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
December 16, 2019, 12:52 P.M.
When you’re going through hell, keep going.
~ Winston Churchill
Lee stared blankly at the door latch, hoping that the voice would slide back into the past. It didn’t work.
“I knew you would be surprised,” said the voice. “But in life, one never knows what’s around the next corner. Right, Doc? I think you told me that once.”
Lee turned slowly to face Special Agent Jennings. He was seated at Lee’s desk in the old and now quite dilapidated brown leather chair Lee had bought when he had begun his practice in Winterpool.
Lee tried to compose his thoughts.
“So, what brings you to Winterpool?” Lee asked, his voice cracking.
“I like a man who gets down to business. Don’t you agree, Andrew?”
“Does this have anything to do . . .”
Jennings interrupted. “No, it doesn’t have anything to do with last night.”
“How . . .” Lee stopped himself.
“Well, first things first. This is Andrew Smith, an old friend of mine who works for our government.”
“Call me Andy,” he said as he stood and extended his hand.
Andy smiled. Lee didn’t. Lee gave his hand a weak shake.
Andrew, Lee thought, looked like an aging Howdy Doody.
“So let me ask again. Why are you and Andrew — I mean, Andy — doing here?”
“We need . . .”
“My help.” Lee finished his sentence.
“Exactly,” said Jennings.
Lee cringed. He was sure his reaction was clear to his two guests.
“Just a small favor,” said Jennings, smiling.
“How small?” Lee asked with obvious irritation.
“We need for you to pick something up and deliver it for us,” said Jennings.
“Why not UPS or FedEx? I know the government is trying to control spending but . . .”
“Doc, you’re still the smartass I learned to love years ago. You’re leaving for London tomorrow evening, and then you have a meeting in Paris on Tuesday and back to the States on Thursday, Christmas Eve.”
Lee was a bit surprised that Jennings knew his travel plans, though he knew the Feds had monitored his activities closely since his release. Still, it was a jolt.
“Your travel plans fit well with our needs,” said Jennings.
“And what, specifically, are your needs?”
“We need for someone, or should I say, Andrew needs someone who has been planning a trip like yours for a long time.”
Lee remembered Liz had booked their tickets months before. Liz would stay in London and visit friends from Leister who would come down for last minute Christmas shopping, and Lee would go to Paris on the train, the Eurostar. He’d always wanted to take the trip since it was completed. He would attend a day-long conference by the World Health Organization on health promotion and wellness and write the whole thing off as a business trip.
“It needs to be somebody they wouldn’t suspect of working with us,” said Andrew.
“Of working with you?”
“Yes, working with the United States government.”
Lee remembered his first encounter with someone working for the U.S. government. His department of the government was the CIA, and he was looking for a psychologist who would work with retired agents. Over the next two years, Lee got a couple of mysterious referrals of individuals who said they had also worked for the U.S. government. “So it can’t be one of your agents.” “Exactly,” said Jennings.
“So what is this ‘something’ you want me to pick up?” asked Lee. There was a pause. Jennings turned to Andrew who responded with hesitation.
“Let us just say, it belongs to us and we need to get it into safe hands.” Here we go again, thought Lee.
“How many lives are at stake this time?” said Lee, sarcastically. “Look, Doc, this is serious business,” said Jennings, with some force and irritation.
“I’m sure it is, but you have people who do this sort of thing, don’t you? Why don’t you use one of them?”
“Well, we’ve had some trouble,” answered Andrew, avoiding eye contact with Lee, “at our Paris station. Let’s just say there are some problems with doing it that way.”
Lee turned to Jennings. “So, do I have a choice about this?”
Jennings smiled broadly. “Well, not really, unless you really want to spend some more time with us in Boston. We discussed this years ago before you were released. You haven’t forgotten our conversation at North Station, have you?”
“I’ve tried to.”
“You will,” said Andrew, making an effort to make eye contact with Lee, “be doing the U.S. government a great service. It’s taken years to develop this project. We don’t want it compromised in any way at this point.”
“So, what do I pick up and where do I pick it up and drop it off?
“Relax, Doc. They will give you the details once you’re in London.
You will be staying at the Thistle Marble Arch. Am I right?”
“Yes, I think so.”
Jennings’ smile was cunning. “So, it’s a deal. Don’t worry. It’s a slamdunk. Be over in a few days.”
Lee remembered that these were the CIA director’s famous last words before the invasion of Iraq. But Lee didn’t say anything else.
Jennings got to his feet, as did Andrew. “Good to see you again, Doc.
We’ll let you get back to work.”
“I’ll see you in Paris, Dr. Brazil,” said Andrew.
And with that, they were gone.
Lee closed the door and sat down on the couch. He had hoped he would never see Jennings again. His mind flashed back to the last days in Boston before his release. The small cell he had spent months in, the heavy metal doors, the window that looked out on the bay. The sounds. The smells.
The intercom buzzed. Lee sprang to his feet.
“Yes, Loretta, they’ve gone . . . just some questions about my last tax return. We got it all straightened out. Everything is fine.”
Loretta didn’t sound convinced, but that was all Lee was going to say. He would be back in a week and Jennings would be, once again, in the past.
Loretta did have some good news.
“Your patient, Frank, called and apologized for the night before. He said he would be out of town for the next few days and would call for an appointment when he returned. He didn’t leave a number.”
Lee had not been able to reach him on his cell.
“And Chief Moore called. Said Frank had called him and told him that he knew about the fire, but that he had not moved his stuff into the cottage. He said he would come by the station when he got back. Chief Moore wasn’t sure where he was calling from.”
Lee felt some relief. False alarm, just like all the other false alarms he’d dealt with over the years. But just like the fire department, they all had to be answered.
Lee forced himself to make the last few phone calls of the day. He finished the last report. He would be gone for only a few days, but now it seemed much longer. He called the answering service and gave them his contact information and left a note about one of his patients for the on-call clinician. And finally he left a brief voicemail for Jim Hardy about Dr. Forester.
Lee locked his office door and said good-bye to Loretta, wishing her happy holidays, even though he knew the holidays would be a struggle for her. She missed her husband especially around the holidays, although she would never admit or talk about it. Perhaps most difficult for her was her son’s slow recovery from the car accident. He would be spending the holidays at a rehab center in Portland. Lee thought of what Loretta would say when anyone showed concern or sympathy for her, “Such is life.”
Lee buttoned his overcoat and put on the gray flannel hat that he started wearing this time of year. He scanned the reception area and the waiting room one last time. He picked up his old leather briefcase that felt relatively light since he had decided that he would not take work with him. He opened the door and stepped out into the late afternoon twilight. The wind was cold and off the ocean.