Come Alive 25.3

[Coming down to the home stretch now. And yes, music matters, a lot…so give a listen…]

Chapter 25.3

‘This isn’t so bad…’

He flexed his fingers, then his toes – before he took a deep breath.

‘Kind of cold here, though. Wherever the Hell here is.’

“Henry? Can you hear me?”

‘That’s a familiar voice.’

“Henry, can you open your eyes?”

He opened his eyes and for a moment thought he was looking at Doris Day again, but no, not this time. Yet the voice was familiar, way too familiar, and the woman’s eyes were as well.

“Do I know you?” he asked, and the old woman smiled at the question.

“I’m not sure that you do,” she replied.

“You look so familiar…”

“Do I? How peculiar…” the woman said, her voice lost somewhere between irony and sarcasm.

He looked around the room now…at ancient stone walls and flickering torchlight, then his senses picked up the blue tint enveloping everything and he knew he was back in the village. And if this was the village then this woman had to be either Britt or Eva, but whoever it was had to now be almost a hundred years old. “Who are you?” he finally asked.

“Your daughter. Sara, in case you managed to forget. Again.”

“What? So, your mother is…?”

“Yes. Years ago.”

“And Britt? Has she passed, too?”

The woman nodded, yet when he saw Eva’s gentle expression in the woman’s eyes his own filled with tears. “Sorry. I wasn’t expecting this,” he said sullenly, looking past the present into memory.

“Expecting what, exactly?”

“For them…for your mother to be gone.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“I thought with the other residents being, well, pretty much immortal – that they would be too.”

“Well, Henry, this is your dream so dream it any way you like…”

“What?”

His head bounced – hard – and he was in the back of the ambulance, a paramedic adjusting the flow rate on an IV running into his port. 

“Tracy?” he asked the medic. “La femme qui était avec moi? Où est-elle?”

“Avec le chien. Elle a dit qu’elle allait appeler votre oncologue.”

He closed his eyes and felt himself drifting away, and soon all sound had left as well. 

Yet now he was afraid to even open his eyes.

He was on his back now, eyes open and looking at the vast ringed planet overhead.

Only Pinky was with him now; he could see concern in her eyes and on her face, and he felt disoriented by the sudden change.

“Is this the dream again?” he asked her.

“No, not this time.”

“Am I dying?”

And when she smiled he relaxed. “No, not at all.”

“My daughter. Sara. She told me that Eva and Britt are gone.”

“Gone? Do you mean – death?”

He nodded.

“No, that is most certainly not the case.”

“Pinky, tell me something, would you? And the truth this time, okay?”

“Of course.”

“Has all this been a dream?”

“What?”

“The trip on the Bandits, Eva and Dina and everything. Was all that just a dream?”

“Of course not.”

“It really happened? I mean, it wasn’t some kind of psychotic delusion?”

“No, Henry. Everything happened – just as you remember it happening.”

He heard a door opening and then he was jerked out into the daylight, and now it really was very cold. Nurses surrounded him as his gurney was pushed inside an unseen hospital, then he was in a room with a huge domed light overhead. Someone spread his legs and began shaving the insides of his thighs, then an unseen hand had his penis and he felt an electric razor cutting away decades of hair. More leads were attached to his chest and a mask was placed over his nose and mouth.

“Henry?” a kindly voice said, interrupting his fear, “try to stay with me. We are going to go up through a vessel in your leg to your heart and try to open up an artery. You’re going to feel a little pressure now…”

But no, it wasn’t pressure, and it sure wasn’t little. He felt a cold splash of Betadine then the hot pinch of a lidocaine injection. Next, sharp pain, then hideously hot and never-ending.

“Jesus, what are you shoving up there? A hot poker?”

“I’m sorry, Henry, I don’t want to use so much pain medication now. Just hang in there.”

He tried to drift off but the pain was simply too insistent, and he was all too aware that there were at least five or six people moving all around his gurney. Then he lifted his head and saw the screen – just a little – and the little wire probe winding its way through his heart to what the physician said was a really nasty looking blockage.

He put his head down after that, feeling more light-headed than he thought possible. Then at some point he simply closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. No dream, no Pinky, just the black nothingness of pure, uninterrupted sleep. Kind of like…

+++++

He opened his eyes again and saw Tracy standing by a window in a spare little room. A hospital room all decked out in beige and brown. And his leg hurt now, though he couldn’t quite remember why…

“Hi there,” he said – then Tracy wheeled around and dashed to the side of his bed. She kissed his forehead, then again, this time on the lips, and he felt good all over.

“Welcome back,” she said, more than a little tearfully.

“What happened?”

“You had a vapor lock.”

“Ah, so an oil change and a tire rotation too, I suppose?”

“Naw, they just put a new set of Michelins on. It was past time, ya know…?”

“So?”

“You had a heart attack. Basically, the paramedics saved your ass this time.”

“I see. And Clyde? I remember something about blood in his stool?”

“The vet came by and she took him to her clinic. He should be home Tuesday afternoon.”

“What about chemo? Can they…?”

“They want to wait a few days before…”

“Did you hear anything about the trial?”

“No opening. In fact, the trial is just about over – which is good news. The results go to the FDA after that.”

“No word yet on how the results skew?”

She shook her head. “No way they’d talk about that yet.”

“So, when can I get out of this lovely place?”

“It’s not the Crillon, is it?”

He tried to change position and grimaced as another wave of pain crossed his face. “Well, I do love the decor. I had no idea the French could do 1960s Howard Johnson’s so well.”

“I think you’ll head home on Tuesday, if that’s any comfort.”

“But no chemo, right?”

“Not ’til the end of the week.”

He sighed and looked across the room and out a little sliver of window, and he could see the city out there. “I don’t want to waste any more time in here than I have to.”

“I understand.”

“Okay.”

“Can I bring you anything?”

“Escargot and a roast duck would be nice.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Tracy said, grinning. “Anything else?”

“Let me know what Anton is up to, okay?”

“Yeah, will do. And, oh! – I brought your phone and laptop, and I found a charger. Want me to set it up while I’m here?”

“Sure. Have at it.”

“Henry? It’s going to get better…okay? Getting in a funk after a heart attack is pretty much the norm.”

He nodded. “Got it.”

“I’ll shut up now.”

“Don’t you dare. Just…don’t talk about me. There’s got to be a million more interesting things out there to talk about.”

“Not to me.”

“What about your mom. Still coming Tuesday?”

Tracy nodded, but she looked away this time. “Gonna be a rough day, Hank. You coming home, and Clyde too. Then her – on top of all that. I’m not sure I’ll be up for all the drama.”

“Well, she always was a decent drama queen. Glad some things haven’t changed.”

“Think you can handle her?”

“Edith? No problem.”

Tracy grinned. “You got kind of a shit-eatin’ grin thing going there, Hank. What are you going to do to her?”

“Do – to – her? Why…nothing, Tracy dearest.”

“Oh…God. What have I done?”

+++++

Tracy left a half hour later; Henry opened his laptop and waded through his email.

“Oh, crap-a-doodle-doo,” he moaned as he read through Dina’s missive concerning heart attacks and chemo outcomes. When he finished he replied with a curt ‘Thanks’ and then read through Rolf’s latest – asking yet again when he was going to be able to come down to Paris.

He left that one unanswered – for the time being – then read through letters from his lawyer and a short note from Hallberg-Rassy explaining what they wanted to do regarding possible hull damage after Rotterdam. He replied to that one, then saved a copy of the exchange in Rolf’s file.

A vampire came in and drew blood, then a nurse flitted in and checked his vitals – looking intensely cute as she pranced around his bed. ‘I guess when I stop looking at legs like that I’ll know I’m finally gone,’ he sighed as she jiggled and wiggled out the door.

Then his oncologist walked in – a dour frown etched in steel across her pale face.

“My, don’t we look happy today?” he said to her, smiling.

“Well, I am not, Mr. Taggart…but how are you feeling?”

“I’ve felt better.” She nodded – though he could tell something was distracting the woman. “So, is it good news or bad?”

“Bad, I’m afraid. The final report from the MRI is in and it shows metastases in the pancreas and liver.”

“That can’t be good.”

“No, it isn’t. We may be able to slow further spread but once in the pancreas our options narrow considerably.”

“So, we can stop all the miracle cure nonsense now?”

“Such an outcome looks unlikely now.”

And there is was, Henry thought. The point of no return. Beyond here there be dragons.

And he smiled. “Well, I’ve grown used to the idea of kicking the bucket soon, so the idea of changing all my plans knocked me for a loop. Guess I can go back to Plan One, eh?”

“You know, I was expecting tears, not a smile and a joke.”

“What good does crying do, Doc? I mean, really – I’m sixty-something years old!”

“Sometimes crying makes people feel better?”

Henry shook his head. “Nope. Not me. Any idea how long I’ve got?”

“I wouldn’t be making plans past New Years.”

“So, a month? Or thereabouts?”

She nodded. “About that. Give or take a few days.”

“And if a miracle mRNA cure comes along?”

“We start immediately and hope for the best.”

“What about chemo? Any need to try again?”

She shook her head. “No. Such a course of action is not really justified now. I would say, given your past history with such agents, you would fill your remaining time with serious discomfort with little chance of any gain.”

“Well then. That is, as they say, that.”

“I am so sorry, Mr. Taggart. I was hopeful…”

He nodded and smiled again. “C’est la vie, no?”

“I suppose so. May I pass this information along to Dina?”

“Please.”

“Very well. I will see you before discharge, if that’s alright with you.”

“Certainly.”

“I want to meet this dog of yours. His story seems most amazing.”

“Well then, you’ll have to drop by the marina. For dinner, perhaps?”

“Yes, perhaps. Well, I will talk with you tomorrow.”

After she was gone Henry called the nurse and asked if they could perhaps move his bed closer to the window. He wanted, he said, to look at the City of Lights spread out down there in the darkness.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (25.2)

A short section today. And of course music matters…but yeah, after you listened to that one you started to think about this one too, didn’t you? No? You didn’t? Well then, you’d better try this one asap.

Oh well, enjoy the ride.

Chapter 25.2

Henry carried the pup below and laid him out on the berth in his cabin, then he covered the old boy with a blanket and held him close. “Stay with him, would you?” he asked Tracy a while later. “I’ve got to get his medicine, and his pants.”

“He’s sick too, I take it?”

“Yup.”

“Cancer?”

“Yes. Found it in July,” he said as he worked the pants around Clyde’s legs, positioning a pad and fastening the velcro while he talked, “but he probably was sick long before that. I don’t know if I told you, but he’d been abandoned and I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion someone dumped him in the park rather than deal with the expense of taking care of a sick dog.”

“That’s awful, Henry.”

He shook his head. “It’s economics 101, Tracy. A lot of families have pets even though they can barely afford to keep food on the table. It’s a reckless choice, one that usually leads to bad outcomes, but that’s why animal shelters are so overwhelmed.”

“He was lucky to find you, I guess.”

“Here, would you load the syringe for me, please? Ten units.”

“Got it. Where?”

“In the thigh. Here’s a swab,” he added, handing over an alcohol pad. “I need to get him to the vet on Monday.”

“Do you have one in Paris?”

He nodded. “I got a recommendation from the vet’s office in Kiel. They’re on stand-by for next week sometime.”

“I can take him while you get ready for chemo.”

“Okay. I’ll call their office tomorrow and set it up.”

“I’m just asking, but what if they think it’s time to put him down?”

“Nope. He stays with me.”

“Henry, is that fair to Clyde?”

“He’ll tell me when he’s ready, Tracy.”

“You really think that’s true?”

“As a matter of fact, yes, I do. Some dogs can, some can’t. Clyde can.”

“What about that whale?”

“Hmm? The orca? What about him?”

“Yeah, him. Do you and he…?”

“We…communicate, and I’m afraid I don’t really know another word to describe what it is we do.”

“I was kind of wigged-out by all that, Hank. Bad enough the whale follows you around like that, but he really seemed happy to see you.”

“Maybe because I was happy to see him, too. Clyde took off for a few days with him last week; scared the shit out of me.”

“What do you mean, took off…?”

“He jumped off the stern and swam over to the pod, then they all swam off somewhere. I like to think he went ashore to take a dump, but really, I have no idea where they went.”

“So…your dog is all wrapped up in this clusterfuck, too? Weird, Hank, this is really, really weird.”

“Yeah? Well, when I bumped into you at the restaurant in Honfleur he had been gone for two days, but then he just runs up to me and sits on my feet like nothing had happened. So go ahead, you tell me all about weird.”

“I think he’s sleeping now, Hank.”

Henry checked Clyde’s breathing, then rubbed the pup’s head for a long time. “Funny how close they let us get.”

“It’s called trust, Henry.”

“Maybe.”

“Can you imagine what the world would be like if we trusted one another like dogs trust us?”

He had to smile at that one. “Then I think about the prick that abandoned Clyde in the park – and my faith in the order of the universe is restored.”

“How about some tea?” she asked, shaking her head at his cynicism.

He kept rubbing Clyde’s head, but he shook his head. “We really need to get some sleep. Very long day ahead of us tomorrow.”

“Could I stay here tonight?”

Henry looked up and smiled. “I thought you’d never ask.”

+++++

After transiting the locks at Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne, Henry tied-off near an old timbered building – that housed a very nice hotel and restaurant, according to his river pilot – and the group went off in search of a big breakfast before the final push. About an hour later they cast off their lines and began the trip again, then Henry cut up some very fresh salmon for Clyde – and they both smiled for a while. 

The pup seemed a little tired, his eyes a little too glassy and red-rimmed that morning, and Henry assumed he’d had a rough night – despite the medicine. Still, after a few minutes on deck and with some sunlight and fresh air streaming through his golden ears, the pup picked up a bit and even wagged his tail a little. 

As their little convoy approached CDG, the big airport northeast of the city, they began to see a few commercial aircraft taking off and lining up to land – and that was a good sign, or at least Henry thought so. With air travel restored things would start to feel a little like normal once again, and Henry was feeling desperate for normal that morning. He was, he knew, so close…yet Christmas had never felt so far away.

They passed the Eiffel Tower late that afternoon on their way to the Isle St Louis, and he called the marina and confirmed their slips were ready and got the procedure to enter the marina proper under the railway bridge. Once they had an ETA, the attendant told him, he was to call again and someone would help them into their slips. He then called the animal hospital, as requested, and the vet there said she’d meet him at the boat later that evening. He thanked her more than once.

But once Notre Dame came into view that was it. Journey over. What had started as a daydream two years before had as suddenly come to an end, yet as these things so often tend to, every little detail became lost in a jagged blur as events sped by with nauseating speed…and it felt like one minute he was out on the river and the next he was tied off a few hundred meters from the where the old Bastille had once stood. He was shaken by the way this last day had unfolded, by the sheer speed of events, if only because time had felt so unexpectedly elastic…so easily compressed and twisted to shape an uncertain outcome…

Then there was nothing else to do. Clyde saw a wide expanse of green grass and howled – twice – and Henry almost managed to hook up his leash, too. But Clyde soared off the stern and landed at a gallop, making a beeline for a huge clump of barren bushes. Henry grabbed a pile of poop-bags and took off running, but after a few steps he was reminded of his once own limitations. Yet Tracy was there to save the day…and she trotted over to Clyde and hooked him up, then bent to pick up his salmon laced turds.

“Still a little blood,” she said as Henry walked up. “But not as much as last night.”

He nodded as he bent to look, but he stood up quickly – then simply passed out.

He came to for a moment and heard more than saw he was in the back of an ambulance rushing through traffic, then a blinding light came for him – pushing aside everything left – until not even memory could hold back the night.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (25.1)

Chapter 25.1

He found her staring at the ancient ‘Egyptian’ obelisk in the center of the Place de la Concorde, and he came up from behind and gently placed his hands on her shoulders – yet he said not a word, if only because he knew he had to wait for her this time.

“I suppose you had a reason?” she said a few minutes later.

He pulled her a bit closer and wrapped his arms around her. “I’m not sure anything has happened that they haven’t orchestrated to the Nth degree – except perhaps you. You were the random variable, Tracy, the fly in their ointment, the thing they just couldn’t see coming…”

She turned and faced him, her eyes like the stars – full of a million unquestioned answers.

“The thing is,” he continued, “I didn’t expect you, either. In fact, I think I there was a point when I almost welcomed death – until you came, that is. Death was the only thing that made any sense to me, because death seemed like the only way out of the trap they’d set for me.”

“And now?”

“You’re the only thing that makes sense now.”

“Because I’m the fly in their ointment?”

He shook his head. “No. Because without you there’s no love, and without love everything else is meaningless.”

“But…you’re going to have children, Henry…”

He laughed a little as other images came and went, even as he shook his head. “They were born fifteen years ago, Tracy. And they were raised by others I’ll never know.”

“What are you talking about? I thought you said you met these girls six months ago?”

“I did, yes. That’s true enough.”

“Then you’ve lost me, Hank.”

“They are in a place where time is…different. At least, that’s the way it was explained to me. Eva and Britt are very old now.”

“What does that mean? Are you talking about a parallel universe, or some kind of multiverse?”

“I couldn’t say, Tracy. Not with any certainty. Yet they were alive when I saw them just a few days ago, the children and their mothers, living in a sort of village. Maybe a village of the damned, yet…they were alive.”

“You said they, the children, were raised by others. Do you know who raised them?”

He nodded. “Crito. He was their father.”

“Who?”

“Crito. He held Socrates as he passed from this life to the next.”

“Excuse me?”

“The Buddha is there, Tracy. Jesus too.”

“You’ve met them, I take it?”

He nodded, but he looked away from the memory, still afraid of the things he’d seen there.

“You do know how absolutely stark raving mad this sounds, right?” she said gently.

He shrugged.

“And all this is a part of some plan?” she added.

“We should get a room. It’ll be getting cold out soon.”

She smiled. “I love the way you change subjects. So – easily, I think. It’s exhilarating, really.”

“Would you like to go see it for yourself?”

“What? There?” she said, pointing at the sky.

“Would you?”

She shook her head. “No, I think all-in-all I’d rather like to stay on this side of crazy-town for a little bit longer.”

“I hope you have a say in the matter, Tracy. I really do.”

“Okay, me too. Now. Hotel? You know anything close?”

He pointed to the colonnaded place behind them and grinned. “The Crillon. I hear it’s decent.”

“Isn’t that supposed to be like the best place in the world?”

He nodded. “That’s the rumor.”

“Who’s paying?”

“Me,” he grinned.

“Then Hell yes, I’m in.”

+++++

The train pulled into the station in Rouen on time, and Milos, the taxi driver from their first snowy night, met them trackside and helped Henry back into the old Mercedes.

“How are you doing today?” Henry asked his new friend. “The children are well?”

“Well enough. Their mother is due to arrive late tonight, so all we be good soon enough.”

“Excellent.”

“You are looking better, Henry. Like a care has been lifted from your heart.”

“It feels that way, Milos, and thank you for saying so.”

“To the boat? Or do you need to make any stops on the way?”

“Did you take the boys out grocery shopping yesterday?”

“Yes, and that crazy Russian brought his girlfriend along. She’s mad as a hatter, like something right out of the looking glass. You have been warned, Henry.”

“Oh?” Tracy said, interested now. “How so?”

“I think all pilots are crazy,” Milos said, grinning, “but you will see for yourself. This one is beyond nuts, yet I think the whipped cream in the hair was the real giveaway…”

+++++

Henry was at the chart-plotter studying the weather overlay with Anton and Sophie, his friend; they were in the cockpit sitting on either side of him staring intently at the display while he flipped through various forecast models. “It looks like the storm has stalled-out up north,” Henry sighed.

“The Baron can’t fly into such heavy icing conditions,” Sophie said. “I am sorry, but it is too dangerous, and as it is not my airplane I can not take a chance like this.”

“I understand,” Henry said wistfully. “And anyway, I wouldn’t ask you to.”

“Need Antonov,” Anton said. “Could do in a -32. Easy.”

“If the storm has moved out by next weekend I think can arrange to get the Baron again,” Sophie added.

“I probably won’t be able to go with you next weekend,” Henry said, scowling a bit.

“I go with Sophie. Boy know me. Dina know me. She let him come with me.”

“I’m not so sure, Anton, and I don’t want you to make the trip for nothing.”

“Can I talk Dina?” Anton added. “Might change mind.”

Henry smiled, but in his heart he already knew the answer to that question. Dina wasn’t going to let go of the boy…not now…not after losing her daughter. And he couldn’t blame her, not really, yet he needed time with Rolf – in case things turned pear-shaped before he could write things down. “No. This is a problem that I will have to solve…”

‘And I know just how to do it, too.’

+++++

Mike cast off the lines early the next morning and Time Bandits backed out into the river, the current grabbing hold quickly, pushing the stern downriver; Henry engaged the throttle and nosed into the current, simply making way until Karma made it out into the main body of the Seine, then they both began the long slog up-current towards Paris…yet today was the day, the big day. Tracy’s first lock. Anton’s second, for that matter. They had eight miles to go to the Amfreville locks, and there was, as yet, still almost no barge traffic on the river so the passage looked to be an easy one.

Yet Mike seemed troubled. “What’s bugging you?” Henry asked when the intelligence officer appeared content to simply mope around as the little convoy passed charming little castles and imposing churches.

“You. You’re bugging me, Taggart.”

“Me…how so?”

“A lot of actions have been taken, or not taken – if you get my drift – based on the apparent assumption that you’d be out of the picture later this month. Now I’m a little worried what the seat-polishers in D.C. will do once they figure out that ain’t the operant condition any longer.”

Henry smiled. “Oh. That. Well, let’s just consider that me making it to the new year is still a long shot – at best…”

“You still think so? Really?”

Henry nodded. “Look, Tracy needed something to hang onto, a sense of hope, and it won’t cost me that much in the way of discomfort. To put it another way, I simply wasn’t willing to take that sense of a future away from her.”

“You two have grown really close, haven’t you? I mean, I know there’s a history, but even so this feels different.”

“It is, Mike, yet I’m not really sure I could point to the exact reason why. Still, the whole ‘future’ thing is seductive as Hell. What I wouldn’t do for a few more years.”

“Careful, Henry. Mephistopheles will hear you and he just might come calling. Feel like making a bargain for your soul?”

“Now there’s a thought. But no, Mike, I don’t think I’d do that, not even now. When I think back on my life and on the things I’ve done I have a few regrets, but certainly no regrets I’d bargain away with evil intent.”

“So, if you went into remission what would you do?”

“I want to get Rolf settled and on his way. Next, I’d like to start a new life – with Tracy.”

“What about Dina? Eva and Britt? All that wasn’t enough?”

“Nothing is ever enough, Mike.”

“So…Tracy isn’t enough…is that what you’re saying?”

“I don’t know how else to say it, Mike. Nothing will ever satisfy you when the only thing waiting for you out there is a pine box six feet under. It’s like we learn to walk on solid ground – yet the older we get we find we’re walking on quicksand.” He pointed to a little chapel on a hillside and nodded: “They’ve been selling an elegant solution to the problem for eons, and it works, too…as long as you don’t pay too much attention to the man behind the curtain pulling all the levers…”

“Okay…suppose all this doesn’t work. Suppose you die. What happens to Dina and the boy? And what happens to Tracy? For that matter, what happens to Anton?”

“That’s what lawyers are for, Mike.”

“So, you’re not going to tell me, are you?”

“I’ll tell everyone, Mike.”

“Okay.”

“So, tell me…when this is all over and done with what are you going to do? Back to D.C., get back into intelligence work?”

Lacy shook his head. “I know you don’t believe me, but I really did submit my papers. When this assignment is over I’m officially retired, out of the Navy and on my pension at that point.”

“Okay, but that doesn’t answer the question, does it? What are you going to do then.”

“If I had my druthers I’d stay with the boy.”

“With Rolf? Seriously? Now that I did not see coming.”

“Yeah. Funny, huh?”

“Interesting. Tell me more…”

+++++

There were no other boats waiting outside the locks; indeed, there wasn’t even a lock keeper waiting there, either. Henry called the various numbers posted on the office door – yet no one answered, and he felt a little miffed at that point. 

Then he heard a toilet flush in a nearby WC and the grizzled old lock keeper came out into the sun – wiping his hands on his trousers and almost startled to find two boats waiting to transit.

“Merde! You are the first boats I’ve seen in days!” the old man said as he ambled over. “There are two of you?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve paid your transit fees and have your license?”

“Yes, both skippers. Would you like to see them?”

“Not really, but I think I am supposed to so what the Hell…”

Henry smiled and led the old man over to Time Bandits, and he waited up on the quay while Henry and Tracy ducked below and got their papers. They went with the old man to his office and watched as he stamped various papers and returned them, and after all that was out of the way he guided Karma into the lock. When Anton had the lines sorted out and ready the old man signaled Henry, who motored in – slowly – until he was just astern of Karma. Mike was an old hand at all this by now, so he went forward and double checked Anton’s work. Henry signaled the lock keeper when they were ready and the lock chamber began flooding, the boats rising to the next level inside a rushing maelstrom of water – then it was over. Just like that. 

Tracy motored out of the lock chamber and waited for Time Bandits; Henry waved at the lock keeper as he motored out then quickly caught up with Tracy. 

“That was easy!” she shouted. “Why do people make such a big deal about that?”

“Wait til you’re in a small chamber that has a really big rise. You’ll know then.”

“So…this was an easy one? Is that what you’re tellin’ me?”

“Yup.”

“Figures.”

“You both did well, so don’t sweat it.”

“How far to the next one?” she added.

“Tomorrow morning, first thing.”

“How far lunch!” Anton snarled.

“About noon,” Henry smiled. “Hope you like oysters, Amigo.”

“Good. Very much.”

“I can hear your stomach from here, Anton,” Henry called across the gap between the two boats.

“No eat breakfast, Genry. Big mistake.”

“Maybe you had too much whipped cream?”

+++++

“I eat too much,” Anton groaned. “Need sleep now.”

“That’s what happens when you eat two dozen raw oysters, buddy,” Mike sighed.

“Don’t sit upwind of him,” Henry added. “It could get gruesome in a hurry.”

Anton stepped up on Karma’s deck and the first one sounded a little like ripping paper; Tracy pinched off her nose and pointed to the bow-sprit. “You. Go. Sit up there,” she said as she cast off her lines and fell into the main channel.

Anton stood on one leg and raised the other a few inches off the deck and shook it a little; that one was a sneaky bastard and started out as a high-pitched squealer before working its way down to a fluttering crescendo.

“Goddam!” Mike screeched – as the breeze had carried this one right over to Time Bandits. “What the Hell is that smell?”

“Man,” Henry sighed, “we all ate the same thing. This is going to be an afternoon to remember.”

“Assuming, that is, we all don’t die of food poisoning.”

“How many crayfish did you eat, Mike?”

“I lost count.”

“I didn’t,” Henry said. “This should be epic.”

Mike cast off the lines and Henry goosed the throttle, quickly catching up to Karma, and they both watched as Tracy began fanning in front of her face – with Anton grinning like a madman as he raised his leg again and again, firing off one right after another.

“Get upwind of him, would you?” Mike begged. “The air behind his ass is turning green.”

Then Tracy stood and began fanning the space behind her trousers.

“Come on, Taggart! We’re gonna get it in stereo if you don’t pass ‘em soon!”

Then Mike’s eyes went wide as the first spasm hit…

“Thar she blows!” Henry shouted, pinching off his nose as Anton fired off another…followed by Mike’s first…

He turned to Clyde and shook his head. “Hurts to finally have some real competition, don’t it, boy?”

Clyde turned away and fired one off in disgust.

+++++

They tied-off for the evening at an impressive old chateau that was now a hotel and restaurant, and as it was only a mile or so downstream from the locks at Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne they would be well positioned to transit early the next morning. And there was some traffic out on the water now, too. Commercial traffic, barges laden with grain headed to the port at LeHavre, so life was coming back – slowly but surely. 

And tomorrow they would make it into Paris.

‘So, this is it,’ Henry sighed as he shut down the engine and helped Mike with the lines. ‘The end of the day. And Rolf didn’t make the trip.’

More than anything, he blamed Dina for that – and it struck him then that he’d never really known what motivated her. Protect Britt? Sure, that was understandable, but why, when Rolf had so much to gain, had she stepped in to interfere? And…why had Pinky allowed her to?

Now…would she resist when he did what he knew he had to do? Would she contest a divorce? Still, he’d known he’d need to see to her financial needs, if not as a husband then as a friend. A friend, of sorts.

Then Anton came aboard and crawled down the companionway.

“Not having dinner tonight, old top?” Henry grinned.

Anton answered by firing off one more good one on his way to the head.

“Mike? Dinner?”

But Mike simply hoisted a one finger salute as he followed Anton below, so Henry hopped down to the dock and walked over to Karma. “Dinner?” he asked Tracy.

“You know, yes, but only because this place is supposed to be something special.”

“Thatagirl.”

“Do we need to change first?”

“I called. No need tonight. I think we’re the only guests on the docket.”

“Good. Not sure I have the strength for that BS tonight.”

+++++

“I’ve never eaten so many snails,” she said, groaning.

“Quite a day, I’ll give you that,” Henry said, smiling at the memory of their noxious green passage. 

“You know, I grew up on simple food. The Crab Cooker, maybe Five Crowns every now and then…”

“Remember that Del Taco up by the airport? Talk about fart-food…”

“Oh God, yes, I do. We used to run up there when pulling all-nighters during exams.”

“Some things never change, I guess,” he sighed.

“Chocolate covered frozen bananas on Balboa Island,” she added. “Remember those?”

“Yup. Those were the best. Get two and walk around the island…” he remembered.

“In January, when the bay is fogged-in.”

He tried to push back the memory but it was just too much. “Claire and I,” he said gently. “We did that every weekend, usually Saturday nights…”

“What?”

“We walked the island. Some nights we’d take the little ferry over to the peninsula and walk over to the beach.”

“Mom and I…we did too. We’d walk all the way down to the breakwater on the beach.”

“I know. Your mom used to follow us,” he said, smiling. “Claire thought she was spying on us, but I think I knew the score even then.”

“She had it bad, Henry. She always did where you were concerned.”

“I guess that’s why it just couldn’t work. Too many unrealistic expectations.”

“She called me this afternoon.”

“I see,” he sighed, rolling his eyes just a little. “When does her flight get in?”

“Tuesday morning.”

He shook his head even as he tried to deny this was really going to happen. “She’s remorseless, you know? Have you told her anything about what’s going on between us?”

“No way.”

“So, she’s coming here expecting the big, grand reunion, the final coming together, and…?”

“I don’t think so, Henry, not really. I think maybe what she wants is closure.”

He shook his head again. “You know you are way off base, don’t you?”

“Maybe I’m just hoping…?”

“And my first round of chemo is Monday. This is going to be fun. Real fun.”

“Do you want me to call her? Postpone this to later?”

“What? And miss all the mirth and merriment that only your mother can bring to Christmas? Just think, Tracy! She’ll nail a Christmas tree to the foredeck and deck the halls with balls of sugar-coated guilt! Who wouldn’t want all that for their Christmas in gay Par-ee!”

“You make her sound like some kind of psychopath, Henry.”

He looked down at his hands, and he could see those same fingers running through Edith’s hair once upon a time. “I know she’s not, Tracy. I know I’m projecting a lot of anxiety onto her, on the idea of meeting up with her one more time…”

“One more time? What’s this? Have you lost your optimism already?”

“I’m just trying not to get my hopes up, you know? Especially where something so new is involved.”

“I’m just curious, but why don’t your alien buddies take care of this?”

He looked at her, trying to see if she was pulling his leg, but no… “Well, for one, they haven’t offered. And I have to assume that’s because medicine is not something they’re especially good at.”

“But…you haven’t asked?”

“No, and I won’t. And no, Tracy, I don’t want someone else to ask for me. I’m not put together that way.”

“Alright. I’m not going to fight you, Hank, no matter what you decide. But promise me one thing, okay?”

“If I can, sure.”

“When you decide to do something, makes sure it’s what you want to do and not what you think I want you to do.”

He looked away for a moment, then he nodded understanding. “Yeah. I can do that.”

“Good. Now…you got room for dessert?”

+++++

They took Clyde for a long walk on a bicycle path along the river’s edge, and he managed to stink up the countryside here and there. The sun had long since slipped away and the night had grown cold; after two days with temps in the 70s now all of a sudden a humid 40 degrees F seemed almost arctic, and even Clyde seemed put out by the cold grass on his paws.

His phone chirped once and he ignored it, but when it chirped again he found it in a coat pocket and looked at the text. It was from Dina, but not in CAPS this time.

“Just got divorce papers from lawyers. I’ve signed them, not contesting. Thanks for your generosity; I do not deserve it.”

“You’re welcome. If possible, I’d like Rolf to come for Christmas.”

“I’ll see what the options are.”

“Thanks, Dina.”

“Would you mind if I came along with him?”

“No, not at all.”

“I’ll see what the airlines are offering now and let you know.”

“Okay. Later.”

He put the phone away and shook his head. “Well, it seems I’m a free man once again. Or at least I will be as soon as the ink is dry.”

She looked at him for a moment, almost like she was waiting for him to say something, but he had stopped and now he was looking at Clyde…

Who was hunched over trying to make poop…

Only a steady stream of blood was dribbling out onto the grass…

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

And a little music to sooth the savage beasties, because music matters. Oh…yes it does.

The Eighty-eighth Key, Ch. 57.3

[A very short snippet today, just setting the stage for what comes next, the final dash to the end of Harry’s story.]

Chapter 57.3

She was different from the beginning, as different from Lloyd Callahan as two people could possibly be. Her life simply had not been framed by free-range alcoholics or important others possessed by overtly self-destructive impulses; rather, her life had been unbounded by music though still loosely contained by parents who were there, simply always there. And parents who cared intensely enough to let go when the time was right. 

After her father’s passing, Elizabeth Bullitt leaned heavily on Harry Callahan, yet more than a few people sensed that perhaps in an even quieter way Harry Callahan began leaning on the little girl too, and at about the same time. Perhaps because Elizabeth was, or so Cathy liked to say every now and then, an old soul. Elizabeth always seemed quietly wise beyond her years, an “old lady by the time she was on her way to kindergarten,” as Herry liked to say. It was frankly silly to think of her that way, Callahan thought every time the matter came up, yet even so it was manifestly true. She talked like an old lady, and she even held her hands in her lap as an old lady might. Yes, she was odd.

The most immediate consequence of Elizabeth’s preternatural wisdom – aside from the almost comical certitude she exuded – was the way she glommed onto Lloyd after the boy’s mother left. Or was it the other way around? To put it simply, the two might as well have been twins – aside from that troublesome seven year age difference, not to mention their diametrically opposed world-views. When they weren’t apart during school hours they were otherwise together, and this worked out well enough as the two simply never fought. They never disagreed. No arguments, ever. They looked each other too much for that.

And perhaps because the two were bound by another sort of covenant. Music. And as she was further along in her studies she became, naturally enough, a sort of teacher. The most important consequence of this covenant was an almost doting possessiveness that developed between them, because Lloyd passed through his early years worshipping Elizabeth. He was never jealous, rather he was simply an attentive student bound to his teacher through the most unusual bonds of attachment. For her part, Elizabeth seemed to understand the role she had assumed in his life was crucial to them both.

So, through music…and over the years, Elizabeth and Lloyd understood one another better than anyone else possibly could have. He experienced a rich emotional life through the filter of her musical interpretations of the world around them, and he learned this complex language as naturally as others picked up a native tongue. And she understood his rapidly shifting moods, and she did so because she cared not simply about him as a kind of brother, but about what he thought as a developing interpreter of this language. Yet she watched Lloyd constantly, almost fearfully, for she could hear in his music a grotesque impulsiveness that lay dormant just beneath the calm surface of his quiet genius. And never far from her thoughts was how she might protect her mother and Harry from the inevitable explosive eruption she knew was about to come.

+++++

Which was why she watched the transformation that occurred when Lloyd was around Todd Bright with quiet intensity. This was something different, she soon understood. Lloyd was stepping away from her her, gingerly at first but with no real hesitation – like the long dormant self-destructive impulses within had suddenly come alive. She watched him, then she watched the way Harry reacted to the change and she knew the real trouble was here.

When she was accepted at a college on the east coast she knew the world they had known together would come undone. That, too, was inevitable. Yet Harry was drifting away from his son, as if he had seen forces coming into play he knew he would never be able to control, and it made her wonder. Was he doing the right thing? Letting go – at exactly the time his boy would need the steady hand of a caring father the most?

She had no way of knowing this was Harry Callahan’s modus operandi, that the man she loved above all others was nothing more or less than the patron saint of lost causes. She knew nothing of Looney Junes or of his mother’s consumptive madness. Nothing of all the other women Harry Callahan had loved – women who had simply failed to understand the man before they discarded him – so she knew nothing at all of the fatalism that prowled deep within his heart.

She thought about college, about not going, but in the end it was Harry who insisted she leave home and step out into the world. And as is so often the case nothing would ever be the same ever again.

Within a year, life out on the cliffs would become totally unrecognizable – and for the rest of her life the little girl would hold it as a simple truth that she was to blame for everything that happened next.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a last word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (i.e., Covid-19 and me generally growing somewhat old) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw. I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

Come Alive (24.3)

Come alive c14 image small

(Of course it does.)

Chapter 24.3

“Do you have a snow shovel?” Tracy asked as she watched snow accumulating on the deck of her Westsail.

“I do, but only one. I think we’d better go grab a couple more,” Henry replied as he picked up a handful of the white stuff, rolling it over in his hands.

“It wet, heavy,” Anton added. “Heavy enough to hurt boat?” he wondered aloud.

“It won’t help anything, Anton,” Henry said as he went to the garage and got his shovel out from behind the Zodiac. “Keeping the decks clear will keep hundreds of pounds off the waterline, and keep deck fittings from getting ice under them.”

“I wasn’t expecting this,” Tracy sighed. “Somehow sailing and shoveling snow don’t go together.”

“Yeah, well,” Henry smirked as he handed the shovel to Tracy, “whipped cream and sex don’t really go together either, but that doesn’t stop some people from trying.”

“Leave it to you,” Mike snarked, “to think of that at a time like this.”

“Whipped cream? Really?” Anton said dreamily.

+++++

They found three sturdy plastic shovels at a BP station, and after that the group took a taxi into Rouen for dinner.

The city was empty, the streets looked like something out of a ghost town in an old western, but their taxi driver knew a place that was open and desperate for cash paying customers. The food was actually pretty good, too, and Henry asked their driver to join them when he said he hadn’t eaten in two days.

“What’s going on?” Tracy asked. “Why haven’t you eaten?”

“When the power went out everything closed; businesses, stores…everything. People and markets without ice lost all their meat, and even generators didn’t work so no one was spared. And of course nobody is getting paid now, which is just one part of the larger problem, because there’s also still no food in the markets, and the water treatment plant isn’t working so there’s no water. People are taking water from the river but they’re getting sick, and farmers are watching over their herds to keep people from poaching, but already several people have been hurt.”

“Jesus…” she sighed.

“The owner of this place is an old friend. His family has a farm near the coast so at least he has a supply of fresh food. And thank you so much for inviting me to join you. It is very much appreciated.”

“Do you have family here?” Nodding and his eyes now full of concern, Henry asked the driver while they looked over the meager, handwritten menus.

“My son and daughter, yes, they are at home. My wife was on business in Italy when the electricity went out. I finally talked to her today.”

“Have your kids eaten?”

The driver shook his head, then looked away.

“Order something for them,” Henry said. “We’ll drop it off on the way back to the boat.”

The driver, a man fast growing old before his time, wiped away a tear. “It is strange how fast things have come apart, at how inept our governments have been in their response to these things.”

“People like low taxes,” Mike said. “You can’t have low taxes and effective government.”

“Maybe not,” the Frenchman sighed. “Empty promises, I suppose.”

Dinner was a success with roast goose featured, served with a soufflé redolent of mushrooms and spinach. Everyone agreed the chocolate tart and coffee was the best they’d ever had.

Anton helped the driver carry meals up to a small apartment, and while standing there on the street a good three inches of snow coated the old Mercedes; by the time they made it back out to the marina several feet of snow had piled-up on both decks, and Henry just shook his head when he found Time Bandits’ cockpit literally awash with deep, sloppy slush.

“Let’s do Karma first, all of us together, then we can hit Bandit,” Henry said.

“You go take medicine,” Anton grinned. “Don’t worry. We wait for you before start.”

“Thanks,” Henry said. “I think.”

It took an hour to clear both boats, yet by the time they finished clearing off Time Bandits, Tracy’s Westsail already had another foot piled up. “That no good, Genry,” Anton sighed.

Henry looked at the adjacent parking lot and did a double take when he realized that the few cars still parked out there had disappeared – now buried under what looked like two meters of the heavy snow – then everyone flinched when what sounded like a rifle shot pierced the night.

Everyone turned toward the sound just in time to see an old oak falling into the river, and the rest of night was punctuated by an endless volley of falling trees. And the worst of the storm wasn’t supposed to hit until mid-morning.

+++++

Exhausted after two days – and nights – shoveling snow, Henry turned to the BBC World Service to see if there was any good news on the horizon.

There wasn’t.

The storm had pulverized the Iberian peninsula before winding up for the main event. Now most of central and northern France were buried, literally buried under meters of snow, but not content to simply inundate France, the storm had meandered slowly over Belgium and Holland, wrecking relief efforts underway in Amsterdam and Rotterdam before heading north and east towards Norway and the Baltic. Even southeast England had been hit, and hard, with London seeing over two meters of snow falling in two days. No one, the BBC announcer stated, had any records of a similar storm on file.

Yet the worst was, apparently, yet to come – because the forecast for the next several days included daytime temperatures reaching into the high-70sF, so the likelihood of life-threatening floods happening was increasing by the hour.

“So,” Henry said to everyone gathered in the cockpit, “the water level will most likely rise significantly, and with that the current will increase exponentially. Also, there will be a ton of debris in the water.”

“What you thinking, Genry?”

“Anton, I’d like you and Mike to stay here for a few days and let Tracy take me into Paris, to the oncologist Dina has lined up for me. I’ve called and she’ll see me the day after tomorrow, early in the morning. There’s a train running tomorrow morning, and a return train the day after the appointment, and I don’t want to put this off any longer.”

“What about airplane and Bergen,” Anton asked.

“Let me think about that,” Henry sighed. “Maybe by early next week the weather will cooperate?”

Anton nodded. “Pilot friend can come here while gone?”

“Sure, I don’t see why not…?”

“Okay, I stay. Anyway, she bring whipping cream.”

+++++

The oncologist, a woman about Tracy’s age, quickly ran through the latest lab reports with Henry, but they contained little in the way of good news. She wanted to put him in a room overnight and start him up on chemo again, but he simply refused.

“Can’t we just do another transfusion?” he asked. “I’m not looking for a cure.”

“You do know that with these new mRNA therapies, a cure is not out of reach?”

“What?”

“Yes. The same technology that enabled the rapid response to the pandemic is being used to make new therapies for oncology. It is a very hopeful development, but we may not see an agent for a year. Putting you on chemo now could buy enough time to get you there. Interested?”

“I don’t know what to think,” Henry sighed. “Maybe this, maybe that, and maybe I could go through extended chemo and perhaps nothing would come of all the waiting.”

“But,” Tracy said, “what if it does? How does twenty years of extra life added to the clock sound?”

“Mr. Taggart,” the oncologist said, “everyone understands there are no guarantees where these things are concerned, but at least there is a chance. Why not take it?”

“Because I tried a brief course of chemo in Norway and I was not responding well. My counts went crazy…”

“I have seen these reports,” Dr. Montard replied. “I would not use the same agents, and with you here in the city I could very closely monitor your progress. I see this as a win-win situation, and I hope you do too.”

Henry Taggart knew this was one of those moments. A split second when the universe kind of stopped and all kinds of unexpected impulses might run through his mind, so he took a deep breath and stood, then walked over to a window with an impressive view of the city beyond the glass. He had never seen her with so much snow…

“God, I love this city,” he sighed as he scanned the streets below.  ‘Maybe this is what drew me here,’ he thought as he struggled to understand the moment. “Maybe all along I was meant to come here, right to this office, to this moment…’

He turned and looked at Tracy, at all the possibilities waiting out there on the far side of the torture this new physician proposed. Tracy and Rolf, making a run for the South Pacific on Time Bandits? Isn’t that what he’d do with time like that? With Dina writing herself out of the equation, didn’t coming full circle mean the way ahead would include a journey with Tracy and Rolf by his side? 

He turned to look at Montard. At her eyes, her face, and at her soul.

“Realistically, doctor, what are the chances this mRNA technology will come to the rescue?”

“Realistically? There is a trial underway at Philadelphia Children’s and the initial results are so far very promising. So, and I hate to say this, but we may be able to answer this question within weeks. If their results…”

“Dr. Montard,” Tracy said, “what about getting Henry into the trial? Is it too late?”

Montard looked at her laptop, then she shrugged. “I can see. At least I can try…”

Something swelled in Henry’s soul, something akin to hope, something he hadn’t felt in months, and he turned back to the glass. And there was the snow covered city again, only this time his reflection was there too, and he could see the hope in the stranger’s eyes.

“I have to move the boat from Rouen to the Arsenal,” Henry said. “I’ll also need to go to Norway for a few hours, but I’ll start chemo after I return.”

Tracy burst into tears and ran to him, fell into his arms.

“I didn’t expect tears,” he whispered into her ear, “but…”

“No buts, Henry. I love you, and that’s all I can say right now.”

Montard let them have their moment, then she interrupted Henry. “Before you go, I think we should give you some platelets.”

“Alright.”

“Come with me, please.”

+++++

The power was back in Paris, lights were on and businesses open for customers, and as it was Friday crowds were surging in the late afternoon – life returning to normal once again.

“I feel alive, Tracy. Maybe for the first time in months. Like when spring comes and trees start to bud…that kind of alive.”

“I can’t even imagine what you must be feeling.”

“Tahiti. That was the first thing I thought of. With you and Rolf, maybe even with Anton. Sailing from here to Tahiti.”

“Okay.”

“What do mean you, okay?”

“Okay. Sounds fun. Let’s do it. How about that?”

He took her hand in his. He felt like skipping down the sidewalk. He was hungry – and he was in Paris!

His first night back, and it was the first of December. He had made it, he thought, and despite the odds, too. 

“You feel light,” Tracy said, beaming.

“I feel like light,” he sighed. “Like photons unbound, free to race across the universe!”

“And where would you go, Henry?”

“To that patisserie across the street! For something sweet!”

“I’m sweet, aren’t I?”

“You are indeed, but I have a feeling some people might not understand if I eat you out here on the street.”

“True.”

He charged into the pastry shop and picked out a few random bits of goodness, and he asked for a couple of cups of coffee too, then they sat by a window and waited while people strolled by in the pink afternoon sunlight.

“If I’d just come from the sun,” he said…

“Speaking as a photon, you mean?”

“Yes, of course. If I’d just arrived I’d want it to be right here, right here in the heart of Paris. I can’t imagine traveling all that way and landing in the sea or, heaven forbid, Iowa.”

Their coffee came and he picked at something loaded with chocolate, then he sipped coffee lost in thought. “Why does everything taste better here?” he asked, looking about the place and at the people queuing up to buy their daily bread.

“Maybe it’s the light!” she said, smiling.

“Exactly!”

“I hate to bring this up, but we’re going to need to find a room.”

“Yeah,” Henry said, grinning, “I reckon so.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t already booked one.”

“What makes you so sure I haven’t?”

She nodded – slowly. “One room, or two?”

“I’ll never tell.”

His phone chirped and he fished the thing out of his pocket and looked at the display: an incoming text from Dina – again in ALL CAPS.

“JUST HEARD FROM MONTARD. GOOD NEWS!”

He put the phone back in his pocket, involuntarily shivering as he did.

“You feeling cold?” Tracy asked.

“Suddenly, yes. Like a stalker just reappeared. Holding a pair of scissors overhead, about to strike.”

“Dina?” Tracy asked with a sigh, and when he nodded she shrugged. “Well, so much for privacy laws in France.”

“Dina was my original oncologist.”

“What?”

He nodded. “I think she moved in on me once she figured out I was screwing her daughter.”

“What?”

“Things really got weird after her daughter turned out to be pregnant.”

“What?”

“Which really made things ticklish when I knocked up another girl a few weeks later.”

Tracy said not a word; she simply stood and walked out of the shop. Once out on the sidewalk she looked towards les Invalides and stomped off in that direction, yet for some reason Taggart thought of Napoleon’s tomb – and he smiled at the thought, like he had smiled at the idea of the sun’s photons striking Paris. Then he burst out laughing before he noticed clouds moving in again.

“And now it looks like rain,” he sighed, then he stood and walked off after her.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

(and you know its true, too)

The Eighty-eighth Key, Chapter 57.2

Chapter 57.2

“You come here at peril, young man.”

“Only you would think I’m young.”

“Nevertheless.”

“She was young then, wasn’t she?” Callahan said as he watched his mother walking home in the snow.

“Not then, Harald. Now. There she is, there, in the streetlight.”

“Where’s Avi?”

“Just now? At the university, crafting his alibi, putting the finishing touches on all his little betrayals.”

“Why? Why did he do it? Why did he betray his friends?”

The old man shrugged and looked away. “Perhaps you will ask him one day.”

“What? Avi’s dead.”

The Old Man turned and looked roughly at Callahan, and then, in the next instant, he was gone – leaving only a trail of laughter…and tears.

+++++

A week later he was sitting over the cliffs at his Bösendorfer, absent-mindedly working his way through a new composition even then taking shape in his mind, when he thought of the Old Man once again.

“Perhaps you will ask him one day.”

‘Can I do that? Can I go back and interact with people? But…what happens if I do…?’

The implications of the Old Man’s words were staggering, because if true there really were no barriers left in all the universe. Death was an absolute, a barrier beyond which no one could be reached – but not now.

‘But…what about the so-called Paradox of Time. How can I account for that? Or…is the past an absolute in and of itself…resolute and unalterable? Or maybe the past is structured more like a lightning bolt. If I go back and alter an element, what if a new branch forms – leading to a new outcome, yet leaving the original intact? How many layers of time could I create? How many outcomes could I construct from just one set of interactions? But – just how much chaos can the universe absorb before it implodes under the weight of so many inherent contradictions?’

Maybe time had some kind of safety mechanism, but his mind snapped shut and he was aware of something or someone reshaping his memory, almost as if some force was wiping strands of code from his mind…as he sat there. Could it be…?

Then he shook his head as an unwanted memory came for him.

“What if I just came back and wiped a memory away?”

“What was I just thinking about?”

He bent over the keyboard and played a chord, and in his mind he saw lightning.

+++++

Some guys were coming up from L.A.

Musicians of course, working on a new album and they had a track they wanted to lay down at the CliffHouse, as Callahan’s studio was being called these days, and because they wanted Callahan to play keyboards for the piece they’d asked him to get involved.

It was a fusion kind of thing, too. Jazz and metal, incongruous lifeforms, incompatible from the beginning, yet these guys were going to give it a try. They’d sent Harry a few tapes with their ideas laid down but so far Harry simply couldn’t see any way out…they were constructing a dead-end…music without purpose or form, or even meaning. Or…could he simply not see what it was they were trying for? Metheny had tried to go down this road and retreated, so why were these guys so willing to hang it all out there and risk everything?

“Am I too set in my ways?” he wondered aloud.

“Damn straight you are,” Lloyd said from the kitchen.

“Really? You think so?”

“Yeah, of course. Dad, you’re stuck in fifties jazz, and that’s when you break free of Gershwin. Things are moving on, getting rad…”

“Rad?”

“Radical, Dad. As in…not everything is all wrapped up in Oscar Peterson and Duke Ellington.”

“Oh? That’s news to me.”

“No shit.”

“Do you really enjoy talking to me like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like a scrote.”

“Man, if it yanks your chain I’m all in.”

“Swell.”

“I suppose you’re gonna make me go to school today?”

“Like Dude…can you think of any reasonable alternatives?”

“Robbie and I want to catch some waves.”

“That can wait til school’s out.”

“Crap!”

“Lloyd, please?”

“Ass-wipe!”

A grinning Callahan got up from the piano and started after the boy – but he was out the door and bolting for Cathy’s car before Harry could intercept and resume their ongoing tickle-fight. He watched, smiling, as Elizabeth climbed in beside his boy, and he shook his head – still grinning – as he watched them drive up the hill towards the Coast Highway.

And not long after two limos pulled up and parked in front of the CliffHouse Studio. Four musicians and a covey of roadies stumbled out of the cars, followed by huge wafts of blue smoke – and then an equipment van pulled up a few minutes behind the limos. Callahan was already in the studio, sitting within the confines of a u-shaped arrangement of keyboards and synthesizers, waiting for them as they entered.

He still wasn’t exactly comfortable with the new tech, but after fiddling with Yamaha’s latest pianos he had finally relented and made the effort. Now he was surrounded by Yamahas and Korgs – and even a Mini-Moog – because that was what the musicians who came up to the studio expected these days. If you were an accomplished keyboardist in the 90s, you had to be more than that – because while few were paying attention Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman had redefined the paradigm. Callahan had given in and grown into a full-fledged convert after he discovered how fun the new technology really was, yet another happy by-product soon emerged: with all the new tech in-house his studio became even more popular.

But the group of kids filing into the studio this morning was something else entirely. One guy made directly for a chair and pulled out a wallet full of syringes and shot up while the roadies hauled the group’s instruments in from the van. A ‘rode hard put away wet’ kind of girl was on her knees in the next instant, taking care of the guy’s main vein while the heroin got to work – and on seeing that Callahan got up and walked back to the main house for some coffee. He had seen a lot since he opened up the studio…maybe too much…but the studio was a business. One that catered to musicians of every persuasion. DD had cautioned him to keep his police officer’s frame of reference checked at the front door, and he tried.

But today felt different.

Still, the man with the golden arm was a gifted musician, maybe even a brilliant one and Callahan listened to his ideas and smiled. He got it then, and over the next week, the heroin addict and the detective grew to respect one another. Then to really like one another. When this new group finally began laying tracks down in earnest even the producer, a jaded Londoner who’d handled more than a few super-groups during the 60s and 70s, sat up and began paying attention. Something new was taking shape out there on the cliffs, and the old producer understood that “new” was something very rare indeed. This was a big deal, and he smelled money in the water.

When the album was released a few months after these sessions it rocketed up the charts in both the UK and the US, and for a while the CliffHouse became The Place to see and be seen – and Harry Callahan joined an elite fraternity of keyboardists.

But as interesting as that might have been, that’s not the point. And it never was.

+++++

The name of the group was Bright. Named after the group’s lead singer-songwriter, they were New York’s answer to British Punk, for a while, anyway. Then the group started down all kinds of different roads; they dabbled in Prog then drifted to Metal – but the one constant in the group’s odyssey seemed to be heroin. More to the point, the group’s tortured path followed Todd Bright’s addiction – and, in the end, wherever the needles in his arm took them. Still, no one doubted Todd’s inherent genius.

He was well educated, and that came as a surprise to many. He went to a posh boarding school in New Hampshire then went on to Princeton, and somewhere along the way, he discovered the poppy.  His music consumed more and more of his time, at first performing in local pubs but then soon enough in larger venues. His academic pursuits fell by the wayside as he grew in stature until at last he quit school and took his band on the road and into the big-time. Yet the ever-curious Bright read Castaneda and off they went to northern Mexico in search of magic mushrooms. He met with one of the Beatles and after that became convinced the only way to move his music to the next level was to drop acid, so all of them went down that rabbit hole too, but through it all heroin remained the one constant in his life.

So, in all their lives.

Callahan was warming up that very first day, sitting at the Yamaha and working through some of the more off-the-beaten-path chords that had become jazz staples over the years, but then Bright came over and listened for a while. And all the while he never took his eyes off Callahan’s hands.

“You know,” he said after a while, “technically you’re pretty good, but something’s missing. Maybe your music’s got no heart.”

“No heart?” Callahan said, his eyes never leaving the keyboard and no feeling more than a little annoyed. 

“Look at you, man. Sitting ramrod straight and like with your eyes are all wide shut, and you playin’ but you ain’t feelin’ shit. You’re like cold, man. You be all stone-cold perfection but your music ain’t got no heart. You got to get into the zone, Callahan. You got to feel the music, and to do that you got to let go, just let it all go and let the music talk to you, let it tell you where it wants to go. You got to listen to the music, Callahan, and you got to trust what you feel.”

Harry looked up at the addict through squinted eyes, the eyes that came from too many years on the street. “I do, huh?”

Bright looked into those black eyes and naked fear ran up his spine. He turned from the sudden darkness that had found him and went off in search of a safe place; once he’d recovered his sense of the moment he shot up again then went off to find his belle du jour, as he took quick comfort in the playtime he always found there. But soon he had to go back into Callahan’s darkness, and that scared him. Maybe, he thought, we ought to just pack up and leave.

But no, he ignored Callahan the rest of that first day, though even his mates in the band knew something heavy had gone down. Maybe Todd had seen something they hadn’t?

The next morning Bright took a different tack. He’d worked up vocals and an interesting bass line for their first piece, but he wanted a long, almost meandering piano intro to set a contrapuntal mood, so he walked over to Callahan and laid out the ideas he’d worked on through the night.

Callahan looked it over then worked through the bass lines, getting a sense of them and where the kid was headed – and in a flash, lost in the lyrics, he saw the kid’s genius. These weren’t just lyrics, Harry thought, the kid was writing poetry. And the bass line was pulling at his emotions, bringing the words into sharp relief.

He closed his eyes and his head fell until his chin was resting on his chest, his face canted a little to the left. He took the bass line and dropped an octave, then two, then he fell into a slower place. The kid on bass fell into the zone and Bright, now standing beside Callahan, smiled a little before he started in.

This first little snippet was hardly a minute long but when he heard the playback Bright smiled, then he walked over and mussed Callahan’s hair.

And Callahan grinned. After that everything was good. Maybe even cool.

It took three days to finish that first track but when it was in the can the producer called L.A. and asked one of the studio execs to come up for a listen. After that visit a photographer showed up and started documenting the sessions, then a hotshot director dropped by with ideas for the group’s next music video, and even Callahan could feel it then. Something big was happening, right out there on the cliffs.

+++++

Lloyd started showing up in the studio after school, and while Harry saw no reason not to let the boy get a taste of what it was like to be in on the creative process, perhaps in retrospect that was a little naive. Maybe if he’d never left his son alone in there with Todd Bright?

But Bright wasn’t a monster. He curtailed his use of heroin when the boy was around, though to take the edge off he wasn’t at all reluctant about lighting up a doob when Harry wasn’t around. Maybe pot wasn’t considered a so-called gateway drug, but maybe when all was said and done, in the end it was for Lloyd. Even though Todd never let the boy near his weed, eleven years old is an impressionable time in a boy’s life, and Todd Bright made a big impression on Lloyd Callahan.

But then an even more important event happened, something that changed all their lives in unexpected ways.

Todd was working on his latest piece, writing down ideas, then as words came to him he scribbled them down…occasionally plucking at an acoustic guitar to work through the melody. And on this day Lloyd happened along and, sitting at his father’s station he flipped on the Yamaha. Listening to Todd he heard him struggle with a passage that seemed all too obvious to the boy…

“What about this?” Lloyd said, then he fingered the passage he had in mind.

Todd Bright wasn’t an idiot, and he recognized talent when he saw it. He picked up his notebook and went over to the Yamaha and pulled over a small rolling desk.

“Again,” Todd said, and Lloyd played the line. “I like it. Where are you going with this?”

And Lloyd closed his eyes, his hands poised over the keys, and Todd looked on in awe as the kid knocked out one of the most gorgeous pieces of music he’d ever heard. New ideas came to him and he scribbled notes in his notebook, then he asked Lloyd to go back and replay a segment. In three hours the group had their newest single, a track that would go on to chart number one around the world. And Todd Bright listed Lloyd Callahan as the song’s writer, though he took credit for the lyrics.

When Harry learned of the episode he felt justifiable pride, yet at the same time he saw that something quite indefinable had changed in the boy’s outlook. Not conceit, nor even simple pride of accomplishment, Harry found a new sense of resolve in the boy, as if everything he did now had some kind of purpose.

Yet actually, it was Elizabeth Bullitt who first recognized the more important change. And she was the first to realize the danger that waited just ahead.

+++++

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a last word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances (i.e., Covid-19 and me generally growing somewhat old) waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw. I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]

Come Alive (24.2)

[Music Matters, right? Sure it does.]

Chapter 24.2

‘Like a moth to the flame. A flame…that flame…her sun streaming through roseate glass, amber pulses…oh no, it’s turning inside a cobalt dream and I’m caught inside…’

Then he was face down on that white sandy road, only now it was steamy hot out, the air here scorching hot. 

But now he felt weak, weaker than he had in days. He tried to push himself up and gasped at the exertion, shocked by how far he had deteriorated, and by how fast.

He gave up and rolled over on his side, gasping for breath as he fought off waves of nausea, and only then did he realize he was really back. Back – to wherever this was. Tall grass still weaving through an insistent breeze, misty, snow covered peaks in the distance. And that forest on the far side of the field, the one with the hideously bright light at its heart? The light was still burning bright. He rolled onto his back and looked up through the cobalt sky to the huge ringed planet overhead, still hanging up there like a watchful eye, still a surface full of Jovian swirls dressed in blues and purples. A gas giant…isn’t that what we called them…once upon a time? But it seems closer now, but how could that be? An eccentric orbit?

A shadow passed and he tried to find the source – until Pinky flew in low over the grass and landed on the  sandy road next to him. She smiled at him, that gentle, almost sorrowful smile that seemed to bathe in the differences between them. Then she shook her head and sighed…

“I don’t know how you do this…?” she whispered.

“Do what?”

“Face this thing alone.”

“What thing…death?”

She nodded. “I look at the changes consuming you and I am filled with fear. I could not do it, and I do not understand how any being possibly could.”

He chuckled at that. “Well, as soon as you figure out an option I hope you’ll let me in on the secret. By the way, I hate to ask but just where the Hell are we?”

“Here? This was California, perhaps fifteen million years ago. I thought you might appreciate the irony.”

He shook his head and pointed at the ringed planet overhead. “I don’t buy it.”

“Earth was captured in a galactic collision eons ago; she belongs to another solar system now. As hard as it may be to comprehend, she’s been moving away from the Milky Way for a few million years.”

“Does anyone…are there any people here?”

She smiled. “A few. People we bring here from time to time.”

“Time to time? I get it…you’re trying to be funny.”

“There is a village not far from here, if you’d like to go and meet some of them.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

She nodded. “I am.”

“I’m just kind of curious, but what kind of people did you choose for this little experiment?”

“Thinkers, usually. Aristotle is here, Plato as well. Buddha and Jesus and a few others religious types just to keep things interesting. DaVinci too. What you might think of as an eclectic bunch.”

“How long have they been here? Millions of years?”

She shrugged. “Time doesn’t behave here the way you are used to, yet there is time enough to think. We could not bear to think of losing such voices, so we bring people such as these here from time to time.”

He looked at her, tried to see the truth behind her eyes. Was she playing him? But there was utter seriousness in her eyes now. Unexpected. Pure.

“Or perhaps you would like to go see your children now?” she said, changing the subject.

“What?”

“Your children. Eva and Britt are there now, as well.”

“They’re here?”

She smiled, then she stood and held out her hand. “Come. Walk with me. There is much we need to talk about…”

+++++

He came back to them, and the priest caught him before Henry began falling. Anton dashed to help and they carried his wilted form to a pew and laid him down, though soon Henry was surrounded by dozens of curious parishioners who had come over to see – and touch – this strange man who glowed with all the colors embedded in the glass.

And then Tracy was there beside him, smiling and holding out a hand. “Come,” she said. “Walk with me.”

Still phasing in and out of time, Henry stood and looked around, shocked by the sudden reappearance of the cathedral – still aglow in all its dazzling light. “What happened – while I was gone?” he asked.

“Gone?” Tracy said. “You haven’t gone anywhere.”

He nodded as he looked around. “I need some air…”

“I’m not surprised, you’re burning up, Henry. You must be running a fever.”

He shook his head. “I’ll be okay once I get outside.”

Anton helped him stand and get to the center aisle, and once there people stood aside as Anton and Tracy helped him to the entrance. He stepped out into the crisp November air and, his body still covered in rolling sweat, he took a deep breath – then almost instantly began shivering.

“Restaurant,” he gritted between chattering teeth, almost panting now as he pointed to a place across the street. “Let’s-go-there.”

Tracy ordered hot tea for him and the proprietors warmed him with hearty cooking, and soon Henry felt better…at least well enough to talk.

“Very weird, Genry,” Anton said with a sigh. “Never see anyone glow before.”

“Glow?” he asked.

“It was almost like a huge aura,” Tracy said, “only everyone could see it. It was kind of out there, Henry.”

Mike said not a word, though under the table he keyed the voice recorder on his phone before he brought it up to his coat pocket.

“It felt like I was moving back and forth between times,” Henry finally said. “I was caught there, caught between you and Claire,” he added, looking at Tracy, trying to read her willingness to accept the things he needed to tell her.

“Are you saying you could see Claire?” she asked.

But he shook his head. “I don’t think so, Tracy. It was more like an echo. You walking where she had, saying the things she said…”

“Wait one,” Mike interrupted. “Are you saying, well, that Tracy here isn’t a stranger?”

“No, she’s not,” Henry sighed.

“Oh, that’s just fucking great,” Mike snarled. “So tell me, Henry. Just when do the aliens get involved in this story again?”

“Aliens?” Tracy cried as her eyes darted around the table. “What aliens!?”

“Whoo-boy,” Anton muttered under his breath. “Can of worms open now.”

+++++

Sitting in the aft cabin with only the glow of an oil lamp to put her at-ease, Henry told her about the Seattle working group and his role in it, then about Pinky and her gang and even the whales and how they’d been a part of his journey so far. He did not go into what had happened to Eva and Britt and what he had just learned while he stood transfixed in the cathedral – if only because there were limits, he reasoned, to just how much she could absorb.

“You expect me to believe any of this,” she quipped at one point, her head shaking in quiet rage.

“Go ask Mike, or Anton.”

“What? And fall for some kind of sick joke the three of you have cooked up? No fucking way, Henry…”

So he laid back on his berth and cleared his mind.

‘Yes, I need you now,’ he said to Pinky. ‘Is it still too dangerous for you here?’

‘No, but it is dangerous for you, and for her.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘The man, Mike. He is not what he appears to be, Henry. You are in great danger, and so is she.’

‘I figured as much.’

‘The woman. Does she need to understand these things?’

‘I need her trust, and I am in danger of losing it now.’

‘I understand. Move off the bed now.’

He rolled to the edge of the bed and stood, the room spinning as his blood pressure dropped.

“Help me to the seat, should you?” he asked Tracy. “– And, stay off the bed.”

“What? Why?”

But just then a pink orb dropped through the ceiling and hovered a few inches above the blanket covering the berth, and in the next instant Pinky was there in all her ten-foot tall feathered glory.

Tracy’s scream was best described as blood-curdling. Anton was just returning from taking Clyde for a walk and had just stepped aboard when her cry split the night; he of course fell back and flopped down into the river. Mike helped him climb back up on the swim platform but the aviator grumbled all the way down to the shower, just managing to get out of the way as Tracy ran from the aft cabin and up the companionway steps – swearing all the way.

“My, my…that went well,” Henry sighed.

“Maybe it menopause?” Anton said helpfully. “Or maybe not…”

+++++

“I have seen Britt and Eva,” he typed into the massaging app on his phone. “They are well, but they will not return for quite some time.”

He hit send and waited for the reply.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, QUITE SOME TIME?”

“That’s all I know. If you want to know more you’ll need to speak to Pinky.”

“WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER!!!”

“In California, I think you could say. Babies born, all doing well.”

“THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE.”

“I understand. All girls, by the way. Thought you should know.”

“FUCK YOU!”

“I’ll see you this coming weekend.”

“GO TO HELL!!!”

He moved to put away his phone but it chirped a moment later. It was Rolf.

“He, Amigo. What’s going on?” he said.

“I can hear Grandma-ma crying, Henry. What happened?”

“You have two sisters, kid. They were born in California a week ago.”

“But, how is that possible, Henry? Isn’t it too soon?”

“I think Pinky had something to do with it, amigo.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, my sentiments exactly.”

“Is my mother alright?”

“Yes, she’s very happy.”

“Okay. Are you still coming this weekend?”

“Yes, that’s still the plan.”

“When will I be able to see her, Henry? I miss her.”

“I don’t know, kid. Soon, I hope.”

They talked a while longer but it seemed a spark had gone out of Rolf when he heard he wouldn’t be able to see his mother this weekend. Dina was another matter entirely. She seemed rabid now, and he genuinely didn’t want to run into her while up there this weekend.

He took his meds and went topsides – only to find Tracy sitting in Time Bandits’ cockpit talking with Mike.

“So, all that stuff is true?” she asked as he came up the companionway steps.

“Why would I make-up something like that, Tracy?”

“I don’t know? Schizophrenia, maybe?”

“Ah. Well, yes, there is that.”

“That…thing…down there? That was Pinky?”

He nodded. “She’s actually very sweet,” he added unnecessarily.

“Right. A sweet alien. Why didn’t I think of that…?”

Anton came up the companionway carrying cups of tea, then he disappeared below – only to come up a few minutes later carrying a plate full of freshly baked scones. “I watch Dina,” he shrugged. “Not hard follow recipe.”

Henry grabbed one and took a bite. “Not bad, Ace. Always better when they’re warm, too.”

But then Anton leaned over and whispered in Henry’s ear: “Don’t move fast but whale behind you, maybe ten meters.”

Henry nodded and put down his bread, then in one smooth motion he stood and jumped overboard.

“What the Hell!” Tracy screamed, running to the rail as Henry swam out to the big male, the strong current carrying him downstream as Mike and Anton went aft to the swim platform.

But by then Henry was wrapped in the big male’s pectoral, locked in a huge embrace while he rubbed around the whale’s eye.

“Jesus H Fucking Christ!” Tracy muttered. “I’m not sure I can take much more of this…”

+++++

They cast off early the next morning, bound for Rouen – and the cathedral there that Monet had painted – and popularized for generations of American tourists and ex-pats. Tracy pulled up alongside Time Bandits once again and she held up her phone. Henry answered on the first ring.

“Are you okay now?” he asked.

“I was going to ask you the same thing.”

“Yeah. It took me a while to warm up, but thanks. You were very sweet. Again.”

“What’s going on, Henry? What does all this mean?”

“I’m not sure yet, Tracy, but I learned a few things yesterday I had no clue about.”

“Such as?”

“I’m still trying to piece it all together.”

“Can you contact that – alien – anytime you want?”

“Pinky. Her name is Pinky. And yes, most of the time I can, but she can block me out, too. How’s Anton doing over there?”

“Good. I like him.”

“He seems like the real deal to me. Good people.”

“Is Mike still asleep?” she asked.

“I heard him down in the galley a few minutes ago, right after I started up the engine.”

“Thanks for letting me have Anton today. Mike gives me the creeps.”

“Man, I haven’t heard that one in a while.”

She laughed a little. “That orca? He came with you across the Atlantic?”

“Yup, but we met out in Seattle.”

“Seattle? You met him?”

“Yeah, Pinky’s group is studying them, too. We’ve been together since then.”

“How long is that?”

“Geez, let’s see…I guess he’s been around about ten years now.”

“Henry, do you know how really weird all this is?”

“You’re repeating yourself, Tracy, but yes…I have a pretty good idea.”

“There’s another cathedral in Rouen, Henry. Are you going in?”

“I don’t think so, but feel free.”

Mike came up with coffee and scrambled eggs on toast, and Henry smiled as he shot a ‘thumbs-up’. “Well, time for some chow. How’s your fuel holding up?”

“A little above a half tank.”

“Okay. We’ll gas-up in Rouen. Let me know if your tank hits a quarter and I’ll pass over some jugs.”

They rang off and Henry managed to get some food down, then he left Mike at the wheel while he went below to take his morning meds. Pinky was waiting for him down on his berth.

“He’s recording all your conversations,” she said to him.

Henry nodded. “I know. I saw him yesterday.”

“We don’t know who he’s working for, but it is not for his navy.”

Henry was taken aback by this new wrinkle. “Oh? Who else could it be?”

“One of the other groups, perhaps,” she said. “I think they want to understand just how much you know about our technology.”

“But…why? I’m not threat to anyone else now.”

“Maybe. But someone obviously doesn’t think that is so.”

Henry looked around the room – knowing the Pinky knew the boat was bugged. “Well, it doesn’t matter. As soon as we get to Paris I’m going to head straight for the oncologist Dina recommended. After that, I doubt anyone will be interested in what I know.”

She held out her hand and rubbed the side of his face, then she disappeared.

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this…” he whispered, grinning just a little bit.

“Henry?” Mike called out. “There’s something on the weather you need to take a look at.”

“Be right up.” He took his meds and looked at the readout from the pulse oximeter on his finger and shook his head, then he walked up the companionway – and stopped in his tracks when he saw the look on Mike’s face.

+++++

They tied up at a fuel dock on the west side of Rouen and topped off their tanks, but Henry was more than a little concerned now…

“There’s some kind of arctic high moving down fast, real fast, but here’s where it gets interesting,” he said to Tracy. “There’s a deep low moving up from the Med, and another coming in off the Bay of Biscay. Last time this happened, back in ’99 I think, it flattened trees and dumped a ton of snow everywhere.”

“When’s it going to hit?”

“Looks like tomorrow morning.”

“Shit. When will we get to those locks?”

“Well, that’s kind of the point right now. I think we ought to tie off here and wait it out.”

She shook her head. “I don’t know, Henry. Half the places we’ve seen still don’t have power and people are getting angry. You sure you want to be locked up inside an industrial city with a couple hundred thousand pissed off hungry people?”

“Good point.”

“What’s on the far side of Rouen?”

“There’s a sheltered marina in Saint-Aubin-lès-Elbeuf. We can just make it this afternoon if we push.”

“Is there any danger the river could freeze?”

He hadn’t thought of that though the idea was a little terrifying, if unlikely. “I think the weather is going to warm up quickly behind the front, but if we get a heavy snow that will be problem enough.”

“Damn, Henry, all we need now is a plague of locusts…”

He nodded. “Do you want to stop for lunch or press-on?”

“Let’s get where we’re going. I assume we can come back by train if we want?”

“Yup. Okay, can you make five knots?”

“I can, but I’ll be at 90% of redline.”

“How many hours on the engine?”

“Not quite two hundred.”

“Okay, it should be okay if we vary our RPMs every now and then, but we’ll need to push hard through the city center.”

She nodded. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

As soon as he was aboard Mike cast off the lines and Time Bandits drifted out into the current while Henry idled the engine, waiting for Tracy to head out from the dock. He circled once then she came out into the current and joined up with him.

He called her on 16 then switched over to 21. “Everything okay?”

“Hart to start, and there’s not a lot of water coming out the discharge line.”

“Okay. You’ve probably pulled some garbage into the intake, or simply clogged the inlet. We’ll have to pull-in somewhere to fix it, but it shouldn’t take too long.”

“You mean like a mechanic?”

“Hell no. It’ll take me five minutes, tops.”

“Can you show me?”

“You bet.”

An hour later they cast off again and pushed hard for Saint-Aubin-lès-Elbeuf, the sky already full of mackerel clouds and the barometer falling rapidly. As they pied off at the little marina just east of the village center, a light snow started falling…

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (24.1)

[Henry’s story seems to commanding a wee more attention right now, so if you don’t mind I’ll walk along that road for a while longer. Ah, music matters, right? And one of my girls had a few pups a couple of weeks ago (I named them Huey, Dewey and Louie – after you know who), and here’s a picture taken yesterday – kind of, if you will, nose to nose. 

DeweyWP

Anyway, here’s the next snippet…]

Chapter 24.1

“You do know you’re a goddamn lunatic!” Mike said as he helped Henry down the ramp to the boat. “You trying to get yourself all dead, or what?”

“Yeah, right. I just wanted to see how far down into the sewer my fellow human beings have sunk.”

“Really? So you had to fucking…hit me?”

“Why’d you let ‘em have at Anton like that, Mike? That wasn’t part of the plan, at least not that I recall…”

Mike tried to laugh that one away, and almost pulled it off, too. “Hey, the best laid plans, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I guess we got what we were after. Anton’s got papers now. He’s legal. That’s what matters, right?”

“Did a doc check him out?” Henry asked, still pissed off.

“I don’t think so, at least not after that airedale knocked him around. They did check us both for radiation exposure when we first got to Paris.”

“And?”

“Pretty bad, but nothing lethal. You’re probably shedding some in your pee, so we may need to flush the holding tanks at some point.”

Henry shook his head as he watched Anton climb aboard – slowly, almost painfully – and another wave of anger came over him.

“Where was Clyde hanging out?” Mike asked, changing the subject.

“No idea. He just showed up at dinner one evening while I was with Tracy.”

“Tracy?”

“The California Girl.”

“You said she’s a shrink?”

“Yup. Too bad for you, eh Mike?”

“Kinda dark out right now, but from what I could see she looks kind of cute.”

“Wait’ll you see her tomorrow then tell me what you think,” Henry sighed. “And I’m pretty sure she could knock the snot out of you if she wanted, so tread carefully.”

“No shit? Now that’s interesting…a shrink with a mean streak.”

“Not mean, Mike, just tough as nails. She left California more than a year ago. Went down through the canal then up to Florida, then on to Carolina before she crossed to the Azores. She ain’t the passive wallflower type, if you get my drift.”

“Shut up, you’re making me horny.”

“Go for it, Amigo; I can’t wait to see the results. Navy still paying your medical insurance?”

Mike laughed as he climbed aboard, then he helped Henry up onto deck before heading to the cockpit. Henry saw Tracy poking her head up Karma’s companionway and motioned her to come over, and a minute later she joined the three of them in Time Bandit’s cockpit.

“Anton? This is Tracy. I met her last night and she’s heading to Paris too, so she’ll be traveling with us all the way to the city.”

“Pleased to meet you,” the Russian said, extending a hand.

She smiled warmly and took his hand: “You’re the fighter pilot Henry told me about?”

“Da, but that last week. This week I learn painting. Flowers maybe sound pretty good now.”

“Well, Paris is the right place for that,” she said, laughing with him. “Henry, could you turn on some lights, please?”

Henry flipped a couple of switches and the cockpit was bathed in bright halogen light; Tracy leaned forward and looked at Anton’s face. “Mind of I look at those bruises?” she asked gently.

“No, please, I not hurt.”

“Mind if I look anyway?”

Anton shrugged and Tracy got to work. “What were you hit with?” she asked as she palpated the bone around Anton’s right eye, making him wince.

“I think it was a Beretta,” Mike sighed, looking down at his sneakers right about then.

“Jesus H Christ,” Henry muttered. “Well, don’t that just figure.”

“Hey, got papers so all good, right?” Anton grinned.

Henry shook his head conspiratorially and looked away. “Anton, why don’t you hang with me tomorrow and Mike can help you through the locks, if that’s okay with you, Tracy,” Henry said as he switched off the lights.

“Sure, I’d love the help.”

Clyde growled, a long, low, guttural sound that raised the hackles on the back of Taggart’s neck, and he followed the pups eyes until his own came to rest on a shadow about a hundred yards away, though still up on the upper quay.

“What is it?” Mike asked.

“One of yours, I reckon. Keeping tabs on us, I assume.” Henry looked at Anton, then at Tracy. “Why don’t we carry on down below?” he said quietly – but Mike pointed at his ears – then at the boat. His meaning was clear enough, too: the boat had been bugged again. “Tracy? Mike can show you where all the medical supplies are located. I’m going to take my nighttime meds now, then I’ll put on some coffee. Anyone feel like an Irish coffee before turning in?”

Everyone did, it seemed.

“Oh yeah, before I forget,” Tracy said, taking command of the moment. “The tide will be optimal at 0625, so up at 0545 latest.”

Mike and Anton looked from Tracy to Henry and then back to Tracy, not quite sure what to think about this changing of the guard. “That sounds about right,” Henry replied. “We can still get about eight hours sleep even with coffee.”

“I put on water, Genry. Go take medicine.”

“Good to have you back on board, Anton,” Henry said, smiling. “Sorry about all the bullshit.”

Anton shrugged then stepped into the galley and got to work; Tracy followed Henry to the aft cabin and sat on the bed while he sorted through his medications. “Henry, this boat is beyond fantastic. I hate to even think what she cost.”

“Yeah, me too. That was a carbon fiber mast, by the way, and there’s kevlar in the hull. My biggest concern is what all that fucking radiation did to the laminates, because hull insurance doesn’t cover acts of war.”

“Crap…I didn’t think about that – or I’d have never left the Azores.”

“We were about 15 miles off the breakwater at Rotterdam when the bomb hit, so call it 25 miles from ground zero. I think it was a low yield tactical nuke so no alpha radiation at that range, and the prevailing winds were westerly so fallout was minimal, but we probably took a pretty big hit of neutron radiation.”

“I suppose you have iodine tabs?”

“I think so, yeah, but I’m not sure what dose we need, or…”

“And the net is still down.”

“Right. No such things as books anymore, so you understand the dimensions of that problem.”

“You ever think the internet is one giant rabbit hole?”

“Oh, not often. Maybe two or three times a day.”

She laughed at that. “It has been a blessing – and a curse.”

“Odd choice of words, Tracy, all things considered.”

She turned a little red at that. “You should have been a shrink, Hank.”

Henry blinked hard and shook his head as images of Claire in the hospital filled his mind, because he heard her saying exactly the same words – and as Tracy’s voice was almost identical to the one in his memory he quickly found himself choking back tears…

“What is it, Henry?”

“Just…you sound just like Claire, and it’s all coming back to me now.”

She stood and came to him, put her arms around him and held on tight, then she gently spun him around until he was facing her. “What about me? I’m not Claire, Henry…”

She leaned-in and kissed him, an eyes closed, deep lingering kind of thing, and he felt a little weak in the knees when she ran her fingers along the nape of his neck – if only because everything still felt like Claire. Exactly like Claire. And all the time this was going down, he knew he couldn’t tell Tracy anything about such feelings, and because of that internal conflict the pain of his denial was becoming almost unbearable.

When she pulled away she looked into his eyes, only to shake her head and take a step back. “I shouldn’t have done that, Henry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

He took her hands in his and pulled her back into his arms. “Don’t be sorry, darlin’, ‘cause I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.”

She laughed a little, but the story was there in her eyes: “Too weird for you?” she asked.

“Hey kid, even when I’m wrong I’m right.”

“…and stops my mind from wondering, I think you’re going to say next?” she added.

“You know it, kid.”

“What are you thinking right now, Hank?”

He stood on the precipice and looked into the abyss, then took a step into the void: “Time. I wish I had more to give you.”

“We have what we have, Hank, and that only makes each moment more precious.”

He nodded understanding. “How ‘bout one step at a time?”

“Sounds safe, maybe even a little cautious. Sure you want to play with time like that?”

He smiled. “I’m not sure about a whole lot right now, Tracy. Only that your eyes are hypnotic, and they’re taking me someplace I never thought I’d go again.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

He shook his head. “No, actually. It’s really kind of wonderful.”

“Wonderful is good, Hank.”

“Coffee ready!” Anton called out from the galley. “Genry! Where you hide whiskey?”

“Come on,” Henry sighed. “We’d better do this.”

“Okay, if you say so.”

+++++

He lay still in the dark, looking up through the open hatch just overhead, watching stars drift by. 

She was by his side, her face resting on his chest, her fingers drawing lazy circles on his chest.

‘It should be Claire with me here right now…’

And the thoughts kept coming, rippling through the night sky like fireballs that just wouldn’t die-out and fade-away.

‘How close did we come to making a girl just like you?’

‘But we didn’t.’

‘All that happened fifty years ago, didn’t it?’

‘Is this a second chance?’

‘Is this just wrong?’

Her breathing slowed a little, the little arcs she drew grew smaller and smaller, then he heard sleep come for her. He turned his head a little and her hair crashed through his thoughts. 

‘You even smell like her.’

‘How is that even possible?’

‘I can’t do this. I can’t do this to you. I can’t do this to your mother.’

‘How can I not do this?’

‘This is the circle closing. The circle we started, Claire – you and I – the story we never got to finish.’

Wavelets lapped against the hull, a hollow sound that obscured all the other life out there in the darkness.

‘You are the ocean, aren’t you? How could you be anything else?’

‘Is that what brought us together? The ocean? The womb of what was, the first circle?’

‘Are you with me now, or are you here to close the circle?’

+++++

Anton cast off the spring-lines and Henry slipped the transmission into forward, hit the port bow thruster and watched the dock slip away.

‘This is it,’ he sighed inwardly, ‘the last leg of a journey Dad and I started – once upon a time…’

He turned and watched Mike cast of Karma’s lines, watched Tracy push the tiller hard over, and the old Westsail eased into the current and came up alongside his stern. A minute later there she was, just a few feet away. She looked his way and smiled at him and suddenly everything felt full of promise. 

Fenders were pulled and stowed, lines coiled and readied for use again. Henry set the course on the autopilot and watched as Karma settled in off his starboard quarter, and he was grateful there still didn’t appear to be any traffic out on the water – at least not yet, anyway.

A little more than thirty miles to Caudebec-en-Caux, and they’d tie off there for the night. Visit the cathedral, have a quiet dinner then walk among the fallen leaves. Talk about all the impossible things they’d never get to do together, in a perverse way doing to her what Claire had done to him – because how else could he complete this journey without dying?

The chartplotter flickered and came alive, the GPS constellation suddenly going fully active again, then his phone chirped.

A text. From Dina.

“WHERE ARE YOU?” she wanted to know.

“Just leaving LeHavre, headed for Paris. You?”

“Home.”

“Home? I thought this was home?”

“I asked Pinky to bring us back. She understood my reasons.”

“I see.”

“Rolf is angry at me. He wants to be there with you.”

“You’ll have to do what you think best. So will he.”

“Do you know where my daughter is?”

“No.”

“Will you let me know if you find out?”

“Of course.”

He waited a while but she had apparently had enough so he put his phone back in the cradle.

Another chirp on the phone.

“My GPS is back online!” Tracy wrote. “Hallelujah!”

“You know, for an atheist you sure wallow in florid evangelical imagery an awful lot.”

“Sorry. Are you on AP?”

“I am now, yes.”

“What’s your speed?”

“Boat speed seven, speed over ground about four.”

“Could you slow down a little? I’m pushing pretty hard to keep up with you.”

He smiled at the unintended imagery. “Yup, can do.”

“I think I love you, Henry.”

“Let me know when you know for sure.”

“Okay.”

“And I think I love you too.”

“Oh, P.S., but I think Mike is an asshole.”

“You ain’t the only one, darlin’.”

He throttled back about a knot – then the phone chirped again. Rolf this time.

“Can I call you now?” the boy asked.

He texted his new number and hit send; a few seconds later his phone started ringing.

“Henry?”

“Yo. What’s up with you and your grandmother?”

“She has gone crazy, I think. I mean crazy crazy, Henry, and not some bullshit anger thing.”

“I understand.”

“I want to come there.”

“Okay. I’ll be up there later this week, after I get the boat settled in Paris.”

“I didn’t want to miss this part of the trip, Henry. I feel like I have let you down.”

“Not your fault, son.”

“I still feel bad.”

“Understood. Don’t let the feeling get you down. I’ll be there as soon as I can figure out the transportation.”

“So you’ll call me then?”

“Yup.”

“Okay. I love you, Henry. In case anything happens, I want to be sure you know that.”

“I love you too, Amigo.”

Silence again. Phone back in the cradle.

“You want coffee?” Anton asked, his head popping up the companionway.

“Maybe one of those cans of Ensure.”

“What kind. Got chocolate and some kind of brown stuff.”

“The brown stuff. Sounds intriguing.”

“I take your word. How far we go today?”

“Looks like 33 miles to go, maybe four knots over the ground so call it eight hours and change.”

“Autopilot steer now?”

“Yup.”

“Okay. We talk now? Is okay?”

“Sure.”

“I have new friend who got small airplane. Maybe range enough to fly Bergen one stop. Six seats. Is enough?”

“Who is this friend?”

“French Air Force. We talk, maybe can help.”

“Okay. We’ll talk to him when we get to Paris. Now, what about you? What are your plans?”

“Not him. She. And she give idea about way I can fly here. Air cargo, Middle East. Good money, maybe good idea.”

“Okay. What can I do to help?”

“You help?”

“If I can, yes.”

“You good man, Genry.”

Taggart grinned, but he looked away, too.

“What about boy? He come back? Why go Bergen?”

Henry nodded. “Yeah.”

“And Dina? She not coming?”

And Henry shrugged. “I doubt it, but you never can tell where women are concerned.”

“Ah, woman easy understandable, Genry. Want love, that all.”

“Your wife was that way?”

“Until she get sick, then love real important. More important than anything. Then my daughter, she want love after husband leave. Her kids too. Hard to in Air Force, but had to or else big trouble. Thing is, if feel love, very easy to give, easy to share. If love not real, then impossible. Oh, before forget, dog got bad gas. I mean real bad – like dead skunk.”

“He needs some fiber and a t-bone steak. He probably needs to get laid, too.”

Anton nodded. “Dog eat too much fish, oily, shit smell bad mean not good. Get laid not a problem though.”

“I agree.”

“Okay, go get brown can now. Need something else?”

“No, that’ll do it.” Henry watched Anton drop back down the hatch then turned to the radio and pulled up the BBC World Service, not quite sure what to expect these days.

+++++

Caudebec-en-Caux was another one of those places. The little cathedral in the center of the village held  precious memories – of his parents, yes – but also of Claire and Edith together. One Christmas when both families met up in Paris – and when Claire was in her French phase – they’d all made the trip up to Honfleur by train, stopping at Caudebec-en-Caux on the return trip.

Claire had been in love with cathedrals then. Taking pictures with her Nikkormat then pulling out a sketchbook and making quick drawings because, she said, someday she was going to make huge paintings of everything she loved about them. Just like Monet, she’d said with a smile. With that smile.

Only those somedays never came, and in the fading afternoon light he wondered what had become of her sketches and photographs. In a box somewhere, perhaps? Or in a landfill somewhere with all of her other hopes and dreams. He was pretty sure he could remember exactly where she’d stood, and when he closed his eyes he could see her standing there in almost the same light. Like Paris, the afternoon light in this part of France was a little pinkish, and when that light hit the old stone building something about the feel seemed to almost defy time. 

He led Tracy and Anton and Mike inside and let them find the light as it streamed through rows of stained glass, the pinks and blues and ambers on the stones adrift like ripples on a quiet little pond – and he assumed still holding onto secret memories God only knew. He walked over to the organ’s pipes, marveling at their four spires framing the massive stained-glass circle beyond, and he could feel Claire’s awe even as Tracy walked past in her aunt’s unseen footsteps.

Then she turned to face him.

“Claire was here, wasn’t she?”

He was cast in stone now. Resolutely still, his eyes cast in cold glass, his thoughts lost inside a kaleidoscope of kinetic eddies as he drifted from one time to the other. Claire here, now Tracy. The same eyes, the same voice, everything coming full circle over and over again.

He felt her standing in front of him, felt her wiping tears from his face, then kissing his hands. Anton was staring at him, and Mike, and then a priest was there.

“Perhaps it is a trick of the light,” the priest said.

“Have you ever seen this before?” Tracy asked.

“Once. Many years ago,” the old priest sighed. “Do you know why he cries so?”

“He’s been here before,” Tracy replied. “With someone very special, before she passed.”

“So he is talking with her again,” the father said. “We should leave them in silence.”

“He mentioned something happened at a little chapel in Honfleur,” Mike said to Tracy after they moved to the nave. “Do you know anything about that?”

She shook her head.

“He say very important,” Anton added. “We go Christmas Eve. He take us.”

Tracy turned and looked at Anton, then to Henry still standing before the pipes, the priest standing just out of reach. More people had gathered to look at Henry now, and a few seemed quite agitated at the sight.

After all, it wasn’t every day you saw someone that seemed to be aglow with all the colors of the glass…

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Come Alive (23.2)

[Work on The 88th Key is coming along, look for something new in a few days. As for me generally speaking I’m doing pretty good right now, at least slipping back into the groove again. Still, as always, Music Matters. Words do too.]

Chapter 23.2

An ancient diesel crane sat on the dock above Karma and Time Bandits, and men swarmed over both boats erecting lumber guides to aid them as they pulled each mast. After they were pulled, each was wrapped in plastic and then loaded onto a long trailer, leaving Henry to plug the hole through the deck left by the absent mast, though H-R had thoughtfully included one so it only took a few minutes to get that chore out of the way. All he and Tracy had to do now was wait for the fuel truck, so they decided to sit in Bandits’ cockpit while they waited. She brought a few croissant and a jar of citrus marmalade she’d put up while in Horta, and he used a French press to brew up some freshly ground Ethiopian coffee beans.

He was still almost in shock after talking with Tracy’s mother; once she’d ascertained he was alone on his boat she declared her intent to come to Paris as soon as North Atlantic air travel resumed. Now, watching the port come back to life he harbored no illusions; Edith would no doubt show up in Paris by the time they could move their two boats up to the Arsenal Marina.

Though even now Tracy seemed a little put-out by the whole thing. She had, after all, decided to leave on this trip after her divorce was finalized – which no doubt included the brutal family upheavals that inevitably follow such things. Yet Edith, her mother, had been through a real blockbuster of a divorce as well, and not too many years ago, so suddenly there was a very real potential for all kinds of combustible excess baggage if Edith showed up out of the blue.

Yet…Tracy was a physician. A psychiatrist too, true enough, but a licensed M.D. nonetheless – and assuming Dina followed through and didn’t return he knew he was going to need one soon enough.

“What medicines are you carrying onboard?” she asked as they sat in the shade.

“For?”

“You. As in, you know, your condition?”

But Henry had simply shrugged the question away. “I couldn’t really tell you, Tracy. Dina stocked three pantries with all kinds of stuff, right down to chemotherapy agents she put in the ‘fridge.”

“Mind if I take a look?”

“Nope, but could we finish our coffee first?”

She’s smiled at that. “I forget…I’m not on California time anymore.”

“It takes a few months to break free of all that crap,” he said, smiling at his decisive indecisiveness. “Two cups of coffee, however, and I’m right back in the groove.”

“This is good stuff. Where’d you pick it up?”

“In Copenhagen. Everything good in life can be found in Denmark.”

“Funny, I wasn’t planning on going north, but now I’m not so sure that was the right decision.”

“That’s the thing about having your home with you. I had simply intended to follow the weather, to stay in one place until the weather dictated a change.”

She looked away for a moment, then turned to face him again. “I know you’re used to all this by now, but the whole cancer thing is new to me, and I have a hard time accepting – your future.”

He nodded. “I understand. And yes, I get the whole five stages of grief thing, too. But frankly, I think I’m stuck in the pissed-off stage.”

She smiled at his self-deprecating humor, but she nodded her understanding. “I think I would be too. How could you not be?”

“Well, there’s a lot going on that we haven’t gone over yet. Hopefully we’ll have time to in Paris.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Henry.”

He nodded. “And that makes me wonder, Tracy. Why not? Are you homesick?”

She looked away, looked almost lost in thought. He poured a little more coffee and nibbled at his croissant while he looked at her. “You know, I don’t think I miss California – not really,” she said a while later – softly, almost gently. “The thing is, I grew up hearing about Claire – but all those conversations, all those memories, always seemed to include you. I don’t know, Henry, but it’s like you and Claire were inseparable, even in death. You were always the knight in shining armor, too, if you know what I mean…”

“Not true,” Taggart said ruefully. “I never, ever, not even once shined my armor.”

“But you were inseparable, weren’t you?”

“Yup.”

“So I have to assume everything I know about this whole thing is true…”

“I’m curious, Tracy. Listening to you for a while now, it seems that Claire has taken on the dimensions of mythology, even if it is only a family mythology. Why?”

“I think my mother grew up in Claire’s shadow, and because of that she grew up most unsure of herself, but all that changed when Claire got sick. From all the stories I’ve heard over the years, Mom seemed to blossom in the aftermath of Claire’s passing, and I think therein lies the tale – at least from a shrink’s point of view. Mom never felt guilt – I mean, how could she? – yet at the same time Claire’s passing was probably the biggest thing that everhappened to her – at least while she still lived at home.”

“You know,” Henry said, “it’s funny, but I barely remember your mother before all that happened – even though she was just a few years younger. But to say she was lost in Claire’s shadow really doesn’t do the situation justice, Tracy, because from the little I do remember it seemed she almost worshipped Claire. She tried to mimic Claire at school and it always backfired, too, and I think I remember those things more than anything else.”

“Dad told me about it,” Tracy said, looking down now. “Mom blossomed, or so he told me, but he also said that no matter how hard she tried she always paled in comparison to Claire.”

Henry shrugged evasively – though as he looked away he struggled with another flood of unwanted memory. “I wasn’t around for a lot of that, I guess. Most of that would’ve happened my senior year, and Edith was a sophomore that year.”

“That’s what seems so strange to me, Henry.”

“Strange?”

“Yes, strange. Because Mom always used to say she would have never made it through that year without you.”

“Oh, did she?”

“And funny, too, because one of the things Dad told me when they broke up was that he was tired of competing with you.”

“Yes,” he said, standing up suddenly, “that is funny.” Then he walked over to the lifelines and stepped down onto the quay – before he walked off with his hands in his pockets and his head hung low.

She couldn’t decide whether to follow him or not, but in the end her heart won that battle.

+++++

The fuel truck didn’t make it until almost 1500 hours, but by then the tide had turned again and there was no point trying to head upriver until early the next morning. Henry made arrangements for both boats to remain tied-up where they lay, then, after slipping another sublingual anti-nausea med under his tongue he took Tracy out to dinner in LeHavre. The three of them left for the half hour walk, with Clyde forcing a few diversions to water the grass along their meandering way.

“Have you ever transited a lock before?” he asked once they’d settled at a table and been handed menus, and once Clyde had settled on Henry’s feet.

“No, but I’ve been reading up on it.”

He sighed. “It’s nothing what you expect it will be, Tracy. These locks are huge so they might not be too turbulent, but your boat is heavy and it doesn’t have a bow thruster.”

“Yours does, I take it?”

“Actually, it has bow and stern thrusters so I can handle the lines from the wheel. You’ll have to tie off the tiller and work the lines from amidships. Don’t get me wrong here – you can do it – assuming you don’t panic if turbulence gets hold of you. Beyond that, just watch out for that bowsprit.”

“You really think you can handle your boat alone?”

He nodded. “I think I’ll need help once we get to the marina in Paris.”

“You were counting on Dina and that boy, weren’t you?”

“Yup. They’re still kind of MIA, if you know what I mean, so…”

“No, I don’t understand all that, Henry. And…what’s the big mystery? – I mean, it’s kind of hard to believe you don’t know where they are.”

He shrugged. “Like I said, there’s a lot going on.”

“And you don’t want to tell me.”

“If and when circumstances allow I’ll tell you what you need to know.”

“Gee, I love paternalistic assholes so much!” she said through a malignantly forced smile. 

“Not paternalism, Tracy. I simply don’t want to stretch the limits of credulity, at least not yet.”

“Well, I love a mystery.”

“Good. Is your ground tackle up to snuff?”

“I’ve anchored out a few times without any problem, if that’s what you mean?”

“Just in case things get sideways on us. Best to be able to get your anchor down in a hurry if you lose an engine in a narrow channel.”

“Nice. I like the way you change subjects.”

“Do you? Good. I’ve worked hard over the years to perfect the skill.”

“So, my mom’s sophomore year? Ready to talk about it, or is that a subject changer too?”

He shook his head. “No, not ready.”

“I see.”

“If your mom shows up maybe then we can cover some of that ground, because maybe it’s just not fair to talk about all that without her around to stick up for her point of view.”

Tracy nodded. “You’re right.”

“The other reason, if I may, concerns you.”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you. Look, you may be twenty something years younger than your mother, but you just have to understand that there’s a history between us.”

“What has that got to do with me?”

“Well, first of all you’re drop-dead gorgeous, and I’m still a male with a pulse and that means I recognize little things like that. Second, your mom and dad – and I – do have a history. A complicated history.”

“So, Dad wasn’t exaggerating…”

“No, he wasn’t, but also, well, look – it’s the reason I left LA for Seattle. And why I had to stay away.”

“So…you and my mom…?”

“It wasn’t as simple as that, Tracy. I was falling apart and she kept me from falling all the way down, but in a way she was still a kid. Worse still, to this day there’s no way I can look at her and not see Claire.”

“I figured it was something like that, but why Seattle.”

“Because…”

But Henry drifted on the crest of the word, lost in a wave as strings of memory pulsed into and out of view – but the pain was real, and the cost to all their lives too high.

She watched the change come over him and reached out, took his hand. “We don’t have to talk about it, Henry. I just thought that…”

“Someday, Tracy. There’s just too much I haven’t thought about in a long, long time, and only so much…”

“If my mom comes will things get weird between you two?”

He looked at her and shrugged. “I don’t know. I really don’t know what will happen. We were always an unstable compound, you know? Never meant to last, I guess.”

“You weren’t expecting any of this, were you?”

“What? You mean, like you – and your mom…”

“And all those memories. They were behind you, weren’t they?”

Henry shook his head, then he looked her in the eye once again. “You know what, Tracy? It feels like everything is coming full circle right now, yet I’m not really sure why. I’m closing in on the end of this journey, this return to Paris, but Honfleur was always going to be a part of that story, too. Now, here’s the weird part. In a way I think it was almost inevitable that we were going to meet up when and where we did. I know that sounds more than a little nuts, but think about it. Like, what if you’d decided to go to a different restaurant that night, or if I’d been a day late arriving. Think of how many things had to go ‘just so’ in order for us to meet when and where we did…and from the day I left California right up to that moment. And from the day you left, too. One little hiccup and we’d have missed each other – but that didn’t happen, did it?”

She nodded. “Kismet?” she grinned.

“Or…karma.”

“And there are a million possible explanations, Henry. It just happened, like these things do everyday, for everyone – everywhere.”

“Are you listening to what you’re saying, Tracy?”

“I’m a rationalist, Henry. Sorry.”

“Yeah, well so am I – but this was kind of a slap on the face.”

“Most people, especially when the end of life approaches, reach out for comforting explanations to perplexing questions. There’s nothing unusual about it, Henry, nothing new or unusual about your feeling this way right now.”

“I think you’re missing the point, Tracy.”

“What point is that? Your talking about ultimate causality, right? Things like predetermination, la forza del destino…”

“I’m not in any kind of a hurry to slap labels on these observations right now,” Henry replied. “Still, if I could ask just one thing of you right now, it would be that you try to keep an open mind about what you’re going to see between now and Christmas.”

She seemed to pause, to hold back for a moment, but then she smiled. “I can do that.”

“Good. Now, what do you think of these snails? Too salty?”

+++++

They walked back to the harbor, a good, solid half hour walk in a chilly breeze, but there simply weren’t too many options available yet. Only a few taxis were running around the city so far, and while there was a train scheduled to depart for Paris in the morning, air service still wasn’t an option – anywhere. The magnetic pole had re-stabilized – only now it appeared to be loitering over eastern Siberia – and the night sky was still alive with geomagnetic storms, and so for the time being the major airlines were limiting operations to very short haul overland sectors only. With almost thirty aircraft lost when the first storm hit, and with a final death toll more than twice the 9/11 tally, no airline seemed to be in a hurry to resume transoceanic operations.

They turned into the old port area and started for the quay where their boats were tied-off, with Clyde finally stopping here to shed a few unwanted pounds of salmon, but as they approached the quay Henry saw two navy blue Land Rovers idling there, just above Time Bandits

“Well, Hell,” he sighed as he recognized the same French Navy markings he’d spotted two nights ago, “this I was not expecting.”

“What?”

Taggart motioned with his head, indicating the Rovers parked ahead.

“Who are they?” Tracy said, now a little anxiously.

“The Bad Guys.”

“What? You mean, like mafia types?”

“No…worse. Naval Intelligence types.”

As they walked up a door opened and Captain Mike Lacy, USN, stepped out. Dressed regally now in navy blue sweats and a yellow ball cap, Lacy waited by the Rover while Taggart took Tracy down to Karma.

“Are you going to be okay?” she asked as he helped her aboard. “Or should I come with you?”

Henry shook his head. “No, stay here. I don’t know what they want, but I’m no threat to them now and they know it.”

She sighed. “Okay, but come get me after they leave.”

He nodded and turned to walk back up the ramp to the Rovers, but he stopped and turned to look at her again, measuring her every move as she went below, then he turned again and resumed walking up the ramp.

“So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company, Captain?”

“They want me to make the trip up the river with you, Henry. Sorry, I know this is going to be uncomfortable, but the alternative would probably be a helluva lot worse.”

“Well, I was wondering why you left clothes in your locker…?”

“I brought along a little inducement, too. If you don’t put up too much of a stink we’ll release Anton, providing he stays with you for the time being. By the way, who’s the dame?”

“The dame? Are you kidding? You trying out for a part in Casablanca, Mike?”

“Who is she, Henry?”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

Lacy shrugged. “She’s not on our radar, Henry.”

“She a psychiatrist from California, left the US in April, came over by way of the Azores.”

“Uh-huh. You know her?”

“I do now,” Taggart said, grinning salaciously. 

“You dog…I shoulda guessed.”

“Where’s Anton?”

Lacy walked over to the other Rover and knocked on the glass, motioning to whomever that it was okay to come out.

Anton stepped out into the night, and even in the shadows Henry could tell his face was heavily bruised, and he walked over favoring his right leg.

“That’s just great, Lacy. What the fuck did you do that for?”

“Some Air Force intel guy did it before we could stop him. Apparently he was pissed off about the F-15 Anton waxed.”

“War…the gift that keeps on giving,” Henry sighed. “Like things weren’t bad enough already.”

“Look, Henry, Anton asked for political asylum and the French are willing to go along with that – provided you keep him off the streets.”

“That’s not a problem, Mike. I told Anton he was welcome to stay with me as long as he wants, and that still applies…”

“Henry, again, he has to stay with you…”

“Genry,” Anton grimaced, “they afraid I spy. I stay. I make no problem here.” Taggart held out his right hand and Anton took it, but then the Russian pulled Henry into a tight hug.

“Good to have you back with us, shipmate,” Taggart whispered.

“Good be back, my friend.”

“I’ll help you down.”

“No. Better I do alone, Genry. That way bastards get no satisfaction.”

“Fine by me.”

“Want I should take Clyde?”

“No, just be careful…the ramp is a little slippery.”

Henry watched the aviator limp over to the handrail before he turned to face Lacy, then he would up a haymaker and let it fly, his fist catching the captain off-guard and knocking him to the ground.

And when all the doors on both Land Rovers flew open, and as the heavily armed intel types raced to take him down – Taggart simply smiled.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.

Oh, just one more thought. Oh, have you watched Pixar’s Soul yet?

Come Alive (23.1)

Chapter 23.1

He woke to the sounds of the ancient village coming back to life. No cars. Still no cell phones. Smoke from fireplaces and old kitchen stoves. He heard a horse drawn cart roll by on the quay and smiled as he made his way to the head, but with no one onboard, not even Clyde, he suddenly felt more alone than he ever had in his life.

“But why now?” he said to the stranger in the mirror.

Was it because the last six months had been an aberration? An aberration that had redefined his expectations of what life could be. 

“Or just maybe, Dickhead, what might have been?” the stranger in the mirror said.

Had he chosen, he wondered, to follow a path different from his father in a fit of defiance, perhaps even repudiation? Or had he, more likely than not, simply drifted into the loneliness that had defined his life – kind of a default move after Claire and all the emptiness that followed?

The face in the mirror was quiet now, the eyes suddenly empty…almost hollow.

“Or did you never find your soul after that night?”

The face in the mirror smiled a bit at that, but then it turned and walked away.

+++++

He walked around the old port until he found a place cooking breakfast, and he marveled at the tastes of things cooked on a simple fire. Croissant baked in a wood fired oven were a revelation. Eggs harvested an hour before they hit the skillet had a flavor he’d never experienced before, and a slice of freshly smoked fish almost brought tears to his eyes. He looked back on a life consumed with factory processed foods and he knew the answer even before the question formed in his mind: the heat had been turned up too slowly, the frog had failed to jump out of the water in time…and suddenly, just when he’d looked up from one more burger and fries grabbed on the run, it was too late. 

He saw a woman hop off a boat and walk his way, and when she sat at a table near his he smiled. Not too tall, dirty blond hair, athletic build – very California looking.

“Is that yours?” he asked her as she sat.

“What? The boat?” she replied, in the pure, easy going lilt of a native California Girl. “Yes, it is.”

“I haven’t seen a Westsail in years. You’ve kept her in good shape.”

She nodded. “Almost lost her in that damn storm. Raced in under bare poles, bloody near piled up on the rocks a couple of times.”

“You single-handing?”

“Yes.”

“When did you cross?”

“Last April. I left from Oriental.”

“Me too, but from Mystic.”

“Oh? What did you come over on?”

“A Nauticat, but I picked up a Hallberg-Rassy a month ago.”

“Oh? Is that yours tied up over on the quay?”

“Yup.”

“So, you’re from Newport Beach, too. Small world,” she sighed. “Where you headed?”

“Paris. The Arsenal.”

“Yup, small world.”

He had to laugh when he heard that.

“What’s so funny about that?” she asked.

“Can’t you hear them?” he replied.

“Hear what?”

“The cosmic tumblers – falling into place.”

She smiled at that, then for the next hour or so they compared notes on how they might go about getting their masts pulled before heading up the Seine. When it was time to head out and start the day he hesitated, then looked at her one more time.

“Want to grab some dinner tonight?” she asked, her eyes twinkling a little.

“I was about to ask you.”

“He who hesitates is lost,” she said, grinning. “Look, we’re on the same errand, so maybe we can work on this together, maybe finagle a better price in the process.”

“Spoken like a true cruiser.”

They both laughed at that – just as Clyde hove into view, walking across the little bridge over the lock by the carousel – and Taggart stood and whistled once (loudly), causing the old pup to look his way.

And that was all it took. Clyde ran as fast as he could right up to Henry and sat on his feet, looking up expectantly as if to say “I need some salmon, please.”

“He’s yours, I take it?” she asked.

“Yes, and pardon my French but I don’t even know your name.”

“Tracy,” she said, smiling and holding out her right hand.

“Henry,” he said, taking her hand in his. “And this wayward beast is Clyde. He’s been out running with his buddies for a few days – haven’t you, Buddy?”

Clyde barked twice, loudly.

“Uh-oh, I know that bark.”

“Time to find some grass, I take it?” Tracy said, smiling at the pup.

“Yup. There’s a little park right by the boat, too.”

“I’ll meet you there in a few minutes,” she said, then she made her way back to the Westsail.

He turned to Clyde and grinned. “I’m not even gonna ask where you’ve been. I hope she was worth it.”

“Woof!”

“Why’d I know you were going to say that?”

They walked back to Time Bandits – without a leash – and Clyde hosed down everything he sniffed, holding the heavy load until he reached the grass, then he cut loose.

“Jesus H Christ, Dude! What have you been eating?”

This followed by a long, low rumble, then a slow, hissing fart – that whistled a little on the closing notes.

“Dude…I don’t know you…” Taggart snarled, as nearby pedestrians began pinching off nostrils while looking his way…before they fled in terror.

+++++

They met again for dinner, at the same little bistro he’d taken Mike and Anton the day before, and not quite knowing what else to order he asked for the same thing he’d had yesterday. Tracy followed his lead and asked for the same, though she begged off having wine with her meal, and luckily the owners had enough food to pull it off again.

“So, Tracy from Newport Beach,” he said casually, if only to get the conversation going. “Where’d you go to high school? Harbor High?”

“Yup…you too?”

He nodded. “Okay, I gotta ask. Your last name is?”

She grinned. “Tomlin,” – then she saw his face. “What’s the matter?”

“And let me guess,” he said as he tried to catch his breath. “Your mother’s name is Edith.”

“How’d you know that?”

“Does the name Henry Taggart mean anything to you?”

“Hank?” she said, her face turning beet red.

The name hit him like a hammer blow, though he only nodded a little. 

“You were with Claire when…”

He looked away, his heart breaking all over again. “I thought you looked a little too familiar,” he sighed. “It’s the eyes, I guess.”

“Six degrees of separation,” she whispered.

“And then a butterfly sneezes in Beijing,” he added.

“Do you believe in coincidences?”

“Me? I believe in the righteousness of tequila and fresh limes. Nothing else much matters.”

“Right,” she said. “Isn’t that called deflection?”

“And what are you? A psychiatrist?”

She simply looked at him – without saying a word – though a slow smile began to spread across her face.

“Oh God, say it ain’t so. Not a GD psychiatrist!” he cried, leaning back in his chair, crossing his arms protectively over his gut while he grinned a little too madly.

“And you’ll never guess who my inspiration was!”

“Don’t tell me…let me guess…how ‘bout my mother.”

She smiled at that, too. “You’re smarter than you look, Hank.”

He nodded. “How is your mother?”

“Okay, all things considered.”

“I heard about the divorce. Ugly.”

“Too much money involved, I guess,” she sighed.

“And so you cut the cord, cast off your lines and beat feet. Why not the Coconut Run? Been there, done that?”

She nodded. “My husband and I, a few years ago.”

“Divorce?”

She nodded again. “Orange County has the highest divorce stats in the state.”

He laughed at that. “More lawyers in California than there are in the rest of the world.”

“That’s not true,” she scoffed.

And he shook his head. “My dad used to say the state Bar Association Directory was thicker than War and Peace. I laughed once, then he showed it to me. Beat it by a hundred and twenty pages; smaller type, too.”

“I don’t want to get personal, but I talked to my mom from the Azores. She told me you were up in Norway. And that she’d heard you’re pretty sick.”

“If you lived with a dog that farts like Clyde you’d be pretty sick, too.”

Her eyes widened just a bit, then they watered a little, too. “What is it? Cancer?”

“What gave it away? The weight gain, or my rosy complexion?”

“Deflection, Hank.”

“Tracy, I got this thing called a comfort zone…”

She quietly held up her hands in mock-defeat. “Okay Hank, you win this round,” yet her eyes never left his.

“Thanks.”

Their snails arrived and they were predictably better than wonderful, and so they comfortably retreated a little and talked about sailing – as sailors are wont to do from time to time – and then he brought up Dina and Rolf.

“Where are they?” she asked after he passed along the bare contours of the situation, asking the next, most obvious question.

“They sort of took off after Brugge. I don’t know where they are now.”

“You brought that boat in here by yourself?”

“Oh, no, not really. There were two guys with us.”

“Two guys?”

“Yup, a real asshole as it turned out, Navy Intelligence, and a Russian fighter pilot we plucked out of the Channel after he took a missile up the tailpipe.”

“That sounds about right. For you, anyway.”

“It’s been a weird summer.”

“Sounds a little like an understatement, Hank.”

“That ain’t the half of it.”

“So, why Paris?” she asked as she picked at her salad.

“It’s got to do with my parents.”

“And Claire, I take it.”

“Yes, and Claire.”

“So, Paris is the end of the line?”

“Yup. I’m getting off the train there.”

“You mind if I hang around for a while?” she asked.

“Do I mind? Are you serious?”

She nodded.

“Look, even if I did, Tracy, going against the whole cosmic tumblers thing seems kind of irresponsible to me. Not to mention stupid.”

“So, you think I’m here for a reason? Is that about it?”

He shrugged. “My temperature gauge has always been stuck about halfway between agnostic and full-blown atheist, so cut me some slack, would you? Truth is, I’m not sure what I think, but I have days – not often, you understand, but every now and then – when I’m smart enough to keep an open mind about the things I don’t understand.”

“What kind of wine is that?”

“A Piesporter. Goes pretty good with salad, by the way.”

“Mind if I have a glass?”

“You can have two…if you twist my arm enough.”

+++++

He took Clyde out for a long walk about five the next morning, then he walked over to Karma – the name of Tracy’s Westsail 32 – to see if she was awake yet. The plan was to set off and motor across the mouth of the Seine to LeHavre on slack water – at about 6:15 that morning – and they’d meet up with an outfit that promised to remove their masts over on the old commercial docks. A fuel truck would meet them out there around noon to fill-up both boats, and if all went as planned they’d head upriver and tie-off for the night at a riverfront restaurant that had been recommended to them. He heard her moving about below so took Clyde back to Time Bandits, then he jumped in the shower after he downed his breakfast – a can of Ensure, today – before he checked the weather and the BBC World Service.

He saw lights on across the river, a lot of lights, and surmised that the power was coming back on sooner than expected – a great development – then he saw Tracy in Karma’s cockpit talking on a cell phone. He dashed below and pulled his iPhone out of the charger and powered-up the unit, and as soon as his phone connected to a network his calls, texts, and emails started flowing into their respective folders.

“God…anonymity was kind of nice, ya know?” he said to Clyde – who ‘woofed’ twice. “What? Already?”

Clyde farted. Twice.

“Okay, okay…you win…let’s go!” He hooked-up Clyde’s leash and pocketed his phone then headed for the bushes, and while he waited for Clyde to flush the lines he went through his voicemails, then his texts. Nothing from Dina. Nothing from Eva or Britt.

But one from Rolf.

That had come through sometime during the night.

‘Back in Bergen,’ read the text. ‘Call this number when you can.’ But while the text bubbles around his texts were usually blue or green, this one was pink.

“Not good,” he sighed, pocketing the phone as Tracy walked up.

“Hi there,” she said as she leaned into him, at the same time passing along her phone. “It’s Mom. She wants to talk to you.”

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.