the eighty-eighth key

88th key cover image

Once upon a time in a city by the bay, lived a man named Harry Callahan…

…this is his story…

+++++

the eighty-eighth key

part one

chapter one

Thunder in the distance, thunder like a broken promise. Thunder and rain, the strained promise of rain, rain in the air, rain – like an uncertain release after the warning wind – stains the night. Winds now both old and new, winds sifting through old pines outside his window. His mother downstairs, waiting in the dark. Nervously waiting, waiting inside the promise of rain.

He heard her playing as he watched the pines sway, dancing in the expectation of uncertain renewal – her song at once familiar yet strange. Without knowing the how or the why of his feelings, he too felt that soft, waiting renewal, not knowing the hidden currents of such things. Almost…he could almost feel a stirring in his gut…close now – but not touching. Never touching. Like such music the wind played was forbidden fruit.

Yet he could hear her song so clearly in the gathering storm. Even as deep thunder and her inevitable renewal came to the night once again. 

Even now, before he truly understood that she was lost to him.

+++++

“Another rough night, Callahan?”

“No? Why?”

“Crying in your sleep again,” his dorm-mate said, stifling another yawn.

“Bullshit.”

“Something about thunder – and maybe a song, I think?” Al Bressler added through his own early morning yawn.

Harry Callahan sat up on the edge of his bunk and rubbed his eyes, tried to squeeze the memory out of consciousness…yet he still heard the wind in the trees…still heard her lingering music as he slid out of bed onto the cold tile floor. He slipped into his flip-flops and walked down the hall to the bathroom, stood at the urinal draining the night away before he returned to his room. Bressler was making his bed, getting ready for morning inspection, and apparently done with small talk…

“You ready?” Bressler said, the worry in his voice clear to anyone who knew what their common uncertainty really meant.

They’d been up ‘til two in the morning working their way through the California Penal Code one last time, memorizing statute numbers for all the major crimes – and the relevant mental states for each – yet now the acid-drenched day stretched ahead in all its agonizing uncertainty. This was it. The last day of academy, and Callahan knew his own mental state was perilous.

If only because so much was riding on this day.

Bomb the test and that was it, the end of the road. Anyone failing would be shown the door and six months of life would be wiped from the ledger. A low passing score would get you into a shitty precinct with a burnt-out FTO, which was almost as bad as washing out – if not more dangerous. A high score, on the other hand, would see you in to your choice of precincts and your future in the hands of an experienced, even a talented Field Training Officer, so to say this was a momentous day in the life was an understatement.

But why had the dream come again? Was she trying to tell him something? Even now?

“You better comb your hair again, Harry. You look like a toilet brush.”

“Yeah? Well, you smell like one, Meathead.”

They both tried to laugh as they finished up their room, then Bressler ran for the toilet. He didn’t make it.

+++++

Walking to the dining hall after the written exam, Callahan was sure he’d bombed the test and thought he should feel despondent. Bressler, his hands habitually in his pockets, walked alongside scowling at the clear blue sky, whistling a show-tune while doing his best to hide his anxiety. 

“How’d you do?” Bressler finally asked as they walked into the dining hall.

Callahan shrugged. “Who knows? You still worried about this afternoon?”

The second part of the final exam was one last physical agility test, and it promised to be a bear. Carry a hundred and eighty-pound dummy twenty yards then drop it, get over three progressively higher fences, sprint a half-mile through hills and trees around the academy grounds before going up and down an exposed four-story stairway, then finish the course, after a last brief sprint, by swimming one lap in the training pool – while towing a flailing academy instructor to the finish. All in uniform, and all in under eight minutes. In practice sessions earlier that week almost half the class had failed, and tensions were running high.

“I think I’ll manage,” Bressler sighed.

“Not if you eat a big lunch,” Lou Valenti added, joining them in the food line.

“Fuck that,” Bressler said. “I’m going to drink about ten glasses of water.”

“A gallon is about eight pounds,” Valenti said, grinning. “Sure you want to carry the extra weight?”

“Fuck.”

“Well, at least they’re going to post the written scores first,” Valenti said, scowling. “If you don’t cut it you can just slip away without adding insult to injury.”

“I passed,” Bressler said – a little too defensively.

“Yeah? Harry, how’d you do?”

And once again Callahan shrugged, turning the question away unanswered. “I think,” he managed to say as he stared at Bressler’s pooling uncertainty, “that I really don’t give a shit anymore.”

“That’s our Harry,” Valenti said to Bressler, smirking as he cast a sidelong glance at Callahan. “Always got to play it cool, don’t you?”

+++++

Test results were posted, as promised, on the bulletin board just inside the academy gym promptly at 1330 hours, and the 35 members of class 421 stood in academy blues reading down the list of names, looking for their futures. Callahan’s name was, not unexpectedly, at the top of the list; Bressler’s score was fifth best. Seven cadets looked over the list and crashed, their journeys over for now, and this glum little group trudged off to the admin building. Callahan noted a gaggle of the academy’s drill instructors lurking in the shadows by the locker room doors, then he saw the director walk in the main doorway and head over to their sea of smiling faces.

“Everyone ready?” the Old Man asked as he came up to Callahan.

Everyone, apparently, was.

“Okay,” the Old Man said, “let’s get this over with.”

The group walked through the locker room and out to the oval track, and almost everyone’s eyes seemed to drift nervously between the drill instructors and the course they were about to run as they approached the starting area.

But not Harry Callahan’s.

He’d been a runner all his life, had grown up playing baseball or running track and so was no stranger to hard work and the lonely road. Any softness had been drilled out of his body by the United States Army’s basic training – and two subsequent years stationed in Germany – so Callahan had breezed through all the Department’s various physical training programs without breaking a sweat. Still, a sprained ankle could ruin your day out here, so this was no time for complacency. 

One of the DIs explained the course – one more time – and pointed out that instructors would be posted at key points along the route to call out times, then each cadet was asked to verify their understanding of the route – one last time. All the cadets were stretching now; a few were already about to puke.

“We’ll run alphabetically, two at a time,” the DI manning the start called out. “Adams and Baker! On the line…NOW!”

Carol Adams and Stanton Baker walked over to the starting line on the track, both taking deep breaths while they looked at the DI… 

…who then yelled “GO!” before they had a chance to think about their anxieties for another second… 

Carol Adams leaped ahead of the much heavier Stan Baker, and she was at the huge, canvas dummy well ahead of him; she struggled, lost time heaving the weight onto her shoulders before she took off running, with Baker a second or so behind. She stumbled once, lost a step, but was still ahead as she cast off the dummy and made for the first fence – a four-foot-high picket fence with pointed slats. She and Baker leapt over in unison, making for the second – a six-foot-tall chain-link fence – and this one required coordination and dexterity to tackle without injury. Baker took the lead when he came down, and he sprinted for the next obstacle…an eight-foot-tall concrete-block wall.

Timing was everything on this last fence. You had to really time your jump on the short approach in order to leap high enough to get both hands on top of the ledge; then you had to pull yourself up and make the jump over the top and down, all without killing yourself – or breaking a leg – in the process.

And Baker missed his jump, slid down the wall and had to backtrack, make the leap a second time, and Adams passed him then, made her jump up and over in one fluidly ragged motion. Someone called out her time but she was too stoked now to hear the words.

By the time Baker made it over, Adams was twenty yards ahead and well into her half-mile run through the trees. Trees, and short, steep hills, much of the track here in coarse, rocky scree. Even so, Carol Adams seemed to pull ahead even more, and she was bounding up the third course of stairs before Stan Baker made it to the first. She passed him on the way down and saw the panicked look in his eyes, tried not to smile as she made her way down and to the hundred-yard sprint to the Olympic sized pool.

The drill here was to dive into the deep end, take your drowning victim in tow by the approved method, then get them to the far end without drowning. Because most “victims” would – out in the real world – be panicking, the academy’s instructor/victims would be flailing and kicking and screaming like any other freaked-out drowning victim.

Adams dove in and approached her flailing victim, who promptly tried to climb on top of her, so she ducked under, surfaced, then balled her right fist and slammed it into her victim/instructor’s nose. With enough force to give the former marine a bloody nose. Then she towed her victim to the shallow end of the pool and to the hypothetical finish line.

She heard a fragmented, disjointed voice call out “Seven minutes and twenty-three seconds…” as she stumbled out of the pool. Then the flood of lactic acid hit her gut and she went to her knees, retching as she fell.

“Baker, you got thirty seconds left! Move your ass!”

Yet Adams stood and started cheering her classmate on – “Come on, Stan! You can do it!” – and her classmates joined her…from a quarter-mile away. All but Harry Callahan, that is. He and Bressler moved to the starting line just then, the wait now becoming almost unendurable. 

Callahan heard a cheer from the pool, assumed Baker had just crossed the line in the allowed time, then he heard a loud “GO!” and looked at his dummy.

He was surprised how dry his mouth was, how anxious he suddenly felt, and then – in a flash – it dawned on him: he did care. Passing these last tests mattered. Becoming a cop mattered. But being the best mattered most of all. In an instant he felt the adrenaline rush as he watched Bressler get a jump on him, but by the time he scaled the third fence, the eight-footer, he found his pace and pulled steadily ahead… 

…and then he felt the distant peeling rip of deep thunder somewhere out over the Pacific… 

…and he saw his mother’s hands once again – working towards the eighty-eighth key… 

+++++

She had appeared to most people – when she first arrived in San Francisco, California – as a stern woman, perhaps even an unforgiving soul. And, if indeed eyes are windows to the soul, what most people felt when they looked into Imogen Callahan’s eyes left them profoundly unsettled. Her eyes were the deepest cobalt, her close-cropped hair a brilliant blond that bordered on white, and she was disconcertingly tall. Some people took the expression on her face, and in her eyes, as a sort of upwelling – of anger, perhaps – or hints of profound despair – yet nothing was further from the truth. She was a serious woman, true enough, a musician and a teacher, yet most people adduced she was a woman of uncertain passions.

Yet, she was a woman dedicated to the truth of the world.

Lloyd Callahan had first laid eyes on Imogen Schwarzwald in early Spring, 1945, and when he saw her his first unyielding impression was that he was looking at a ghost. Except this ghost was playing a piano…a battered concert grand piano…and she was seated inside a barren cafe-like building located in a far corner of a hastily cobbled together passenger terminal inside a run-down seaside wharf in Copenhagen. 

And inside that crystalline moment, he had been caught like a fly in amber, mesmerized, unable to move as the ghost’s fingers danced across unimaginable chords, working into the deeper registers, an impossible, soaring sadness echoing off the tattered building’s barren walls. Unaware he was walking through scattered rubble, he made his way to her side, saw her tear-streaked face, the long, almost skeletal fingers working at the ends of her emaciated arms…and he had wondered how such stark beauty survived the ravages of prolonged war. 

He had never known anyone that looked even remotely like her, and he had never known such an accomplished pianist. He learned she had been, at a very young age, an accomplished pianist, reputedly a composer of some import as well, yet he was surprised to learn she was not a professional musician.

It was in those first days together that he learned she was a physicist. And a jew.

And when for some reason she latched onto him he suddenly felt an exhilarating – and solemn – obligation to take care of her, and even though she wore the trauma of her recent existence like a deep shadow, even during the near-catatonic spells she endured almost daily, she fell into the solidity of this big man’s sheltering eyes. In time she fell into the brighter sunlight of his very existence.

He was a deck officer on a hospital ship, part of the British expeditionary response looking into claims of terrifying abuses at recently uncovered camps such as Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt, yet what this force soon learned about the killing camps in Poland was beyond horrific, and all this destitute horror only served to wrap Imogen Schwarzwald deeper into his protective embrace. 

As the European war drifted away, he took Imogen to Vancouver, Canada, and then on to Northern California, where he had enrolled in the state’s merchant marine academy. He bought a small house in the Potrero Hill neighborhood on the south side of San Francisco, a property with a large back yard, and with room enough to plant a small stand of lemon trees. When he wasn’t tied up with his maritime studies he helped Imogen with her English, and to help her advance her own academic work.

With his wartime experience, Lloyd quickly graduated, and he soon began working for a passenger line carrying tourists between California and Hawaii. He was, unfortunately, away for long stretches of time, though he was home for even longer periods. And after one very long time away he bought Imogen a piano, and music returned to their lives. 

And with music came a son: Harold Lloyd Callahan.

Life took on a sudden, fresher intensity after Harry’s arrival, and music seemed to be the focal point of all the family’s time together. Harry started to play almost as soon as he could walk, and by the time he finished elementary school he was considered something of a prodigy – but then he fell in love with baseball and all thoughts of a career in music seemingly fell away beyond the lights. Not long after Imogen began to fall away from music, too.

She grew restive and depressed when she was not at her teaching job in Berkeley, then took to composing dark, ominous pieces that seemed to Lloyd like the distant echoes of her time in the Theresienstadt ghetto. There were times in high school when Harry came home after school and found his mother frozen at the keyboard, lost in unheard memories that left him dazed and confused.

And yet, what pulled her from these minor-key fugues was Harry’s playing. He’d somehow fallen back in love with the piano during his senior year, only now he played Gershwin tunes, punctuated by intense ragtime rants that poured out of the little house like sunstreams through dark clouds – and these new forms enthralled Imogen almost as much as she loved watching her son play again. Their last Spring together was, therefore, a magical time for her, but then – out of the blue – he joined the Army and was soon on his way to flight school, and a year later he was flying helicopters in Germany near the Fulda Gap. Soon enough she found Harry in her dreams, but the uniform he wore wasn’t American. She dreamt in blacks and silvers, his red armbands dripping with mercurial zephyrs that colored these interludes as shivering cold passages of fear.

With the increased American involvement in Southeast Asia, Imogen’s soul seemed to fracture along ever deeper faults, and she fell into that darkest space within the deepest chords of her fear. And with Lloyd still away weeks at a time – now sailing to Hawaii, but occasionally as far away as Japan – she drifted on solitary seas of her own design. Lloyd assumed that – perhaps – these near catatonic spells had something to do with Harry being in Germany, but she remained distant and utterly uncommunicative about these inward flights. Yet when Harry wrote long letters about the German people, about how freedom-loving they all seemed, not to mention how beautiful the towns and villages were, this only served to deepen her isolation – and for perhaps the second time Lloyd began to understand what was happening: Harry was bringing her past into the present, and so once again his future fell into Imogen’s searing chords.

And soon enough Imogen only composed for the piano when violent thunderstorms approached, and it was then that Lloyd noted a further pattern emerging in her music. As these storms approached, as the sturm and drang of thunder and lightning drew near, her music seemed to mimic the deep low-pressure waves deep within the air – as if natures’ kinetic kaleidoscopes were a crucial guide informing each new, shattering crescendo she crafted. 

And true enough, each new storm left her ragged and spent, leaving only the warped, fragile shell of her distorted soul to stand guard. She seemed to cave inward after these floods of emotion, to turn away from the visions that constantly came to her after each new composition, but Lloyd felt these fallings-away were now somehow different. Deeper, more introspective and less predictable, he began to worry that perhaps one day she might not find her way out of the darkness.

After Harry’s return from Germany, he came back to the little house for a while, but Lloyd felt that his boy was adrift. Harry whispered that he had thought about studying music again, but one day – while picking up supplies at the local co-op – he witnessed an armed robbery at a gas station across the street. Police arrived, a minor shoot-out played-out in the street and between cars on a nearby parking lot, and after the dust settled he gave a witness statement to one of the patrolmen. 

And then he asked this man what it was like ‘out there’…doing the whole ‘cop’ thing?

The cop was an older man, maybe 35 or so, but he’d been on the streets long enough to know the score. They talked about the life some, and then Harry rode along with the cop a couple of times over the next few weeks, picked up a feel for what his world might look like if he took that next fork in the road. Lloyd watched the budding interest and wondered where it came from; Imogen could feel the change in her son, too, only a new fear became palpable in her music when she imagined her son as a policeman.

And so, when two weeks later Harry Callahan submitted his application to the San Francisco Police Department, she felt herself coming undone. Not quite knowing what else to do, she drove north to the city to a synagogue, and after wandering through the tangled cobwebs of memory she, at last, walked inside. 

She had, years ago, sworn this was the one thing she would never do again – yet as she walked into the heavy air of the musty old temple she was overcome with lightness, as if all the burdens of the past twenty-five years had quite suddenly slipped ever so softly away.

She saw a man in the temple, a man at once ancient and eternally young, a man who seemed to reside inside blue pools of deep wisdom. She walked towards the man, not sure what she expected, but she recognized something in the shape of his still waters, a sudden memory both vital and unexpected, and as she made her way up to him he turned and smiled at the surprise in her eyes.

Surprise turned to recognition in her eyes just as a sudden cold darkness reached up for her, and she felt herself falling into the music once again – as the clouds of that looming storm came for her out of the darkness.

 

chapter two

The violence of San Francisco came as a surprise to Harry Callahan.

Growing up in a quiet middle class neighborhood, even in an enclave nestled between the bay and the city, had left him unprepared for the reality of a San Francisco he had never really known. Homeless men and women sleeping in boxes, children selling their bodies to strangers for the price of a hamburger, predators everywhere lurking in the night. Everything, it seemed, was available for a buck. The city was an ocean of broken dreams lapping at the shores of extraordinary material wealth, two worlds in perpetual change, and conflict, and all in a way that left him speechless.

His first homicide left him reeling. 

In the early part of his rookie year, riding with a grizzled old FTO, they were the first to arrive at a massive house out beyond Golden Gate Park – and he was not prepared for the questions he felt he needed to ask…but couldn’t.  

A middle-aged man. White. Affluent, if the Mercedes in the driveway was any kind of indicator. The man’s house was palatial, like an Italian Renaissance villa, all framed by views of the Pacific and the Golden Gate. Earlier that morning, the man had been stretching, getting ready to go for an early morning run – something that Callahan did routinely. And just then a kid, maybe ten years old, a black kid as it happened, walked by and shot the man in the face, then simply walked off into the morning. Two witnesses, same story. Homicide detectives got to the scene a half hour later and did their thing while Callahan and his training officer gathered witness statements on the sidelines.

Callahan had a hard time shaking the apparent senselessness of that murder. The man was a lawyer, had been a juvenile court judge for years before returning to private practice. By all accounts a good man, so was it simply hard luck? Or retaliation? 

Did it matter why? Really, he asked himself, in the end…did it really matter?

A life meaningfully lived, snuffed out in an instant.

The kid apprehended. Nine years old, so not even prosecuted. No links to ulterior motive, so in the end just another truly senseless death. One of three that day, as it turned out.

Yet…how could such senselessness not matter? But could you measure it? Weigh it on a scale? Were there, he wondered, degrees of senselessness? A year hence, would any besides a handful of people even remember the man with the shattered face? Like a faucet with a slow drip, could you measure the sound made by just one drop of blood? Was that, in the end, how senselessness reduced the passions and essence of one man’s life? Blood  on a sidewalk?

Yet Callahan kept hearing about something called the wall, the wall cops erected to protect their sanity while living and working in a world awash in senselessness. The whole idea of such a wall had seemed kind of preposterous at first, but not after that first year on the street, and not after looking at the lawyer’s blasted ruins of a face. Yet, how could a nine-year-old kid do something like that? What did that kid’s actions say about the state of their world?

His last FTO didn’t have an answer to that question, either. In fact, the old man seemed to get off work and head straight to a favored watering hole after almost every shift, and Callahan went with him more than a few times during the waning days of his “rookie” year. Cops congregated in darkened back booths and shot the shit while tossing back frosted schooners of Anchor Steam and shaking hands full of salty peanuts, yet it was here in these barely hallowed halls that Callahan first saw that ‘the wall’ was palpably real…indeed, it was a vast impenetrable veil of carefree carelessness that wafted in settled swirls within those smokey limpid eyes. Nothing got through the veil, he soon saw. Nothing. Not even senselessness. Especially not senselessness.

Until the beer and waking nightmares soaked through, that it, because then quite suddenly these old men grew wide-eyed and distant, their lips curling down into clinched fists. He watched the crumbling wall more than once those last few weeks and walked home in an early morning fog to his small apartment – where the walls seemed to grow uncomfortably close as he thought about those eyes – and what they meant for the future.

He was cut loose soon after that year with all those Training Officers, assigned to evenings in the Tenderloin. He had his own evening beat, a walking patrol on the other side of life, cutting through a tidal surge of peep-shows and streetwalkers, wading through discarded scraps of senselessness that lined the filthy streets. He watched marching columns of middle-aged men in worn three-piece suits who filed out of office towers at five o’clock, vacant eyes on the prowl for a cheap pop before heading home to an empty apartment and another frozen dinner. Callahan walked and worked along the fringes of lust and hormones, where predators circled in the shadows, waiting.

Within a few months Harry Callahan knew all about the wall. He looked at his eyes in passing mirrors and tried to run away, but really…there was nowhere that far away.

+++++

He’d found that room not far from Fisherman’s Wharf, a so-called efficiency apartment that was furnished with a bed, a desk, and a pitifully small room off to the side that was supposed to be a kitchen. He had picked up a second-hand sofa and called it home, though his mother never came by for a visit.

Harry got off work at midnight, but by the time he finished his shift’s reports and changed into street clothes, it was usually closer to one. He’d hop one of the last cable cars of the night and get home a few minutes later, then shower and crawl between the sheets, hoping that the wall would wait until he was asleep before it came crashing down.

There was an old bar across the street, a jazz bar, and musicians usually kept at it ‘til three or four in the morning. Tourists from the glitzier places down by the wharf would wander by during these foggy pre-dawn interludes, and a few would take note of the music and drift inside. And quite often Callahan would watch the action if he couldn’t sleep, watch the predators in the shadows as they sized up the passing prey.

One night he watched an older platinum-blond woman coming down the walk, her steps tentative, not quite full-blown drunk, and he quickly sized up the opposition: two kids lurking in the darkness just off an intercepting alley.

“Goddammit,” he sighed as he grabbed his .357 and made for the street.

He made it to the intercept in time to hear the woman scream once, because by then the inevitable struggle was well underway. By the time he found them, the boys had ripped most of the woman’s clothes off and one was attempting penetration while the other held their terrified victim down on the grimy asphalt, a gloved hand over her powdered face.

“Looks like you’re having a little bit of trouble,” Callahan said to no one in particular as he walked upon the scene. Both boys looked up, startled at first, then angry.

“Get the fuck out of here,” the kid on top snarled, “or else…”

“Or else, what?” Callahan replied casually.

“Or else I’ll cut your fuckin’ face off,” the other kid said, standing now and pulling out switch-blade. 

Then he stepped towards Harry Callahan… 

…who pulled the Smith & Wesson from inside his windbreaker and leveled it at the kids face… 

…and then the kid rushed at Callahan, knife drawn… 

Callahan fired once, the semi-jacketed hollow point striking the boys face just under the left eye. The result was immediate and catastrophic. 

The kid fell to the ground while the other would-be rapist stood up and started to turn and run.

“Don’t do it, punk,” Callahan growled. “You can’t outrun a three fifty seven.”

“You a pig?” the kid sighed, eyeing Callahan warily but now clearly resigned to his new reality.

“Yup.” 

A small crowd had gathered at the entrance to the alley, and Callahan asked someone to call the police department. A few minutes later the first squad car arrived.

The pool of blood at Callahan’s feet was massive. People stared at the scene, then at the pistol in the cop’s hand before scattering into the night.

+++++

The interrogation room used by Internal Affairs was wired for sound, the room dimly lit and physically uncomfortable. Two detectives and a watch commander questioned Callahan about the sequence of events for the third time, trying to uncover inconsistencies in Callahan’s statement, but by midday they broke for lunch and told Harry not to come back.

“Should I report for my shift tonight?” he asked.

“Take the night off,” the watch commander said. “Unless you hear different, come in tomorrow.”

“Yessir.” Callahan turned and started to walk off.

“Callahan?” Lieutenant Neil Briggs growled.

Harry stopped and turned, looked at the lieutenant. “Yessir?”

“Good job.” The lieutenant turned and walked towards the division commander’s office.

Callahan nodded his head and walked out of the building.

He hopped on the cable car and sat near the rear, watched the city rumble by as another sodden breeze filled in, as always coming straight through the Golden Gate. He drifted on echos of the night before, reliving each instant again and again, the cable car’s clanging bell the only thing holding him to the present. He was almost two blocks past his stop before he knew it had passed, but he hopped off and began walking back up the hill to his street.

And he wasn’t so surprised when he found his father sitting on the steps outside of his building. The look in his old man’s eyes was something else entirely.

+++++

He’d never seen such a troubled look on his father’s face. But troubled wasn’t exactly the right word, he thought as a walked up to his old man. Lost was more like it.

“Dad?” Callahan said. “You okay?”

“Oh, hi Harry.”

“Dad?”

“Can we go upstairs? We need to talk.”

“I’ve got coffee, juice and water,” Harry said as he closed the door behind them.

“Nothing right now.”

“Something wrong?” Callahan asked, his voice suddenly uncertain. “Is it Mom?”

“She left last night.”

“Left? Where’d she go?”

His father walked over to the same window Harry had looked out the night before, and he even looked in the same general direction where the rape had gone down.

“Strange, fucked up world,” Lloyd Callahan whispered.

“Dad? Where’d she go?”

And a father turned and looked at his son, not knowing what to say, or even where to begin. “Israel, Harry. She went to Israel.”

+++++

They talked through the rest of the afternoon, and then long into the night. Lloyd told his son about his mother’s wartime experience: being among a group a Danish physicists forced to Peenemunde to work on Nazi rocket projects; her eventual refusal to be complicit in the results of the program; and her forced relocation to the Theresienstadt ghetto in late 1944.

Harry listened in astonished silence, this part of his mother’s vast journey a complete surprise. He became confused, then angry at both his parents for their silence, but Harry saw his father wasn’t having any of it… 

“When you graduated, went off to Germany, she came undone. The letters you wrote describing Germans as freedom loving…”

“But they are, Dad. That’s a fact…”

His father shrugged his shoulders like a tired boxer, looked down at his hands as he steepled his fingers, cradling another forgotten memory. “Maybe. Maybe not, but that really doesn’t matter, son. To your mother, Germans will always be the epitome of evil.”

“But, that’s so – unfair,” Harry sighed.

“Of who, son? Based on her experience, who’s being the most unfair here?”

Harry looked away, shook his head, sighed before whispering: “I can’t even imagine…”

“I followed her up here a few weeks ago, on a Monday. To a synagogue. She returned the last two Mondays, disappeared inside. I followed her up a few days ago, waited and waited. She never came out. Yesterday this came in the mail…”

Harry looked at the envelope in his father’s trembling hand, willed himself to reach out and take it, then he took out the letter and began reading. Soon his hands were shaking too.

“This came for you at the house,” his father added, holding a second pale yellow envelope in the fading light.

The letter was from the Department of Defense, he saw, and he tore it open then stared at the words on the paper.

“Harry? What is it?” his father asked, and not knowing what to say Harry passed the notice to his father. 

“Vietnam?” his father whispered, his hands starting to shake. “My God, what will your mother say?”

+++++

He’d been “in-country” for a week and still had no idea what was going on, or where he was supposed to be. No one did, or so it seemed, but Saigon was interesting, the bar at the Caravelle even more so. Lots of “round eyes” in the bar, for the most part old men in straw fedoras, and Callahan quickly picked up that things in that bar were not always as they seemed. Not on the surface, anyway. Too many hushed whispers and sidelong glances, not enough hookers.

A harried-looking kid in muddy fatigues came in and took a seat at the table next to Callahan’s; he saw splattered blood and vague bits of errant tissue on the back of the stranger’s neck and so looked him over a little more closely. Blood on his boots, on the tops of both hands, a medical corps insignia on his lapel, the look was topped off by shaking hands and a vacant stare.

“Hey man, you okay?” Callahan asked.

“I’m tactical,” the man said, waving a waitress to come over. When the elven angel drifted by and hovered overhead the man ordered a double Scotch – neat – then turned to Callahan: “Need anything?”

“Another Budweiser,” Callahan said to the waitress, now clearly mesmerized by the woman’s exotic beauty. She floated away, and Callahan noted the man hadn’t once looked at the waitress.

“Who are you?” the stranger asked.

“Callahan,” Harry replied while taking the strangers offered hand. “You?”

“Parish.”

“Looks like you’ve a fun day,” Callahan added.

“Fun…? Yeah, fun. That’s the very fuckin’ word I was lookin’ for. Fun. What a good fuckin’ word. I like it…” he said as he took his first cocktail from the waitress, who he still ignored. “Let’s drink to fun,” he said before he downed the drink. He finished, his eyes now focused on some faraway place deep within the cracked paint on the ceiling. 

The waitress shook her head knowingly as she took the empty glass and walked off to the bar, and while Callahan took a long pull on his Bud, Parish seemed to recoil from something or someone hiding in distant shadows. 

Callahan turned and looked at Parish again. “What are you doin’ here, man?” he asked. “Maybe you should go wash up.”

Parish brought his hands up to his face and looked at the plastered human debris there. “Smart kid. Sniper got him, I think. Took a round right outside the OR. Tried to save him, ya know? Nothin’ there man. Nothin’. But we got a pulse, got him on a Huey, and I got some more plasma in him, some D5W, on the ride down. He bit it about five minutes out, didn’t come back this time. Good kid. Working as a scrub tech, wanted to be a doctor. When he grew up, I think he used to say.  Well, he’s all grown up now…” 

“You a doc?” Callahan asked quietly.

“Me? No way, man. I’m the boatman, I carry all these kids across the river,” Parish said as he took his next cocktail from the waitress. “Purgatory, ya know? I help ‘em on their way.”

“Where you based?”

“Who? Me?” Parish sighed after his second scotch disappeared. “Nowhere, man. I’m a real nowhere man.”

Callahan nodded, saw blood running from an open wound under Parish’s shredded tunic. “You know you’ve been shot?” Harry said, looking at the stuff dripping on the floor.

“That?” Parish said absentmindedly as he poked at his belly. “Oh, that’s nothing.”

“It’s bleedin’ a little bit more than nothing, man. Can I take a look?”

“Nope. You can get me some more fuckin’ whiskey, though.”

An army kid in starched khakis walked in the bar and looked around, then walked up to Harry. “You Callahan?” the kid said.

“Yup.”

“I got your papers,” the kid said as he tossed an envelope on Callahan’s table. Before he could open the sealed orders the kid had turned and disappeared.

+++++

Almost three years later Callahan took the sergeant’s exam and scored first; after sitting for the review board he was given his stripes and assigned to ‘Deep Nights’ in the Mission District. ‘The Mission’ represented the City’s soft underbelly – rundown residential areas situated next to industrial warehouses lining the 280 and 101 – and the entire nature of policing was completely different here, radically different from the easy predatory byways of the Tenderloin. Family disturbances – most very deadly affairs – were the norm on ‘deep nights,’ but so too were armed robberies and homicides. Broken dreams and drunkenness were a plague on these mean streets, so fractured teens took to the streets to console one another with random acts of violence. All in all, violence was – on the surface of this underbelly – appallingly bad day or night, but on ‘deep nights’ it tended to the ferocious.

And the cops assigned to work ‘the Mission’ were all considered somewhat ferocious, as well.

Yet Callahan’s job was fundamentally different now, too. He no longer answered calls, was no longer assigned a beat. He responded as a back-up unit on ‘hot’ calls, or assigned other free, unassigned units to respond as a back-up unit on certain types of ambiguous calls. Several times a shift he had to meet up with squads and review paperwork, and units working complex events called him to the scene to ask questions or seek advice.

And in very short order Harry Callahan knew working ‘the Mission’ was a more hands-off proposition, and he hated it. When hot family disturbances came out he was often first on scene, and when these incidents resulted in extreme violence, notably homicides, Callahan often did a lot of the preliminary investigative legwork. 

And while this did not sit well with Callahan’s immediate supervisors, several inspectors in Homicide took note. One in particular saw something interesting in Harry Callahan, a familiar resilience perhaps, and this detective began quietly asking discrete questions about the new sergeant working nights in ‘the mission’.

His name was Frank Bullitt.

+++++

So, here ends the first part of the tale. I’m moving slow these days, slower than I’d like, slower than I’m used to. Words don’t come like they used to, either. Ideas? No problem there. Getting those bastards down on paper is another thing entirely. They’re low-down-squiggly and now they can run faster than I can. C’est la vie-vie.

Oh, yeah, I know you see gaps in the timeline. Don’t worry,  that’s what flashbacks are for…

This part of the story (c) 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw

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…

“Yes…?”

“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?”

“Yes?”

“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?”

“Sir?”

“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?”

“Yessir.”

“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?”

“Yessir.”

“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?”

“From?”

“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?”

“American.”

“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?”

“Yeah.”

“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?”

“Yup.”

“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.”

“Dubai?”

“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?”

“Yessir.”

“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?”

“Peachy.”

“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.”

“Involuntarily?”

“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?”

“Yup.”

“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?”

“Politics?”

“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?”

“What?”

“The voice, the accent.”

“A Cary Grant movie, from the thirties.”

“Oh.”

“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?”

“No.”

“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… 

“King.”

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…”

“Sassy!” 

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.”

“Right…” 

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

“Oh-sweet-Jesus…”

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?”

“Jenn.”

“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.”

“Okay.”

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?”

“Yup.”

“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?”

“Yup.”

“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?”

“Yup.”

“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.”

“Where?”

“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.”

“Jesus…”

“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?”

“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.”

“Me?”

“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…”

“You?”

“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?”

“Boyfriend?”

“No.”

“Girlfriend?”

“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.

“Maybe?”

“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.”

“Do?”

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

“And?”

“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?”

“What?”

“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.”

“Really?”

“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.”

“Oh?”

“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?”

“Jenn.”

“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?”

“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.

“What?”

“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.”

“Geesh.”

“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.”

“Ah.”

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.”

“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.

“Sure.”

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.”

“Oh.”

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…”

“Odyssey?”

“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.”

“What?”

“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?”

“I…”

“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?”

“Glioblastoma.”

“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.

Hurry.

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?”

“Yup.”

“Oh.”

“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?”

“Yessir.”

“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 | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

Corcovado V

Corcovado 5

Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars

Chapter V

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

Again.

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

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

++

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

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

“When was the last time?”

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

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

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

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

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

“What about the boat?” Ted asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“What are the options?” Ted asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Afraid? Why…of what?”

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

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

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

“Summoned?” he said – warily.

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

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

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

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

+

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

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

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

+

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or did He?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+

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

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

“Where are you from?” asked Elizabeth.

No answer, only an insipid, almost vapid shrug.

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

Again, the quietly defiant shrug.

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

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

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

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

“Oh? Enlighten me?”

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

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

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

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

“And you are dead.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+

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

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

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

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

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

“So. Who are you running from?”

“Excuse me?”

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

The girl turned away, shrugged.

“And? What happens if they find you?”

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

“You know their distribution network, I assume?”

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

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

“Dime a dozen, huh?”

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

“I don’t know.”

“Did he abuse you?”

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

“What about your mum?”

“She was always too afraid.”

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

“You too?” Tracy asked.

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

“Do you?”

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

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

“I’d like to think so, yes.”

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

“Not that simple, Tracy.”

“It never is, luv. Until it is.”

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

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

“No way out in California, is there?”

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

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

“That’s right. Always.”

“Did you tell Ted this part?”

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

“And along comes Ted.”

“And Jim,” Tracy added.

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

“Until you fuckin’ came along, yeah.”

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

“Do you know how to sail this thing?”

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

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

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

“Maybe. Got any cash?”

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

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

“Did you see someone this morning?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your next move?”

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

 

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

fiction, all of it…

Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars 3

corcovado 3

III

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.”

“Badly?”

“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.”

“Like?”

“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.

“What?”

“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?”

“Yup.”

“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.”

“And?”

“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…”

“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…”

“Shooting?”

“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.”

“Cat?”

“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.”

“And?”

“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?”

“Yup.”

“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.”

“So?”

“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?”

“Depends…”

“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.

“Long.”

“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?”

“Oh?”

“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?”

“Yeah…hundreds…”

“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.

“Yup…”

“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.”

“Melissa.”

“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.”

“Okay.”

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 | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | fiction, always fiction…

Outbound

Here are all four drug-induced chapters, united in one 80 page go-round. There are some changes in here but the story remains essentially unchanged.

outbound 4 im

OutBound

I’m sitting in my little Zodiac inflatable, puttering through the anchorage off the town of Avalon, California, and it all looks so familiar to me – yet so far away. The sharply sloping  beach is not quite a hundred feet away as I slip through the anchorage, the old casino still majestically presides over the harbor, and the rocky sea wall is as it has been all my life – boulder strewn and implacable. The water below is clear and deep blue – just as it was fifty years ago, the sandy white bottom still visible forty-three feet down, as relentlessly clear and full of promise this morning as it was in the late 60s. Nothing appears to have changed, not all that much, anyway, and even my boat looks the same. I turn and look at her reflection in the water and she hasn’t changed a bit – not as much as I have. Troubadour is my Alajuela 38, and I bought her new from the manufacturer in Newport Beach 50 years ago this year, and yes, she’s seen a few miles under her keel, true enough, but she’s been in good hands all the way. My hands, as a matter of fact. And I’ve been looking at my hands these last few days, maybe more than I should, and right now, as I putter through the anchorage off Avalon, I can see my hands have changed a lot recently, and I have to admit there are days I hardly recognize them. Still, when those moments find me I wonder what happened to me, because Troubadour looks the same. Why, I wonder? Why do I have to be the one get old? It doesn’t seem fair to me.

I remember looking at my grandfather’s hands once and wondering what all those brown spots were. Why his fingernails were kind of yellow and ridged. He had scars all over them, too, and most were from cuts he’d sewn up himself. He’d dip a needle and thread in whiskey and just sew himself up, and he didn’t think anything of it. It was what you did to stop the bleeding, so he did it and moved on to the next chore, which was what I did – more or less – over the years. Now, looking at my hand on the outboard motor’s tiller I recognized those hands for what they were. They were my hands now, in a way, but they were my grandfather’s, too, right down to the yellow ridges. Am I an echo? I always thought I was just me, but am I, really?

I remember me and Pops sat and watched the Petrified Forest one time, that movie with Bogart and Davis, and he told me about his trip west in 1919, just after the war. How there weren’t highways crossing the United States, not even through roads. He had a car, and God knows how he afforded it, but he and my grandmother made the trip west together – from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. A few cities had paved streets – paved with brick, he said – but by and large the roads that connected cities were primitive things, often little more than sandy tracks winding through desert scrub. With the hard, narrow tires that cars had in those days, the wheels settled down in the soft sand, often so deep that drive shafts were worn down by the rocks and the sand, and he had to replace two solid steel shafts between El Paso and Flagstaff. Just polished down to nothing, worn down by the miles. Took them almost three weeks to make the trip, and he admitted to me that night, once the movie was over, he should have taken the train and bought a car once he got to LA, but that wasn’t my grandfather’s idea of life. He wanted to get out there in the world, smell the road, meet people along the way and maybe have some fun and get in trouble too, because that’s what life was all about. I guess he passed that on to me, for better or worse, because in the end I bought Troubadour and sailed to those sandy, out of the way places.

I didn’t plan things that way, however. Things just kind of happened.

The way things always kind of happen. Unexpected things, the kind of people you never thought you’d run into, not in a million years. Doing things I never thought I wanted to do, going places that held no interest to me – until I got there. Life for me, before Troubadour, had been like the first thirty seconds of a roller coaster ride, the part where the ratcheting chain hauls you up that first huge incline. I was in the lead car right about then, too, looking out at the world during that little pause at the top, just before the car takes off down that first steep drop. There is, I seem to recall, this flash of anticipation up there, then a little fluttering exhilaration in your gut as you slowly roll forward – followed by a dawning awareness that life might be far more interesting elsewhere, anywhere else than on this roller coaster. Maybe I never felt that way, not in that moment before the fall, but about half way through my ride I began to develop an appreciation for smooth bicycles on warm country roads. Funny thing, though. That was my fault, not the roller-coaster’s.

Which, I think, makes Troubadour all the more ironic. Troubadour was a nonstop roller coaster ride, yet she’s an old friend now. I know her aches and pains, her ups and downs as well as I know my own – yet what makes that such an off-putting idea is she’s not flesh and bones. She’s a boat, but she’s been my friend, too. A boat that became a reflection of my life. You go places with friends. You look back at that reflection and if you’ve done it right all you see is love.

+++++

I started playing the piano in kindergarten, maybe a little before. I was pretty good too, or so people told me, for a five year old. My teacher, a crusty old man who kept a regal old Steinway grand in his music room, seemed to think I had talent, but I was always more interested in composing music, not playing. And not to make to big a deal about it, but I always hated performing in front of people. My first recital was a disaster, and that set the stage for many more over the years, and I think, in an odd way, my reaction to that first trembling moment paved the way for Troubadour. I do okay playing one on one, or even with a people looking over my shoulder, but if you put me in a venue with hundreds of people I come undone. Just can’t do it, if you know what I mean. It’s not stage fright…it’s stage catatonia. I got over it once, for a while, but you know how these things go. They come back when you least expect them, and it ain’t pleasant.

Anyway, some time in junior high a bunch of really hip kids decided to form a band. Mind you, these guys were like twelve years old and had never played an instrument in their lives, but two of them got electric guitars for Christmas and started banging out the four-chord progression of Louie-Louie, and another friend got a massive Ludwig drum set – because that’s what Ringo played, don’t you know – and they needed someone who could play bass. Well, I could. I was playing both the acoustic bass and guitar by that point, and my grandfather had a massive pipe organ in his house that I’d been playing for years, so I had that one under my belt too.

At any rate, they convinced me to join them and I guess you could say I taught them how to play their instruments over the next year. One of the kids, Pete Davis, was a soulful twelve year old who liked writing poetry and was getting decent on his drums, and we started putting music to the words in his head. Anyway, he’d share his musings with us and somehow real music started to take shape. Hey, you never know, right?

I looked back on those first compositions of ours as something really else, the wonder of coming of age condensed into two and a half minutes of pre-pubescent wailings about acne and nocturnal emissions. We were twelve, you see, yet even then sex had become the center of our existence, and we were pegged to play at our school’s Spring Dance the last weekend of our last year in junior high. We had a couple of our own pieces to play but by and large we were set to grind out a bunch of Beatles and Stones songs, with me doing double duty on bass and keyboards.

I was, of course, terrified, and now I need to mention my, well, my grandmother. Her name is Terry, and she was not quite fifteen years older than me. She was Pops’, my grandfather’s third wife. The first two died on him, but that’s neither here nor there. Pops was a producer by then, kind of a big deal in Hollywood, and Terry was not even half his age. So let’s get this out in the open right now: I had a thing for my grandmother. She was an actress, by the way, and Life Magazine called her The Most Beautiful Woman in the World. So did I. Whenever she walked into my room at home I damn near had a heart attack. Yes, I had it bad. Real bad.

Anyway, I was talking to Pops and Terry about my stage fright one night and Terry told me she did too, even when she was on a movie set. Oh yeah, Terry’s English, grew up in London, and as the Beatles and the Stones were the rage that vibe kind of rubbed off on her. So, Terry worked with me, showed me a few tricks to make the terror a little more manageable. Some of these worked better than others. C’est la vie, right?

So, not only were there several hundred people at that dance, I knew each and every one of people in that room. I had chewed my fingernails down to bleeding stumps by the time we were set to take the stage, and I found that the only way I could play was to turn my back to the dance floor – so I did. For two hours I rocked and rolled and I had not have the slightest idea if anyone else was out there, and when it was finally all over I packed my stuff and went home – and vowed I’d never do anything like that ever again.

We were, of course, invited to participate in a local ‘battle of the bands’ contest to be held in early July, and we needed two songs of our own in order to be contestants so were turned Pete’s composition into something really special while I cobbled together something generic and altogether bland for our second entry and we practiced and practiced until we were blue in the face – then it was time to set up our instruments on what was indeed a really BIG stage.

“How many people are out there?” I asked one of the promoters.

“Oh, last year we had almost two thousand, but we’ve sold five thousand tickets so far…”

My knees were knocking by the time they announced us, but I turned the organ so I faced away from the lights and we launched into Pete’s soliloquy – a soothing, polished love song that just sounded silly when five twelve year olds sang it, but the girls out there loved it and they went wild.

Then we slipped right into ‘Lucy-Goosey’ – my hastily contrived fluff piece, and we brought down the house. We won, too. The contest, and we picked up a recording contract – with Lucy on the A side and Pete’s soliloquy on the flip side. The 45 sold a half million copies before we were in high school and as I was the songwriter listed on Lucy the lions share came to me.

And that was the end of that, of course. Lots of bitter vibes because of money. Always. Yet Pete and I stayed together, he always stuck with me, through thick or thin, and I never turned my back on him, either.

I haven’t mentioned my parents because, well, they died when I was young, like three years old. An airplane crash, a jetliner taking off from Mexico City, and really, I haven’t the slightest memory of either of them. I lived with my father’s father and his second wife, and I grew up in Beverly Hills. Then she died, and I don’t want to make too big a deal about it, but death kind of defined my reality. Things didn’t last, people died – and that was that. My parents were show business types, too; he a director and she an actress of some repute, and I don’t know how to say this other than I grew up around Hollywood types, lots of famous people were always around the dinner table, so my upbringing left me with, well, a different sense of proportion. If people saw glamorous stars and western heroes, I saw sullen, moody drunks sitting by the pool out back – all fawning over Terry’s – my third grandmother’s – legs. I mention all this only to add context to the sudden fame thrust on me after Lucy-Goosey went platinum later that summer. I also mention Terry’s legs because they truly were the most fantastic things on earth, and it’s a bitch growing up lusting after your grandmother.

I, for my part, decided to concentrate on classical compositions after our band fell apart, which pissed a whole lot of people off, but I kept at it all through high school and into college, yet by that time what little fame Lucy generated had all but slipped away – and I was grateful, because I considered the piece pure garbage.

If I forget to mention it later, all musicians hate their own stuff. The more they hate it the better it sells. Go figure.

So, anyway, I went to Stanford unencumbered by all that fame baggage, and I studied composition and philosophy with no job in mind – until a friend asked me to join a group he was putting together. Once it became more widely known among those people that I had, once upon a time, penned Lucy-Goosey, well, they wanted me to join their little group.

“I always wondered what happened to you,” Deni Dalton said, and that’s how we met, Deni and I. She had this smokey voice that seemed to seethe dark sexuality, and when she looked me in the eye I felt like a banana being peeled in the monkey house. Whatever protective layers I had on that day, say that look of smug condescension I liked to slip on from time to time, she cut through like a hot scalpel.

Deni was Music wrapped in pure Sin. She was bigger than life. I was in love with her within minutes, but then again everyone who laid eyes on her fell in love. She always wore black, too, back in those early days. Black hair and black eyes, heavy black makeup – she was pure Goth before there was such a thing.

And she had kind of a black heart, too. Mercenary, I guess you’d say. Not educated, yet smart, and from a very poor family. She read people like others read books, and maybe because of her upbringing she had a thing for money. She was always looking for the angle that would lead to fame and fortune, and I think after she took one look at me she saw an irresistable opening. Turns out she knew more about me than I did.

“Your Dad still with Universal?” she asked.

“My father died when I was three.”

“Aaron Dorskin? He’s not your pops?”

“My grandfather.”

“Oh, right. He’s still with Universal, ain’t he?”

“Last I heard.”

“Well, we’re looking for someone new on keys, and Luke says we should give a listen. So, I’m listening.”

We were in the living room of this run down three story house in Berkeley, and all there was in the room, besides a dozen or so people on a u-shaped purple velvet sofa, was an old upright piano – and then, wouldn’t you just know it, one of the girls on the sofa went down on the guy sitting next to her.

So…I looked at this chick for a moment and started playing to her rhythm, then Deni caught where I was and she stood and started swaying to the music coming from the girl’s mouth. I was drifting between Bartok and Dave Evans until this chick hit the short strokes, then I just let the music flow for a while, a loose, swirling flow, and Deni came to me and kissed me for a long time, before she and I played a little music of our own. But that was Deni. When she felt like sex was the key inside the moment, she played every note she knew.

And so began a very interesting time in my life. I like to think of it as my purple paisley patchouli period, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

+++++

It was a funky house, of that much I am certain. Channing Way was kind of an epicenter of seismic music in Berkeley for a few years back in the late sixties, and maybe Deni’s purple paisley house was ground zero. Her background was coffee house folk, kind of a dark California counterpoint to Paul Simon’s more upbeat New York vibe, and you might get that if irony is your thing. If Simon had inherited a little Gershwin, Deni had been mainlining Thelonius Monk – for years – yet she felt like she was ready for fatter, more complicated sounds. She wanted to create fat, epochal rock, anthems for a new generation already grown tired of Beatlemania. She didn’t want cool reflecting pools, she wanted steamrollers and wrecking balls. Most of all, she didn’t want to play small clubs anymore. She wanted to hit college campuses and then, maybe, if she got lucky, move on to bigger and better things, but she saw rock and roll as a doorway, an entry into something really big and bold.

To me, as a keyboardist in 1968, big and bold – and fat – meant synthesizers and mellotrons. Yes, fat is a term – usually associated with big, beefy synthesizer intros. Those two instruments, I surmised, might allow some of the more bombastic elements of classical forms to merge with the somewhat more simplistic forms of rock that seemed to be yearning for release – and like every other classically trained musician on the planet I realized Sgt Peppers had shown us the way to the door, while Pet Sounds had given us the courage to break on through to the other side. Martin and the Beatles began introducing classical motifs on Sgt Peppers, but it was their Fixing A Hole that caught fire in Deni’s mind. The Beatles married the baroque to old English choral music and it was brilliant, but it wasn’t American. The Beatles were a Jaguar XK-E: think of something restrained and elegant, gorgeous yet full of barely contained potential; what Deni wanted was a Shelby Cobra with glowing pipes, something untamed and unleashed, music that would overpower the soul and make people scream – when elation overpowered sensibility.

She had some ‘cred in the music business, but not a lot, not the kind I had, anyway – but what I did have was Pops, my grandfather. He was fairly high up on the food chain at Universal, and their MCA Records division wanted to cash in on the exploding pop/rock market that Capitol had cornered. So, we retreated into the house on Channing Way one February day and didn’t come out again until May, and only then did three of us hop in someone’s old VW Microbus and slither down the 101 to Burbank – and went to Pop’s office.

He was old by then, seriously old, but he was also sharp as a tack. We walked in and he looked at us like we’d just crawled out from under a rock, which, I have to say, wasn’t too far from the truth.

“Aaron,” he asked when he quasi-recognized me, “is that you under that hair?”

You see, by 1968 my hair was hanging down somewhere south of my knees, and George Harrison’s beard had nothing on mine. Well, his was probably cleaner.

“Hey, Pops,” I said, ‘Pops’ being my characteristic greeting. “We need a recording studio. I want to cut an album.”

I am not, you understand, one to waste time on idle chit-chat.

“Oh?” he said, with one raised eyebrow. One eyebrow meant he was listening. Two meant you needed to start running for the door.

So I tossed our demo reel on his desk, a big Tascam reel-to-reel spool, and he looked at it, then at Deni. And you have to understand this about Pops: he was only interested in her tits by this point. If she could sing, great, but she had great tits and I could see that working over in his mind – as in: she’ll look great on an album cover. He had no interest in her physically, only in the commercial appeal of Deni’s tits.

So he picked up his phone and dialed an extension.

“Lew? Aaron’s here, and he has a demo. Can I send him up now?”

So off we went, off to see the wizard. A dozen people gathered and listened to our demo and we walked out an hour later with a recording contract. We hopped in the VW and drove back up the 101 in a blinding rainstorm, got back to the purple paisley house a little after midnight – and Deni attacked me then. In a good way, if you know what I mean. We came up for air a few days later, and the really interesting thing about us is we realized we were heroin to one another. We were dangerously intoxicated when we mixed, so much so we knew we were in danger of losing ourselves, each to the other. We stepped back after that, afraid of combusion.

Yet after those two days and nights wrapped up in one another, Deni dropped the whole Black Goth thing and went in for this deep purple paisley look. Flowing silk capes of purple, and then the house began to reek of patchouli. Patchouli incense was burning 24/7, and she put patchouli oil in everything, notably the polish she used to wipe down her rosewood furniture. The scent wasn’t quite overpowering, but it came close, and the whole patchouli thing became indelibly linked to those months. I can’t not think of her when I run across that scent.

Anyway, we loaded up all our gear and ambled back to Burbank a week later, and we had several days booked to get the sound we wanted down on tape. I’ve since read books on musicians of that era, these being little more than monographs of artistic egoism run amok, and I shudder to think what would have happened to us if that had been the case. Instead, it seemed as if Deni and her mates knew this was their one big shot, and they had to get the job done this time or prepare to wait tables for the rest of their lives. We came together, Pete and I – and her friends, and the results were something else.

We ended up spending a month in the studio, yet before we were finished MCA released a single that shot up the charts into the top-10, and on the strength of that alone they booked us to play three nights at the Universal Amphitheater later that summer – and I didn’t think anything about it at the time, maybe because I was so wrapped up in the moment.

Deni was our lyricist, and she was a good one too, but she wasn’t quite what I’d have called an original. She listened to other recording artists all the time, listening for inspiration and ideas. Always looking for new ways to spin a phrase, new transitions between parts of a song – yet she couldn’t read or write music, what’s you might call notation. She had an instinctual grasp of the inherent order within a musical phrase, but she couldn’t see structure when expressed in notes and chords on a piece of paper. This wasn’t a big deal as I looked at the innate phrasing of her lyrical constructs and went from there, and as she wrote new stuff she’d come over to me and sing variations. Not a big deal, and most pop music is created that way these days, but it was a big move away from the classical paradigm – where arias are derived from the inherent structure within a passage of music.

An unknown named Elton John showed up while we were in the studio and he listened for a while then disappeared, and I dropped by one of his sessions a few days later and was blown away by his exuberance, his showmanship – even in the studio. And it hit me then, my lump on a log stage mannerism. I was not and would never be an Elton John. He was an impressionist masterpiece, and I was a Dutch still life – destined to reside on the edge of the stage, the edge of the world, my back to the action – and I knew there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. As soon as the lights went up I began to freeze inside, like my mind was suddenly and completely encased in brittle ice.

So, the album was released and it was a bigger hit than even Pops thought it would be. And yes, there was lots of cleavage on the front cover. Purple paisley and cleavage. My God, Deni did have canyons of cleavage. We played a few small gigs on Sunset and Hollywood, a few parties in the Hills of Beverly too, and we started mapping out our second album during that time. Then our first night at the Amphitheater came up and everything inside just kind of snapped. I couldn’t even walk out on stage for our practice session that afternoon, and for the first time what had been kind of a modest idiosyncrasy turned into a real liability. I looked at my mates looking at me and I knew they couldn’t understand…hell, I didn’t understand…but this was something that could seriously fuck up their chances of making it big.

Pops called a doc, some Beverly Hills shrink, and she came out and gave me a shot in the hip, told me to rest for a half hour, and she sat with me and we talked.

She looked like Faye Dunaway, if you know who I mean. About fifty, blond hair and seriously gorgeous. Smart? Dear God. It was like she had this ability to look inside souls, take an inventory and figure out what was wrong. Me? It was all about losing my parents when I was a kid. My dad was an actor and he had gone down to Mexico, to Acapulco, to receive some kind of award, and their plane crashed on the way back, so yeah, separation anxiety lead to more and more anxieties and Pops had had no idea. Hell, neither did I. But Terry did. Anyway, understanding did not lead to catharsis and by the time we were called on stage I was no better. The doc’s magic potion helped, but Terry was there and just seeing her helped me keep it together long enough to do the show, and while it was magic, the ovations and the wild applause, as I walked offstage I passed right out. Down like a sack of potatoes, right on the edge of the stage.

Or so I read in newspaper accounts the next morning. Despite not having diabetes the episode was ascribed to hypoglycemia and that was that. I spent all that next day working with a studio musician who would be on standby, a kind of understudy, in case I cratered that night – and of course I did.

I watched from backstage as this stranger played my music, and in fact he played better than I had, a supple fact not lost on Deni and my bandmates. I didn’t even show up for the third night’s performance, and when we returned to Berkeley the next day everyone tried to not make a big deal about it – but I knew something had changed between us. We all did, Deni most of all. I felt like damaged goods, a broken doll that not even all the king’s men could put back together, but we started writing music and pretty soon all was forgotten – if not forgiven.

We went back to Burbank a few months later and started laying down tracks when word came that we were going to tour North America in the fall and Europe the coming winter – and I started going to the shrink in Beverly Hills more often. Maybe she could help, I told my mates. Yeah, maybe, they said.

Then a funny thing happened. The shrink invited me to go sailing with some friends of hers the next morning. I accepted the invitation, too, if only because I wanted to get to know her better, and I ran out and got a haircut too. Bought some boat shoes, of all things, and some natty red sailing shorts to go with them. Oh, I looked so Beverly Hills!

The boat, a huge racing yacht that had been famous in the 30s, belonged to her husband, of course, a billionaire property developer who owned half of LA, and they had a professional crew sailing the boat so all I had to do was sit around and look interested in my boat shoes. Yet the truth of the matter was I did indeed find sailing interesting. In fact, the idea of sailing away from all my anxiety seemed very enticing. I talked to the skipper about boats and sailing for a while and I learned a lot that afternoon.

There was another couple on the boat that day, a property developer from Newport Beach who had brought his wife and daughter along. The girl looked a little younger than I, and she was studying some kind of psychology at UC Irvine. And hey, she loved our single. Her name was, of course, Jennifer. Every other girl in OC is named Jennifer, has been since the beginning of time.

She looked like one of Southern California’s home grown Hitler Youth so common to Orange County back in the day: rich, privileged, blond haired and blue eyed, yet she was sweet in a troubled kind of way – and she loved sailing. Well, I thought I might love sailing too so we had something in common, right? Anyway, we talked boats and I figured out pretty quick she knew a lot more about boats than I ever would, that she’d grown up around boats, and also that she really, really liked our single. She even had an original 45 of Lucy-Goosey, bless her heart, and we went out for a burger after we got back to the marina, then I drove her down to Newport, to her dorm at UCI, but when we got there she pointed me towards the beach and we went down to the peninsula, watched the moon fall on Catalina just before the sun decided to show up for a return engagement. She was sweet and I got into her way of talking real fast, thought it was kind of cool.

There was a boat show in Newport, she told me, usually in April or May, and she wanted to know if I’d come down and go to it with her. I said ‘sure, sounds fun’ before I knew what had happened, and we looked at one another when I dropped her off at the dorm like we were not quite sure where this was going. I wanted to kiss her, and I could tell she wanted me to, but I couldn’t – because I was afraid, and I told her so, too. I told her about seeing the shrink, about my looming performance anxiety and she seemed to understand. Anyway, I gave her my number at Pop’s house and she leaned over and kissed me once, gently, then again, not so gently, and then she told me I didn’t have anything to be worried about where she was concerned and everything kind of slipped into place after that. Right there in the car, as a matter of fact.

We finished the second album over the next few weeks then took a break, our first big tour not scheduled to begin for a month or so, and I went to Pop’s house to unwind. Everything seemed pretty much the same there, except Pops seemed to be slowing down, and suddenly, too. He said his back hurt more than it had until recently, and Terry and I talked him into going to see his doc.

And Jennifer called my first night there, said she was going to be at the marina Saturday and wanted to know if I wanted to go out on a new boat. Sure, I said, and we set a time to meet up – and after that I couldn’t think about anything other than her – until my next appointment with the shrink, anyway. Pop’s internist was in the same building as my shrink so I dropped him off for his appointment then ducked in for mine, but when I came back for him an hour later he was still inside – so I sat and waited.

And waited.

And a nurse finally came out and asked for me, led me back to some forbidden inner sanctum – where I found Pops all red-eyed, an old internist handing him tissues. Prostate cancer, advanced well into the spine was the preliminary diagnosis, but biopsies would be done early Monday morning and we’d go from there. We left and he was pissed off because the same doc had told him a year ago the pain was probably related to a fall he’d taken a few years before. Maybe if he’d been more thorough he’d have a chance now, he said, because if it had moved into the spine that was it.

“What do you mean, that’s it?”

I understand my parents died when I was three, but since then no one I knew had kicked the bucket – and now, all of a sudden, the most important person in my life was telling me he was going to die, soon? That this was it? The ride was over?

I had an emotional disconnect about that time, I guess you might say. I was a little more concerned with my well being than his in that moment, a little more than afraid – for me. No, let me rephrase that. I fell apart and we held on to one another there in the lobby for way too long, then we walked over to Nate ‘n Al’s for bagels and lox. He called some of his buddies from the studio, told them to come over for a few hands of poker that night – which was code for ‘shit has hit the fan’ and we sat there watching the ice melt in our glasses of iced tea, neither of us knowing what the hell to say to one another. Terry would surely come apart at the seams tonight, he said, then this lanky gentleman walked in and came over to our booth and sat down next to me.

Jimmy Stewart, in town between shoots and an old friend of the family, looked at Pops and sighed. “Aaron, you look awful. Now tell-tell me, why-why-why all the long faces?”

So Pops lays it out there and then Jimmy is all upset, the ice in his iced tea is melting along with ours, then he finally turns and looks at me.

“Heard that album of yours. It sure isn’t Benny Goodman, is it?”

Pops broke out laughing at that. “It sure isn’t, but that lead singer of theirs sure has great gonzagas. World class, if you know what I mean.”

Stewart rolled his eyes, shook his head. “All he can think about at a time like this is tits. Aaron? You’ll never change.”

“Amen to that, brother,” Pops said. “What do you have in that sack, James? Another model airplane?”

“Yup, yup. Me ‘n Hank Fonda, you know how that goes?”

“Did you ever see his model room, Aaron?” Pops asked me.

“Yessir, been a few years, but…”

“I was building that B-52 when you were up there, wasn’t I?” Jimmy recalled. “Wingspan this big,” he said, holding his hands about a mile apart and we all laughed. He got up and patted Pops on the shoulder a minute later, told him he’d call soon, then he ambled over to a table where Gloria was already waiting and I could see the expression on her face when he told her. Small town, Beverly Hills. Good people, too.

I got up early and drove down to the marina, met Jennifer at the anointed hour and she took me down to a slip below an apartment building and hopped aboard a brand new Swan 4o. There were two other girls onboard already and they slipped the lines, let Jennifer back the boat out of the slip while they readied the sails. We sailed out of the marina after that, then turned south for Palos Verdes – and with barely enough wind to fill the sails the girls soon gave up and turned the engine on. Seems they were delivering the boat from the marina to it’s new owner down at the LA Yacht Club and I was along for the ride, but by the time we cleared the Point Vicente lighthouse we had enough wind to raise sail again and had a rip-roaring nine mile sleigh ride after that. Feeling the motion, the wind through my hair – the power within the wind – was almost a religious experience, too. I was hooked, big time.

That was difference, too, between 40 feet and 83. The smaller boat felt almost alive compared to the old J-class boat I’d sailed on the week before, and I found myself mesmerized by the brisk sensations. I didn’t know it at the time, but Jennifer studied my face that day, told me once she was reliving her earliest sailing experiences by watching my reactions that day. She was very dialed into me, I guess you could say, even then.

We turned the boat over to her new owner and drove down to Newport Beach, stopped and had an early dinner at The Crab Cooker, and after we dropped off the girls she drove me back up to the marina, and I told her about Pops then, about what my grandfather really meant to me, and she remained quiet all the while, let me ramble-on until we pulled into the lot where I’d left my car. She parked and turned to face me, leaned the side of her face on the seat and stared at me.

“What are you going to do now?” she asked. “Try to go on tour?”

“I don’t think I can do that. I need to be here now, with him.”

She nodded her head. “I think so, too. You need anyone to talk to, just call me. Any time, day or night. Got it?”

I nodded my head, then looked her in the eye. “What happens if I fall in love with you?”

“If?” she said, grinning.

“Okay. When I fall in love with you?”

“Are you sure you haven’t already?”

I can still feel that moment, even now. Like it was the most important moment of my life, those precious seconds are still right there with me, wherever I go.

“I know exactly when I fell in love with you,” I said – still looking in her eyes.

“Oh?”

“About a minute ago. Before that I was fighting it.”

“I know.”

“You know?”

“I think you’ve been fighting it all day. I know I have.”

I smiled, felt real relief inside, then asked: “You want to go meet my Pops?”

She nodded her head. “Yeah. I think that’d be a good thing.”

So we went. She met Pops and he loved her too, which was kind of a good thing. It was the first time I’d ever come home with a girl, and the moment wasn’t lost on either of us. My grandmother, Terry, was a little coy about the whole thing, a little too reserved one minute then effusive the next, but by the time we left she’d come around too. Back then I could never quite tell what was on Terry’s mind.

“So, you’re the one?” Pops asked when he walked us to the driveway, and Jennifer didn’t know what to say just then, but I did.

“Yeah, Pops, she’s the one. You mind if we run off to Vegas and do the deed, or did you want us to do it here?”

“Let’s all go to Vegas,” he said. “I can hit the tables after, and who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky,” he added, popping my grandmother lightly on her tail-feathers.

And we all laughed at that, even my grandmother, but we weren’t fooling anyone. Not by a long shot. Life’s never as simple as it seems, especially when it’s staring you in the face.

“He’s kind of cool,” Jennifer said as we drove back to the marina. “Old school Hollywood, I guess.”

“He is that. Not many like him left in this town.”

“Thanks for letting me meet him. Even if you were joking…”

And I looked at her just then, like maybe I’d been joking, and maybe I hadn’t. And she looked at me, too.

“You were joking, weren’t you?”

“We’ve known each other a week,” I said. “Maybe it would be nuts, but I haven’t been able to think about anything but you for days.”

And when she nodded her head she looked down, didn’t say a word. There were a million unheard stories in that glance, too.

“What about you,” I asked. “Am I too late? Already spoken for?”

“I was serious about a guy in high school, and we kept dating after, even after I went to Stockton and he went to SC. We broke up six months ago, well, right before Christmas.”

“What happened?”

“He met a girl, I guess. ‘Someone better, less complicated’ was the way he put it.”

“Jeez. That’s a nice way of putting things.”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“No one since?”

She shook her head. “It messed with my head pretty bad. We’re seeing the same shrink, you know?”

No, I didn’t, but it kind of made since now so I nodded my head. “What happened?” I asked.

“Pills. My roommate found me in time, got me to the ER. Pumped my stomach, that whole scene. I came home after that. Haven’t been back to school since, not really.”

“You going to finish your degree?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Anything else you want to do?”

“I like sailing, that’s about all though. Dad put up some money to get a sailboat maker up and running, and I’m going to start working in the marketing and sales department this summer. I guess we’ll see how that goes.”

“Sounds kind of fun. Not a lot of stress, anyway, and doing something you love.”

“What about you? You going to keep playing?”

“I don’t know, composing, anyway, and maybe working on studio tracks. We have a studio musician who’s preparing to go out on the road if I can’t handle our next concert.”

“Where’s it going to be?”

“San Francisco, at the Fillmore. Hendrix is going to be there, some Brits, too. Should be a scene.”

“Wow…”

“You wanna come up?”

“You sure you want me to?”

“You know, we were talking about getting married a few minutes ago. Nothing’s changed, as far as I can tell, anyway.”

She looked at me again and I could see it all over her face, in her eyes. Not quite shame, but a real close cousin. Something deeper than embarrassed, anyway. Trying to kill yourself – and failing – had to be hard to deal with by yourself, but to lay it all out there like she just had? She either had guts or she wanted to see how real I was. The thing is, I wasn’t running. I think I started to really fall for her after that. I mean a deep kind of falling in love, like I wanted to take care of her. I know that seems a little off, but when I saw her vulnerabilities I wanted to be stronger so I could help her carry the load.

And I think that was a turning point for me. Seeing myself as someone strong, someone she could depend on.

Anyway, when we made it to her car we got out and walked around the marina for a while, looked at boats and talked about sailing – and I held her hand all the while. The thought I’d let go of her in a minute or two, let her drive back to Newport without me was hitting home real hard, a lot harder than I expected it would, and I stopped in front of a hotel there, turned her into my arms and I just held onto her. Maybe like forever, if you know what I mean, then I kissed her, told her that I loved her and maybe we should go get a room.

I remember those eyes of hers. Looking up at me then, so full of lingering intensity. She was so insanely gorgeous, too, probably the most beautiful girl I’d ever known, and if that asshole boyfriend hadn’t fucked her up she would have been okay – or at least I kept telling myself that over the years. And hell, who knows, maybe I believed it, too, but she was fragile after that breakdown. Always was, right up to the day she finally left us.

+++++

I drove up to Berkeley a few days later, as it was time to start rehearsing for our Fillmore gig. That ‘feeling stronger’ vibe stuck with me, too, and I felt good about going out on stage for the first time in my life. Deni picked up on the vibe, and she was ecstatic about the whole Jennifer thing, too. Rehearsals went great and I picked Jennie up the night before we were set to play, and we went down in time to listen to The Nice. There weren’t many of us trying to bring new technology onstage, but Keith Emerson was creating quite a storm on stage and everyone was hanging around in this haze of expectation, waiting for him, and Hendrix.

Hendrix was the current God du jour, but for any keyboardists watching that night, Keith Emerson was surreal. Here was someone, finally, bringing classical structure into rock, and while his rendering of Bernstein’s America was electric, what caught me was a piece called the Five Bridges Suite, which fused classical with jazz and rock. About halfway through that piece I started to look around at the crowd and found a kind of swaying trance had taken hold. People didn’t want to dance now, they had been transported somewhere else, someplace deep within Music, deeper than I’d ever thought possible. Even Jennie said “wow!” when those guys wrapped up and drifted into the crowd…

But when finally Jimi came out the place erupted, and when The Experience started in with Fire you could understand what the electricity was all about. I hung on ‘til they finished up with The Wind Cries Mary, and when I looked around the place I could feel something else passing through the crowd, something hard to put my finger on, but what struck me was the power music held over that crowd. Something awesome and huge, some force I’d never reckoned with before, and what got me right then was Emerson. He was watching the crowd too, gauging the sudden surge of empathy, and I guess like me he was lost inside the wonder of the moment.

One other thing that hit me just then, too: the amount of pot hanging in the air. From fifty feet back the air was literally a purple haze, and with the multi-colored stage lights bathing the area around Hendrix the atmosphere was otherworldly. I knew a couple of cops were working the back of the crowd, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be them in this place. After the ‘free-speech’ demonstrations across the bay over the last few months, their was another ‘something’ hanging in the air, apparent, and it weren’t purdy, if you know what I mean. And that vibe was the raw underbelly of music at the Fillmore…that something in the air. It was beyond revolution, more like anarchy, and it was growing.

Sure, a lot of the music was about ‘peace and love’ but there was an awful lot of anger in the air; even so there was this Hell’s Angels vibe going around, too, an undercurrent of outlaw malevolence that felt rooted in the desire to burn everything down to the ground. That was San Francisco then and I suspect it’s always been that way. Like some people working the fringes wanted to create something new, but to me it felt like this Fillmore fringe didn’t really care who got burned along the way. So, yeah, I think there was real anarchy in this group, like this new fringe wanted their parent’s world to dissolve within the purple haze hanging over that crowd inside the Fillmore, all emotion rooted in infantile rebellion, like the tantrums of spoiled children.

Yet sometimes children are right, too.

That was in the air, too. Even the music. Our parent’s forms and structures, subverted and inverted, creating something new, anarchic and inclusive. Like the Beatles opened the doors to polite society and now the riffraff was rushing in – burning babies in Electric Ladyland. Music was, right before our eyes, becoming more political than it had in a hundred years, when Wagner politicized opera in post-Napoleonic Europe. If you think that’s trivial stuff, just consider for a moment that Marx grew out of that music, and so did Darwin.

So yeah, something was stirring in the underbelly of that crowd. Something big and noisy, and maybe ugly, too.

+++++

We were the first gig of the night, so we set up early and I looked around the place while I helped hook up the Moog and Mellotron. The air clear now, the room didn’t look all that big, or like a place full of wild magic. Just a room, I thought, not unlike the other gigs  around this city, yet I had felt those forces the night before. Emerson had too. We talked after Hendrix left, talked about the vibe we’d seen and felt, and we talked in epochal terms about music shape-shifting to the needs of the moment. About the politics of music. We talked Nixon and Vietnam and John Wayne and about the image of a girl who had put a flower down the barrel of a National Guardsman’s rifle. Everything was linked, he said, but the links weren’t easy to see – not yet, anyway. Music had to become the fabric that joined all these disparate factions, and musicians had to claim their place as leaders of this movement. Heady stuff, and even Jenn seemed caught up in the moment. Emerson was a philosopher-king, if ever there was one.

Yet standing up there on that stage looking out over that empty room it was hard to see music as anything other than a diversion. Maybe we were the sideshow to the real action. I’d just read Jerry Rubin’s ‘Do It!’ – a real Bay Area anarchist’s manifesto – and I wondered: could music take on the weight of so much revolutionary zeal, shoulder that burden? Or would music fragment the way society seemed to be fragmenting?

Even when I worked with Deni it was there – this impulse to fly apart, to head off in uncharted new directions, and there wasn’t some unseen political hand pushing us towards a grand unified theory of musicians leading a movement. Most of the kids on stage were just that: they liked to play the guitar or the keys, and egos got big under that tent. We got off on making music together, yet I can’t recall ever sitting around and saying “Wow, did you see those riots up on campus today! We got to write about that!”

Yeah, but there was one anthem out there that contradicts all that vibe, and I loved it. For What It’s Worth, by the Buffalo Springfield – and maybe that’s the vibe Emerson was channeling that night in the purple haze – but the idea hit me then that I had always seen music as a reflection of events, not a means to change things, but maybe it could be both and I’d never really seen it as such – and I had an idea.

I hadn’t played Lucy-Goosey in years. The music had dissolved into that early Beatles-like haze of I Wanna Hold Your Hand and She Loves You, Yeah-Yeah-Yeah, but it was still there, buried somewhere in our collective unconscious – so what if we…

Deni was kind of entranced by the whole thing, too, and she came up with a few bridges to make the pop refrains relevant once again. Lucy was going to go from bubble-gum chewing sycophant to radical anarchist on stage that night, and the whole thing was taking shape in a burst of creativity that had come out of nowhere, man.

When the lights went down a slide was projected on the wall behind the stage, an image of that girl sticking a daisy down the barrel of the national guardsman’s rifle, and I walked out and got behind the keyboards – then turned and looked at Jennifer standing in the shadows backstage and I smiled, then turned to face the sea of faces and raised my fist, then the room went black – with just a small spot on me, and that image of the girl hanging back there behind the purple haze.

I started with the simplest piano refrains from Lucy-Goosey and the sea of faces went silent as quiet expectation replaced hyped anticipation, and my piano was almost in chopsticks mode: simple notes even a child could play, awakening memory. Our lead guitar stepped out and another spot hit him, and he started echoing my simplistic melody. Deni came out next and the crowd erupted, then as quickly shut down as she started into an even simpler, quieter version of my original lyric, and she turned to a small harp and echoed my notes as the lights faded, leaving only the image of the girl with the daisy – which soon faded to black as my piano grew softer, then silent. In the darkness the rest of the band came out and when the lights flared we turned Lucy into a molotov cocktail throwing radical with what I’d say presaged a grungy-heavy metal infused sound – music that no one in the audience had heard before – and the surge of energy was cataclysmic. I kept the simple piano melody going, but that was echoed by soaring, dark chords on the Mellotron, and with Deni’s inverted lyrics Lucy’s transformation was complete.

And I felt that transformation in my soul, too, like I’d just grown up. The insecure teenager died out there that night, and when we walked offstage an hour later I walked into Jennifer’s arms and held on tight, because I knew the ride ahead was about to get real bumpy.

+++++

Pops was a lot sicker than he let on, and he kept everything wrapped up and put away, out of sight. Every time I called he was ‘fine, doing great’ – and Terry, my ‘grandmother’ went along with his charades, and it worked – ‘til we came to LA to play several concerts around town. I went home after our first night and when I saw him I burst out crying. I couldn’t help it.

“Do I look that bad?” he asked.

He looked like an orange scarecrow, only worse.

“The color,” he said, “is from liver failure. I kind of like it, too. Like a walking traffic sign, don’t you think? When I walk out of the doctor’s office everyone stops and stares.”

I felt sick, too, just looking at him, and then Terry told me he had maybe a month or two left, and I kind of fractured when I heard that. Like I didn’t know what to think. Pops was my last link to an almost invisible past, and without him I would be well and truly alone. There weren’t any brothers or sisters or aunts and uncles, there was just me and Pops. I was going to be, if I remained alone and childless, the last of the line.

And that was a big question hanging in the air between us.

“What’s with Jennifer?” he wanted to know.

“We’re good,” I said, but there was something else hanging in the air. That whole fragile thing. She was depressed, and when she started going down that hole she turned to dolls to pick her back up. Dolls, as in The Valley of The. Pills, in other words, and here I need to digress a little. I didn’t do pills. I didn’t smoke – anything. I didn’t drink much, because I didn’t like the whole idea of losing control. I know, like the idea we have some kind of control is an almost comic idea, but the point is we do have the ability to control some things, and losing what little I had was to me a Very Bad Thing. I tripped all I wanted when I disappeared inside my music, but I could come out of it intact and lucid. I had seen Deni disappear down the LSD rabbit hole and not come out for days, and that scared the shit out of me. We’d been through two lead guitarists over the course of a year simply because one drug or another had taken them someplace they just couldn’t break free of, and I wasn’t going there.

So when I saw Jennifer headed down the same road I told her it worried me, and she told me to fuck off. So I did. I put her on a plane back to her father and told him what was going down, and what I heard back from him wasn’t worth mentioning, because he’d thought he was done with her and wasn’t happy to have her back under his roof.

I started spending more and more time in LA, spending as much time with Pops as I could, and my understudy started filling in more often when Pops started the terminal decline. I decided to go on to our next few gigs and was in Cleveland when Terry called me, told me to come home, and it was about five hours before the show that night when I called Deni and told her. She came to my hotel room and we talked, and she told me to take my time, that they’d manage without me and I held her for the longest time. We’d been together as a group for more than two years by then, and I realized she was about the closest thing to family I’d have left – and I told her so.

“I never wanted you to be my brother, Aaron,” she told me. “All I know is we work well together, like I always imagined a husband would be, ya know?”

“That day, you remember?”

“Yeah. Love heroin. I’ll never forget. I’ve never loved anyone like I loved you,” she sighed, and then she was crying. “God, I don’t want you to go. Something’s going to happen to you back there. Something fuckin’ big’s coming, and I feel like it’s going to crush you, man.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do without him, Den. I’m scared, and with Jenn gone? I don’t know, man, I don’t know…”

“I’m here. Don’t you forget that.” She looked at me and we kissed, I mean like the last time we kissed, and I was full of these bizarre electric charges flickering on and off like lightning all over my skin, then she looked at me again. “I love you, and I will forever” she sighed, then we kissed again, and this time we were hovering beyond the abyss, ready to fall into bed, but she pulled back and ran from the room.

I got my bags together and made it out to the airport in time to catch a one-stop to LAX, and made it to the house a little after midnight. I went to Pop’s room and we sat and got caught up while Terry left to put on tea, but she came back in a few minutes later, her eyes full of grief. She turned on the TV and there were news reports of an airplane crash, a flight from Cleveland to Buffalo, and a hundred and fifteen people, including all members of the group Electric Karma, were feared dead.

I blinked, recoiled from the very idea Deni and all my mates were gone, that the sum total of our existence had been wiped from the slate in the blink of an eye, but the pictures on the screen told a very different story. A midair collision about a mile out over Lake Erie, and the 707 had burst into flames and fluttered down to the wavetops, then slipped beneath black water.

Pops died the next day.

+++++

Jennifer thought I died that night and she came undone. Razor blades this time, and she’d meant to take herself out, no doubt about it. By the time I called their house the next morning the damage was done, though I didn’t find out for a few more hours. When I talked to her father later that day he sounded relieved and furious, and I told him I’d be down as soon I could. He said he understood and we left it at that, and Pops slipped into a morphine induced coma later that afternoon. We didn’t say goodbye, but when I held his hand I could feel him respond to my words. When I told him he meant the world to me, and that I’d miss him most of all he squeezed my hand, and I could hear him talking to me. All the talks we’d had over the years were still right there, and Terry was with me, holding on to me, when he slipped away.

She was English, my Terry. Had had a good run in Hollywood after the war, made a half dozen romantic comedies with the likes of Cary Grant and, yes, Jimmy Stewart, so when Pops moved on it was a big deal in Hollywood circles, yet the death of my bandmates cast a long shadow over the whole affair. Everyone knew about Pops and me, how tight we were, yet Terry was the big surprise – to me. I’d never really appreciated how close they were, but one look at her and you knew it wasn’t an act. She stopped eating for a month, literally, and wasted away to nothing – and then I had to admit I really felt something for the woman. She wasn’t just Pop’s third wife: she, too, became the one last link I had to him, one I’d never even realized existed, and all of a sudden I was scared she might leave me too.

And let’s not forget Jennifer, lying, in restraints, in a psychiatric hospital tucked deep inside the hills above Laguna Beach. I started driving down to Laguna every other day, then every morning, and I spent hours with Jennifer then drove back up to Beverly Hills, back to Pop’s house, where I tried to pull Terry out of her funk.

About three weeks into this routine I decided to take Terry with me down to Laguna, to try to get Terry to see what the real contours of falling into depression looked like, and it worked. That day marked a big turnaround for all of us, because she reached out to Jenn and they connected.

Like a lot of people around that time, I’d recently seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, and to me that time felt a lot like one of the key passages in the movie. When Hal goes bonkers and cuts Frank adrift, and Dave goes after his tumbling body in the pod – helmet-less. I wasn’t sure if I felt more like Dave, or Frank, but I knew everything was tumbling out of control – yet I was the only one who could set things straight.

Like Pops had set me straight after my parents died, I knew it was my turn at the controls, and I didn’t want to let either Pops or my old man down. Hell, by this point I didn’t want to let Jennifer’s father down. Whatever was wrong with Jenn, I saw then that her old man was probably behind a lot of it – so I’d in effect sent her back into the snake pit.

Nope. Not again. When you tell someone that you love them, you don’t do that. It’s a simple proposition, really. Either you mean what you say or what you say is meaningless, and now I took that to heart.

I loved Jenn. Simple as that. And I loved Terry, too. Simple as that.

So, let me tell you a little more about Terry.

She met Pops when he was in his late sixties. They got married when she was thirty three. She was forty four now, and every bit the Hollywood starlet she had been just a few years ago, and in the aftermath of her decision to rejoin the living she decided she was either going to move back to London and take up work on the stage, or make another movie. Maybe a bunch of movies.

And she wanted to know how I felt about her moving back to London. Specifically, did I want to her remain in LA, remain a part of my life, or did I want her to move on.

Mind you, I had just turned twenty seven so I wasn’t exactly a babe in the woods, and I’d never once considered her my grandmother. She came into my life when I was sixteen, when she was considered one of the most desirable women in the world. Let’s just say I’d spent a few sleepless nights over her and leave it at that, and I think you’ll grasp the contours of my own little dilemma.

So, I told her ‘Hell no!’ I didn’t want her to move on. I told her she was an important part of my life with Pops, and that she would always be important to me. The problem I didn’t quite wrap my head around is she didn’t see it that way. She’d spend ten plus years married to a man who hadn’t been able to perform his marital duties for, well, a long time, and she was just entering her prime. The biggest part of the problem was the simplest, most elemental part, too. I still found her attractive, devastatingly so.

There was a part coming up, just being cast, where she’d get prime billing next to some very big names, and she’d gone to the audition dressed to kill. When she came back she was elated; she’d gotten the part and shooting began, in France, in three weeks. She wanted to celebrate and so we went down to The Bistro – where her landing the part was all the buzz. Everyone came by to congratulate her – and offer condolences – and everyone looked at me like ‘who the devil are you.’

Why, I’m her grandson – didn’t you know?

What followed was three of the most regretfully confusing weeks of my life, and I’ll spare you the details. Sex was not involved, thankfully – or regrettably, depending on your point of view – but the whole thing was an emotional hurricane that left me drained. And Jenn began to pick up on the vibe, too.

“Are you sleeping with her?” she asked me one morning after I’d just walked into her room.

“What? With who?”

“Terry.”

“Geez! No!”

And I guess the way the word ‘no’ came out implied an air of finality, because she never brought it up again. And, a few weeks after Terry left for Avignon, Jennifer moved in with me, into Pop’s house.

Because he’d left it to me. He’d left everything to me, a not insubstantial sum of money, too. Then Electric Karma’s lawyers told me that as I was the only surviving band member, and there was no one higher up on the food chain in their world, all our royalties were now mine. In perpetuity. In other words, I was filthy rich, and all I’d done was write a few songs and nearly shit my pants in stage-fright a couple of times.

Herb Alpert was, literally, my next door neighbor and I talked him into a tour of the recording studio he’d just finished in his house and I decided then and there I was going to do the same thing, and a few weeks later architects and contractors were finalizing plans while contractors swarmed, when Jenn decided we needed to buy a sailboat.

So we went down to the Newport Beach Boat Show and we looked at one yacht after another…Challengers and NorthStars and DownEasts were a few of the names that stood out, but in the end I put money down on a Swan 41, a new Sparkman & Stephens design that had not even been officially launched yet, and wouldn’t, as it turned out, for three more years – which left us without a boat for the foreseeable future.

But there was a new company just starting up in Newport, called Westsail, and they had a 32 at the show that really struck a chord with me – and I bought her, right then and there, and after the show Jenn and I sailed her down to Little Balboa Island, to the dock in front of her father’s house. Pretty soon we were driving down there almost every day, taking Soliloquy out for a sail. We started hopping over to Catalina, dropping our anchor off the casino and snorkeling for so long our skin started to look like mottled white prunes.

Sailing kept me away from the house, and the construction project, but when that work wrapped I went to work on another project. I had all our master tapes delivered to the house and I got to work re-mastering the original cuts, adding some keyboard tracks I’d always wanted, then I took them over to MCA for a listen. They reissued both our albums, and I put together a gratuitous “Best Of Retrospective” just for good measure and before you could say ‘Money in the bank’ I’d banked so much money it was obscene.

So, I had a house in Beverly Hills, at least one sailboat in Newport Beach, more than ten million in banks everywhere from California to the Cayman Islands and a seriously crazy girlfriend who had an affinity for razor blades – and boats.

And with all my work done in the recording studio – it took all of six weeks, too – I was now out of things to do.

Ah, Terry. What about her, you ask?

Well, she had more money than God before she married Pops so that was never an issue, and I was soon reading about a secret marriage to her co-star in this new film, so presto, problem solved.

Yet within a week I was bored out of my mind.

“What about forming a new group?” Jenn asked.

And all I could see was Deni in that hotel room, telling me that she loved me, and that she always would.

“You know…I don’t think so. I can record an album myself if I really want to. I can play all the instruments, do everything but sing, and if I get the urge I’ll get someone to lay down a vocal track and do the rest on my own.”

She frowned, shook her head. “That’s not the point. Working with musicians on a common goal, that’s what you need right now.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Okay. What do you think about sailing to Hawaii?”

“What? You and me?”

“Yup.”

“That sounds fuckin’ bogus, man!”

Keep in mind, in 1972 ‘bogus’ meant something similar to ‘awesome’ these days. ‘Bogus,’ by the way, replaced ‘bitchin’ in the California lexicon, and ‘bitchin’ was a close cousin of ‘far out’ and ‘groovy.’ We clear now, Dude?

I had a million questions, the first being ‘could we do the trip on Soliloquy?’

“Fuck, yes. She was made for this kind of trip.”

“Oh?” Keep in mind about all I knew concerning sailboats was that the pointy end was supposed to go forward. Next, consider that Soliloquy had two pointy ends, so I was already seriously confused.

“Yeah, we could hit Hawaii, then head south for Tahiti.”

“Tahiti?”

I’d heard of Tahiti, of course. Once. I think.

“Sure. What do you think? Wanna go for it?”

So, my suicidal girlfriend wanted to get me on a 32 foot long sailboat a thousand miles from the nearest land. To what end, I wondered?

“How long would it take to get to Hawaii?” I wanted to know.

“Depending on the wind, two to three weeks.”

“Weeks? Not months?”

“Yachts sailing in the Transpac Race do it in eight days. It’s not that big a deal.”

“Have you done it?”

“Twice.”

Of course she had.

“But this would be just you and me, no pressure, no finish lines. We could really get to know one another, I guess.”

“When?”

“Best time is June and July.”

“So…a month or two from now?”

“Yup.”

“Would you like to do this?”

“More than anything in the world.”

“Well, maybe we’d better get to work. My guess is Soliloquy isn’t geared up for this kind of thing.”

She looked at me and grinned. “I already have.”

“Ah.” Of course she had.

And so the worm turned.

+++++

I never considered myself a sailor. Never, as in ‘not once.’ I’d never been on a sailboat until the day my shrink invited me out on her husband’s J-boat, the day I met Jennifer, and yet I was hooked from that first sail onward. If you’ve ever looked at an eagle or a seagull and wondered what it’s like to bank free and easy on a breeze, well, sailing’s about as close as you’ll get in this life – and unless you happen to believe in reincarnation and hope to wind up as a bird in your next, that’s the end of that. Bottom line: after that day I began to consider myself a sailor – and I know that sounds ridiculous – until you consider sailing is a state of mind, not simply a reflection of one’s experience.

At that point sailing was, for me, heading out the Newport jetty around ten in the morning and dropping anchor off Avalon 5-6 hours later. Soliloquy was a heavily built, very sound little ship and weather was never a factor; in forty knots with six to ten foot seas she just powered through the channel with kind of a ‘ho-hum’ feel, like – you’ll need to throw some heavier shit my way to make me sweat. She imparted a confident feel in bad weather, something I came to appreciate later that summer, but something I was, generally speaking, clueless about those first few months sailing with Jenn.

No GPS back in the day, too. Navigation was old school, and I bought a Plath sextant, a German made beauty, and Jenn taught me to use it so we shared navigation duties. I’d always been strong in math, and I guess that’s what carried me through music into composition, so sight reduction tables and the spherical trigonometry involved in celestial navigation wasn’t a stretch. Still, the first time we motored from Avalon to Newport in a pea-soup fog – and nailed it – I was proud of Jenn for being such an accomplished navigator – and teacher.

Anyway, we stocked the boat with provisions, including everything we’d need to bake bread at sea, and a few other necessities, like a life raft and a shitload of rum – because sailors only drink rum, right? – and I went to my favorite guitar dealer in Hollywood and picked up an small backpacker’s guitar, an acoustic beauty made in Vermont, and so equipped we were good to go.

We left Newport on the first of June, 1972, and we sailed to Avalon and baked bread that evening, and when the sun came up the next morning we pulled in the anchor and stowed it aft, then, once we cleared the southeast end of Catalina, we set a course of 260 degrees and settled in for the duration. Call it twenty-five hundred miles at an average of 125 miles per day, and though we racked off 150 most days, we had a few under a hundred, too. The stove and oven were propane, most lighting came from oil lamps, and we had an icebox – not refrigeration – so we went about a week with things like fresh meat and milk then switched over to canned goods and Parmalat milk for the next two. And the thing is, I found I just didn’t care. We figured out how to make things we liked using the things we had on hand, and we made rice and homemade curries that were something else. And then you have to factor in the sunsets out there…a million miles from nowhere. Sitting in the cockpit with the aroma of freshly baked yeast bread coming out of the galley, while I played something new on the guitar and as the sky went from yellow to orange to purple…well…yeah, it was all kind of like magic.

One day the seas went flat, turned to an endless mirror, and the only ‘things’ we saw all that day were the fins of an occasional blue shark or United DC-8s overhead on their way to or from Honolulu, and I’d never felt so utterly at peace in all my life. We’d bought what we’d need to rig a cockpit awning so we did that day, if only to keep from being roasted alive under the sun, and I think we started in on each other by mid-morning, and kept at it through sunset. Like, literally, nonstop sex – for fifteen hours – and it was one of the most surreal days I’ve ever experienced. Pure sex, cut off from everything else – not-one-other-distraction. Just intent, focused physicality – one soul focused on another.

I didn’t know Jennifer, not really, not before those hours, and I’m not sure she knew herself all that well, either, but we never looked at one another the same way after that. We were reduced to pure soul out there, and not one false, pretentious emotion guided us. Soliloquy was hanging in that water, no wind stirred the sea and we’d drop a cedar bucket into the crystalline water and wash ourselves down from time to time, but other than that the day melted away – leaving pure love in it’s wake.

And that night the wind picked up, our speed too, then the wind really started blowing, the seas building and we sailed for three days under a double-reefed main and staysail, the steering handled by the Monitor wind-vane self-steering rig Jenn had installed by the factory. And still Soliloquy just powered through the seas, never once did we doubt her ability to carry us safely onward.

And a few windy days later the trip was over.

Jenn’s father had shown up a few days before our expected arrival and he’d secured a berth at Kewalo Basin, near the city center, and it turned out he was as excited as we were about the trip. The fact that it had turned out so peculiarly uneventful was icing on the cake…and because I think he had it fixed firmly in mind that the crossing would be something like making it to the summit of Everest he’d never considered making such a trip. Now he was on fire to do it, and was itching to make the trip back to California.

I wasn’t, however, not with him, and not on a 32 foot sailboat.

Yet Jennifer was. She thought it would be a good time for she and her father to mend some fences, and wanted me to come along. As referee, perhaps?

And again, I didn’t want to be a part of that whole thing, and I let her know it in no uncertain terms. So, she told me to fly back, that she and her father would bring Soliloquy home to Newport.

Fine, says I, and I exit, stage right, on one of those United DC-8s we’d watched arcing across the sky. The thing is, there’s no easy way back from Hawaii to Southern California. Wind and currents make it much more doable if you arc north towards British Columbia, and then ride the current south past the Golden Gate to LA. It’s a much longer trip, and it takes a lot longer – as long as 4-5 weeks. Another drawback? You have to go much farther north, well into colder, arctic influenced waters where both storms and fog are the routine, so the trip is tough. More like the Everest expedition Jenn’s father didn’t want to experience, as a matter of fact.

So, a few days later I packed a bag and went to the airport. By myself. I flew to LA and took a taxi home, and like that it was over. The trip, our sudden affinity for each other – over and done with, like the whole thing had been a dream. Or a nightmare. It was like this thing she had going on with her father was a toxic, manic depressive beast where she had to convince herself she had to put things right, and fixing that busted relationship was a much higher priority than her relationship with me.

Jerry Garcia wanted me to help out on an album so I flew up north a few days after I got back, and we worked in the studio for almost a month, and by the time I left I had it in my head to do a solo album. Those sunsets came back to me as I dreamed music, playing that little backpackers guitar while Jenn baked bread down below, that sun-baked idyll, the buckets of seawater washing away our sins. I spent two weeks down in my basement studio laying down the tracks for just one song, and when I finished I carried it over to MCA and everyone who listened to it said it was the best thing I’d ever done. Could I carry through, create an album out of the experience?

Hell yes, I said.

And when I got home there was a message on my machine, from Jenn, in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. She and her father had had their gigantic falling out and he’d left her there; could I call her at the marina? Please?

I called the number she left on the machine and some dockmaster ran down to Soliloquy to fetch her while my fingers drummed away on the kitchen counter, and when she finally got to the phone she was breathless and in tears.

The whole trip had been a nightmare, she sobbed.

Was I surprised? No. As in, Hell No.

And when would she learn? How many more times would she let that mean-spirited asshole tear her apart. How many times would she run home and start the whole process all over again? What was I missing?

“What do you want, Jenn?”

“Could you fly up, help me bring Soliloquy back to LA?”

“Then what?”

“What do you mean?”

“Just that. What happens next?”

“We get on with our life. Together.”

“Really? Until the next time you need to run home to Daddy?”

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe you two were meant for each other. Maybe I’m just getting in the way, ya know?”

“Aaron…no. It’s not that way and you know it.”

“All I know is what I see.”

“Is that what you see?”

“Yes.”

She hung up on me.

The dockmaster called me at six the next morning. Jenn, it turned out, had found some razor blades.

+++++

I was up there by late morning, and her psychiatrists at the hospital were convinced this attempt had been a classic ‘cry for help,’ that her cuts hadn’t been deep enough to damage the tendons. But there was another complicating factor.

Yup. Pregnant. Timing worked out about right, too. Our sunbaked idyll had been more than productive musically. And now she wanted to abort the fetus. There was no point, she’d told her docs. She’d destroyed all her chances for happiness, just like she always did, so why bring a kid into that world? Why not just kill everything about us? Take care of business once and for all time.

Maybe I was beyond caring that day, but it was beginning to feel like she was using suicide as a weapon to hurt everyone around her. Me, certainly, but her mother and father, too, and now she was going to carry that to the next logical step, in her world, anyway. Kill the truly blameless, and I was stunned. Too stunned for words.

When I went in to see her I told her as much, too, and that scene devolved into a big fight. Kill that kid, I said, and you’ll never see me again. Simple as that. I left the hospital and went down to the marina, listed the sailboat with a broker and flew back to LA that evening.

Yup. Cold. Heartless. And tired of going round and round on her psychotic merry-go-round.

Her docs called me two days later and said she’d opted to have the abortion. It was done, they’d tried to stop her but she left and had it done elsewhere.

And so was I. Done, I mean.

With her, anyway.

Not with sailing, as it turned out. Not by a long shot.

There were a couple of guys down in Costa Mesa working on a new 38 footer, and I drove down to see them, and the boat they were working on. They called it the Alajuela, named after a city in Costa Rica, and work was well underway on their second hull when I showed up on their doorstep. By the time I left later that afternoon I’d bought the next available boat, and would have her in a little less than a year, so I went home and retreated to the studio.

Jenn, of course, started calling as soon as she got back to Newport.

I, of course, changed my number.

She started coming up to the house.

I asked her to leave, and never return. After the third return I called my lawyer, had her serve Jenn with a restraining order – and out came the razor blades. I heard that anecdotally, of course. Her father didn’t call me. He called my lawyer, who told me. Another near miss, of course, but this time they put her away for a couple of years and in the end I didn’t see her for almost ten years.

She made her way into my music, however. The love I felt that day for her was as real as it ever was, and that was hard to reconcile. As hard as it was to reconcile the kid she so carelessly killed.

+++++

I wrapped up the album about a month before Troubadour launched, and the studio had released Idyll as a single a few months before. Well received, too, but not like Electric Karma’s albums, so when the new album shot up the charts two weeks after release I was as surprised as I was happy.

But I wasn’t into it anymore. I had moved on, was already planning for my life with Troubadour. Everything about her was planned for one thing, and one thing only. I was going to take her around the world, and I’d probably be going solo, too.

Refrigeration was built in, roller furling headsails too. A more robust self-steering vane was a must, and light air sails a must, too. I wanted teak decks again, and they relented, laid them for me, and by the time Troubadour hit Newport Harbor she was mine, purpose built and ready to roll. I moved her to a friend’s slip at the Balboa Bay Club and fitted her out, packed her to the gills – in less than a week, then I went home for a few days – to say goodbye.

I decided to rent Pop’s house to a friend of mine, a musician, and in the end left the house in the care of my lawyer. I drove down to Newport, handed my car over to the guys at the boatyard and in the middle of a foggy March night I cast off her lines and slipped out the jetty, pointed her bow to the southwest – bound for the Marquesas.

Part II

The first morning out, sitting on a windless sea maybe thirty miles north of La Jolla, I watched the stars and took inventory of my life. There was nothing else to do, you see. In my rush to leave I realized I’d not put a single book on board, and the only music I had on board, other that my little guitar, came from a shortwave radio. Only then did I realize I’d have to stop in San Diego to fix these nagging omissions, or turn around and return to Newport – something I really did not want to do.

When Troubadour and I cast our lines off the night before, when we motored past Lido Isle, then Harbor and Linda Islands, then, finally, Little Balboa Island, I couldn’t help but think of Jenn.

Jenn, locked away in her madness.

Jenn – and her razor blades.

And when I passed her father’s house I had seen him standing in his living room looking at me as I passed.

Did he know Troubadour was mine? Did he realize who was passing by just in front of his house? Did he understand his role in our little drama? In my little corner of the universe he was my Nixon, I a kind of McGovern by proxy. He hated me not least of all because I’d voted for McGovern, while he was a staunch Nixonian, and I’d liked to chide him about Watergate and all that told us about modern Republicans. He’d counter with endless jibes about Democrats being socialists, or worse, while I referred to Goldwater Republicans, like him, as fascist John Birchers. Which he was. When he told me once he thought the free speech protestors at Berkeley should have been rounded up and shot, and that Edwin Meese had privately agreed with him, I saw a smug pride in the man’s eyes that haunted me for years. He was a Nazi and didn’t even seem to realize, or even care what that meant.

Jenn, of course, struggled with the dichotomy presented to her. She loved her father but the longer she remained in school, the longer she studied philosophy the more she understood what her father really was. And pretty soon her father realized he was spending his money to turn his daughter against his own ideals, and I think that set up the final conflict between them. Rather that let her grow, I think he began to undermine her – at first in intellectual arguments, and then, when that didn’t work, through emotional attacks.

Jenn, I think, fell into that trap. And it was a trap. There was no way to win, for her, anyway, and the only way he could win was to destroy her. And he did, but you’d have to be sick to call that a victory – by any measure. I’ve thought about them over the years and saw in their struggle nothing less than the struggle between generations that flared in the 60s. The results were as debilitating for all of us.

About halfway through that first night out of Newport Beach I realized I couldn’t break free of all this toxicity by myself. I needed other people around me in this endeavor, and I’d need to find those voices in books, and in music. I’d need to be able to pull into a new anchorage and get ashore, find local music and listen, really listen to voices of anger and love, of resistance and submission. Yet if this trip turned into a series of angry flights the time would be pointlessly spent. If, on the other hand, I tuned in and really listened with my musician’s heart there was a chance I could learn something valuable, and quite possibly share what I learned with people who might listen. Maybe that was ego speaking, but isn’t all artistic creation an act of ego?

The wind fell away then the sea took a deep sigh and was still, leaving a black mirror alive with dancing starlight. We, Troubadour and I, drifted by a massive kelp bed and I saw a sea lion poke it’s head out of the tangled mass of starlight and stare at me as we drifted by. I wanted to dive in and play with it, to live in it’s world for a minute or two, understand what concerned him or her as it went about it’s business in the darkness. Find dinner, I reckoned, without becoming something bigger’s dinner. Elemental exigencies. Kill or be killed. That was life, wasn’t it? That’s what civilization had tried to tame. All our laws, all our frail moralities…those things kept nature away, because nature, true nature, has always been all about the most basic kind of survival. Find food and keep from being killed in the process, live long enough to procreate then get out of the way as the next generation comes along.

That seal was hiding in the kelp because something bigger than it was out there in the darkness, circling, waiting for the opportunity to sprint in and eat him. Just like me, I thought. Out here on Troubadour, running, hiding, trying to turn this into a noble mission to enlighten civilization while I ran from Jenn and her razor blades. While I tried to hide from images of Deni as she fluttered down to the dark embrace of Lake Erie.

It’s funny, the things that run through your mind in the last minutes of darkness, just before the sun rises, even a few miles offshore. You can see houses on bluffs above beaches, sleeping people just coming to the sun while you look at the processes of civilization from afar. When you cut the cord and sail away you begin to distance yourself from all those routines, from all those laws and moral constructs that define your shoreside existence. When you sail along the elemental periphery you really feel that ‘apartness.’ You feel it in your bones, like you’ve set yourself adrift and whatever purpose exists may or may not be revealed to you. In the end, you’re just along for the ride.

And then I really realized this was ‘my first time’ out on the water – by myself.

And I didn’t like this being alone thing.

So I turned on the motor and advanced the throttle, made for the entrance channel to San Diego harbor. By mid-morning I was tied up on Shelter Island; a half hour later I was eating eggs Benedict on a deck overlooking the water, so deep inside the gut of civilization it made me giddy. I walked to a yard after brunch and asked about radios, maybe one with a cassette deck? No problem, they told me. They could have it in by evening.

That, too, is civilization. Ask and ye shall receive. Just hand over the gold and run to the bookstore. We’ll take care of the details while you go spend some more money.

So…I went to all the bookstores I could in five hours, came back to Troubadour with piles of books and tapes, and I stowed them while workmen rounded out the radio installation, then I went back out for dinner, and I made my way down to an upscale steak place a few hundred yards away.

“So, what could I get you to drink?” my cheery waitress asked.

“Something strong, something with rum.”

“How about a Mai-Tai,” she said. As long as it’s strong, says I. “Not some watered down girly drink.”

She looked at my shorts and boat shoes then.

“Coming, or going?” she asked.

“Pardon?”

“You just coming in from a trip, or about to head out?”

“A little of both,” I said, then I explained.

“Where’s your boat?”

“Right down there,” I pointed, and I could indeed just see Troubadour’s mast jutting up across the way, “the one with the blue hull.”

Troubadour?” she asked. “I was looking at her earlier. She looks sweet.”

“Oh?”

“I’d love to just sail away someday.”

“And where would you go?”

She put her hands over her eyes and pointed in some random direction: “That way!” she said, grinning, and I laughed with her before she took off and brought my medicinal strength rum and some bread. After she took my order, she pointed me in the direction of a truly colossal salad bar and disappeared, but a minute later she dropped by again.

“So, where are you headed?” she asked.

“Nuku Hiva.”

“When you leavin’?”

“In the morning.”

“Want some company?” she joked.

“Have a passport?” I joked right back at her.

“Yes.” A little more serious this time. A little more eye contact.

“Maybe you ought to drop by after you get off tonight.” I watched her reaction then.

“Okay,” she said, parrying my thrust.

Surreal? Yes, I know.

Stupid? Probably.

Random, almost to the point of silliness? Oh yeah.

Ah, but her name was Jennifer. Of course. It had to be.

Jennifer – of Appleton, Wisconsin. Jennifer – she of the bright smile and long legged Jennifers of the world. Jennifer, who would in a matter of days become the love of my life, who would spend the next twenty one years glued to my side. There are chance encounters, random permutations of luck and timing, and then there was Jennifer. Jennifer ‘Do you have a passport’ Clemens. ‘Okay’ became a standing joke between us, the simplest word imaginable to set in motion an endless series of adventures.

“There’s a volcano! Wanna race to the top?”

– “Okay!”

If Jennifer of Newport Beach was a morphine drip fed scowl, Jennifer of Appleton was a serene smile, an imperturbable, old world smile grounded in mid-western common sense. She was JFKs glass half full, she was two years in the Peace Corps after earning her RN. Best of all, she’d never heard of Electric Karma, and neither did she know who I was, or what I did – and it never once mattered to her after she figured it out. She’d wanted to see the world, and in the beginning I was simply going her way. Her ticket to ride.

She’d been out on the bay a few times since she’d moved to San Diego the year before, ostensibly to get her Master’s in nursing, but she’d fallen into a different vibe after she settled in with a group of nurses – and she’d decided to ‘go back to school’ to learn other things. She didn’t know what she wanted to learn, only that learning was an imperative she couldn’t shake. She went to school days, worked tables at night, and spent weekends working at a free clinic – because that gave her the time and resources to do what she wanted. And what she wanted seemed to change from course to course – until what she really wanted was to break away and get out there. Travel. See the world. Learn. And love.

And maybe there was something mercenary in our coming together. She’d planted her feet in a place and at a time where sailors gathered before jumping off to the South Seas. Maybe her questions about where was I headed, and when was I leaving weren’t without purposes, or maybe now that she knew what she wanted she’d simply put herself in a position to get there. Maybe she would have been like an autumn leaf, blowing any way the wind blows – but for whatever reason she found her way – to me.

Because I’d forgotten to pack a few books. Because I couldn’t listen to music on my boat.

Sometimes life turns on the silliest, most inconsequential things. Sometimes love comes to you, and you’re damned if you turn away.

We put off leaving a day, only because that’s how long it took her to cut all the ties that bound her to life on shore, and when we slipped away that following morning I did so knowing this was almost a case of the blind leading the blind. I was not yet a deeply experienced sailor, and she was a neophyte – so we went slow. We sailed down to Ensenada, anchored out and rowed ashore, went to Hussong’s because that’s what everyone else did, then we made a longer trip south, to Guadelupe Island, about a third of the way down Baja, and after watching researchers diving with Great Whites we decided against swimming ashore. We baked out first loaves of bread together, learned how to move around the boat together, and we started listening to our hearts – with our minds. Not as simple as it sounds, too.

We hemmed and hawed, debated whether we should go to Cabo San Lucas and top off the water tanks or just strike out, head for the Marquesas, but as I’d stowed dozens of bottles of water to go with what Troubadour carried in her tanks we opted for the latter. So, setting a course of 210 degrees, we stared ahead at 3000 miles of open water – and what do you suppose happened?

I’d have, at one point, called it wedded bliss, but for the time being I called it Jennifer Clemens.

Okay?

+++++

We’d set the wind vane and let it steer for hours on end, and the most joyous moments came when dolphins joined us from time to time. They came up from behind one morning and zinged alongside, playing in Troubadour’s bow wave and, as she has a tremendous bow-sprit Jennie lay up there, her hand outstretched, waiting. And every now and then one would spring up, let her take a touch on the fly, and those close encounters seemed to energize our little universe. She’d come back to the cockpit with this look in her eyes and I’d wrap myself within her arms and legs for a few hours. The second time that happened I looked up, saw we had an audience and I wondered what they thought of us. Were we really so different?

A great Atlantic storm entered the Caribbean, then crossed Panama and Nicaragua and made it’s way into the Pacific, and though it tracked north of us the remnants hit us, and hit us hard. It was my first real storm at sea without Jenn, yet Troubadour was built, like the Westsail, to handle these conditions – and she did, with ease. After the storm’s passage we both felt a surge of confidence, yet we knew it hadn’t been a real hurricane. Even so, we felt like we were becoming a team, that we worked well together.

The net result? We began to talk about ‘what comes next?’ Both for this voyage, and for us. I felt bonded to Jennie after that first storm, like she had become a part of me. Like that otherworldly loneliness I’d felt off the coast of La Jolla was truly a thing of my past, and now Jennie was my future. And I told her that, in no uncertain terms.

“What do you want to do?” she asked.

“Spend my life with you.”

“You do?”

“I do.”

“Okay.”

“Does that mean what I hope it means?”

“Yes.”

So, right out there in the middle of nowhere, with only God standing as our lone, mute witness, we said what words we remembered and pledged to take care of one another ‘til death do us part. It was really that simple. Even if marriage is a civilizational construct, I felt comfort after that – knowing she had my back, and that I had her’s, too. Yes, that’s odd, but yes, that’s called being human. We weren’t meant to make this journey alone, yet the most staggering thing was how I knew she was ‘the one’ within minutes of meeting her. Does that seem strange – after Jenn and her razor blades?

When Jennie first came down to Troubadour that night she was still in her uniform, a short little dress with black tights under, a white blouse with a red vest over, and while she looked the boat over I looked her over. We talked for a few hours about the road she’d taken to San Diego, and where she hoped it would lead next, and the more she talked the more comfortable I grew with her voice. She might have looked flakey on first glance but really, she was anything but. She was as grounded as anyone I’d ever known, yet grounded to the beat of a different drummer.

I fell asleep with my head on her lap, and she was still with me when I woke up six hours later. When I slipped up and fixed coffee she woke and looked at me.

“So, you really want to do this?” she asked.

“Yup. Can’t imagine doing it without you.”

Yes. Life really can be that simple. You just have to open your heart and let it in.

Three thousand miles at a hundred and forty miles a day is 21 days, and my celestial nav was spot on so we nailed it, sailed into Taioha’e and cleared customs, then anchored out in an unexpectedly easygoing euphoria.

“We did it,” we sighed. We had, too.

She snuggled in and didn’t move for an hour, and then I heard her easy breathing, her gentle sleeping, and I settled in beside her for the duration.

+++++

I know this marks a departure from the flow of things, but we walked ashore a day later and found a small Catholic church, Jennifer being an Episcopalian and all, and we asked the guy with the white collar to do the whole marriage thing for real. No paperwork, mind you, just say the words before God I think you’d have to say, and he did and for some reason we felt for real after that. She took my name, a nice German-Jewish name, and jettisoned her Wasp-British name and she called her folks back home – who had no idea she’d left San Diego, mind you – and told them the news.

Major freak-outs ensued, by the way, and her folks told us they’d like to come to Tahiti to meet me, and to let them know when. Then we took off to do some grocery shopping.

Yeah. Surreal.

Just like grocery shopping in the Marquesas was surreal.

No supermarkets, especially not in the early seventies, and very few tourists to get in your way. Want a new alternator belt for your Volvo Penta diesel engine? Say the words ‘fat chance’ three times as fast as you can. Then try backwards. Yup, it was about that easy. Fed Ex hadn’t quite figured out how to spell Marquesas back in 73-74, which meant an alternator belt would come by sea. Like maybe by copra schooner out of Papeete. I had a spare, of course, but what if that one cut loose? I needed a spare to replace my spare, and it looked like that would have to wait a few thousand miles, but I did find a mechanic savvy enough to locate the alignment issue causing the belt to wear prematurely. Problem solved, lesson learned and filed away on a 3×5 card – with notes and drawings attached.

Long distance sailing has been justly described as sailing to exotic ports and doing extensive maintenance, and after fifty years I can say I’ve pulled apart more engines in obscure places than I’d ever care to admit. I’ve replaced Troubadour’s original engine four times in fifty years, too. I maintain the things, do all the fluid changes at twice the most conservative intervals – like changing engine oil after every fifty hours of use – but I don’t run my engines often and the salt water environment simply kills them faster with little use. Yes, that’s correct. Marine engines are cooled with seawater, one way or another, even so-called fresh-water cooled engines, and salt kills metal, period. So, rule number one: shit don’t last and it’s got to be replaced. That’s why sailing is also described as standing in a cold shower – ripping up hundred dollar bills just for the sheer fun of it. That’s the nuts and bolts, but here’s the grease: the more you can do yourself the more affordable sailing becomes. The corollary? When you pay someone else to do the work, about 90% of the time the work is poorly done – or was just plain wrong, leading to more expensive repairs. When we made New Zealand a year or so later, I took a diesel mechanics course; it was the best six weeks I ever spent – in terms of saving money. I still have zero interest in engines, but I’ve always had tons of interest in saving money.

Anyway, Jennie was as good as her word. She wanted to explore. She wanted to meet people. And Jennie was an RN. A real, honest-to-Pete nurse. When word got out in the village she was an RN someone from the local hospital came down and asked if she would mind working on Hiva Oa at a clinic for a month or so. She looked at me and I shrugged ‘why not’, and off we went. There wasn’t a doc at the clinic there, it turned out, and she was doing front line work under a docs supervision – by radio – and she loved it, had never been happier. One month turned to two, then three, then her replacement – from France – finally turned up and we were free again.

Rangiroa was our next stop, inside the northeast pass by the village of Tiputa, and we stood by and watched Jacques Cousteau and Calypso maneuver into the lagoon and drop anchor a few hours after we had – and about a hundred feet away – and Jennie wound up working on the boat for two weeks while Cousteau & Co dove on the reefs just outside the pass. One night we heard Electric Karma’s second album blaring over an onboard hi-fi and when the crew found out the next day who Jennie’s main squeeze was we had a blowout on the beach that night that was truly epic. We became good friends and ran into Calypso several times over the next decade or so, yet that experience came to define most of the people we ran across out there. After a few months we both realized we’d be running into these same people time and again – because we were all like-minded explorers on the same path. We might not see John and Jane for a few months, but then there they’d be, in some out of the way anchorage no one had heard of before, and we’d exchange information and ideas, maybe some rum, too, then be on our separate ways.

During the three months we spent on Hiva Oa I got this Paul Gauguin thing going and started painting. Yeah, Gauguin spent most of his time in the Pacific on this island, and yeah, you could buy art supplies there. So I did. An old French gal taught me the basics and I started painting, and I’ve not stopped once since. When he dropped the hook someplace nice I’d start sketching anything and everything interesting, and in time we began searching out anchorages simply because they had scenic appeal. By the time we hit Papeete I was running out of places to store canvases.

Because of the time Jennie had worked on Hiva Oa all sorts of bonds and fees were waived in Tahiti, and we were extended the offer to spend more time in Moorea, in the village of Papetō’ai, if she’d work for another month or two. Okay, look at pictures of Cook Inlet on Moorea, then factor that getting a permit to anchor there was next to impossible, then hit enter. Now, you’ve just been given a permit to anchor there as long as Jennie was working there, plus a month. Free, as in no charge. We ended up anchored by a waterfall – for six months. I shipped fifty canvases back to LA; when my lawyer saw them she asked if she could buy a couple. Then she told me she had shown them to a gallery owner. They wanted to represent me. Please send more, they said. Bigger is better.

I already thought life couldn’t possibly get any better than this – and now please paint more? A month later word came that thirty plus paintings had sold, and the next time I sent in a batch I’d better count on returning to LA for a dedicated showing.

Then the inevitable happened.

Jennie’s parents, and two of her three sisters, announced their coming to Tahiti to meet the latest member of the family. And the two sisters were huge Electric Karma fans, too.

Oh happy day.

So, I rented a house for them to sleep in, and figured we’d take them sailing on the days Jennie had off, and on the day of their arrival we got on a Twin Otter at Temae and hopped across the channel to Papeete.

Warren Clemens looked like he’d just been called up by Central Casting to play the part of a midwestern preacher with an attitude problem. Problem is, looks can be deceiving. Warren was a hard drinking ex-Marine with a seriously deranged sense of humor. He was also a physician, a skilled general surgeon who also taught at the medical school in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He was also a Green Bay Packers fanatic. I mean a real fanatic, not some half-assed wannabe. And as soon as Warren learned his baby girl was working at the local clinic he had to go see what she was up to.

And yeah, you guessed this one already, didn’t you?

As soon as they leaned he was this hot shot surgeon some kid gets pulled off a reef after a white tip reef shark tried to eat his legs off, and the kid’s half dead by the time they get him to the clinic. No way he’ll make it to Papeete, someone said.

If only we had a surgeon here?

And there goes mild-mannered Clark Kent into the phone booth, emerging seconds later in his red cape as Super Surgeon, ready to save the day. Yeah, he saved the kid’s life. Yeah, he did an appendectomy three days later. Then gall stones, then he repaired and set a compound fractured femur. Another appendectomy followed – and, mind you, he wasn’t getting paid for any of this – and he was having the time of his life. Long story short, for the next eight years Warren and his wife, the first mother I’d ever really known, came back to Moorea and he volunteered for two months at a stretch. He stopped coming – eight years later – only because he died; there’s a chapel in the forest overlooking Cook Inlet named after him. He’s buried there, and so is his wife, and my wife too, for that matter.

Mind you, all this happened because I forgot to pack some books on Troubadour. I mean, are you following along with the chorus here? It’s why my next solo album was called Serendipity, why a butterfly sneeze in Tibet comes across the Pacific as a typhoon. Everything is part of an endless chain of cause and effect, so trying to find the root cause for something is as pointless as asking what happened before the Big Bang. Who the devil knows? And who cares? It’s pointless and silly to ask the question, and Buddhists are on the right track when they say: accept what is. If you can’t handle that, go get an enema, flush your brain and get right with God. You ain’t gonna know, so chill out and paint another picture.

Warren’s two week trip stretched out to three, by the way, and he wept when he left.

Okay, enough about Warren. Let me introduce you to Michelle. My mother. Well, you know what I mean.

Michelle liked to play cards. She also taught physics. Quantum mechanics, to be more precise. She was one of a handful of women to work at Oak Ridge – on the Manhattan Project. To say she was smart was like calling Einstein a bright kid. To say Jennie came from the deep end of the gene pool was as scary as it was misleading. Scary because she was serving steaks at a waterfront restaurant in San Diego, waiting for me to come along. What if I’d gone to a bookstore in Westwood? Misleading? Because she had turned her back on all that, yet that’s who she was.

Michelle also liked to paint. Watercolors. Nothing but, and usually simple flowers. She taught me her techniques, and I was hooked. We spent hours walking off into the forests around the inlet and she’d find something new, sketch the rough outlines then pull out this monster Nikon F and start shooting away, getting just the colors she needed down on Kodachrome 25 for later reference.

So, time to meet my new sisters, Niki and Taylor. Both into music, seriously. Both teaching music. Both in love with the idea of me, the rock star, even before they met me. Both went nuts after spending a few hours with me on Troubadour. We spent evenings on the boat cooking and talking shop, then I’d pull out the old backpacker and start playing through the newest ideas, sounding my way through the classics and bridging the divide to rock, and they were all abuzz about Yes and ELP and Pink Floyd, and had I heard Dark Side of the Moon yet? Niki set me straight, and Us and Them became my new favorite when we found a cassette in Papeete a week later.

There are jagged spires around the island, some of the most inspiring peaks I’ve ever seen, yet many lack perspective unless seen from the sea, particularly along the west side of the island. We circumnavigated Moorea, all of us, slowly, over a two day period, and I should have bought Kodak stock before we set out: I don’t know how many rolls we blew through. Hundreds? Maybe – maybe more. It was nonstop – blow through 36 exposures then dash below to rewind and reload – and as I’d never seen this part of the island before I was just as pathetic, just as consumed. My only regret? I shot Ektachrome as there was no place to get Kodachrome developed out here, and some of the slides were fading fast by the time Jennie passed.

Still, some of my most cherished memories were captured during those three weeks. As I’ve mentioned, I’d not had a mother and father, let alone sisters, but by golly now I sure did. I would have fallen in love with them, all of them, simply for that reason, but they turned out to be really fun, really interesting people, and all of a sudden life felt complete. To put it succinctly, I’d not felt this good since Electric Karma’s heyday – and no stage fright, too. A year away and life was evolving into the best sleigh ride possible, not a care in the world and everything was just as easy as sliding along a country road in the snow.

Of course, shit had to hit the fan. It just had to.

And it hit from an unexpected direction.

Terry. My ‘grandmother.’ She’d married and divorced an old English movie star and was now simply destitute. He’d bled her dry and walked away, walked into the arms of a younger, more economically productive actress, and Terry was about as low as a human being could get when she got word to me through my lawyer that she needed help. I bought her a ticket from New York City to Papeete and she arrived two days before the Clemens clan was due to leave. By the time she got to Troubadour I’d told them my grandmother was coming, but not who she was, so when Terry McKay showed up onboard Warren clammed up tight, Michelle tried to act nonchalant – but failed, and the girls gushed. All in all, it was exactly what Terry needed. She was entranced by Moorea and I made an offer on the house I’d rented, bought it outright and she moved in – with the understanding that we’d all consider the place kind of a home base going forward. When local officials heard they had a genuine Hollywood legend in their midst…well, let’s just say they were very supportive of the idea. Warren was still tongue-tied every time he was around her, though.

We said our byes at the local airport, and as I said, Warren was a basket case. The experience had been as draining as it was fulfilling, and I hugged Michelle and the girls in a way that said everything. I was happy. They were too.

Terry was beside herself, of course. She and destitute were not on speaking terms, and I talked to my lawyer who talked to some people at Universal who talked to – yada-yada-yada – and she had an audition if she could get to it. She said she couldn’t, she wasn’t strong enough.

Could she if I went with her?

“Yes.”

So off we went. We stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel, a first for me, because she had to ‘keep up appearances.’ The studio picked her up and I went to visit my gallery, dropped off a few new canvases. Visited my friend at Pop’s house, then my lawyer, and by the time I got back to the hotel Terry was in the room, out of her mind with anxiety. She wouldn’t hear for a week or so, and if she prevailed her presumed co-star would be none other than her ex.

“Let’s leave tomorrow,” she cried.

“Let me make a few calls,” I replied.

She got the part and her ex was passed over, the part going to David Niven instead, and she was suddenly ecstatic and destitute no more. Shooting would begin in two months so we returned to Moorea, and as I had a real workspace to set up a studio I started painting. Huge canvases this time, like six by ten feet, and this series was all Moorea, all misty mountains and rain forests full of furiously blooming flowers. Terry and I started walking the forests, she started photographing flowers and soon got into it, then she too wanted to learn watercolors and when I passed word along to Michelle she was over the moon too. Next summer would be fun, I reckoned, assuming Warren didn’t lose Michelle due to his obvious infatuation with Terry. I mean…Peyton Place, anyone?

Jennie was the one who picked up on Terry’s infatuation with me.

I’d never seen it before, obviously, but then again – what about Jenn. Jennie, on the other hand, was adroit at picking up these things. She read people and didn’t miss much, and she could spot a phony in two seconds flat. Terry was a phony. Insecure, not really talented but cute as hell. She was, in Jennie’s mind’s eye, a pretender. Terry’d made it this far on her looks alone, not to mention her ability to enchant men, and that was why, Jennie guessed, the old Englishman had ditched her. He’d seen through the bullshit and moved on. Jennie doubted the guy had swindled her, too; more likely she’d try to buy the guy off, keep him interested by buying him things. Classic, she said. Now she’d turned her attention on me – because I was safe. Because I’d give her all the attention she needed. Because of Pops. She was, in short, taking advantage of me.

Yeah. Maybe. I wasn’t buying it quite yet, but I could see her point. Regardless, she’d been a part of my life for years, some of the most important years of my life, and I wasn’t going to turn my back on her. If I had some justification to call her family, then where’s the line between being taken advantage of and doing one’s duty?

Funny thing, that. I’d never talked to Jennie about Jenn. Jenn and her razor blades, but for some reason I decided to that day. I ran down the whole sordid chronology, from the toxic relationship with her dad to the last attempt, and the abortion, in Vancouver.

She was appalled, I think.

Mainly, I reckon, that we’d not talked about it before. That led to a talk about abortion. We both hated the idea of it, but we both supported the idea that it was ultimately a woman’s right to choose. No big deal so far, right?

So why had I, in effect, ditched Jenn when she decided to have an abortion?

Because, I countered, I considered that child ‘ours,’ not just ‘hers’ – and by taking unilateral action to take that child from me she was declaring in the starkest possible terms I wasn’t part of her life.

“But she’s ill, Aaron. Couldn’t you see that?”

“But she was considered well enough to make that kind of decision? If she was well enough to consider the implications of ending a life, why wasn’t she considered well enough to take her own? I don’t get all these moral inconsistencies. They don’t make sense. How is it okay to kill a baby at four weeks but not at four months. I don’t get it…?”

“But still you think it’s okay if the mother wants to?”

“I think it’s wrong to butt into other people’s lives.”

“But it was okay to force someone into having a baby, because it was yours, too? But you were not going to carry that baby, were you? Or care for that baby if you two split? Maybe she was never secure enough in the relationship to think you’d always be there? After you split up in Honolulu, went back to LA…do you think she felt real secure about things?”

“I was disappointed, but we never talked about splitting…”

“Oh, come on, Aaron. How do you think she felt? And then she’s trapped on the boat with the one man in the world who was bound to torment, then abandon her – again. And what do you do? You abandon her, too? So yeah, why bring a kid into that world? What else is she gonna think? Her life has been one threat of abandonment after another, and all you did was validate her fears.”

I looked away, looked at a mist-enshrouded mountain across the inlet, and I could see Troubadour sitting comfortably at anchor beneath the rolling fog. Immediately I wanted to get out to her, pull up that anchor and set sail, head to New Zealand…hell, why not Antarctica? I could just keep on going, because circles never end, do they? Electric Karma was not supposed to end like that, but we were aborted, weren’t we? Five kids’ lives snuffed out by an air traffic controllers little mistake, another hundred kids’ lives ended by carelessness – so run away. Everything is endless circles, when you get right down to it. Everyone is scared shitless of being abandoned.

I didn’t sit with Jenn and try to help her reason things out. I ran away. I tossed an ultimatum in her lap – like a hand grenade? – then I ran from her room. I needed to run away, didn’t I? I didn’t fulfill my end of the bargain with Electric Karma. I ran away. Ran back to Pops, but I left them in Cleveland and they died. I should have ended when Deni and my mates did. But I ran. When Pops needed me most, when he got sick, I ran. I ran to Deni and my mates.

Abandonment? Guilt? Did I have issues?

Phew!

I was running in circles, too. I had nowhere to go, nothing important to do, so I was running in the mist, running into mountains of guilt – and trying to paint pretty pictures of my aborted life. But what life was I talking about? The life my parents wanted. Oh yeah, those parents. The parents I never knew. Had I been running ever since? And what about them? – had they been running, too? Away from me? Away from their responsibilities to me? Just how far back did these circles go?

So…what’s out there on the other side of the Big Bang? What’s on the other side of all that sky? What would happen if you put all the matter in the universe into a suitcase, then waved a magic wand, said a few magic words and poof – you made the suitcase disappear. What would be left?

Silly, huh?

Like running in the night is silly, hiding from the answers right in front of your face. Running in circles. Running into endless answers in search of all their questions.

+++++

So, I painted for a few months, helped Terry read through her lines – and this was comfortable for us; it was something I’d helped her do since forever. I still felt close to her, still liked to bask in her glow, and when it was time we flew to LA together. I dropped off some paintings at the gallery, sat on the soundstage and watched David and Terry work some screen magic, and I sat in the Polo Lounge that afternoon and watched people watching Terry, still proud of her for being so beautiful.

And I called Jenn’s dad, asked how she was doing.

“Why are you asking me?” he said. “Why don’t you call her. Why don’t you ask her what’s going on?”

“Because I’m asking you.”

“It’s a struggle, Aaron. I’m finding out more and more about her life. About the role I played in this, and I’m not happy. Are you happy, Aaron?”

“About Jenn? No, not really.”

“No, I can’t imagine why you would be.”

“Should I try to see her while I’m here?”

“No. No, I can’t see that doing her any good now, but for the life of me I don’t know why you don’t come down and see your daughter.”

I think the word is thunderstruck.

“My – daughter?”

“Yes, your daughter.”

What followed lasted a half hour or so. I told him my version of events, he told me his. I told him I’d call my lawyer in the morning. He said that was fine with him. I hung up the phone, suddenly more concerned than anything else in the world that I had a baby girl – and she was being raised by that monster. I called the clinic on Moorea, left a message for Jennie to call me as soon as she got in. I went to Terry’s room in our bungalow out back by the pool and told her. She was aghast. I was sure Jennie would be, too, then, on a lark, I called my lawyer’s number – and she picked up.

She was working late, she said, on a big case going to trial in the morning, and I asked if she had a minute to listen to something important. She did, and I told her all I knew. Could she help, I asked? What do you want out of this? she wanted to know. Because if it’s raising a kid on a boat vs with her grandparents in a house in Newport Beach, you’re going to lose. I want to know why no one ever told me, I said. Well, she said, you left, didn’t you? Because, I said, she told me she’d had an abortion! Why am I the bad guy here, I wanted to know?

She listened, I could hear her taking notes and she asked me to give her a few days, then she’d get on it, highest priority.

I thanked her and let her go, then turned to Terry.

“What do you want, Aaron? When all is said and done, what do you want?”

And then I noticed she was laying out on the bed dressed like a lingerie model, right down to the five inch heels.

“What do you need, Aaron?” she said again, rolling over, spreading her legs just a little.

“What are you doing, Terry?”

“I’m going to give you what you need. What you’ve needed for a long, long time.”

“I don’t need this, Terry. Not now, not ever.”

“You’re wrong, Aaron. You’ve wanted me for as long as I’ve known you, and don’t even try to deny it.”

“There’s a big difference between wanting and needing.”

“Not tonight, there isn’t.”

She stood and walked over to me, and really, I knew there wasn’t a damn thing I could do. She was an irresistible force, as gorgeous as any woman alive – and she’d baited her trap and waited for me to fall into her grasp. Now she had me, and she knew it. That night was the most sensuously vacuous I ever spent in my life, at once meaningless and as fraught with surreal consequence as any I ever enjoyed. When our night was over, she told me, it was over, but I remembered Jennie’s admonishments and knew it would never be over now.

I was back in my room when Jennie called, and I told her about my daughter and current circumstances vis my lawyer’s inferences.

“What do you want to do?” she asked too. “Bring her out here?”

“That would be ideal, but my lawyer, Shelly, says that living on the boat…”

“That’s bullshit,” Jennie said. “There are kids on half the boats we run into out here, and besides, you have a house here, remember?”

“I forgot to mention that.”

“Well, don’t.”

“What about you? What do you think about all this?”

“I think you should try for some sort of joint custody. You take her now, and when Jenn is better you revert to some more traditional sharing structure.”

“That’s not what I mean. What about you? How would you feel about having her around?”

“Me? I’d love it, but it seems to me the biggest thing is to get her away from Jenn’s father.”

“Me too.”

“So, how’s LA?”

“The same, only worse.”

“Oh?”

“I watched Terry and David on the soundstage yesterday. They look good together.”

“Aaron, she’d look good with Hitler.”

I laughed. Maybe a little too much. “You got that right.”

“How are you, Aaron? You sound weird.”

“Weird?”

“Yeah. Weird.”

“I couldn’t sleep. I miss you.”

“I miss you too.”

“I’ll let you know when I hear something…”

So yes, a lie can be an act or omission, can’t it? And I had just lied, maybe the biggest lie of my life, to the most important woman in my life. And a few minutes later in walks Terry, still dressed to the nines, still hungry. And still I couldn’t say no to her. She was a cannibal, feasting on my indecision – and she was hungry.

And maybe I wasn’t running in circles, I thought later that day. Maybe my circles were running after me, and I wasn’t moving fast enough to get out of their way. Then I remembered that sea lion in the drifting kelp that morning off La Jolla. All those things I imagined circling in the night. Kill or be killed. Isn’t that what I told myself that night?

And then I realized I didn’t even know my daughter’s name.

Part III

After I talked to Shelly, my lawyer, two days later, I went to LAX – on her advice – and returned to Moorea, and to Jennifer. I returned after three more intense encounters with Terry, who I now knew I could not, and would not ever be able to resist. Fact of life. My big flaw. She was bourbon to an alcoholic. It wasn’t incest, it was worse. She was a violation of every known law of nature. I watched men stare at her when she entered a room – and I understood. I could not understand why she had chosen me. And let me be clear right here: I did not want to understand. I wanted to get as far away from her as I could, and stay there. I did not want to see her again, because I knew I’d want her again. Because I knew I would not be able to resist her again. I would not, because I could not.

And yet when I fell into Jennifer’s arms it was the most comforting wave of emotion I’d ever felt, a homecoming so overpowering it left me breathless. She wanted me – bad – she said, and we crawled up on the forward berth – and I couldn’t get it up. I’d been drained by Terry and didn’t have anything left, so Jennie put it down to jet-lag. I’d be better tomorrow, she said, but I wasn’t. I was overcome – with all consuming guilt. I’d violated a sacred trust and I wondered, could an agnostic wandering Jew go to a Catholic church and pretend to be gentile long enough to make it through the confessional? Could I say a dozen ‘Hail Mary’s’ with a straight face – and not have a vengeful God send me straight to Hell?

Then I was worrying about Tracy, my daughter. And I still couldn’t get it up.

We’ll get over it, Jennie said, but now I wasn’t so sure. When I closed my eyes at night I saw Terry on that bed, her legs on my shoulders, her stockinged legs resting beside my face as I plowed her fertile valley. I could feel her all encasing warmth, my searing orgasm, the smoothness of her cool legs on my face when I went between her thighs. So…if I couldn’t have her now, was I simply going to obsess about her. She was going to take over my life – in absentia.

“Why don’t we head south, for New Zealand,” Jennie said a few days later.

“What? I thought they…”

“My replacement from France arrives Friday.”

“You ready to move on?”

“I think so. We can come back here if Mom and Dad decide to return next summer, maybe for a week or two, but I’ve been thinking about Auckland. Maybe go to school for a semester?”

“Okay. Let’s go over to Papeete and get the bottom painted, pick up a few spares. We can go from there.”

“Okay. When can we leave?”

“I don’t know? Tomorrow too soon?”

“No. The sooner the better,” she said, and I knew then. Knew she could feel Terry in this place. Terry all over me. Terry’s skin on my face, on my breath…

We set sail at sun-up; it was only a short hop, really. Just 15 miles, nothing like the 2600 miles jump to New Zealand’s North Island that lay ahead, and we got there late morning, got Troubadour checked in at the yard and went out to find a hotel. We got a room in one of the old places along the waterfront, hard by the Parc Bougainville, and when we got to our room it was a little difficult to feel where Paris ended and Tahiti began. I called the yard, told them where we were, and they told me it would be two days at least before they could start on Troubadour. No problem, I said as I looked at Jennie.

She wanted to go out, by herself she said, and she took off, said she’d be back in a couple of hours. I showered, stood under the water for what felt like days, called room service and had them bring me some lunch. I looked at my watch, called the Beverly Hills Hotel then hung up the phone and called Shelly, my lawyer.

“We have a hearing on the 23rd,” she told me.

“Next week?”

“Yeah. You’ll need to be here. Oh, the house is vacant now. Want me to get it cleaned up so you can stay there?”

“Yeah, might as well.”

“What about Terry? Move her in?”

“We’ll see. Maybe after I leave.”

“Oh?”

“I think she likes the hotel. I’ll check with her and see what she wants to do.”

“Oh. Well, have her call me if she needs the key.”

“Yeah. Well, I’ll try to get in on the 21st or so,” I said, and I gave her my number at the hotel then rang off. And made the call to the hotel again, asked for her bungalow.

“Hello?”

“Terry, it’s me.”

“Goodness. Missing me already?”

“I’ve got to return on the 21st for a hearing, and Shelly told me the house is vacant now. You want to move in for now?”

“Are you planning to stay there when you come up?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want to be alone?”

I took a deep breath. “No,” I said.

“Then you won’t be.”

“Alright.”

“If Jennie decides to come let me know.”

“I will.”

“Aaron?”

“Yes.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

And there it was. The first time she’d ever said that to me. The first time I’d ever said anything like that, to her. No hesitation. No duplicity. It’s what I felt, and I knew it was wrong. And how could I love Jennie at the same time?

I called Air France, made my reservation to fly back to LA, and was just wrapping up the call when Jennie came back to the room. She saw me on the phone and frowned, and when I told her about the hearing she nodded her head.

“Maybe I should go back to Wisconsin for a while,” she sighed. “Could you get me on the same flight?”

I called Air France again, made the reservation. One way, open return – for now – I told the agent, and Jennie walked over to the window and looked down at the waterfront.

“I like this city,” she sighed when I hung up the phone.

I joined her, stood beside her and we looked out to Moorea across the channel.

“How long will you need to be in LA?”

“I’m figuring on a week.”

“Anything I need to know?”

“No. Not really.”

“Okay.”

“What did you find out there?”

“Oh, just some girl stuff.”

“Girl stuff?”

“Yeah. I’ll show you later. You hungry?”

“I ordered some stuff from room service.”

“Stuff?”

“Guy stuff. Real food.”

She laughed. “I didn’t know they make hamburgers out here? Snails, yes, but hamburgers?”

Knock on the door, waiter rolled in a cart and after I tipped him he split. Two onion soups, escargot, broiled sea bass and huge prawns – for two.

“Perfect timing,” she added.

“I like to think I take care of you, kid.”

“You do, you know.”

“Because I love you,” I said.

“I know – I love you too. Maybe even more than you know.”

We ate in silence, then she went and took a shower. I heard her taking stuff out of her shopping bags, and she was taking her time getting dressed, then:

“Could you pull the drapes, turn out the lights?”

“Sure.”

She came out a minute later – dressed to the nines. Lingerie, heels, everything in white, and she walked over to me.

“Do you like me like this?”

I nodded my head.

“Does she…” she began, but she stopped herself, looked down at me. “Show me,” she said as she lay on the bed.

“You really are lovely,” I said during my second orgasm.

We didn’t leave the room for five days, then we held hands across the Pacific, we cried when she left on the flight to Milwaukee. I drove to the house on Foothill Road and Terry was there waiting for me. Dressed in blacks and grays, the sexiest woman in the world – all mine. No questions asked. I had not the slightest problem getting up. I had not the least hesitation in my voice when I told her that I loved her. Because I did.

I was between her thighs again, my face against her warmth, then I felt her shuddering, clutching my head with fierce fingers, and as she came down I moved up and entered her. I didn’t last long; I never did when she had her legs up on my shoulders, when I felt her heels on the side of my face. When I came down I looked at her, my perfect lover, and I started to cry.

She looked up at me and smiled.

“Don’t worry about all this, Aaron,” she said as she pulled me down. She kissed me, held me close. “I’ll just be here for you when you need me,” she whispered. “I don’t want anything more. Just to know that you still love me is all I’ll ever need. Okay? You don’t have to choose. I’ll just be here for you, always. Whenever you need me.”

And I was growing inside her warmth again, all movement involuntary now. Holding her face to mine we kissed as I fell into her movement again, and I pulled back a little, looked into her eyes as I came again. What had simply been sex before grew into something fierce and eternal in the next few minutes, yet I was more confused than ever. What could come of this, I wondered, but infinite heartbreak.

+++++

She came with me to the hearing.

I think because Shelly knew the judge was a big fan. Jennifer’s father was there, of course, and he seemed to read the expression on the judge’s face, knew he’d lost, and in the end I won temporary guardianship pending a final review once Jenn was out of the woods and able to stand on her own two feet. It was decided that I’d pick Tracy up in two months, and that I’d return to LA to pick her up after I arrived in New Zealand.

When we left Jenn’s father looked at me like I was the anti-Christ. He did, I think, because we only called one witness, one of Jennifer’s psychiatrists. She all but blamed Jennifer’s condition on her father, and pointed to him, called his behavior monstrous. The judge noted that her father perjured himself when he declared in court he’d made a good faith effort to notify me, and that he was lucky she wasn’t sending him to jail.

Terry, for her part, batted goo-goo eyes at the good judge, which I think made his day. Then we all went down to Newport so I could meet my daughter. It was a supervised visit at his lawyer’s office, and I couldn’t tell who she looked like. Not me, not Jenn, not either of her parents, then Terry spoke up: “She looks just like your mother, Aaron.”

And I cried. I held my daughter and cried at unseen memory.

Barely a year old, she held her little hand out and touched my face, my tears, and I didn’t want to let go of her. But I did, of course, then Terry and I drove back to the house on Foothill Road.

“You’d better call Jennie,” she said.

“Don’t you need to call the studio?”

“Nope. I’m not expected til the day after tomorrow, five in the morning. I’m going to go take a shower,” she said, smiling.

I called Jennie.

“Well, it looks like we’re going to be parents,” I said.

“What?”

“It’s temporary, but she’s ours.”

“Oh-dear-God. I can’t believe it!”

“Until Jenn is out on her own, anyway. Just like you said. When we get to Auckland, we can come up and get her.”

“Are you happy?” she asked.

“Yes, I am. For us all, and maybe for Tracy most of all. How’re your parents?”

“Good. Terry?”

“Same as ever. When do you want to return?”

“I, uh, well, do you want me to come back with you?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Are you sure?”

“Jennie? What’s this about?”

“If you want me, tell me when to be at the airport,” she said, and then she hung up the phone.

I went and sat in Pop’s chair, thought about Tracy and what my mother might have looked like as a child, then I heard Terry in the bedroom and I knew she was waiting for me. I walked in and looked at her on the bed, all her lingerie and shoes a light gray, and she looked like pure sexuality unleashed. I showered, found her on the bed rubbing herself and she was wet when I got to her.

The whole dressing up thing mystified me for a while, then I began to look at it as wrapping oneself up as a present. But no, I found I liked all that stuff to remain on, so I began to see it as patterning. Like as kids, people of my generation were programmed to see lingerie and heels and think sex, so seeing it now was like programming a response. And when I saw Terry dressed like this I was almost overcome with instant lust; when I slipped inside I did so with her legs, often her shoes, on my face. Feeling these things kicked off images in my mind, propelled my response, and as I entered her, as her slippery warmth enveloped me I could smell the leather of her shoes, feel her silky nylons on my cheeks, and everything was like this surreal feedback loop. She didn’t have to tell me what these thing meant, she knew what they did to me. I assumed she knew what they did to all men, but I didn’t really care by then. I was inside her and the feeling was pure magic. I’d slide in quickly then pull back slowly, fast–slow over and over, then I’d pull out and just run myself over her clit then enter her again. Then she pushed me over and mounted my face, ground her clit onto my tongue until the tremors began, then her release was overwhelming. I flipped her over and entered her again, driving into her until I came…then it was flow down for a while until I was ready to go again. I could usually go for two, and with a break for dinner, take her a third time in one day, and she seemed to want as much as I could give her.

And I wondered if that’s what she meant. When she said she’d always be there for me. Was she programming me to need her? Making me accept her as a main part of my life? If so, it was working. And well, too.

Then she surprised me again.

“We’re getting to close, Aaron. I’m not sure I can keep doing this and not have you with me all the time. I’m addicted to you now, can’t think of anything else. I want you so much when I’m away from you it’s beginning to affect my work, and I don’t know what to do anymore…”

“Terry? Can I ask you something?”

“Oh, Aaron…anything, anytime…”

“What do you want? I mean, deep down, what would make you happiest?”

She rolled and looked at me. “In the end, I’d like you to love me no matter what, but I think I’d like you to marry Jennie, try to make a home for that little girl, the three of you. I’d like you to come see me every now and then, remind me how much we mean to each other. Maybe you and I could get married, but the cost would be enormous, wouldn’t it? But we could keep things just the way they are now and no one would be the wiser. I’d just go on loving you and, I assume, you’d go on loving me too. When you need me, I’d be there. Always. No questions asked. Just…always.”

“Okay. I accept you on those terms. Forever. I can’t not love you. And I can’t stop needing you. I can’t, Terry. I mean that. I don’t know if you’ve tried to make me need you the way I do, or whether time conspired to do this to us, but I’d rather die than know I’d never be with you again…”

She folded herself into me then, held me so tight for so long I thought we’d fuse, but a while later I felt that stirring and so did she. She went down on me, brought me back to life again and she straddled me for what felt like hours, reaching down, rubbing herself as she rocked back and forth until she came again and again, then she slipped down between my legs and finished me with her mouth. I picked her after and carried her to the shower and we bathed one another, then dressed and went out to dinner.

When we came back after dinner I called Air France, then called Jennie. “Be at the airport at 10:30 tomorrow morning. American to LAX, change to Air France.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

“I love you.”

“I love you.”

The reality is more difficult, of course. Loving two women. I mean really, really loving them. Caring for each as you would one. Terry drove me out to LAX the next afternoon and she told me not to say goodbye. “Never, ever, do I want to hear those words from you,” she told me. “All I want to hear from you is that you want me, that you need me. You never have to tell me that you love me because I know you do, with all my heart I know you do.”

I nodded, looked her in the eye. “And you love me?”

“With all my heart. And I’ll always be here for you. Nothing will ever change that.”

I kissed her once, gently, then got out of the car and walked into the terminal. I watched Jennie’s plane land and met her at the gate, then we walked over to International Departures, waited to board the jet for Papeete. I held her hand all the way through the terminal, and she said not one word to me until we were seated in the lounge, waiting for our flight to be called.

“You feel alright about what happened.”

“Yes. I think everything’s going to work out well enough.”

“You and me? You think we’re going to work out?”

“I do. Yes.”

“And Terry?”

“I think she’s where she wants to be now, doing what she wants, anyway.”

“I see,” she said – looking out the window, expecting to fly.

+++++

Troubadour was in the water, ready to load fresh provisions onboard when we got back to the yard, and we spent a day getting things loaded. We got a hundred pounds of ice in the box, then settled in for the night, had some wine and watched the sun set, then we were out light a light. The weather forecast looked grim when we checked the next morning, so we went back to the hotel to sit it out, and Jennie pulled out her lingerie our second night there – and I plowed her fields, and after that everything got back to normal, or close to it, anyway.

She talked more, we kidded around and went shopping. I bought her a ring, one to wear on her left hand, and she said it didn’t mean anything unless I did too, so she picked out a plain band and slipped it on my finger. That really seemed to calm her down and after that we slipped into our old groove. And you see, the thing is I’d taken Terry at her word. I stopped worrying about it, her, and let it slip into the background – and I focused on Jennie, on making her happy.

We took off two day later and in the aftermath of the storm we had solid wind all the way to Auckland, an all too brief 16 day voyage, but with unsettled seas all the way it wasn’t exactly easy, or pleasant.

The plan was to haul the boat for winter, replace some rigging and all the sails (yes, they wear out too, and fast in the tropics), so we’d rent a house while Jennie worked on upping her nursing qualifications. I decided to take that class on diesel mechanics then, too, and we planned to start after our upcoming trip to pick up Tracy in LA. So, first things first, I called Shelly, asked if everything was still a ‘Go,’ and it was. I got tickets for the two of us headed north, and three coming back. I let Terry know the situation and she told me she was off to Morocco during that time for a shoot, and she told me she was sorry she’d miss me. Okay. Sure. I made a shopping list for boat supplies and we took off on the anointed day.

It’s a long flight, and the Air New Zealand DC-8 stopped in Papeete for fuel – which felt kind of silly. The long haul was next, and after we rolled into the house – well past midnight – we dropped into the sack and slept for days. Well, it felt like days. After we ran errands, boat stuff for the most part, we crashed again so we could wake up early to meet Shelly down in Newport the next morning.

I half expected Jenn to be there, but no, that was not to be. Her father was a no-show, too. He sent Tracy with a sheriff’s deputy, I think to upset her more than any other reason, but it was a vintage choice even for that asshole. Tracy got to the lawyer’s office, upset, and we spent a while calming her down before heading back to the house. We took her swimming that afternoon, took her Disneyland the next day, then for a really long airplane ride the day after that.

And never a word from or about Mommy.

+++++

New Zealand was very quiet and most civilized in the 70s, and an ideal place to raise kids. Jennie decided to get full nursing certification after spending a month in school there; she opted to go for full citizenship a few months later. I opted to remain a US citizen, yet the fact that I had some money and that Jennie and I were married gave her the opening she needed. I decided to get Tracy in the queue for citizenship too, just in case, and so she started school there two years later. Well, kindergarten, but you know what I mean, and by that point Jennie considered herself Tracy’s Mum. More important still, Tracy started calling Jennie ‘Mommy,’

In order to maintain US citizenship I had to return home periodically, roughly twice a year, and of course Terry always happened to be there. On my first trip home I upgraded the recording studio in the basement and started working on my next album and, as Jennie’s sister Niki had a helluva a voice I asked her to come down and work on a few songs with me. I moved into the pool house for the duration of her stay and Terry behaved herself, and after three months hard work I sent the masters over to MCA and sure enough, they liked ‘em. Serendipity released in ’76 and happily it went gold by summer’s end, and the title song included Niki’s voice – and almost overnight she became a minor sensation. She’d penned several songs and we arranged them, I played keyboards on all of them and had some friends help with the other instruments and MCA loved her album, too. It went platinum in a month and all of a sudden she was not only famous, she was rich as snot. She took off for Wisconsin after the master tapes went to Burbank, leaving me alone with Terry for the first time in six weeks. We tore into each other and only came up for air after a week, just before my scheduled return flight came up.

And still, no word of Jenn.

Jennie and Tracy met me at the airport – in Papeete – as it was time for Warren and Michelle’s annual visit to Moorea. Tracy and Michelle went on walks looking at flowers while Jennie and her father worked at the clinic, and soon enough Tracy was working at an easel with Michelle, painting flowers.

I spent my days working on my biggest canvas yet, an eight foot tall by twenty four foot wide panorama of, you guessed it, a misty mountain in the fog. Framed by windblown trees and a rolling surf in the distance, however. Then I got word MCA wanted me in LA for a concert in the Amphitheater, so I called Shelly – in the middle of the night my time – to get the lo-down.

“A bunch of people want to do an Electric Karma tribute concert, Aaron. They want you there, and they want Niki to take Deni’s place. She’s asked me to represent her, by the way. It would mean the big time for her.”

“What? A concert at the Amphitheater?”

“No…haven’t you heard? They’re talking the Coliseum. A hundred and twenty thousand people. Some big names have signed on already.”

“What would Niki take home?”

“Maybe a half million, maybe a little more.”

I whistled. “Okay. When?”

“Does that mean you’ll do it?”

“Shelly…when?”

“October. You have three months to get ready.”

“What’s my take?”

She told me and I whistled again.

“Aaron, you can’t turn this down. It’s the chance of a lifetime for Niki, and it’ll keep you in the spotlight for a whole new generation of listeners…you’ll be set for life. So, Tracy will be set for life.”

“Okay, tell ‘em I’m in. You take point for now, start setting up rehearsals, probably late August, early September. See if MCA is interested in cutting an album of the concert, and ask Dean if he’ll do the stage. You do good and you can have twenty percent of my cut, on both the concert and the album, including my residuals. Got that?”

She was silent for a minute. “You mean it?”

“Shelly, my life would be shit without you. Make this work, get Niki on the fast track. Yeah, I mean it.”

“Aaron…I don’t know what to say.”

“Well, Shelly? This is the best way I can thank you for everything you’ve done. But, thank you.”

“Yeah,” she said, and I could hear her voice crack a little. “Could I ask you a personal question?”

“Sure.”

“What’s going on with you and Terry? Is there anything that could blowback on you?”

“Maybe.”

“If it happens, am I authorized to do damage control?”

“Absolutely. Write that into our contract.”

“Okay.”

“Anything in the wind?”

“No, nothing. Just a gut feeling.”

“Well, if something crops up, make it go away.”

“Will do. Should I call, leave messages at that clinic?”

“For now. I’ll see about getting some kind of phone at the house.”

“Okay. Bye.”

“Yeah, bye.”

When I turned around Jennie was coming out of the OR, her dad right behind, and they were both dripping in sweat. She saw me on the phone and frowned as she came over, and Warren came up too.

“What’s up?” she asked. “You look jazzed.”

“You better sit down, both of you.”

They sat; Warren looked concerned. I told them about the concert, and about the deals I was trying to get Niki. “It’d mean a half million in the bank, on top of what she’s made on the album already, but it would put her in the spotlight. She’ll be big. Bigger than big, would be my guess. She took my advice, signed with Shelly, my lawyer.”

Warren’s hands were shaking. “My girl…will make more in one night than I do in ten years?”

“Yup.”

“Holy smokes.”

“Yup.”

“You’re doing all this for her – why?”

I looked at him, then at Jennie. “You’re my family, all I’ve got left in this life. Niki is too. I’m doing what I can for my family. Simple as that.”

I looked at Jennie. “Rehearsals in LA, end of August, concert is on Halloween, in the LA Coliseum. I think we should all be there. All of us.”

“Okay,” she said, looking me in the eye, “we will be.” I could tell my hands were shaking too, and she looked at them, then up at me. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I don’t know. Hyped, I guess, is the word.”

“Why don’t you go up to LA now. Get started. I can see it in your eyes…that’s what you want to do.”

I nodded my head. “I know. I want to be here with you guys, though.”

“So stay, head back with Mom and Dad.”

“Yeah. We’ll see. I need to finish my painting, spend some time with Tracy. Maybe a little with my wife, too.”

She came to me and we hugged, and Warren stepped outside, lit up a Camel and coughed. Then we kissed.

“You should know,” she whispered. “I’m pregnant.”

I blinked, then my eyes went wide. “Holy smokes!” I managed to say – before she kissed me.

+++++

Different people bring out different things in me.

I thought about that all the way up to LA. When I was with Jennie I painted. I painted because I became interested in the visible world, the visual world. When I was with Terry I fell into my music. I could think music because she had been a part of my life since my teens, when music became important to me. When I was around Jennie the music almost stopped. When I was even thinking about Terry music poured in from every direction, but when I was around her music grew into a tidal wave.

I’d written all of Electric Karma’s music, Deni the lyrics, so that music would always be a part of me, yet when I put together the first solo album all that vibe slipped away. There was nothing about Karma I wanted to incorporate. But that was then and this was now. Now, sitting on that 747 all I could think about was Deni and the music we’d made together. And flying home to Terry was opening the floodgates of memory. By the time we landed I had written three new Karma songs. With Niki on vocals, no one would be able to tell this wasn’t Electric Karma – so why not cut a new Karma album? Get my old buds from San Francisco to cover guitar and bass and drums and the sound would be as authentic as it had been eight years ago…

Warren and Michelle regarded me as some kind of sorcerer all during that flight, but when I told them what I was thinking they kind of sat back and watched – in awe, I think. I asked them to have Niki call me as soon as they got home, then we said our goodbyes. I found the baggage claim had been moved – again – and it took me a while to find my bag – then Terry – but she was where she said she’d be. She drove straight home and ran for the shower, and I ran down to the studio and put my notes on my keyboard, then ran back up and joined her.

“Do you have anything going on the next three weeks?” I asked.

“No. Why?”

“You may not leave my side for the next three weeks, not once, not at all.”

“You’re on fire, aren’t you? I haven’t seen you like this in years.”

“I finally put two and two together, Terry. I can’t write good music unless you’re by my side. They stuff I’ve churned out when you’re not near me is garbage. Ever since Lucy-Goosey, when you’re with me it all comes together. You are the music in my life, my love. Without you I’m a hollow shell.”

She looked at me as if I’d slugged her in the gut, then she came to me, put her arms around me and I felt her crying on my chest – then I lifted her face to mine and we kissed.

“You called me…my love? Do you realize…?”

I nodded my head. “Of course I do, because I feel that now, as surely as I ever have. You are so much a part of me it’s insane. It’s surreal. I can’t even think music without you…”

“Aaron? Are you okay?”

“No, Terry, I am not okay. I am on fire. I am on fire because you have set me on fire. You’ve set me on fire ever since I’ve been interested in writing music. I doubt that I’ve ever written anything that wasn’t for you. Do you know the first piece of music I ever wrote was named after you. A little piano concerto. For you.”

“I didn’t know…”

“I think I always wanted to impress you, to be worthy of you.”

“Worthy – of me?”

“Yes, you. The most beautiful woman in the world.”

“Aaron…you can stop now.”

“No…I can’t. I’ve got at least ten songs to write, and you’ll need to stay right by my side. All the time. Understand?”

“Alright.”

I picked her up and carried her out of the shower, then I dried her off, every inch of her.

“What color would you like me to wear for you tonight?” she asked.

“Nasty.”

She smiled. “I hoped you’d say that.”

“I know. You have for a long time, haven’t you?”

She smiled, nodded and left the bathroom. “Give me a minute, would you?”

I went to the kitchen, fixed a Perrier and looked out the window at lemon trees blossoming in a breeze, and I could even smell them inside that moment, then I walked back to the bedroom. The lights were off, only a few candles blazed on a corner table, but Terry was there. Shiny black latex – everywhere. The highest heels I’d ever seen. A riding crop.

“Dear God.”

“Come here,” she commanded, then: “On your knees. Crawl to me. Crawl to me and lick my shoes!”

Yes. That was indeed an interesting evening. Interesting music, I think you could rightly say, too.

+++++

I spent the next morning on a song I called Lemon Tree, the afternoon’s effort would be titled Shining Need. Terry stood behind me almost the entire morning looking at my scribbled notations, and when noon came ‘round she pulled me to the floor and sat on my face for an hour, pulling me with her fingernails until I came – in her mouth – but I couldn’t get the night before out of my music. When I played it through for her she blushed, then I told her to shower and put on the latex again. “And Terry? You must be meaner tonight. You must take us where we’ve never been before.”

And she did. I was stunned at her ferocity, and how easily it came to her. Her need was shining now, shining right through me on a place I’d never been.

We went out to the swimming pool after, and I left the lights off. We slipped into the water and I pulled her close, pulled her onto me and I held her closer still as I entered. We rocked in the water until I felt myself tensing then releasing inside her, still swaying gently, holding her lips to mine until she began to tremble her way through her own release – and the water was black now, faint stars danced on the surface – and I wondered who was out there watching and waiting, circling, ready to come in for the kill…

The next morning? Starlight Blood, a heavy brooding place that scared us both when I played through the final draft. “We have to go someplace lighter now,” she said after lunch, “or I may end up killing us both.”

“I’m not ready for death, but when I am, I want to die in your arms. Promise me you’ll do that for me.”

“I promise.”

“Death won’t be able to hold us apart. You know that, don’t you?”

She nodded her head.

Those two lines formed the core of the next track, Fate and Promise.

We made love in the pool that night until we could hardly move, then I carried her to the shower and massaged her back to life, and I pulled her so close to me in bed I dreamt of the way her hair smelled.

Which became Sin Scintilla in our next morning.

She reminded me she hadn’t had anything to eat – but me – for two days, so we drove down to the beach, to Gladstones, and we ate Shee Crab soup and broiled shrimp on rice pilaf, then we walked on the beach for an hour, her music beating into me as the sand pushed between our toes.

Which became Seashell, an unfolding story about eternal love

And on and on it went. Every breath she took led me deeper into her music.

Until the last track.

Deni. A ballad about Deni, and why she mattered. We were a broken soul, your music made us whole… My other love. Broken, fluttering and doomed. I broke apart and came undone when I finished those lyrics, and Terry helped me up, led me to our bed and when she lay me down I pulled her on top of my face and ate her until she wept too, then we slept.

I called Jerry and Carlos and Pete – and Niki – and asked them to come by the house next Monday morning.

“We’re going to cut Electric Karma’s last album,” I told them.

“Far out,” Jerry said.

And Pete…my oldest friend in the world would be there in the middle of it all, again. God, I was so happy.

+++++

I could feel the changes Niki was going through, I’d seen it all so many times before. Sudden fame, almost immeasurable wealth had turned her from petite and unassuming to bigger than life almost overnight. She had that force now, the force money confers on the once so meek. She was a year older than I and that, in her mind, justified this new assertiveness – until Shelly pulled her aside and set her straight.

“Aaron’s done this for you,” Shelly told her. “All of this. Don’t forget that. Don’t forget to dance with the one who brung ya.”

She mellowed out, tried to accept that Deni was still bigger than she was. That Deni was one of the strongest voices of the 60s, and that the 60s still defined rock ‘n roll. People helped her understand what she was being given – a seat at the table – if she had the grace and the good sense to sit quietly and listen for a while, to learn.

She was a midwestern gal so full of common sense, and it took her a couple of days but she settled down, watched and listened to Carlos and Jerry, two of the biggest of the San Francisco bigs, as they wrestled with my music. We settled into the new-old vibe again, the collaborative nature of making music. I played a passage and they interpreted what I wrote. The last thing I could do was object to someone hijacking ‘my’ music – that’s not the process. We took my framework and turned it into our version of Karma in 1968. I led Niki into that wilderness, too, let her phrases blend in the music, and we listened to her when she started making suggestions, because that too is part of the vibe. We’d take her thoughts and blend them into the whole – because that IS the vibe – and at the end of the first day I was already looking at Niki like she was part of Deni. Even Jerry, who was still devoted to Deni and what she meant to the scene, started to feel that Deni thing when Niki started singing, and at one point he looked at me and nodded his head slowly, like ‘yeah, I get it now, why you chose her.’

We came together as Electric Karma for two weeks, then we carried the tapes down to MCA and let the folks have a listen. Everyone was blown away, there were even some tears, too, and as I’d hoped they talked about weaving this new material into the old when we played the Coliseum, and this news jazzed me pretty good – as I already knew this would be my last hurrah. Jerry and Carlos had their own things going, and Niki? Hell, who knew where she’d go after this, but it would be big. Me? I planned to do some serious sailing when Tracy got big enough to walk Troubadour’s decks. We were going to see the world together, maybe learn to make our own together.

It was September by then, time to get down to choosing the old numbers we’d play, then playing them over and over until we had them in memory, and all the while I kept the recorders going, laying down tapes of our sessions.

And yeah, Terry was there. Low-key and in the background, and I had to explain to Nik what Terry meant to me – in such a way that the deeper nature of our relationship didn’t overpower her – but Niki said she got it, that she understood, and that she wouldn’t fuck it up for Jennie. I started to love Niki after that. When she came into the room I looked at her and smiled inside, and there were times – like when she fell into the old Deni vibe – that she’d come to me and talk. About what Deni really meant to me, the whole love heroin thing.

“I feel that with you,” she said. “This thing inside the old music. The tension, almost like there was this carnal undertone playing out between her words and your music. When I sing Deni I want to reach out and hold you, then I want to fuck your brains out.”

“That’s what it was like, man,” Jerry said, coming over and sitting with us. “We’d sit around listening to her and it was like, man, I got to get inside this chick’s head, see where this power’s coming from. Then one day I knew. She didn’t simply project love, she was mainlining lust and when you watched the way she sang you wanted that lust too. You felt like you needed to take her because that’s what she wanted you to do. Now…imagine that happening in the room at the Fillmore…with hundreds of dudes getting amped up on that vibe. She was fucking with fire, I mean literally fucking fire onstage, daring people to fall into her vibe.”

It’s what happens when you fall inside music. When you make it, not listen to it. The notes start playing through your synapses and as you mold the music into your being it comes through your life like a hot knife. The Feel Flows through you, if you dig Brian Wilson – white hot glistening. When you’re playing you become this other thing: you, and the music in you takes over. When you come down after, down in soft blue drifting, you snap out of it and realize you’ve been someplace else. A special someplace only music takes you. You’re different. Changed.

And I watched Deni coming to life again inside Niki when she sang Deni’s words, because Deni was truly inside her now, taking Niki to that place she used to go. I watched Niki over my keyboards, watched the change come down on her, the way her body swayed, then I’d look at Terry and feel this divine thing settle inside me, the same beast I felt when I created Lucy. Terry was the constant, the universal fuck that lived inside this place, this craving penetration that rolled through me. Feel Flows, baby. Brian got it right that time. Shadowy flows.

We went out to the Amphitheater and did a run through concert to an ‘invitation only’ crowd of maybe 1500 people. No nerves, no bad vibes, and we played for two hours straight then just sat on the edge of the stage and watched everyone go nuts. This was Niki’s first taste of that electric adoration, the wall of love that rises up from the other side of the lights and breaks over you, and she started laughing, then crying, and she leaned into me.

“Way to go, babe,” I whispered in her ear.

I knew it then. I knew she loved me now. She was Deni, she was love heroin all wrapped up inside that something new, that something she didn’t quite understand yet. She was becoming music, this creature of the otherworld. She could understand what drew me to Terry now, what made Terry an imperative, and she wanted inside that part of me now.

She put her arms around me and I sighed, could feel Deni there beside me again, the spring she gave me once.

I hopped down and walked out into the surging crowd, felt the light breaking over me.

I felt immortal, if only for a moment.

+++++

I got a couple of bungalows at the BH, put Warren and Michelle in one, their daughters in the other, and Jennie and Tracy came to the house with me and Terry – and Niki.

Jennie was astonished at the change that had come over her big sister, the way she walked barefoot around the house in undies and a t-shirt. The way she draped herself over me when we were down in the studio, when the music came. Jennie couldn’t relate – but Tracy did. I started playing notes and chords with her on my lap, and I could see it taking hold deep inside my child’s mind. She’d be sitting there with her eyes open one moment, then she’d be swaying with eyes closed in a heartbeat, inside the music with me. Jennie watched that going down first in Niki, then inside Tracy, and I think she felt like she’d been on the outside for a long time – and never had a clue what was going on inside, until now.

And Jennie could feel the whole Terry thing now. Terry kept her distance but I insisted she stay within sight of me now at all times. Jennie was starting to freak out but Niki hit her like a missile, took her aside and laid it out for her.

“Terry is his muse, she always will be so don’t fuck with the vibe. You fuck it up and you’ll lose him. Simple as that.”

The thing with Jennie? She knew me, she knew my love for her was real, deeper than deep, but now she was learning my love for her existed in the world outside music, outside that springtime Deni created for me. The place Terry kept me rooted to. There were two of me, and she had one of them, but only one. She’d hated Terry before but after living with us that week she came upon the terms of her surrender. Accept what is or move on. If I lost Terry I’d lose me. I think she sensed that if she left I’d move on, but if I lost Terry I’d be wandering the ruins, lost inside a broken, melting Dali landscape.

You love a musician at your own risk. Feel Flows different here, white hot glistening.

I talked to Terry about Warren and his tongue-tied infatuation and she looked at me.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Shake up his world a little. Michelle’s taking him for granted – she needs, I think, a little jealousy in her life.”

Poor man. When Terry McKay turns on the sex appeal it’s devastating. I told Jennie what was going to go down and to take her mom out shopping – Terry could tell her where to pick up some appropriate lingerie. Surely someone into quantum mechanics could come to terms with simple attraction? Cause and effect? What’s been down a while still needs to come up? Sunrise, sunsets – ya know?

We set up at the coliseum the day before, ran through a few numbers for the media and we began figuring out a real 60s-type happening was blowin’ in the wind, that the event was SRO now with a hundred and thirty thousand tickets sold.

And we announced the new album at the press conference, that copies would be going on sale the day after the concert, but that a special edition would be available at the concert. Karma Kubed, with Niki Clemens handling vocals. Yes, we’ll be playing a few of the new songs at the concert. Yeah, the vibe is right on, it’s felt like we’re channeling Deni…very cool stuff.

We made the news, anyway.

I woke up the day of the concert feeling like pure electricity. I couldn’t keep still, went downstairs and sat in the dark listening to The Beach Boys, trying to focus on their vibe, their quicksilver moons.

I felt her then.

Tracy, my little girl. She stumbled through the dark and found her way to my lap, crawled up and cuddled up beside me, within me, and I held her close, let her inside for a while as I drifted in Brian’s music.

Jennie came down a little later, told me she was going over to the hotel, spend some time with her parents and that she’d see me at the Coliseum.

“I love you,” she whispered.

“I love you too, babe. Seeya there.”

She left me with Terry, who’d found this outrageous jade colored lingerie down on Hollywood Boulevard. Oh…did we make some outrageous music that afternoon…and she promised to sit front row center so I’d be able to focus on her during the show.

I’d had Shelly send tickets down to Jenn and her family in Newport, and while I doubted they’d show I had my hopes. Their seats would put them next to Tracy and Jennie and my family, right behind Terry and Shelly.

I was in another place by the time we met up with Carlos and Jerry. Niki and Pete were too, but Niki was freaking out. “A hundred and thirty seven thousand people?! This is fuckin’ nuts…” she cried as she circled like a cornered animal. “I can’t fuckin’ do this…I’m scared out of my mind…”

I could see all the classic signs, so I sat down with her, gave her the talk.

“You’re not going to be able to see anything but lights,” I said. “You can’t tell if there are fifty people out there, or fifty million. You’ll hear them, yeah, but just close your eyes, let the music in, let it take you where it always takes you. Give it five minutes and you’re home free, but if it gets to you just come over to, sing to me, sing into my eyes. I’m here for you, okay?”

I held her close, then Warren came inside the tent backstage and took over. A British group, 10cc, were warming up the crowd, and their I’m Not In Love was bringing down the house, then the lights went up and they left the stage.

A stagehand came in, announced “ten minutes!”

Carlos was in the zone, Jerry was standing in a corner, his eyes closed as he played through the toughest riffs in his mind’s eye. Warren left and Niki came over, melted into me, and I could feel her trembling through my own ragged heartbeat.

So I leaned into her and kissed her. Not a brotherly kiss, if you know what I mean. A curl your toes kiss, and she responded in kind, looked at me after like I’d just lit a fuse inside her guts – and she slipped into the zone after that and never once looked back. I’d just become her muse, for better or worse, but that’s the way these things go. We knew the score, didn’t we?

I walked out first and the roar was literally deafening. I felt it through the stage as I walked within the spotlight, as I walked up to my keyboards, then Carlos and Jerry came out and the crowd turned into sustained thunder. When Pete and Niki came out I had to slip on my headphones, then I looked down at Terry, looked at her jade dress and jade stockings and I smiled, then I looked at Tracy and Jennie and blew them a kiss, ignoring the empty seats where Jenn and her pops ought to be. The I raised my fist – and stepped into the light.

+++++

The next morning’s papers said we were flawless, and I don’t know, maybe we were. What I’ll carry with me was Deni, the song, the music. The way Niki came to me then, singing my life, singing her way into my soul. I looked at Jennie and Terry, saw their tears, then I saw almost everyone was crying, even a few of the cops standing by the stage. Whatever it was, that song took all of us back to 1968 – and made us reexamine our lives in the shattered light of her death. I played an extended interval, took the music ever downward, fluttering down to deepest octaves as Deni’s jet might have, as Deni might have while she watched her death unfolding, and Niki came up from behind, put her arms around me while I played, and I felt her leaning against me, crying, and when she stepped back into the light everyone saw what had happened to her and I felt this huge outpouring of love, pure love, the love only music conveys as it washed over our shores.

The rest was, literally, all a blur. One long blur of memory. One of Deni’s first anthems, Tiger’s Eye, pulled me in so deeply…I was in the purple paisley house adrift in a sea of patchouli again, watching her watch my hands as I played the first version of the entry. How she changed the phrasing of her words to reinforce my rolling chords, and I watched Niki watching my hands, forcing rhythm changes of her own – and it was like the three of us were out there, together, creating something new out of the past.

And I’d look from Jennie to Terry, my two touchstones, each representing polar extremes so far apart it was funny, each so intimately tied to my soul it was unnerving. Terry in her stockings, Jennie with my daughter, already showing as our first composition took form in her womb. Then I was in a limo headed for an after-concert bash at The Bistro, Jerry and Carlos still in the zone as the Lincoln fought through traffic – Niki leaning into me, biting my neck, almost purring with Deni’s lust now coursing through her veins. Drinks and dinner, family and friends, big-wigs from the studio – along with their wives and kids, teenaged girls who told me they wanted to suck something and I’m like really? Get a life, and get away from me, you might be contagious.

The Fillmore was real. You could smell us up there onstage because we were in a room smaller than a basketball court. The Coliseum wasn’t real, it was spectacle. We weren’t musicians, we were being pawned off as demigods while venues like the Fillmore were disappearing into commercial oblivion. Politics in music was being reordered to fit into the marketplace, so political messaging was on it’s way out at the big studios, which only meant emerging groups would flock to small, local studios and politics in music would become regional, local, and maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. But what would happen if ‘main street’ music became a commercial avenue?

That’s what I watched taking form that night. San Francisco nights giving way to LA glitz. What had been real was going to be trivialized, and I knew I had to get away from it or I’d die a slow, meaningless death.

Jennie and Tracy came by, took one look at the scene and disappeared. Niki remained glued to me, started holding my hand, then wrapping her arms in mine, becoming more possessive by the minute – Terry and Shelly looked on with wry smiles, while Carlos shook his head. Warren finally rescued me, took her back to the hotel and I left with Terry a few minutes later, but we drove out to Malibu and I parked down by the beach, carried her out to the sand and set her down gently while I laid out a blanket. I ate my way into her for hours, until her trembling became too much, then she finished me off and we lay there, listening to the surf while the light faded and my world returned.

She’d watched me at The Bistro, she knew the score. If she was my muse, if she made the music real, what happened when I turned away from music?

“Are we over?” she asked.

“We’ll never be over, Terry. We’ll never stop making music.”

“What comes next?”

“Tracy. The next part of the symphony is all her.”

“What about me?”

“You know, Terry, sometimes I can go a few months without you, but I start to fall apart if we’re apart much longer than that. We’ll work around that.”

“What about Jennie?”

“I won’t sacrifice you for her. She either accepts what is, or…”

“No. That’s not right, Aaron. You can’t push that on her.”

“And I can’t live without you. Simple as that.”

“No, it’s not that simple. Tracy has Jennie now, they’ve bonded.”

“I won’t give you up, Terry. And don’t make me do that, either.”

“Reading my mind?”

“Look, all I know is we’ll end up together, you and I, at the end. But between now and then? I won’t live without you in my life.”

“You know, in a couple of years I’ll be getting ‘old lady’ roles, if I get any at all, and all my leading men will have white hair. It happens to all of us, I guess.”

“And won’t I have white hair too.”

“Yes.”

“And I’ll still love you, won’t I?”

“You will?”

“I’ll always love you. I’ll always need you. And I’ll always want you.”

“Unless I get fat.”

“Don’t get fat.”

“Oh, alright,” she sighed. “God, you’re so high maintenance!”

“And you’re the most beautiful woman in the world. You’ve got to take care of that.”

“What about Niki? You started something last night, you know?”

“I did, on purpose. She had to grow beyond herself last night, see the next part of her career. I helped that along. And I’ll have to help her the next few steps along the road, get her up and on her own two feet. Then she’ll be okay.”

“What if she falls in love with you?”

“She already has,” I sighed.

“Oh?”

“Complicated, isn’t it? I have a theory, though. Those deep mid-west roots will kick in, she’ll run home and get married to an old beau soon, settle down and have some kids.”

“You think? I don’t know, not after last night.”

“How much you wanna bet?”

“I win, you have to eat me for five hours.”

“And if I win?”

“You have to eat me for five hours.”

“I’ll take that bet.”

“And do you know what I want you to do now?”

“Sun’s coming up in an hour.”

“Then you better get to work…”

+++++

So, a few weeks later Tracy and I are on Troubadour, in the marina on St Mary’s Bay, Auckland, and I’m letting her walk along the deck – roped up in a safety harness, mind you – getting her used to the whole boat thing, and Niki is sitting in the cockpit, watching us. Watching me, really, ‘cause she’s got it bad. It wasn’t a week after I got back she flew in, and it wasn’t two hours after she got to our house that Jennie had become annoyed. So…I told Jennie to just chill out, that I’d take care of it. And I did.

I took Niki sailing, again.

She’d been of a mind that sailing was for her, so I just took her out for a nice four day sail, out to the Cape Reinga lighthouse and back. We talked music, we talked babies. We talked about Jennie and Tracy, Jennie and the new baby. About what it meant to be a parent. She wanted kids, too, she told me.

“Have a father in mind?” I asked.

“Yeah. You.”

“Oh? And what about Jennie?”

“Nothing. She doesn’t have to know. We fuck until I’m pregnant, then I leave.”

“Why?”

“I’m not all that into guys, Aaron, but I want a baby. And you’ve got the music genes I want.”

“So? What, no love? Just sex, babies and bye-bye?”

“Oh, I love you, Aaron. Maybe not as much as Terry, but I love you.”

“And what about me? If I’m the father, what happens to the kid? Does he know who I am?”

“Yup. And Aaron, that’s kids. Not kid. As in plural, not singular.”

“And what’s that do to Jennie?”

“Well, for one thing, all these kids will be related – to you. We’ll all be, in a way, your wives, and they’ll be brothers and sisters, not cousins.”

“You do know I’m not a Mormon? And that this whole conversation is getting weird?”

“Yeah? So? This is what I came down here for.”

“To get pregnant? For me to get you pregnant?”

“Yup.”

“You know, I’ve never had sex with someone I didn’t love.”

“So? Fall in love with me – again.”

“Again?”

“Yeah, when we did Deni the first time I could feel you falling in love with me. It was real then, it’ll be real tomorrow. And I’ll have your kids, so you’ll love me all that much more.”

“You’ve got this figured out, don’t you?”

“Yup.”

“And this is what you want?”

“Yes.”

“And you love me?”

“More than you’ll ever know.”

“Why?”

“You know why. Everything you’ve done for me. Before you, the only thing a guy ever gave me was a Dilly Bar at a Dairy Queen. You gave me a life, and so much more. You’re my husband, whether you want to be, or not. And I’m all you’ve got left of Deni.”

She wasn’t a colossal fuck, but then again, neither was Jennie. Neither got anywhere near Terry on the Lust-o-meter, but Niki could hold her own and I enjoyed being inside her, the feeling of reproductive urges being met, and satisfied. By the time we made it back to St Mary’s I’d pumped about two quarts into her motor, and if that didn’t do the job I didn’t know what would.

She bought a little place in town, a three bedroom house, and when Jennie seemed put out by that I told her she didn’t need to worry; as far as I could tell Niki wasn’t into guys…

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“She told me she’s not into guys, okay?”

“You mean she’s a…?”

“Hey, I didn’t go there…”

Which seemed to put an end to that – for the time being, anyway.

And so, there we were, down on Troubadour. Tracy walking the deck and me holding on for dear life, with Niki in the cockpit staring at my ass – or so she said – and when we came back to sit in the shade for a while Niki leaned over and said something along the lines of “I’m late.”

“Oh? How long?”

“A week?”

I shrugged. “That doesn’t mean a thing.”

“I know, but I feel it.”

“That means something.”

She grinned. “I know, Papa.”

A week later, she knew. She returned to the States, began planning for a life in New Zealand. I began dreaming of a life away from women, then remembered I had a little girl who needed a father, and another who’d join us in four months. Yes, we knew now we had another girl coming and all of a sudden it looked like the very idea of sailing away was about to be buried under a pile of soiled diapers.

Then Shelly called. Thank God.

MCA wanted to know if…

“I’ll be on the next flight up.”

And I sat on a DC-10 thinking about diapers. Cause and effect, ya know. You use it often enough and odds are you’re going to make babies. Trouble is, I knew now, I didn’t want a bunch of babies. I wanted to be on Troubadour. I didn’t want responsibility. I didn’t want to take care of any lives beyond my own, and possibly Terry. And Terry was this self-contained fuck machine whose only interest seemed to be getting me off then disappearing into the woodwork. She was, I realized, every man’s ideal playmate, and she was mine. When I wanted her. If not, just get on a plane and fly away. Come back in a few months when I needed to get laid without any head trips.

But that’s not how it works, Bucko.

You fuck someone you love, you have kids you love and you get them going down the road to finding love. You don’t find a girl and make her your pretend wife. You don’t fuck a girl and leave her in a funny farm, take her kid and then sail away, leaving all these kids with the pretend wife. Now the pretend wife’s big sister was carrying my baby too. No strings attached – “Just get me pregnant!” – and she’ll take care of the rest.

But what was Berkeley really all about?

Wasn’t it ‘Freedom!’

Free speech. Free love. Open marriages. Like hummingbirds flying from flower to flower, dipping our wicks into each new golden honey pot, depositing our seed and moving on, flying to the next flower, falling in love for a half hour then flying out the window. Who knows what I left behind?

MCA wanted me to produce Niki’s first real album.

Niki had flown straight to LA, flown to see Shelly, flown to get me to come back to LA. Flown to set her own trap. Trap the hummingbird, cage him, stop him from flying away again. I saw myself flying over the Pacific, my wings growing tired as I flew from flower to flower, then flying into a new house, Niki slamming the windows shut behind me, trapping me. Then diapers everywhere. Little white surrender flags covered in shit, and out the window, in the distance, a boat, sailing away. I’m hovering on the wrong side of the glass, trying to find a way back out to Freedom, but Freedom was the trap, wasn’t it?

No, I had freedom and it trapped me.

Is freedom supposed to work like that?

What is Freedom? Why was Freedom a trap?

Someone was pushing on me and I woke up, saw downtown LA out the window, looked up and saw a stewardess telling me to get my seatback up and I shook the dream away – but it didn’t want to leave just yet. Like a bad aftertaste this dream was lingering, telling me to wake up before it was too late.

I looked out the window, saw the ground reaching up for me, saw Century City off in the distance. Home. I was home again. Terry would be home. Terry, with her silk legs opening to receive my seed, then flying from window to window, trying to find my way back to Freedom. Always these circles, nipping at the heels.

Part IV

She was wearing the deepest blue, blue – like her eyes.

Shocking electric blue lingerie. And she was so beautiful sprawled out on the bed, my cum on her face. My sweat mingling with hers.

“God, I’ve missed you,” she whispered.

“I can’t keep doing this, Terry,” I cried. I can’t keep leaving you, wanting you and not having you. It’s going to kill me, and I’m afraid it might kill you too.”

“What’s happened, Aaron?”

I told her about Niki and she smiled.

“So, you think she wants to trap you?”

“What else could it be?”

“Hormones. Hormonally induced insecurity. She wants to be loved right now, to be spoon fed love until that baby comes, but by then she won’t have any left to give you.”

“What should I do?”

“Give me your cock.”

And she worked me back to life – and I fell inside her again, like Lucifer falling through the clouds. Her physical perfection was all that I craved, her seared emotional landscape the only place left where life made any kind of sense. Her blue silk cradling my face, licking the sides of her feet while I arced into her, electric need spilling between us in endless electron flows, and when the trembling began again I turned to pure, solid spasm and yes, my seed drifted within her honey – again.

Her hands on my face, she is licking me. Her legs have wrapped around me and she is pulling me inward again. I am on my hands, over her now, breathing hard, sweat falling again and all I feel is this liquid warmth between us. My spreading seed, her encasing flows all mingling now.  Her hands coaxing me down, my lips to hers, all warm breath as tongues join, as I feel my skin so perfectly mated to hers. We fit. Together. Perfectly.

She is moving under me again, trembling anew. I feel it in her thighs, then inside her, and she has hands inside her womb milking me. Something inside grasping me, pulling me, forcing every drop of need from my body – into hers.

“I love you so,” she whispers.

I am shaking my head, now totally aware there is only one woman I’ll ever truly love, and she is here, under me, and I feel so ashamed. A deceiver. Only the one person I deceived the most is me. My deceptions have led these other women on, onward into unjustified hope. Maybe I would burn in Hell if only I believed in such things, but for now I would burn inside Terry McKay – and let the rest of the world look away. They could burn without me now – just please, leave me inside Terry.

“I can’t spend another day without you by my side,” I said.

– And she looked away.

A telling look. Like the kind that makes you think about the handwriting on the wall.

“I’ve met someone, Aaron. I’m leaving soon, for England. I may not be back, as a matter of fact.”

“Really? What was this, then? My goodbye fuck?”

“No, I love you, but I wasn’t sure I could go on like this. So I, well, I started to look for options.”

“And you’ve found one?”

“I think so.”

“It’s what you want?”

“No, it isn’t. Not really.”

“But you’re going to anyway?”

“Yes, I think so. Because I think it’s what you need, too. Get me out of your system, put these dalliances out reach, someplace where you can’t easily get to them. Take care of Jennie and Tracy – and Niki, too.”

“Maybe you weren’t listening just now. You know, the part where I said I can’t live without you?”

“You can. And you will.”

“So, marry me, Terry. Stay with me. Let’s finish this thing together. See where life takes us, you and me.”

She shook her head, smiled at me. “I’ve got to let you grow up now, Aaron. Let you live up to the burden of your responsibilities. These are your children, Aaron, not mine, and not ours. You’re going to have to face that. That you are a father now. That people depend on you.”

“And then what? I die inside – I die every day we’re apart?”

“You raise your kids. You give them all the love I know you can. You teach them music, you teach them to paint. You love Jennie, maybe not like you love me, but you love her. You be a mensch, not a nobody.”

“I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Aaron? If you need me, as a friend, I’ll be there.”

I shook my head, looked at her like she’d just knifed me in the gut, then I stood, held out my hand and helped her up. We held hands as we walked to the shower, and I bathed her, now trying to program the feel of her through our wet skin. While she dresses I notice all her clothes are gone from her closet, and I know she’ll be leaving soon. While I’m drying off I hear the phone and go to take the call, and it’s Shelly.

“So, you’re in?”

“I am.”

“Meeting at MCA, ten in the morning. Iron out the contract. I think I got you good terms.”

“How’d you make out from the concert?”

“Amazing.”

“So, I made some money too?”

“You didn’t get me statement?”

“Nope.”

“I’ll bring it along with me tomorrow, but you did well, Aaron. Pops would be proud.”

“So, where’s Niki?”

“At the Beverly Hills. Registered as Rooster Cogburn, if you want to call.”

“Ah.”

“Yeah. Original, isn’t it?”

“Right. Well, I’ll see you in the morning.”

When I turned around Terry was nowhere to be seen. Her car was gone, too, and the only thing she’d left was her lingerie and heels. I went to the kitchen and got a Baggie and put her things in the bag and sealed it shut, then walked around the house, looking at her life – and Pop’s – spread out around the house. The place was, I saw, more a museum now that any kind of home, and I walked down to the studio, now wide awake despite the hour. I looked at the studio and my keyboards, then the phone rang and I walked over and picked it up.

“You’re going to be okay,” Terry said.

“Am I?”

“The spare key to my car is on the kitchen table; it’s parked in the garage opposite International Departures, building 7, third floor, space C79. Do you have something to write with?”

“Yup.”

She read out her phone number, where she’d be in London, and I committed the number to memory. “If that changes, I’ll leave word with Shelly.”

“Okay.”

“Aaron? Don’t ever think I did this because I’ve fallen out of love with you. I haven’t. I can’t. But we can’t go on like this, can we?”

“Marry me, Terry. Stay with me.”

“Call me in a few months. Do the right thing, Aaron. Not for me, but for us.”

Then the line went dead and I sighed, looked at the numbers on the paper like they were a lifeline, and I sat down and looked around my studio.

I’d be bringing this room back to life tomorrow, but could I – without Terry?

What could I do without her?

I sat in the near dark thinking about what she really meant to me, and I knew she was right. Life would go on. I would write music without her. Good music. Maybe not great, but we’d see.

Then the phone rang again and I snatched it up: “Hello?”

“It’s me. Niki. Are you still up?”

“I slept on the plane.”

“Could I come over?”

“Sure. Door’s open, I’m downstairs.”

“Is it close enough? Could I walk?”

“You could, but it’s not something I’d recommend at three in the morning, not it LA.”

“Don’t you have a car there?”

“No. Terry left it at the airport – I’ve got to run out and get it.”

“What?”

“Terry left.”

“For good?”

“Sounds that way.”

“I’ll be right there,” she said, hanging up the phone.

And sure enough, I heard the front door shut about ten minutes later, then heard her coming down the stairs and into the studio. I was still sitting, inert, in the darkness. Still thinking about life after Terry – and she came right to me and sat, took me in her arms and cradled me.

I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I felt too burned up inside for tears, for much of anything, but Niki got that…

“How’s the baby?” I asked after a bit.

“Good.”

“You been writing any songs?”

“I tried, but I’m not sure I know how, really. I think I’ll rely on you this time out. Maybe teach me the basics, how you go about it.”

“Got any lyrics yet?”

“Yeah. Ten songs I think are okay. A few that aren’t.”

“Oh? We’ll look at those first. Got ‘em with you?”

“I brought everything with me.”

“Yeah?”

“I wanted…could I move in with you?”

I thought for a minute, then nodded my head. “Yeah, sure.”

Terry was right. Niki was insecure. She needed love. And in the end, I was sure there’d be nothing left for me – but what the fuck, ya know? What the fuck.

+++++

I tried to pretend Niki was Terry, that Niki could be my muse, but the energy was different. Not wrong, but different. Niki was a hot, wet towel draped over my face, suffocating, maybe, after the initial surge of comfort. Her lyrics were inconsequential, too, mid-western white bread. Empty love songs, all longing without purpose.

She liked country music, the real old southern country stuff, and she liked rock, but she was trying to blend the two without any idea of the structure she wanted. Creating something new out of the two forms was going to be tricky at best, because country music wasn’t structured like rock. Because there was a fairly generous antipathy between Southern Country and the rest of the music world. Yet that’s where she wanted to go.

So it would have to be soft-rock infused country music, a commercialized amalgam of styles I’d never tried before. I wasn’t even sure why she wanted me to help her with this, as there were others who could take her into these uncharted waters a lot better than I. Still, she liked to curl up on the bed, and she even got into the whole lingerie and heels thing too, which was odd. Like she wanted to be Terry McKay, but could never be. She wanted to be sexy, and she tried to be without ever realizing that sexy is not something you can try to be. You either are or you are not, and she wasn’t.

And that was a problem, too. She wanted to project sex in her album, which meant photoshoots for the album art would have to project sex, but who the devil thought sex would appeal to a Southern Country audience?

Well, color me wrong.

MCA hired a photographer who normally shot the wide open spaces for the likes of Penthouse, and with makeup artists in tow they worked for two days getting just the right look. Kind of Nashville’s idea of a cowboy’s hooker from hell, with no pubes or nipples and just a little symbolism to placate the Baptist set, the image reflected what I thought would be the best song of the lot, a mushy ballad called Rocking Chair. The engineers thought my Mellotrons and Moogs sounded a little too insincere so I yanked those out and inserted a seventy piece orchestra into the mix, to the tune of about 20 grand at union scales, but it sounded nice. When the single of Rocking Chair was sent to country stations around LA for a tryout it shot to number one in two days.

Then Jennie called.

“You ever coming home?”

“Yeah. We should wrap it up inside a week.”

“How’s Terry?”

“She’s gone. Left for London, for good.”

A long pause followed, then: “How’s Niki?”

“She’s not Terry, so don’t worry.”

“She told Dad she’s pregnant. Any idea who the father is?”

“Nope. But nothing would surprise me. She’s gotten kinda popular out here.”

“What are you doing…for company?”

“Waiting to get back home.”

“Yeah? You? Playing it all faithful?”

“Am I that bad?”

She laughed. “Aaron, you’re a four-wheel drive cock – in overdrive. Always on the go.”

I laughed at that. “Wow. Now that’s an image.”

“I don’t know why I love you, but I do?”

“Yeah? Well, I love you, and I know why.”

“Oh, yeah? Why?”

“I’ll show you when I get home.”

“Promises, promises.”

“How’s Tracy?”

“Eating like a horse. Asking about you.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. She needs her daddy.”

“I need her, too. How’s the spud?”

“She’s kicking a lot. I think she wants to get out, go for a walk on the beach.”

“Maybe I should get a bigger house, one I could put a studio in, ya know?”

“If that means you stay here more, I’m all for it.”

“This stuff with Niki might take off. Her first single is going to be big.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“This is exciting…!”

“Unexpected, but I think we make an interesting team. Kind of like Electric Karma meets Hank Williams, Jr.”

She laughed again. “Oh, gawd…”

“Yeah, driving me nuts. Deni would kill me, but it’s a challenge, in a good way. Stepping outside my comfort zone…learning a lot.”

And I was. That was the funny thing about it. Even the western musicians who came over to the studio had something to teach, and they learned stuff from me, too. Because in the end we were musicians, just trying to tell the stories, ya know?

Once we wrapped up the sessions we sent the tapes over to Burbank and waited for the word, and Niki went seriously Terry on me, nasty lingerie and nastier talk, and that night the L-word started slipping into her conversation more and more. I guess it had to happen. The thing is, I was starting to have real feelings for her too. I was gentle with her that night, like I didn’t want to give the baby a rough ride, but I felt a tenderness towards her I hadn’t felt before, too. The way I held her face, kissed her. The way she took me in her mouth, the way she hungrily told me she wanted it all. The way she swallowed, then looked up at me.

The guys at MCA were effusive the next morning, and there was talk of a concert deal.

“Count me out, guys,” I said. “I’ve got kids to take care of.”

So yeah, a studio musician could take my place on the road, no big deal, but with Niki starting to show concerts weren’t what she needed to be setting out to do.

“Maybe after the baby,” she said, and the studio reluctantly agreed.

So, I picked up the house, called an interior decorator and when the gal came over I told her I wanted the house redone, completely – “Just leave my studio functionally alone,” then Niki and I packed up and left for Auckland.

Jennie knew, of course. I don’t know how, maybe Niki told her, but no doubt she could see it in her sister’s eyes, too. Yet it didn’t seem to make a difference. I was back in the same bedroom with her and that was all that seemed to matter. I found a nice place on Mellons Bay and started work on a bigger studio, met with an architect to get the project going, met with a musician’s group and a few local politicians, outlined plans for a few new albums to see if I’d have community support, then I turned my attention to Troubadour.

She’d been neglected and it showed, but the damage was cosmetic and easily fixed. I started taking Tracy out several times a week, getting her used to the motion, and Jennie asked if she could come and I was adamant: not until after the baby. Same with Niki, for that matter.

Michelle was born that autumn, well, it was spring down there, and with her mother’s reddish-blond curls she was gorgeous, a real green eyed lady. Granma Michelle came down to spend a month with us, and that turned to four months – but only because the weather was so damn nice. Uh-huh, right.

But Granma Michelle was also the one to pick up on the Niki vibe. She was lady enough to not ask about it, but I could see the awareness in her eyes. I was also the one behind her oldest daughter’s sudden stardom, her debut album shooting up the country charts and earning her daughter some serious money, so maybe she didn’t want to rock the boat, or maybe she just didn’t understand – whatever – she was polite to me, but that was all. And that was enough, for me. I couldn’t help who I was any more than I could stop Niki or Jennie from feeling about me the way they did, and everyone was copacetic about things so there wasn’t any point in rocking the boat, was there?

In the end, I was father to all their grandkids but Tracy, yet they considered Tracy their’s too.

Which brings us full circle, to Jenn. Poor Jenn.

Her father had a massive heart, a few days after she was released from her psychiatric hospital, and I think, from what I was able to gather from news reports, she finally broke him down and tore him apart. That was the official version, anyway. So yeah, then I got a call from Shelly late at night, and she told me that I needed to come up to LA on the double, and that it had something to do with Jenn.

“Should I bring Tracy?”

“Not this time,” Shelly said – cautiously.

“You mean, like I need to run to the airport right now?”

“Now would be good.”

She picked me up at the airport and we drove down to Newport Beach in near silence.

“What happened, Shelly?”

“Jenn, well, she shot her father.”

“She – what?”

“Right in the main pump. He dropped to the ground, dead as a doornail. Her mother watched it go down, then ran out of the house. Jenn’s in the ER, doped up and out of it, but she asked to see you. Won’t talked to the police until she talks to you first.”

“Fuck.”

“You got it.”

So I shut up the rest of the drive, tried to ignore the heavy traffic on the 405 – at two in the morning – and by the time we got to the hospital, and to the room where she was “under observation” – I was really in a funk.

She shot him? I kept to myself saying over and over.

A detective was there, waiting, and he went in with us after I’d been searched for weapons and drugs. Jenn was wide-eyed, staring out the window at Newport Harbor, and she turned to me, slowly, when we came in.

Her hands were cuffed to the bed, her eyes bloodshot, like angry red pools of blood.

“I wasn’t going to let him hurt me anymore,” she said. “Not again.”

I pulled a chair up to her bed, took her hand. “I know. Something had to give, didn’t it?”

“He kept talking about getting Tracy back. So he could love her the way he had loved me. I couldn’t let him do it, Aaron.”

The detective leaned over. “The way he loved you? How was that, Miss?”

Jenn ignored the cop, just looked into my eyes.

“Jenn, you’ve got to tell someone. No one understands. You’ve got to tell me, at least…”

“He wanted to fuck her like he used to fuck me.”

“When did he start doing that to you, Jenn?” I asked.

“Always. He did it as far back as I can remember…”

We talked about it some more, but really, what was the point. That was what she wanted me to know. Then I asked her one more question: “What do you want me to tell Tracy?”

“Don’t tell her about me. She’ll never remember, anyway, but don’t you ever tell her about me. I don’t want anyone to remember me like this…”

“Look, if you change your mind, want to see her…”

“No!” she screamed. “Go away – now! I don’t ever want to see you again…”

Newport Beach’s finest escorted me from the room, and I talked with the detective for a while, and besides learning he was an Electric Karma fan I told him about all I knew, and about the custody hearing a few years back, and that was that. Shelly drove me back to Foothill Road, and after I got my bags out of the trunk I walked around to thank her, then walked up to the house.

Lights were on, music was playing gently in the background and I turned, looked at Shelly. She looked at me and smiled, then drove off.

The door was open so I walked in, followed the music to the bedroom, found Terry laying there in her latex catsuit, a minor bullwhip already in hand, ready for the next performance. We did not come up for air for days.

We went to Gladstone’s for soup and shrimp when we finally emerged. She’d had enough of London, she told me. Enough of life without me. Without California, too. When Shelly called and told her about Jenn she called British Caledonian and was on her way. I didn’t ask any other questions, just told her I was happy to have her back in my life. Because I was. I called Jennie, told her what had happened, and that I’d hang around here to finish up work on the house, be back in Auckland as soon as I could. But yeah, the work was done, the house looked cool and the bedroom serene, but we didn’t get out of the room much after that. We lived in a state of pure fuck, pure, nonstop fuck, like two shipwrecked people just plucked from their deserted island and turned loose on a Sunday brunch buffet.

“Should I stay here?” she asked me at one point. “Or should I go to Moorea?”

“You’re Commonwealth. Come to Auckland.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

+++++

And so began the most exhilarating time of my life.

The next seven years were astonishing. Raising kids, and I do mean kids, as Jennie and I had Rebecca two years after Michelle, and after Niki gave birth to Deni – and yeah, I know, but it had to happen – I gave her Victoria. I took the girls sailing together all the time, the babies and their mothers, and when I wasn’t tied up with them Terry tied me up. I was surrounded every waking moment by three women who loved me completely, and then I had five girls whom I doted on – completely. Niki and I produced three more albums in that span, each better received than the one before, and, near the end of that time Jennie decided she might try for her MD.

Then all sorts of things started turning sour.

The first? Warren, working at the clinic on Moorea, simply stood up from a chair and clutched his chest, said “Oh, my,” on his way to the floor – and he was gone. Just like that. Except he was with me and Tracy when that happened. I called Jennie, in Auckland, and she hopped on a flight to Papeete with Niki and the girls. Michelle was devastated, and even Terry was, too.

I was left to settle Warren’s affairs, and he declared he wanted a chapel built on the island, and he’d left funds to make it happen. No one was surprised how many lives he’d touched, or by how many who came to the dedication of the chapel, but his ashes were interred there, as I mentioned earlier, and everyone was there for the service – even Terry, who Warren fantasized about ‘til the end.

A year later Jennie found a lump in her left breast, and lets just say treatments were not as effective in the early 80s as they are now. She fought it for a little over a year and everyone was with her at the end, but she wasn’t ready and she fought it. I didn’t know you could fight death like that, not like the way she did. She was scared, and angry, said it wasn’t her time, then she screamed and literally started to pass, then crawled back to life, only to get hysterical and start the struggle again. That lasted a day and it was horrifying to watch, but in the end it didn’t make any difference, and we carried her ashes to Moorea to rest with her father’s.

The girls, all of them, were as shattered as I by her passing, but what left me reeling was the thought that we never got to finish our trip together. On Troubadour. And yet she was still sitting down there on the water, waiting for my return. Then I heard that Jenn had finally succeeded, in a psychiatric prison. I didn’t hear how she did it, only that she had finally succeeded, and I was left to reconcile the two of them, my two Jennifers. One doomed to a life of hell, the other doomed to a life too short. One who’d had too much, too soon, and one who’d never get enough – linked to Tracy now and forever.

And so it was Tracy who first went to sea with me, to finish Jennie’s voyage. We sailed up to Moorea, then to Hawaii, when she was nine years old when we started out together, and she was already a good sailor. Michelle was next. She wanted to see Japan, the temples and castles around Kyoto, and we spent a year on Troubadour exploring the Sea of Japan. She dove with the Ama and we walked mountain trails alive with cherry blossoms, and we took hundreds of pictures of temples. When we got back to Auckland we started painting everything we remembered. Rebecca was next, and we sailed from Japan north to Alaska, then down the coast of North America, to Newport Beach, and Troubadour had a homecoming there. I re-powered her there, replaced her rigging and sails, then Michelle joined us and we sailed her back along the track of our original voyage, from San Diego to Nuku Hiva, Papeete and Auckland.

I thought about selling Troubadour then, but Niki wanted her girls to experience life at sea, with me, so Deni and Victoria and I set sail for Australia when they were 14 and 11, then we pushed on to Cape Town, South Africa, before getting on the conveyor ride back to New Zealand. Niki wanted to take a trip with me, so we sailed up to Moorea and visited her father and Jennie in their garden. She flew home and I sailed away. It wasn’t long until Victoria left for college, and I, now in my mid-fifties, Terry in her late sixties, decided it was time to fly to London and get married.

And she still cleaned my clock, her love still left me breathless and feeling more alive than was humanly possible. We left London and returned to LA, and we decided it was time to put the place in New Zealand on the market, and that was one of the last projects Shelly oversaw for me. She passed a year after the house sold, a year after Terry and I set sail from Auckland, two drifters headed out, outbound to see the world. My huckleberry friend.

We sailed from Auckland to Australia, she and I, then on to the Yemen. We transited the Suez, sailed to Greece, then Sardinia. She turned 70 in Porto, on Corsica, and we made it on the beach – for the first time in our lives without lingerie. We stopped in Gibraltar, spend a week there getting some skin cancers cut out, then we crossed to the BVI and, eventually, two years later, we transited the Panama Canal and sailed to Hawaii, technically completing a circumnavigation somewhere along the way.

Terry fell in Honolulu, hurt her hip so we flew home to LA and I let her recuperate for a year while I wrote my first serious classical work. I filed it away for posterity when it was done, for after I was gone. Maybe someone would play it someday, but that would be for the girls to decide, not me. I did write one more Electric Karma album, and I called it Troubadour. The last of the San Francisco clan came to the house and we worked on it for three months, then Niki came and filled in the vocals, with Deni helping – everything coming full circle on the master recording.

Troubadour fell into disuse again, languished in Hawaii for two years before I returned to her and worked her over one last time. When she was perfect again I left, alone this time, for a last voyage to California.

As Jenn and her father once had, I arced north towards Alaska, then cut east for Vancouver and picked up the currents that pulled me home. I bypassed Seattle and made for the Golden Gate, spent a week walking Berkeley, found Deni’s purple paisley house had been painted an olive green that made it look vaguely military, and had to laugh at that. I walked around, tried to find some of the places we haunted, but like the Fillmore everything was gone. Troubadour and I went outside again a few days later and we turned south, bound for Santa Barbara and, finally, Avalon.

Off the casino, in that shockingly blue water, it felt like a spring day fifty years gone. LA in the distance, still lost under a blanket of brown haze. Sparkling sunlight dancing on the water, a few dozen sailboats at anchor with a cool breeze blowing out from Long Beach. The hand on the outboard’s tiller is mine but I don’t recognize the skin on those fingers, but that’s about the only thing I can see that’s changed.

Even Troubadour looks unchanged. The same white hull, the same blue cove stripe, the varnish still gleaming. A few details have changed, to keep up with technology, perhaps, but she looks ready for the next fifty years. And who knows, maybe she is. Maybe she’s in that same petrified forest me and Pops were stuck in, right after he married Terry. I turned away from my feelings, turned away and looked outbound, away from all my yesterdays. I went out looking for a Terry of my own and I found Troubadour instead. Funny how life takes you places you never thought you’d go. Maybe love is the funniest thing there is.

I heard the Grumman fly over the harbor and I turned, watched it line up into the wind and land on the water just off the point, and it taxied into the harbor, pulled up next to the float off the town dock and helping hands tied the seaplane off. A moment later girls started pouring out of the old Goose, my girls, all five of them, and Niki. I came at them through the anchorage and Tracy saw me first. They turned as one, like fish turning in unison, and they waved at me. The children of three women – and me. Sisters…what a thought. All so different – all the same. Mine. All of bound together by our time on Troubadour, by the journeys we shared. By the Time we spent together.

I have a new inflatable now, still too small for all these girls to cram into so as I hopped up on the float, and after we hugged each other to death I turned the Zodiac over to Tracy and let her run three of her sisters out to Troubadour, then come back for the rest of us. She is the oldest and, as I’m sure you’ve already figured out, the steadiest of the girls. Starting her second year of medical school soon; she, of course, plans on going into psychiatry. She leaves, and Deni and Niki and I stand there in the morning sun, breathing in the new day, same as the old day…

“You know,” Niki said, “I’ve never been out here before. Funny how far away LA feels.”

“None of you have,” I said, “but this is where it all started. My love for sailing, my love for Tracy’s mother.” I turned, pointed at an old corner restaurant. “Right there, as a matter of fact, and more than fifty years ago. Time has been kind to this old place. Change never rooted in here.”

“How’s Troubadour?” Deni asked. She was my secret favorite, of course. She was singing, learning to play the guitar now, after mastering the piano by the time she was five. Kind of like her old man, if you know what I mean.

“Kind of like me, Deni. Old, but serviceable.”

We smiled at one another; Niki looked at me and came over, slipped under my arm. Deni came too and we hugged until Tracy made her way back through the anchorage. We loaded up and rode through the morning, lever looking back.

Coda

We sailed to Newport Beach, to where Troubadour was born, and I had her hauled. Her hull needed attention now, her gelcoat was tired and cracked, so she was due for a facelift – and maybe another engine, too. It was funny if only because one of the guys who helped build Troubadour was the owner of the yard now, and he remembered me, and Troubadour. We got caught up on her travels and he kind of teared up when he realized what I was telling him. That his hands helped create something so strong and vital, and so important to all of us.

Then we made our way to the Beverly Hills Hotel, to two bungalows out back, and after they were settled in I walked over to the house. Terry was waiting for me, of course. Still the most beautiful woman in the world, she looks half my age now, most people mistake her for fifty. I never fail to get weak in the knees when I come into our room and see her laid out in her lingerie and heels, and today was no different.

I’m going to give Troubadour to the girls tonight, when we meet up for dinner. Shelly drew it up a long time ago, one of the last things she did for me, and I think it only fitting now. They all live in Auckland, have been Kiwis all their lives, and they’ll have to get Troubadour home, somehow, to keep the journey alive, to keep keep me alive in them. To keep reaching, moving outbound, moving into the light, into the music of our lives. I know they’ll begin the journey in Avalon, but of course I wonder what they’ll find out there…?

And I see, in the dimness, that Terry is wearing black tonight, which means that goddamn bullwhip is lurking under the sheets somewhere. Oh…the things we do to keep our women happy…

© 2017 | adrian leverkühn | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

OutBound (WIP conclusion)

So, wrapping up the story this morning, this last fragment still not proofed so you’ll find lots more flubber to laugh at. I’ll wrap up Elemental Mysteries this week, and clean this up too, post a unified version later next week. Awful, sleepless night, pain meds not doing their job, mood dark. I wonder how that affects what I write…what I’ll change when the pain is gone…? What music I’ll listen to…?

outbound 4 im

OutBound Part IV

She was wearing the deepest blue, blue – like her eyes.

Shocking electric blue lingerie. And she was so beautiful sprawled out on the bed. My sweat mingling with hers.

“God, I’ve missed you,” she whispered.

“I can’t keep doing this, Terry,” I cried. I can’t keep leaving you, wanting you and not having you. It’s going to kill me, and I’m afraid it might kill you too.”

“What’s happened, Aaron?”

I told her about Niki and she smiled.

“So, you think she wants to trap you?”

“What else could it be?”

“Hormones. Hormonally induced insecurity. She wants to be loved right now, to be spoon fed love until that baby comes, but be careful; by then she won’t have any left to give you.”

“What should I do?”

“Give me your cock.”

And she worked me back to life – and I fell inside her again, like Lucifer falling through the clouds. Her physical perfection was all that I craved, her seared emotional landscape the only place left where life made any kind of sense. Her blue silk legs cradling my face, licking the sides of her feet while I arced into her, electric need spilling between us in endless electron flows, and when her trembling began again I turned to pure, solid spasm and yes, my seed drifted within her honey – again.

Her hands on my face, she is licking me. Her legs have wrapped around me and she is pulling me inward again. I am on my hands over her now, breathing hard, sweat falling again and all I feel is this liquid warmth between us. My spreading seed, her encasing flows all mingling now.  Her hands coaxing me down, my lips to hers, all warm breath as tongues join, as I feel my skin so perfectly mated to hers. We fit. Together. Perfectly.

She is moving under me again, trembling anew. I feel it in her thighs, then inside her, and she has hands inside her womb milking me. Something inside grasping me, pulling me, forcing every drop of need from my body – into hers.

“I love you so,” she whispers.

I am shaking my head, now totally aware there is only one woman I’ll ever truly love, and she is here, under me, and I feel so ashamed. A deceiver. Only the one person I have deceived the most is me. My deceptions have led these other women on, inward into unjustified hope. Maybe I would burn in Hell if only I believed in such things, but for now I will burn inside Terry McKay – and let the rest of the world look away. The world can burn away without me now – just please, leave me inside Terry.

“I can’t spend another day without you by my side,” I said.

– And she looked away.

A telling look. The kind that makes you think about the handwriting on the wall.

“I’ve met someone, Aaron. I’m leaving soon, for England. I may not be back, as a matter of fact.”

“Really? What was this, then? My goodbye fuck?”

“No, I love you, but I wasn’t sure I could go on like this. So I, well, I started to look for options.”

“And you’ve found one?”

“I think so.”

“It’s what you want?”

“No, it isn’t. Not really.”

“But you’re going to anyway?”

“Yes, I think so. Because I think it’s what you need, too. Get me out of your system, put these dalliances out of reach, someplace where you can’t easily get to me. Take care of Jennie and Tracy – and Niki, too.”

“Maybe you weren’t listening just now. You know, the part where I can’t live without you?”

“You can. And you will.”

“So, marry me, Terry. Stay with me. Let’s finish this thing together. See where life takes us, you and me.”

She shook her head, smiled at me. “I’ve got to let you grow up now, Aaron. Let you live up to the burden of your responsibilities. These are your children, Aaron, not mine, and not ours. You’re going to have to face that. That you are a father. That people depend on you.”

“And then what? I die inside – I die every day we’re apart?”

“You raise your kids. You give them all the love I know you can. You teach them music, you teach them to paint. You love Jennie, maybe not like you’ve loved me, but you love her. You be a mensch, not a nobody.”

“I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Aaron? If you need me, as a friend, I’ll be there.”

I shook my head, looked at her like she’d just knifed me in the gut, then I stood, held out my hand and helped her up. We held hands as we walked to the shower, and I bathed her, now trying to program the feel of her through our wet skin. While she dressed I noticed all her clothes are gone from her closet, and I know she’ll be leaving soon. While I’m drying off I hear the phone and go to take the call, and it’s Shelly.

“So, you’re in?”

“I am.”

“Meeting at MCA, ten in the morning. Iron out the contract. I think I got you good terms.”

“How’d you make out from the concert?”

“Amazing.”

“So, I made some money too?”

“You didn’t get me statement?”

“Nope.”

“I’ll bring it along with me tomorrow, but you did well, Aaron. Pops would be proud.”

“So, where’s Niki?”

“At the Beverly Hills. Registered as Rooster Cogburn, if you want to call her.”

“Ah.”

“Yeah. Original, isn’t it?”

“Right. Well, I’ll see you in the morning.”

When I turned around Terry was nowhere to be seen. Her car was gone, too, and the only thing she’d left was her lingerie and heels. I went to the kitchen and got a Baggie and put her things in the bag and sealed it shut, then walked around the house looking at her life – and Pop’s – spread out among all the little things in the house. The place was, I saw, more a museum now that any kind of home, and I walked down to the studio, now wide awake despite the hour. I looked around the studio and my keyboards, then the phone rang and I walked over and picked it up.

“You’re going to be okay,” Terry said.

“Am I?”

“The spare key to the car is on the kitchen table; it’s parked in the garage opposite International Departures, building 7, third floor, space C79. Do you have something to write with?”

“Yup.”

She read out a phone number, where she’d be in London, and I committed the number to memory. “If that changes, I’ll leave word with Shelly.”

“Okay.”

“Aaron? Don’t ever think I did this because I’ve fallen out of love with you. I haven’t. I can’t. But we can’t go on like this, can we?”

“Marry me, Terry. Stay with me.”

“Call me in a few months. Do the right thing, Aaron. Not for me, but for all of us.”

Then the line went dead and I sighed, looked at the numbers on the paper like they were a lifeline, and I sat down and looked around my studio again.

I’d be bringing this room back to life tomorrow, but could I – without Terry? Without her behind me?

What could I do without her?

I sat in the near dark thinking about what she really meant to me, and I knew she was right. Life would go in. I would write music without her. Good music. Maybe not great, but we’d see.

Then the phone rang again and I snatched it up: “Hello?”

“It’s me. Niki. Are you still up?”

“I slept on the plane.”

“Could I come over?”

“Sure. Door’s open, I’m downstairs.”

“Is it close enough? Could I walk?”

“You could, but it’s not something I’d recommend at three in the morning, not it LA.”

“Don’t you have a car there?”

“No. Terry left it at the airport – I’ve got to run out and get it.”

“What?”

“Terry left.”

“For good?”

“Sounds that way.”

“I’ll be right there,” she said, hanging up the phone.

And sure enough, I heard the front door shut about ten minutes later, then heard her coming down the stairs and into the studio. I was still sitting, inert, in the darkness. Still think about life after Terry – and she came right to me and sat, took me in her arms and cradled me.

I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I felt too burned up inside for tears, for much of anything, but Niki got that…

“How’s the baby?” I asked after a bit.

“Good.”

“You been writing any songs?”

“I tried, but I’m not sure I know how, really. I think I’ll rely on you this time out. Maybe teach me the basics, how you go about it.”

“Got any lyrics yet?”

“Yeah. Ten songs I think are okay. A few that aren’t.”

“Oh? We’ll look at those first. Got ‘em with you?”

“I brought everything with me.”

“Yeah?”

“I wanted…could I move in with you?”

I thought for a minute, then nodded my head. “Yeah, sure.”

Terry was right. Niki was insecure. She needed love. And in the end, I was sure there’d be nothing left for me – but what the fuck, ya know? What the fuck. I couldn’t do this alone.

+++++

I tried to pretend Niki was Terry, that Niki could be my muse, but the energy was different. Not wrong, but different. Niki was a hot, wet towel draped over my face, suffocating, maybe, after the initial surge of comfort. Her lyrics were inconsequential, too, mid-western white bread. Empty love songs, all longing without purpose.

She liked country music, the real old southern country stuff, and she liked rock, but she was trying to blend the two without any idea of the structure she wanted. Creating something new out of the two forms was going to be tricky at best, because country music wasn’t structured like rock, not in those days. Also, there was a fairly generous antipathy between Southern Country and the rest of the music world. Yet that’s where she wanted to go, into shallow, uncharted waters.

So it would have to be soft-rock infused country music, a commercialized amalgam of styles I’d never tried before. I wasn’t even sure why she wanted me to help her with this, as there were others who could take her into these waters a lot better than I. Still, she like to curl on the bed, and she even got into the whole lingerie and heels thing too, which was odd. Like she wanted to be Terry McKay, but could never be. She wanted to be sexy, and she tried to be without realizing sexy is not something you can try to be. You either are or you are not, and she wasn’t.

And that was a problem, too. She wanted to project sex in her album, which meant photoshoots for the album art would have to project sex, but who the devil thought sex would appeal to the Southern Country audience?

Well, color me wrong.

MCA hired a photographer who normally shot wide open spaces for the likes of Penthouse, and with makeup artists in tow, they worked for two days getting just the right look. Kind of Nashville’s idea of a cowboy’s hooker from hell, with no pubes or nipples and just a little symbolism to placate the Baptist set, the image reflected what I thought would be the best song of the lot, a mushy ballad called Rocking Chair. The engineers thought my Mellotrons and Moogs sounded a little too insincere so I yanked those out and inserted a seventy piece orchestra into the mix, to the tune of about 20 grand at union scales, but it sounded nice. When the single of Rocking Chair was sent to country stations around LA for a tryout it shot to number one in two days.

Then Jennie called.

“You ever coming home?”

“Yeah. We should wrap it up inside a week.”

“How’s Terry?”

“She’s gone. Left for London, for good.”

A long pause followed, then: “How’s Niki?”

“She’s not Terry, so don’t worry.”

“She told Dad she’s pregnant. Any idea who the father is?”

“Nope. But nothing would surprise me. She’s gotten kinda popular out here.”

“What are you doing…for company?”

“Waiting to get back home.”

“Yeah? You? Playing it all faithful?”

“Am I that bad?”

She laughed. “Aaron, you’re a four-wheel drive cock. Always on the go.”

I laughed at that. “Wow. Now that’s an image.”

“I don’t know why I love you, but I do.”

“Yeah? Well, I love you, and I know why.”

“Oh, yeah? Why?”

“I’ll show you when I get home.”

“Promises, promises.”

“How’s Tracy?”

“Eating like a horse. Asking about you.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. She needs her daddy.”

“I need her, too. How’s the spud?”

“She’s kicking a lot. I think she wants to get out, go for a walk on the beach.”

“Maybe I should get a bigger house, one I could put a studio in, ya know?”

“If that means you stay here more, I’m all for it.”

“This stuff with Niki might take off. Her first single is going to be big.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“This is exciting…!”

“Unexpected, but I think we make an interesting team. Kind of like Electric Karma meets Hank Williams, Jr.”

She laughed again. “Oh, gawd…”

“Yeah, driving me nuts. Deni would kill me, but it’s a challenge, in a good way. Stepping outside my comfort zone…learning a lot.”

And I was. That was the funny thing about it. Even the western musicians who came over to the studio had something to teach, and they learned stuff from me, too. Because in the end we were musicians, just trying to tell the stories, ya know?

Once we wrapped up the sessions we sent the tapes over to Burbank and waited for the word, and Niki went seriously Terry on me, nasty lingerie and nasty talk, and that night the L-word started slipping into her conversation more and more. I guess it had to happen. The thing is, I was starting to have real feelings for her too. I was gentle with her that night, like I didn’t want to give the baby a rough ride, but I felt a tenderness towards her I hadn’t felt before, too. The way I held her face, kissed her. The way she took me in her mouth, the way she hungrily told me she wanted it all. The way she swallowed, then looked up at me.

The guys at MCA were effusive the next morning, and there was talk of a concert deal.

“Count me out, guys,” I said. “I’ve got kids to take care of.”

So yeah, a studio musician could take my place on the road, no big deal, but with Niki starting to show concerts weren’t what she needed to be setting out to do.

“Maybe after the baby,” she said, and the studio reluctantly agreed.

So, I picked up the house, called an interior decorator and when the gal came over I told her I wanted the house redone, completely – “Just leave my studio functionally alone,” then Niki and I packed up and left for Auckland.

Jennie knew, of course, by then. I don’t know how, maybe Niki told her, but no doubt she could see it in her sister’s eyes, too. Yet it didn’t seem to make a difference. I was back in the same bedroom with her and that was all that seemed to matter. I found a nice place on Mellons Bay and started work on a bigger studio, met with an architect to get the project going, met with a musician’s group and a few local politicians, outlined plans for a few new albums to see if I’d have community support, then I turned my attention to Troubadour.

She’d been neglected, and it showed, but the damage was cosmetic and easily fixed. I started taking Tracy out several times a week, getting her used to the motion, and Jennie asked if she could come and I was adamant: not until after the baby. Same with Niki, for that matter.

Michelle was born that autumn, well, it was spring down there, and with her mother’s reddish-blond curls she was gorgeous, a real green eyed lady. Granma Michelle came down to spend a month with us, and that turned into four months – but only because the weather was so damn nice. Uh-huh, right.

But Granma Michelle also picked up on the Niki vibe. She was lady enough to not ask about it, but I could see the awareness of us in her eyes. I was also the one behind her oldest daughter’s sudden stardom, her debut album shooting up the country charts and earning her daughter some serious money, so maybe she didn’t want to rock the boat, or maybe she just didn’t understand – whatever – she was polite to me, but that was all. And that was enough, for me. I couldn’t help who I was any more than I could stop Niki or Jennie from feeling about me the way they did, and everyone was copacetic about things so there wasn’t any point in rocking the boat, was there?

In the end, I was father to all their grandkids, but Tracy, and they considered Tracy their’s too.

Which brings us full circle, to Jenn. Poor Jenn.

Her father had what was reported as a massive heart a few days after Jenn was released from the psychiatric hospital in Laguna, and I think, from what I was able to gather from news reports, she finally broke him down and tore him apart. That was the official version, anyway. So yeah, then I got a call from Shelly later that night, and she told me that I needed to come up to LA on the double, and that it had something to do with Jenn.

“Should I bring Tracy?”

“Not this time,” Shelly said – cautiously.

“You mean, like I need to run to the airport right now?”

“Now would be good.”

She picked me up at the airport and we drove down to Newport Beach in near silence.

“What’s happened, Shelly?”

“Jenn, well, she shot her father.”

“She what?”

“Right in the main pump. He dropped to the ground, dead as a doornail. Her mother watched it go down, then ran out of the house. She’s in the ER, doped up and out of it, but she asked to see you. Won’t talk to the police until she talks to you first.”

“Fuck.”

“You got it.”

So I shut up the rest of the drive, tried to ignore the heavy traffic on the 405 – at two in the morning – and by the time we got to the hospital, and to the room where she was “under observation” – I was really in a funk.

She shot him? I kept saying over and over.

A detective was there, waiting, and he went in with us after I’d been searched for weapons and drugs. Jenn was wide-eyed, staring out the window at Newport Harbor, and she turned to me, slowly, when we came in.

Her hands were cuffed to the bed, her eyes bloodshot, an angry red.

“I wasn’t going to let him hurt me anymore,” she said. “Not again.”

I pulled a chair up to her bed, took her hand. “I know. Something had to give, didn’t it?”

“He kept talking about getting Tracy back. So he could love her the way he loved me. I couldn’t let him do it, Aaron.”

The detective leaned over. “The way he loved you? How was that, Miss?”

Jenn ignored the cop, just looked into my eyes. “Jenn, you’ve got to tell someone. No one will understand until you do. You’ve got to tell me, at least…”

“He wanted to fuck her like he used to fuck me.”

“When did he start doing that to you, Jenn?” I asked.

“Always. He did it as far back as I can remember…”

We talked about it some more, but really, what was the point. That was what she wanted me to know. Then I asked her one more question: “What do you want me to tell Tracy?”

“Don’t tell her about me. She’ll never remember, anyway, but don’t you ever tell her about me. I don’t want anyone to remember me like this…”

“Look, if you change your mind, want to see her…”

“No!” she screamed. “Go away – now! I don’t ever want to see you again…”

Newport Beach’s finest escorted me from the room, and I talked with the detective for a while, and besides learning he was an Electric Karma fan I told him all I knew, and about the custody hearing a few years back, and that was that. Shelly drove me back to Foothill Road, and after I got my bags out of the trunk I walked around to thank her, then walked up to the house.

Lights were on, music was playing gently in the background and I turned, looked at Shelly. She looked at me and smiled, then drove off.

The door was open so I walked in, followed the music to the bedroom, found Terry laying there in her latex catsuit, a minor bullwhip already in hand, ready for her next performance.

We did not come up for air for days.

We went to Gladstone’s for soup and shrimp when we finally emerged. She’d had enough of London, she told me. Enough of life without me. Without California, too. When Shelly called and told her about Jenn she called British Caledonian and was on her way. I didn’t ask any questions, just told her I was happy to have her back in my life. Because I was. I called Jennie, told her what had happened, and that I’d hang around here to finish up work on the house, be back in Auckland as soon as I could. But yeah, the work was done, the house looked cool and the bedroom serene, but we didn’t get out of the room much after that day. We lived in a state of pure fuck, pure, nonstop fuck, like two shipwrecked people just plucked from their deserted island and turned loose on a Sunday brunch buffet.

“Should I stay here?” she asked me at one point. “Or should I go to Moorea?”

“You’re Commonwealth. Come to Auckland.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

+++++

And so began the most exhilarating time of my life.

The next seven years were astonishing. Raising kids, and I do mean kids, as Jennie and I had Rebecca two years after Michelle, and after Niki gave birth to Deni – and yeah, I know, but it had to happen – I gave her Victoria. I took the girls sailing together all the time, the babies and their mothers, and when I wasn’t tied up with them Terry tied me up with her whips and chains. I was surrounded every waking moment by three women who loved me completely, and then I had five girls whom I doted on – completely. Niki and I produced three more albums in that span, each better received than the one before, and, near the end of that time Jennie decided she might try for her MD.

Then all sorts of things started turning sour.

The first? Warren, working at the clinic on Moorea, simply stood up from a chair and clutched his chest, said “Oh, my,” on his way to the floor – and he was gone. Just like that. Except he was with me and Tracy when that happened. I called Jennie, in Auckland, and she hopped on a flight to Papeete with Niki and the girls. Michelle was devastated, and even Terry was, too.

I was left to settle Warren’s affairs, and he declared he wanted a chapel built on the island, and he’d left funds to make it happen. No one was surprised how many lives he’d touched, or how many who came to the dedication of the chapel, but his ashes were interred there, as I mentioned earlier, and everyone was there for the service – even Terry, who Warren fantasized about ‘til the end.

A year later Jennie found a lump in her left breast, and lets just say treatments were not as effective in the early 80s as they are now. She fought it for a little over a year and everyone was with her at the end, but she wasn’t ready and she fought it. I didn’t know you could fight death like that, the way she did. She was scared, and angry, said it wasn’t her time, then she screamed and literally started to pass, then crawled back to life, only to get hysterical and start the struggle again. That lasted a day and it was horrifying to watch, but in the end it didn’t make any difference, and we carried her ashes to Moorea to rest with her father’s.

The girls, all of them, were as shattered as I by her passing, but what left me reeling was the thought that we never got to finish our trip together. On Troubadour. And yet the little boat was still sitting down there on the water, waiting for my return. Then I heard that Jenn had finally succeeded, in a psychiatric prison. I didn’t hear how she did it, only that she had finally succeeded, and I was left to reconcile the two of them, my two Jennifers. One doomed to a life of hell, the other doomed to a life too short. One who’d had too much life, too soon, and one who’d never get enough – linked to me through Tracy, now and forever.

And so it was Tracy who first went to sea with me, to finish Jennie’s voyage. We sailed up to Moorea, then to Hawaii, when she was nine years old, when she was already a good sailor. Michelle was next. She wanted to see Japan, the temples and castles around Kyoto, and we spent a year on Troubadour exploring the Sea of Japan. She dove with the Ama and we walked mountain trails alive with cherry blossoms, and we took hundreds of pictures of temples. When we got back to Auckland we started painting everything we remembered. Rebecca was next, and we sailed from Japan north to Alaska, then down the coast of North America, to Newport Beach, and Troubadour had a homecoming there. I re-powered her there, replaced her rigging and her sails, then Michelle rejoined us and we sailed her back along the track of our original voyage, from San Diego to Nuku Hiva, Papeete and Auckland.

I thought about selling Troubadour then, but Niki wanted her girls to experience life at sea, with me, so Deni and Victoria and I set sail for Australia when they were 14 and 12, then we pushed on to Cape Town, South Africa, before getting on the conveyor ride back to New Zealand. Niki wanted to take a trip with me, so we sailed up to Moorea and visited her father and Jennie in their garden. She flew home and I sailed south. It wasn’t long until Victoria left for college, and I, now in my mid-fifties, took Terry, now in her mid sixties, to London – and we finally did the deed, got married.

And she still cleaned my clock, her love still left me breathless and feeling more alive than was humanly possible. We left London and returned to LA, and we decided it was time to put the place in New Zealand on the market, and that was one of the last projects Shelly oversaw for me. She passed a year after the house sold, a year after Terry and I set sail from Auckland, two drifters headed out to see the world, outbound to see what we could see. My huckleberry friend.

We sailed from Auckland to Australia, she and I, then on to the Yemen. We transited the Suez, sailed to Greece, then Sardinia. She turned into a goddess in Porto, on Corsica, and we made it on the beach – for the first time in our lives without lingerie. We stopped in Gibraltar, spend a week getting some skin cancers cut out, then we crossed to the BVI and, eventually, two years later, we transited the Panama Canal and sailed on to Hawaii, technically completing a circumnavigation somewhere along the way.

Terry fell in Honolulu, hurt her hip so we flew home to LA and I let her recuperate for a year while I wrote my first serious classical work. I filed it away for posterity when it was done, for after I was gone. Maybe someone would play it someday, but that would be for the girls to decide, not me. I did write one more Electric Karma album, and I called it Troubadour. The last of the San Francisco clan came to the house and we worked on it for three months, then Niki came and filled in the vocals, with Deni helping – everything coming full circle on the master recording.

Troubadour fell into disuse again, languished in Hawaii for two years before I returned to her and worked her over one more time. When she was perfect again when we left, alone this time, for a last voyage to California.

As Jenn and her father once had, I arced north towards Alaska, then cut east for Vancouver and picked up the currents that pulled me home. I bypassed Seattle and made for the Golden Gate, spent a week walking Berkeley, found Deni’s purple paisley house had been painted an olive green that made it look vaguely like a military barracks, and I had a laugh at that little irony. I walked around, tried to find some of the places we haunted, but like the Fillmore everything was gone. Troubadour and I went outside again a few days later and we turned south, bound for Santa Barbara and, finally, Avalon.

Off the casino, in that shockingly blue water, it felt like a spring day fifty years gone. LA in the distance, still lost under a blanket of brown haze. Sparkling sunlight dancing on the water, a few dozen sailboats at anchor with a cool breeze blowing out from Long Beach. The hand on the outboard’s tiller is mine but I don’t recognize the skin on those fingers, but that’s about the only thing I can see that’s changed.

Even Troubadour looks unchanged. The same white hull, the same blue cove stripe, her varnish still gleaming. A few details have changed, to keep up with technology, perhaps, but she looks ready for the next fifty years. And who knows, maybe she is. Maybe she’s in that same petrified forest me and Pops were stuck in, right after he married Terry. I turned away from my feelings after that, turned away and looked outbound, away from all my yesterdays. I went out looking for a Terry of my own and found my way to Troubadour instead. Funny how life takes you places you never thought you’d go. Maybe love is the funniest thing there is, the places you go following love.

I heard the Grumman fly over the harbor and turned, watched it line up with the wind and land on the water just off the point, and it taxied into the harbor, pulled up next to the float off the town dock and helping hands tied it off. A moment later girls started pouring out of the old Goose, my girls, all five of them, and Niki too. I came at them through the anchorage and Tracy saw me first. They turned as one, like fish turning in unison, and they waved at me. The children of three women – and me. Sisters…what a thought. All so different – all the same. Mine. All bound together by our time in Troubadour, by the journeys we shared. By the Time we shared.

I have a new inflatable now, still too small for all these girls to cram into, so as I hopped up on the float, after we hugged each other to death, I turned the Zodiac over to Tracy and let her run three of her sisters out to Troubadour, then come back for the rest of us. She is the oldest and, as I’m sure you’ve already figured out, the steadiest of the girls. Starting her second year of medical school soon; she, of course, plans on going into psychiatry. She left Deni and Niki and I standing there in the morning sun, breathing in the new day, same as any other day out here…

“You know,” Niki said, “I’ve never been out here before. Funny how far away LA feels.”

“None of you have,” I said, “but this is where it all started. My love for sailing, my love for Tracy’s mother.” I turned, pointed at an old corner restaurant. “Right there, as a matter of fact, and more than fifty years ago. Time has been kind to this old place. Change never took root out here.”

“How’s Troubadour?” Deni asked. She was my secret favorite, of course. She was singing, learning to play the guitar now, after mastering the piano by the time she was five. Kind of like her old man, if you know what I mean.

“Kind of like me, Deni. Old, but serviceable.”

We smiled at one another; Niki looked at me and came over, slipped under my arm. Deni came too and we hugged until Tracy made her way back through the anchorage. We loaded up and road through the morning, lever looking back.

Coda

We sailed to Newport Beach, to where Troubadour was born, and I had her hauled – again. Her hull needed attention now, her gelcoat was tired and cracked, so she was due for a facelift – and maybe another engine, too. It was funny if only because one of the guys who helped build Troubadour was the owner of the yard now, and he remembered me, and Troubadour, and the day she was born. We got caught up on her travels and he kind of teared up when he realized what I was telling him. That his hands helped create something so strong and vital, and so important to all of us.

Then we made our way to the Beverly Hills Hotel, to two bungalows out back, and after they were settled in I walked over to the house. Terry was waiting for me, of course. Still the most beautiful woman in the world, she looks half my age now, most people mistake her for fifty. I never fail to get weak in the knees when I come into our room and see her laid out in her lingerie and heels, and today was no different.

I’m going to give Troubadour to the girls tonight, when we meet up for dinner. Shelly drew up the transfer a long time ago, one of the last things she did for me, and I think it only fitting now. They all live in Auckland, have been Kiwis all their lives, and they’ll have to get Troubadour home, somehow, to keep the journey alive, to keep me alive in them. To keep reaching, moving outbound, moving into the light, into the music of our lives. I know they’ll begin the journey in Avalon, but of course I wonder what they’ll find out there…beyond our common horizon?

And I see, in the dimness, that Terry is wearing black today, which means that goddamn bullwhip is lurking under the sheets somewhere. Oh…the things we do to keep our women happy…

© 2017 | adrian leverkühn | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

OutBound (second fragment)

Sometimes writing is all there is…ignore all the rest and keep at it. Still just bare storytelling – no proofing or other editing.

OutBound 2

OutBound – Second Fragment

The first morning out, sitting on a windless sea maybe thirty miles north of San Diego, I sat and took inventory of my life. There was nothing else to do, you see. In my rush to leave I realized I’d not put a single book on board, and the only music I had on board, other that my little guitar, was a shortwave radio. I realized I’d have to stop in San Diego to fix these omissions, or turn around and return to Newport – something I really didn’t want to do.

When Troubadour and I cast our lines off the night before, when we motored past Lido Isle, then Harbor and Linda Islands, then, finally, Little Balboa Island, I couldn’t help but think of Jenn. Jenn, locked away in her madness. Jenn and her razor blades. And when I passed her father’s house I had seen him standing in his living room looking at me as I passed.

Did he know Troubadour was mine? Did he realize who was passing by his house? Did he understand his role in our little drama? In my little corner of the universe he was my Nixon, I a kind of McGovern by proxy. He hated me not least of all because I’d voted for McGovern, while he was a staunch Nixonian, and I liked to chide him about Watergate and all that told us about modern Republicans. He’d counter with endless jibes about Democrats being socialists, and worse, while I referred to Goldwater Republicans, like him, as fascist John Birchers. Which he was. When he told me once he thought the free speech protestors at Berkeley should have been rounded up and shot, and that Edwin Meese had privately agreed with him, I saw a smug pride in the man’s eyes that haunted me for years. He was a Nazi and didn’t even seem to care what that meant.

Jenn, of course, struggled with the dichotomy presented to her. She loved her father but the longer she remained in school, the longer she studied philosophy the more she understood what her father really was. And pretty soon he realized he was spending his money to turn his daughter against his own ideals, and I think that set up the final conflict between them. Rather that let her grow, I think he began to undermine her – at first in intellectual arguments, and then, when that didn’t work, through emotional attacks.

Jenn, I think, fell into that trap. And it was a trap. There was no way to win, for her, anyway, and the only way he could win was to destroy her. And he did, but you’d have to be sick to call that a victory – by any measure.

About halfway through that first night I realized I couldn’t break free of all this toxicity by myself. I needed other people around me in this endeavor, and I’d need to find those voices in books, in music. I’d need to be able to pull into a new anchorage and get ashore, find local music and listen, really listen to voices of anger and love, of resistance and submission. If this trip turned into a series of angry flights the time would be pointlessly spent. If, on the other hand, I tuned in and listened with my musician’s heart there was a chance I could learn something valuable, and quite possibly share what I learned with people who might listen.

The wind fell away and then the sea took a deep sigh and was still, leaving a black mirror alive with dancing starlight. We, Troubadour and I, drifted by a massive kelp bed and I saw a sea lion poke it’s head out of the tangled mass of starlight and stare at me as we drifted by. I wanted to dive in and play with it, to live in it’s world for a minute or two, understand what concerned him or her as it went about it’s business in the darkness. Find dinner, I reckoned, without becoming something bigger’s dinner. Elemental exigencies. Kill or be killed. That was life, wasn’t it? That’s what civilization had tried to tame. All our laws, all our frail moralities…those things kept nature away, and nature, true nature, has always been all about the most basic type of survival. Find food and keep from being killed in the process.

That seal was hiding in the kelp because something bigger than he was out there in the darkness, circling, waiting for the opportunity to sprint in and eat him. Just like me, I thought. Out here on Troubadour, running, hiding, trying to turn this into a noble mission to enlighten civilization while I ran from Jenn and her razor blades. While I tried to hide from images of Deni as she fluttered down to the dark embrace of death.

It’s funny, the things that run through your mind in the last minutes of darkness, just before the sun rises, a few miles offshore. You can see houses on bluffs above beaches, sleeping people just coming to the sun while you look at the processes of civilization from afar. When you cut the cord and sail away you begin to distance yourself from all those routines, from all those laws and moral constructs that define your existence ashore. But when you sail along the periphery you really feel that ‘apartness.’ You feel it in your bones, like you’ve set yourself adrift and the purpose may or may not be revealed to you.

And then I really realized this was my first time out on the water by myself.

And I didn’t like this being alone thing.

So I turned on the motor and advanced the throttle, made for the entrance channel to San Diego. By mid-morning I was tied up on Shelter Island; a half hour later I was eating eggs Benedict on a deck overlooking the water, so deep inside the gut of civilization it made me giddy. I walked to a yard after brunch and asked about radios, maybe one with a cassette deck? No problem, they told me. They could have it in by evening.

That, too, is civilization. Ask and ye shall receive. Just hand over the gold and run to the bookstore. We’ll take care of the details while you go spend some more money.

So…I went to all the bookstores I could in five hours, came back to Troubadour with piles of books and tapes, and I stowed them while workmen rounded out the radio installation, then I went back out for dinner, and I made my way down to an upscale steak place.

“So, what could I get you to drink?” the waitress asked.

“Something strong, something with rum.”

How about a Mai-Tai, she said. As long as it’s strong, says I. Not some watered down girly drink.

She looked at my shorts and boat shoes then.

“Coming, or going?” she asked.

“Pardon?”

“You just coming in from a trip, or about to head out?”

“A little of both,” I said, then I explained.

“Where’s your boat?”

“Right down there,” I pointed, and I could indeed just see Troubadour across the way, “the one with the blue hull.”

Troubadour?” she asked. “I was looking at her earlier. She looks sweet.”

“Oh?”

“I’d love to just sail away someday.”

“And where would you go?”

She put her hands over her eyes and pointed in some random direction: “That way!” she said, grinning, and I laughed with her before she took off and brought my medicinal strength rum and some bread. After she took my order, she pointed me in the direction of a truly colossal salad bar and disappeared, but a minute later she dropped by again.

“So, where are you headed?” she asked.

“Nuku Hiva.”

“When you leavin’?”

“In the morning.”

“Want some company?”

“Have a passport?”

“Yes.”

“Maybe you ought to drop by after you get off tonight.”

“Okay.”

Surreal? I know.

Stupid? Probably.

Random, almost to the point of silliness? Oh yeah.

Ah, but her name was Jennifer. Of course. It had to be.

Jennifer – of Appleton, Wisconsin. Jennifer – she of the bright smile and long legged Jennifers. Jennifer, who would in a matter of days become the love of my life, who would spend the next twenty one years glued to my side. There are chance encounters, random permutations of luck and timing, and then there was Jennifer. Jennifer ‘Do you have a passport’ Clemens. ‘Okay’ became a standing joke between us, the simplest word imaginable to set in motion an endless series of adventures. “There’s a volcano! Wanna race to the top?” – “Okay!”

If Jennifer of Newport was a morphine drip fed scowl, Jennifer of Appleton was a serene smile, an imperturbable, old world smile grounded in mid-western common sense. She was JFKs glass half full, she was two years in the Peace Corps after earning her RN. Best of all, she’d never heard of Electric Karma, and neither did she know who I was, or what I did – and it never mattered once she figured it out. She’d wanted to see the world, and in the beginning I was simply going her way. Her ticket to ride.

She’d been out on the bay a few times since she’d moved to San Diego the year before, ostensibly to get her master’s in nursing, but she’d fallen into a different vibe after she settled in with a group of nurses and decided to ‘go back to school.’ She didn’t know what she wanted to learn, only that learning was an imperative she couldn’t shake. She went to school days, worked tables at night, and spent weekends working at a free clinic – because that gave her the time and resources to do what she wanted. And what she wanted seemed to change from course to course – until what she really wanted was to break away and get out there.

And maybe there was something mercenary in our coming together. She’d planted her feet in a place and a time where sailors gathered before jumping off to the South Seas. Maybe her questions about where was I headed, and when was I leaving weren’t without purposes, or maybe now that she knew what she wanted she put herself in a position to get there. Maybe she would have been like an autumn leaf, blowing any way the wind blows – but she found her way to me.

Because I’d forgotten to pack a few books. Because I couldn’t play music on the boat.

Sometimes life turns on the silliest, most inconsequential things.

We put off leaving a day, only because that’s how long it took her to cut all the ties that bound her to life on shore, and when we slipped away that next morning I did so knowing this was almost a case of the blind leading the blind. I was not yet a deeply experienced sailor, and she was a neophyte, so we went slow. We sailed down to Ensenada, anchored out and rowed ashore, went to Hussong’s because that’s what everyone else did, then we made a longer trip south, to Guadelupe Island, about a third of the way down Baja, and after watching researchers diving with Great White we decided against swimming ashore.

We hemmed and hawed, debated whether we should go to Cabo San Lucas and top off the water tanks or just strike out, head for the Marquesas, and as I’d stowed dozens of bottles of water to go with what Troubadour carried in her tanks we opted for the latter. So, set a course of 210 degrees and stare ahead at 3000 miles of open water and what do you get?

I’d have, at one point, called it wedded bliss, but now I called it Jennifer Clemens.

+++++

We’d set the wind vane and let it steer for hours on end, and the most joyous times came with the dolphins who joined up from time to time. They came up from behind one morning and zinged alongside, playing in Troubadour’s bow wave and, as she has a tremendous bow-sprit Jennie lay up there, her hand outstretched, and every now and then one would spring up, let her take a touch on the fly, and those close encounters seemed to energize her. She’d come back to the cockpit with this look in her eye and I’d wrap myself within her arms and legs for a few hours. The second time that happened I looked up, saw we had an audience and I wondered what they thought of us. Were we really so different?

A great Atlantic storm entered the Caribbean, then crossed Panama and Nicaragua and made it’s way into the Pacific, and though it tracked north of us them remnants hit us, and hit us hard. It was my first real storm at sea, yet Troubadour was built, like the Westsail, to handle these conditions – and she did, with ease – and after the storm’s passage we both felt a surge of confidence.

The net result? We began to talk about ‘what comes next?’ Both for this voyage, and for us. I felt bonded to Jennie after that storm, like she was apart of me now. Like that otherworldly loneliness I’d felt off the coast of La Jolla was truly a thing of my past, and now Jennie was my future. And I told her that, in no uncertain terms.

“What do you want to do?” she asked.

“Spend my life with you.”

“You do?”

“I do.”

“Okay.”

“Does that mean what I hope it means?”

“Yes.”

So, right out there in the middle of nowhere, with only God standing as our lone, mute witness, we said what words we remembered and pledged to take care of one another ‘til death do us part. It was really that simple. Even if marriage is a civilizational construct, I felt real comfort over the years knowing she had my back, and that I had her’s, too. Yes, that’s odd, but yes, that’s being human. We weren’t meant to make this journey alone, yet the most staggering thing was how I knew she was the one within minutes of meeting her.

When she came down to Troubadour that night she was still in her uniform, a short little dress with black tights under, a white blouse with a red vest over, and while she looked the boat over I looked her over. We talked for a few hours about the road she’d taken to San Diego, and where she hoped it would lead next, and the more she talked the more comfortable I grew with her voice. She might have looked flakey on first glance but really, she was anything but. She was as grounded as anyone I’d ever known, yet grounded to the beat of a different drummer.

I fell asleep with my head in her lap, and she was still with me when I woke up six hours later. When I slipped up and fixed coffee she woke and looked at me.

“So, you really want to do this?” she asked.

“Yup. Can’t imagine doing it without you.”

Yes. Life really can be that simple. You just have to open your heart at let it in.

Three thousand miles at a hundred and forty miles a day is 21 days, and my celestial nav was spot on so we nailed it, sailed into Taioha’e and cleared customs, then anchored out in an unexpectedly easygoing euphoria.

“We did it,” I sighed.

She snuggled in and didn’t move for an hour, and then I heard her easy breathing, her gentle sleeping, and I settled in beside her for the duration.

+++++

I know this is marks a departure from the flow of things, but we walked ashore a day later and found a small Catholic church, Jennifer being an Episcopalian and all, and we asked the guy with the white collar to do the whole marriage thing for real. No paperwork, mind you, just say the words before God I think you’d have to say, and he did and for some reason we felt for real after that. She took my name, a nice German-Jewish name, and jettisoned her Wasp-British name and she called her folks back home – who had no idea she’d left San Diego, mind you – and told them the news.

Major freak out ensued, by the way, and her folks told us they’d like to come to Tahiti to meet me, and to let them know when. Then we took off to do some grocery shopping.

Yeah. Surreal.

Just like grocery shopping in the Marquesas was surreal.

No supermarkets, especially not in the early seventies, and very few tourists to get in your way. Want a new alternator belt for your Volvo Penta diesel engine? Say the words ‘fat chance’ three times as fast as you can. Then try backwards. Yup, it was about that easy. Fed Ex hadn’t quite figured out how to spell Marquesas back in 73-74, which meant an alternator belt would come by sea. Like maybe by copra schooner out of Papeete. I had a spare, of course, but what if that one cut loose? I needed a spare to replace my spare, and it looked like that would have to wait a few thousand miles, but I did find a mechanic savvy enough to locate the alignment issue causing the belt to wear prematurely. Problem solved, lesson learned and filed away on a 3×5 card – with notes and drawings attached.

Long distance sailing has been justly described as sailing to exotic ports and doing extensive maintenance, and after fifty years I can say I’ve pulled apart more engines in obscure places than I’d ever care to admit. I’ve replaced Troubadour’s original engine four times in fifty years, too. I maintain the things, do all the fluid changes at twice the most conservative intervals – like changing engine oil after every fifty hours of use – but I don’t run my engines often and the salt water environment simply kills them faster with little use. Yes, that’s correct. Marine engines are cooled with seawater, one way or another, even so-called fresh-water cooled engines, and salt kills metal, period. So, rule number one: shit don’t last and it’s got to be replaced. That’s why sailing is described as standing in a cold shower – ripping up hundred dollar bills just for the sheer fun of it. That’s the nuts and bolts, but here’s the grease: the more you can do yourself the more affordable sailing becomes. The corollary? When you pay someone else to do the work, about 90% of the time the work is poorly done – or just plain wrong, leading to more expensive repairs. When we made New Zealand a year or so later, I took a diesel mechanics course; it was the best six week I ever spent – in terms of saving money. I still have zero interest in engines, but I’ve always had tons of interest in saving money.

Anyway, Jennie was as good as her word. She wanted to explore. She wanted to meet people. And Jennie was an RN. A real, honest to Pete nurse. When word got out she was an RN someone from the local hospital came down and asked if she would mind working on Hiva Oa at a clinic for a month or so. She looked at me and I shrugged ‘why not’, and off we went. There wasn’t a doc at the clinic there, it turned out, and she was doing front line work under a docs supervision – by radio – and she loved it, had never been happier. One month turned to two, then three, then her replacement – from France – finally turned up and we were free again.

Rangiroa was out next stop, inside the northeast pass by the village of Tiputa, and we stood by and watched Jacques Cousteau and Calypso maneuver into the lagoon and drop anchor a few hours after we had – and about a hundred feet away – and Jennie wound up working on the boat for two weeks while Cousteau & Co dove on the reefs just outside the pass. One night we heard Electric Karma’s second album blaring over an onboard hi-fi and when the crew found out the next day who Jennie’s main squeeze was we had a blowout on the beach that night that was truly epic. We became good friends and ran into Calypso several times over the next decade or so, yet that experience came to define most of the people we ran across out there. After a few months we both realized we’d be running into these same people time and again – because we were all like minded explorers on the same path. We might not see John and Jane for a few months, but then there they’d be, in some out of the way anchorage no one had heard of before, and we’d exchange information and ideas, maybe some rum, too, then be on our separate ways.

During the three months we spent on Hiva Oa I got this Paul Gauguin thing going and started painting. Yeah, Gauguin spent most of his time in the Pacific on the island, and yeah, you could buy art supplies there. So I did. An old French gal taught me the basics and I started painting, and I’ve not stopped once since. When he dropped the hook someplace nice I’d start sketching everything interesting, and in time we began searching out anchorages simply because they had scenic appeal. By the time we hit Papeete I was running out of places to store canvases.

Because of the time Jennie had worked on Hiva Oa all sorts of bonds and fees were waived in Tahiti, and we were extended the offer to spend more time in Moorea, in the village of Papetō’ai, if she’d work for another month. Okay, look at pictures of Cook Inlet on Moorea, then factor that getting a permit to anchor there was next to impossible, then hit enter. Now, you’ve just been given a permit to anchor there as long as Jennie was working there, plus a month. Free, as in no charge. We ended up anchored by a waterfall – for six months. I shipped fifty canvases back to LA; when my lawyer saw them she asked if she could buy a couple. Then she told me she had shown them to a gallery owner. They wanted to represent me. Please send more, they said. Bigger is better.

I already thought life couldn’t possibly get any better than this – and now please paint more? A month later word came that thirty plus paintings had sold, and the next time I sent in a batch I’d better count on returning to LA for a dedicated showing.

Then the inevitable happened.

Jennie’s parents, and two of her three sisters, announced their coming to Tahiti to meet the latest member of the family. And the two sisters were huge Electric Karma fans.

Oh happy day.

So, I rented a house for them to sleep in, and figured we’d take them sailing on the days Jennie had off, and on the day of their arrival we got on a Twin Otter at Temae and hopped across the channel to Papeete.

Warren Clemens looked like he’d been called up by Central Casting to play the part of a midwestern preacher with an attitude problem. Problem is, looks can be deceiving. Warren was a hard drinking ex-Marine with a serious deranged sense of humor. He was also a physician, a skilled general surgeon who taught at the medical school in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He was also a Green Bay Packers fanatic. I mean a real fanatic, not some half-assed wannabe. And as soon as Warren learned his baby girl was working at the local clinic he had to go see what she was up to.

And yeah, you guessed this one already, didn’t you?

As soon as they leaned he was this hot shot surgeon some kid gets pulled off a reef after a white tip reef shark tried to eat his legs off, and the kid’s half dead by the time they get him to the clinic. No way he’ll make it to Papeete. If only we had a surgeon here?

And there goes mild-mannered Clark Kent into the phone booth, emerging seconds later in his red cape as Super Surgeon, to save the day. Yeah, he saved the kid’s life. Yeah, he did an appendectomy three days later. Then gall stones, then he repaired and set a compound fractured femur. Another appendectomy followed – and, mind you, he wasn’t getting paid for any of this – and he was having the time of his life. Long story short, for the next eight years Warren and his wife, the first mother I’d ever really known, came back to Moorea and he volunteered for two months at a stretch. He stopped coming – eight years later – only because he died; there’s a chapel in the forest overlooking Cook Inlet named after him. He’s buried there, and so is his wife, and my wife too, for that matter.

Mind you, all this happened because I forgot to pack some books on Troubadour. I mean, are you following along with the chorus here? It’s why my next solo album was called Serendipity, why a butterfly sneeze in Tibet comes across the Pacific as a typhoon. Everything is part of an endless chain of cause and effect, so trying to find the root cause for something is as pointless as asking what happened before the Big Bang. Who the devil knows? And who cares? It’s pointless and silly to ask the question, and Buddhists are on the right track when they say: accept what is. If you can’t handle that, go get an enema, flush your brain and get right with God. You ain’t gonna know, so chill out and paint another picture.

Warren’s two week trip stretched out to three, and he wept when he left.

Okay, enough about Warren. Let me introduce you to Michelle. My mother. Well, you know what I mean.

Michelle liked to play cards. She also taught physics. Quantum mechanics, to be more accurate. She was one of a handful of women to work at Oak Ridge – on the Manhattan Project. To say she was smart was like calling Einstein a bright kid. To say Jennie came from the deep end of the gene pool was scary. Scary because she was serving steaks at a waterfront restaurant in San Diego, waiting for me to come along. What if I’d gone to a bookstore in Westwood?

Michelle also liked to paint. Watercolors. Nothing but, and usually simple flowers. She taught me, and I was hooked. We spend hours walking off into the forests around the inlet and she’d find something new, sketch the rough outlines then pull out this monster Nikon F and start shooting away, getting just the colors she needed down on Kodachrome 25 for later reference.

Meet my new sisters, Niki and Taylor. Both into music. Both teaching music. Both in love with the idea of me, before they met me. Both went nuts after spending a few days with us on Troubadour. We spent evenings on the boat cooking and talking shop, then I’d pull out the old backpacker and start playing through the newest ideas, sounding my way through the classics and bridging the divide to rock, and they were all abuzz about Yes and ELP and Pink Floyd, and I hadn’t heard Dark Side of the Moon yet. Niki set me straight, and Us and Them became my new favorite when we found a cassette in Papeete a week later.

There are jagged spires around the island, some of the most inspiring peaks I’ve ever seen, yet many lack perspective unless seen from the sea, particularly along the west side of the island. We circumnavigated Moorea, slowly, over a two day period, and I should have bought Kodak stock before we set out: I don’t know how many rolls we blew through. Hundreds? Maybe. It was nonstop – blow through 36 exposures then dash below to rewind and reload – and as I’d never seen this before I was just as pathetic, just as consumed. My only regret? I shot Ektachrome as there was no place to get Kodachrome developed out here, and some of the slides were fading fast by the time Jennie passed.

Still, some of my most cherished memories were captured during those three weeks. As I’ve mentioned, I’d not had a mother and father, let alone sisters, and now by golly I did. I would have fallen in love with them, all of them, simply for that reason, but they turned out to be really fun, really interesting people, and all of a sudden life felt complete. To put is succinctly, I’d not felt this good since Electric Karma’s heyday – and no stage fright, too. A year away and life was evolving into the sleigh ride, not a care in the world and everything was just easy.

Of course, shit had to hit the fan. It just had to.

And it hit from an unexpected direction.

Terry. My ‘grandmother.’ She’d married and divorced an old English movie star and was now simply destitute. He’d bled her dry and walked away, walked into the arms of a younger, more economically productive actress, and Terry was about as low as a human being could get when she got word to me through my lawyer that she needed help. I bought her a ticket from New York City to Papeete and she arrived two days before the Clemens clan was due to leave. By the time she got to Troubadour I’d told them my grandmother was coming, but not who she was, so when Terry McKay showed up onboard Warren clammed up tight, Michelle tried to act nonchalant – but failed, and the girls gushed. All in all, it was exactly what Terry needed. She was entranced by Moorea and I made an offer on the house I’d rented, bought it outright and she moved it – with the understanding that we’d all consider the place kind of a home base going forward. When local officials heard they had a genuine Hollywood legend in their midst…well, let’s just say they were very supportive of the idea. Warren was still tongue-tied every time he was around her, though.

We said our byes at the local airport, and as I said, Warren was a basket case. The experience had been as draining as it was fulfilling, and I hugged Michelle and the girls in a way that said everything. I was happy. They were too.

Terry was beside herself, of course. She and destitute were not on good terms, and I talked to my lawyer who talked to some people at Universal who talked to – yada-yada-yada – and she had an audition if she could get to it. She said she couldn’t, she wasn’t strong enough.

Could she if I went with her?

“Yes.”

So off we went. We stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel, a first for me, because she had to ‘keep up appearances.’ The studio picked her up and went to visit my gallery, dropped off a few new canvases. Visited my friend at Pop’s house, then my lawyer, and by the time I got back to the hotel Terry was in the room, out of her mind with anxiety. She wouldn’t hear for a week or so, and if she prevailed her presumed co-star would be none other than her ex.

“Let’s leave tomorrow,” she cried.

“Let me make a few calls,” I replied.

She got the part and her ex was passed over, the part going to David Niven instead, and she was suddenly ecstatic and destitute no more. Shooting would begin in two months so we returned to Moorea, and as I had a real workspace to set up a studio I started painting. Huge canvases this time, like six by ten feet, and this series was all Moorea, all misty mountains and rain forests full of furiously blooming flowers. Terry and I started walking the forests, she started photographing flowers and soon got into it, then she too wanted to learn watercolors and when I passed word along to Michelle she was over the moon too. Next summer would be fun, I reckoned, assuming Warren did lose Michelle due to his obvious infatuation with Terry. I mean…Peyton Place, anyone?

Jennie was the one who picked up on Terry’s infatuation with me.

I’d never seen it before, obviously, but then again neither had Jenn. Jennie, on the other hand, was adroit at picking up these things. She read people and didn’t miss much, and she could spot a phony in two seconds. Terry was a phony. Insecure, not really talented but cute as hell. She was, in Jennie’s mind’s eye, a pretender. Terry’d made it this far on her looks alone, and her ability to enchant men, and that was why, Jennie guessed, the old Englishman had ditched her. He’d seen through the bullshit and moved on. Jennie doubted the guy had swindled her, too; more likely she’d try to buy the guy off, keep him interested by buying him things. Classic, she said. Now she’d turned her attention on me – because I was safe. Because I’d give her all the attention she needed. Because of Pops. She was taking advantage of me.

Yeah. Maybe. I wasn’t buying it quite yet, but I could see her point. Regardless, she’d been a part of my life for years, some of the most important years of my life, and I wasn’t going to turn my back on her. If I had justification to call her family, then where’s the line between taking advantage and doing one’s duty.

Funny thing, that. I’d never talked to Jennie about Jenn. Jenn and her razor blades, and for some reason I decided to that day. I ran down the whole sordid chronology, from the toxic relationship with her dad to the last attempt, and the abortion, in Vancouver.

She was appalled.

Mainly, I think, that we’d not talked about it before. That led to a talk about abortion. We both hated the idea of it, but we both supported the idea that it was ultimately a woman’s right to choose. No big deal so far, right? So why had I, in effect, ditched Jenn when she decided to have an abortion?

Because, I said, I considered that child ‘ours,’ not ‘hers’ – and by taking unilateral action to take that child from me she was declaring in the starkest possible terms I wasn’t part of her life.

“But she’s ill, Aaron. Couldn’t you see that?”

“But she was considered well enough to make that kind of decision? If she was well enough to consider the implications of ending a life, why wasn’t she considered well enough to take her own? I don’t get all these moral inconsistencies. They don’t make sense. How is it okay to kill a baby at four weeks but not at four months. I don’t get it…?”

“But still you think it’s okay if the mother wants to?”

“I think it’s wrong to butt into other people’s lives.”

“But it was okay to force her into having that baby, because it was yours, too? But you were not going to carry that baby, were you? Or care for that baby if you two split? Maybe she was never secure enough in the relationship to think you’d always be there? After you split up in Honolulu, went back to LA…do you think she felt real secure about things?”

“I was disappointed, but we never talked about splitting…”

“Oh, come on Aaron. How do you think she felt? And then she’s trapped on the boat with the one man in the world who was bound to torment, then abandon her – again. And what do you do? You abandon her, too? So yeah, why bring a kid into that world? What else is she gonna think? Her life has been one threat and abandonment after another, and all you did was validate her fears.”

I looked away, looked at a mist-enshrouded mountain across the inlet, and I could see Troubadour sitting comfortably at anchor beneath the rolling fog. Immediately I wanted to get out to her, pull up that anchor and set sail, head to New Zealand…hell, why not Antarctica? I could just keep on going, because circles never end, do they? Electric Karma was not supposed to end like that, but we were aborted, weren’t we? Five kids’ lives snuffed out by an air traffic controllers little mistake, another hundred kids’ lives ended by carelessness – so run away.

I didn’t sit with Jenn and try to help her reason things out. I ran away. I tossed an ultimatum in her lap like a hand grenade, then I ran from her room. I needed to run away, didn’t I? I didn’t fulfill me end of the bargain with Electric Karma. I ran away. Ran back to Pops, but I left them in Cleveland and they died. I should have ended when Deni and my mates did. But I ran. When Pops needed me most, when he got sick, I ran. I ran to Deni and my mates.

I was running in circles. I had nowhere to go, nothing important to do, so I was running in the mist, running into mountains of guilt – and trying to paint pretty pictures of my aborted life. What life? The life my parents wanted. Oh yeah, those parents. The parents I never knew. Had I been running ever since? And had they been running? Away from me? Away from their responsibilities to me?

So…what was out there before the Big Bang? What’s on the other side of that sky? What would happen if you put all the matter in the universe into a suitcase, then waved a magic wand, said a few magic words and poof – you made the suitcase disappear. What would be left?

Silly, huh?

Like running in the night, hiding from answers. Running in circles. Running into endless answers in search of their question.

+++++

So, I painted for a few months, helped Terry read through her lines – and this was comfortable for us; it was something I’d helped her do since forever. I still felt close to her, still liked to bask in her glow, and when it was time we flew to LA together. I dropped off some paintings at the gallery, sat on the soundstage and watched David and Terry work some screen magic, and I sat in the Polo Lounge every afternoon and watched people watching Terry, still proud of her for being so beautiful.

And I called Jenn’s dad, asked how she was doing.

“Why are you asking me?” he said. “Why don’t you call her. Why don’t you ask her what’s going on?”

“Because I’m asking you.”

“It’s a struggle, Aaron. I’m finding out more and more about her life. About the role I played in this, and I’m not happy. Are you happy, Aaron?”

“No.”

“No, I can’t imagine why you would be.”

“Should I try to see her while I’m here?”

“No. No, I can’t see that doing her any good now, but for the life of me I don’t know why you don’t come down and see your daughter.”

I think the word is thunderstruck.

“My – daughter?”

“Yes, your daughter.”

What followed lasted a half hour or so. I told him my version of events, he told me his. I told him I’d call my lawyer in the morning. He said that was fine with him. I hung up the phone, suddenly more concerned than anything else in the world that I had a baby girl – and she was being raised by that monster. I called the clinic on Moorea, left a message for Jennie to call me as soon as she got in. I went to Terry’s room in our bungalow out back and told her. She was aghast. I was sure Jennie would be, too, then, on a lark, I called my lawyer’s number – and she picked up.

She was working late, she said, on a big case going to trial in the morning, and I asked if she had a minute to listen to something important. She did, and I told her all I knew. Could she help, I asked. What do you want out of this, she wanted to know. Because if it’s raising a kid on a boat vs with her grandparents in a house in Newport Beach, you’re going to lose. I want to know why no one ever told me, I said. Well, she said, you left, didn’t you? Because, I said, she told me she’d had an abortion! Why am I the bad guy here, I wanted to know.

She listened, I could hear her taking notes and she asked me to give her a few days, then she’d get on it, highest priority.

I thanked her and let her go, then turned to Terry.

“What do you want, Aaron? When all is said and done, what do you want?”

And then I noticed she was laying out on the bed dressed like a lingerie model, right down to the five inch heels.

“What do you need, Aaron?” she said again, rolling over, spreading her legs just a little.

“What are you doing, Terry?”

“I’m going to give you what you need. What you’ve needed for a long, long time.”

“I don’t need this, Terry. Not now, not ever.”

“You’re wrong, Aaron. You’ve wanted me for as long as I’ve known you, and don’t deny it.”

“There’s a big difference between wanting and needing.”

“Not tonight, there isn’t.”

She stood and walked over to me, and really, I knew there wasn’t a damn thing I could do. She was an irresistible force, as gorgeous as any woman alive – and she’d baited her trap and waited for me to fall into her grasp. Now she had me, and she knew it. That night was the most sensuously vacuous I ever spent in my life, at once meaningless and as fraught with surreal consequence as any I ever enjoyed. When our night was over, she told me, it was over, but I remembered Jennie’s admonishments and knew it would never be over now.

I was back in my room when Jennie called, and I told her about my daughter and current circumstances vis my lawyer’s inferences.

“What do you want to do?” she asked. “Bring her out here?”

“That would be ideal, but the Shelly says that living on the boat…”

“That’s bullshit,” Jennie said. “There are kids on half the boats we run into out here, and beside, you have a house here, remember?”

“I forgot to mention that.”

“Well, don’t.”

“What about you? What do you think about all this?”

“I think you should try for some sort of joint custody. You take her now, and when Jenn is better you revert to some more traditional sharing structure.”

“That’s not what I mean. What about you? How would you feel about having her around?”

“Me? I’d love it, but it seems to me the biggest thing is to get her away from Jenn’s father.”

“Me too.”

“So, how’s LA?”

“The same, only worse.”

“Oh?”

“I watched Terry and David on the soundstage yesterday. They look good together.”

“Aaron, she’d look good with Hitler.”

I laughed. Maybe a little too much. “You got that right.”

“How are you, Aaron? You sound weird.”

“Weird?”

“Yeah. Weird.”

“I couldn’t sleep. I miss you.”

“I miss you too.”

“I’ll let you know when I hear something…”

So yes, a lie can be an act or omission, can’t it? And I had just lied, maybe the biggest lie of my life, to the most important woman in my life. And a few minutes later in walks Terry, still dressed to the nines, still hungry. And still I couldn’t say no to her. She was a cannibal, feasting on indecision – and she was hungry.

And maybe I wasn’t running in circles, I thought later that day. Maybe my circles were running after me, and I wasn’t moving fast enough to get out of their way. Then I remembered that sea lion in the drifting kelp. All those things I imagined circling in the night. Kill or be killed.

And then I realized I didn’t even know my daughter’s name.

 

This fragment (c) 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com