over to one of the bedroom windows. “I feel horrible inside,” she said as she looked at lightning dancing across the sky. “Like nothing makes sense anymore. I just want to go away and hide somewhere.”

“Might not be such a bad idea, if you could still look yourself in the eye, anyway. Not sure I’ll be able to, but I’ve had enough for now. I’m not sure this is a war we can win.”

“Nobody ever wins, Ben. Winning is an illusion, an idea politicians sell to get people ready for the next war.”

“You’re turning into a cynic, aren’t you?”

“We had to read this book for our Medical Ethics class,” she said, handing it to him. “It really shook me up.”

He turned the book over in his hand – 12, 20 & 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam – then he read the blurb on the back cover. “Sounds, uh, interesting.”

“Interesting. Yes. It was that.”


“I wonder…is it ever going to stop? I mean, what’s the point of all this – if we’re not going to learn from our mistakes? If we keep doing the same stupid stuff over and over again?”

He shrugged. “Who knows? What I do know is there’s always going to be somebody out there who wants your stuff, and who’s willing to kill you to get it. Does it really make any difference why?”

“Maybe not. Maybe we’ll always be Neanderthals. Maybe that’s just all there is, no getting past that.”

“You carried the badge, you know the score. Once upon a time I went with the assumption that all people are basically good. I mean, deep down. It took about a year on the street to figure out how stupid that is.”

“Is it? Maybe all people are born good, then maybe life changes us, slowly, little by little, until maybe it sucks the good right out of us. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with the species.”

“I don’t even know how to respond to that. How do you explain a Mother Theresa, a Gandhi?”

“Did you ever read any Piaget? Or Kohlberg?”

He shrugged. “My degree was in engineering, remember?”

“You should read up on Lawrence Kohlberg. The stages of moral development.”

“They making you read that stuff, too?”


“Morality and medicine, huh. Well, there’s an unexpected thought.”

“You’re a philistine!” she said, laughing a little.

He tuned the book over in his hand again. “Mind if I take it with me?”

“No, go ahead. You’ve been warned, though. Might change the way you think. What’d you need at the pharmacy?”

“Some more eyedrops.”

“I’ve got a spare. Want to take mine?”

“You don’t mind?”

“No. You still having trouble?”

“Smog and dry air. Bad combination.”

“Just use the drops, and stop rubbing your eyes. You get nodular episcleritis a few more times and you’ll need to go back to the doc for some real work.”

“Wish I’d taken a nap yesterday.”

“What is it, a seven hour flight?”

“Depends on the jet-stream, but that’s close enough. Usually closer to eight.”

“Where are you staying?”

He shrugged. “Usually out by the airport. Marriott, probably.”

“Makes sense, I guess.”

“You haven’t been yet, have you?”

She shook her head. “No, I haven’t. Can’t imagine why, either.”

“We’ll have more time now. Burning the candle at both ends…isn’t that what you said I was doing?”

“Yup. Maybe we could go – together? Still, I’m not sure…”

“Look, the cop thing is over with now. Time to move on.”

“You think you’ll miss it?”

“Being a cop? Hell yes. Every day.”

“I do, too.”

“You should’ve gone straight to med school, never done the FBI thing.”

“I know. 20-20 hindsight, huh?”

“And I never should have joined the department.”

“Well, the bottom fell out on the airlines, didn’t it. You weren’t the only one laid off.”

“It’ll happen again, you know,” he said. “If this really turns into a full blown civil war, the global economy will tank.”

“I know.”

“Then what?”

“Then we pick up the pieces. I get through school, you go work for the Sanitation Department…You can drive a truck, I take it?”

He chuckled. “I guess I deserve that.” He looked at his watch, shook his head. “I’m going to miss you, maybe a little more than usual this time.”

“You’ll be gone, what, three days?”


She came and they hugged, then he picked up his bags and walked out to his department car, then he drove downtown and parked it in the central lot and hailed a cab for the ride out to the airport.

He got inside the taxi and ignored the man in the back seat by his side while he buckled his seat belt, then he turned and looked at The Duke, who handed him an overstuffed envelope.

“Here’s the contact information, and what little background info I could lay my hands on.”

“Seattle PD?”

“Yeah. Went out on a medical. CID for fifteen or so years. He says their department is completely compromised, the FBI field office out there is too.”

“What’s Carol think?”



“Not much. They’re very compartmentalized, local cells, then regional. The national hierarchy is diffuse. She really doesn’t know the details, and is getting testy when I ask.”

“Think she can infiltrate?”

“Nope. She thinks even making the attempt would expose her. She’s walking a razor’s edge as is, one slip and they’ll know she’s playing both sides against the middle.”

“You wanna get her out?”

Dickinson sighed, then shook his head. “Not yet. I’d like to know what their objectives are locally first.”

Acheson snorted. “I’d say we know that, already. Discredit the political system, expose corrupt officials, then…”

“Yeah, it’s the ‘then’ thing that has me bothered, Ben. What comes next, you know? Yeah, I get the whole ‘discredit’ and ‘expose’ thing, but what’s their end game? And what lengths are these people prepared to go to in order to achieve their goals?”

“Well, they’ve killed over a thousand people in the last two days…”

“Exactly. So, what’s next?”

“Who’s next might be the better question.” Acheson added.

“You ever wonder why so many of people in government have such serious kinks? Why so many kids have been a part of this?”

Acheson shook his head. “I’m no expert, but the whole BDSM thing is about consensual control, isn’t it? With control the operative principle? And the pedophile angle? That’s got to be about exercising power over someone completely, well, powerless hardly describes a kid.”

“What you said, the whole ‘manor’ thing, the medieval feudalism angle? What do you make of that?”

“Well, feudal power rested within an uneasy alliance between lorded aristocrats and the church. That’s beginning to resemble our modern world again, isn’t it? A vested political elite appealing to an evangelical class – which itself wants greater access to power and money – in order to solidify their own hold on power. It’s a symbiotic relationship, Duke. They’re feeding off one another, until one gains momentary supremacy, anyway, then there’s a renewed power struggle after a new hierarchy emerges, until the other can maneuver into a position of supremacy again.”

“Dominance games?”

Acheson laughed at that. “All world history deconstructed into dominance games. With the emerging sexual undertones we’re finding each day, that may not be too far off.”

“Simple way to end that world would be to cut off all the balls. Get rid of testosterone as the fuel driving the motor of civilization.”

“Or…get rid of all men in positions of political power.” Acheson and The Duke looked at one another, then both shook their heads and laughed.

“No way,” they said in unison. “Not gonna happen.”

The Duke looked out the window, at the world passing by, still trying to make sense of the new contours taking shape out there.

“What happens if things get out of hand, Ben? Start to spiral out of control?”

“I told Genie to head out west, to Alpine. My gramps has a place out there. Cattle for the most part, but he’s kind of a survivalist, big on self-sufficiency.”

“Maybe I could tag along with her?”

“Sure. I told her I’d try to get there…if something starts to go down.”

“I have a bad feeling, Ben. Like things could break down fast. Once it does, things will take on a momentum of their own.”

“Oh, you know, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Someone will figure out how to…”

“I’m not so sure, Ben, not this time. This time feel different.”


He had a new First Officer that morning, and she was already at work in the cockpit when he walked in and hung up his jacket. He stood by the closet door and looked at her for a moment, wondering, then turned to stow his flight bag – but she was up, her hand out, waiting for him.

“Sandy Beecham,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve flown together before.”

“Ben Acheson,” he said, taking her hand – while thinking ‘My, that was fast.’ “No, I don’t think we have. Ready to take a walk?”

“Yup,” she said, gathering up her raincoat.

It would be at least another 45 minutes before pre-boarding began, but it was still raining out so he slipped his rain jacket on too. They walked out through the galley to the stairs off the Jetway, then on out into the storm. He looked up at the clouds once he was on the wet concrete, scudding low, whipping across the prairie, they gray-brown grass around the airport driven by a howling north wind, then he walked to the left wing while Beecham took off for the right. He checked tread depths on tires, talked to the ground chief about the turn-around report and what had been finished – and the squawks that remained on the 777s ‘down’ list – then he signed the fuel load-out and finished his walk-around, meeting up with Beecham under the tail.

“Look good?” he asked.

She nodded her head. “Hardly anyone onboard today,” she added. “Five in First, three in Business, and fifteen in coach.”

He shook his head again, wondered how long the airline could keep this up. So much uncertainty, and coming on so quickly, had undermined international commerce, and once again consumer confidence had fallen through the floor. With fuel prices spiking, this 777 needed almost 70 percent of her seats filled just to break even, and today’s load was nowhere near that. He was a captain now, but he was low on the seniority list and that familiar worrying sensation came back again. He’d be among the first let go this time…

“You ready to head up?” she asked, but she was watching him closely now.

“Hmm. Oh, yes, let’s go.”

“You alright?”

“I was just thinking, about the last time. In 2008, with the crash. How fast the lay-offs came…”

“Me too,” she said. “I was at Northwest, had just started in A320s, then the boom fell.”

“Too much uncertainty out there right now. Things feel spooked.”

They started walking back to the Jetway, both lost in thought, and they slipped into the cockpit and took their seats quietly. But the routine was the same, and they fell back into the familiar: they pulled out checklists and began waking the bird up, getting ready like today was just another day.

But of course it wasn’t. Pilots in the dispatch office had been wary, on edge, and even the weather was unsettled. Like the earth had decided it had had enough, and even it too wanted change. Big change.

“Someone told me you work with the Police Department, here in Dallas.”

“I did,” he lied. “I quit recently. Too much on my plate.”

She nodded her head. “Got to be confusing. You look tired. Get much sleep last night?”

“You know, I had trouble falling asleep. All this stuff on the news I guess,” but he found himself thinking of Genie – and that book about the doctor in Vietnam. He wanted to go someplace quiet, find a fat chair seat by a fireplace and read for a while, but he shook himself back into the present…

“You married,” she asked.

He turned and looked at her, pointed at the ceiling – the universal sign that the cockpit voice recorder was on – and he began calling out the pre-start checklist. He was all business now, and a few minutes later the Trip-7 was pushing back from the gate.

“American 48 heavy, clear to taxi,” the tower said, “on K to 1-7 Right, DALLAS FOUR departure approved. Winds out of the south now, 1-6-6 degrees at four knots, ceiling 2500, visibility five miles, altimeter two niner niner one.”

He watched as the push-back cart disengaged and pulled away, then reached up and turned on the wipers as Beecham began starting two. The ground chief standing in the rain below got on the intercom: “Okay, double checks on baggage doors complete, all show red-locked. You’re ready to go, Captain.”

“Thanks, Chief,” Acheson said, and when the man was clear he advanced the throttles and cleared the brakes, then began the short taxi out to the runway.

“Pre-takeoff checklist complete,” Beecham said as he slowed at the EK intersection, then a powerful gust shook the aircraft. “That’s out of the north,” he said, then he called the tower. “Uh, 48 Heavy, can you re-advise wind speed and direction, please.”

“Uh, 48 Heavy, winds now out of the north at 2-5 knots. Standby one.”

“48, standing by.”

“Uh, 48 Heavy, take off runway 3-5 Left, BLECO SEVEN departure now active, winds now 0-1-0 degrees at 2-7 knots, altimeter two niner niner four.”

“3-5 Left and BLECO SEVEN, 48 Heavy.”

“Look at those clouds,” Beecham said, and he looked left, to the north. The clouds were almost black, and he thought he could see a wall cloud off to the left.

“Uh, 4-8 Heavy, you got anything on doppler to the north northwest?”

“4-8, heavy precip, no hooks.”

“I think I see a wall cloud from up here. Might keep an eye out.”

“Uh, tower, Delta 224, we just went through and it’s a screamer, picked up some hail and a lot of chop.”

Acheson listened as the tower advised all aircraft in the pattern of the storm, and they taxied south for the new runway; he re-entered the new departure information on his FMC, or flight management computer, and he watched as his display changed, as new waypoints and steering commands appeared on his display. An American Eagle RJ ahead pulled onto the runway and roared by, then he stopped at the holding area and double checked power settings and climb angles entered in the computer.

“4-8 Heavy, taxi to position and hold.”

“Heavy.” He released the brakes, turned onto the runway and lined up on the centerline, applied the brakes and waited. He peered into the sky a little off to the left. “I don’t like this,” he sighed.


“That cloud.” He keyed the mic again: “4-8 Heavy, any update on this storm?”

“Still heavy rain, no hooks. Uh, Heavy, you are clear for take off.”

“4-8 rolling,” he said as he advanced the throttles. He scanned the engines then began looking at the storm…

“80 knots,” Beecham called out, then “V-one…and…rotate…”

He pulled back on the stick…

“Tower to all aircraft…tornado on the ground one mile north of 3-6 Right, repeat, tornado on the ground. The pattern is closed, the airport is closed!”

He looked to the left and saw the rope twisting in the sky and turned right. “Go to full take off power. Positive rate…”

“Gear coming up. Where is it?”

“Right fucking there,” he said – as the skies opened up. They flew into an impossibly thick hail storm, then the right wing dipped, and dipped some more. He didn’t fight it, turned right with the gust. “Uh, tower, 4-8, heavy hail, we’re turning right to 0-2-0 degrees.”

“0-2-0 approved, contact departure on 1-2-5-decimal-1-2, and good day.”

“48, bye.” He switched frequencies. “American 4-8 Heavy, out of 3-5 Left for BLECO, we’re deviating around this funnel cloud, on 0-2-0 right now. What’s it look like out there?”

“4-8 Heavy, resume 0-0-4 degrees as soon as possible, direct to YUNGG at 7000 approved. Storm is now at your eight o’clock, four miles. Do you have any damage?”

“Nothing showing right now.”

“Okay, 4-8, only traffic now a Delta MD80 at your ten, eight miles, he’ll be turning ahead of you, about two thousand over.”

“4-8, got it. Where are the tops right now?”

“Solid to flight level 2-4-0.”

“4-8, okay.” He shook his head, scanned the engines again – looking for any sign hail ingestion had damaged a fan blade, but everything looks good. “Let’s clean the wing,” he said as he turned to the originally programmed course.

“Flaps and slats up.”

“Well, that was fun,” he said.

“You mind if I go change my underwear now?”

He laughed, turned on the intercom: “Uh, ladies and gentlemen, for those of you on the left side of the aircraft, yes, that was a tornado. Sorry, that thing came out of nowhere and we had to make a few abrupt turns, but we’re on time and it looks like we’ll be in Gay Par-ee a little after midnight local time. No more bad weather on the radar, so as soon as we reach our cruising altitude the crew will be around to serve lunch. We’ll keep the seatbelt signs lit until we’re out of this cloud, so sit tight and enjoy the ride.” He flipped off the intercom, but the chief flight attendant called as soon as he did.

“Uh, Captain, it’s like floor to ceiling barf back here. Carpets, walls, you name it.”

“Was it that bad?”

“You have no idea. Half the overhead bins popped, one woman didn’t have her seatbelt latched properly.”

“Is she hurt?”

“Don’t think so, maybe a few bruises.”

“Okay. Keep me posted.” He looked at the FMC and watched it make the turn at YUNGG.

“4-8 Heavy, clear to flight level 2-7-0, contact Oklahoma Center 1-2-4-decimal-1 and good day.”

“4-8, bye.” He turned to Beecham as he changed COMMs. “Go back and take a look around. See if this bird needs a look see in Tulsa. Check on the folks, wave the flag.”

“Right.” She got up to leave and he put his mask on, and after she left he sealed the door again. Such a visit was now very unusual, but he felt it warranted under the circumstances. She chimed a few minutes later, and he picked up the intercom.

“Nothing bad,” she said, “but I think the ground crew at CDG ought to be warned. Maybe a few seats need to changed out, that kind of thing.”

“The injured woman?”

“There’s a doc onboard. He says it’s no biggie.”

“Okay. Codeword?”


“Opening now.” He unsealed the door and Beecham came in, double locked the door then sat down. She handed him a sandwich and a Coke, then buckled up.

“What is it today?”

“They had pink sludge, and green. This is the pink.”

“Okay. But what is it?”

“Supposed to be roast beef on rye.”

“It’s oozing. I’ve never seen roast beef ooze before.”

She unwrapped her’s and took a tentative sniff.

“Goddamn, I can smell it from here,” he said, and she tossed them in the trash.

“I brought a couple of granola bars,” she added.

“I think I’ll wait. There might be some good food left in Paris.”

“Not a three in the morning.”

“Good point,” he said as he took the offered granola bar from her. ‘Well,’ he thought, ‘is she one of them? Is she going to try to kill me right here? Now? Can I not trust any woman, ever again?’ He sighed, tore open the mylar wrapper and started in on the bar. ‘Can’t live that way. Not sure I’d want to live that way…’ then, for some reason, he thought of a play he’d had to read back in high school. A Greek comedy? About women, and the Peloponnesian War? Women who joined together, stopped having sex so men would stop making war? What the hell was the name of that?

“Lysistrata!” he shouted.


“Oh, I was just thinking,” he said, but he saw the look she gave him just then. A little sidelong glance, a look full of suspicion. Then he settled in for the flight, centered his thinking and time passed.

“Do you think they’re serving real food in First today?” he said a while later.

“You hungry?”

“I am. Skipped breakfast, can’t even remember what we did for dinner.”

“So, you’re not married?” she said, ignoring his earlier warning about the CVR.

He sighed. “Not technically, but I might as well be. Genie. She’s in med school at Southwestern.”

Beecham laughed. “That’s too much.”


“My husband was in med school; he started his internship and filed for divorce the same day. I paid the bills while he was having an affair – with a goddamn nurse, too!”

“Sorry. What do you think happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, it’s just the cop in me, I guess, but marriages rarely fail due to just one person’s issues. It’s more like a group effort.”

She leaned back, sighed…

“4-8 Heavy, Toronto Center, clear to flight level 4-1-0.”

“4-8 to 4-1,” he said as he leaned forward and entered the change on the AP panel, then initiated the climb.

“I never looked at it that way,” she added.

“You know, you’ll burn up inside if you can’t put yourself in the other fellas shoes every now and then.”

“I know.”

And he chuckled.

“What’s that for?”

“Oh, every time I hear someone say ‘I know’ I think that’s the last thing on their mind. ‘I know’ is a deflection, a statement used to turn away from an uncomfortable truth.”

“You study psychology, too?”


“Okay. Now I’m confused.”


“I thought engineers were anal retentive types, all numbers and slide-rules and shit like that.”

“Did you say slide-rules? How old are you?”


“Air Force?”


“Oh, that explains it.”


“Oh, Navy pukes still use slide-rules and have wind-up rubber bands in their engines.”

She laughed. “Don’t tell me. Air Farce.”

“Up in the air, Junior Bird Man,” he sang. “So. What was your contribution?”

Beecham looked out the windshield for a while, then she turned to him. “Mind if I turn off the CVR for a few minutes?”

“Oh. I don’t know,” he said as he nodded.

She reached to the back panel of the overhead panel and flipped the breaker, then shook her head. “He wanted sex, like all the time. I mean, like whenever we were together, but after a while it became mechanical, no love at all. He wouldn’t kiss me, or even say anything to me during. He just wanted to get his rocks off, and I began to feel like I was his plaything, his personal vagina, just someplace to shoot his load.” She looked away, and he saw she was upset.

“That sounds lonely,” he said.

“Yeah, it was.”

“So, you were upset when the divorce came?”

“Yeah,” she said, but she was crying a little now.

Time to get back on the clock, he said to himself. “We’ll finish this up later,” he said. “Turn on the recorder.”


The sun was setting now, and he saw stars popping out ahead, and an endless layer of low cloud stretched ahead.

“I never get tired of the view up here,” she sighed.

“Me too. It’s magic.”

“You know where we’re staying?”

“The Marriott.”

“At the airport?”

“Yup.” He noticed she hadn’t turned on the recorder yet, and he looked at her, wondered what was going on in her head. “The recorder?” he reminded her.

“Oh, right.” But still she didn’t move. “Is everything okay between you and – Genie?”


“I haven’t been with anyone in a while.”

“A while?”

“Three years, and change.”


“I don’t suppose you’d care to help me out with that, would you?”

He looked at her, looked at her looking down at her hands, trembling a little – like a little girl. “You know, if you need a shoulder, or someone to talk to, yeah. I’ll be right there.”

She nodded her head, sighed. “Okay,” she whispered, then she turned around and flipped on the CVR. “Thanks,” she said.

The rest of the flight passed uneventfully, and they landed in Paris a little before two in the morning. Ah hour later they checked into the Marriott; he went up to his room and watched Beecham walk into the room next to his, then after he dumped his bags he called Genie.

“How’d it go?”


“I heard about the tornado. Were you near it?”

“We were in it, real close, as it turned out.”

“In the air?”

“Maybe a few hundred yards. Close, in other words.”

“Oh, Jesus.”

“How was school?”

“Oh, you know. The same. I saw Carol this evening.”

He was instantly on guard now. “Oh, how is she?”

“Uh, she seemed fine.” Which was Genie’s way of saying she had been anything but.

“Hear from The Duke?”

“Yep, he came over a while ago.”


“Right after Carol left.”


“It’s complicated.”


“What time do you get in Friday?”

“Around 3:30.”

“Want me to pick you up?”

“Could you?”


“That’d be great.”

“Okay, see you then.”

“Thanks, Genie. I love you…”

But she had already rung off. He put the phone down and looked at it for a while, then lay down and turned out the lights.


He slept in, woke up around noon and saw his message light flashing on the house phone. He dialed the message line and listened.

“Hey, Captain Sleepy-head. Call my room when you get this?”

He trudged to the head and showered, brushed his teeth, then went back to the desk and called her room.

“You weren’t kidding,” Beecham said.


“That you didn’t sleep the night before. You were a zombie in the crew shuttle; Bruce thought you were going to pass out.”

“I feel like I could use another few hours.”

“I went into the city, bought a few things.”

“Oh? How were the crowds?”

“None. Even the Chinese are gone.”


“I know. Say, you want a back rub?”

“No, I’m good.”

“Could you give me a few minutes. I want to try something on, and I need your opinion.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“Thanks. Give me five minutes, and my door’s unlocked.”

He looked at the adjoining doors, and he went over and moved the little baggage rack out of the way, then put on some khakis and a polo shirt. He looked at himself in the mirror, looked at the redness in his eyes and shook his head, then went and opened the door.

All the lights in her room were off, the curtains drawn.

“I’m in the bathroom,” she said. “Be right out.”

He went in, sat in a chair by the window and sighed, then the bathroom light went out and she walked into the room.

She was dressed in black – black lingerie, stockings and heels, and she walked across the room, right up to him.

“What do you think?” she said. “You like the way this stuff looks?”

“You know, I think I need to go now,” he said, trying to stand. But she stepped closer still and blocked his way, pushed him down into the chair. “Look, I’m serious…”

“So am I, Ben. I need you. Oh, God, how I need to feel you right now. I need to feel you inside of me, need to feel your cum inside of me.”

“I, uh…”

“Please don’t say no, Ben,” she said as she moved closer. “Don’t do this to me, not now.” She pulled his face forward, until the side of his face rested on her panties and garters, and she pushed and gyrated against his skin until she felt his resolve softening. When his hands went around her thighs she smiled inside…

The camera had a hard time focusing in such low light, but the operator adjusted the gain a little, then began recording.

Part IV – The Lioness, and the Tethered Goat

Chapter 20

Off the coast of Oregon

It’s hard to say when we jelled as a crew. The three of us, I mean.

Leaving Puget Sound on a sunny winter morning, heading outside together for only our second time together. Past Victoria, past where we had our little epiphany – with the Beretta and the Great White. Turning south at Tatoosh, running down the coast for days, sailing past the nightmarish Columbia River bar for the easier pass at Coos Bay. Cross the bar, sail under McCullough Bridge into the back bay, tie up at the little marina back near the flats. Pump out the holding tanks, fill up with diesel and spend the night after a quick dinner ashore, then back out into the Pacific.

We kept close enough to the coast to keep cell coverage, and about half way down to San Francisco I watched news reports on my phone, about bombings in Dallas and Maryland while I sat behind the wheel. Persephone was with me when I started swearing.

“Woodie?” she said, clearly alarmed. “What is it?”

I handed her the phone.

“Oh, no.”

“I think it’s started,” I sighed.

You know, there’s something heartbreaking about a cute girl saying ‘Oh, no.’ Like watching a little girl on her first bicycle falling down and scraping her knee, there’s a helplessness inside the moment. Maybe a little inevitability, too, but that’s not the point. I looked at my golden girl, the sudden pout on her lips, in her eyes – and I just wanted to hold her close.

Then the phone chirped and she gave it back. I looked at the screen: “Chief Anders,” I said, “Yo. Chief.”

“Where are you?”

“Coming up on Point Arena, not quite ten miles offshore.”

“You see the stuff about Dallas?”


“This is it, isn’t it?”

“Opening move, my guess, anyway.”

“How far are you from San Francisco?”

“About a hundred and ten miles from the Golden Gate. Call it tomorrow afternoon, late.”

“Fuck. Why couldn’t you buy a goddamn motor boat. I can walk faster than that festering turd.”

“What’s up, Chief.”

“There’s a Coast Guard facility, on the east side of Treasure Island. Call them on 72 when you pass the Gate, then follow their instructions.”

“Chief? You didn’t answer my question.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Roger that.”

“Let me know if you need anything.”

“We’re running low on condoms, Chief. Think you could…”


“Yes, Chief?”

“Fuck you, Woody.”

“Thank you, Chief.”

The line went dead, and Sephie just looked at me, scowling.

“What is it, baby.”

“We’re not low on condoms, Woody? I didn’t even think we were using condoms anymore.”

Ah, that’s my Persephone. Did I mention…well, yes, I’m sure I did. She’s a natural blond, through and through, and I love her more than life itself.


“Sailing Vessel Black Dog calling Coast Guard on 72.”

“Black Dog, Coast Guard, what’s your location?”

“Just coming up on the west span.”

“Roger that.”

And that was, indeed, that.

Then I saw an aluminum CG 44 footer cutting through the bay, headed right for us, and the little ship turned wide and came up on us from the rear. I held a steady course while it came alongside, and I saw a lieutenant come to the rail as they slowed and matched speed.

“You Woodward,” the lieutenant said, his eyes focused like twin lasers on Sephie’s chest.

“I am. And this is Persephone,” I said, as graciously as I could, “And this is Liza.”

“Yes they are,” he stumbled, his eyes still locked on Sephie cleavage. “You need to follow me, sir, and we’ll help you get tied up.”

I had to laugh. He’d never run across two girls more adept at tying things up than these two. If he only knew, right?


Once we were tied up the lieutenant led me to an administrative building, and Anders was inside, laptop on desk reading away intently. Tate stood in a far corner, looking out the window. He looked at me and gave a quick nod, and I did the same.

“Sit down, Woodie,” Anders said absently, yet his eyes never left the screen. I watched him for a few minutes, then he closed the screen and turned to Richard. “Tate? Take a seat.”


“You been keeping up with all this?” Anders asked, looking at me.

“There’s been more?”

He nodded his head. “About ten strikes so far. Another in Dallas, a few on the east coast, a few out here.”


“They’re targeting politicians, compromised politicians and people in…”

“Let me guess. Corrupt judges, lawyers, cops?”

“Among others, yes. The press, broadcast reporters, and some pervs, too.”

“And what’s this got to do with me?”

“When Tottenham took out that girl…”


“Yes, the Kopecki girl. Seems she was head of the local branch of, well, you remember reading that intel report on the stuff going on down in Dallas?”

“Some women, wasn’t it? Targeting pedophiles?”

“Uh, yeah. Well, they were dressed as Ninja.”

And I remembered MJs girls up in the cockpit, dressed in black, like Ninja. “So, MJs girls and Tottenham’s group weren’t together?” I asked quietly, if only to myself.

“Nope. Brennan thinks Kopecki’s Ninja group infiltrated Tottenham’s ‘whips and chains’ crowd, seemed to integrate with them, and I emphasize the word ‘seemed,’ but now the Ninjas are taking them out – and it’s a nationwide effort, with all that implies.”

“So, these two groups are everywhere, and a war between them is breaking out?”

Tate nodded, cleared his throat. “My guess is when Tottenham took out Kopecki he started a war, and while the moves we’ve seen so far are overt, and very public attacks, a bunch of the Kinks have turned up dead, sometimes in their homes, in their cars, but not in an overt manner.” He tossed some photos on the table and I picked them up, flipped through a couple. Slit throats, bullets in the face, the usual.

So our immediate concern is this,” Anders interjected. “These two girls of yours were in deep, up to their eyeballs in that kink group, and those people are disappearing like snowballs in the Sahara right now.”

I nodded my head. “Yessir. I see where this is going.”

“Okay. Second concern. They’re either taking out cops directly, or compromising us. Blackmail, set ups and blackmail. There’s a Captain in CID down in Dallas. Dickinson’s his name, and he led the investigation last summer. He’s compromised, or so he says, but his lead on the case, a kid named Acheson, isn’t. The thing is, he’s a reserve. His day job is with American, flies for a living. He’s on his way to Paris as we speak. And you’re leaving at nine tonight.”


“For Paris. I want you to compare notes, and Tate has a few toys he’d like you to try out. He’ll be with you, but I want you to get this Acheson fella up to speed on things going on out here, the structure we know about…”

“Chief, you can’t expect me to leave the girls here?”

“Safest place for them right now is at sea, next safest place is tied up right here. For now, anyway. Brennan wants to take them and put them in Witness Protection.”


“Except he thinks the Marshall’s are compromised too.”

“Oh, now that’s just fuckin’ great. Tell me, Chief. What have they got on you?”

And I could see it in his eyes, before he turned away. “Yeah, don’t ask, Woody. I’m going to go down in flames, and soon. They got me with a hooker a few months ago.”

“Marie doesn’t know?”


“Why don’t you just tell her. Apologize like hell, get down on your knees and beg for her forgiveness.”

He almost laughed. “What if she’s one of them, Woodie.”

I didn’t know what to say. “You think that’s possible?”

He nodded his head. “They’ll crucify me on TV, and within days I’ll be gone.”

“You know, I think this is going to be impossible to stop. Whatever it is they’re doing, they’ve been planning it for years, quietly moving assets into place, and they’re not constrained by the norms of typical political debate. They’re going to take out their enemies, violently – publicly, then, after compromising the ethics of the standing elite, they’ll just move in to fill the vacuum.”

“Yup. I hear the Romans did it that way a few times, and it worked for them, I guess. Quick, bloody coups work. That’s the lesson.”

“So, we’re Rome now?”

He snorted. “Hell, we’re just people, Woodie. People arrive at similar solutions to similar problems.”

“And we create the same problems, over and over again, don’t we?”

“Maybe so. Whatever, someone else made that call. We either fight them now, or we roll over and play dead.”

“I think I should get on my goddamn boat and get the fuck out of Dodge.”

“I do too. I would if I could.”

“Then why? Why ask me to do this?”

“Maybe there’s a chance you and Tate can figure something out.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. A group with thousands of people spread throughout government, with several years head start, and that’s killing with impunity? What am I supposed to figure out, Chief?”

“Look at it this way, Woodward. We’re in the beginning stages of a civil war. The president and the Joint Chiefs are looking at it this way, too. The next step is to find the snake and cut off it’s head.”

“What if there’s more than one snake?”

“Then they’re going to start killing all the snakes.”


“You heard me. It kind of gives a whole new meaning to Gender Wars, doesn’t it? Round up suspected women, everywhere, and kill them.”

“This is seriously being considered?”

“The pieces are being moved on the board as we speak.” He looked at me, then at Tate.

“And pawns will be sacrificed,” I sighed, “won’t they?”

“Yes, Woodie, pawns will be sacrificed.”


I gave the girls the rundown and they took the news about as expected: Sephie went into full meltdown mode and Liza went aft and helped me pack, then she started packing a bag too. Tate looked at her, then at me – shaking his head.

“What are you doing?”

“We’re coming with you. And don’t even think of arguing with me, either of you.” When she was packed, she went forward and got Persephone. “Where’s your Passport?” she asked, and they went went to my safe and got them just as I felt else someone hop onboard.

“Woodie?” I heard Anders say from the cockpit.

“Yes, Chief?”

“How’s your heart?”

I shrugged.

“Would it be better if these girls went with you?”


“Well, get ‘em packed up, then we’ll make a run for the airport.”

“Yes, Chief.” He threw me a wallet, and I opened it – then looked up at him.

“I know. Kind of funny, but Brennan insisted, and who knows, it may come in handy. Anyway, if anyone asks you’re the AD of their SeaTac field office, tasked with counter-terrorism operations. And you’re authorized to carry this,” he said, handing me a Sig P-220, “everywhere. Even on the goddamn airplane.”

Liza was looking at all this go down, then she came up from behind and put her arms around me. “Come on, sweet-cheeks,” she said. “It’s time to go save the world.”


We flew over on Air France, in one of those A380 double deckers, and the changes were obvious as they were unsettling.

In the airport, very few women seen, not even behind the counters. On the aircraft, the same story: all the flight attendants were male, and only a few passengers were female – and those were Muslim. Not that it mattered; on an airplane designed to haul over 500 people, there were less that fifty on board, and it didn’t matter what class you were in, everyone got the same chow. Factory made sandwiches, all beverages either canned or poured from a sealed bottle. Paranoia run amok, I think, and to me it felt like the initial conclusions had been assimilated by leaders in Washington D.C. and then passed on to world leaders: a cabal of women was behind these attacks, and they were intent on taking over the country, maybe even the world. Was Anders mimicking a greater breathless hysteria, or was something really so formidably drastic taking shape all around us?

The four of us sat together on the upper deck, and there was a television show playing while we boarded, a French production, the dialogue translated as text, streaming along the bottom of the screen. Women all across Europe were not showing up at their jobs, men were reporting that wives and girlfriends had simply stopped having sex with them, then a reporter in Tokyo was onscreen, saying much the same thing. In Brazil? The same. Cape Town? Ditto. From Amsterdam to Zimbabwe, women were disengaging from civic life, and from their personal routines, too. More ominously still, local politicians’ illicit sex lives were making their way online, or on-the-air, and the same pattern first noted in Dallas, then around the United States, began appearing around the world. Weird sex clubs and rampant pedophilia were the norm in these lurid exposés, and some of the politicians caught up in the reports resigned forthwith. Those that didn’t soon turned up in charred wreckage somewhere – a bombed out motel or warehouse frequently the scene.

And I noticed that while Sephie watched the unfolding horror with empathy in her eyes, Liza watched for a moment – then turned away.

And perhaps I hadn’t seen the faint echoes of a smile on her face. Maybe it was all just my imagination.

Then I saw a live report from Paris, something about Christmas shopping, and I saw snow falling in the cameras lights, then looked down at my shorts and boat shoes. Had I even packed one pair on long pants? Hell, I couldn’t even remember if I owned any long pants.

That’s what living on a boat with two sadomasochistic nymphomaniacs will do to you.


Paris is, I suppose, simply Paris – and it always will be, right? Another big city with a phallic monument in the center. A male phallus, of course – at least that was Liza’s version of the city as we drove in from the airport – but she seemed more than a little put out by the whole phallus thing. Like she was anxious, even angry about men and their penises – and how we’d, figuratively speaking, of course, rammed our dicks down the world’s throats since the beginning of time.

“Excuse me,” I said to her sulking reflection in the window, “but is it that time of month?”

Which was, of course, not the right thing to say. At all.

Arms crossed over chest, steam coming out ears, she glowered the rest of the way into the city. Sephie, of course, looked out the window, oohing at the Eiffel Tower while Liza snorted derisively. Yin and Yang, Ego and Super-Ego, two sides of the same coin – falling through time. One was Conscience, the other Lust, and isn’t it a simple truth that we go through life attracted to both – and yet we can never decide which we hold most important?

Someone had booked us into a little hotel on the Ile Saint Louis; we walked up to our room and I showered while the girls unpacked, and as I dressed I heard Liza talking to Sephie.

“You stay here, keep an eye on the room.”

“I want to go with him,” my golden Persephone said. “You’re so mad right now you’ll get him in trouble.”

“I will not.”

“You will to.”

“Uh, girls. I’m sorry, but Daddy doesn’t like to see his baby girls acting like three year olds. Can we get it together? Or does Daddy have to go out by himself?”

Then Liza cut to the heart of the matter, holding up my bottle of Viagra: “Does Daddy want a little blue pill, make little stick big again so he can go boom-boom?”


Why is it that girls are always right?

Maybe because it’s so easy to lead men around by the balls?

So, Sephie stayed in the room while Liza and I walked out of the hotel – and Tate had gone. Vanished. We looked around, got our bearings and walked the few blocks to Notre Dame, and we sat on a bench at the south end of the little park by the river, and we waited.

He was lanky, that’s what I remember most about Ben Acheson. Tall, and lanky, and he had a kind of Jimmie Stewart air about him that day. Kind of an “Aw, gee shucks, Ma’am…” thing going. Like he’d screwed the pooch big time, and didn’t mind if we knew it.

He ambled up and sat on the bench beside ours, then he sighed.



“Who’s she?”

“The person I most trust with your life.”


“So, why are we here?” I asked – and I noticed Liza scanning the sky overhead.

“To share notes, I think.”

“Drone,” Liza whispered. “Overhead. We’re blown.”

At least the kid had the good sense not to look up. “Okay,” he said, “what’s next?”

“Why don’t you tell me what you know?”

So he did. Everything that had happened in Dallas, all the Ninja stuff from the summer before, the attacks this week, then the stuff about Rutherford in his house – which as far as I could tell no one else knew about.

“So, she’s an AD at the NSA?”

“Yes. Kind of clever, don’t you think? Get yourself on the inside of the surveillance state, the head of the snake…”

“That’s what Anders, my chief, said. ‘We’ve got to cut off the head of the snake.’”

“So, how’d all this get started out there?”

So I told him my story, including Persephone and Liza’s part in the drama, and of the Tottenham twins demise.

“I take it,” he sighed, “you know your department is compromised, from top to bottom. The FBI, too?”

I nodded. “From the first, when Chief Tottenham was killed.”

“So his brother killed this Mary Jo, and that precipitated the split?”

And for the first time, Liza spoke-up about that night. She cleared her throat, then looked at me.

“Not quite. MJ was protecting Woodie,” she said to Acheson, then she turned to me. “She was from the beginning. Tottenham and his clique wanted you out of the picture, she intervened, kept you from being killed – at least three times that I know of.”


Then she turned to Acheson again. “What’s eating you?” she asked. “You look like you’ve swallowed a squirrel.”

“I think they got me this morning?”

Liza just looked at the kid, then I could see it all over his face too.

“What did they get you with,” I asked. “A woman?”

He nodded his head, told us about the encounter.

“You married?” I asked.

“Not yet. I guess that means no, as in it ain’t gonna happen now.”

“Man,” Liza said, shaking her head, “I am so glad I wasn’t born with a dick. Don’t you guys ever stop thinking with that fucker?”

“Alright, knock it off,” I scolded. “So, your girl either gets over it or she doesn’t. They think they’ve got you over their barrel now, that they own you, and maybe we can use that to our advantage…” But I could tell the kid was turning something over in his mind, like he was working a math problem in his head. “What is it, Ben?”

“Rutherford,” he whispered. “She kissed me, seemed vested in me somehow.”

“She wants you,” Liza said. “All these Alphas, these leaders, have to take a mate, but they have to take them from another woman, then kill the other woman too, usually with their own hands. They have to break down their new mate after that, mentally, emotionally – and physically, before rebuilding him. The idea is to make the new mate totally dependent, totally demascluinize him. Like a role reversal dominance game, taken to a new extreme,” she added, looking at Acheson. “She’ll turn you into a girl, what girls were to men in the old order, anyway.”

“Right,” the kid said. “Over my dead body.”

“That’s what it’ll come down to,” she added, looking him in the eye. “These Alphas are predatory, feral, and the veneer of civility they wear is very thin. They’ve been plotting this for decades, and they know the kinds of sacrifices that are being made won’t ever be undone. In their eyes the battle of the sexes was never some kind of joke, or something they were ever prepared to lose, for that matter. They’re preparing to completely upend the old patriarchy, to end ‘what was’ and replace it with something totally new. And they’re counting on you thinking with your dick, and not your head, to help them make that happen.”


So, there it was. The end game, the backgammon.

Tate dropped by, had us download an app on our phones, told me what he and Acheson had in mind – just in case – then we split again. He followed Acheson out to the Marriott while we went back to our little hovel – and waited.

Acheson was leaving for Dallas in the morning, and we would leave for San Francisco an hour after he. At least, that was the plan.

Would Rutherford’s group respond? Had we set an attractive enough trap?

Only time would tell.

Chapter 21

Acheson sat in the back of the taxi, trying to ignore the female driver sneering at him from the driver’s seat.

‘My God,’ he thought, ‘they’re everywhere. Yet only where they need to be.’

The logistics were staggering, coordinating the movement of millions of assets around the globe, and it would all be impossible, he knew, without the ‘net. And without apps to tie-together their vast network, innocent social media apps, that literally everyone had access to. All they’d need was a language of their own. Codes, he thought. Deciphering codes? Was that the key? Rutherford was NSA, so…

He looked out the window, at the endless stream of little cars – tiny little Renaults and Citroens – and how unlike the scene was compared to Dallas. Pickup trucks and Cadillacs, gas-guzzlers all, versus these tiny gas-sippers, and he saw a vast train station beyond the freeway. Dozens of trains filling with people, ready to leave for the furthest reaches of the country. So very different, yet the same. People moving freely, always on the move: on business, to take care of family, to ramble on an endless vacation.

What would happen if it all just stopped?

Because what loomed on the horizon was a sudden, screeching halt. An end to one way of life, and the sudden imposition of a new, radically different way of life. What had that girl, Liza, implied? Men would be maintained as breeding stock, and dumbed down men would be utilized for heavy labor – until, presumably, men could be replaced by robots or genetic engineering. The idea was comical, like Our Man Flint meets Blofeld, only now, after watching events unfold in Dallas, and hearing about these groups working around Seattle, he was sure this was a serialized comic book caper anymore.

No, this is just the opposite. This is real, and it’s happening now. Right now.

What had she said? Stop thinking with your dicks? How was that even possible? And what would happen if the unexpected reared it’s ugly head? What would unravel first?

“Qu’est-ce que vous avez dit?”

“Pardonnez-moi, je ne me rendais pas compte que je parlais…”

“Vous avez dit, ‘comment était-ce possible?’”

“Oh je suis désolé…”

“You are English?” she asked.


“So, what is not possible?”

“Someone just told me something funny, that it is impossible for men to not think without using their, well, their penis.”

“Ah. Yes, this is probably true, but that is who and what you are, is it not?”


“So, why is this funny?”

“I think she was asking me to think like a woman, which is clearly not possible.”

“Perhaps. But how does a woman think?”

“You tell me?”

The woman thought for a moment, then she brightened. “A woman does not live in the moment. She lives in the future, yet also in the past. She thinks not of pleasure, but how pleasure can be used to her advantage. She thinks of the moment as a stop along the way to what she desires.”

“That seems very mercenary to me, very cold and calculating.”

“Perhaps. But men’s calculations are as narrow. What gets me power, and how do I gain power, yet with the most pleasure attached?”

He shook his head, laughed a little. “We are a doomed species.”

“Perhaps, yes,” the woman said, “or perhaps it is better to try a new way, while there is still time.”

“So, who do you work for?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

He nodded his head, looked ahead. He could see aircraft landing and taking off at CDG, then his hotel on the left. “Do you know…are they going to kill me?”

She looked at him in the rearview mirror, then shrugged. “Truly, I do not know, but I would not want to be in your shoes.”

“Well said. And I doubt I could walk in heels, if you know what I mean.”

She pulled up to the entrance and he pulled out his wallet, but she shook her head. “It is not necessary.” She turned and looked at him now, and she shook her head just a little. “If I were to give you one piece of advice, I would say act not inside the moment, but within the future you seek.”

“What does that mean?”

She sighed, and frowned. “It means you must be prepared to sacrifice yourself to save the ones you love.”

“Maybe you could just take me to the airport…”

She laughed, looked him in the eye. “You cannot run. There is no place that far away.”


“Good luck, my friend.”

“Yes. You too.”

He got out of the little Renault and walked through the lobby. A woman looked over her newspaper and watched him pass, then sent a text.

He went upstairs and pulled open the drapes, then got out the little book Genie had read for her ethics class – 12, 20 & 5 – and he started reading. The book was about choices, he saw, about choices forced and choices randomly arrived at. It was about choosing who lived, and who died, and all under the most impossible circumstances imaginable. Ultimately, it was a story about trying to impose order when man is surrounded by chaos – of his own making. Even if the only thing he’d ever surrounded himself with before was apathy.

He stood up to go to the bathroom and heard people outside his door, so he bent to his phone and sent the emails he’d composed. One to Genie, one to The Duke, and one to Woodward, then he went to the door and opened it.

Five of them came in. All in black, black Ninja, and he walked into the bathroom, left the door open while he took a leak, then he went back to his chair and picked up the book and resumed reading.

Another knock on the door.

One of the Ninja opened it, and she walked in.

Rutherford, the assistant director of operations for the NSA.

She walked in – black dress, blacks stockings and heels – and she stopped, looked out the window at the airport, then down at him. Then she put her heel on his groin – and pushed.

“I liked that book,” she began. “Read it years ago. Kind of heartbreaking, in the way Hooker’s MASH was.”

“The more things change…” he said, trying to hide the pain of her spiked heel on his penis.

“Yes. Exactly. I want you, but I guess you know that, don’t you.”

“I’m not sure why?”

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I do.”

“I understand.”

“The audio on our end wasn’t good. I take it Woodward’s little bitch filled you in?”

“Pretty much. You’ll have to kill Genie, with your own hands, to sanctify the marriage, that kind of thing?”

“Don’t trivialize something so sacred.”

“I’m not. I simply…I don’t understand.”

She looked at him with, perhaps, a little compassion, maybe even understanding in her eyes, then she turned to one of the Ninja. “It’s time. Turn on the television.”

One of the girls found the remote and turned it on, then tuned into CNN.

“The President met in Reykjavík this morning. Secretly, of course,” she smiled. “He’s about to leave…they’re all about to leave, now that their press conference is over. Watch…”

He saw Air Force One taxi to the end of the runway, then make it’s run. It lifted into the air and was beginning to make it’s turn for the Atlantic when it simply exploded, and a huge black and orange fireball appeared – where only moments before there had been normalcy.

She nodded at the Ninja – who turned the sound down – then she turned to Acheson. “Right now, and I mean right this moment, the vice president and the entire chain of succession is being eliminated. Within the hour, a huge explosion will simply remove the Pentagon from the face of the earth. When Congress convenes in emergency session this evening, that building will fall down around their heads.”

“My. You seem to have thought of everything.”

The back-handed slap was brutal, as her leather gloves were full of lead shot, and he felt his left water.

“I’m not fond of sarcasm,” she said.

“Apparently not.”

The next blow was more savage, then…

“Director, on the television. Look!”

Rutherford turned to CNN and she saw – Rutherford, turning to look at the television.

“What is this?” she almost screamed.

“It’s CNN, and smile, you’re on Candid Camera!” Acheson said, pointing at an air conditioning vent.

She turned, snapped her fingers and all the Ninja made for the door – only Woodward and Tate and half the FBI were waiting, guns drawn and ready.

They opened fire, cut them down in one massive volley. All of them but Rutherford.

The war had been joined now. He could see it in the woman’s eyes.

Then she turned and looked at Woodward. “Leave us for a moment, please. I need to tell him something. Something personal.”

Acheson nodded, and the team stepped back out into the hall, closing the door – almost.

She knelt between Acheson’s legs and cupped his face in hand: “I’m sorry, Ben. Sorry I hurt you.”

And he took her hand and kissed it. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand why this happened, but I’ll try.”

“I know you will. That’s why I chose you.”

“That’s a good look for you,” he sighed, trying to smile. “You look good in black. Sexy.”

“And that’s why I’ll always want you.”


“This isn’t over, you know?”

He nodded his head. “I know.”

“God, I want you so much it hurts.”

He watched as one of the agents came into the room, and he looked as the man pulled out a silenced pistol and came up to her from behind. He placed blue steel against the back of her neck, and Acheson turned away.

Chapter 22

She was looking into his eyes – and he could see fear lurking in the shadows, then he watched as the medic came up from behind and slipped the syringe into her deltoid muscle. Her eyes fluttered moments later and she fell into his lap; by then Tate and Woodward were back in the room, looking at her, then at the ninja’s on the floor – blood splattered all over the room.

Woodward came over to Acheson, put a finger on Rutherford’s carotid as he bent over her. “We got that co-pilot at the airport; her name isn’t Beecham, by the way. Her ID is in the FAA database, but the image doesn’t match what’s on file. First run of fingerprints comes up dry too.”

“She’s polished on 777 procedures,” Ben said, “so work through foreign pilot registries, look for women with the appropriate type ratings. Russia, Ukraine, places like that.” Acheson ran his hands through Rutherford’s hair, and he wondered why he felt such a strong attraction to this woman…then, “where did you pick her up?”

“International departures,” Tate said, walking into the room.

“Surprise, surprise,” Acheson added, then he looked at this new man: “Do I know you?”

“He’s my partner,” Woodward said. “Richard Tate, retired from CID, Seattle PD; he’s working under a private ticket now. Dick, this is Ben Acheson.”

“Anders told me about you,” he said, shaking Acheson’s hand. “Good work on that stuff last summer.” Tate looked at the woman on Ben’s lap and grinned. “Is it just me, or does it look like that dame’s giving you head?”

Acheson looked at Tate, then Rutherford. He shook his head, tried to hide from his feelings again. “Can we get her off now?” Ben said.

“Poor choice of words, Amigo,” Woodward said, and everyone laughed. Everyone, that is, but Acheson.


Acheson rode in a caravan to de Gaulle with Tate, Woodward and several FBI agents; they walked into Terminal 2E and were instantly overwhelmed by a sudden, massive increase in security. The group passed a bank of television monitors tuned to news outlets from around the world, and images of a wide debris field, floating in the sea off Iceland’s west coast, filled the screens one minute, then switched to images of the US Capitol Building the next. Flames and black smoke were pouring out of shattered windows, then the camera shook, the cameraman trying his best to keep his footing as he wheeled around, trying to frame the source of the explosion in his viewfinder. A huge fireball was rising from the White House, and another, across the Potomac – over the Pentagon…

And Acheson stopped, stared as an image of the new President of France filled the screen. The woman was giving a fiery speech, had just declared a new order was beginning when she turned and screamed as troops stormed the studio. She turned, tried to run and was gunned down, several cameras capturing her horrendous death on live feeds.

“What the hell is going on?” Acheson said as the screen switched to surveillance feeds coming from a subway platform. A large explosion could be seen lighting up a distant subway tunnel, then flames filled the platform. Another feed flickered to life, smoke pouring out of subway entries all around the Kremlin filled the screens, then as quickly changed to images from Beijing and Tokyo, then Aukland and Sydney – the images always the same. Political landmarks, and politicians, exploding or being gunned down. Globally. In real time.

“There’s no way any one network could have these feeds,” Acheson said. “Someone’s taken control of television networks, globally. They know where the next strike is, and are tying into the feeds…”

One of the FBI agent’s phones started chirping, and several of the men took out phones and began reading out the text message. “The Vice-President is dead,” one said. “Major blasts at the Capital Building, the Pentagon, FBI Headquarters, the Supreme Court Building…”

“No shit, Sherlock,” Acheson said, pointing at the live feeds. Airport control towers around the world were next on TV. Video feeds from Los Angeles to Lagos began showing the exact same thing: large detonations toppling control towers, streaming live on-screen…then the fact registered…

“Oh, fuck!” Acheson said. “Everybody! Get down…!”

A concussive series of explosions rippled through the terminal; he heard glass breaking and then screams filled the air, walls falling in every direction – then Acheson felt himself flying through the air, thudding off a far wall, coming to rest on a pile of steel beams and shattered glass.

“Got to out of here…” Acheson said as he climbed to his feet. He ran to the dispatch office, tried to open the door – but there was no power – and the electric security lock had tripped – then gone offline. He banged on the door with his fist, heard someone trying to open the door from inside. It opened and a dispatcher stood there, her scalp bleeding, blood coming from her ears, then she fell back and landed on the floor, gasping for breath.

Acheson went to her, helped her into a chair, then went to the dispatch board and looked at gate assignments and fueling status; he grabbed the crew’s clipboard and memory cards for the flight to DFW, then made his way through the terminal to his gate. The ramp chief was talking to gate agents, and they turned to Acheson as he ran up.

“What’s the status of the aircraft?” he said to the ramp chief.

“Fueled, ready to go, but no bags yet.”

“Fuck the baggage. Get everyone onboard, now.”

He pushed through the crowded departure lounge, walked down the Jetway, heard people running up from behind and turned, saw Woodward and Tate, and two girls running beside Woodward, holding him up.

“Get on, now,” he yelled, then he ran past the flight attendants gathered by the main door, ran straight for the cockpit. He slammed the door shut, engaged the locks then turned around.

He saw Sandy Beecham, or whoever the hell she was, sitting in the FOs seat – turning to look at him, and two ninjas standing behind her seat, little Sig pistols pointed at his gut. He heard moaning, looked down and saw Rutherford on the floor behind his seat, blood coming from a scalp wound, debris all over her clothes.

“Did you just get here?” he asked Beecham.


“Anyone done a walk-around?”

She shook her head.

“Go!” he commanded. “We’ve got a full fuel load out, and no squawks on the cheat sheet, but check the holds are locked and crossed.”

She looked at him, not sure what to do.

“Look, either you do it, or I do. This way one of your girls can keep an eye on me. Got it?”

“Yes, Captain,” ‘Beecham’ said. As she left the flight deck he turned to the ninja: “There’s a First Aid kit in there. Get it, please.” One of the girls holstered her weapon and opened the closet, handed the kit to him and he opened it, took out some gauze pads and a little bottle of saline. “Give me a hand, would you? Pour the saline in her hair,” he said as he picked little bits of glass from Rutherford’s scalp with tweezers. “Good, now take a fresh gauze pad and tamp it dry.” He taped a fresh gauze over the wound, then took out a penlight and shined it in her eyes, saw little pinpoint pupils, but they were equally reactive.

“Help me sit her up, then go get some water, a couple of bottles, at least.”

One of the girls bent to help him lift her, then left for the galley – just as Beecham came back in.

“I think she’s okay,” he said to the girls. “Are they ready for us to start two?”

“Da…I mean, yes.”

“Okay, Comrade. Let’s get to work on the checklist, shall we?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“So, tell me…how’d you get roped into this little caper?”

“Excuse me?”

“They chose you, how?”

“I am captain rated on this model. Apparently they could not recruit any US pilots.”

“Oh. So not simply because you’re a world class fuck?”

“I did not know this would be asked of me.”


“Why odd?”

“Seemed like you enjoyed yourself, I guess.”

She looked at the ninja, then looked ahead. “I did,” she whispered, “very much, yes.”

“Well, just so you know where we stand, I enjoyed you, too. Very much, yes.”

She looked at him and smiled. “Ready for push-back?” she said as she settled in her seat.

He put on his headset, then he called for the ramp chief.


“We’re about ready to go up here.”

“Oui, capitain, but we have no authority from ground control.”

“I really don’t care, chief. Push us back and get us away from this building, and I mean right now. There are fires in there, and they’re spreading!”

There were, he knew, multiple ground control towers at de Gaulle, and the first two he called were offline, but he heard one after he dialed in 121.675.

“de Gaulle ground, Swiss 332, we are VFR OPS only at this time, and all airway routing is down.”

“Ah, 332, roger. You advise a straight in approach for runway 27 left is approved?”

“de Gaulle ground, Swiss 332, that’s affirmative.”

Acheson keyed the mic. “de Gaulle ground, American 3-8 Heavy at 2E-1-0, ready for push-back.”

“de Gaulle ground, American 3-8 Heavy, standby one.”

“3-8, standing by.”

“de Gaulle ground, American 3-8 Heavy, clear to push back.”

Acheson switched to the ramp intercom. “Chief? We’ve got the go from ground.”

“Roger. I picked it up too. We’re ready down here.”

“Thanks, chief. Ready when you are.”

Acheson watched the terminal fall away, then looked at Beecham when the 777 stopped. “Start two.”

“Starting two.”

“American 3-8 Heavy, de Gaulle ground, we’re ready for read back.”

“de Gaulle ground, American 3-8 Heavy, taxi R-Robert to Whiskey-one-one. You will be number two for departure on runway 2-6-right. Wind is calm, altimeter 2-9-9-2. This will be a VFR only departure, and departure control is offline. London is offline, but Shannon is currently on the air. New York and Dulles are off the air, but La Guardia is still on the air. Denver and Dallas Fort Worth are on the air, but Houston Intercontinental and Hobby are off the air. ATL, FLL and MIA are reporting limited VFR OPS. KDFW reporting thunderstorms, ceiling 2500, winds out of the southwest at 2-0 knots. ILS OPS currently restricted.”

Ground, 3-8 Heavy, Robert to Whiskey 1-1, number 2 for 26 right, two niner niner two. VFR to DFW.”

“3-8 Heavy, be advised we have no radar, no ATC at this time. Rennes, Brest and Plymouth are attempting to coordinate. Contact Rennes approach on 122.25, and you are clear to taxi.”

“So,” Acheson said as they began rolling, “where are we going? I mean, really going?”

“To DFW?” Beecham said, shrugging.

“Flaps seven,” he said. “So no grand plan now?”

“Seven, check. No, Captain, no plans.”

An Emirates A380 was ahead of them, just turning onto the active runway, and Acheson could see landing lights in the distance, yet “the tower” – such as it was – hadn’t mentioned any incoming traffic.

“Uh, 3-8 Heavy, de Gaulle, we see several aircraft lining up for all runways. Do you know who they are?”

“3-8, you are cleared for immediate take off. We are getting word these could be Russian troop transports. Berlin just reported dozens of Russian transports landing, then went off the air. Air Force units now report Russian incursions, air combat near Liege.”

“Okay, 3-8 Heavy, we’re rolling.”

“Bon chance!”

Not quite at the end of the taxiway, Acheson guessed the first transport was two miles out, then he started his turn. “Damn…wish we were in a C-17 today…”

“Captain, you are going a little fast for this turn, are you not?”

“Fuck it.”

“What about the 380s wake turbulence?”

“Fuck it.”

“This could be interesting, Da?”

“Da, Comrade,” he said as he pulled out on the runway and applied full take-off power – and he watched as four Sukhoi-35s streaked low over the airfield – on their way to the city. “Oh, this just isn’t funny. Not one little fucking bit…” he whispered.

“80 knots,” Beecham called out. “V-one – and rotate!”

He barely pulled back on the stick, and when the radar altimeter read 150 feet he called for “Gear up!”

“What are you doing?” Beecham cried.

“Staying down in the trees until we’re away from those goddamn fighters.” He looked at the city off the left wingtip, saw explosions in the distance, then dark smoke trails rising into the sky. “This can’t be happening…”

“Da, it can be. Russian leadership is opportunistic. They seek weakness, they exploit weakness. US politically neutralized, Germans and French now too. Russian Army will move into Eastern Europe and Baltics in one move, into Iraq and Saudi Arabia in other.”

“So, you’re Russian? Aren’t you happy now?”

“No, not Russian. Ukraine.”

“Ah, so not happy.”

“No, now we have new Soviet monster.”

“The bear slips out of his cage again, I guess?”

“Da – Power lines!”

Acheson pulled up sharply on the yoke, and the 777 vaulted into a steep climb – just clearing a set of high-tension power lines hanging over the Seine. “Okay, enough of this. Clean the wing, configure for a maximum speed climb, then look up the numbers for Shannon.”

“Shannon? Why?”

“Because,” they heard Rutherford say, “he’s the captain, and he knows what he’s doing.”

He turned around and saw the woman looking at him, then he reached around and took her hand, felt her kiss his fingers. “You feeling groggy?”

“A little, but what’s going on down there?”

“It looks like our Russians friends are getting adventurous again. They’re taking European governments right now.”

“Damn,” Rutherford said.

“You were not expecting this, I take it?”

“It was not completely unexpected, but it means the entire North American command and control network remains compromised.”

“Well, you did infiltrate it? You did try to compromise it? What were you expecting?”

“A quicker transfer of power. Consolidation of our assets in Washington and Omaha.”

“Do you honestly expect members of the military to fall in line with you?”

“Yes, when they see the current order collapse, and sudden threats emerge to our control of the larger world order.”

A light on the overhead panel started blinking, then chiming.

“What’s that?” Rutherford said, looking at the light.

“SELCAL. Company broadcast.” He flipped the switch, selected the main cabin speaker.

“Repeat. EWO-EWO-EWO. Emergency War Order case Baker. Repeat. EWO-EWO-EWO. Emergency War Order case Baker…” He flipped off the channel, shook his head. “Goddamnit all to hell…” he sighed.

“Ben?” Rutherford said, her voice now unsettled. “What is it?”

“Oh, in plain English it means the Civil Defense network has been activated, that nuclear hostilities are considered imminent, and all airborne aircraft are free-agents now. We’re to get our aircraft and passengers out of harm’s way, any way and any where we can.”

“That means the…”

“This order, Baker, is supposed to go out when missiles are being fueled in their silos, when launch is imminent.” He looked at Beecham, then shook his head. “What’s your name, anyway?”

She turned, startled, and looked at him. “I – don’t…”

“You don’t remember your name?”

“No, of course I do, but I think I like this Sandy Beach name.”

“Sandy Beach. Yeah, I get it. Well, okay Miss Sandy Beach, get the numbers for Bermuda into the FMC, and a heading as soon as you can.” He settled on 270 degrees, looked over the panel, saw the Scilly Isles ahead and to the right, then checked their current altitude. He changed frequencies, listened to eastbound commercial traffic trying to check in with London…

“Delta 003, is anyone on this frequency?”

“American 3-8 Heavy, go ahead Delta.”

“Geez, all our COMMS are dark. What’s going on?”

“Russian fighters and transports in the air over major European cities right now. We have an EWO broadcast. Did you get that yet?”


“I’d get down on the ground as fast as you can. There are Russian fighters over Paris.”

“What about London?”

“Been off the air for an hour or so. Shannon is supposed to be on the air.”

“Uh, Speedbird-2 here, did you advise London is off the air?”

“Affirmative 2, advised by controllers on the ground at LFPG.”

“Well, Delta, Dublin is a better facility for heavies. Ah, 3-8 Heavy, where are you off too?”

“Over the western channel now, heading for Bermuda.”

“I say, I wish we had enough fuel for that.”

Acheson heard knocking on the cockpit door and flipped on the closed circuit camera, saw Woodward standing out there, with two of the flight attendants. He unlocked the door, then turned to one of the ninja. “Let them in,” he commanded.

The girl looked at him, then at Rutherford.

“He’s the captain. Follow his orders.”

Woodward walked in, saw the ninja, then Rutherford, and he sighed. “Ah. Things have changed again, I see.”

“Captain?” one of the flight attendants said. “What should we do back there? People are getting restless, getting phone calls from home. There’s a lot of confusion…”

“What’s the food situation?”

“We have enough.”

“How many passengers did we end up with? The manifest says 220…”

“We’re full up front and in Business Class, but coach is almost empty. Maybe 150.”

“That figures. Well, get meals out fast, free booze for everyone. Tell them I’ll have an update in a half hour.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Woodward? We’re headed for Bermuda, that’s about all I can tell you right now. We’ll get on the ground as fast as we can, then…”

“Why? Why aren’t we going to the States?”

“Again, I’ll tell you more in a half hour. Things aren’t real clear right now.”

“Speedbird-2, 3-8 Heavy, are you still on the air?”

“3-8, go ahead.”

“Reports coming into Dublin advise Russian forces have moved into Norway and Finland, and that an American carrier battle group has been attacked in the GIUK gap. There is apparently a large air engagement taking place off the Yorkshire coast, NATO forces trying to stop a Russian air strike on petroleum facilities near Rotterdam.”

“So, you’re saying it’s World War Three? Right? Just not nuclear?”

“It rather looks that way. We’re tucking into Shannon, try to refuel, then head your way.”

“Okay. We’ll stay on this frequency, our ETA is about four hours.”

“Right-o. See you there.”

“Did he mean – war has broken out?” Woodward asked.

“It’s the law of unintended consequence,” Rutherford said. “Do one thing, expect one set of consequences, then another materializes, upsetting all prior calculations. Our movement critically weakened the West, to the Russian mind, anyway, and this is the opportunity they’ve been waiting for, patiently, since 1945.”

“So,” Woodward asked, “what happens next?”

“The war either remains conventional, and protracted, or it ends quickly, via nuclear exchange.” Rutherford added. “Our military will be assuming command absent civilian leadership. They’ll be least likely to resort to nuclear war, until they see a direct threat to the homeland or NATO, then they’ll strike out, fast and hard. If a carrier group has been attacked while rushing to reinforce Norway, submarines will be getting their firing orders soon.”

“Fallout patterns,” Acheson whispered.

“Da,” ‘Sandy Beach’ added. “We must go south.”

“South?” Woodward asked.

Rutherford stood. “Could someone get me some water, please?” One of the ninja left for the galley, and Rutherford stood up behind Acheson, put her hands on his shoulders. “Bermuda can house thousands, but it hasn’t the agricultural base to support such a massive influx of permanent residents. Nor do any of the Caribbean islands, except perhaps Puerto Rico, or the Dominican…”

“Too close to fallout,” Sandy said. “If war breaks out, we must get as far south as possible.”

“I can’t handle this,” Woodward said, leaving the flight deck, mumbling as he went.

“Many people will react like this,” Rutherford said as she watched Woodward leave. “Many will want to go home, regardless, others may simply lose the will to live. You need to be mindful of this, Captain.”

Acheson was more mindful of something else he heard in her voice. She had just surrendered to him, in effect submitted to his authority. She had told her girls to obey not her commands, but his. She was depressed, perhaps from the tranquilizer, but she was compromised emotionally, and he needed her strength right now.

“Your airplane,” he said to Sandy, then he motored back in his seat while he undid his harness. “Come with me,” he said to Rutherford, and he took her by the hand, led her aft to the toilets by the forward galley. He pushed her inside, felt her flaccid response, then turned her face to his –

And he slapped her, hard.

He saw the sudden fury in her eyes, the trembling lips of uncertainty, then he bent to her and kissed her with all the passion he could muster. She responded instantly, and as passionately, digging her fingernails into his back.

“You know me so well,” she whispered in his ear. “It’s like we were born to love one another. I feel it in my bones.”

He held her close, then felt her fumbling with his belt, pushing his trousers down. He knew where this was going, felt himself falling over the edge of the abyss, then he was entering her, helping her legs encircle his waist. Her mouth open beside his, he heard her breath mingle with his own, felt all his fear turn to inverted lust, then he put his mouth on hers, driving into her, fear to lust, lust to need, then an infinite release.

“I need you,” he heard himself say, a coarse whisper at first, and he felt her shuddering orgasm as he added “I want you.”

“I am yours, forever,” she sighed, her legs pushing him deeper as they came down.

“And I need your strength, so don’t leave me again,” he said as he kissed her a few minutes later.

“You need to call Genie,” she said. “Warn her, get her headed south,” then she went to her knees and began cleaning him with her mouth, taking him in, swirling his need with hers, and a minute later his knees began to buckle, his back arched – and he felt himself coming undone in her mouth, and he held her head while she cleaned him again, then his hands went out to the walls, holding himself up against all the contradictions he felt flowing through his veins on the way – into her.

Chapter 23

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out some things, and when I looked at that Acheson kid I could see it all over his face. Mid-30s, in command of an airliner, re-captured by the very same women we thought we’d captured just a few hours before. That Russian girl up there? How did they do it? I told Tate as soon as I got back to my seat, then Liz and Persephone were leaning close, listening to every word that came out of my mouth – like it was the last thing they were ever going to hear.

Then Acheson comes out of the cockpit with that Rutherford woman, his face set in stone, like anger, only worse, then that bitch. Like she’s in heat. Lips puffed up, breathing deep, then he’s in that bathroom and the walls start shaking. Like the fucking starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. Then he walks out of there a minute later and the front of his slacks look like Monica Lewinsky’s little blue dress. Then she crawls out of there, cum running down her legs and looking like she’d gone ten rounds with Ali. I swear, I’d do anything to be thirty years old again.

Then Tate’s looking at me – like ‘what the fuck?’ – as in: what’s going on up there?

Then Liz leans over, tells us to be cool, some kind of dominance game was going down, that Acheson was taking control of Rutherford, and it hit me then. We’re like dogs and cats, the birds and the bees. We’re nothing but hormonal drives and dominance dances, not a helluva lot different than Frigate Birds on Midway Island, or gorillas in an African mist.

Anyway, Liz starts looking at me all goo-goo eyed and hands me a Viagra, and I’m like, ‘Really? World War Three is breaking out, and you want to get laid?’

Then I’m thinking about it. Yeah, you know, if the human race wants to go out with a bang, well then, what the fuck. Why not get a woody and duck into the head, join the Mile High Club? Then Sephie is looking at me, her lips all puffed up and I’m wondering, like, if there’s room for three in there…and will my heart be able to take it?

But really? Why the fuck not?

Know what I mean, Jelly-Bean?


Acheson climbed back in his seat, noticed the SELCAL light chirping away and slipped on his harness, then put on his headset. He scanned the panel, then he flipped the circuit and listened to the message – through the headset this time. Headquarters had activated Case Epsilon. War, probably nuclear war, was considered imminent, and all pilots were now ordered to land at the nearest open airport. He listened to The Lord’s Prayer coming over the circuit, then shut it down and took off his headset.

“What was it?” Rutherford asked.

Acheson shook his head, bent over the keypad on the Flight Management Computer and entered ‘LPLA’ – then watched data stream onto his PFD, the Primary Flight Display. A prompt came up: “Execute?”

He sighed, hit the button on the keypad, and the aircraft banked hard to the left, then settled onto the new course.

“Lajes?” Beach asked. “Why?”

“We’re two thousand miles from Bermuda, six hundred from the Azores. We’ll lose GPS signal any time now, they’ll be encrypted. There’s a storm off the east coast, it’ll sock-in Bermuda by the time we get there, and without GPS I’m not sure we can shoot an approach there.”

“Why will we lose GPS?” one of the ninja said.

“It’s SOP when launch of ICBMs is considered imminent.”

“Oh sweet Jesus,” he heard the girl whisper.

“Yeah, if you’re the praying sort, now’s the time to get on your knees and pull out your rosary. Sandy, write down our coordinates, the coordinates for Lajes and start a DR plot, the faster the better.”

“Okay,” she said, her hands shaking now.

He scanned the horizon, saw something far off to the left. “You see that?”

“What?” Sandy said.

“Ten o’clock, a little high.”

She peered around the center-post, squinting just a little and he smiled, then turned back to the panel.

“You know, I see three aircraft, maybe four…”

An alarm sounded, then another.

“Alert! Collision imminent, turn right!”

Acheson toggled the autopilot and pushed the yoke down and to the right.

“Something’s not right,” he said as he re-engaged the autopilot, then the alarm sounded again.

“Alert! Collision imminent, turn right!”

He looked out the windshield again, looked aft as far as he could, then he smiled, relaxed – as four F/A-18F Super Hornets pulled up alongside the port side of the 777. He signaled 121.5 to the lead pilot and switched COMM 1 to the emergency frequency.

“American 3-8 Heavy to Diamondback Lead.”

“Lead here. What’s with all the evasive maneuvers, Captain?”

“Collision alert sounded. Sorry about that.”

“You headed to Terciera?”

“Yeah. How many of you are there out here?”

“Whatever’s left of the air wing from the Papa Bush. We had about half my squad up when she was hit. Low yield nuc, torpedo we think. Subs in the Atlantic were ordered to MFD about twenty minutes ago.”

“What’s MFD?” Rutherford asked.

“Missile Firing Depth.”

Another alarm hooted, and Acheson looked as the GPS SIGNAL LOSS banner flagged on his PFD. “Fuck,” he whispered, then he toggled his mic, “Okay, D-Back lead, we just lost GPS. You have encrypted sets in those birds?”

“Yup. I suppose you want to follow us?”

“You got enough gas?”

“Yeah, we just tanked. Another section is tanking east of here. You military?”

“Air Force, reserves now. C-17s.”



“Well hell, look who just assumed tactical command?”

“Swell. Okay lead, why don’t you scoot up ahead, leave a couple back here with me.”

“Alright, 3-8 Heavy. Out.”

He turned to the ninja, looked them over and shook his head. “You know, where we’re going, if you get off this airplane dressed like that you’re likely to be run out to the nearest wall and shot.”

The girls looked at each other and nodded, then peeled off their suits.

“What about me?” Rutherford said.”

“What do you mean?”

“What are you going to do about me?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea. What do you think I should do with you?”

She frowned. “I think you should try to get in touch with Miss Delaney.”

And he smiled…which, he could tell, seemed to shock her.

Chapter 24

Genie Delaney left the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School campus, driving on Harry Hines towards downtown, then north on Oak Lawn, and then down Maple to Turtle Creek. She drove along the creek, looking at the dry winter grass along the waterway, the bare oak and pecan trees, their bare limbs hanging over the street, and she decided to drive up to Preston, to look at the big pecan tree – still strung with Christmas lights – and she saw they were on now, and smiled.

Her phone chimed as she stopped at the light, and she saw a new email from Ben in her in-box, but it was a huge file so she decided to wait until she got home to open it. The light turned and she passed mansions on her right, then the country club, and she turned there, on Mockingbird Lane, and drove down to the SMU campus and turned left on Hillcrest. A few minutes later she turned on Milton and, a block later, into the driveway at Ben’s old bungalow.

She looked at the file and decided to open it on the desktop machine in his study, so gathered her book bags and lab coat and walked to the front door, fumbling with her keys as she walked across the crunchy grass. She went through the house to his bedroom, hung her lab coat in the closet, then went to the study, fired up his Mac Pro and sat, waiting for it to load and open. She went to Mail and opened her account, then opened the email.

It was a huge video file, and she double clicked it, waited for it to open.

She saw a darkened hotel room, with Ben sitting in a chair – and she leaned forward, looking closely at the image – then she saw a woman walk out of the bathroom, dressed provocatively in garters and stockings and heels – and little else.

She paused the file, saw this was a fifteen minute long recording and could guess what was on the rest, so the closed the video file then put the email in trash – and deleted it.

They’d been expecting this, at least she had – and for months. They had to compromise him, like they thought they had The Duke, and despite both their misgivings, she had counseled him to let them do it. It would be safer, she reasoned, if they thought they had something on him – especially something as innocuous as this was. She looked at the time – yes, guaranteed to make her call him late at night – over there – the better to get him off-balance, and keep him that way.

She picked up her phone and opened the Cryptor app, dialed Ben’s line and waited for him to pick up.


“It’s me. I got an interesting email, on your account.”

“The video?”

“Yup. Was she good, at least?”

“Not bad, but not good, either. Generic.”

She laughed. “God, how many women have you laid?”

“Laid? I don’t know. I’ve only loved a couple, though.”

“What about Rutherford? She’s dropped off the radar here, reports say she may be in Brussels.”

“That figures. The President spoke at NATO headquarters today, and he’s going to Iceland tomorrow. Something feels weird to me, Genie. Like there’s some kind of storm brewing. A big one. Different, too.”

“Like we haven’t been down this road before. Yeah. I’ve been picking up on that all day long.”

“Remember, it’s a game, a chess game, Genie. We have to try to guess their next three moves.”

“Then she’s going to try and get to you.”

“And she has to know we’re thinking that, too. So she’s already thinking of counter-moves.”

“Doesn’t matter, Ben. Just the fact she’s so compromised by her desire is enough. It’s her Achilles heel.”


“Ben? Just don’t let it be yours.”

“I hear you.”

“So, if things head south, you still want me to go…?”

“To Alpine, yes.”

“Okay. Be careful, Ben. I love you.”

“I love you, too. More than you’ll ever know.”


Acheson thought about that call, then looked at the elapsed time on the FMC, at their current fuel state. They’d land at Lajes with less than half their load used, so close to the aircraft’s maximum allowable landing weight. He ran his rough mental computations through the computer once again and nodded his head, then looked at the F/A-18s off his wingtip. The pilots out there seemed focused, and he wondered what was going on “out there” – in the real world beyond this floating cocoon.

Then the closest pilot held up his hand and signaled – 1-2-1.5.

“3-8, go.”

“Back-4 here. About 250 N-M-I. When do want to start your descent?”

“‘Bout now would be good. Keep it about .83 Mach down to flight level 1-8-0, then 270 knots to 12,000. Once we have the field in sight…”

“Diamondback Lead to 3-8 Heavy.”

“Lead, 3-8, go.”

“Lajes reporting Cat 2 ops at this time in heavy thunderstorms, visibility down to a quarter mile, wind out of the east at forty knots. You got the freqs?”

“As long as they haven’t changed them in the past month.”

“Roger. Be advised we intercepted four CONDORs east of the islands, there are some Russians trying out for an Olympic swim team down there now, but my guess is there will be more, and soon. We have AWACs coverage now, and they’re picking up FULLBACKs over the Portuguese coast at this time. Westbound at 900.”

“Okay, so call it an hour.”

“Yeah. The Stennis and Teddy Roosevelt are now on station with a CAP over the island, so two battle groups are now mid-Atlantic. They won’t take Lajes without going nuclear.”

Acheson sighed, considered their options, then decided. “Okay, if you can stay with us to the localizer, stick around in case Ivan shows up, we’d appreciate it.”

“Back-4, out.”

Acheson flipped the radar to maximum range, saw a line of thunderstorms ahead and to the east, then he set up the descent in the computer. “Localizer set to 109.9,” he said, then he called on the radio: “Lajes approach, American 3-8 Heavy, 150 out, request permission to land, I-L-S runway 15.”

“3-8 Heavy, clear runway 15, ceiling 800, visibility 1 mile, wind 1-4-0 degrees at 38, altimeter 28.90. Be advised we are under an air raid warning at this time. Seventy, repeat 7-0 Sukhoi 34 inbound, potentially 20, 2-0 heavy transports behind this wave.”

“3-8 Heavy, got it.”

“Localizer to 109.9,” Beach confirmed.

“Beacon to 341.”


“TAC-DME to 109X.”

“109X, got it.”

“Enter 12.5 DME and 3-5-hundred, 6.5 DME and 2000.”

“Okay, 12.5 DME to 3500, and 6.5 DME to 2000.”

“D-Back four, 3-8 Heavy, cutting power now,” he told the lead Hornet, and he eased off power, popped the speed brakes as he looked at the VOR/TAC needle and DME readout go active. “Okay, starting a gradual turn – now,” he told the Hornet as the needle started to center in the HSI. He cut power to 80 percent EGP and watched speed bleed as he increased spoilers. “Flaps 7, now,” he said as he cut power a little more.

“Flaps 7.”

He switched to NAV2 and watched the LOC flag pop in the Flight Director, then GS ARM popped in the window and he turned the Glide Slope button on the AP panel to ACTIVE and watched as the autopilot locked onto the airport’s ILS. He cut power again, dropped flaps to 15 degrees, then engaged auto-throttle. He looked up then, saw the wall of cloud ahead, then back down at the instruments.

“3-8 Heavy, if lead elements of Russian strike force break through, they’ll be here in 2-9 minutes. You are clear to land, and you’ll need to clear the runway as quickly as possible.”

“Any place in particular?”

“Air Force facilities are still at the northwest part of the field. You might want to keep as far away from there as you can.”

“Any other commercial aircraft at the terminal?”

“One KLM, one Air France. We have a BA Speedbird en route, about two hours out. There is no room at the ramp, but we’ll have stairs and buses meet you on shut down.”

“3-8 Heavy, 12.5 out.”

“3-8, gusts to 4-3 knots now.”

“Say heading?”

“Sorry, still 1-4-0 degrees.”

“Okay.” He turned to Sandy. “Flaps 25, arm spoilers.”

“Got it.”

“3-8 Heavy, 6.5 out.”

“3-8, clear to land.”

“Okay. D-Back four, thanks for sticking around.”

“Got it. Seeya.”

“Flaps 33, gears down.”

“Thirty three, three down and green.”

“Okay, I got the lights.” He saw the strobes leading to the threshold and put his hands on the wheel and throttles, his feet on the pedals. “Wipers to MAX.”


He followed the autopilot’s movements with his hands and feet, and as soon as the mains hit he switched off the AP, then went to reverse thrust and started to brake. He saw all the buildings were dark, the KLM A340 and an Air France A330 were as well.

“I don’t like this,” he whispered. He switched COMM 1 to 121.9, to ground control, and he called. “Ah, Lajes Ground, can you get fuel trucks and a cart out to me? I’m going to shut down by the fire department buildings. I’d like to gas up and get the hell out of here, if you don’t mind.”

Beach and Rutherford looked at one another, then at Acheson.

“Where are you thinking of going?” Rutherford asked, her hands shaking nervously.

“Ah, 3-8 Heavy, negative, base commander advises you get your passengers to shelters. Buses should be there momentarily. There are two more waves of Russian strike fighters inbound, up to 120 new aircraft.”

“Yeah, tower, that’s why we want to get out of here!”

“Sorry, 3-8, commander advises we don’t have the fuel to spare right now, not for civilian OPS.”

Acheson shook his head, muttered under his breath: “Goddamn two hundred million dollar airplane is gonna get shredded, you dickwick…” then he turned to Beach. “Let’s shut her down, get everyone on the buses.”

He flipped on the intercom, switched to CABIN and spoke: “Ladies and gentlemen, Captain Acheson here. We’re going to get you off this airplane now, into buses, and these will take you to air raid shelters. There is a massive Russian strike force headed this way, fighter aircraft and troop transports, and the facilities here are low on fuel. So are we, for that matter, so this is the end of the line – for now. Effective a few hours ago, civil aviation in the United States was grounded, and this aircraft was ordered by headquarters to divert to the nearest open facility and land until hostilities are over, or until it’s safe to resume our flight. What we do know right now is that Russian forces are in the process of moving into Europe, but that’s all we know. Assuming this aircraft survives, and that fuel is allocated, we’ll try to get you on to your destination when that becomes possible. There are four buses pulling up on the left side of the aircraft right now, and you need to get in them as quickly as possible. Again, there are Russian attack aircraft inbound, so let’s move quickly and in an orderly manner, and we may just get out of this alive.”

“Shut-down checklist complete,” Sandy said.

“Okay, get the door, then get down there and help get people moving to the buses.”

“I’m staying with you,” Rutherford said quietly, then she turned to her two guards. “You go, just blend in as best you can. If we survive the night, then you…” But Rutherford broke down then, her dreams at an end, and she sat in the jump-seat and waved them on. “Go now, and be careful,” she whispered.

Her two ninja left, followed Sandy Beach out the cockpit door, and Woodward came in, with Tate and the two girls standing just outside the door, looking in.

“Ben?” the old cop said, his voice full of concern.



But I could see it in the kid’s eyes. He was lost now, full of concern for his aircraft, for his passengers, and even for that Rutherford dame. She was stuck on him too, like white on rice. And the thing is, I could tell he was into her, too. Kind of odd, you know, now that I think about it, but that’s the thing with human beings. You just never can tell.

He was a good looking kid, too. Kind of like Clark Kent, if you know what I mean. A real straight arrow. Think Jimmy Stewart and you’re on the right track, but with a touch of Tyrone Power. Tall, skinny, kind of a self-deprecating guy. Quiet, radiating strength sitting up there in the cockpit, a man fully the sum of his parts. Cop and pilot, you know what I mean? And women? Maybe that was his kryptonite.

Then there was this Rutherford dame. Maybe five feet tall out of her heels, maybe forty five, fifty years old. Serious, a hard edge in her eyes, but a soft one, too. Like a falcon. Like a falconer had just pulled the hood off her head. Her eyes blinking, her head swiveling, and when I looked at her the only word that ran through my mind was “machine.” A human machine, calculating, using her senses to figure out what was happening around her – and then she’d look at Acheson and melted. To my eyes, it was like she had just discovered the order of the universe – and it wasn’t what she thought it was.

And Ben? He was lost in thought, a different kind of machine altogether…

“Ben?” I remember saying, and he looked up at me, and I saw “LOST” in his eyes.


“What’s our play, man?”

“There’s enough fuel to get us to Brazil, or west Africa somewhere, but not to the US.”

“Probably better to stay here,” Rutherford said.

“Nowhere else TO go, right now, anyway” he said, his voice almost a whisper.

“Not until this is over,” Rutherford added.

And there it was. In the blink of an eye, the world had gone from normal, what it was, to insane. What it always came down to when War begins.

When it’s over? When is it ever really over? What next?

I remember Ben flipping switches after that, turning off batteries and the cabin going dark. He groped in the closet, get his coat and a medical kit, then found a flashlight to get us to the stairs. He led is down to the last bus, and I remember him standing there, looking up at the huge Boeing – ‘his aircraft,’ I recall thinking to myself just then. He alone commanded that thing, and now he was surrendering her, walking away as the world began crashing down around us.

And I could tell it was eating him up. Who wouldn’t feel that way?

We were standing down on the ground in heavy rain when the first missile streaked by, just over our heads, and before anyone could react it detonated a few hundred yards away, over the middle of the runway, then dozens of floating bomblets fluttered down all around us…


Acheson heard the roar and pulled Rutherford down to the ground, covered her body with his own. Woodward, pulled down by Liz and Persephone, felt Tate cradle the girls. The bus stood between them and that first detonation, and first the concussive wave lifted it up into the air and spun it around like a child’s toy – debris falling all around them, and waves of shrapnel cut into the aircraft. Fuel began leaking from the wing tanks, and when it was over Acheson kneeled, surveyed the scene as two more incoming missiles hit the air force complex at the opposite end of the airfield.

“Three missiles,” he said out loud. “Three got through…” he said as he turned and looked at the Boeing, at the fuel, spilling like blood, from her wing tanks…

“We’ve got to get away from here,” he said, then he saw ‘Sandy Beach,’ sitting by the overturned bus and he ran to her, Rutherford by his side. Blood was running from her ears, and she had a deep laceration on her forearm, but she tried to stand and Acheson helped her.

“Are you okay?”

She pointed at her ears, shook her head, and he nodded, put his hand on her shoulder.

“Oh my God,” he heard Woodward whisper, and he turned his attention to the people trying to get out of the bus.

He saw more people with lacerations, burned flesh, people trying to crawl out or walk on broken arms and legs. People lay on the ground like scattered dolls, cradling broken arms or a dying loved one, then Acheson looked at Rutherford.

“I guess this is the law of unintended consequences, all come to life?” he said, his voice dripping with malicious sarcasm.

She nodded, saw pools of fire reflected in his eyes, then turned and walked away.

He ran over to Woodward, helped him with one of the girls – who seemed more than dazed.

“Liz?” the old cop sighed, “Liz, can you hear me?”  Blood was trickling from her left ear, and the right side of her body looked scorched.

Acheson and the other girl help the other old man, Tate, sit up; he rubbed his eyes and shook his head then stood.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” Tate said, looking for Woodward, then he saw Acheson looking at his damaged aircraft: the shredded tires, engine cowlings punctured, oil and hydraulic fluid running onto the tarmac – and without asking Tate knew the Boeing was mortally wounded, would never fly without serious reconstruction.

He turned and was walking back to Woodward and the girls – when he flinched, felt the super-sonic booms of aircraft passing through the clouds overhead. He turned, saw Acheson running for them – then bombs started falling like rain, slamming into the hillside on the far side of the airfield. He watched as more fell – landing closer – then he saw Acheson flying through the air – just before he and the girls pulled Woodward into a drainage ditch.

Part V – Dance on a Volcano

Chapter 25

Somewhere in the Atlantic

He woke up.

Tried to sit up, but it felt like he was cemented, to the earth.

He tried to lift his hands to his face, but couldn’t. They weighed too much.

He closed his eyes and felt himself drifting off, feeling lost and afraid.


He opened his eyes. Turned his head.

Gray. Nothing but gray. Was that steel? Are these steel walls?

A woman walked by. A nurse, and he tried to speak but everything he said was muffled, garbled, his words like hollow echoes coming from the middle of his skull. An Air Force nurse turned and spoke to him, and he saw her lips move, saw her eyes on him, but he couldn’t hear a thing she said.

“I can’t hear you,” he tried to say, but he felt the words more than heard them, and incompletely, at that – like every sound was coming from behind walls of hissing static, with an occasional high-pitched whine thrown in for good measure – but he saw her smile before she turned away.

He tried to think, imagine where he was, then he gave up and put his head down on the pillow. He felt himself drifting…then…

Someone lifted an eyelid, shined a light in his eye and he tried to turn away but strong hands held him fast. He blinked when whoever it was finished, then he felt a sting in his upper arm. He was rolling down a narrow corridor a moment later, then in a small room with bright lights overhead. A busy, worn out man leaned over and peered in his eyes, then he felt himself drifting away again.


He heard someone calling his name, pinching an earlobe and calling his name.

He opened his eyes, saw a woman eyes peering over a surgical mask. Brown eyes, warm and soothing…

“Captain Acheson? You can hear me?”

Not American, but not Russian, either. Maybe.


“Good. You know where you is, are?”


“You know what day it is?”

“No, I don’t.”

“How about time? Know what time it are…uh, is?”

“No, no, nothing. Look, can you tell me where I am, what day it is? I’d kind of like to know, you know?”

She nodded her head, wrote on her clipboard. “You on NATO ship, hospital ship. Uh, you found three weeks ago, after attack on Lajes. Surgery one week ago, you out since.”

“Where are we, I mean…like at sea, or anchored somewhere?”

“Oh, yes, we go Lisbon maybe, or Gibraltar.”

“War? Still war?”

“Oh, no, war over. Seven cities destroyed, then stop.”

“Cities? Which ones?”

She looked away, shook her head. “New York and Washington in America. Boston too, I think, someplace like that. Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia, some submarine base, too. Maybe Hamburg, in Germany, and a navy base in southern France. There are stories about Korea and China in the news, nobody know much yet. So, you are pilot captain?”

“Yes. American Airlines, and a major in the US Air Force.”

“Oh? This I did not know. You feel pain now?”

“Yes, a little.”

“Where? Can you point where?”

He tried to move his right leg, but it felt stiff, weak, and he said “The side of my head, behind my right ear.”

“You have ringing in ears?”

“A little, yes.”

“No other pain?”

“My leg is, it feels strange. It hurts, then it goes away.”

“Break near knee. Bad fracture. Will need surgery. In cast now.”

“There were people with me. Last names Woodward, Rutherford. Any way to check on these people?”

“I try. You rest now,” she said, slipping a syringe into his IV. “We be in land tomorrow, then maybe you knows more.”


He felt himself moving and opened his eyes, saw men ahead and behind him, and he realized he was on a stretcher, moving through the corridors of a ship. He saw warnings – in Cyrillic –painted on the walls, then he looked at the uniforms the men wore, but he didn’t recognize them. They came to the main deck and he was in sunlight, being carried down a long, sloping ramp, and he looked up at the ship, saw a Russian ensign flying and he lay back, looked up at the sky and realized he’d told that nurse he was in the Air Force.

There were men at the bottom of the ramp, men in suits, and when his stretcher reached the men they looked at his chart, and one of them came over to him.

“Major Acheson?” the man said.

“Captain. American Airlines.”

“Yes, Major Benjamin Acheson, United States Air Force Reserves. C-17 pilot. We have your file now.”

“So. I’m a prisoner of war, I take it?”

“If there was a war, yes, you would be. But now you are just an enemy of the people, of the Soviet Union. You will be dealt with accordingly.”

“I see.” He heard a voice, a familiar voice, and he turned, saw Rutherford with a Russian colonel, laughing gayly now, her arm slipped inside his, and as he watched her disappear inside a black Mercedes sedan, he looked up at the sky – at a passing cloud. “The law of unanticipated consequences,” he said, laughing a little.

“What was that, Major?”

“Oh, nothing. I was just thinking. How funny life is, sometimes.”

“Da. Funny. My family lived in St Petersburg. I am sure you think that funny, too.”

And he did, in a way. He thought of Genie and The Duke, and of a butterfly sneezing somewhere on the far side of the world, and he smiled as they put his stretcher into the back of a dark green truck.

And he smiled when he thought of all the butterflies out there, just waiting to sneeze.

Chapter 26

He winced when the truck went over bumps and around curves, he pulled the blanket up to his chin when rain started dripping through tears in the canvas overhead, and as sleep was impossible he tried to peek under the canvas from time to time, look at the passing countryside. They drove north, he thought, for a few hours, then he heard aircraft overhead and soon they passed an air base. He saw troops removing EU and NATO signage, and as the truck slowed to turn into an newly erected prison area he saw men lined up along a wall, a firing squad taking aim – then a burst of fire and falling bodies. He looked away, saw the tails of several Antonov 124s poking up above hangers a few hundred yards away, and two charred F-16s being bulldozed out of the way, presumably to make room for more transports.

The truck stopped outside a quonset hut and men came out for him, pulled his stretcher from the back of the truck and carried him inside the building. The first thing he noticed was the smell inside. Disinfectant, and lots of it, overwhelmed his senses, and he saw several men on beds, bags of IVs dripping into arms as he was carried to a bed. Nurses helped transfer him to a real bed, and the troops left, leaving him with even more unanswered questions.

A women, dressed in khakis and with insignia on her collars, came over to his bed and picked up the clipboard the soldiers had left laying on his belly, and she read through the pages, making notes from time to time, then she leaned close and spoke.

“Your name Acheson?” she said, her accent southern. Georgia, maybe, or the Carolinas.


“They got you in Lajes?”


She chuckled. “Let me guess. Texas?”

“Borned and raised, sweetheart.”

“Jenny Cullwell, late of the Savannah Cullwells,” she said, curtsying. “And a reluctant Navy doc.”

“Navy, here?”

She shook her head. “We were en route from Italy, being evacuated. Seems we waited too long. What about you?”

“Flying an American 777 from Paris to DFW when we got the order to land.”

“Wait…you’re not military?”

“Major, Air Force reserves.”


“Do you know what’s happening out there?”

“Yes, I do. You sure you want to hear about it?”

He nodded his head.

“The main attack on the US was preceded by large scale cyber attacks, came right after all that bullshit, after Air Force One went down, like it had been coordinated. Nukes hit San Diego and Puget sound, Norfolk and sub bases in Maine and New London. Missile fields too, and major air force and naval bases right after, sub-launched ICBMs, we heard. From what I’ve heard, major Russian cities took a pounding, city-buster hydrogen warheads, maybe a hundred and fifty million dead in Russia and Eastern Europe. We knocked out most of their second wave of ICBMs, targeted on cities, knocked ‘em right out of the sky, so loss of life at home was less, until their bombers hit. Cities in the south, Dallas and Atlanta, weren’t hit so hard, but cities on both coasts are gone now, and up north.”

“What about fallout?”

“It’s bad. Getting worse. There’s a lot of rain, too. Something about dust thrown up into the upper atmosphere.”

“Nuclear winter.”

“Sure, I guess that sounds right. Now, what about you?”

“They said my knee needs surgery, I think they operated on my head, but I have no idea why.”

“Penetrating blunt force trauma,” she said, pointing at his chart. “At least that’s what the doc wrote, assuming I can read this scribbling. An Air Force doc at Lajes did the surgery, so relax, you might live. If one of Ivan’s docs did it you’d be a drooling cauliflower right about now.” She turned his head, examined the wound behind his right ear, then shined a light on it. “Think we’ll start some antibiotics, margins are looking a little iffy.”

“You have antibiotics?”

“Yup, but that’s about it. No x-ray, no imaging equipment at all, and no orthos, so we’ll cut off that cast and check it out, then recast you. So, you’re a pilot?”




“Really? Well, ain’t that interesting.”

“Oh, why?”

“There are two of ‘em here. MATS birds, from Charleston.”


“Shot. Something about a code, so you might keep that in mind.”

“Thanks. What about my leg? Just cast it, let it heal?”

“Probably, unless it’s a tibial plateau fracture. If that’s the case you’ll have to have surgery, or you could lose that leg if you walk on it.”


“Look,  I’ll just give it to you straight. You might want to skip the antibiotics, all the heroics, and just try to check out. A Russian doc told me their estimate is three months before fallout levels become totally lethal.”

“What about the southern hemisphere? Like South Africa, or the Falklands?”

“The song remains the same, Paco. You might eke out a few months more, but nobody really knows.”

“So that’s it? Do not go gently into that good night? End of the line?”

“Yup. This is actually a damn good spot, which is why Ivan moved in here so fast. They’re digging caves in the mountains, trying to get a few hundred thousand into them, some kind of Strangelove thing, but a lot of fallout coming from the Americas falls into the Atlantic so levels right here aren’t that bad – until it rains, anyway. Then we get a spike.”

“Any TV? Any news coming from home?”

She shook her head. “Not a thing. I’m guessing it’s like medieval there now.”

“I wonder what went wrong, with our air defenses, I mean.”

The guy in the bed next to his looked up and laughed. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No, not really. You a pilot?”

“Yeah, F-22s. Look, it’s simple. Our defense contractors sold us a bill of goods. Four hundred million bucks for an F-22 or F-35, and they were built on a simple premise. One of our fighters had to be good enough to take out ten, maybe twenty of there’s. Right? Got that? So anyway, Ivan decides the way to take care of that is to send fifty aircraft for every one of ours. Overwhelm by sheer numbers. And it worked. Lajes and Iceland are like giant aircraft carriers, they make it possible to resupply NATO with an air bridge from the states, so Ivan knew if he took them, that was the end of any resupply effort. So he made a maximum effort, sent about 800 aircraft from here alone, and the Stennis and Teddy Roosevelt could keep about 30 in the air at any one time. They didn’t last an hour.”

Acheson looked at the man. One leg gone, his hands wrapped in gauze. Very bitter.

“It was a good plan…for fighting maybe Saddam’s air force. But stupid for a Cold War style engagement, especially when the Russians started building really good aircraft, and cheap, too. Never learned to make good subs, though. That’s what got ‘em.”


“Our missiles in Montana never got off. Every silo hit in the first wave, taken right out of action. The boomers launched, of course, and that’s like 3000 warheads right on target. War was over by then, but nobody bothered to tell Ivan. He just kept on comin’ – their bombers came in and met with zero opposition. Dropped their bombs and flew to Cuba, I guess.”

“What did you do?”

“Me? I was escorting B-2s. From Italy to Germany and Poland, dropping tactical nukes on positions northeast of Berlin.”

Acheson shook his head and Cullwell put the back of her hand on his forehead. “So, what’s it gonna be? Antibiotics, or morphine?”

He laughed. “Fuck you, ma’am. I’m getting’ better and goin’ home, and if you want to join me, you better get this leg working. And pronto, if you know what I mean.”

And she laughed too. “Right, Paco. I’ll get right on that.”

“You do that.”

And she looked at him again. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Goddamn right I am. Me and Stumpy over there,” he said, pointing at the F-22 pilot with his thumb, “are going to go out and hijack us a C-17. Fly it right down Main Street, USA on our way to Alpine, Texas. Ain’t that right, Stumpy?”

“You bet, Tex. You steer that trash-hauler and I’ll work the radios. We’ll be pole dancin’ in Big Springs with the best of ‘em.”


The last time I saw Acheson, on the ramp at Lajes, he looked like a broken man. His aircraft was, for all intents and purposes, dead, and that Rutherford woman a broken doll. She walked off into the night, leaving me and Persephone sitting there with Liz, wondering what to do next.

And what had it been?

Maybe three weeks since we’d left Puget Sound on the boat? Just a few days from San Francisco?

Then Tate is by my side, bombs are falling and that’s when I saw Acheson. Flying through the air. Then I’m sliding into a ditch, and we crawled to a culvert as waves of bombs hit all around us. We crawled out an hour later and the first thing I saw was that airplane. It looked like two or three bombs had hit it dead center – the wings were askew, the cockpit pointing straight up at the moon, and I thought it looked like a moon launch, gone bad. I saw firemen loading Acheson’s body in an ambulance, and then he was gone.

And it hit me then, and hard.

How fast things can change.

How quickly things can come undone. All the things you take for granted, like – bam, gone, in an instant. No time to think about it, just blink your eyes and your old life is gone. Here one minute, gone the next. Get on a plane in Paris, and presto! Five hours later we were supposed to be in Dallas. But five hours later that life was gone. Forever.

I heard that Rutherford woman say something about unintended consequences, and when I heard that I wondered what she meant. Personally, I mean. If she’d been making plans for something like this, then she’d been anticipating something like this might happen, and that got me to wondering. What kind of person does that? What kind of person sets out to destroy a world, a way of life, without thinking through the consequences for the people around them.

I’d been sitting on the plane, thinking about all that. About ideologies, and how they warp perspectives. I was talking to Liz at the time, about all those Republicans trying to kill health insurance for the poor. They knew their legislative actions would lead to tens of thousands of lives being lost, yet there they were, screaming about the rights of unborn fetuses. Or all the gays on the left, getting so ‘in your face’ about gay marriage and public displays of affection, and Trannies in bathrooms, for God’s sake. Did they really think their actions weren’t going to cause a reaction, even a violent reaction? Was that what they really wanted? ‘Cause that’s sure what they got.

And that Rutherford dame? I mean, seriously? The patriarchy had to go, a new order had to take it’s place. To me, sitting up there in that airplane, I thought she was insane, like she was trying to put a picture puzzle together – with half the pieces missing. It’s like our founding fathers got lucky once, all the right circumstances came together to make a clean break from the past, and then all these people come along – wanting to tear it all down. People on the right wanted to tear it down and build a theocracy, people on the left wanted to build a socialist utopia, and in the end it seems nobody understood just how precious and rare the United States was. It just wasn’t what They wanted, so it had to be torn down. No room for a plurality of vision, no room for compromise, just ‘Me-Me-Me.’ No room left for reason and forethought, so light that match, baby, and let’s watch it burn while we sing around the bonfire of our vanities.

The bomb’s stopped falling after the rain stopped, and we started walking up into the hills as fast as we could. The roads weren’t bad, not steep, anyway, but they were narrow and lined with shrubs – but that was a good thing. We saw paratroopers coming down through the clouds and ducked into the undergrowth as hundreds of men landed around us, and after they’d gathered their equipment and started down the hill, running for the air base, we started walking away as quickly as we could. A few hours later we came to a town on the coast, I think on the south side of the island, and the streets were deserted, fires burning out of control everywhere we looked.

But we made it down to the harbor – and what did I see?

A marina. Full of sailboats.

Need I say more?

Chapter 27

Acheson was laying in bed, watching a bag of vancomycin disappearing into his arm when a guard came in the hut. Cullwell was summoned, told that a high ranking member of the military was coming by for an inspection and to get the place cleaned up, ready for inspection. She nodded her head and turned back to changing the bandages on a badly burned Russian airman, and Acheson looked at her grim determination, her stoicism. He felt a little pride, too.

A few minutes later there was a commotion at the door, then several Russian officers came in – and Rutherford was in their midst, hanging back from the main group. They walked through the makeshift ward to the office in the back, and she ignored him as she passed.

He heard shouting in the office, some asshole berating Cullwell for a perceived slight, and a few minutes later the group walked by, Rutherford still in the rear, but just before she got to the door she begged off, asked to remain for a few minutes, “to talk with a few of my countrymen,” she added.

The Russians left and she started walking among the patients, trying to cheer the men up – but she passed Acheson’s bed once again, then walked back to Cullwell’s office and talked for a while. Acheson, however, never took his eyes off her, and he wondered what her game was now.

She came out a few minutes later, and walked straight to his bedside.

“How are you doing, Ben?”

“Fine, I think. I see you landed on your feet.”

“I may only have a couple lives left.”

“Oh, I doubt that.”

She took his hand, held it tightly. “Don’t hate me,” she whispered. “Not quite yet, anyway.”

“I don’t,” he said. “Not quite yet, anyway.”

She smiled. “Do you need anything? A new leg, perhaps?”

“That’s what the doc thinks. I guess that will have to wait until they can see me at the Mayo Clinic.”

“Oh. Well, anything else?”

“How about the code to unlock the FMC on one of those C-17s. Think you can dig that up for me?”

“Oh? Gonna make a break for it?”

“Something like that.”

“Now that sounds like an adventure.”

“Yeah, might be.”

She leaned close, her lips brushing his ear. “I want you so much it hurts,” she breathed, then, “God, how I love you.”

She pushed away from him and almost ran from the tiny building.

“What the hell was that about?” Cullwell said, standing by the foot of his bed.

Acheson shrugged his shoulders. “Not sure. Something to do with chocolate malts and cheeseburgers.”

“Is she a friend of yours?”

“I have no idea, doc. None at all.”

She looked at Acheson for a long time, wondering who the hell she was, let alone who he was, then she walked back to her office. She had a lot to do to get him ready.


Men came in at three the next morning, loaded Acheson in another truck, but he was barely aware of the world around him by that point. He was heavily sedated, finishing his last bag of vancomycin as they loaded his stretcher into a Antonov 32, and three hours later he was riding in an ambulance through Geneva to an orthopedics clinic. An hour later he was on an operating table, the surgeons regarding him fearfully as Russian troops looked on. He stayed in an isolated ward post-operatively, Russian troops stationed outside his door, and a week later he returned to the Russian air base in Portugal – in the exact same An-32 – and he learned the crew, as well as the guards, had been on detached duty all the while, free to roam Geneva while he convalesced, so they had been more than disappointed to learn he wasn’t staying a month.

His knee was stiff, but he had started light physical therapy in Geneva, and had graduated to walking with crutches by the time he flew back, and now, a few days later, he was walking all over the air base, gaining strength every day. A Russian captain, Leo Piskov, his hands burned, and with his left leg in a cast, started walking with him, and as Piskov’s English was passable they found they enjoyed each others company. Then, after two weeks, their conversations took on an interesting new tone.

“My wife outside Vladivostok,” he mentioned that day. “Work in Navy hospital. You have married woman?”

“Not married, but yes, in Texas. I have no idea if she’s alive or not.”

“So? Call her.”

Acheson laughed. “I might, if I had a phone.”

“That is problem. So, I hear you fly 777, and C-17.”

“I was flying for American Airlines when the trouble started.”

“You go Lajes?”

“That’s right.”

“Bad luck. We makes big effort get Lajes.”

“Believe me, I know.”

“Sorry. Bad night for many people. You still fly C-17?”

“Every now and then. About once a month.”

“Ah, you reserves?”


“Ever fly Afghanistan?”

“Many times.”

“My father killed Afghanistan.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Was he a pilot?”

Leo nodded. “Helicopter. Mi-24, you call HIND.”

“Ah, the gunship. Powerful aircraft.”

“Not enough. Mujahideen took him with shoulder fire weapon. Maybe Stinger is name? I don’t know, too young remember.”

They walked towards the ramp, towards one of the C-17s, and as they got close men began watching them from the control tower.

There was a keypad by the lower door, and it was locked and armed, Acheson saw. Two attempts to unlock it had been made; one more and a large explosive charge would go off in the cockpit, effectively destroying the aircraft.

“You know code?” Leo asked, and now Acheson knew why these walks had been allowed, and why he had been allowed so close to the flight line.

“No, every aircraft has a unique code, and the code is changed every month.”

“Any way get code?”

“Sure, at the operations office in Charleston. The duty officer will have it.”

“Can you call? Get code?”

“Why? So you can use the aircraft?”

“We have no need. No, I was thinking, maybe you get all Americans here, from hospital, we load and you fly them to this Charleston. Maybe you go Texas, find girl.”

Acheson turned to the Russian, looked him in the eye. Then he saw the men in the tower, looking at them with binoculars.

“We have an audience.”

“Da. Big problem. Base commander wants to kill all Americans. I think another solution. Get you home. War over. No need kill now.”

“I see.”

“No, Ben. You no see. Big struggle over prisoners. Many want to kill, even yesterday. If I bring you phone, can get code? You can call Texas. If you can get code, and if I can get people to airplane, can you fly to America?”

“I can try.”

“What about woman?”


“Woman who love you. Rutherford?”

“What about her?”

“She need leave this place before GRU kill her. She dangerous.”

“How many people?”


“How many people need to leave on C-17?”

“Twenty five on stretcher. Fifteen in seat.”

“I would need to refuel. At Lajes. Is possible?”

“Difficult, but possible.”

“Are there any other pilots here? For C-17?”

“C-17 loadmaster, ground chief. No C-17 pilot, but two other pilots. F-22, F/A18.”

“What about you? You want to go too?”

He looked away, then very quietly said “Da. Maybe get to wife from Alaska. No way from here now.”

“I see.”

“I hope you do. I may need your help.”

“You can get me a phone? A satellite phone?”

“I think, yes.”

“And when do you want to leave?”

“Early. Tomorrow.”

“I think I want to walk back now.”

“Okay. You think possible?”

“Yes. It is possible, but must find ground chief and ground power cart. Understand? Airplane has been sitting too long.”

“Yes, understand.”

“Alright. Listen Leo, I feel like shit. You understand shit? I need to lie down, now.”

Leo turned to the tower and waved his hands, and men started running when Acheson fell to the ground.


Cullwell was starting an IV when he came to, and he felt feverish, but something else bothered him about the way he felt. A little nauseated, maybe?

“Any way to figure out how much radiation we’re soaking up?” he croaked.


“I feel like shit.”

“No hard feelings, Ben, but you look like shit, too. No, make that diarrhea.”

“Gee, thanks. I think. You really know how to make a guy…”

“I know. I feel it too, so I’m assuming we’ve passed 200 rem now. Getting up lethal dose in a hurry now.”

“So, in pilot-speak, we’re past the point of no return?”

“Yup, close anyway.”

“Oh, swell.”

“Look, there were troops in here, while you were gone, and some of them looked sicker than shit. We’re a month and a little bit out from radiation release, so people close to the blasts are already gone. I’d say that we, as a whole, were not real close but close enough. We have a month, at most. People well away from detonations, say in South Africa, or at bases in Antarctica, will be reaching 100 rem now, so they may have lifetimes expressed in months, but that’s it.”

“What’s your point?”

“You want to die at home, now’s the time to go. Some air force type came with the troops, told me to get my patients ready to go on a long flight. I’m assuming that had something to do with you and your walk with that Russian?”


“Will they let us leave?”

“I doubt it. The question is, even if they do, am I well enough to make an eight hour flight?”

“I doubt it, but once we’re airborne I can keep fluids running through the line…”

“What about a catheter. I don’t feel strong enough to get up every half hour to take a leak.”

“Yeah. I can do that.” She turned away, shook her head. “Ben, I’m sorry about all this. Not having the stuff on hand to take care of people better than I have…”

“What the devil are you talking about, Jennifer? You’ve been like an angel sent directly from God…everyone in this room would be dead if not for all you’ve done.”

“It wasn’t enough.”

“And that’s not any fault of yours.”

“I just feel so…”

“Nope. Don’t go there, doc. Let’s get on with the business of living, okay? The rest can wait for another day.”

She nodded her head, tried to brighten up. “Yeah. Got it.”

Piskov walked in, an Iridium Sat-Phone in hand, and he came to Acheson’s bed and sat, beads of perspiration glistening on his forehead. “I think I feel as bad as you now,” he said as he handed over the phone. “The phone is about half charged, I think, but we have no charger for it, so talk quickly.” He turned to Cullwell, grinned. “Do you still have Coca-Cola here?”

She smiled. “For medicinal purposes only, but yes, we do. Ben, you want one too?”

“Sounds good. Don’t suppose you have any crushed ice?”

She laughed again, then walked back to her office. Piskov looked at Ben expectantly, then frowned. “You want privacy, I think?”

“I think, yes.”

“I go sit with doctor.”

Ben watched him walk away, then powered up the unit and dialed the duty officer’s desk at the 628th Air Wing, and someone answered on the second ring. “Duty Officer, Captain Nichols.”

“Major Acheson, calling from a Russian POW camp in Portugal.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m calling from a Russian POW camp in Portugal. I’ve been told they’re going to allow us to take a C-17 and try to get a planeload of injured back to the states tomorrow morning.”

“Name, rank and full DOD service number, please.”

Acheson recited the information.

“Stand-by one, Major.”

He looked up, saw several men on the ward staring at him.


“Yes, Captain.”

“How do you expect to fly across?”

“Refuel at Lajes, direct to Charleston after that.”

“What bird?”


“You won’t have the range, Major.”

“What about Bermuda?”


“No refueling assets?”

“I’m not sure. Doubtful.”

“Captain, it looks like I’m going to be able to get about 50 people out of here and home. Is there anything you guys can do to help?”

“Look, buddy, things aren’t running real smooth right now, and you need to know something. They’ve tried this twice, load up a small warhead on the payload, detonate it when they get in US airspace.”

“I understand.”

“I’ll call back in a while, but don’t get your hopes up, okay?”

“Yeah, understood. This phone has about a half charge, call it an hour or so of talk time.”

“Got it, and I have your number. I’ll call you in 12 hours.”

“Signing off.”


He looked at the phone, then called his grandfather’s house in Alpine, Texas. No one picked up, and he left a brief message, about where he was and how he was trying to make it home, and maybe being there in a couple of days, then he signed off and powered down the phone.

“What’s the C-17s range?” the pilot in the bed next to his asked.

“Call it 2400, maybe a few hundred more with a light load.”

“It’s 3000 to from Lajes to the mid-Atlantic coast, but what about Maine? Or St Johns?”

“Around 2000, assuming there are facilities up there. A nuke hit mid-coast Maine, so…”

“Well, that would get us home.”

“Yeah. Guess so.”

“What about navigation? Without GPS, I mean?”

“Some older aircraft have inertial. I think that one out on the ramp does. Or did.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“I hear paper and pencil still works…” Acheson said, grinning.

Cullwell came out with a coke in a red plastic cup, and when she handed it to him he saw three ice cubes floating in the cup and he grinned. “Thanks, Ma’am.”

She nodded, smiled. “My secret stash.”

He watched Piskov walk up behind Cullwell, and the Russian was smiling. “You are to leave at 0500, for Lajes. We will start moving out to the aircraft an hour before. I assume you have the code?”

Acheson smiled. “I’ll be ready.”

“I see. Well, I hope so.”


He sat up in bed when the phone chirped, a little before three, and he listened to the duty officer in South Carolina. He listened to what he had to say, how the Russians had tried to send Medevac aircraft to Kentucky earlier that morning, where the latest interim government was located, but those efforts had been intercepted, the aircraft shot down. They wouldn’t be allowed into US airspace, and the man warned him to look out for anything suspicious being loaded on the aircraft, then he was gone. He shook his head, then dressed carefully, taking care not to disturb the IV shunt dangling from his arm, and then he went went outside. Piskov was out there, still grinning, waiting for him in some sort of Russian jeep; two soldiers saluted when he came out, and he saluted them as he climbed in the front seat.

“You feeling okay?” the Russian asked. “You looking kind of green.”

“I feel green.”



“That means my eyes still working.”


“You have the code?”

“Of course.”

“Good. Shall we go?”

Piskov drove across to the ramp, and Acheson saw Russian ground crews huddled under the C-17’s wings – and three American airmen, hand-cuffed, under armed-guard, by the aft cargo door. There was also a large metal box sitting on the ramp by the door, with two men standing beside it.

‘So, that’s the bomb?’ Acheson said to himself as he looked at the C-17. ‘And this is the Trojan Horse.’

And then he saw Rutherford standing by a car in the shadows, watching him as they approached.

‘And I’m supposed to lead the horse inside the gate?’

Part VI – The Lioness Learns

Chapter 28

Once upon a time

She’d always considered herself an anarchist, and she thought that ironic – or she had, anyway – once upon a time.

Anne Rutherford left Grand Island, Nebraska for Cambridge, Mass, in a way unlike few before her. Wide-eyed and sure of herself, academically accomplished and politically naïve, she made it into Harvard on a Wadsworth scholarship, determined to make a real difference in the world. Yet she’d grown up in the Methodist Church, and had even believed some of the things she learned there, and she had been raised to become a good man’s wife. But in time she picked up on some of the more glaring internal inconsistencies within the Good Book, and that came to her as an awakening of sorts. She began to focus her inquiries on the internal inconsistencies she found in her home after that, and then, soon enough, everywhere she looked – and always through that same questioning prism, searching for inconsistencies in arguments, for human frailty and weakness.

One of her father’s oldest friends, a deacon at their church, ran a hand down her skirt one Sunday after services, and when he slipped a finger inside her, when he played with her physical emotions for the very first time, she seemed confused at first. Far from being scared, or even upset, she was curious about the feelings she experienced, and when he pulled out his penis and forced her to take it in her mouth, she grew only more curious about the man’s inconsistencies. He did the same thing almost every time he came over, usually after Sunday services, and in time she began to anticipate his various little comings and goings, looking forward to things she might learn by examining the man’s emotions. And, in time, she learned how to gauge his emotions, chief among them the need to control her, but then she used his errant feelings to tease him – just a little, in the beginning, anyway. She began to see how easy it was to manipulate the old man, to use his lust as a weapon, and eventually, to turn it against him to her advantage – to take a perceived strength and turn it into a weakness, to play with him, if only for her own private amusement.

She began to watch people, men mostly, after that, and she began to see patterns in their behavior. She saw how men expected to be treated, and how they reacted when they weren’t. They pouted her little brother, she thought, only men wore grown-up clothes. She was twelve, maybe thirteen years old when a local city councilman did the same things to her, and she let him. She led him deeper into a relationship of her own design, then she dumped him, and she regaled as she watched the man dancing on strings she alone knew about. When he pushed back, tried to control her again she exposed him, and she laughed inside as the police took him away – while the world saw her tears.

And her ability to exploit men had set a pattern of sorts, by the time she began high school. When she had trouble with a class, when the material was just too hard to get a handle on, she went to her teachers and got all the help she needed. Men, women – it made no difference. All had their needs, and she knew how to take care of them. She began to see herself as a chameleon, able to change color in an instant, recognize danger and adjust, quickly, to the needs of the moment. To survive. That was, by high school, the ‘all’ of her existence. She lived in a man’s world, and she had to play by certain rules – or learn ways to invert the rules, use them against men.

And curiously, as a result she didn’t have time for ‘boys’ her own age. They learned they too seemed focused on just one thing: using sex as a crude means of control, and, unlike older men, when they couldn’t control her, usually because they were so clumsily arrogant, they became jealous – and often, violently so. One boy tried to ‘make it with her’ after a football game one night during her junior year, and she sensed, as she rejected him, that he was going to rape her. And the whole thing was so pathetic, she thought at the time. When he pushed her down she had simply laughed at the boy, made fun of the size of his penis, and he dissolved before her eyes – disappeared behind crumbling walls of humiliation. So, it was just that simple. Learn the mechanisms of control, then use them.

Then one Sunday a cousin asked her to come with her to a presentation.

“About what?” she asked.

“Oh, you’ll see.”

And so she went, curious why there was a need for such secrecy.

The event was held at a conference room in a local motel, and there were a few hundred people gathered there, sitting around tables loaded with literature and snacks. She looked at the people, all very earnest and hopeful, then a fiery pastor of some sort came out and began to exhort the gathered about how to best live their lives. Using a skillfully woven narrative, the woman related biblical passages to current events, leaving no room at all for any other conclusion that the end was nigh, that the Second Coming was at hand, and that the only way the people in that room could avoid damnation was to reach DEEP down into their pockets – and GIVE!

Despite the crudeness of the message, let alone the messenger, what struck Rutherford was the rapt adoration she felt being showered on the pastor. There was an unquestioning acceptance of everything the woman said, even though, to her, anyway, much that she heard was patently absurd. Still, the force in the woman’s voice made it was hard not to be taken in. There was talk of love and brotherhood, and a community coming together through a shared love for the Lord, and for Jesus Christ.

After a few hours of this, there came a pause, and the pastor asked those in attendance to stand – but only if they had taken the Lord Jesus Christ into their hearts. And people stood while the woman shouted about Christ’s love, about Christ’s willingness to forgive, to accept – but then the woman stopped speaking, and everyone in the room turned to Rutherford, for she alone had remained seated.

And she had never, not once in her life, felt so much hate in one room as she felt just then.

And the pastor turned to her with something akin to fire in her eyes, and she pointed at Anne, called her out as an agent of Satan, and the hatred she felt in the room turned to something far more sinister. Men turned and faced her, and other men, standing by the stage, handed out canes as the pastor screamed for the assembled to strike out at Satan, to drive Him from their midst.

She stood and ran for a door, but the way ahead was blocked – by more men with canes – and she turned, slipped through the converging crowd, made it to a fire escape and burst out into the night, ran all the way home – and yet as she ran all she could think about was the woman’s power, her ability to control an otherwise normal group of people, and it took years for her to get the woman’s fiery eyes out of her mind.

By the time she was a first year at Harvard she knew the stakes had increased, but the game was still the same. She could lead men around by their needs, get what she needed from them by playing along with their game, she could still use them up and spit them out, move on to the next errant fool – but she discovered something even more interesting in Boston: there were more people here, people just like her, playing the same game. And, she soon learned, the stakes grew even higher in this league, the state of play was more polished, and, not infrequently, the game was played to the death.

Her second year roommate, Julie, told her she had good legs and that she ought to wear more provocative clothing, but Anne explained she simply didn’t have that kind of money. “That isn’t a problem,” Julie explained, and she put forth a solution. They went to an underground club that next Friday, and Julie explained Anne’s problem to an older gentleman, and he said he’d be more than happy to help Anne out.

And he had been, too.

He picked her up the next morning, in a limousine, no less, and had spent the day with her. They visited the trendiest boutiques on Newbury Street, and some of the lesser known but no less trendy fetish shops on the other side of the night, then he took her to get her hair done. She had her first manicure, and a pedicure too, and by the time Saturday night rolled around she was, in his estimation, anyway, ready for the big leagues.

When he came by her dormitory at nine that night, in the limo again, he took her to a club “not very many people know about.” There were lot’s of limos dropping off people in an underground garage downtown, and these people were dressed, by and large, in black leather, and they carried bags in with them. They dressed inside, dressed in outlandish costumes, and they wore props like she had seen in some of the seedier shops earlier that afternoon. She saw her roommate then, with a short whip in hand, and a phallus strapped around her waist, working over a man, while another woman was doing her level best to suffocate the poor chap with her vagina.

Her escort, the old man, seemed to understand this was Anne’s first exposure to such proceedings, but he proved a gentle teacher. He was, he explained, a top, or a master, but that, obviously, not all men were tops, and as he led her from scene to scene he explained the roles on display, what  he called the transfers of power going on, who was doing what, and, presumably, why. And the why was suddenly of great interest to Anne, for she was seeing a new, much larger vista into the inner workings of power and control that women, in particular, exerted over men, and as suddenly she knew she wanted to be a top, too.

Yet she could feel her escort’s growing lust – for her – and she intuitively understood that she would have to play with him – on his terms. But rather that wait for him to take charge, she stopped at one point and held out her hands, wrists together, and she said four words that forever changed her life.

“Please, Master? Teach me?”

He had taken her to a room that night, and with several other women to assist him – his women, she learned – she was taken in, indoctrinated, and she became his plaything, for a while. Until, a few months later, she felt him falling in love with her. Then, and only when she was sure he was under her control, she turned the tables on him. She asserted control the next weekend at the club, she wielded the whip, wore the phallus, and she began to bend him first to her need, then to needs of his own he had long repressed.

She knew by then, of course, that he was an immensely wealthy and powerful man. He walked the corridors of power in Washington as easily as he helmed his schooner off the Vineyard; he had a jet, of course, and took her places on weekends, and she knew enough by then to not ask about his wife. He took her skiing in Austria and fishing on Scottish rivers, became her tutor, her mentor, advising which classes to take, which professors were good, helping her some nights with her studies, and as his was an able mind she listened, and learned. About his world, first, then about the doors he might open for her.

When they went to the club he taught her even more, more about the inner dynamics she observed, the tormented inner psyches, the hidden impulses on open, sudden display. There was no act depraved enough, she soon learned, no personal backstory dark enough, and in the end she understood that all life revolved around power and control – and nothing more.

She thought of all the boys in high school who had ‘come on’ to her, and she began to see their clumsy efforts as nothing more than the pathetic attempts of lost children. Children not open to or aware enough of their own cravings to assert control over their darkest needs, and she began to reclassify people. People who knew, who understood the nature of these needs, and people who remained clueless, children who let half-understood impulses control their lives. She began to see that very powerful people were, by and large, very tuned in to this part of their selves, and that they were very tuned in to others on the same wavelength. Like neurons in a vast body, such people were linked by this awareness – and in time she was, too. She began to study this connection, the way it worked, and could not work absent this special ‘awareness,’ but once the connection was made it was like whole new worlds opened up to her.

They spent a week together on his yacht the summer after her junior year, and they sailed from Boston to Southwest Harbor, Maine. He gave her a book to read their first night out – Rand’s Atlas Shrugged – and he told her it was an important book in Washington, but that the hidden parts of the story could be found in the heroine’s extraordinary submission to men. The author had been, he claimed, a complex, introverted woman, yet a very dominant presence in the world – until she was around a true Master. Then she had reverted to type, he said, and wanted nothing more than to be raped, to be physically consumed by the real Master, the World Historical Figure, the real men who moved about world creating massive societal change. She would have to be, he told her, willing to bow before these real men in her quest for power, or in her ascent they would crush her – if only in their sport.

Then one evening he had asked, and seriously, too, if she would like to get married – to him.

“Why?” she asked. “Do you love me?”

“You are the only person I’ve ever loved. I was born to love you.”

“I don’t feel that way about you.”

“Oh, I quite understand that.”

“Then, why?”

“Because I want to help you achieve your dreams.”

And so she married him, and he guided her through the ins-and-outs of Washington – until one day he was gone. She was surprised how much his passing hurt, but by then she had grown immune to such things. She in fact viewed herself now as a something like a shark, cruising reefs in dark solitude, feeding when necessary, but most of all enjoying the feeling of immense, unquestioned power. She was a predator, she knew, consuming anyone and everything that got in her way, and she moved up the career ladder at FBI headquarters with patient, monotonous regularity.

She was a good cop, and she was good because she understood the repressed sexual dynamics that seemed to drive the human mind. And criminals were, after all, human beings – of a sort, anyway. The sort who had little control over such things, just the type she most loved to crush.


Over the years, one other fact of life emerged in Anne Rutherford’s world that seemed to edge out all other concerns, and that was the continuing social injustice women faced in society. The fact bothered her intellectually, and from a distance, for as a career law enforcement officer many such facts of life had been eased by federal regulation. Such things as unequal pay and sexual harassment were no longer ‘obvious’ issues in the workplace, but of more importance, in her capacity as a law enforcement officer she ran into the real savagery such inequality visited upon women and children, and on an, almost, daily basis.

And she learned two things very quickly in her first years on the street.

The first was that there appeared to be real predators out there, predators whose crimes were not simple, accidental encounters. Their crimes were nothing less than the pre-meditated savagery of men who preyed on weak women and powerless children, and who most often did so to exert control over a weak, terrified victim. The second: that there were men in law enforcement who simply saw this predation as a part of the natural order of things, and as such, these were crimes hardly worth bothering with. She listened to agents toss off brutal jokes about women serially abused and murdered, jokes referencing mutilated vaginas or the emotional vagaries of PMS, and she wondered why some men thought these things funny.

Perhaps because they knew so little about themselves? About the true nature of life?

Her first assignment, after completing her post-academy training at a field office in Hartford, Connecticut, had taken her into the bizarre realm of profiling, the reconstructive/predictive psychoanalysis of criminal behavior. With her academic background in sociology and psychology, this was a natural progression for her, and with her less well known sexual predilections an integral part of her deeper background, she discovered she had a real interest in this work.

She was sent to the field office in Cleveland, Ohio, when a series of disappearances gained national attention, and she began looking over the information gathered to date. The first things she noted were the victim’s names, names like Anna and Hannah. Palindromes. Every victim’s name was a palindrome, so instantly she knew these people had been chosen, that their disappearances were not random.

So, if they weren’t random, were there other unifying characteristics?

After she posited her ‘palindrome insight’ with the SAC, or Special Agent in Charge, she found that men in the office tended to avoid her – yet soon other women in the office took a more serious interest in her work, and her methodology; soon these women started working the area with her for clues, then developing ideas with her, helping her re-interview victim families, for instance, then charting the results on maps of the city, then Cuyahoga County. When all this information was collated, like the spokes on a wheel the abductions seemed to point inward to a small area in an older suburb called Brook Park. And all the victims belonged to Methodist churches, which rocked Anne’s personal world, if only a little, but perhaps her involvement became a little more personal after that.

She and her little crew of female agents visited churches in the area, developed lists of names, then cross-checked these names with other lists of known or suspected sexual predators, and they began to focus on a handful of suspects in the area.

One afternoon she began watching a man who lived alone in a small house on Holland Road, and she followed him to the airport. He pulled into a parking garage but remained in his van, and an hour later he left – without once getting out or doing much of anything – except to look at two women through binoculars.

She knew then that she had found their man.

So she returned to the field office and swore out an affidavit for a search warrant and took it down to the courthouse. And it was denied. No probable cause, the judge said. Not enough to warrant such an intrusion, anyway. Get more solid information, he told her, “and don’t come back until you do, little lady.”

So she joined up with another female agent and they sat up on the man’s house, watched him for days.

And nothing happened.

He went to off work in the morning, invariably stopped off for dinner on his way home in the evening, then he went inside his home for the evening – and that was that. But then one evening he returned to the airport in his van, and he parked next to a new Chevy, and they parked almost out of sight and watched as he moved around inside the van. They waited for hours, then looked on as a flight attendant walked up to the back of the Chevy and put her bag in the trunk, then moved around to get in the car – and when the van’s side door slid open the man reached for the woman, grabbed her by the throat and put a hooded-cloth over her face, then pulled her inside the van. By the time he had sedated the woman, Rutherford and her partner had pulled their Explorer behind the van, blocking his escape, and moments later they had him on the ground, in handcuffs. Dozens of units converged on the scene after that, and the man was taken away to be interrogated, leaving Rutherford and a handful of other agents free to search the man’s house.

They found an ordinary enough home on the main floor, and a carnival or horror in the basement. Tables where women had been tied down and dissected, a butcher’s counter where the bodies had been further reduced, and vats of acid where their remains had been discarded. There were still bones in those vats, and teeth, and in the end Rutherford accounted for nineteen women who had passed through the man’s butcher shop. Nineteen lives snuffed out by savage need, a need to control, an all-consuming need to instill fear, a need to torture.

Then they found the video recordings.

Of each victim’s last hours among the living, of the man’s twisted love for these women. For he had indeed loved them, indeed, he had worshipped them, intoned Godly incantations while he kissed them and fingered them, went into fervent prayer as he slit their wrists. He drank their blood, eventually bathed in each victim’s blood, recreating a bizarre, almost medieval ritual after each murder. She saw patterns of obsessive-compulsive behavior in his rituals, and she knew these usually formed in childhood so she reached out and revisited the man’s past, reconstructing the elements within his upbringing that had helped shape and inform his extreme needs.

She found an absent father, a controlling and sexually abusive mother, alcohol and drug abuse a constant throughout his life. One neighbor recalled how the boy had enjoyed capturing dogs and cats, blinding them with sewing needles, then setting them loose on crowded streets and watching them get hit by passing cars. Another recalled stories she’d heard from neighborhood children, of how he’d brought girls home from school and tied them up in the garage behind his house, then how he’d painted them with red paint, cutting off their hair with pruning shears before releasing them.

His father was long gone by the time of his arrest, but she ran down his mother – and almost be accident. She’d been living in homeless shelters for years but had recently fallen ill, been transported to St Luke’s and diagnosed with tuberculosis. She was terminal, in an isolation ward when Rutherford found the woman, and the event was almost transformative for Rutherford. What emerged was a portrait not of evil, or even simple weakness, but a cycle of victimization. Of sexual abuse, first by her father, then by her husband – who particularly enjoyed sodomizing her with a broomstick – yet when told of her son’s peculiar needs the woman only smiled.

“That’s all he ever wanted to do,” she told Rutherford. “He worshipped girls, from the first. When I took him to church he liked to sit behind attractive women in the pews, and when we kneeled to pray he would reach out and play with their shoes, then he would sniff his fingers. When we walked home he would confess these little sins to me, and I would beat him, then let him play with my shoes, smell my feet.”

“What role did the church play in his life?”

“We went several nights a week, because he seemed to enjoy it so.”

“What about your parents? Did your father play with you, with your feet?” Rutherford asked, and the woman had simply turned, looked away.

Look away. Turn away. Let your impulses control you – never take control of them. Let other people control you, until there was nothing left of your life to control. That was the universal constant she found in that instant, and it reinforced all her earlier thinking.

So his crime had been part of a cycle, but Anne now suspected cycles like these were always involved. Sniffing feet, like a dog or any other predator might, was so obvious, too full of unexplored irony, but cycles of inverted lust weren’t that obvious, and control for control’s sake wasn’t ironic. She saw this man’s love, his seriously perverted love, had developed in a youth spent surrounded by the trappings of religious order, yet such order was little more than delusion absent real understanding of both the self and the institutional order’s purpose. His mother’s serialized abuse helped create a new, unholy trinity, but what interested Rutherford most was how seemingly ‘normal’ the man’s upbringing was – from a distance, anyway. She had been on the street long enough to realize his upbringing was far from unusual, and that just a few key differences in his mother’s behavior might have changed the outcomes of an endless stream of broken lives. But because she was just part of a longer cycle playing out over time, she’d never been aware of her own role in the drama.

She returned to Washington after that and began a graduate program in psychology at Georgetown, more intent than ever of understanding the dynamics of these cycles, to unearth key differences between what might be ‘normal’ and what led to criminal psychopathology, yet her professors seemed resolutely uninterested in this line of inquiry.

Try Sociology, one of them told her, and so she had.

When she wasn’t working on cases, she went to prisons and interviewed inmates. She went to seminaries and interviewed seminarians. She went to her husband’s clubs and participated in their trivial, acted-out predations, yet she did so from then on more as an observer, as someone interested in questions she perceived in these activities, not just the answers intuited in the needs and counter needs of play-acted passion. In the end she saw, in all these settings, women and children as victims of a peculiar, predatory lust – and she saw no way out of this dilemma going forward. Nothing would change for women and children if the status quo remained, because everything was locked in ancient cycles of need and lust, passed down from generation to generation. And this was a lust defined by men. A broken need that had become a self-perpetuating cycle of broken dreams and endless despair.

And yet, she soon discovered she was not alone in this thinking. She met other women running up against the same hard wall. Women who too often had been victims, and often enough, women who helped victims trying to cope. She kept note of these contacts, and over the years she was staggered at the tally, of just how many women, victims, she had met.

Then she began to reach out to a powerful few, to discuss the framework of an idea…

So, as like-minded women, these women met for years and discussed the problem, and in time they met and planned ways they might change the system. Physicians, nurses and social workers. Women in Congress, women in law enforcement and the military, women in academia and journalism. They met and planned at retreats across the country, and at mundane political gatherings, where like minded acolytes were first identified, then recruited. An initial network of less than a hundred mushroomed into thousands, then the tens of thousands, and still they planned.

The original group integrated with smaller sub-groups around the country. Groups that almost always included wealthy, politically connected men. Groups that her husband had once belonged to. Clubs, little play-acting clubs, with play-acted control the goal. And soon she had the means, and quite suddenly, to co-opt larges numbers of politically influential men all around the country. It didn’t take long for the group to realize that the same architecture could be applied globally, and so they spent a few more years putting a larger network in place.

Then He came along. The latest president. The “pussy grabber,” the man who’d allegedly raped a 13 year old girl, then had his thugs threaten her with death when she decided to press civil charges. His election was a galvanic moment for the organization, and things began to move rapidly after that.

So – one day they decided to act, and they found a perfect first target. A pedophile mixed up with Mexican drug runners who liked to make snuff videos, who lived in Dallas, Texas, and she decided to commit her protégé to this endeavor. To infiltrate law enforcement at the highest levels of the investigation, to mask the group’s activities for as long as possible.

And Genie Delaney had gone to Dallas willingly, had complete access to all the information being developed by the Dallas Police Department. She met with Delaney several times, and a key member of the department was identified for contact. A lanky, motor-jock who had flown for the Air Force, a kid named Ben Acheson.

Delaney was assigned to get as close as she could to him, to gather information that could be used to compromise him – when and if the time came.

And then some fuck-up shot Delaney, and all their plans started to unravel.

And Anne Rutherford experienced the last epiphany of her life.


She was sitting on a patio at a seaside estate in Estoril, a huge stone patio overlooking the sea, and she was looking at two Russian colonels and their mistresses. They looked like whores, and she laughed a little. ‘Well, maybe that’s because that’s exactly what they are,’ Rutherford said to herself. ‘They’re just like me, so who would know better?’

She had her Iridium on the table in front of her, and it chirped once, so she looked at the display, then signed on and took the call.

“Hello,” she said – tentatively.



“Yes. I got your message.”

“I’ve found Ben.”


“He’s in a Russian POW camp, north of Lisbon.”


“He’s in a make-shift hospital there, and I’ve heard he has a badly broken leg. I’m trying to get the Russians to let us get it fixed.”


“Several of our people are here, have been since the election. Anyway, I think I’ve convinced a colonel to take me with him on an inspection tour of the POW camps, north of the city. Do you want me to pass along a message?”

“No, I don’t think so.”


“Look, it’s bad here. Ben’s grandfather is sick…well, what can I say. Cattle are falling over in the fields, too much radiation in the grass, in the rain that’s falling, and there’s no more fuel so we can’t drive into town, and anyway, there’s nothing left, even if we could.”

“The grocery stores…?”

“Bare shelves. Satellite radio was our last link to the outside, but they went off the air yesterday.”

“How are you?”

“I’ve been vomiting blood all morning. Does that answer your question?”

“Genie, I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry? Well, I guess that’s something.”

“I know.”

“Do you? I wonder? Knowing what you know now, if you could go back in time, would you do it all over again?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“I knew you’d say that. Funny, I guess.”

“Funny? No, that’s not the word I’d use. Inevitable is a word that comes to mind. Non-sustainable is another. Maybe we just sped things up a little.”

“Wow, you really are a true believer, aren’t you?”

“Yes. We could have kept going down the same road, maybe another generation, maybe not, before things fell apart…”

“And you got to make that call?”

“It wasn’t just me, was it? I recall you were all for it, too, along with a few thousand like-minded people. Before you fell in love with Ben, anyway.”

“I know,” Genie said, quietly. “Like any other cult member, I guess. In the end it all comes down to brainwashing, doesn’t it?”

“Maybe. But political parties and their handmaidens in the media have been doing that for the last fifty years. We just took it to the next level.”

“Inevitable, huh?”

“Yes, I think so. Any idea how long people over there have?”

“In this part of Texas, two weeks. Maybe three. Average exposure in town is now over 300 rem. Last word we had was the major cities in Texas are silent now, but Houston was flattened on day one. Something like four large hydrogen warheads. There was one on the west side of Fort Worth, to take out an aircraft plant there, and San Antonio took a direct hit according to one report, but all our fallout is coming from the west coast. I can’t even begin to imagine what happened out there.”

“Any snow yet?”

“Yeah. Some.”

“How about power?”

“Ben’s grandfather put in solar a few years ago, even a small wind generator. There’s enough power to keep the lights on.”

“Any news, anything on the internet?”

“Nope. It’s down. Everywhere, as far as I can tell.”

“Yes, it is here, too. Are you sure there’s nothing you want me to pass on to Ben?”

“There’s no need, Anne. You couldn’t tell him anything he doesn’t already know.”

“Anything I can do for you?”

“I don’t know. Can you make it all go away? Like this was all just a bad nightmare?”

“If I could. What about Ben’s…?”

“The Duke? Carol? They’re here, he drove us out…”

And the line went dead a moment later – though whether intentionally or by happenstance, she had no way of knowing.

Now, she had one more call to make.


She saw the Gaz Tigr as it turned onto the ramp, as the Russian behind the wheel turned for the C-17, then, as it drove by, she could just see Ben in the passenger’s seat.

“You go now,” the GRU colonel said to her, shoving her towards the aircraft.

She nodded her head, walked towards the Tigr as it stopped by the aircraft, and when she saw Acheson climb out her heart soared. He was walking, with a cane, but he was walking on his own, and he almost seemed surprised when he saw her walking his way, but in the end he ignored her, walked up to the code panel on the C-17 and entered a code – and she saw Piskov walking up from behind, a pistol drawn.

“Ben,” she called out, “was that stuff you told me about a delayed detonation code for real?”

Acheson turned, saw Piskov, and Rutherford – and he smiled at her ‘head’s up.’ “Five hour delay, as promised.”

“What’s this?” Piskov said, clearly not believing what he’d just heard.

“Oh, come on, Leo,” Ben said. “We know all you want is access to the birds so you can try and get to Kentucky, but there’s no way this aircraft is going to get anywhere near the coast. Besides, just how many more bombs do you think you need to drop?”

“We will stop bombing your country when your country stop bombing ours?”

“Oh? When’s the last time our country bombed Russia?”

“We hear there are preparations underway for massive strike, right here in Europe.”

“Oh. I wonder who would spread a rumor like that?”

“Rumor, truth, does not matter now. Duty all we have left.”

“Duty to what, Leo?”

“To the homeland.”

“Ah. Well, good luck with that, Leo. Really. Now, are you going to shoot me, or let me load up our injured and get them on their way home?”

“But you just say you will not be allowed to US airspace. You think I am fool? All of us?”

“Why yes, Leo, now that you mention it, I do think you are fools, all of you. All of us, for that matter. And do you know why, Leo? Well, let me tell you anyway, Leo, because I’m pretty sure you’re too stupid to figure this one out on your own. You’re a fool, all of you are fools, for thinking you could win a nuclear war. You’re fools for wanting to believe the same old propaganda Stalin used, lies to sell fear. You’re fools even now for believing that same old bullshit, that we’re getting ready to plaster good old mother Russia with another wave of atomic horse manure. You are, in fact, Leo, a race of fools, and it was humanity’s misfortune to end up on the same planet with a pack of fools like you.”

“God damn you to Hell. What make you think you so different than us? Righteous superiority, no? Maybe you want me shoot in face now? Save all pain?”

“You know what, Leo. You are absolutely correct. I’m a fool, all Americans are fools. Everyone who has ever thought they could build these goddamn bombs – and use them – is a fucking fool. But you know what, Leo? Your illustrious leaders sold your people on an idea. That Russia could win a nuclear war, and in my little corner of the universe, that makes you the biggest fools of all.”

“Good. I shoot now. Right in balls, little coward!”

“Fine with me, Leo, but there’s a quarter kiloton nuclear warhead ticking down right now, and it’s going to go off, right here, in just about five hours.”

“You bullshit. No such thing, and we know it.”

“Yeah, sure Leo, just like you know you can win a nuclear war. But don’t take my word for it. Come here, look at the display.”

Piskov walked over, looked at the display. “So, countdown timer. Big deal. Could mean anything.”

Ben went to the panel, hit the audio annunciator button, and a woman’s voice filled the air around the door.

“You now have four hours, fifty-six minutes to self-destruct. The minimum safe distance from this device is fifteen miles.”

“What is this mother fucker bullshit!” Piskov screamed.

“Leo, it’s not bullshit. It’s a point two five kiloton fission warhead, and it’s going to go off in a few hours, right here, too. I’d suggest you get in that little jeep of yours and beat feet out of here.”

Piskov stepped close, put the Makerov to his forehead. “You disarm now!” he screamed.

“Sorry, Leo. Once it’s armed there’s no way to stop it without getting airborne. And oh. If you shoot the panel, the bomb goes off. No delay. It just goes off.”

“You shitting on me?”

“Well, let’s not go overboard, Leo. After all, we hardly know one another.”


Acheson was grateful Rutherford turned away, hid her laughter as well as she did.

“Leo, honest Indian. No bullshit. Now, can we get my people loaded. I want to get out of here.”

“But, where you go?”

“Well hell, Leo, this is the Marrakech Express. We’re going to Morocco, in case you want to come along.”

“Open ramp. We load now, but you go Lajes. Understand?”

Ben went to the panel and entered another code; lights came on, doors whirred open. Russians frog-marched the ground chief and loadmaster over, took off their hand-cuffs and ankle shackles – then walked away as fast as they could.

“Chief, go wake up my airplane, would you?”

“Sir, did you really arm that warhead?”

“Yes, Chief, I did. Now, let’s hop to!”


“So, is no bullshit.”

“No bullshit, Leo.”


“My thoughts, exactly.”

“You think you pretty funny, no?”

“No funnier than you, Leo. And you’re a very funny man.”

The man turned, began walking off and muttered: “Fuck you, and your mother, too.”

“No thanks, Leo. Trying to quit. Causes cancer, in case you haven’t heard.”

Piskov stopped in his tracks, shook his head, then started walking again.

Rutherford walked over and stood beside him, took his hand in hers. “You know, I wonder. Is he really that fucking stupid, or was he acting.”

Acheson shrugged, then looked at her. “You have any idea where we can go?”

“Yup,” she said, grinning. “You know me, always plan ahead.”

Trucks began backing up the loading ramp, then troops helped carry the injured up onto the cargo deck – which was, thankfully, still set up with standard Medevac beds, respirators and IV pumps. The loadmaster came up, asked Acheson if he had any special orders, and Ben told him to make sure the men were strapped in tight, because it was going to be a bumpy ride.

The loadmaster walked away shaking his head, wondering how the hell the pilot knew that.

Acheson walked up the forward steps and then up to the flight deck, and he confirmed entries on the code panel, released a safety – and only then went to his seat. A minute later someone claiming to be a Marine F-35 pilot came up and asked if he could be of help, and Acheson looked at the man – who appeared uninjured – and asked where he was from.

“Mississippi,” the man said.

“Oh? Where’d you go to school?”

“Ole Miss.”

“Yeah? How ‘bout them Buckeyes?”

“Yeah, they had a good year, didn’t they?”

“Better than you, Ivan. Take a hike.”

A few minutes later a heavily bandaged pilot came huffing and puffing into the cockpit, and he looked at the overhead panel and sighed. “Someone tells me there’s an airedale up here who don’t know how to fly real good, and shit, I thought bein’ a Naval Aviator and all, and therefore, by definition, a better pilot that any goddamn Air Force puke that ever lived, maybe I ought to come up here and see if I could give away some free airplane drivin’ lessons.”

Acheson turned and looked at the man. “They take the training wheels off your Tomcat yet, hot shot?”

“Tomcat? Man, where you been the last twenty years?”

“With your mother, drilling her in the can.”

“She gettin’ any better at it?”

“Howdy. My name’s Acheson. You?”

“Bond. James Bond.”


“You know, I’m just as fuckin’ sorry as I can be, but my grandfather’s last name was Bond, and so was my Dad’s. And I can’t fuckin’ help it if they both liked Ian Fucking Fleming. Alright? Any questions?”


“Yeah, man. Say, what are all them-thar buttons up there for?”

“Oh, those operate the in-seat dildo dispenser. Don’t touch them unless you want hemorrhoids.”

“Oh, right. Heard about them things. Must be an airedale thing.” Bond said as he tried to slip into the seat. “Yeow. I hurt in places I didn’t even know I had.”

“What happened?”

“Ejected – at Mach 1.3.”

“Never done that. Is it as fun as I hear?”

“Funner. Man, this looks like an MD-11.”

“Kind of, but don’t let looks fool you. You flown commercial?”

“Nope. My dad did.”

Acheson heard someone close by, turned and saw Piskov standing in the cockpit door.

“You decide to come along for the ride, hot shot?”

“I come tell you your men are loaded. You now leave any time.”

“Oh, well, I’ll come down and see you off.”

“I go with you.”


“I stay. You hide me.”

Ben looked at Piskov, saw the pleading look in his eyes. “Why? Leo, why?”

“I fail. I think. I think they kill me.”

“Chief,” he called to the ground chief on the intercom, “I need you to give me a hand with something up here.”

“Sir?” the airman said.

“Think you can hide this guy somewhere?”


He walked aft to a foot locker sized metal box the Russians had placed on the cargo deck, then he went over and closed the ramp. When it was closed he turned to the loadmaster and smiled: “Help me open this, would you?”

They worked for a minute, then busted the lock and opened the case.

“What is it, sir?”

“Small nuclear warhead, would be my guess.”

“No shit?”

Acheson looked at the control panel, then felt someone coming up from behind. He turned, saw Rutherford standing there. “You don’t happen to know any Russian, do you?”

“Of course.”

“Don’t tell me. Harvard?”

“You have to ask?”

“Silly me, of course you did. Mind telling me what this says?”

“Push here, then kiss your ass goodbye.”

“Thanks. Try again?”

“The green button is a timer set/reset button. Yellow is arm. Red is detonate now…like I said, kiss your ass…”

“Okay, I got it. And it’s set for eight hours and ten minutes right now?”

“That would be my guess – yes.”

“So, to reset to five minutes, looks like we hit the green reset button,” he said, punching the button, “then turn this dial to five minutes. Next, to begin the countdown again, hit the green button again, then hit yellow to arm the bomb, then you should have five minutes to get the fuck out of Dodge. That about right?”

“Ben. You’re not.”

And Acheson nodded his head. “You reap what you sow, darlin.” He turned, looked at the loadmaster and the chief: “I’m gonna taxi out to the end of the runway and hang this bird’s ass way out over the grass and drop the ramp out there. Make sure all the lights are out back here, and when I make the turn you’ll have thirty seconds to get this box out in the grass, arm it and get your swingin’ dicks back in here. I’ll be doing the run up, so don’t forget to push the green button, then the yellow. If someone shows up shootin’ then press the red one and start sayin’ your prayers.”


“We’re counting on you guys.”


“I’ll stay with them, Ben.”

“No need. Come with me now; they know what to do, and they’ll get the job done.”

He turned and left for the cockpit, and Rutherford followed him again.

“You’re evil, you do know that, don’t you?”

“Just following the Golden Rule. Kind of. You know, do unto others before they do it to you first.”

“Ah. Still, it’s evil.”

“Have a seat,” he said, pointing at the left jump-seat, then: “Gee, I hope I can remember how to fly one of these things.”

“You know, it’s the little expressions of competence that really warm the heart,” Bond said.

“And who is this?” Rutherford asked.

“Bond, James Bond,” both Acheson and Bond said, as if on cue.

“Ah,” she said, “dinner and a floor show. How fun.”

Acheson saw the ground chief outside making hand signals, and Acheson held up two fingers – and got a nod.

“Okay, let’s start two.”

“And you obviously think I know how to do that, don’t you?” Bond said, grinning.

Acheson shook his head, reached over and started the engine, then watched pressures and ratios until power stabilized. When the chief signaled three fingers, he started the inboard right engine – and just then another Tigr jeep drove up, and two soldiers ran up to the open boarding door. A moment later they burst into the cockpit.

“Kepitane Piskov? Where he is!?” One of them shouted.

And Rutherford, in perfect Russian, told them he had gone already, that he had exited through the aft cargo ramp several minutes ago. She went with them and showed them all the patients in their litters and, thoroughly confused, the men left. She came up to the flight deck a few minutes later, completely amused with herself now.

“They say we’re to communicate on 121.5. Does that mean anything to you?”

“Yes indeedy.” He turned COMM 1 to the frequency and and checked in: “Ground, the is Air Force 60002, how do you read?”

“60002, we read five by five.”

“Any information you want to pass along?”

“0-2, such as?”

“Oh, you know, runway, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction. The basics, maybe?”

“The base commander advises you may fuck off.”

“60002, I read that as clear to fuck off, barometer is fuck off, and wind speed and direction are fuck off as well? Is that a good read-back, or should I tell you to fuck off too?”

Another voice came on after that. “Sorry about that, Air Force. You are clear to take off on runway 17, barometer is 29.95, wind out of south, speed light and variable, C-A-V-U reported to Lisbon.”

“Thanks, tower, and y’all have a good life.”

He finished starting one and four, then entered the LAT and LON from the readout on Anne’s sat phone into the INS, and then noticed he had a clear GPS signal so reactivated the system; he input Lisbon as the first “waypoint” on his route, then turned to Rutherford.

“Where are we going?”

“Not where you think,” she said, handing him coordinates scrawled hastily on a scrap of paper.

“Interesting. Any reason why?”


“And, of course, you’re going to tell me, aren’t you?”


“I see. Perhaps I should just leave that bomb onboard.”

“Fine. I know what the red button does.”

He turned back to the FMC, the flight management computer, and input the coordinates she’d given him, not sure why he was trusting her – but then he considered: without an alternate? “Oh well, any port in a storm,” he sighed.

“0-2, we are ready to taxi.”

“0-2, you will be number two, behind Sukhoi 27.”

Bond chimed in now. “Why are they sending one of those up now?”

“To shoot you down as soon as we deviate from a course towards Lajes,” Rutherford said.

“That would be my guess, too,” Acheson added.

“Gee, swell,” Bond whispered.

Acheson advanced the throttles and turned for the taxiway, followed the splotchy blue fighter out to the end of the runway, then went on the intercom as he braked. “Everyone prepare for departure, we’ll be turning on to the runway after the Russian fighter just ahead takes off. That’ll be the loud noise you hear in just a moment. Lights out now, Chief.”

The Sukhoi’s engines ran up to an incredible roar and held power for several seconds, then it leapt down the runway and vaulted into the sky. He waited several seconds then let off the brakes and the C-17 coasted into a wide turn, Acheson letting the tail, and the cargo ramp, drift out over the grass beyond the runway’s threshold. As he turned for the centerline he lowered the ramp, and started a stop watch on the panel, then he began his engine run up. He watched pressures and ratios, and the clock – forty seconds later he raised the ramp and released the brakes.

The C-17 crawled down the runway, slowly built speed, and at 137 knots he rotated and began a very gentle climb.

“Positive rate,” Bond said. “Gear up.”

“Okay.” Acheson cleaned the wing and turned to the first heading prompt, keeping an eye on the timer now, accelerating through three hundred knots while still only a few hundred feet above the trees.

The threat panel chimed, indicating an airborne radar was painting the aircraft. He turned the ECM panel to AUTO, and two more warnings sounded.

“Here comes Ivan,” Acheson whispered.

“I know that sound,” Bond added, “and I still don’t like it.”

Acheson reached to the overhead, flipped off two safeties, then armed ‘White Eyes,’ and a deep, steady warning alarm sounded.

“What the Hell’s that?” Bond cried.

“A two billion candlepower retina scorch. Sorry about this, Ivan, but you asked for it.” He activated the system, and seconds later the threat panel erupted. “Heat-seekers!” Acheson whispered as he reefed the -17 into a tight, climbing right, flares and chaff trailing – then he slammed the pedals into a steep diving left – and saw two Russian Atoll heat-seeking missiles arc away into the night. Then he saw the Sukhoi wobbling into a shallow dive, and he watched it slam into trees a few miles away, then heard Rutherford behind him whispering “Sweet Jesus…”

“Thirty seconds,” he said.

“Til what?” Bond replied.

“Big box go boom.”

“What big box?”

“Tell ya what, Slick. Just hang on.”

A sudden sun came out, and he looked at the display, saw they were 24 miles from the runway. “Hope this is enough…”

He held onto the stick, but the expected concussion never hit so he banked into a steep left turn and looked back – and saw a wall of flame at least a mile high roaring through the hills and forests. Turning for Lisbon again, he firewalled the engines and began a max power climb.

“Was that a nuke?” Bond asked.

“I think so, but it’s generated a huge firewall, and it’s moving fast.”

Bond looked down, saw the wall moving below them now, then he looked at their airspeed. “It’s got to be moving at close to 500 miles per hour!”

Acheson looked at their altitude – 22,000 and climbing – and he saw the fire racing for Lisbon, still 60 miles distant. “What have they gone and done now?”

“Must be super-hot,” Bond said, his voice full of wonder. “It seems to be fusing everything in it’s path. Probably a cobalt encased warhead.”

“Well, it was meant for us, for the new government, supposedly in Kentucky somewhere.”

“That figures. A warhead like this would cause fires in those hills that would burn for months, maybe all the way to Kansas.”

“You got to hand it to Ivan. He’s got a death wish a mile wide.” He got on the intercom. “Chief? Can you come up here now?”

He heard the man come in a moment later. “Yessir?”

“Better get our Russian friend out of the ductwork.”


“Intensity dropping off now,” Bond said, and Acheson trimmed for level flight. Wonder what they’ve got going on at the airport?”.

“My Guess? Transports and fighters now, no commercial stuff.”

“Probably got SAMs.”

“Probably. Probably more concerned with that wall of fire…”

Heading almost due south, Acheson trimmed for a fuel conserving climb and engaged the FMC, then went aft to check on his ‘passengers.’ He ran into Captain Cullwell, the physician, and saw she was shaken.

“What’s wrong?” he asked when he saw her ashen expression.

“Radiation alarms started going off in here a few minutes after take-off. What kind of bomb was that?”

“Don’t really know. Navy guy up front mentioned a cobalt casing, but I’m not up on all that stuff. How bad was it?”

She shook her head, turned away. “You don’t want to know,” was all she said.

“Well, it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot now anyway, does it? Still think you need to run an IV while I’m up front?”

“Yeah. I’ve got everything ready.”

“Okay, let me check in with folks back here, then I’ll meet you up on the flight deck.”

She nodded her head while he walked all the way aft and spoke with the airman who’d taken the bomb out to the grass. “You have any trouble getting that thing out of here?”

The boy looked grim, then shook his head.

“Okay, spill it.”

“There were houses back there, sir. I mean, families. I saw a kid at a fence with his dog, watching us. Like…up early to watch the airplanes, you know?”

Acheson swallowed hard, took a deep breath through his nose and blinked. “They put that on here so we would carry it to our country…”

“I know, sir, but did we have to? Set it off, I mean. You’d disarmed it. Wasn’t that all we needed to do?”

Acheson shook his head. “Maybe…”

“I heard you guys talking, sir. About, well, when will it be enough, sir? They’re like crazy with suspicion, and who knows, maybe that started it all, but it’s like, well, we just can’t let go either.”

“I know,” Acheson said. “Maybe that’s why we’re here right now, why we are where we are, spiraling down the drain.”

“I was thinkin’, sir. We’re like two boxers in the ring, with no ref. We keep pounding away on each other, and we’re going to keep on ‘til there’s nothing left. Isn’t that about it, sir? Isn’t that who we are, I mean really, deep down, all there is to us?”

“I don’t know, kid.”

“Sir, you look like hell. Maybe you better go sit down.”

Acheson nodded, turned to the cockpit – then felt the world falling away.


Someone opened his eye, shone a light in – and he tried to turn away. His hands were tingling, his feet too – then he knew he was going to vomit and tried to sit up. Someone helped him lean over the stretcher, held a bucket under his face and he let go. When he was finished he noticed the fluid was streaked with long clots of blood, and he tasted the coppery essence of hemoglobin, not the usual bile-soaked barf he remembered from nights after drinking too much.

Acheson looked up, saw Cullwell getting ready to stick him with a hypodermic.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Sedative, and I want to get some whole blood in you. There’s a fridge forward with about twenty units of your type. If I can get it in you’ll feel a lot better.”

“Not a sedative…”

“I’ve got to get your blood pressure down – it’s 155 over 110. Ben, you’re losing a lot of blood – out your rectum now. You understand?”

But he didn’t, not even a little – yet he did feel like he was falling again.


He felt a hand on his forehead and opened his eyes, saw Rutherford standing over him, looking into his. She smiled when she saw his eyes and leaned over, kissed his forehead. “About another twenty minutes,” she said, “then you can sit up.”

“What about…where are we?”

“Hey, turns out that Navy puke knows how to fly after all.”

“Pah. Nobody in the Navy knows how to fly.”

She grinned. “How do you feel?”

“Better. Not as nauseated.”

“That’s the promethazine,” Cullwell said. “And I can’t give you any more ‘til we’re on the ground – or you won’t even be able to pick your nose without help, let alone pick out a runway.”

“Swell. That’s one of those drugs we aren’t allowed to take before flying…”

“Guess what, Ben. No FAA, so no worries, and besides, you’ve got three quarts of brand new motor oil flowing through those veins, and you’re gonna feel like a new man as soon as you get up.” Cullwell disconnected him from the IV pump, then swabbed down the shunt and put a bandage over it. “Just a few more minutes,” she said, “and you’ll be good to go.”

“How far out are we?” he asked Rutherford.

“About 800 miles – a half hour ago, anyway.”

He took a deep breath, then coughed – and he tasted blood in his mouth again. “Damn.”

“I started coughing up blood a few hours ago,” she said, wiping spittle from his chin.

“Why do I get the feeling this isn’t going to be a whole lot of fun.”

Cullwell walked up again, another syringe in hand. “Sleeves up,” she said.

“What’s this?”

“Just a little vitamin cocktail.”

“Right. Sure thing,” he said, rolling up his shirt sleeve. She swabbed his arm, then pinched and stuck him – and he let out a long sigh – as in his mind’s eye he was looking at a kid in Portugal, in his back yard, peeking over a fence at jets taking off just before his day got started, a little pup yapping at his feet.


“You sure the tower is 119.3?” Bond asked, looking at the runway and tower as it passed below on their ‘downwind.’

“That’s the latest published info I have. The VOR is still active, so I’d assume either everyone down there is dead, or they’re just not talking to us. See any traffic?”

“An old 757 at the terminal, a couple ATRs parked out…wait…looks like three C-17s just off the ramps, covered with netting. Some troops too.”

“They’ll be mine,” Rutherford said.

“What do you mean, ‘yours’?” Bond asked, turning to look at her.

“They’re part of my group.”

“You mean…?” Bond said, looking from Rutherford to Acheson.

“We had just arrested her,” Acheson said, dropping the flaps and cutting power, “and were transporting her back to the States when all this happened.”

“Oh, that’s just great, man. So, we’re getting ready to land in a nest of these people?”

“That’s one way to look at it. You’ll get to spend the last weeks of your life surrounded by women…”

“Feminists, you mean. Not the same thing as women.”

Rutherford groaned, looked away. “Just my luck,” she sighed.

Acheson made an easy turn onto final, then put the flaps all the way down. “Gears, please.”

Bond dropped the lever, and three green lights popped. “Anything else I need to know?” he added.

“We’ve been moving stuff here for weeks, before all the excitement broke out. Kind of a refuge, I guess, in case things turned sour.”

“So, you thought this could happen?”

“It was always a possibility.”

“Man, our tax dollars at work.”

“You should experience the world, for just one day, from my perspective…”

“No thanks,” Bond groaned.

“Could y’all just shut up, please,” Acheson growled. “This is my last time in an airplane, and I’d kind of like to enjoy it, ya know?” He was gentle now, gentle on the controls, trying to store all the sensations in memory, smiling as he flared over the threshold, easing her down like he was settling on eggshells, then easy braking and light reverse thrust. He saw the other C-17s and taxied over slowly, and several women – M4 carbines in hand – walked towards them.

“I’d better go out and show my face now,” Rutherford said, and she disappeared, went down to the forward door. Ben stopped, shut-down 1 and 2, then released the lock. He saw her walk out on the ramp and the guards snapped off salutes, then ran up and hugged her.

Bond looked at Acheson and groaned again. “Figures,” he said.

Rutherford looked up at him and made “kill the engines” motions, drawing a finger across her neck, and he started the APU, then shut down the other two engines – just as the Chief and the loadmaster came into the cockpit.

“What’s the plan?” the Chief asked, looking at the women on the ramp.

“Get with them,” Ben said, pointing at the women, “see where they want to put us.”

“Sir? Word is they started all this, so ain’t they the enemy?”

“I don’t know, Chief. Are they?”

“I’d say they are,” Bond said.

“Well, that’s just great. Maybe a few hundred people left here, and we’re going to spend our last few weeks trying to kill one another. I wonder who we can get to chisel that on our tombstones. ‘Here lies the remains of a race that just could not learn.’ Why don’t y’all go get some sticks and stones, try and beat some more people to death.”

He turned and looked at them, saw Piskov watching with a wry grin on his face. “No, really. That’s an order. Sticks and stones, men. Kill anything that moves…right now! Go! Go forth and KILL! Do your species proud – ?”

No one moved, no one said a word.

“Well, unless you’re going to stay here picking your nose, I suggest you get out there and figure out where all these injured need to go.”

“Come on, Chief,” loadmaster said. “Let’s go figure this out.”


“You okay?” Bond asked, and Piskov slid into the cockpit.

“What do you think?”

“Me? I think if you lose it, a whole lot of people are going to go down with you, so maybe you ought to snap out of it.”

“It’s true, believe him,” Piskov said, and Ben shook his head, couldn’t believe how dizzy he suddenly felt, then he looked down, saw his seat was full of fresh red blood, then he saw the chief down on the ground, watched him talking with Rutherford and the other women. At one point he saw the chief point to the flight deck, and then Rutherford looked up at him, nodded and spoke with her guards. He leaned back, shut his eyes then, and felt himself drifting away – and he tried to speak but found it difficult.

“I think y’all are going to have to get on without me now.”

Bond looked at Acheson, tried to keep him from falling out of the seat, but failed.


Acheson woke in a long night, saw he was in a field hospital of some sort, tried to take stock of where he was, what was happening around him, but there were only a few lights on, and those few were in the distance. A nurse walked by and he spoke out; she stopped and looked into his eyes, listened to his lungs, told him she would bring him something to drink and he leaned back, looked up at the fabric structure of the tent overhead – then he remembered Portugal. Their flight – their escape – and then – the bomb. It wasn’t all a dream, he realized. It had happened, yet now everything felt like a dream. Genie and The Duke, Carol and all the others – like a jumble of crazy-hazy memory, something that had been, and now – wasn’t. He wanted to crawl inside of himself and disappear after that, but Rutherford came to him, pulled up a chair and sat by him.

Then she handed him a Coke, in a plastic cup – with ice!

He sat up for that, and drank it slowly, savoring it, chewing the ice with a kid’s grin on his face, and at one point he looked at her, really absorbed her simple beauty. The kindest, yet most complex eyes he’d ever seen, and her lips. He looked at them and wanted to kiss them, then he saw Genie in his mind’s eye and wondered where she was – then he was spinning in light-headed fear.

He felt a hand on his forehead and looked up, realized he’d been sleeping again, then he saw Rutherford, still by his side. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Sorry we didn’t get to have more time together.”

She was smiling, but she was crying, too, and he wondered why.

“You belonged to someone else, Ben, but I feel lucky, I finally found you.”


She nodded her head. “Yup. You know, I never fell in love. I was too busy studying all the ways love goes bad, and why people do terrible things in the name of love – but then there was you. You came out of nowhere and for the first time in my life I know what love was.”

“What was it, for you?”

“I don’t know, but I’ve been thinking about that for a while. Peace maybe? I looked at you once and I knew if I could just rest in your arms that everything would be okay. And that none of this would have happened. Isn’t that awful? How one person’s silly, shallow life ended up being contributing to the end of things?”

“We all contributed, in our way. Our apathy, our reaching out for easy answers. Our lack of compassion, empathy. It’s not anyone’s fault, Anne. It’s just who we are, were. We’re predators, all of us. And then there were too many.” It was difficult, but he slid over on the stretcher and made room for her, then opened his arms. “Lay with me now, would you?”

And she slid onto the stretcher, let him put his arms around her, and she lay facing him – looking eye to eye, soul to soul. He was searching for something, she thought, some way to make room in his heart for her, and he kissed her once again, then she felt him ease away.

She held him close, talked and talked about all the things they’d do once they were together again, and by the time she stopped talking he was still and cool. Still, she couldn’t let go, and in time she felt gentle, prying arms, soothing, caring voices, and as she watched them take his body away she felt, for the first time in her life, something like loss.


I’d come to think I’d had it with sailing by the time the three of us sailed into San Francisco Bay. The routines of long-distance sailing were already getting stale and tiresome, the watch-keeping and constant motion, and the perpetual uncertainty about what lurked unseen in the night wore on me constantly. Still, crawling through the shrubbery, our ‘escape’ from Lajes had come as an epiphany, a rebirth, of sorts. When we saw that marina I think we were each filled with an endless elation: escape was at hand, and the sea would deliver us from certain death.

We found a decent boat, Clytemnestra, an almost brand-new Nauticat 371, that had just been provisioned, her tanks filled, and we found her owner down below, clutching her chest, diaphoretic, her eyes full of panic. Tate and I cut her loose after I got the engine running, and I steered out of the marina and while Liz and Sephie rolled out the sails. We sailed due south for weeks, running from the wind, from the fallout. Persephone’s skilled hands coaxed life back into the owner, who we discovered was a physician from London. She was out to see the world after her husband passed, alone, grieving, and we found our way to the Cape Verde Islands three weeks later, after GPS signals miraculously reappeared. We took on water, managed to get some fuel, and continued sailing south.

A new routine developed on Clytemnestra, a routine based on washing her decks with sea water every two hours. Blackened dust fell on everything constantly, and the evil stuff got into every nook and cranny, especially down below. We assumed everything that fell on the decks was radioactive so, if we failed to keep her decks fresh, our risk would only increase. Yet we noticed a change soon enough, something rather uplifting within a few weeks. The further south we sailed, the less fallout we accumulated on deck. At Cape Verde we took Clytemnestra’s sails down and doused them in the sea, aired them on the beach, then Tate and I shook them out before we put them up again. We put out to sea after that, aiming to get as far south as we could before winter set in.

Jill Armstrong was a sort of minor revelation, a patient, thoughtful scientist. And, of course, in the end Tate fell in love with her. There coming together seemed pre-ordained in some weird way. The patient, thoughtful scientist and the quiet, observant detective, like two remote vestiges of an old way of life, seeking comfort now, and a way forward.

Persephone, being the sort of earth-mother type that blesses all love, made room for Jill in her heart, while Liz just seemed to enjoy the company of another articulate women. Who knows, maybe we would learn this time, learn to value women as equals, learn to care for them as we care for ourselves. Anyway, we arrived at Port Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, just as winter was coming on. Being crewed by a nurse and a physician, and a Londoner at that, saw us welcomed with open arms, and the girls and I looked at one another, knew we were home now, that our journey was at an end. Not quite the voyage we set out to make, but there you go.

There has been almost zero radiation this far south, and both the soil and water are clear of the devilish stuff, for now, anyway. There was little news about the north after the internet collapsed, only initial reports that loss of life had been extreme. The islanders didn’t really know what happened, or why, and really, neither did we. Rutherford did, and maybe even Acheson did too. It was enough, in the end, to realize that man had taken a few wrong turns along the way, and that now survival would take precedence, above everything else, and perhaps war would be at an end.

Or perhaps not. I tend to doubt we’ll ever learn from our mistakes, but I could be wrong.

We moved into a commune of sorts, an agricultural commune at that, and we settled in for the long night as the first snows of winter fell, and we went to sleep, an easy, deep sleep, and we were soon dreaming of the Spring.

Yet I thought about Acheson a lot those first days here. The pilot in command, so sure of himself, so sure of his destiny, and I wonder what became of him. He was the best of us, I thought once. Who knows. Maybe he was.

I think of him taking that Rutherford woman into the toilet that day, the walls banging away, the muted moans and desperate pleas. So many contradictions, so many unintended consequences wrapped up in that moment. I wonder, was it lust, masquerading as love? Or had love really come for them?

Liz still has a few little blue pills in her case, but now I wonder, too, what happens when they’re gone? It seems, one way or another, we turned our back on all that when we turned away from the gifts, and the curses, science bestowed. Things, little magic things people in their ignorance took for granted. Driving to church, in a car? Can you imagine, really, what that means? The hypocrisy, the sheer hubris? A man my age with two gorgeous women? Can you imagine what will happen when the little blue pills are gone?

And I think that scares me more than anything else, you know?


© 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw |

All persons and incidents developed in this work of fiction simply do not exist and have not happened, nor are any characters in this story meant to represent any current or former members of the DPD, FBI, or any member of the armed forces, either in the US or abroad.


Anyway, there it is.

Happy trails, and thanks for dropping by.