First Night: The Conflict Between Hope and Cynicism
Story by Dr. Lee Brazil
Foreword and Epilogue by:
Written by Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved
BOSTON HARBOR, BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS
December 24, 2019, 7:15 A.M.
We have met the enemy and he is us.
“Lee, you’ve got to get up. Lord knows you need a shower.” “Okay, okay.”
Lee sat up. “My head is killing me,” he said, with a winch.
“Here’s some aspirin.” She placed two in his hand.
“Thanks.” He rubbed his eyes.
“Now I hope I’ve gotten everything.” She was on her knees looking under the bed. “I think so. I can be so forgetful these days.” Lee nodded agreement and stumbled to the bathroom.
“Here’s your — I mean Emanuel’s — street clothes.”
Lee nodded again, took the clothing under his arm and closed the bathroom door.
Joann continued to talk, and Lee continued with his grunting and an occasional “yes” and “uh-huh.”
He turned the shower on and stepped in. As usual, the feel of the warm water was a healing experience. His head still ached and his thoughts were scrambled, but he felt a bit better.
What was real? What wasn’t? What would he tell Jennings? No, what would Jennings believe? Why should he waste his breath? Jennings wanted the package, not a story about aliens and ghost ships and hundred-year-old cab drivers and close friends returning from the dead. He would just deliver the package and tell Jennings he was going to stop playing “I Spy.” That’s what he had planned to do. But was the package the same one he had picked up in London? They had been switched, hadn’t they? He wasn’t even sure of that. Maybe the whole thing was just a dream.
Lee was still developing his plan, if you could call it that, when Joann banged on the door.
“Lee, honey, come on,” she said with force.
He quickly shaved and put on his street clothes. A pair of slacks and a sport coat. The tan was fading and more hair had fallen out. He stared into the mirror for a second. He was starting to look like his old, very old self.
“You can go on. I’ll check us out with the head steward.”
Their eyes met. “I told Father Allen I would get you to Boston, and I’ve kept my word,” said Joann.
“And you were always good at doing that, unlike me.” Joann smiled.
“How are you doing this morning?” asked Lee, sounding apologetic.
“I’m just fine. And you?”
There was a pause. “Oh, I’m fine too.” But they weren’t. “I appreciate you. I’ve…”
Joann stopped him.
“Dr. Brazil, look at me. Be happy with the people and things you have and the memories you will always have.”
She hugged Lee, and he kissed her on the forehead.
“Now go,” she said, pushing Lee away.
Lee stepped toward the door. Turning, he said, “I’ll see you in Portland, when . . . well, whenever I get back.”
“Maybe,” she said, and turned away. “I’ll just check the bathroom one last time. Don’t want to leave anything.”
Lee pulled Emanuel’s toboggan down to his ears and zipped his coat up. He shoved his hook in the pocket of his coat.
No one seemed to be looking or caring as he left the ship. The ship’s officer glanced at him and his passport and waved him through. He moved into another line that was moving quickly. Most of the crew was leaving only for the day, and many would be staying on the ship over the holiday. They carried nothing or only a carry-on bag.
Lee’s heart was pounding as he approached the customs officer. He was taking slow, deep breaths that helped, but his head ached and he hoped to God he did not have to try to say anything with his broken Spanish.
It was his turn. Lee smiled at the officer who ignored this gesture and focused on the passport. “Are you returning to your ship this evening?” he asked.
Lee shook his head yes and muttered “si” under his breath. The officer looked up, smiled, winked, and allowed him to pass.
Lee knew where he was. Black Falcon Avenue. It was only a few blocks from Jennings’ office. He pushed his way through the sightseers. The sun was out, and even though the temperature was only in the low forties, it was a beautiful day.
My Lord, it’s Christmas Eve, Lee thought. I didn’t even wish Joann a Merry Christmas. Maybe when I get back. She did say maybe . . . “Stop!” he said aloud. He focused again on Jennings. Lee crossed the street. The crowd had thinned. His legs still felt like spaghetti, and walking on the cobblestones didn’t help.
Don’t turn your ankle, he said to himself. Watch where you’re stepping. Slowly. He continued to mumble to himself. He stopped for a moment to re-tie his left shoe and noticed that the person a half block behind him had also stopped.
Yes, Lee was sure he was being followed. But he continued on. He tried not to look back. Maybe he was wrong. He looked back again. The man was still there, approximately half a block away.
Lee knew he was close to Jennings’ office. He increased his pace. His stalker appeared to do the same.
Lee turned left, as did the man. He assumed it was a man that was following him. He was now only a block away from Jennings’ office. If this person was going to try to take the package away from him, he would do it now. It would be his only chance. Lee pushed the package down farther into his breast pocket. He buttoned the top buttons of his coat.
When he reached the steps to Jennings’ office, he was jogging, not walking. He climbed the steps two at a time. He burst through the door of the nondescript brick building that housed Jennings’ office and the detention center. Most people weren’t supposed to know it was an FBI office building, and no one was supposed to know about the small detention center. Just a number over the door, 136.
Lee had made it. Or had he?
He looked to see what his stalker was doing. To Lee’s surprise, he was coming up the steps. It was a young, blond man in a black trench coat wearing sunglasses. He opened the door. Lee stepped back, holding his breath.
“Pardon me,” the young man said, as he stepped past Lee and was buzzed into the building.
Lee sighed. He took another deep breath. “Lord,” he said out loud, “what tricks your mind can play on you.” He picked up the intercom phone.
“Yes. Can I help you?” It was a woman’s voice.
“Yes. I need to see Agent Jennings.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“Just tell him Dr. Brazil is here. I believe he will want to see me.” The line went dead. Lee hung up the phone and waited. But not for long. The door buzzed open. A young woman in full security gear beckoned him to come with her. They rode the elevator to the fourth floor.
The door opened, and the young woman pointed to a security agent sitting at a desk. “Mr. Jones will help you,” she said.
Lee stepped off the elevator and stood in front of Mr. Jones’s desk while Jones finished a phone conversation. “Got it?” he said. “Don’t worry about it.” He turned his attention to Lee.
“Come with me,” he said.
Lee had reached Boston. He followed Mr. Jones down a long hall into a large room with at least a dozen cubicles. Most were empty, since it was Christmas Eve. Finally, they were standing at the door of a small office that looked out on the bay. Jennings had his back to the door. He was focused on his computer. Lee entered the office and said nothing. Jennings, hearing their approach, sprang to his feet.
“Come in, come in. Welcome to Boston,” he said. “Can I get you something to drink? Maybe coffee?”
“Uh . . . yes,” said Lee, sounding unsure of himself.
Mr. Jones waited. Lee finally noticed. “Oh, just cream, no sugar.” Jones nodded and disappeared.
“Well, sit down,” said Jennings, gesturing to a straight-back wooden chair in front of his desk. “You’ve had quite a trip.”
“To say the least.”
“Did you enjoy London and Paris? Paris is my favorite.”
Lee smiled and said nothing.
“Well, let’s not talk about me. Let’s talk about what you have brought me.”
Lee nodded and pulled the package out of his breast pocket and laid it on Jennings’ desk.
Jennings grabbed it and began examining it.
“Yes,” he said, as he flipped it over. “Looks like it’s okay. The seals haven’t been broken.”
Jones reentered the room with the coffee. He handed it to Lee.
“Thank you,” said Lee.
Jones nodded again.
Gesturing to Jones, “Here, Ben, take this out to George and ask him . . . well, he’ll know what to do.”
Returning his focus to Lee, “Not that I don’t trust you and what you’ve told me, but we do need to scan it.”
Lee raised his eyebrows. “I haven’t told you anything,” he said.
“Exactly,” said Jennings. “And why so quiet? No tales of lights in the sky, our Flight 19, or lost ships?” he said with an expression that appeared to be a cross between a smile and a sneer.
Lee looked down. “It’s a very long story, and I doubt you would really be that interested.”
“Well, maybe not.”
“I . . . I just hope,” said Lee, “you . . . you…” Lee stopped himself. “You’re not surprised that I am here this morning.”
“No, we were expecting you,” said Jennings, regaining his momentum.
“You lost us for about twenty-four hours, but we figured out Where you were going. Where you had to be.”
Lee caught Jennings’ eye. “You had some help doing that.”
Jennings grimaced at that. “Oh, yes. Our friendly government contractor Hollocore. Their security folks were very helpful.”
Jennings leaned forward across his desk. “Look, Dr. Brazil, I know things got a little dicey in Paris.” He was trying his best to sound apologetic.
Lee continued his stare. “And London and Bermuda,” Lee added.
Lee looked out at the bay.
“I know, but mistakes do happen. Well, you’re here and the package is here, and it’s Christmas Eve.” Jennings smiled.
Lee turned back to face Jennings. “I’m not doing this again,” said Lee, and he stood up.
“Exactly,” said Jennings. “And I wouldn’t ask you to. But, you know…”
“Skip the patriotic BS. I’m way too old to be running errands for you.”
“Well, thank you,” said Jennings, “for your service, Dr. Brazil.”
Mr. Jones opened the door and said, “It all checks out.”
“You can leave now. Jones will show you out,” said Jennings, who turned back around to face his computer.
Lee stood there for a moment, thinking about what he should say next.
“I suppose I should tell you…”
Jennings showed no signs of interest in what Lee was saying. “We must hurry, Dr. Brazil,” said Jones. “We have arranged for your bags to come off of a London flight. Your wife will be meeting that flight. She and your daughter are waiting for you at Logan.”
Jones showed Lee to a car waiting at the loading dock at the back of the building. They were off. It was Christmas Eve, and every bad driver who had miraculously survived another year in Boston was on the road. But the nondescript black Crown Vic, one of the last left in the FBI fleet, and its driver made amazing good time. On the way to Logan, Jones explained that they had e-mailed Liz using his Gmail address. They had told her he had been delayed and that he had lost his cell phone, which was true.
Lee found himself thinking about Joann again. Lee remembered the time that she had driven all the way from Maine to Logan Airport in Boston to pick him up when he had missed his flight to Portland. And then he had gotten them lost in godforsaken Swampscott at two o’clock in the morning in his effort to try to get them back to Maine.
Lee stopped himself again. Joann and Lee had established separate lives and that was most likely how it would be forever. Joann had always focused on what was in front of her. Not on the past or what the future might bring. As she had told him that morning, “Be happy with the people and the things that you have in your life now. You will always have your memories.” It sounded like a line from Casablanca, but it was true and it worked for her. “The present,” she would say, “is the only thing that can give us hope for the future,” and that was certainly true. Tonight was Christmas Eve.
At the airport, Jones helped Lee pick his way through the crowd and move through security quickly. He handed Lee a baggage claim slip and a cancelled ticket and left Lee.
It took a few minutes, but Lee found Liz in the crowd. He hugged her tight and said nothing.
“You’re okay,” she said. “I was so worried.” She had been crying. “More this time than when you were in Boston. I thought…”
“I’m okay. A little sore and bruised for the wear and tear, but okay.” Tears were welling up in Lee’s eyes.
“Do you think your bag will make it? I mean, the one I loaned you?” asked Liz. “I checked the ‘thing.’ Had to pay extra this time for the weight,” said Liz. “You’ve got to get rid of that bag someday.”
“Well, we missed a perfect opportunity.”
“What do you mean?” asked Liz.
“Oh, nothing. You know, Heathrow loses a lot of luggage.”
“Well, I really like the bag I loaned you,” Liz persisted. “I hope…”
“I know, I know…”
“And where did you get the new sport coat and slacks, . . . and the tan?
“Harrods’s,” said Lee. “You like?”
“And a long walk on a sunny day.”
Liz raised her eyebrows. But she seemed most puzzled by Lee’s hair, even though much of the new growth had fallen out.
“What did you do to your hair? Are you using that hair growth stuff? I warned you about the chemicals in that.”
“I know, I know,” said Lee. “We’ll talk about it later.”
“Dru and her fiancé are somewhere . . . here.” Liz scanned the crowd. “They said they would try to find us in baggage claim. She texted me.” She caught Lee’s eyes. “They plan on getting married in the spring and they’re talking about having a family.” She paused “Don’t say I told you. She wants to talk with you about it. They will take us to the Westin.” She scanned the baggage claim area again. “They have a nice room for us there. We’ll do Christmas at their apartment in the morning.”
“That’s wonderful,” said Lee. “Hope springs eternal, especially on Christmas Eve.”
Lee saw his bag and started for it. Liz followed.
“So what happened? Why were you delayed?” asked Liz.
“It’s a long story, and you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Try me,” said Liz with determination. Lee smiled warmly.
“Okay. But you realize if I tell you, I will have to . . .” They both laughed.