First Night: The Conflict Between Hope and Cynicism
Story by Dr. Lee Brazil
Foreword and Epilogue by Benjamin Brazil-Woodfords
Written by Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved
Author’s Note: All characters and situations in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to persons (living or dead) is purely coincidental. References to actual persons (living or dead) are strictly for historical perspective and fictional narrative.
Statements or descriptions are information only. First Night is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice for which your healthcare professional is your best source. If you believe you may need or benefit from care, you should consult a psychologist or other licensed health/mental health professional.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, photocopying, recording or otherwise without written permission in of the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
For information regarding permission, please write to: Permissions Department, The Reed Edwards Company, P.O. Box 434, Sturbridge, MA 01566
First Printing January, 2014
I’m going to tell you a story about the continual conflict in our world between cynicism and hope. It seems to me an appropriate time to do this. First Night is the sequel to Reaching Home. Like Reaching Home, it is set in the future. The decisions and choices that the characters make and their resilience determine the outcome of their story, just as the decisions and choices that the American people make in the days ahead will determine our fate and the fate of our world.
We are called to act with justice . . . to love tenderly . . . to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.
~ Methodist Hymn
This is a story I thought I had finished telling years ago. It is about my grandfather, Lee Brazil, a quiet and ordinary man in so many ways. He had, as the U.S. Census Bureau counts such things, a disability. He was born without a left hand. Yet despite his unassuming demeanor, he was driven to tell his story. You see, my grandfather never made peace with the South that he grew up in as a child, or with the nuclear industry he blamed for his disability, or with the prosthetic hook he wore throughout his life. I wrote the first part of his story in a book entitled Reaching Home. The story focused on his return to the South in the spring of 2013. At that time, he was working on his book about the nuclear industry. While there, an explosion occurred in one of the Department of Energy plants in Pine Grove, Tennessee. My poor grandfather was caught up in the ensuing disaster and implicated in what was mistakenly believed to be a terrorist plot. He somehow managed to escape from the detention center where he was being held, though soon after he was found. However, the FBI offered, and he accepted, a deal to help them foil a real terrorist plot and thus avoid prosecution himself. Much of this first story was about his journey back to his home in Maine and the unlikely allies he met along the way.
The story I am about to tell you is the conclusion of my grandfather’s story. Much of it is taken from a manuscript he prepared but never published. Some parts of it I find hard to believe. It focuses on his life after his return to Maine. It took a few years for him to put his life and his practice as a psychologist back together. The present story begins in mid-December of 2019. He and my grandmother were planning a trip to London just before the Christmas holidays, when he received an unexpected visit from federal agents, including an Agent Jennings, who he got to know very well while in detention. He was asked to pick up a package in London and deliver it to Paris.
With much hesitation, my grandfather agreed, as this was part of the deal he struck with the Bureau. Little did he know he would become caught up in a race to develop a supercomputer that could extend life and might open the entire universe to colonization. In the end, he was pulled into the conflict between those who would win the race at any cost and others who believe human beings lack the moral development to have such power.
The final chapter of my grandfather’s story begins when he was seventy-two, in Winterpool, a small town on the Maine coast, where he and my family had lived for many years. A town where unusual things seldom happened. That is, until the night of December 15, 2019.
Benjamin Brazil Woodfords
April 17, 2045
Home of Dr. Lee Brazil
December 15, 2019, 4:13 A.M.
It was a very cold February evening. Just before sunset. The sky was a crimson red. The sea was calm and still, like a dark sheet of glass that reflected back the fading light of the sun. The weather was clear. There was no wind. A five-mast schooner, The Carol Deering, with full sail sat dead in the water, twenty nautical miles southwest of Cape Hatteras. The schooner was en route to Norfolk, but carrying no cargo.
One by one, the crew of the ship appeared on deck. They did not speak. They moved toward the lifeboats. A deafening silence hung over the ship. As The Carol Deering rocked gently, they lowered the lifeboats into the icy water. They were abandoning ship, but there was no storm. There was no panic. The schooner was not sinking.
The wheelhouse had already been abandoned. The captain was packing his charts and nautical instruments into one of the lifeboats with the assistance of a crewman. Again, no words were being spoken. There was no sound except those of the men’s footsteps and the lapping of the sea against the hull of the great schooner.
Off the starboard bow was a bright, metallic blue light. It was not the moon or a star or a planet. It was not a ship’s searchlight or a beacon. It was different from all of these in its color, a metallic blue, and it was high above the water and did not move.
A man dressed in black stood on the bow of the schooner. He was a priest. He appeared mesmerized by the light. A young blond seaman placed a small gold cross with seven green stones that seemed to glow in the priest’s right hand. The priest remained fixated on the light. Another crewman, a black man, took the priest by the arm and began to lead him to a lifeboat. Again, no words were spoken. The young blond seaman assisted this crewman and the priest into a lifeboat and then lowered them into the dark motionless water.
As the first stars of the evening appeared, a heavy gray fog rolled in, first from the West and then from the East. One by one, the lifeboats from The Carol Deering were swallowed up by the fog. The young blond seaman remained on the schooner’s deck. His bright green eyes continued to glow like the stones in the cross as the fog rolled over The Carol Deering.
Lee woke up. He rubbed his eyes. He’d had the same dream for the last three nights. When the fog rolled over the schooner, the dream ended and he awoke.
Lee lay back and took a deep breath.
In the last few weeks, for reasons he did not understand, he had felt drawn to learn more about The Carol Deering. Built in Maine, it had been lost in the Bermuda Triangle in 1921. On a cold morning in late February, the five-mast schooner had been found grounded on the Diamond Shoals off North Carolina’s Outer Banks. When the Coast Guard boarded the schooner, the crew was gone as were the lifeboats and the captain’s instruments and records. It was a ghost schooner. Why it had been abandoned, no one knew. And why Lee had suddenly become so interested in the schooner? He did not know. But he found himself on websites devoted to the Triangle. He had depleted the Winterpool Community Library of all their books about Bermuda. They only had two. And now he had begun to dream about this ghost schooner, The Carol Deering. Lee had at first justified these Internet searches because of his concern for his patient, Frank Bowman. Frank had returned to see Lee complaining of having dreams about the Bermuda Triangle that made no sense to him. But when Lee began having the same dreams, he realized that something else was driving his interest to the point of obsession. He told himself it was just another sign that he was burning out and another indicator that he should get completely out of clinical work. But he knew there was more to it. But what?
Lee turned and tossed for a while. He finally managed to doze off. The alarm did not wake him when it went off at 6:30 A.M. He was late for his first patient.
Whites Ferry Road
December 15, 2019, 3:43 P.M.
Frank had spent most of the day in his office at home. He had had a terrible night. He left a note for his wife not to disturb him. She had tried to talk with him, but he had refused to open the door. Finally, she gave up and left to take the children to school and, he assumed, to go on to work. His cell phone rang a number of times that morning, but he refused to answer it.
Most of the calls were from her.
Finally, in mid-afternoon he had decided to throw some clothes and some toiletries into a bag. He had called a realtor. And as he had been instructed to do, he had rented the White’s cabin. The realtor had hesitated at first, but she knew Frank. Frank decided not to wait to try to explain to his wife what he was doing. He left. He drove around until it was close to dark. The realtor said she would leave the keys in the mailbox. He had been adamant with her that he had to be in the cabin by nightfall. He had called Dr. Brazil’s office and left a message pleading for him to meet him at the cabin this evening. He had been instructed to do this also. The man in the dream had told him to. It had all been so clear in the dream. He was sure if he told anyone about the dream, they would think he was crazy. Maybe even Dr. Brazil would think he was crazy.
He would get to the cabin before dark. He was sure that Dr. Brazil would meet him there in the evening. Frank needed desperately to understand what was happening to him. The dream kept replaying itself in his head. There was a schooner in the dream, a ghost schooner named The Carol Deering. There was an old man on the deck of The Carol Deering — an old man with a beard. Frank had never seen him. But he was speaking directly to Frank. The old man, who said his name was Griff, had a message for Dr. Brazil. He said that Frank must deliver the message. He said that Frank must tell Dr. Brazil that he would be visited by someone he did not trust who would ask him for a favor — a favor that Dr. Brazil must not refuse. It was very important, the old man said. Frank kept hearing the voice over and over again in his head. I’m losing my mind, he said to himself. He was on White’s Ferry Road now. He would be at the cabin in a few minutes. The fog was getting thicker, but he was almost there.
December 15, 2019, 9:16 P.M.
What distinguishes men from the rest of animals is his ability to do artificial things.
~ Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano
In the early evening fog Lee had to concentrate to keep the car on the road. This was especially difficult since Lee wanted to think about other things — Europe and the vacation he and his wife had been planning for months — and not think about the fog or the road or the reason he was out in the pucker brush trying to drive on this godforsaken road on such a miserable evening.
He had not seen his patient Frank Bowman in five years. Frank had shown up in Lee’s office two weeks ago complaining of feeling nervous and anxious and having sleep problems. He wanted to talk that very day, so Lee arranged an emergency appointment for later in the afternoon. Frank complained about having strange dreams, dreams about pirates and a lost sea captain. The dreams didn’t “make any sense” to him, Frank said. He was especially upset by one in which a young woman — he remembered her name, Theo — was begging for her life. He remembered that very clearly.
This morning, as Lee was trying to get out the door to the office, the phone rang. Loretta, Lee’s receptionist, was calling to tell Lee that Frank had called his office early this morning. Loretta had come in early to do filing and had taken the message.
“Frank sounded agitated,” she said. Loretta loved to use professional words, like ‘labile’ and ‘agitated.’ She said he would call back, but he hadn’t yet. He said he couldn’t keep his 6:00 P.M. appointment at the office because it “wouldn’t be safe.” But he said he had to see Lee this evening. He said it was urgent. He explained that he was no longer living with his wife and had taken a winter rental near White’s Ferry, 629 White’s Ferry Road, to be exact. Lee reluctantly agreed to the meeting and told Loretta to call Frank Bowman back and confirm the time. She told Lee not to rush. She would “cover for him” about being late with his first patient. She had always been good at that.
It had been a very long day. Lee was not in the habit of making house calls, but Frank Bowman sounded terrified and Lee was feeling very anxious and confused about the case. Lee had initially tried to help Frank understand the meaning of the dreams that he was having. But Frank had shown little interest in these interpretations, which Lee, to be honest, was hard-pressed to come up with, since he did not understand their relationship to Frank’s life either. But something more was going on than just watching too many old reruns of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Frank had seen Lee initially five years ago after the death of a close friend. It had occurred in a strange boating accident in Bermuda. Lee remembered that his friend’s body had never been recovered. Frank, who was in his late forties, had been married for a number of years. He said his marriage was a happy one. He had two children and worked in the reinsurance industry that required him to travel frequently between Portland and Bermuda. Reinsurance companies, Lee had learned from Frank, were the ones that took the risk that most insurance companies didn’t want to take. They insured the insurance company. According to Frank, Maine and Bermuda were two of the industry’s “hot spots.” Most reinsurance companies were located in Portland or Hamilton.
“Turn right on Mill Turn Road,” said the mechanical voice. Thank God for GPS, thought Lee. He could barely see the road, much less the road signs.
It was starting to snow. The roads would be freezing soon. “This was a bad idea and getting worse,” Lee muttered to himself. “I’m too old for this crap.” Lee made the turn onto Mill Turn.
Snow wasn’t in the forecast. When Lee had left the office, the sky had been clear. Orion was rising in the eastern sky.
“In 300 feet turn right on White’s Ferry Road,” the mechanical voice directed. Lee slowed the car to a crawl.
Okay, there it is. I think. He turned.
“Recalculating,” said the mechanical voice.
“Oh, shut up,” groaned Lee. “So I missed it. Keep your shirt on. I’ll turn around.” And he did, with some difficulty, and turned again. His wife, Liz, was always complaining that he should buy a new smartphone with advanced navigation. But his old smartphone was smart enough. He hated technology, especially new technology. In the years before, he had looked forward to retirement when he would not have to carry a pager anymore. Lee didn’t carry a pager anymore, but smartphones were worse. Why should he buy something with “advanced features” on it when he didn’t use the basic features he had now? If it wasn’t broke, why the hell fix it? Lee knew the answer to that. Money. Good old capitalism. “Go shopping,” as George W. would say.
“Go .3 miles. 629 White’s Ferry Road is on your right.”
Lee began to notice that the fog up ahead had a strange orange glow. The combination of fog and snow on the coast in December was not unusual. But having an orange glow certainly was. As he crept along the road, it seemed to be growing brighter. The orange began to mix with blue and red.
His cellphone rang. Now what? He glanced at the number. He didn’t recognize it. He picked up the phone. “This is Dr. Brazil.” The line was dead. “Another dropped call,” he groaned to himself.
Lee glanced back at the road just in time to avoid running Rob Daniels down. He was standing in the center of the road in his worn-out yellow rain suit, which he wore when he was, as Lee put it, “playing volunteer fireman.”
Rob was waving him over to the side of the road. Lee rolled down the window. “Jesum, Rob, I almost ran you over. What’s up?”
“One doozy of a fire,” said Rob with a smile. “I don’t think I’ve seen one like this before.”
“Don’t know,” said Rob. “Nothing’s left of the place. Just a pile of embers.”
“I hope nobody was in there,” said Lee, thinking about Frank.
“Melted the damn car. Melted it. Never seen anything like that. Chief hasn’t either.”
“Where’s the Chief?”
“Up there,” said Rob, pointing. “Now you be careful, Doc. There’s a
lot of . . . strange things going on around here tonight.”
“What do you mean, Rob . . . strange?”
Rob hesitated. “I don’t know, Doc. Things . . . they just aren’t right around here tonight,” he said, staring into the fog behind Lee’s car. Lee waited.
“I don’t know, Doc. Just talk to the Chief.”
Lee rolled the car window up and drove slowly up the road through the fog toward the lights. The Chief’s pick-up truck was parked behind the other rescue vehicles. He was on his cell phone.
Lee pulled over and got out of the car. He stood back, giving the Chief some privacy while he surveyed the scene. James White’s cottage was a pile of ash. Flattened. Lee had seen a lot of burned-out structures over the years with his work with the fire and rescue people, but never one like this. The plumbing, the appliances, everything melted flat.
He could hear Chief Thibodeau saying “Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” and shaking his head. Lee wondered whom he was talking to. The Chief was a big man with bright red hair, starting to gray. Clean-shaven, in his late forties. He loved his job.
The Chief ended the call and motioned to Lee. Lee extended his hand.
“How are you, Chief?”
“A little confused. It was the Feds. Why the hell are they calling me? We just got this call forty-five minutes ago. What the hell are you doing out here?”
Lee hesitated. This was one of those times when you had to decide if it was in your patient’s best interest to break confidentiality, and it seemed clear to Lee that it was.
“Well, Mike, I got a call from one of my patients. He had just rented this cottage for the winter and said he wanted to meet me here. He was insistent that we meet tonight. But what this is about, I have no idea.”
“Well, it seems the FBI knew your patient. That’s who I was on the phone with. How and why, I don’t know. I asked Chief Moore to come out. I told him the police should be involved, since this looks . . . like arson.” The Chief shook his head again, looking with puzzlement at the pile of ash that was the White’s cottage. “I don’t know exactly what it looks like.”
“Do you think anyone . . . Frank . . . was in there?”
“I don’t know. It will take twenty-four hours for this to cool down enough to allow the state and maybe the Feds to answer that question.”
The Chief continued to shake his head and motioned Lee in the direction of the field next to the cottage.
“I’ve got something.” His voice trailed off.
Through the smoke Lee could see a couple of firemen standing at the edge of the field with their flashlights.
“Look at this,” said the Chief, as he shined his light across the field. “We put this out when we got here.”
There was silence while the Chief moved his light across the field. The snow that had covered the ground had melted. The grass was flattened, singed and still smoking.
“Look at the shape of it. It’s almost a perfect circle,” said the Chief. “Better not say this to you, Doc. You’ll think I’m completely crazy, but the first thing I thought of was those damn crop circles. You know, the pranks those kids in the Midwest apparently did to make the authorities think there had been some type of ‘alien landing’? If this is a prank, it is a damned elaborate and expensive one. How the hell did they do this?”
“I don’t know. What would be the point? This makes no sense to me. Frank sounded desperate, but I don’t think . . . I don’t think he would burn the cottage down. And this business . . . a perfect circle?”
Lee looked out over the field again, as one of the firemen moved his light across the field.
“Makes no sense,” said Lee. And it didn’t.
Lee stayed for another half hour. There didn’t seem to be very much to say or do. No one understood what had happened. When Police Chief Moore arrived, he had no new insights to add.
Condominium of Joann Lawrence PORTLAND, MAINE
December 16, 2019, 8:05 A.M. EST
Joann was busy, straightening up. She was a single woman in her mid-sixties. She had been retired for some time. She noticed that her laptop was on. Strange, she thought, because she usually turned it off. As she would say, “Saving power is saving money.”
But she hadn’t had to worry about saving money since she “came into money,” as she liked to put it, a few years ago.
She started to turn the computer off, but she noticed her grandfather’s cross on the desk next to the computer. I must be losing it, she muttered to herself. How did it get there? It was a small gold cross, with seven green stones that seem to glow in the early morning light.
She picked the cross up in her right hand, and her left hand seemed to move on its own. She began scrolling through a list of employment notices for nannies. She stopped on one ad.
“Hmm,” she said with interest. “Temporary position on The Saint, a luxury cruise liner. December cruise to Bermuda. Six days. Departs Boston December 18th. Returns to Boston December 24th. Assist parents with care of two boys, ages 7 and 9. Competitive wage. Must be experienced, mature, and provide references.”
“Why not?” she said out loud. “It will get me out of here for the holidays. I don’t need the money, though.” She continued to talk to herself. “But, what the heck? And I could…” she stopped. “I could do what I feel like I should do.” At least what she’s felt like she should do for the last few weeks since she found the cross in an old jewelry box. She hadn’t worn it in years. But for some reason — she couldn’t remember the reason — she had been going through the jewelry case a few weeks ago and she saw it. From that moment on, she had felt like she should return it to the Episcopal Church in Bermuda where her grandfather had first served as a priest. It puzzled her why she should suddenly feel such a strong desire to do so. I could see the church and some of the island. I’ve always wanted to see Bermuda. But for some reason, she never had.
December 16, 2019, 1:00 A.M.
Hope: Eating the air on promise of supply.
Lee had gotten home late. His wife Liz was already in bed. He had a restless night. Crop circles, a melted car, a disappearing patient. He needed to get out of this business completely. He kept thinking about the young woman in his patient’s dreams. Theo . . . Pleading for her life.
Theo. Short for Theodosia he wondered? Lee slipped out of the bedroom without turning on a light and into his study. He thumbed through the bookcase and found it. The Bermuda Triangle by Adi-Kent Thomas Jeffery. Theodosia was the daughter of Vice President Aaron Burr and the wife of the first governor of South Carolina. She had a tragic history, with her mother having died when she was a young girl and her father being exiled after his fatal duel with Alexander Hamilton. She was on her way from South Carolina to New York City to be reunited with Burr when the small sailing ship she was aboard, The Patriot, disappeared in the Atlantic in the Bermuda Triangle.
Go back to sleep, he had told himself, and he finally did around 3:00 A.M. But morning came very quickly. Brown Island Light flashed in the distance. A lobster boat moved across the dark water. To the east, the sky was starting to brighten. Shades of red and orange. The weather was clearing.
Lee rolled over and looked out the window of their bedroom. It had snowed again in the night. It was still dark, as it always was in December. Lee rolled over again and closed his eyes. Some mornings he would wake up with a start, confused, afraid. Lee understood the power of dreams.
Sometimes they took him back to the gray cell he once called home for a year. He had been released and returned home to Winterpool five years ago. No charges pressed. No apology given. No comment to the press. “Just the way the government wants it,” his attorney had said.
Lee’s nightmare began when he had returned to the South he had grown up in to work on a book about the atomic energy industry. He had lived near the plants in the 1950s. His father had worked there. Lee had grown up without a left hand, a birth defect. Accidents occurred in those days that weren’t reported. He was sure his father had gotten a good dose of something — radiation, mercury? God knows what — before Lee was conceived. Lee blamed the atomic energy industry for his birth defect.
Just as he was getting ready to return to Maine, an accident occurred at one of the Department of Energy plants. A major accident. Lee was caught up in the ensuing chaos and implicated in what was initially believed to be a terrorist attack. He was detained, but with the help of a homeless man, he managed to escape from the detention facility. He began his trek back to Maine and, along the way, found a number of unlikely allies. A woman trying to run away from the memories of her family and her dead son; a truck driver still fighting the ghosts of Vietnam; and Jean, the lost love of his youth. But before Lee could reach home, he was detained again by FBI Agent Jennings. Jennings, who Lee would describe as a “real piece of work” was a burnt out FBI agent and a cancer survivor. He had a temper, and he probably drank too much. Even though he had been instrumental in Lee’s detention, the two over the course of time had developed a strange friendship. Lee couldn’t think of another word that described the relationship.
The day of Lee’s release in the spring of 2014 had come as a surprise. Lee had not been told of it until Jennings appeared at the door of his cell late one morning and announced that Lee was going home. Lee had learned not to question good news. He quickly packed his clothes and notes into the two shopping bags the government had provided and put on the old gray trench coat and plastic boots Jennings offered. Jennings drove Lee to the train station to catch the Downeaster to Brunswick, Maine.
Lee and Jennings had not talked in some time. After the first couple of months that Lee was in detention, they found they had little left to say to one another. That morning, there was an awkward silence that lasted all the way to the station. Jennings finally broke the silence as they approached North Station.
“You will remember the agreement we have, won’t you?”
“It would be hard to forget,” said Lee.
“Mum’s the word. There will be no comment from our side and there had better be no comment from yours,” said Jennings, as he stared sharply at Lee.
Lee nodded and mumbled under his breath, “Yes, master.”
“Well, it’s good to see you’re still the cynical, sarcastic son of a bitch I’ve grown to love over the last year,” said Jennings.
Lee smiled and tried to laugh, but he couldn’t. He turned to Jennings. “Well, I appreciate your help in arranging this.”
Jennings wasn’t sure what to say. They both felt uncomfortable. They shook hands. Lee boarded the Downeaster and took a seat by the window facing forward. He sat by himself. There were only a few riders at that time of day.
Since his return, his faith in the U.S. government had not been restored. Indeed, the events of the past five years had only seemed to further undermine his trust in government, a Congress whose members seemed only willing to represent their own interests and that of large corporations and politicians who believed that character assassination and mud-slinging was a fine way to conduct the business of the country.
Add to that the exponential growth of technology. Data collection and dissemination systems were far outpacing the ability of the people or their government to monitor and regulate. Lee had often thought about his time in detention, but this morning there was no time. No, he had other things to think about. A missing patient. Where the hell was Frank? And the White’s cabin and crop circles — at least he guessed that’s what you called whatever it was in the field. And, of course, all of this happening before the vacation he had planned for months. Great timing, he thought.
The alarm sounded as Lee was shaving. This morning he had forgotten to switch it off. He was almost always awake before it rang. Lee needed to get up this morning. Most morning he didn’t need to. He hadn’t needed to get up this early since his daughter had started driving herself to school in the old Subaru that Lee and Liz had bought for her in her senior year in high school. And since Lee had retired — well, semi-retired — he didn’t need to be in the office until 10:00. But old habits die hard. Lee was usually there between 7:30 and 8:00 A.M.
Liz was still asleep, as she was most mornings when he left. Lee always showered and shaved in the morning. The same routine he had followed for most of his life. A breakfast of high-fiber cereal that tasted like what he imagined ground cardboard might taste like. It was boring, but so were a lot of his meals. He tried now more than ever to watch his diet. He had developed high blood pressure while in detention and had been taking medication since his return. As he finished the last of the bran cereal, he paged through Time Magazine.
There was an article about Beta 17 and TransSea’s plans to mine the asteroid. Beta 17 was a large rock, about the size of Delaware, part of the asteroid belt. It had been discovered by astronomers in 1992 and was now hurtling toward a close encounter with earth. A collision with our planet would, of course, result in the extinction of life, as we know it. But readers were assured that this was not going to happen. At least not this time. What was going to happen was that Beta 17 was going to pass very, very close to the Earth, within just nine-hundred and fifty thousand miles, and TransSea, an “Energy Corporation,” would take this opportunity to launch a mining probe that would land on the asteroid and begin to take core samples from the asteroid’s crust. Observations made by another TransSea probe suggested that the asteroid contained a number of very rare minerals that were being depleted on Earth as the number of electronic devices manufactured and used increased exponentially. The asteroid’s closest approach to the Earth would occur during the first week of January. There were also articles about the Democratic presidential challenger, Senator Clayton. This time the Democrats seemed more united. A rare thing for Democrats. He would give the lady credit. If she could get the Democrats to stop fighting with each other, she must have something going for her.
“All right, I’m out of here,” Lee said to an empty room. He hated eating alone, but he did most mornings. He headed up the stairs to kiss his wife goodbye. Liz was just opening her eyes.
“Hey, lady, how are you doing this morning?” Lee said, trying to sound cheerful.
“Tired. I didn’t sleep that well. I don’t know what I’m going to do on this trip.”
“It’ll be fine,” said Lee.
Liz rolled over and closed her eyes. “Lee, how many times do I have to tell you that saying things like that isn’t helpful?”
“Oh,” said Lee, with a shrug and a smile, “probably a few hundred more.”
“What time will you be home?”
“I should be out of the office by three or three thirty. I’ll see you by 4:00. We’ll figure out dinner. And I’m sure you’ve got more packing to do.” He smiled and kissed her. He always kissed her.
This morning the wind was up again, blowing from the north. The snow had stopped. He opened the garage door and backed the car with some difficulty onto the street. His driveway hadn’t been plowed yet, and the city, as usual, had plowed him in.
“Another day in paradise,” mumbled Lee, laughing to himself. He frequently laughed at his own jokes.
December 16, 2019, 8:28 A.M.
Lee didn’t stop for coffee. He’d given the habit up a year before. Well, not completely. Most days he white-knuckled it past his favorite coffee stop. He’d given up a lot of his bad habits. Unfortunately, this change usually didn’t make Fridays any easier. The energy and the excitement he might have felt for the week on a Tuesday were usually gone by Thursday afternoon. On Friday, Lee often felt like Mark Twain’s sinking ship. He had no more cargo left to throw overboard.
Lee checked his service. No calls. He called Chief Moore. “So, what’s going on out there?”
“Sorry, Doc, nothing to report. No one’s seen your guy. His family is in the dark as well. Haven’t seen him or his car since late yesterday. Who knows? Maybe he’s got a girlfriend we don’t know about.”
“Well, maybe,” said Lee, sounding a little disgusted with the whole matter. “Anything from the state or the Feds?”
“The fire marshal didn’t think anyone was in the cottage. Of course, that’s hard to say for sure, given, well, you saw it, and the Feds, as usual, aren’t telling me anything. I’ll call you once I hear something.” “Good, good,” Lee said absently and hung up.
“Well,” said Lee to himself, “nothing else to do but wait.” Lee continued his conversation with himself. “I hate leaving things this way, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to change our plans again.” Lee and Liz had put off going three times — before Liz’s surgery, the flooded basement, and an airline strike.
But not this time. He hadn’t been to Europe in years. It was only a week, but they wanted to be back by Christmas to spend it with their daughter, Dru, and her boyfriend, Rob. Their relationship was starting to look serious. Lee had mixed feelings about that. Grandchildren had begun to seem like a nice idea. But “giving away” his only daughter? She was a young, independent woman now, her own person, and would, as Liz reminded him, decide to what and to whom she gave herself.
So Lee’s resolve on this Friday was to just get to mid-afternoon and leave. He had a light day. Mostly paperwork and phone calls. He did, however, have to get through a two-hour supervision session with Erica, a young psychologist, just finishing her requirements for licensure. And, of course, there was lunch with Rick.
As he pulled into the parking lot, he was reminded that most of his colleagues were considerably younger than he was. There were a lot of hybrids in the lot now. Roger’s old Jeep was gone, and so was Roger, traveling in Europe. Bill’s Volvo wasn’t there either. He was off sailing somewhere. Most of the old crew had retired. Just Lee and a few others, like Rick Forester. He had almost forgotten about Rick. But, unfortunately, that was usually impossible. Rick had insisted on taking him to lunch before he left for his trip. A lunch with Rick usually meant he was in some kind of trouble.
Lee pulled in to the space closest to the building. Although he was no longer managing the practice, Lee had retained the best parking space. His “time away” had been reason enough to hand over the responsibilities of management to someone else. Yet, it had been time to do so. Lee had little interest in continuing to deal with the day-to-day problems of running a clinical practice. His office building was an old farmhouse built just after the Civil War. The therapists and their clients felt comfortable there. But it was an old building, constantly needing something. And then there were the clinicians. Overall, a good-hearted and competent lot, but all independent practitioners, meaning they worked for themselves, set their own hours, and as they frequently pointed out, decided what they would and would not do.
Getting them to move together on anything was like herding cats.
And, last of all, there was Loretta, the receptionist and office manager. A short, stocky woman, under five feet with frizzy black-from-a-bottle hair; a woman of unknown age. Lee was sure she was in her late seventies or early eighties. She had come to work for the practice after her husband’s death. They had run a bed and breakfast up the coast, but a bed and breakfast took at least two people to make it work, so she had to give it up when her husband died.
Loretta ran a tight ship. Work meant seven each morning, organized and focused. Disorganization and Dr. Forester, often one in the same, drove her crazy. She still looked to Lee for direction, even though Jim Hardy was officially in charge. She was one of the few who still did. Dr. Hardy’s star was rising and Lee’s was setting.
“Dr. Brazil, the Internet’s out again this morning, and most of the clinicians are complaining that their cell phones aren’t working as they should.”
“I’m sorry, Loretta. I don’t know what to tell you. That’s Dr. Hardy’s department. You need to talk with him.”
“And the land-lines don’t seem to be working right either. I don’t know what’s going on.”
“No one does, Loretta. The paper this morning said something about
increased solar activity. Is Dr. Hardy in yet?”
“No. He won’t be in till noon.”
Lee thought for a moment. Should he? No!
“Loretta, I’m sorry, but there’s really not much I can do about this. I’ll
talk to Jim when he gets in and see that he gets on it.”
And with that, Lee started up the stairs to his office.
Lee’s office was on the second floor. The centerpiece of the office was a small, painted fireplace, an “Italian fireplace” the realtor had called it, when Lee had bought the place forty years before. Lee had used it frequently in the early years of the practice, but it hadn’t seen a fire in a while. It, like a lot of things now, Lee felt to be more trouble to bother with than they were worth.
The room was large. Tall Victorian windows, tin ceiling, all original. Overstuffed bookcases lined the walls. Awards, plaques, and a couple of prints from local artists of the North Atlantic covered the wallpaper that Lee had never liked. An old couch from his practice in Tennessee took up most of the space on another wall. Lee kept it, although he doubted it was that comfortable, since his clients seemed to choose to sit in his grandfather’s old rocker or the Swedish recliner he used for teaching relaxation exercises. Lee settled into the work of the day. He made a few phone calls and began plodding through case reviews and sign-offs with Erica. As he did, he thought of the past. Lee could remember when he and his office manager had installed the first PCs for word processing and billing. Before iPads and smartphones, and he couldn’t recall what the newest “must have” mini micro-widget was called or what new and unnecessary things it did.
The practice of psychology was now heavily “evidence based,” meaning that all therapy should be based on research evidence. Lee had no problem with the concept, but felt that much of the “new psychology” was pseudo-science, just like medicine. Blinking lights and numbers didn’t make a science. Lee still believed psychotherapy was more art than science, a view no longer in vogue in the profession. And he believed healing was still in the relationship between the therapist and the patient and not in an algorithm. Lee had always worried about attaching a number to a person, such as a 309.4, which might give a clinician a false sense of confidence in what they were doing.
Psychologists would soon be licensed to prescribe psychotropic medications in Maine. Licensing had changed in eight other states, almost all rural, where there was a shortage of well- trained psychiatrists. Although Lee supported the movement, he was concerned about the impact on the profession. Writing a scrip was indeed easier than helping people learn to deal with painful issues in their lives in a new way. Lee worried that, like psychiatrists, many psychologists might do what was easiest instead of what was best for the patient.
“Dr. Brazil,” Erica’s voice focused Lee, “you will need to sign off on this one, too.”
“Yes, of course,” he answered, still lost in his thoughts.
Dr. Erica Bowdin was slim and attractive, with blond hair worn tied back and blue eyes. Fit. She listened to Lee’s suggestions and direction, although he doubted she agreed frequently with him. She was a bright and articulate woman from a family with money — the money to send her to the right schools. She was in the vanguard of the new psychology. Leading the charge. Jim and others were pleased that she had decided to join the practice.
“Well, Dr. Brazil,” she was still uneasy calling him Lee, “looking forward to your trip? I was in London and Paris late last fall. Paris is such a special place.”
Lee was now the one feeling uneasy. “Well, yes, they are, aren’t they.” He wasn’t about to tell her that he hadn’t been to these special places in years. “It will be a short visit. I wish it were longer,” he said as he moved toward his office door and opened it.
She followed. “Well, enjoy,” she said.
Lee looked at his watch and remembered lunch with Rick. He grimaced. I wonder what he’s gotten himself into this time? Rick was a colleague and, yes, a friend, although Lee seldom saw him outside of work. He had worked in the practice for the last ten years. A psychiatrist, now in his early sixties, semi-retired although not by choice. Rick’s reputation among his colleagues had suffered a number of blows while Lee was away. He’d gotten himself into trouble with the Board. Nothing too egregious — inappropriate comments about his personal life to a patient. And, God knows, his personal life was a mess. It had been a mess for years. Twice divorced. Alimony, support for children he never saw.
But today Lee decided that he would take a pass on Dr. Forester. He would let Dr. Hardy worry about whatever there was to worry about.
As Lee started down the stairs, he heard Rick’s door open.
“Lee, wait up.”
“I’m sorry, Rick, I just can’t do lunch today. Too much to do before I leave. We’ll have lunch when I get back. If you need something from the practice, talk with Hardy.” Lee didn’t wait for a response from Rick. He turned and headed for his car. He quickly opened the door and started the engine and pulled out. He had escaped. He was on Forest Street.
Why not the Forum, he said to himself. I can check on Ken too. The Forum was just a few blocks from the office. It was small and dark. The sun had come out, and with the snow it took a while for his eyes to adjust. It was a nice place, with white tablecloths and candles. Great for a night out, but a little strange for lunch in Winterpool.
Marie, a woman in her late forties with long brown hair and bright brown eyes, was working behind the take-out counter. Lee ordered a gyro. He could eat it and continue to proof the reports that needed to go out before he left. Joey, Marie’s son, began to prepare the sandwich.
“Well, how’s he doing?” asked Lee.
“Oh, your boy, he’s doing fine. He’s a hard worker, I think. Come see,” said Marie, as she moved toward the door to the kitchen.
Lee followed. Marie opened the door.
“Kenny,” she said, “Doc’s here to see you.”
Ken was a big man in his late thirties. His size, combined with his temper, had frightened people and limited where he could live and work. But in recent years, with the help of Lee, he had gotten his temper under control. He had lived at home all of his life until just a few months ago when he moved into a group home. The job in the restaurant, which Lee helped arrange, started a few days ago. He knew Steve had a soft spot in his heart for guys like Ken. Steve and Marie gave him the title of sous chef and general assistant to the executive chef, Steve.
Ken looked up and smiled. “Doc, when are you starting on that new book?”
Lee returned the smile. “Soon. Why don’t you give me a call and we’ll talk about it? Looks like you’re doing a great job.”
“Well, I hope so,” said Ken with indecision in his voice. “I really want to.
Steve, who was leaning over a pot of something that smelled wonderful, joined the conversation. “He is. But we’re not paying him to chit-chat with the likes of you, Doc.”
“Okay, okay,” said Lee. “You call me, Ken.”
“I . . . I will.”
“How’s your hand?”
“Fine,” said Ken, trying to ignore the question and continuing to work. “Okay,” said Lee, closing the door to the kitchen.
Ken had been attacked by a couple of local kids. Marie called them thugs. They targeted people like Ken who were a little different. But Ken, who was a wrestling fan and who had been studying the martial art Kali, carried the day and sent the two running for home. Unfortunately, he had broken a finger in the scuffle.
“I called their parents, Doc, and told them they better leave my Kenny alone or they will wish they had,” said Marie.
Lee turned to Marie and said, “You tell ‘em . . . Thanks, Marie. I appreciate you guys.”
When Lee pulled in to the office parking lot, Lee could see Loretta standing just inside the office door. She was waiting for him. Something was wrong. She was talking to herself.
Lee opened the office door. Loretta turned the conversation she was
having with herself toward Lee. “I couldn’t stop them.”
“What are you talking about, Loretta? Slow down.”
But Loretta’s agitation was increasing. “They’re in your office.”
“Who’s in my office?”
“Two men from the government. They showed me their . . . well, I don’t know what they showed me. They said it would be better if they waited in your office.”
Loretta started to cry, which really didn’t require much since her son’s accident a few months ago.
The waiting room was empty. Lee pushed past Loretta.
“It’s okay, Loretta. Just calm down. I’m sure it’ll be okay,” he said over his shoulder as he started up the stairs.
Lee’s office door was ajar. He pushed it open with force.
“Come in, Dr. Brazil, and close the door,” said a familiar voice from the past.
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.
Paraway Beach Road
December 16, 2019, 3:49 P.M.
Home was only a few minutes away. It was a beautiful old house set on a rise with a view of the open ocean. But, like the office, it was an old house with always something to repair. They had tried to sell it, however, but with the recession it hadn’t been possible. Liz owned a “camp” inland. They had turned it into a country house over the years. Liz loved it. Her studio was there. She would stay there all the time if she could, but Lee couldn’t or wouldn’t commute three days a week to the office. He was going to quit soon. Completely. And they would rent the house near the ocean if they couldn’t sell it.
Lee decided to take the long way home. He drove to Paraway Beach. He wanted to just look at the North Atlantic for a few minutes. It was four in the afternoon, but the sun was low. It would be dark when he arrived home. Lee switched on the radio. It was on Maine Public Radio. The four o’clock news had just finished and MPR was just beginning a special report on the Supercomputer. Lee focused his attention on the newscast.
“Jim, we’ve been hearing a lot about this Supercomputer that the European union has been working on for the last few years.”
“Yes. But they apparently have run out of money and are turning the final phase of development over to the United States government.”
“And that’s stirred up considerable controversy, hasn’t it?”
“It has, indeed, and Senator Nancy Clayton seems to be at the center of it. Here is an address she made to the Senate in late October regarding S126, a Bill to Develop and Expand Information Technology for the Next Generation.”
Senator Clayton‘s distinct voice sounded. “Let me say first, I’m not against the development of new technologies as many have accused me of being. What I am opposed to is the development of new technology without a clear and reasoned understanding as to its impact on our world. The present bill, as I understand it, would assure the continued development of an ultra-intelligent computer. This ultra-intelligent machine could design even smarter machines and create what I.J. Good, the British mathematician, described as an ‘intelligence explosion,’ leaving the intelligence of man far behind.
“Such a super-intelligent computer would extend our intellectual abilities in the same way that cars and planes have extended our physical abilities. New treatments for disease and the negative effects of old age could be developed. We might even find ways to extend life indefinitely. And the entire universe could be opened to exploration and possible exploitation.”
Lee was remembering the well-known science fiction novelist, Vernor Vinge, who, in the early 1990s, predicted that within thirty years, the human race would have the means to create superhuman intelligence. He predicted shortly after that the “human era” would end. He was referring to the coming technological Singularity. Lee refocused on the Senator’s speech to Congress.
“The word ‘Singularity’ is borrowed from astrophysics and refers to a point in space and time, for example, inside a black hole, where the rules of ordinary physics no longer apply. I would ask what rules will be applied if we choose to develop this ultra-intelligent machine. How will we chart our course? If we apply only the rules of finance and profit, we could be entering a black hole from which our world will never emerge.
“Therefore, I would encourage this body to consider an amendment to the present bill that would create a commission composed of our best minds and hearts to explore the moral implications of the development of this new technology and to provide guidance to those who would create this superintelligent machine. I am submitting such an amendment. I would hope it would be given serious consideration and be acted on favorably by this body.”
The commentator continued. “Jim, I understand that the amendment introduced by Senator Clayton and co-sponsored by a number of senators did not pass.”
“Yes, it was defeated soundly by a vote of 64 to 32. A number of senators openly opposed the amendment saying that there was no money in the budget to fund such a commission, while others opposed it because they felt that the commission, like so many other blue-ribbon commissions, would have no authority to enforce its recommendations.”
“Where do things stand at this point?”
“Well, the Senate bill just recently passed by a vote of 66 to 30. It easily passed in the House and was signed today by the President.”
“So what will happen now?”
“The Commissioner of Education has been charged with issuing a request for proposals to those corporations interested in continuing the development of the computer. The Commissioner is also charged with reviewing the proposals and making a recommendation as to which applicant should be chosen to develop this machine.”
“So things are moving ahead quite rapidly.”
“Yes, they are. A Senate Oversight Committee has been established to review the Commissioner of Education’s recommendation, and Senator Clayton has been appointed to that committee. The committee is expected to act quickly, though, so there will probably be little debate.”
Lee liked what Clayton had to say. “I would bet the old boys in Congress are a little frightened of her.” Lee continued to talk to himself. “This conflict over a super-computer, the development of superhuman technology, is really about the conflict between hope and cynicism.” He sighed. “Would the development of such a machine save us from ourselves or destroy us? Would money and greed determine the outcome?” His voice was becoming louder. “Or will we act,” he said in a sing-song fashion, “with justice and mercy and concern for one another?” The developments of the past few years certainly hadn’t encouraged Lee to think that justice and concern for fellowman would win the conflict.
Lee turned the motor off and rolled down the window. He took a deep breath. The air was cold. The tide was in. He took another deep breath, closed his eyes and focused on the sound of the ocean. Thoughts of melted cars, crop circles, suicidal patients, the CIA, Senator Clayton, and Jennings flashed through his head. He tried to clear his head. He took another deep breath, closed his eyes again, and focused on the sounds of the ocean and the shore, a stray seagull, the surf, a foghorn in the distance. The second time it worked. The tension of the day began to slip into the past.
December 16, 2019, 4:52 P.M.
Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing when they have exhausted every other option.
Lee started the engine and headed the car toward home. The radio said it might snow again tonight. He pulled the car into the garage. While it was still early, it was pitch dark. Lee hated these winter evenings when the dark seemed to close in around him from all sides.
He climbed the stairs from the garage to the kitchen, slowly. The blender droned over the audiobook, an Agatha Christie mystery CD. He didn’t know which one. He should. He was sure he had heard all of them. Liz was busy at the sink. Lee kissed her on the neck. She turned with a start. “How many times do I have to tell you?” she said, with some irritation. “Don’t sneak up on me.”
Lee smiled and asked absentmindedly how her day had been, not waiting for her reply and began to thumb through the day’s mail.
“Well, I’ll tell you when you’re ready to listen,” Liz sounded even more irritated.
“Oh, sorry. Just a lot on my mind today. How was your day?” Lee asked again, but this time he looked at Liz and waited.
“It was good. Do you want to wait to light the candles? Sharon always enjoys that; Bill could care less.”
“Sure,” said Lee. He was trying to appear interested, but he wasn’t. He’d even forgotten they were having guests tonight. Sharon and Bill were old friends. Bill and Lee had worked together for years. They’d watched as the years of clinical work took its toll on both. In recent years he had become a fan of right-wing talk radio. He was a large man, but overweight.
He no longer exercised and he drank too much, especially in the last few years, and had high blood pressure to show for it.
Sharon had worked as a social worker in his office for over thirty years. The last years had taken their toll on both Bill and her. But she still tried to support him. The anger he felt for just about everyone and everything was just beneath the surface and would come out when he drank. “Okay,” Liz smiled. “Get out of here if you’re not going to talk or help me.”
“Hold on, I’ll make the salad,” said Lee.
“Good. Just park yourself over there out of my line of travel.”
Lee carried the makings for the salad to the other side of the kitchen. The next few minutes passed without comment from either. They both found the silence reassuring. Why, exactly? He didn’t know.
The meal they were preparing was a simple one: broiled salmon, asparagus, and new potatoes. A Robert Mondavi chardonnay for Bill, no hard liquor. They didn’t want a repeat of what had happened the last time. And blueberry pie from the Island Bakery. With packing there wasn’t much time to shop or prepare food. But Bill and Sharon would be fine with that. “I heard about the fire last night. Did you talk with anyone about it?” asked Liz.
“I had a ring-side seat for that.”
“Oh,” said Liz. “The fire had something to do with your client?”
“Some strange things happening around here lately.”
“Tell me about it.”
The doorbell interrupted their conversation.
“Well, tell me about it later.” Lee nodded.
It was 6:30. Right on time, as always.
Bill and Lee had been roommates in college. Bill had finished his Ph.D. early, interned in Florida. They had lost contact for a few years, but by some stroke of fate, they both ended up in Maine and resumed their friendship. Even with some of his crazy political views, Lee trusted him as a clinician. He had somehow managed to keep his focus and was respected by his colleagues for his diagnostic work. Lee would often tease him about his political comments and would ask him, on more than one occasion, if he had fallen down the basement steps, landed on his head and suffered a rightwing stroke or concussion.
Sharon and Liz had met through Lee and Bill, and when they did, they immediately became friends. They shared much in common. They had both been social workers and had an interest in art and sculpture.
But Lee and Bill had had a more difficult time of it in recent years. Old memories provide only so much glue to hold a relationship together. Bill, Lee thought, had become obsessed with money and his retirement. Lee knew it was wrong, but he teased him more about his right-wing point of view. He had a hard time stopping himself. So when the couples had dinner together, conversations at times were a bit of a challenge and tonight would most likely be no different.
Sharon and Liz lit the Sabbath candles and they sang the Jewish prayers.
“Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheynu Melech ha’olam. Asher kidshanu be’mitzvotav ve’tzivanu le’hadlik ner shel Shabbath.”
Lee followed. “Holy one of blessing your presence fills creation commanding us to light the Sabbath lights.”
The evening began with lighter topics. The Patriots were still in the playoffs. Maybe the Super Bowl. The Congregational Church had finally gotten its heating system repaired. And there were a number of sightings last night of strange lights in the sky. This led, of course, to a discussion of the fire and of the melted car that was being talked about around town. Lee was quiet. Bill decided to change the subject.
“So, Lee, what do you think about Clayton?” asked Bill with a twinkle in his eye. “Where the hell did she come from?”
“I don’t know,” said Lee, trying to avoid the subject. “What do you think?”
Bill leaned back from the table. “I think she has no experience. She’s only been a senator for four years and she’s from LA. California is as much like the rest of this country as Mars.” Bill, unfortunately, was on his third glass of wine and was starting to sound like it.
“She wants to put more restrictions and regulations on IT development. She sounds anti-tech to me. That won’t get her very far. We can’t go back, can we?”
Lee turned to Liz to offer her more wine, which he knew she would refuse, and rolled his eyes. There was an awkward silence.
“Some days I wish we could,” Lee muttered under his breath, and then he spoke up. “We certainly don’t know how to control the technology we have. Look at how many people are controlled by their technology. Slaves to the Internet. Look at our children, constantly on the gadgets they own. Some days it seems like no one talks to anyone directly. Making eye contact and saying the words has become a thing of the past. Our kids, if they can’t text someone, they don’t know how to talk to them.” Lee’s face was getting redder as he talked. Bill had stepped on a nerve.
Liz joined in the conversation to calm things down, Lee thought. But Lee was wrong. The Singularity was an issue for her.
“So, Bill,” asked Liz, “what are human beings, the creators of computers, going to do when the computers become smarter than them and begin designing the machines that will replace them? Will we still be in control? I don’t think so. This is something that needs to be dealt with, like global warming, while there is still time.”
Lee jumped back in to the conversation. He thought he would try to end it on a positive note.
“Bill, I think she’s a new voice. She’s talking about hope. I think we all need that right now. The politics of fear that have controlled this country for the last twenty years have never gotten us anyplace. Maybe she is a bit anti-tech. But don’t we need to be having that debate?” He shrugged. “Although I’m sure that could affect the bottom line for the IT companies, God forbid.”
Bill had fallen silent, reeling from the double-teaming that both Lee and Liz had been giving him. Sharon had not said anything. But Bill was back on his feet and ready to fight. He knew just what to say.
“And she’s a woman. And we all know what happened to the last one of those who ran for president.”
And that was it. Lee inhaled deeply for he knew Liz couldn’t pass on that one.
“What does her being a woman have to do with anything?” snapped Liz.
“I just don’t like it,” said Bill. “I’m not sure what she would do if we were attacked again. I would just feel more comfortable with a man being at the controls. Even Sharon agrees with me on this one.” Bill looked at Sharon.
Oh, God, thought Lee, not tonight.
“Do you?” asked Liz, glaring at Sharon.
Sharon looked down at her plate. “Well . . . well, ah, I don’t know,” Sharon said in a whisper. She looked at Bill. “I mean,” she said, with no conviction, “what would a woman — what would she do if there was a major war?”
Liz turned again to Bill and rolled her eyes. “Well, maybe she would be less likely to drag us into a major war.”
“Now, that’s what I mean.” Bill saw an opening. “Under-reaction could get us all killed.”
“Overreaction has got a lot of young men and women killed over the last few years,” Liz snapped.
And so it went until Lee suggested he make coffee and they served the dessert. The break allowed things to calm down a bit, and Lee took Bill aside. “I need a little case consultation, my friend.”
“Okay,” Bill said, a bit surprised, but making an effort to look and sound professional. The wine was starting to wear off a bit.
“Dreams,” said Lee, “the same ones night after night.”
“Not unusual,” said Bill.
“There’s something different about these.” Lee gave a brief review of the dreams Frank had reported. They make no sense to him. He says they don’t relate to him or to any of the issues I’ve worked with him on.” Bill nodded.
“Strong affect associated with the dreams?”
“No, so far he seems relatively disinterested in them. Sort of like infomercials on a radio or television monitor.” Lee shrugged. “He shows about that much interest in them.”
“Resistant to talk about them?”
“No, no,” said Lee.
“Do they have anything whatsoever to do with what’s going on today in this guy’s life?” asked Bill.
“I don’t think so. At least I haven’t been able to make any connections, and he hasn’t,” said Lee. “The dreams remind me of the ones that Dr. — I can’t remember his name — wrote about, you know, that kooky guy who wrote a book about alien abductions? Remember, I think it was in the late eighties. He sent copies to most of the psychologists in New England. Whatever happened to him?”
“I don’t know,” said Bill, sounding less interested.
“Damn wine,” said Bill, starting to rub his neck. “Stiffens up every time I drink.”
Lee smiled. He had thought about telling Bill about the dream that he had had about The Carol Deering. But he didn’t. He would deal with that when he got back before he saw Frank again, if he saw Frank again. He realized Bill had drunk too much to provide much more in the way of useful assistance.
Sharon interrupted their conversation. Looking at her watch, “It’s time to go, honey. We should give Liz the rest of the night to pack.” She knew Liz too well.
They said their goodbyes and wished Lee and Liz good travel and a great, albeit short, vacation.
After the two left, Lee cleaned up and put the dishes away. Liz went upstairs, indeed, to continue packing. In the past, a conversation like this would have Lee on edge, but this one didn’t. Lee understood his friend’s extreme conservatism, especially in the past few years, as having its roots in his past, having much to do with his efforts to make a place for himself in a world that often viewed him and his “race” with contempt. Liz and Bill were both Jews and first generation Americans who had taken very different paths in dealing with the anti-Semitism that they had faced throughout their lives.
Tonight, Lee went to bed before Liz. Lee’s mind drifted back to his client who apparently was okay, but who had not reappeared, and his visit from Jennings. Were they connected? Lee just knew it, even though Jennings had been quick to deny it.
Lee had never trusted Jennings. He had learned not to. Jennings had lied to him before, all in the service of our country he was sure. What was really going on? Did Jennings know more about all of this than he was saying? He must! And that guy, Andy, CIA, and an important package to be picked up and delivered. Lee kept rolling all of this over in his brain until he finally fell asleep.
Office of Dick Chambers, CEO, Hollocore
December 17, 2019, 1:45 P.M. CST
Without regard for the wishes of men, any machines or techniques or forms of organization that can economically replace men do replace men.
~ Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano
Dick Chambers was seated behind a large mahogany desk. He was a small man in his late sixties. He had had a number of health problems, mainly cardiac, although there are some who would question whether or not he had a heart. He was known as a ruthless businessman and an archconservative.
There was a picture of his two daughters on his desk, although one he had not seen in over twenty years. There was also a picture of his wife who lived in Washington, DC. She chose to stay there when Chambers returned to Texas to run Hollocore. With his schedule, he only saw her once or twice a month. They talked occasionally on the phone.
His was a corner office on the top floor of an office building built by Hollocore. The chairs were large, heavy wood covered with leather. The walls of the office were covered with photographs and plaques, many from the years Chambers served in Congress. He especially treasured the one of himself and Ronald Reagan.
Chambers got up from his desk and walked toward the bank of windows looking out on the Dallas skyline. It was a cloudy, gray day, not unusual for Dallas in December. Chambers was waiting for someone who was late. Dick Chambers did not like tardiness. He fidgeted with the good luck piece in his pocket, a coin commemorating Dallas’s 100th anniversary.
He looked again at his watch, a Rolex that he also treasured. He had always felt good about the price that he paid, fifty percent below retail.
The intercom buzzed. “Yes, Cynthia.”
“Mr. Collins is here to see you, sir.”
“Show him in.”
The heavy wood door to his office opened. A large man entered, wearing a custom-made suit and Italian shoes. These were two things Chambers considered to be a waste of money.
Chambers’ guest offered no apology for his tardiness. He extended his hand, a gesture that Chambers ignored.
“How are you, Dick?” asked Collins.
“Well, you tell me, Robert. That’s what I’m paying you for.”
Robert Collins took a seat in front of Chambers’ desk. Chambers remained standing. Collins was a lobbyist, a very good and a very highly paid one. “Dick, I assume you’re referring to the upcoming vote on your contract that the Senate Oversight Committee will be reviewing.” Chambers nodded impatiently. Collins was one of the few people who was not afraid of Chambers, and Chambers knew it.
“Well, we’ve got the votes. Clayton and Greenwood won’t be able to derail this, so you guys can start spending the money.”
“You’re sure of this?” He looked Collins straight in the eye.
“We’ve got the votes. Dick, I told you your company’s money would be well spent.”
“I know you didn’t fly all the way down here just to tell me that.” “Of course not, Dick. I have business down here with some of your friends and possible competitors.” He chuckled.
There was a pause in the conversation.
“So can you do it?” asks Collins, “Build a computer that’s smarter than the entire human race?”
Chambers didn’t respond at first. Collins waited. Chambers finally looked up from his QuickPad.
“Well, given that the computer only has to be smarter than the human race, I’m sure we’re up to it.”
Collins smiled and chuckled again. Chambers stepped toward the door. Collins didn’t move.
“Mr. Collins, I have a board meeting in five minutes. Please be on time for our next meeting, assuming there will be one.”
Collins smiled again. “Oh, Dick, I’m sure there will be one.” Collins rose and moved slowly toward the door. As he exited the room, “Happy Holidays, Dick.” Chambers didn’t respond.
Chambers picked up his Qpad. He walked to the door leading from his office into the boardroom. He paused for a few seconds. He cracked the door. Board members were taking their seats around a huge mahogany table for which Chambers himself supervised the construction. When he entered the room, the Board members stood and waited. He sat down and motioned for the others to be seated.
“This will be a brief meeting and it will be off the record,” he announced to the board’s recording secretary who nodded agreement. “Hollocore is poised to take the next giant step in IT.” Chambers looked down at his hands that were folded on the table. “The Europeans once again are asking for the United States to bail them out.” He smirked. “They’re not capable of finishing the supercomputer project they began.” He paused. “So what’s new?” He chuckled, and other board members smiled or chuckled also.
“They are happy to give the work product they have created to our government, and our government has accepted it. The Department of Education will issue a request for a proposal to finish the project, to which we, as you know, and three other companies will respond.” Chambers scanned the room.
“Two of these companies will not be chosen, since they lack the capability, the human brain power to complete the project.”
“Our only real competitor is TransSea. But Robert Collins, our lobbyist, has assured me that the recommendation of the Commissioner of Education will be positive for us and will be accepted by the senate subcommittee that reviews the project. He anticipates that no one on the committee will be able to block us, although I am sure there are some who would do so if they could.”
Chambers looked around the room again. All eight board members were present. All men; all chosen by Chambers. Hollocore had never had a female board member. The board members were now smiling and nodding agreement. Chambers waited. The vice chair of the board began to applaud and the others followed.
“However, there is one problem. I believe it a minor one. Because of the problems in the past two weeks with electronic data transfer and the sensitive nature of the project, the United States government will assign a courier to pick up the EU’s work product in Paris and deliver it to Boston.” He paused.
“I have instructed our Director of Security, Reginald Brown,” he looked directly at Mr. Brown, who smiled nervously, “to take all the necessary steps to see that the courier and the package he is carrying arrive safely in Boston. Mr. Brown has assured me that he and his staff will make it so.” He again looked at Mr. Brown, as did the other board members. “I will keep the board informed of developments as needed.” And with that, he adjourned the meeting and returned to his office.
Dick Chambers should have been pleased with himself. Hollocore would get the contract. Collins had assured him of that. But he wasn’t pleased. Had he missed an opportunity for himself and Hollocore? He had seen another article this morning in the Financial Times on TransSea and their plans to send a mining probe to Beta 17 as it passed close to the Earth next month.
“It should be a Hollocore probe,” he grumbled to himself. But Chambers had listened to his scientists rather than his own intuition. They had said it was too risky. Mining minerals on an asteroid? Still the stuff of science fiction, they said. Chambers had listened to them and now he regretted it.
December 17, 2019, 8:15 A.M.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
Lee did not sleep well. He woke early. He sat on the edge of the bed and stared out at the ocean. What to tell Liz? Maybe Jennings and “Howdy Doody” would find someone else to be their delivery boy. Maybe he could avoid them in London. They hadn’t asked him to do anything yet. Maybe they wouldn’t. Lee could wait to tell her later. There. Lee had talked himself out of saying anything to Liz, which he had done many times before. But he caught himself this time. He knew that this was not the best way to handle things with Liz. It would be hard. She would ask a dozen questions, as she always did. But he would tell her. He would tell her about what had happened. What might happen.
The two always had breakfast together at least once a week. They had been going to the same diner for years. The place was busy, as it usually was. The diner walls were lined with toys that Gail collected with a passion starting in November for the Marines “Toys for Tots.” Louie, who had opened the diner with his wife Gail after he had gotten back from Vietnam, was at the grill. The two were a strange combination. He was tall and thin; Gail was barely five feet. She was always smiling and talking; Louie seldom said a word to anyone outside of the kitchen.
Lee and Liz took the last table. It was near the front door. Liz was debating whether or not to sit at the counter because of the draft near the door. But Lee sat down. Liz stood for a few seconds, but gave up and joined him.
The waitress came. Julie. She knew them. They were regulars. “The usual?” she said. “Coffee, two eggs over easy for you,” she said looking at Lee, “with bacon and raisin toast. And for you, tea, two eggs poached with rye toast, hold the butter. Right?”
Lee nodded and smiled.
“Remember,” said Liz. “Hold the butter.”
Liz made a few comments about the packing she still had to do. Lee smiled and nodded but said nothing.
“Lee, what are you thinking about?” Lee still didn’t respond. “Lee, we’re on vacation,” said Liz, trying to get Lee to look in her direction.
“You’ve been looking forward to this. What’s going on?”
He continued to avoid her eyes. “Oh, honey, I’m fine. Fine. I just have a few things on my mind.”
“Well, that’s obvious. You kept mumbling in your sleep last night. I couldn’t make out what you were saying.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Just a little confused and worried I guess.” Liz continued to stare.
“Jennings showed up in my office yesterday.” He looked away and waited, but not for long.
“Jennings? Oh, no!” Liz exploded and Lee grimaced. “What did he want? I thought we were done with him. Aren’t we?”
Lee noticed that the couple sitting at the table closest to them had turned to listen to the conversation.
“Liz, please, I’m not sure the other people here are really interested.” Although they obviously were.
“Well, I thought so, but he said he might need for me to do him a small favor.”
“Small favor?” said Liz, raising her voice again. “Those guys don’t deserve any favors. Large or small. They owe you and our daughter and me.” Liz’s voice was growing even louder. Lee noticed that his neck and face were feeling quite warm and assumed that they were growing redder by the second. He made another effort to calm Liz.
Lee leaned in, lowering his voice. “I know, I know, Liz. But they still have the upper hand.” He paused. “I have no doubt they would use it.” There was silence.
Liz aware of the risk of being overheard followed Lee’s cue. “So what’s this small favor?” her voice a step above a hush.
“He wants me to pick up something in London and deliver it to someone in Paris.”
“Great,” Liz said, rolling her eyes. “The first time we’ve been out of the States, just you and me since I don’t know when, and he wants you to play Federal Express?”
“Look, I don’t like this any better than you do.” Lee paused again. “But we will just have to see what happens. They will contact me in London if they still…”
Liz interrupted. “Can Joe…”
Lee cut her off. “No, no. We don’t need to get poor Joe involved in this again.” Joe was Lee’s attorney and close friend. “We’ve created enough of a problem for him. Last time they almost got him disbarred.”
Lee took Liz’s hand. “Look at me. Let’s just see what happens.” And as if on cue, their meals arrived and the routine of their life continued for now.
The day passed quickly. Final packing, a call to Dru, a somewhat compulsive round of checking the house to see what was turned off, turned down, locked before leaving. Lee checked the front door three times to make sure it was locked.
The drive to Portland went quickly, as did the flight to Boston. Checkin and security in Boston went smoothly. It was a beautiful day.
The plane to London was packed. Every seat filled. Thank God, they weren’t in the middle. Lee took the window seat. Liz liked being on the aisle. She could talk to whoever might be occupying the other aisle seat or who might stroll by for a chat. And today’s guest in 7C was Ms. Politically Correct 2019, a soccer mom — Lee thought they still called them that — from the Cape, who, after polite introductions, launched into a discussion of private versus public education. Lee groaned, politely smiled, and dove into his book while Liz joined the debate.
Their daughter Dru had gone to a private school for her high school years. Lee had always had some mixed feelings about that — well, not that mixed; mostly negative. Lee and Liz, the great advocates for public education, had given in to their daughter. The transition back to Maine had been a sudden one and not one of Dru’s choosing. Lee had moved the family back to Tennessee when Dru was three. But after ten years of fundamentalism and right-wing politics, they were ready to return to Maine. Lee went back to his Maine practice, and Liz retired from social work and went to art school, something she had always wanted to do.
They had put Dru into the private school because it was small and, in truth, they thought helped with the transition. They were right. After the first year, she loved it and she wanted to stay and did. The school was a bastion of liberalism, and after living in the South for many years, Lee had to admit it was refreshing, at least at first. But he also felt it was a bastion of some hypocrisy. During a fundraiser that the school had sponsored for some poor Indian tribe in South America, the discussion had turned to ways of raising additional money for the cause. Lee’s suggestion about taking the children out of private school for a year and putting the tuition they saved into the cause had not been, to say the least, well received. This was a group that definitely did not know how to take a joke.
Late afternoon became early evening. The sky was dark, but the air smooth. As the hours passed, conversations faded. Liz closed her book, one of those English mysteries she loved, and put on her eyeshades. The woman across the aisle was also settling in for the night.
As usual, Lee couldn’t sleep. He seldom could on airplanes. The World Health Organization materials from the workshop he was to attend in Paris weren’t holding his attention. For Lee, long flights, just like long showers, were good times to think. They were time markers for Lee. Their last flight to Europe had been with Dru, a trip to Paris for her sixteenth birthday. She had loved it, and so had Lee and Liz. Since then, the years had seemed to fly by. Lee had had a long life. Considerably longer one than some of his childhood friends who had died at the ripe old age of nineteen in Vietnam. He had much to be grateful for. As part of his personal campaign to practice gratitude, which he had decided to undertake while he was in detention in Boston, he had gotten involved in doing public education activities. This involved leading discussions about the change process. There was no question the country needed a good dose of resilience, but bouncing back from the last few years was, to say the least, a challenge. The failure to change things enough, the economy, healthcare and the war, and to do this as quickly as people expected, coupled with racism, had almost done in the previous president. And America’s unrealistic wish list was in the process of taking the present one down. But from the discussions that Lee had with his community, he began to believe that, just maybe, people were becoming more realistic in looking at both what they had, what they should feel grateful for, and what really needed to change — realizing that it was themselves that they had control over, not the other guy, and that they could change their world by changing themselves.
It also seemed to Lee that people were finding again one of America’s core values, caring for your neighbor, not just for you and yours. At least he hoped this was what was happening in the country. The new voice on the political stage, Senator Clayton, had a message of change similar to other politicians, but what was different was her focus on the individual. Her words sounded to Lee a lot like those of Jack Kennedy. Instead of asking, as Kennedy had, “not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” Senator Clayton would say, “It is not all about you; it is about us.”
Lee was finally starting to feel drowsy. He thought of another flight with Dru when she was sixteen, that is, sixteen months. They had flown to Toronto to visit Liz’s family. Dru had slept most of the way on Lee’s lap. Lee pulled the blanket up to his chin. He crossed his arms remembering how warm she had felt lying on his chest. He dozed off.
When he woke up, the sky was lighter. People were starting to stir. They would be landing at Heathrow soon, around 9:00 A.M. London time.
December 18, 2019, 9:16 A.M.
Heathrow was busy as always. Perhaps a bit less because it was a Wednesday morning. And their luggage actually arrived with the flight. Given the frequent meltdowns that the airport had had with its luggage systems, Lee was surprised. Lee’s bag, “the thing,” as Liz called it, was always easy to find on the belt. It was bright red and bigger than most. Liz always complained that Lee packed for a month when he was only going for a week.
The taxi stand also wasn’t as busy as they had expected. The stand attendant was missing. Lee saw a free taxi and headed for it, pulling “the thing” behind him.. He didn’t see the car. He just heard Liz shout, “Lee, look out!”
He glanced to his left and instinctively jumped back, landing on the suitcase. A nondescript black sedan whipped past, narrowly missing Lee. The driver from the taxi Lee was trying to reach yelled, “Bloody fool,” and offered Lee a hand up. Liz was at his side.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m okay. I’m fine,” grumbled Lee, dusting himself off.
The driver took their luggage and loaded it into the back of the taxi, still muttering, “Bloody fool,” under his breath. Lee wasn’t sure whether he was referring to him or the driver that had almost run him over. He didn’t ask.
The Thistle Marble Arch was, of course, near the Marble Arch at Hyde Park. They had stayed there years before. An older hotel with a lot of wood and overstuffed furniture. The small lobby had an adjoining bar and restaurant. It reminded Lee of the Parker House in Boston.
“Sir, do you require assistance with your luggage?” asked the clerk.
Lee wasn’t listening. He was still thinking about the airport. The driver hadn’t sounded his horn and didn’t stop. He had quickly disappeared into traffic. “Sir!”
“No, no. We can handle it,” said Lee, shaking his head.
“Where are you, Lee?” asked Liz.
“I’m here, right here,” said Lee, raising his voice and giving Liz one of those don’t-ask-any-more-questions looks.
But Liz, not to be deterred, said, “No, you aren’t. You’re thinking about something.”
Liz could always read Lee’s face. Lee pushed the elevator button. It was stuck. He pushed it again and then banged on it and finally the light came on.
“Did you see who was driving the car that almost ran me over?” The door of the elevator rattled open. No one was in the elevator. Lee and Liz stepped in and Lee pushed six.
“No, I didn’t. The windows were like those of a limousine.”
“Privacy glass all around,” said Lee.
“Yes, I assume so. What are you thinking?” But Liz answered her own question. “You’re thinking it wasn’t an accident, right? And it’s got something to do with Jennings and the package you may have to pick up.” Lee hesitated. “Well, I don’t know.” He shook his head. “No, I’m sure it was just me. My peripheral vision is not very good anymore.”
The elevator door, with hesitation, opened on the sixth floor. Room 625 was halfway down a long hall. Lee tried to herd Liz down the hall quickly.
“Stop pushing,” Liz objected. “What’s the rush?”
Lee gave up and walked at Liz’s pace. He opened the door. The room was small, but had all the basics, two beds, a television, a vanity, a desk and a couple of chairs. Lee double-locked the door and checked the windows to make sure they were locked.
“Do you mind, Mr. Paranoia, if I take a shower, or do you want to check the bathroom first?” asked Liz with a smirk.
“Very funny. I’m fine. I’ll just start unpacking.” Lee threw his bag with some effort onto the bed near the door.
“She’s right. The damn thing is heavy,” he mumbled as he started to unzip the bag. “Maybe I just wasn’t looking.”
Lee pulled out the black silk suit he loved and started shaking and beating the wrinkles out. Sometimes that worked, other times it looked like he had backed over it with the car.
Liz had just turned the shower on when the phone rang. Lee picked up the receiver. Before he could speak, the caller spoke.
“Yes, this is Dr. Brazil.”
“Mr. Smith asked me to inform you that you are to go to the Fusiliers Museum, her Majesty’s Tower of London, at three thirty tomorrow afternoon. Do not be early or late. You will receive instruction from the museum’s ticket agent as to the package’s location.”
“Can you tell me … ” But the line went dead.
Lee returned to his unpacking. “It wasn’t Smith or Jennings. I would have recognized their voice. The caller had a British accent,” Lee mumbled to himself. “Brilliant. Most of the population has a British accent. We are in London, dummy.” Lee laughed at himself. “This whole thing has really got me rattled.” Lee continued the conversation with himself. When Liz emerged from the bathroom, Lee was still talking to himself while lying on the bed, thumbing through a guide to London restaurants.
“So what are we doing for dinner?” asked Liz.
“Indian, I think. I’m not sure I have a real urge for kidney pie or steak and potatoes,” said Lee looking in Liz’s direction. “Indian is always the safer bet in London.”
“Great. I’m hungry.” Sensing Lee’s objection, “It’s been hours since we ate.”
“Come on, honey, it’s too early. My body says we should still be in bed,” Lee yawned. “It’s only 6:00 A.M. back home.”
“But it’s almost noon here,” Liz countered. “How about room service?”
“Sure. Do what you would like,” said Lee, losing interest in the conversation.
Liz ordered a steak sandwich and chips. Meat and potatoes sounded good to her. Lee’s stomach wasn’t ready for anything more than coffee. He was still thinking about the airport.
After lunch, they took a nap — or at least they tried to. Liz knew it was against all the advice about jet lag, but she did it anyway. Lee closed his eyes, assuming he would not drift into sleep, but he did. He dreamed. He was in a Coast Guard station. The sign read Jacksonville Beach Station. He was standing next to a door marked Radio Room. He could hear through the door a distress call that was coming in. He opened the door and stepped inside. The radio operator was busy responding to the call. He didn’t notice Lee’s presence. Over the static, a man’s voice could be heard. “This is The Enchantress. We are in trouble. We are off the coast of Charleston. Our position is . . .” The static distorted the rest of the message.
“Repeat,” said the Coast Guardsman.
The man complied again, but the message was still garbled.
The Coast Guardsman requested The Enchantress to start a long count so that the exact position of the ship could be ascertained. The man’s voice started the count. “One, two, three, four . . .” In a minute the count was taken up by a child’s voice. “Eight-four, eight-five, eight-six, eighty-seven . . .” The tones got weaker and weaker. Soon the child’s voice faded out completely.
“We have dispatched Search and Rescue. Hang on. We’re coming. Please continue the count.” But the only sound from the radio was static. Lee woke up. “What the hell is happening to me?” Lee mumbled to himself. He had found an old newspaper article in the Winterpool Gazette’s archives the week before. The Enchantress had disappeared off the coast of Charleston in 1963. The Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue squad, which had been immediately dispatched, along with Navy vessels found no sign of the 59-foot yacht or of three adults and the two children who were aboard. Lee tried to make sense again of why he was having these dreams, but couldn’t. My God, I’m having the same dreams as my patient. I’m losing distance. I’ve got to get out of this business. Lee tried to go back to sleep, but he couldn’t. When he would start drifting off again, the distress call would just replay itself in his head. He finally got up and decided to wander down to the concierge. It would be a distraction. Lee needed a distraction. He engaged the concierge in a conversation about the new restaurants in London. At the concierge’s recommendation, Lee booked a six o’clock reservation at the Cinnamon Club in Westminster which, according to the concierge, offered “a constantly evolving menu designed to reflect an ethos of innovation and creativity.” Traditional Indian food would have been fine with Lee, but why not something new? The concierge insisted it was the place to go.
When Lee returned to the room, Liz was just waking up.
“Want to take a walk?” asked Lee. “We can get some exercise and fresh air before we head for the restaurant. Maybe see a bit of the park, and then we can catch a taxi or the tube.”
“Boy, you’re full of energy,” said Liz, trying to find her reading glasses, which apparently had fallen off the nightstand. Lee waited. “But a good idea,” said Liz. “I think that might take my headache away.” “I want to walk by the U.S. Embassy — well, as close as we can get these days. It’s still under heavy security after the last bombing.”
“Well, if they’re trying to blow it up, I’m glad we’re not that close to it,” said Liz, smiling.
It was sunny and warm, at least by Maine standards, in the low fifties. Rare weather for late December in London.
Their efforts to reach the embassy located at the edge of Hyde Park were thwarted by police barricades, so the couple gave up and entered the park through the Marble Arch and walked toward the Italian gardens. Lee had noticed a man in a long, brown trench coat had been a few yards behind them since they had left the hotel. Maybe he was just out for a few rays of sun before winter. But when they turned toward Paddington Station to catch the Underground to Kensington Station, he was still behind them.
The station was crowded with families who had taken in the unusually good weather and were returning home. Lee pulled Liz through the crowd toward the train.
“What’s your hurry, Lee?”
“I don’t want to be late,” said Lee with a nervous smile.
“Relax, we’re early. And I want to look at those handbags over there,” said Liz, pointing to a small shop on the other side of the station.
Lee gave her another tug. “You can look when we get to Kensington.
They’ll have shops there.”
Liz resisted. “I’m not sure they’ll have that bag.”
Lee caught her eyes. “Liz, come on, now!” he said with force. She realized something was happening. She followed Lee’s lead. The platform for their train was jammed. Lee pressed their way into the crowd, hoping they might disappear from view, but the man in the brown trench coat was still there, just a few feet away, waiting for the same train.
When the train arrived, Lee shoved their way into the car. They passed a number of empty seats and moved to the opposite end of the car.
“Hey, Lee, here are two seats.” Liz started to sit down.
Lee yanked Liz out of the seat. “No, I want to sit by the door.”
“Jesum crow, Lee, take it easy with my arm. What is wrong with you?”
Lee didn’t respond. He was watching the man in the trench coat. The man boarded the train and moved to a seat in the middle of the car. Just as Liz was about to sit down again and the doors of the car were starting to close, Lee gave Liz another yank, “Changed my mind,” he said, as he pushed her through the closing car doors and onto the platform. The man in the brown coat moved toward the doors, but it was too late. The train was gone and so was the man.
“What was that all about?” said Liz, sounding disgusted. “You’ve been dragging me around like that old leather briefcase of yours.” Lee sighed. “I’m sorry, honey. But I don’t like being followed, and that guy was following us.”
“Well, we can catch the next one.”
“No, I think we should stay near the hotel and not go to the Cinnamon Club. Remember the Mahal? It’s just around the corner on Edgware.” They had gone there the last time they were in London. They, Dru included, had loved the food and the place. It was one of the oldest Indian restaurants in London. Avant-garde it was not, but relaxed and friendly it was, which is just what Lee and Liz needed.
The restaurant wasn’t crowded, and the waiter showed them to a small table by a window.
“Who do you think would have had us followed, Lee? I thought in this new age of technology they would do something with a satellite or a microchip.” Liz paused. “Unless the guy in the trench coat was supposed to do something that a satellite couldn’t do.” “Like what?” asked Lee.
“Like keep you from picking up the package.”
“I have no idea, but I’m sure it does have something to do with the damn package I’m supposed to pick up tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” said Liz with surprise. “How do you know that it’s tomorrow? How do you know you’re supposed to pick the package up anyway?”
Lee avoided her eyes. “They called me while you were in the shower.”
“Oh, Lee. I have a bad feeling about this. It’s all starting over again.”
Lee rubbed the tip of his hook against the palm of his hand. “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just letting my imagination get away with me. But why would the man in the trench coat … ” Lee stopped and looked at Liz. “Good grief, it does sound like a spy novel. Why would he try to get off the train when we did?”
Liz shook her head with conviction. “Oh, no, I don’t think it’s your imagination. But what can we do?”
“Follow instructions, I guess.” Lee looked at Liz. “Do you have any better ideas?”
There was silence again.
“No,” said Liz softly. Lee stared out the window. It was dark. Only a few people on the street.
“After that year in Boston,” Lee’s voice was soft and deep. “I’m just surprised, I guess, that they even let me on the plane.” He did not look at Liz. “We don’t need any more trouble.”
They ordered. The food came. They talked some about Dru and her boyfriend and how serious things seemed to be getting. They talked about Val, the friend that Liz was meeting in London for the shopping trip.
“So, what about tomorrow?” asked Liz.
“Three-thirty sharp. ‘Don’t be early, don’t be late,’” said Lee with a cadence. “The Tower of London. The Fusiliers Museum. These folks do have a sense of humor.”
“I’m not laughing,” said Liz, as she finished the last bit of goat milk ice cream.
“I know,” said Lee with disgust.
Their walk back to the hotel was brisk, with the dark and the way the temperature had dropped. The winter cold in London always seemed to get through the heaviest of clothing. Lee recalled that most of his visits to London had for some reason always been in the winter. He kept turning and looking back, but there was no one on the streets now.
When they arrived at the hotel, the lobby was deserted. There was one man at the bar. A large man, dark skin, well-dressed. He looked in their direction as they boarded the elevator.
The room seemed cold. Liz turned up the heat. They both began their preparation for bed, although neither assumed they could sleep. But this was what they were used to doing at this time of the evening.
Liz broke the silence. “When are we going to talk about this more?” “I don’t know what else to say. Sleep late. Have brunch here, and I’ll go over to the Tower early. I’ve never seen it. Maybe I’ll take the tour.” “Lee, if you’re going to act like a tourist, I’m going.”
“Well, damn it, Liz, that’s what we are . . . and you’re not going.” “I’m going,” said Liz, giving the don’t-waste-your-time-arguing-withme look.
“Okay, okay. Let’s just get this thing over. I’ll pick up the friggin’ package and drop it off and be done with this whole thing. At least I hope I’m done. I didn’t realize this business with Jennings would be a life sentence.”
Liz put her hand out. Lee took it. They turned off the lights and tried to sleep. In a few minutes, Lee was up checking the door. Double-bolted, but no chain. He rolled his suitcase over and wedged it in between the door and the bureau. Someone would have to wake the dead to get through the door now.
Lee drifted in and out of sleep. He dreamed of the man with the brown trench coat. Lee was pulling Liz through the crowd at Paddington Station, the man in the coat in close pursuit, reaching for Liz. When Lee awoke, he had pulled Liz onto his side of the bed.
“What is it?” Liz asked with alarm, pulling herself away from Lee and fumbling for the canister of pepper spray she had placed on the nightstand before turning out the light.
“Nothing. Just a dream. It’s okay. We don’t need the pepper spray, at least not right now.”
“What?” asked Liz again.
“Go back to sleep.”
Morning finally came. “The thing” was still wedged between the bureau and the door. No one had tried to enter the room in the night.
Office of Police Chief Moore
December 18, 2019, 11:15 A.M.
Chief Moore was on the phone with Dorothy Crosby. Dorothy was a member of the Town Council.
“Yes, Dorothy. I know, Dorothy. I’m just as concerned as you are with the safety of our children.” He rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes, I agree, but putting armed guards in each of our schools I don’t think is the answer.” The intercom buzzed.
“Hold on, Dorothy.”
“Oh, yes. Tell him to come in.”
“Dorothy, I’ll have to call you back.” Chief Moore hung up and mumbled to himself, “I suppose the next thing they’re going to want to do is put bars over the windows of the schools.” Abby opened the door to the Chief’s office, and Frank Bowman stepped into the room sheepishly.
The Chief stepped forward. “Come in, Frank. We’ve been worried about you. Dr. Brazil was sure something had happened to you.”
Frank nodded, but didn’t speak.
“So, where have you been? You know, you’re a lucky man. There was a leak in the propane tanks of that cabin you had rented for the winter. If you and Doc had been inside, the Fire Marshal says you both would have been incinerated.”
Frank finally spoke.
“Chief, I don’t know exactly what happened that night. I loaded my stuff into the back of my car. I was moving out. I wasn’t going to put my wife through any more. But as I got closer to the cabin . . .” Frank looked up at the Chief. “I had . . . I got this strange feeling that I shouldn’t stop, and I just kept on driving. I did. I drove for hours. Ended up somewhere in Upstate New York.” He looked away. “Called my wife the next morning. We talked, and I came home. I think we’re doing okay.” He looked at the Chief again. “And those dreams that had scared the hell out of me I went to Doc for have gone away.” Frank looked down again. He snapped his fingers. “Just like that.”
Frank stood up. They shook hands. “I just wanted to apologize and say how sorry I am for the trouble I caused you and your officers.”
“Okay,” said the Chief. “Just . . . just take care of yourself and your family.”
As Frank closed the door, the Chief leaned on his desk and said out loud, “Still doesn’t explain the crop circles or whatever they were. I still can’t figure that one out. Oh, well.” He sat down at his desk and began going through the last shift report.
Chief Moore, now in his late fifties, even with white hair looked younger than his years. He had been dealing with people and situations he didn’t understand most of his career. He gave up a long time ago trying to find all the answers. That’s one of the ways that he had maintained his sanity over the years.
His first job after college was working as a part-time police officer at South Beach. He needed the money and he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with himself. But by the end of the summer, he was hooked. Under some stroke of luck, South Beach was looking for a full-time police officer. He took the job. The wages weren’t that great. And he was one of the few officers in the department who had a college degree, which a couple of the officers never let him forget.
He was ambitious and moved up steadily through the ranks. He met a young woman, and married. She worked. They both worked. They had to. He could not support a family on his salary. He took the sergeant’s exam and passed it. Life got better. He was the youngest sergeant in the department. There were only three of them.
But police work began to change him. He became more cynical, and more suspicious of others. He and his wife were fighting more and he was drinking more. Alcohol he had found could swallow up sad or angry feelings very quickly, at least for a few hours. He didn’t like what was happening.
One Friday afternoon, he was working by himself. He responded to a call. A bad accident on Route 1. When he got there, he thought he recognized the car. He thought it belonged to his sister who was babysitting his five-year-old. The car had overturned after hitting a tree. Children’s clothing was scattered on the ground. There was little he could do for the young woman and her child. It wasn’t his sister and his son. But after working the accident, after the ambulance and the tow truck had gone and the crowd had left, he drove to his sister’s house. His son was happy to see him and surprised. He hugged the boy and decided that he needed to change his life.
And he did. He didn’t give up police work because he loved it. But he decided that he would develop interests and friendships outside of the department. He wasn’t going to be like other cops and just hang out with cops. He also decided to get some help. He saw a counselor. He learned to talk about what was going on with him.
Chief Moore took the job with Winterpool twenty years ago. He still talks about that Friday afternoon that changed his life. He emphasizes to new recruits that taking care of yourself and your family is key. Chief Moore considers himself a success. He has a job he loves. He’s not an alcoholic. He’s still married to the woman that he fell in love with thirty years ago. He has a good relationship with his children.
No, he doesn’t make a lot of money being the police chief in a small town in Maine, but as he would say, God knows there are a lot of things that are worth a lot more than money.
BOSTON HARBOR, BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS
December 18, 2019, 1:35 P.M.
Joann got through customs without any trouble. She checked her bag and was told to proceed to the boarding entrance for staff on the second level. As she approached the entrance, she had a strange feeling that she was being watched. She was. A young woman in a ship officer’s white uniform was watching her approach. She greeted her.
“I am Ellen Zan,” she said. Her uniform was well-pressed and spotless. She had short blond hair and bright green eyes. She appeared a bit mannish and robotic for Joann’s taste, but she was a handsome woman. “Welcome aboard The Saint, Joann Lawrence.” Joann was impressed.
“I will show you to your quarters and take you to the children. Please follow me.”
Joann’s quarters were a comfortable stateroom on the outside of the ship. It had a porthole and a double bed. “I’m sure you will be comfortable here.” Joann nodded. “Yes, I’m sure,” she said.
“I have much to do, so I will take you to the children now.” Joann followed her down the hall.
“They are in the Children’s Game Room,” said Zan, as she walked briskly down the corridor. Joann had to pick up her pace to keep up.
Zan opened the door of a large room filled with an assortment of various electronic games, but the children were sitting at a table with another crewman playing a card game, Old Maid.
Zan addressed the crewman. “You can go now, Richard. I will take over.”
The crewman complied.
“Children, this is the woman who will be taking care of you for the next few days. This is Miss Lawrence.” She turned to Joann. “This is Thomas Belton and this is John Belton. Their mother will be down shortly. I will see you later.” Zan took her leave.
Thomas looked to be about six years old and John about nine. They extended their hands. Joann knelt so she could face the children.
“Glad to meet you,” she said, as she shook their hands.
“I haven’t played Old Maid in a very long time. Is that one of your favorite games?”
They both nodded.
Thomas was dressed in shorts and John in what Joann thought looked like knickers, even though it was late December in Boston. The older, John, was wearing something that Joann had also not seen for a long time, what looked like a Madras shirt. Both boys were blond with blue eyes and looked like they needed a haircut.
They finished the Old Maid game. Tommy won. Mrs. Belton, their mother, hadn’t appeared. Joann opened the bag that she had brought with her.
“Guys, why don’t we try to find some new games on the Internet?”
Both children stared at her blankly.
She pulled out the Quick tablet that she had brought with her.
Thomas spoke up. “What’s that? A little television?”
“Oh, you haven’t seen one of these yet?” Thomas shook his head no. And so did John.
“Let’s go to the NPR website and see if we can take a look at some of the games they have from Sesame Street.”
Again, she was met with blank stares.
“What’s Sesame Street?” asked Thomas.
“You know, Tommy,” said John. “Remember Mom told us about it?
It’s one of those new things that we’re learning about.”
“Oh,” said Tommy. “Have you met the Count?”
“You mean the one that counts numbers?” said Joann.
Tommy and John laughed. “No, no,” said John. “Tommy’s talking about our captain. Not the one that’s captain of this ship, but the one that was captain of our ship, The Enchantress.”
“No, no. I haven’t met either captain so far. But I would like to.” At that moment, the door to the game room opened, and a small, welldressed woman with long black hair in a bun and large brown eyes entered the room. The boys stopped talking and stood up.
“Miss Lawrence? I’m Marie Belton. I see you have met my sons.”
“Yes. We were just having a conversation about the Internet and Sesame Street.”
“Oh, yes. Big Bird and all that. I’m afraid the boys don’t know very much about that. You see, we’ve been away on a cruise for some time. They haven’t seen much television. I’m sure you will have a lot of interesting things to tell and show the children. I’ll be happy to stay with them for the next hour while you settle in. Can you be back, say, at three o’clock?” “Yes, of course,” said Joann.
Joann took her leave. Where have these folks been cruising? Outer space? No Internet? Madras shirts? Sixties hairstyles? This is definitely going to be an interesting cruise.
The Marble Arch Hotel
December 19, 2019, 8:00 A.M.
Lee had ordered room service for eight o’clock. An American Continental breakfast — orange juice, coffee and pastry. He needed something familiar. But the pastry was a British scone, of course. And the coffee, he liked it strong, but one sip was enough. Liz, who had recalled she was in England, ordered a better choice, tea. Lee enjoyed complaining about English cuisine, but the food and the complaints were distractions that didn’t work. Lee’s mind was on neither.
Lee tipped the waiter a pound and closed the door, double-locking it again. Lee examined the food carefully. God, am I paranoid? he thought. Maybe he should call the front desk and ask for a food taster. He could remember restaurants in the States, especially a couple in Newark Airport in the late seventies, where having a food taster would have been a good idea. This was before their major makeover in the 1980s. In the ‘70s the main terminal could have served as a set for a World War II movie. The whole place felt like a strong wind could have taken it down. And the few restaurants that were there were inhabited by wildlife, some human and some not. Lee remembered a dinner there, if you could call it that, when one of the nonhuman ones with a gray fur coat and a long tail darted underneath his table.
“Breakfast is here already?” said Liz, pulling her eyeshades off. Lee had never worn the pair she had bought for him many years before. He had made a joke of it, saying that he was sure he would wake up in the night and think he had gone blind.
“How’d you sleep?” asked Lee, still mumbling under his breath about the coffee.
“Not that well.”
“Me neither. I kept thinking about the guy at the station and the car at the airport.” He paused. “Let’s just get this thing over with.”
He handed Liz the cup of tea.
“Where’s the honey?” Lee handed it to her. He poured some cream into his coffee, sniffing it before he poured. “Is it spoiled?”
“No, just checking.”
“Oh, hell. Nothing, Liz. I’m just a little . . . on edge this morning.” “Well, I’m feeling better about this trip. Looks like the sun’s out. We’ll do some sightseeing. Have some time together.” Here she goes, Lee thought.
Liz continued. “Take in a nice restaurant. Maybe do a little shopping before . . .”
Lee interrupted. “The main thing we’ve got to do today,” Lee said with certainty, “is pick up the package at three-thirty sharp.”
“The package,” said Liz, in a mocking tone. “I wonder what’s in it.”
“I have no idea, and I don’t want to know.”
Lee tried to weaken the coffee, which had a viscosity like oil, with more cream while Liz resumed her channel surfing from the previous night. “I think I’ll go down to the lobby and see if I can find a copy of The Times.” Liz nodded. As soon as he closed the door to the room, he wondered if the lobby bar was open. He felt a familiar craving coming back that he hadn’t felt in months. Lee hadn’t had a drink since the accident. The police officer who knew Lee, did not give him a sobriety test; he just wrote up the incident since it was a minor single car accident. Black ice. Driving too fast. Lee had skidded off the road and taken out the headlight and fender on the passenger side. He had had a couple of drinks with Dr. Forester after work. But he knew it was a wake-up call and he heeded it.
Lee didn’t get on the elevator. He went back to the room.
“No Times?” asked Liz.
“No, I didn’t go,” said Lee, returning to his coffee.
“You don’t look so good. Did you sleep at all?”
“Not that much.”
“What are you thinking about?”
“The changes we’ve made in the last few years since I got back.”
After being away for so many months, Lee had had a hard time restarting his practice and his life. All he had told people, all that he could tell people, was that he had been away working on his book and had gotten caught up in the accident at the Pine Grove nuclear plant, and his return had been delayed because the government had somehow gotten the mistaken idea that he and Angus, a friend of Lee’s, had something to do with the accident. But the people of Winterpool thought that there was more to it than that. There had been rumors. Small town rumors. Liz and Lee had separated because of another woman. Lee had been undergoing treatment for a cancer caused by the nuclear accident.
Lee knew a lot about rumors and how destructive they could be in a small town. There was his great-uncle Bush. Lee had grown up hearing the stories from his mother. His great-uncle had been driven out of his home and into the Appalachian woods by rumors. Rumors that he had killed a young woman and her husband. He had not, but he stayed in the woods. He became a hermit. Years passed. But the stories only got larger and more frightening. People were afraid of Uncle Bush.
“Being alone,” Lee’s mom would say, “gave Uncle Bush plenty of time to think and hope.” He decided he would create an even bigger story than the ones the townspeople were telling. But he also wanted to hear their stories before he died — or, as they would say in those days, “got low.” So he arranged, with the help of the town’s undertaker, his own funeral — a funeral that would be preached before his death.
Lee thought he must have a lot of hope to try such a thing. It was the middle of the Great Depression. But the funeral director and some of the townspeople saw the opportunity to create some publicity for themselves and their town, and an opportunity, of course, to make some money. Lee smiled, remembering all of this. He guessed rumors could lead to something positive. Uncle Bush got to hear the townspeople’s stories and to tell his own. His funeral was a great success. Hundreds came, including Lee’s mother and father. It made national news and his story was eventually made into a movie, Get Low, with Robert Duval playing “crazy” or optimistic Uncle Bush, depending on how you thought about it.
So, it had not been easy for Lee, even with the help of friends like Griff, who insisted that he spend time on his fishing boat, or by old friends who visited them when the demands of their lives allowed.
The drinking had been a refuge. Just a couple. No harm in that. Every evening. And then one at lunch. And the weekends. Another bottle of wine — or two or three? Liz and Lee had argued about the drinking, but Lee hadn’t listened to her until the accident.
“You know, Liz, I didn’t know what would happen when I came back from Boston.”
Liz smiled. “Well, I wasn’t sure we would ever get you back from Boston.” She switched off the television.
“I know, but — but I mean with us. Dru out of the house. Retirement.” He looked down at the floor. “Well, partial retirement. Just you and me.” He looked at Liz. “I didn’t know if we could,” he hesitated, “if we could make it.”
Liz didn’t say anything. She was waiting for Lee.
“Well, I’m feeling pretty good about our chances. I mean, I’m feeling pretty good about us. You know, we seem to argue less. Our . . . well, our timing with each other is better.”
“It’s still not the greatest sometimes,” said Liz.
“And other things are better, too,” said Lee with assurance.
“You mean sex?”
“Well, that too,” said Lee with a smile.
“Why is that, Lee?” she said, looking directly into Lee’s eyes. “I haven’t changed that much.”
“I guess I’ve changed the way I think about all of that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t want to change.” Lee looked away. “I didn’t want to accept the way things were. How I needed to change. But flexibility is a good thing,” said Lee with a chuckle. “Hmm. You’ve got to change your thinking before you can change what you’re doing.” He paused. “I guess I finally took my own advice.”
“Well, I’m glad I’m married to a flexible man.” She put her arms around Lee, pulling him back into the bed and she kissed him. Really kissed him.
“So why don’t we practice what we preach?” And they did.
The sun rose higher in the sky and the morning passed. The maid’s knock at the door roused them around noon. They showered and started to dress. Lee asked her again not to go with him. And predictably, Liz refused. They decided to try the park again. This time there were no men in trench coats. The sun felt warm. They sat on a park bench and stared at the sky and said nothing.
“Honey, it’s almost three. We had best get a taxi. Let’s walk over to Paddington and catch one.”
Before they could reach the station, Lee waved one down on Edgeware.
“The Tower of London,” he instructed the cabbie.
“Right. Straight away,” said the young driver.
The Tower was in central London on the north bank of the Thames, a complex of buildings and towers that had served as a fortress, royal palace, and prison used most famously by Henry the Eighth as a prison for one of his wives, Anne Boleyn. William the Conqueror in 1078 had built the first tower, the White Tower.
Traffic was heavy. As they approached the Cannon Street Station, a truck suddenly pulled out of a side street, narrowly missing the cab. The young driver’s quick response averted a crash that might have killed all three of them.
“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know where the bloke came from. Are you okay, ma’am?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” said Liz, regaining her composure. Her face was flushed.
Lee didn’t speak. He just looked at Liz. They both knew what had just happened, but they agreed that talking about it more at that very moment would do them no good.
The driver dropped them at the Tower tube station. He apologized again. Lee gave him a good tip, and he and Liz walked toward the entrance gate.
The Tower was clearly a fortress between two concentric circles of defensive walls and a moat. Even in the bright afternoon sunlight, it still looked foreboding.
“You know this place has ghosts. Anne Boleyn, who was finally beheaded by her loving husband Henry, has been seen walking around the White Tower carrying her head under her arm,” said Lee.
“Please, Lee, no bad jokes about a woman losing her head over a man,” said Liz, looking for signage. “So, where are we going?”
Lee was thumbing through the Authoritative Guide to London. “It says the museum is near the center of the complex.” They walked on toward the White Tower. The Museum of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, City of London Regiment, was in a building off the main courtyard.
“Is it time, Lee?”
“Almost. The caller said,” repeated Lee with a cadence, ‘Don’t be early and don’t be late.’” He paused. “You can wait out here.” “No way. I’m going with you. The whole place gives me a chill.” “Hey, you’re the one who insisted on coming.” They walked on.
“Relax,” said Lee. “The last execution was in 1601.”
“Are you forgetting the one a few minutes ago for which we were almost the guests of honor?”
Lee smiled. “Well, in that case, would you like to see the Crown Jewels before we leave?”
“I think I saw them this morning.”
Lee smiled again.
“There’s the entrance to the museum. The ticket clerk is supposed to tell me where the package is. Well, here goes nothing.”
They walked past the sign apologizing for the lack of access for persons with a disability. Liz trailed behind Lee. Lee approached the ticket booth and placed a ten-pound note on the counter. The clerk slid the change and two tickets through the opening in the glass. Lee waited. The clerk said nothing. When Lee didn’t move, the clerk pointed to the tickets. Lee picked them up and waited. The clerk pointed at the tickets again. Lee looked at them again and back at the clerk. The clerk took the tickets out of Lee’s hand and turned them over. There was a handwritten note on the back of one of the tickets. Lee nodded. Lee was sure he would never have made it as a secret agent.
He turned to Liz. “Okay,” he said with a sigh, and they entered the museum. The note on the back of the ticket said, Under the right corner of the portrait of Field Marshal Sir Edward Blakeney.
“So, what do you want me to do?” whispered Liz.
“Just help me find this guy,” said Lee, as he started to scan the walls of the museum. “You know, I think someone doesn’t want us to pick this package up.”
“I think you’re right, Sherlock,” said Liz as she looked for a nameplate on one of the portraits. “Boy, this place is low tech. No cameras that I can see.”
“How about this one?” asked Liz?
“No, that’s Lord Dartmouth,” said Lee, looking at the Visitor’s Guide. There was no shortage of portraits of scenes of battle in the museum. But finally, on the back wall they found the right one. Sir Edward Blakeney, fourteenth Colonel of the Royal Fusiliers.
Even though the museum was now empty of visitors, Liz stood guard. “Doesn’t look like there’s any alarm wiring attached to the painting.” Lee felt for the package behind the portrait’s frame.
“Sour-looking fellow,” said Liz, staring at the portrait.
Lee nodded, but his attention was on the frame.
“Who could want to steal this guy?” groaned Liz.
“The damn thing must be awfully small,” said Lee as he ran his hand across the back of the portrait. “Hurry up, Lee. They’re going to close.”
“I’m hurrying . . . here, I think I’ve got something.” Lee pulled out a CD case and read the title, “Greatest Hits of Rock ‘n Roll, Volume I.” He put his hand behind the frame again and felt the right corner. “Nothing else.” Lee looked at Liz and shrugged. “I guess this is it.” He slipped the CD into his coat pocket. They tried not to look guilty, nodding and smiling at the ticket clerk as they left the museum.
“No more sightseeing for today, right?” asked Lee, as they walked toward the Tower Hill Entrance.
“What do you think?”
They pushed through the crowd that was gathering for the Beefeaters, the Tower guards, the Ceremony of the Keys which was performed every evening as the Tower was secured for the night.
As they exited the last tower, a raven swooped past them.
“Is that a good sign or a bad sign? I can’t remember,” asked Lee. “Something about being by your window…” Lee mumbled.
Liz wasn’t paying attention. She had her mind on getting back to the hotel.
“Let’s take the Underground,” said Liz. “I’ve had enough with taxis for today.”
The tube station was clean. The train was on time. And they weren’t being followed.
“So, I take it we’re staying in tonight?” asked Lee, as they stepped into the hotel elevator.
“I don’t understand you sometimes, Lee. One minute you’re wired and paranoid, and the next minute you’re doing a comedy routine. I think we’ve had our share of luck for the day. Let’s not push it.”
“Well, I think some days things just reach a point where the only thing you can do is laugh,” said Lee, trying not to sound defensive.
Liz didn’t say anything.
The room was warm. They had left the heat up. The bed felt soft as Lee kicked off his shoes and laid down across it.
“I’m hungry,” he said. “Let’s order something from room service.” Lee thought about how good a beer would taste. The craving was still there. The kitchen was busy and room service was slow, even though their order was small and not very exciting. Fish and chips. Lee ordered bottled water. The craving for having a drink had started to pass. When the meal finally arrived, his appetite had also passed. They both sat in front of the television and watched BBC news. There was new fighting in Baghdad. More car bombs.
After the news, Liz pulled out her mystery novel. Lee thumbed through the AAA Guide to London he had bought a few weeks before. They made two phone calls before getting ready for bed. Liz called Val and made arrangements to meet her the next morning at Harrod’s. Lee called their daughter, Dru.
“How are you, honey?”
“Dad, I’m great! I miss you guys. Hope you’re relaxing and enjoying London.”
“Oh, we are.” Little did she know.
“You need to retire, Dad. I mean, really retire.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, but . . . well — well, we’ll talk about it . . . again. How’s your boyfriend?”
“Rob, Dad. He just got that job with Marine Resources that he applied for months ago. Took forever.” Rob had been out of college since his graduation in the spring, but with no job. He had finally found work in his field, which was considerably better than the thousands of college graduates who had not.
“Well, I’m glad to hear he’s working, especially in this economy,” said Lee.
“We have to talk with you and mom when you get back.”
“What about?” said Lee, sounding alarmed.
“Well, our plans.”
Lee took a deep breath. “Your plans? That sounds serious.”
“Well, yes, I think we are.”
Lee wasn’t quite sure what to say.
“Well, that’s great, honey. We’ll talk when we get back. We’ll have plenty of time during the holidays to do that. Here’s your mom.” Lee shook his head and mouthed, “don’t ask” and handed the phone to Liz who immediately began to discuss the shopping trip she was planning with Val. By the time the phone call ended, Lee had paced around the room three or four times.
“Well?” Liz asked.
“Well, what?” Lee waited.
“I know,” said Liz. “They’ve been talking about marriage.”
“Lee, we will talk with them over the holidays. There’s not much we can do but listen. She’s an adult and a responsible one.”
That seemed to satisfy Lee, at least for the moment. Liz and Lee took turns in the bathroom. They talked briefly about the next day. Lee would be taking the mid-morning Eurostar out of St. Paneras Station. He would have plenty of time to think about his only daughter and her boyfriend . . . fiancé . . . on the Eurostar.
About ten o’clock Liz turned the light off. Lee lay awake for a long time that night. Jet lag, men in brown trench coats, large trucks, and Dru. When he finally fell into a deep sleep, he dreamed of the evening in the early fall, many years ago, when he and Liz had walked the Boulevard around Back Cove in Portland, Maine. That evening they had decided to adopt a child. Liz had had a miscarriage. They were both in their early forties. The decision had taken them a while to make, but it was a good one. A few months later, Dru was in their arms, and now . . . she was going to get married and start a family of her own.
The Marble Arch
December 20, 2019, 7:30 A.M.
Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.
~ Emily Dickinson
Their wake-up call came at 7:30 A.M. Liz groaned and rolled over. Lee sat up on the edge of the bed for a minute but then rejoined her. At eight o’clock, Lee got to his feet and headed to the bathroom. Another sunny day. Lee felt hopeful. Sunlight and warm water.
God, we are the children of Mother Nature, he thought to himself as he turned off the shower.
Liz was now up and feeling equally optimistic about the day. “Perhaps this little favor for Jennings we are doing is a good thing,” she said to Lee as she took possession of the bathroom.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt to look at it that way,” said Lee, “We Americans are used to exporting hope, not fear,” shouted Lee through the door.
Their conversation was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Room service,” said the voice.
“Breakfast is served,” shouted Lee. He didn’t wait for Liz. He had a quick cup of coffee, some OJ and a scone. And the scones weren’t as bad as he had remembered them from the day before.
Lee was ready to go. Liz was emerging from the bathroom. She looked at Lee and his suitcase, the “thing.”
“You’re not taking that with you,” said Liz.
Lee grimaced. “Well, yes,” he said.
“I think we should switch bags. Mine is much smaller. It will be easier for you.” Liz started for the closet to get her bag. Lee looked unconvinced.
He didn’t move.
“It will only take a minute,” said Liz. “Relax. Relax.”
Rather than complaining, Lee realized Liz was right, as she often was. He told her that her suggestion was a good one and helped her repack his bag. Lee gave himself extra points on the change scale.
Lee tucked the “package” in a leather pocket in his briefcase. He assumed it would go through customs and security. It looked like an ordinary CD, which were getting more rare all the time. Maybe it was an ordinary CD with some sort of secret information coded behind the music or on the CD instead of the music? What did he know.
Lee hugged his wife and kissed her forehead. “No,” she said. “A real kiss.”
Lee stepped back. He looked at her. He took her in his arms and kissed her like it might be their last. He tried to reassure her that all would be well by mumbling something to that effect and they both pretended it would be. He caught a taxi in front of the hotel. The taxi driver, like most British drivers, engaged him in conversation.
“Your first time with the Eurostar?”
“Yes. I’ve been looking forward to it.”
“Sir, I believe you will be impressed with the terminal. Much like Grand Central Station in New York.” St. Paneras International was an old train station that had been restored to its earlier glory.
“Yes, I’ve heard. The longest champagne bar in Europe.” The craving was still there.
“Yes, sir. The longest in the U.K. and in Europe,” the driver corrected. Lee had read the AAA guide and knew other bits of trivia, which the driver also knew.
“It’s been in a number of films,” Lee offered, enjoying the distraction of the conversation.
“Yes, sir. It was a stand-in for King’s Crossing Platform 9-3/4 in Harry Potter.”
The station indeed was a beautiful one. Check-in was easy. Lee went through security without delay. He checked for the CD when he retrieved his briefcase. The package had made it too. It was still there.
The train was on time. Lee’s seat was in Car 5, a standard-class car. He never saw the point in spending additional money on business class. It was next to a bar car, not that he was planning on having a drink. Ah, the “good ole days,” he mumbled under his breath, “the days when a Jack Daniel’s Manhattan could quickly dull any feeling with which I might be having difficulty.”
The trip to Paris would take approximately two-and-a-half hours. They would be under the Channel for only twenty minutes. The train was amazingly quiet and not crowded.
The purpose of the trip to Paris was a World Health Organization conference on “Optimism.” Medicine had taken all these years to figure out that “our explanatory style” has a direct impact on our health. That how we look at the world can make us sick or help us get well, that our perception of things is the key.
But Lee’s mind wasn’t on the details of the conference. He was having his own internal debate about optimism and pessimism. On the side of pessimism were his friends, Bill and Rick, and his old boss, Dennis. And on the side of optimism were his mother and his Aunt Rose.
When Lee had been released from detention in Boston, he had committed himself to the practice of gratitude, but that had been a hard promise to keep. With Vietnam, Grenada, Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan in his lifetime, it seemed America was interminably at war. And the effects seemed pervasive. We had filled our television and video games with violence. Our economy seemed to demand that wars continue. It was hard for Lee to remember his mother’s words. “Son, just always remember, good or bad, this too will pass.” She had been born before World War I and had lived through the Depression, World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, and the war in Iraq. But blame was an easy thing. An incompetent Federal Administration, baby-boomers who had sold out, young people who seemed more interested in texting and smartphones than the world in which they lived. But then he would remember his aunt. “Lee, you’ve got to focus on what you have and not what you don’t have.” God knows, she had learned that lesson well, having lived through the death of two husbands and then dying herself just short of her sixtieth birthday. His friends and old boss, even with advanced degrees in psychiatry and psychology, were no match for two women who understood life by living it to the fullest.
Two hours passed quickly. Lee almost missed the Channel crossing. It seemed very much like all of the other tunnels he had been through on a train, just longer. Lee found himself thinking more about his mother and her stories. One of the most romantic and certainly one filled with hope for the future was the story of Aunt Ollie and Uncle Clyde’s marriage. They had grown up in Lee’s hometown. They had been engaged when young, but for some reason — Lee didn’t know what the reason was and neither did his mother — the engagement ended. Clyde moved away to Chicago and made a life for himself there. Ollie stayed in Lee’s hometown and married. But her husband died in the 1930s. She remained a widow for the next twenty-five years.
One summer day in 1956, Clyde returned. His life in Chicago had been a good one. He had married and had a son. But his wife had died and he had decided to return to his hometown to find Ollie and did.
She had not heard from him in ten years and was reluctant to “court.” After all, they were both in their late sixties. Ollie knew that people in this small southern town would think they were ridiculous. People would talk. But Clyde was persuasive. He soon proposed and they were married.
Lee didn’t remember much of this. He was just a child, ten or eleven. He did remember the wedding because he was the ring-bearer. They were married at Lee’s home and his parents served as witnesses.
What Lee did remember were the years that followed. The two clearly enjoyed each other. Ollie, who had been ill, Lee’s father called her a hypochondriac, suddenly returned to good health, and Clyde seemed to find new energy and a new purpose in life. Ollie died in 1968 and Clyde followed her within a year.
Lee wondered why they had suddenly come to mind. Thinking about his mother and the love Ollie and Clyde had shared was certainly a nice diversion from the present. Lee wasn’t sure at all what awaited him in Paris. He thought about the near miss at the airport and the man in the trench coat, who followed Liz and him through the park and onto the tube. And the truck that almost demolished them and their taxi.
The train arrived at the Paris Nord Station on time. Again, customs was quick and easy, which usually worried Lee. What if the bad guys got through as easily as he did? But he wouldn’t think about that today. He was in Paris. He had only been in the city a couple of times, but he loved it. Even though he spoke very little French, he was comfortable there. The pace, the feel of the city, it was different from New York or London. Slower, more sane.
The cab ride to the Ambassador was short. The old hotel was in the center of the Opera District, a few minutes from the Opera, Garnier, and the Moulin Rouge. Built in the 1920s, it retained its art deco theme. Lee didn’t especially like the couches or the chairs in the lobby or find them comfortable. But the choice of color and their arrangement worked. It wouldn’t have worked, Lee thought, if an American had designed it. The hotel would have looked like a Disney-style brothel, but the French made it work. And the Lindbergh Bar, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman — a couple whose timing when combined with World War II just didn’t work — Claude Rains and the Foreign Legion. Lee smiled from the memory of the 1940s classic film, Casablanca. He found welcome distraction in that fantasy. He always did.
Lee thought again of the trip to Paris for Dru’s sixteenth birthday years before. It was a short trip, only a week. They didn’t stay longer, although they wanted to. Paris was expensive, especially with the dollar having hit a new low and having stayed there.
The desk clerk, Lee believed, was at the hotel when they had been there before. Lee’s French was terrible, but the clerk appreciated his efforts. Yes, he had worked at the hotel for over ten years. And, yes, he thought he might remember Lee and his family. At least that’s what he had said. Lee’s hook usually did make an impression.
Lee settled into his room, unpacked, and then called Liz, who was having a great time with Val. She had stayed within the budget they had set for the trip. “Well, almost,” she admitted. There was just one thing. A handbag she knew “Dru would love.” She knew Lee wouldn’t object if it was for Dru.
“And?” asked Liz.
“No, so far I’ve heard nothing from the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. But I’ll keep you posted.”
It was 4:30 P.M. in Paris. Lee searched the hotel room for a note. No note. No phone calls or messages. He waited. He watched some television. He checked his Gmail. He flipped through the channels. He decided he would stay in and have dinner at the hotel restaurant. He took a nap. Showered just to wake up. He was still dealing with jet lag.
The meal at the hotel was uneventful. He ordered a veal dish he couldn’t pronounce, but he tried and the waiter smiled. He thought about a walk after dinner. Maybe down to Galleries Lafayette. He checked his watch. It was after six. It would be closed. The French believed evenings were not for shopping, but for other things. He finally ended up in the bar. “A tonic and lime, sil vous plait.” He was sure the bartender took offense. He waited. Sipped his drink. But there was no message written on a cocktail napkin. He went back to the room. No messages. No notes. No calls. No emails. No one appeared interested in telling him what he was to do with the Greatest Hits of Rock ‘n Roll.
More television. A look at the workshop agenda for tomorrow. A chair propped against the door and lights out. Maybe a note would be in the granola in the morning. He would have to remember to look before he poured the milk.
Before Lee drifted off to sleep, he thought of Jean. The sadness came up as it always did. Jean was a woman he had been . . .yes, in love with for most of his life. They had met in graduate school. After she had completed her doctorate, she had moved to Europe. Lee still had his internship to do.
They had seen each other a number of times. They had talked about marriage. But their timing never worked, just like Bogie and Bergman, and long distance relationships were hard to maintain. They had both married. They had lost touch. Just Christmas cards. In 2012, her husband had died. She returned to the States for a visit, just in time to become embroiled in the mess that Lee had been involved in in Boston. She tried to help. Since Boston, they had written only a few times. Jennings had discouraged Gmail or phone calls. But Lee’s paranoia was the main reason. He was sure their conversations with each other were being monitored, and maybe they were. So even the letters said little. But he still thought of her. He closed the drapes. The City of Lights disappeared. He slept. He was exhausted. He dreamed, but had no memory of the dream when he awoke the next morning at seven.
Home of Jefferson Davis Powell and his wife and three children
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA
December 20, 2019, 10:15 A.M.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Jeff had been out of work for nine months. His unemployment benefits had run out. His home was facing foreclosure. His wife Judy worked, but only part time.
Jeff was looking at his computer. He was holding something in his hand he had printed off the computer. He stood up.
“Judy, I’ve got some good news.”
His wife of ten years was slow to respond. She was sitting on the couch folding laundry. Jeff had had good news before.
Finally, she spoke. “I hope so. Are you sure?”
“TransSea says they have a job for me. They’ve attached an airline ticket.”
“I guess,” said Judy, “they’re pretty sure of themselves, aren’t they?” She realized what he was saying, “Does this mean you will be in Texas for the holidays?”
They both looked puzzled. When Jeff got back from Afghanistan, TransSea was one of the few companies that would offer him employment. He worked on the rigs in the Gulf for a number of years. It was hard and dangerous work. But it paid well. Judy prayed every night that God would protect him. She was a very religious person. Unfortunately, he was a subcontract employee, so when he was injured, the help he got from TransSea’s subcontractor was very little. Jeff and Judy ran out of money. Jeff was forced to settle with the workers’ comp carrier and to take what work he could.
“I don’t know, Jeff. I don’t trust those people. They didn’t treat you very good when you got hurt. What are they doing in Bermuda?” “I don’t know. It’s an awfully big company. They’ve got an office there. They want to meet me there tomorrow evening.”
She shook her head. “I don’t like the way that sounds.” She looked down at the laundry and stopped folding.
Jeff got up and came over to the couch. He put his arm around her. “But they’ve always paid me well, and we need the money.” He smiled.
“They say they are sure I have the skills to do the job.”
Judy touched his cheek lovingly. “Okay, honey. I’ll trust your judgment this time.”
Senator Clayton’s Office, Hart Office Building
December 20, 2019, 10:33 A.M.
Optimist: Someone who tells you to cheer up when things are going his way.
~ Edward R. Murrow
“I know. I know, Fred. We have no chance of preventing Hollocore from getting the contract. But Senator Greenwood and I are still voting against it.”
Fred Bolin, her Chief of Staff, looked away and said dismissively, “I’m sure you feel you have to vote your conviction.”
“Fred, look at me. This is really important. It’s probably the most important thing I’ve ever dealt with in my whole political career. Someone or something has to stop Hollocore.”
“I know, Senator. I just don’t know who or what is going to be able to do that. Chambers has half of the committee in his back pocket. Your colleagues are frightened of him. I don’t think they will take the risk of crossing him.”
“But, Fred, you saw that recent poll. Most of the American people would favor what I’m proposing. Most people would welcome an opportunity to slow things down. To think about what we’re doing before we do it. It’s corporations like Hollocore that are full-speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.”
Fred nodded in agreement.
“And what do you know about TransSea?”
“Not much. They’ve been around a few years. They’re privately held. They’re in the energy business like Hollocore, and they’re Hollocore’s main competitor. But they seem different in their approach to things.”
“How so, Fred?”
“Well, from what I’ve heard, they treat their employees well. They don’t seem totally motivated by greed. In fact, they’ve worked fairly closely with the Environmental Protection Agency on the wells they operate in the Gulf. And their management team is a bit of a mystery. It’s not a company run by personalities. They certainly don’t have anyone like Dick Chambers leading the charge.”
“Fred, do you realize what could happen with this supercomputer in the hands of someone like Chambers?” Fred shook his head again.
The Senator looked at Fred with a very serious expression, “I just don’t like or trust Hollocore and their CEO Chambers. He’s a real piece of work.”
Fred smiled again and chuckled. “As my old daddy would say, ‘I wouldn’t trust him in an outhouse with a muzzle on.’”
Senator Clayton laughed.
“Fred, where do you come up with those sayings? Or should I say, where did your daddy come up with those sayings?”
Nancy Clayton had always tried to act on her convictions, but it seemed each year to get harder to do. The Senator had come up through the ranks. Six times in the House, and now she was the Junior Senator from California. This business of being a presidential candidate seemed to make it even harder. She was told not to fight battles if she knew she would lose. The party leadership did not like that. They weren’t sure she wouldn’t self-destruct before Election Day, and she wasn’t either. But Election Day was a long way off, and she had to get the nomination first.
Fred Bolin wasn’t sure he wanted her to get the nomination. For the first time in all the years that he had worked for her, he was ambivalent about this campaign. He wasn’t sure that winning the nomination or even winning the presidency would be what she really wanted. She had wanted a good marriage and her family, but politics, he felt, had robbed her of both. Fred, who was now in his late fifties, had worked for Senator Clayton first in California. Then he had followed her to DC. He had never married. Her career had been his life.
He could write a book about Nancy Clayton. She was from a small town in the Midwest. She had worked to put herself through college. Her mother was a passive woman, perhaps because she had a physical disability and felt she had few choices. Her father was a hardworking man, but distant.
Nancy Clayton earned a Bachelor’s degree from an Ivy League school, but had had to live at home and commute to school to do it. She was a Catholic in a school primarily made up of students from “old money” Protestant homes. That’s when Fred had met her. He was one of those students from old money.
Nancy Clayton, to survive, had learned to be a good politician, to negotiate. She got a law degree and met her husband in law school.
When Fred had finished college, he took a job in the family firm. He didn’t have to. He had a trust fund. His parents seemed not to really care what he did. When he did poorly in college, they wrote him off, certain he wouldn’t live up to his “potential.” They ignored him.
Then to Fred’s amazement, one late May afternoon, Nancy Clayton showed up at his office as a legal intern. An intern for the summer. She didn’t ignore him. Their old friendship was rekindled. But her boyfriend, Brian, from law school was now her fiancé. They were married soon after she finished her law degree. Fred followed her to a law firm in San Francisco. She was a rising star, and Fred rose with her.
Nancy Clayton wanted to have it all. When she gave birth to her daughter in her mid-thirties, Fred became a part-time babysitter and surrogate parent. She wasn’t there enough, Fred felt, when Kimberly really needed her. When Kimberly got into trouble in her early teens, Fred helped cover it up. Nancy tried to be there for her, but Brian didn’t even try. He, like Fred’s parents, had written Kimberly off when she needed him most. Brian was a womanizer. Fred knew that from the beginning. Nancy wouldn’t hear of it. She threw herself into her work and continued to deny that he was involved with other women and had a drinking problem. She focused her attention — that is, the attention that she had for her family — on Kimberly. Kimberly returned to college and, like her mom, she met a guy. But unlike her mom, she had gotten pregnant immediately. Getting pregnant had been a struggle for Nancy, making the decision and then being able to make it happen. But not for her daughter. Nancy was about to be a grandparent. Excited about this prospect, she decided to fly back to the coast to tell Brian their daughter was pregnant, hoping it might draw the family together again. When her afternoon committee meeting on the hill had been cancelled, she took an early afternoon flight. But when she arrived home, she found Brian in bed with another woman. It was finally enough for Nancy. She filed for divorce and never looked back. At least that’s what she was fond of saying. Again, she threw herself into work and that was okay with Fred because he got to see her more now.
When she had first talked about the presidential nomination, Fred had tried to talk her out of it. Fred was ambivalent about doing this. Some days it seemed to be the only thing that kept her from giving up. It was sad, he felt, for it to come to that. Could he have given her more than Brian? Brian was a man’s man. Handsome, a sharp dresser, and a risk taker. All the things that Fred wasn’t.
Fred had fantasized about telling her how he felt. But he never had and he assumed he never would. She liked him. She cared about him, like a good employer cares about a good employee. But was there more there than that? He didn’t know, and most likely he would never find out.
The Ambassador Hotel
December 21, 2019, 8:16 A.M.
God is with those who are patient.
The Continental breakfast that came with the room was in a salon off the main dining room, Pastry, no scones, The French agreed with Lee. Dry cereal, breads, fruit and lots of stewed prunes. The French did know something about international travel. Lee chose the stewed prunes, the coffee, the orange juice, the croissant and granola — without a secret message — and yesterday’s The New York Times. Hard copies of a newspaper were hard to find. So, Lee would have to be pleased with yesterday’s news.
On the front page of The Times were the usual reports of bombing in Baghdad and rocket attacks in Israel, and a fairly long article about “UFO Mania.” According to The Times, there had been a number of sightings of unidentified flying objects across the globe. As usual, thank you, authorities had discounted these sightings. Weather balloons, the planet Venus, the Northern Lights, etc. The article concluded by saying that there had still been no reports of hard evidence of the existence of alien life forms.
Lee mumbled to himself, Well, I’m not sure of that.
There was also an article about Senator Clayton’s campaign, including endorsements from some of the old guard. It was still early in the campaign. The country was desperate for new leadership. But what was the average person willing to do? Were we just looking for another savior that we would reject after six months when all the items on our wish list had not been delivered?
As Lee started to tuck the paper under his arm, another article caught his attention, “TransSea and Hollocore Vie for Contract to Build Supercomputer.” This project had been developed originally by the European Union, which had fallen on hard times, and the United Kingdom, which was in not much better shape. They were looking to the United States for a new partner and new funding. The US had agreed to take on the project during its final phase. The American answer, of course, was to privatize the project and look for corporate partners.
The article talked about the benefits of developing a supercomputer. It would help the human race find a cure for the ills of old age. And if that wasn’t enough, human beings might someday become immortal by merging with one’s machine, with one’s computer.
“Merging with a computer,” Lee muttered to himself. Wish fulfillment on a grand scale for some people, I suppose. Cyborg mania! He chuckled. The article didn’t mention Senator Clayton and said nothing about the ethical challenges that would confront the human race if such a computer was developed. Instead, the article focused on the competition between TransSea and Hollocore to obtain the contract to build the computer. The companies were bitter rivals and had been for years.
The morning paper had not put Lee in a good mood. He tucked the paper under his arm. Merging with a computer? That’s sure in hell one thing I would not want to do. And life extension? Whose life would be extended? And whose wouldn’t? Who would decide? The computer?
Registration for the meeting was on the eighth floor. He didn’t want to be late. Lee didn’t recognize any of the people in the hall outside the meeting room. He picked up his registration packet and found a seat at one of the tables near the back of the room. A small group, maybe fifty. The program was billed as an update on current research on optimism, but the main focus was on the integration of the concepts of explanatory style into the day-to-day practice of medicine.
The program began promptly at nine o’clock. The group was a mix of practitioners, mostly from the United States and the United Kingdom, and an assortment of public health types, mainly from Western Europe. In the final years before his retirement, he had worked on an education project in which one of the main components was optimism. One of his old friends at the American Psychological Association had arranged for an invitation to the meeting.
Selling prevention had always been difficult, as the first speaker pointed out. There were usually no drug prescriptions that needed to be written or refilled repeatedly or expensive equipment to sell or procedures to bill out. The profit margin was small. Very small. Little money was to be made. So with healthcare, especially in the States, still being a for-profit venture, it was a hard sell.
But there were some signs of hope, as the second speaker pointed out. The United Kingdom had been investing heavily in training practitioners in cognitive behavioral approaches to treating depression rather than spending millions on psychotropic medications. Discussion was active and, at times, heated. Lee enjoyed it, almost forgetting his other purpose in being there. The morning session ended at 10:30. The luncheon would not begin until 12:30 P.M. More speakers and recognitions. There was time. Maybe, Lee thought, a walk, see a bit of Paris.
The registration area was crowded and noisy. The elevators were straight ahead. He didn’t think he would need an overcoat, so he decided not to go back to his room. As Lee waited for the elevator, out of the corner of his eye he saw the Eiffel Tower. He shook his head. “No. A walk would be best,” he mumbled under his breath. When it finally arrived, he stepped onto the elevator. It was crowded, but gradually people exited at their floors. Everyone seemed in a hurry. The holidays. The door opened. Lee crossed the lobby. The doorman smiled, “Monsieur, taxi?”
“Um,” Lee hesitated, and then he said, “Oui.”
A walk would have been better, Lee thought, as he slipped into the cab. The driver looked at Lee. “The Eiffel Tower.” The driver nodded. It was a beautiful late December morning. Sunny, though a bit windy, which made it feel colder. Traffic was heavy. The shops were busy. Last-minute shoppers like Lee. He hadn’t finished his list. He’d waited for Paris. Something special this year for both Liz and his daughter. He would have time for that this evening or tomorrow morning. But what? Which shop? Bebe for his daughter, the shop she had loved on her first trip to Paris with Lee and Liz when she was sixteen.
Lee was so occupied with his shopping list and his thoughts that he didn’t give much credence to the black BMW that had been following his cab since it had left the hotel. Lee didn’t even notice when the cab stopped.
“Oh, yes. I mean, oui. We’re here. Right?’
The driver rolled his eyes. “Oui, monsieur.” Lee was sure he was thinking something about Americans. Lee handed him what he thought was the fare and a tip. The driver nodded.
The tower wasn’t crowded. A ticket to the top required no conversation. Given Lee’s French, he was thankful for that. He boarded the elevator with a group of Japanese tourists. The gate clanged shut, and the elevator began slowly to move. It creaked and groaned and swayed some in the wind.
The viewing platform wasn’t crowded either. Lee walked around the platform slowly. There was the usual assortment of young and some not-so young lovers, hardly noticing the cold. But the weather was discouraging most of the tourists from staying very long.
Lee looked out over the city. The Arc de Triomphe. He was sure of that. The Louvre, maybe. He was getting cold. He looked at his watch. It was later than he thought, 11:48 A.M. The traffic would be even worse on the way back.
And then he saw her. He aborted his retreat to the elevator. She was standing by herself. It certainly looked like her. The hair, still blond, thanks to, as she would say, “better living through chemistry.” The coat, a dress, even on such a cold day, an umbrella. A petite woman.
The last time he had seen Jean was in Paris. They spent a few hours together. Jennings had arranged it. They had one meal together, a dinner, and then it was over. Jennings saw to that. No, it wasn’t at the Eiffel Tower. Although they had talked of meeting there someday. An Affair to Remember with the Eiffel Tower rather than the Empire State Building. It was business that had brought Lee to Paris three years ago. Another World Health Organization meeting and a “delivery” for Jennings. A relatively uncomplicated delivery, but, again, one that Lee did not feel he could turn down. He had not told Liz about it. They had met at the Café de la Paix, had a simple dinner and a few drinks. A lot of reminiscing. She was seeing an old friend of her late husband, a man named Carl. Lee and Jean had toasted their separate lives and their relationship. “Like a rock,” she had said. The relationship had been worn by the years, but had not been washed away.
Lee had started to walk toward the mystery woman, but a man about Lee’s age hurried past him. He touched the woman on the shoulder. She turned. Lee waited. She was now facing in Lee’s direction, but the man, a large man, white hair, tall, slim — slimmer than Lee — blocked his view.
Finally, the man moved. It wasn’t Jean. Lee was shaking now. He rubbed his arms and stamped his feet and finally forced himself in the direction of the elevator. As Lee had decided many years before, some things must be accepted, even if they would never be understood.
The Eiffel Tower
December 21, 2019
The real jihad is the warfare against the passions.
~Al-Ghazah, Muslim Writer
When Lee reached the ground, he was focused on getting back to the meeting. The black car from earlier was still there, waiting near the cabstand. Lee was not in the mood. He thought of going over and confronting the occupants, but he thought better of it.
The ride back to the hotel was uneventful. Lee tried to keep his focus. The meeting. The delivery. Some shopping for family. Home.
The black BMW pulled past the cab at the entrance to the hotel. Lee waved.
Lee quickly crossed the lobby and squeezed onto the elevator with fifteen other people. After stopping at what seemed like every floor, the elevator finally arrived at the floor on which the afternoon meeting was being held. Lee walked past the registration table. Five minutes to spare, he thought.
“Monsieur,” the young French woman overseeing the registration table was waving him over. She handed Lee a sealed envelope.
“Merci,” said Lee. At last maybe he could get this over today and enjoy the rest of the meeting and the trip home. He opened the envelope.
Dr. Brazil – Your life is in danger. You must leave the hotel now! Do not return to your room. Go to the hotel basement, B-1. Exit through the staff entrance. A car will be waiting for you. You will be driven to one of the side entrances to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Go in. Lose yourself in the crowd. I will find you. ~ Andy
Lee hesitated. He read the note again. He had brought his appointment calendar — a hard copy one, a rarity these days — with him from the meeting room and, of course, he had the package with him. He really didn’t need to return to the meeting room or his room.
For a moment, Lee felt angry. He muttered to himself, I’m really too old for this I Spy business
But his old friend, fear, began to push up, as he started to walk toward the elevator. The doors opened. He stepped in. They closed. No one was on the elevator. He hesitated again. He pushed B-1. The elevator groaned as it moved slowly past the floors. The doors finally opened again. A maid pushing a cart filled with clean linen hurried into the elevator on the facing wall.
Lee stepped off the elevator and peered down the long hall. He could see the outline of an entrance. He assumed this was the right one. He looked back. The hall was deserted.
He began to walk slowly down the hall. His pace quickened. Light poured into the building from the door at the end of the hall. It partially blinded him. He could not see what was to his left or his right. He could hear the sound of machinery, he assumed washers and dryers in process. He tried to read door signs as he passed, but his French, when he was feeling stressed, was nonexistent.
He was jogging and half out of breath by the time he reached the entrance door. He hit the crash bar and the door sprang open with a jolt. A black limousine stood at the foot of the loading ramp. Lee walked down the loading dock steps and toward the nondescript car. The side door opened. A man wearing sunglasses and dressed in a business suit covered by a black overcoat stepped out. He looked with anticipation in Lee’s direction. Lee shook his head and moved quickly toward the car, muttering under his breath, I wonder who dresses these guys.
“Please,” said the man in black pointing to the open car door. Lee nodded and plopped down into the soft leather seats, sliding across to make room for his handler.
The door closed. The car was in motion. Lee looked around the limousine trying to get his bearings, but immediately realized the privacy glass was coated on both sides. No one could see in, but no one in the back compartment could see out. Before Lee could speak, the man spoke.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Brazil, but it’s a necessary part of maintaining our privacy and security. We will only be a few minutes. Sit back. Enjoy the ride. Would you like something to drink? Oh, I’m sorry, Dr. Brazil, you no longer are a drinker, are you?”
Lee said nothing. Neither did his handler as the car moved through the streets of Paris toward the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
The limousine slowed and came to a stop. His handler cautiously opened the door and stepped out. He motioned for Lee and pointed to a side door of the cathedral. Lee followed his direction. The door opened as Lee approached it. Lee stepped inside and the door slammed shut behind him. The hallway was dark. The air felt cold and damp. It smelled of mold.
Lee’s eyes, as he had aged, took longer to adapt to the dark. At first he could not see who had opened the door. But he sensed his presence. Just a few feet away. Lee stood still and stared into the dark. The outline of a man dressed in a Monk’s robe became clear as he stared. The figure said nothing, but pointed in the direction of another door about eighty feet away. Lee nodded and moved toward the door. The figure did not move from his post.
As Lee got closer to the large wooden door, he could hear the sound of a crowd. Holiday worshippers. Tourists who had come to see the great cathedral. Construction had begun on the building in the twelfth century but was not completed until the fourteenth. The church was desecrated during the French Revolution, but survived to sound its bells on August 24, 1944, to announce to the residents of Paris that the city had been freed from Nazi occupation.
With some difficulty, Lee cracked the door and peered into the great hall. He stepped through the crack. He closed the door and, as instructed, lost himself in the crowd, which was quite easy to do. Lee gazed up at the organ. “A beautiful work of art itself,” said the tour guide. “Seventy-eight hundred pipes.” Just as he was thinking of a question that he might ask the tour guide, he felt a hand on his arm. The hand took a firm hold on him and moved him in the direction of a set of stairs that led to the vaults below. The chain blocking the stairway was removed quickly by one of the attendants. Lee and, he assumed, Andy proceeded down the stairs. At the bottom of the steps, Lee turned around. Andy spoke first or shall we say, he tried to speak.
Lee interrupted. “I’m tired of playing this stupid little game. Here’s your package,” said Lee reaching into his breast pocket and pulling out the CD.
“No, no,” said Andy. “Not here. You don’t understand.”
“Well, I think I do,” said Lee, his voice rising.
“You don’t,” said Andy with a firmness that got Lee’s attention. “Your life is in danger. All of our lives are in danger. That’s why we’ve changed…” his voice cracking and appearing quite distracted, “your mission.”
Lee felt like saying that his only mission was to get home by Christmas in one piece. But he didn’t.
Andy, appearing to be reading his mind, said, “We would like to see that you get home safe. But first, you must deliver this package. It is not safe with me. You must get back to the States, to Boston, to Jennings. We must get you out of Paris this afternoon.”
“What the hell is on this damn CD . . . never mind. I don’t want to know.”
“Good,” said Andy, appearing to recover. “We have you booked on a charter flight to Bermuda this afternoon.”
“Bermuda. Why Bermuda?”
Andy hesitated. “Well…it’s a roundabout way of getting you back to Boston.”
Lee waited, but Andy said nothing else. “Well, it’s at least in the right direction.”
“Exactly,” said Andy.
“My lord, you’re starting to sound like Jennings.”
“Our man will meet your plane. He will make the arrangements to get you off the island and back to Boston.” Andy looked over his shoulder and called out, “Aman?”
Aman stepped out of the dark and took Lee’s arm. Lee shook his hand off. Lee’s anger once again flashed. “I may be getting old, but I’ve still got most of my teeth, and I can walk on my own.”
Andy nodded and Aman began to lead Lee toward an exit door.
“Watch your step,” said Aman. “We must hurry. Your flight leaves at two-thirty.”
Lee looked at his watch. “You’ve got to be kidding. It’s after one. With security we’ll never make it.”
“Relax, we are security,” said Aman.
Lee smiled. “Right this minute you would have a hard time convincing me of that,” said Lee.
Aman smiled again.
“And what’s happening with Liz? What am I going to tell her?”
Aman took Lee’s arm again and ushered him along. “Don’t worry, Dr. Brazil. We will take care of all of that. We will send Liz a Gmail explaining that you have been delayed but will be arriving in Boston on the 24th.”
Lee did not feel reassured.
“Well, you better do a good job of explaining why. What exactly are you going to tell her?”
“We must go,” he said sternly, and moved Lee toward the door.
Cathedral of Notre Dame
December 21, 2019, 1:35 P.M.
Well I’ve been to London and I’ve been to gay Paree . . .
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.
~ Bob Dylan
The same limo was waiting at a different side entrance. Lee’s previous handler opened the door and Lee slid across the seat. Aman took the seat next to the driver.
Bermuda, Lee thought. He hadn’t been in Bermuda since he had taken a cruise there with his family and his 95-year-old mother. Lee and his wife and daughter had taken the cruise mainly for her. She had always wanted to go on a cruise. She loved it. It was her first and her last. She died in the early winter of that year.
But there was something else about Bermuda. Lee’s patient Frank often traveled there. The patient with the strange dreams, who disappeared and then reappeared just before Lee had departed. When Lee had checked in with his office yesterday, Loretta told him that Frank had not called back. The more Lee thought about it, he felt that Bermuda, in some strange way, was the right place to be going,
The limo drove through a security checkpoint and onto the tarmac. It stopped at the foot of a stairway, the one that food and supplies are usually carried up.
“We’re here,” said Aman. “Up the stairs now. Debbie will get you settled.”
Lee objected. “Shouldn’t we go around to the other side of the plane so I can board with the rest of the passengers?”
“That won’t be necessary,” said Aman, directing Lee toward the steps.
“Off you go. Your luggage will be on a later flight.”
“Don’t look so concerned. Just enjoy the flight and look for our man when you get to Bermuda. He will meet the flight.”
Lee trudged up the steps muttering to himself, Enjoy the ride. Enjoy the flight. When he reached the top of the steps, a young blonde female flight attendant was apparently waiting for him. “Mr. Jones,” said Debbie.
Lee stepped through the cabin door.
“I guess,” Lee said, with obvious hesitation.
“Let me help you find your seat.” She put her arm around Lee’s waist and walked him through the galley. She said something else that Lee couldn’t make out. He could barely hear over the noise in the cabin. A drunken Jingle-Bells was competing for the attention of the group with an obscene version of Frosty the Snowman.
“Great,” Lee grumbled to himself, “a party plane.”
“Yes,” said Debbie, “but they should settle down once we’re in the air.”
“Sure,” said Lee, sarcastically.
“Here,” said Debbie. “You’re sitting next to Dr. Wagner.”
Dr. Wagner, a large man, slightly balding with white hair and large dark-rimmed glasses, appeared half in the bag, like most of the passengers. He rose and extended his hand as Debbie introduced them. Lee took his hand and tried to smile.
“Jones, eh?” said Dr. Wagner, obviously not convinced that this was actually Lee’s name. “You’re like half of the people on this flight.”
Lee looked puzzled. Wagner shook his head and smiled. “You don’t understand, do you?”
Lee started to answer, but Wagner interrupted. “Most of the people on this flight work for the ‘United States government.’” He gestured quotes with both hands, spilling some of his drink on the passenger in front of him.
Lee still didn’t respond.
“It’s a spook flight,” Wagner laughed loudly. Lee still looked confused.
Wagner leaned over and whispered, at least he attempted to whisper, “CIA.”
Lee smiled again and said, “I see.”
“Everyone needs a little R&R around the holidays, even,” and he leaned closer to Lee again, “spies, right?” said Wagner.
“Right,” said Lee.
The pilot interrupted their conversation by announcing that the plane would be taxiing out for takeoff and that everyone should please take their seats and get buckled in.
The flight attendants were busy doing last call before takeoff and trying to herd passengers into their seats. The noise level increased as the pilot maneuvered the plane into a position for takeoff and as passengers shouted to be heard.
Dr. Wagner was having difficulty finding his seatbelt buckle. Lee came to his assistance, found the buckle and snapped it in place.
“Thank you, good sir. Let me buy you a drink. Debbie?”
“No, that’s quite all right. When we get in the air, you can buy me one,” said Lee.
“O-k-ay,” said Dr. Wagner, slurring the word.
The pilot advanced the engine throttle and the plane rumbled into the sky. Wagner ordered himself another drink and asked Lee what he would have.
“What the hell,” said Lee, “A Jack Daniel’s Manhattan.”
Debbie smiled. “Right away,” she said.
“So, why are you on this flight, Mr. Jones? What business do you have in Bermuda?”
Lee hesitated. “Well…”
“Come, come,” said Wagner, “you can tell the good doctor. That’s my job, to listen. I’ve listened to . . . well, you wouldn’t believe what I’ve listened to.”
Want to bet, Lee thought.
He waited and then continued on. “Do you have a good story?” He looked at Lee and smiled. “Something more than just cheating on your wife or killing someone?” He looked away. “I’ve heard it all.” He turned to Lee again. “How about sex with your pet . . . no, no?” He turned away again. “I’ve heard that one…was it a Golden Retriever or a Great Dane . . . I don’t remember.”
Lee smiled. He remembered. It was a Great Dane, and Lee had thrown up after the session.
Wagner continued on. “I can tell you stories about some of the people on this plane. But…” He put his finger over his mouth. “Mum’s the word. Patient confidentiality, you know?”
Lee knew. “I’m sure,” he said, and began fumbling with the seat pocket, looking for the in-flight magazine. Dr. Wagner was beginning to make Lee feel very uncomfortable. In the last few years, Lee had tried to put aside much of the craziness that he had dealt with in the past. But Wagner was pulling it up.
Dr. Wagner rambled on. “Most of them won’t even speak to me in public. They pretend they don’t know me when they run into me.” He turned again to Lee. “Hell, we all work in the same building.” He finished his drink. “Drop their dirty laundry off with me and pretend they don’t even know me.” He leaned over Lee who now had his head buried in the in-flight magazine. “I hold their hands for months or, for a few of them, for years, and they don’t know me.” His speech was slurred. “And the rest? They’re scared of me,” he sneered. “Afraid to even sit next to me on this plane.”
Lee looked up, “Is that so?” But Lee knew it was so. That was one of the hardest parts of the job. He was the repository for other people’s stuff. Which often left little room for his own. That’s what burnout was all about. Becoming cynical and angry.
The drinks came. Just a couple of sips by Lee, and he was ready to cheer the good doctor on. He’d certainly been in the same place. In many ways, he felt the same way and almost said so. But he didn’t.
“So that’s why I’m getting the hell out of the agency. Too many years. Too many sad stories. I’m full up.” Wagner leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes again. “I can’t hold any more of other people’s garbage. They can get themselves another shrink. I’m out of here January 1.”
He sat up and looked Lee in the eyes. “You know what I mean, don’t you?”
Lee didn’t respond. He certainly could have. He had as many stories to tell. Lee remembered how he had felt when he first started in the business. He was going to change the world just like the young police applicants he used to evaluate. Not as a cop, but as a psychologist. But just like the young cops, he had grown more cynical with every year.
Wagner looked at him again and forced Lee to make eye contact. “I think you do understand. Yes, I think you do.” Wagner paused and closed his eyes and leaned back in his seat and then muttered, “Oh, shit, you’re not from the front office, are you?”
“No, no,” said Lee. “I’m not. What you said will stay with me. Mum’s the word.”
“Good,” said Wagner, as he closed his eyes. In a few minutes, he was snoring.
Lee looked out the cabin window, but there was nothing to see. He thought again about the toll that human misery had taken on him and all those who tried to alleviate it. The healthcare providers he had worked with. The clergy, police officers, and the social workers and folks in Lee’s profession, like Wagner.
BERMUDA AIR SPACE
December 21, 2019, 6:38 P.M.
Cynicism: Idealism gone sour.
~ Will Herberg
Lee awakened to the pilot announcing that passengers should take their seats and check their seatbelts, since there was turbulence up ahead and the landing at Bermuda might not be a perfect one. Lee rubbed his eyes and pulled his seatbelt tighter. Dr. Wagner stirred briefly and then resumed his snoring. A number of people were in the aisle arguing with the attendants about the need to take their seats when the plane hit the first patch of “bumpy air,” as the pilot had called it.
Suddenly, the plane seemed to lose altitude. “Bumpy air,” agreed the young man sitting across the aisle from Lee, as he opened the in-flight magazine. Lee nodded and checked his seatbelt. A few people standing in the aisle started to move toward their seats. The plane lunged up and then down. A woman talking to a friend lost her balance. Her friend caught her before she fell into the aisle. The flight attendant was on the intercom again.
“Please,” she said, “Please take your seats.”
A few more of the plane’s tipsy passengers moved toward their seats, holding on to the backs of seats, luggage compartments, and their fellow passengers. People were still talking and laughing. But before most could reach their seats, the plane began a free fall like the descent of a roller coaster. Lee hated carnival rides. He felt his seatbelt dig into his waist as he was lifted off his seat. His heart was starting to pound. He was trying to take deep breaths, but couldn’t. The plane heaved again. Lee’s stomach felt like it was going to explode and its contents come gushing out his mouth and nose. Conversation and laughter had stopped.
The plane pitched to the left and then began a forward plunge toward earth like an elevator car whose cable had snapped. There were screams and gasps as anything and anyone not secured by a seatbelt or stowed flew through the air and bounced off the cabin ceiling, walls, and passengers.
Somehow the pilot and crew managed to regain control of the plane. The plunge to earth slowed, and the plane righted itself. The air became calm again. The bright lights of Hamilton could be seen in the distance. Tragedy had been averted, and the CIA’s best and brightest from the French office were saved to spy another day.
Unfortunately, the air turbulence combined with a considerable amount of alcohol and party food had negatively impacted the digestive tract of most of the passengers. The sickening odor of vomit began to fill the plane. When the plane reached the gate, Lee and a number of other passengers were immediately on their feet and ready to exit
As Lee made his way past the galley, he heard someone call his name. Not Jones, or Smith or whatever it was supposed to be for “security,” but Brazil.
A large, black man was standing at the end of the galley next to the cabin door through which crewmen were now loading food and drink. He smiled and motioned for Lee to join him. Lee mouthed, “Me?” and the man nodded. Lee wasn’t sure. He looked around for a member of the crew to ask what, he wasn’t sure. But most were busy helping others to their feet, icing bumped heads and finding bags and suitcases that the owners, in an alcoholic fog, could not remember into which overhead compartment they had been placed.
The man motioned again for Lee and, as if propelled by some sort of invisible force, Lee stepped over boxes of snack food and assorted liquor and beer to reach the crew exit. Just as he started to speak, the man turned and started down the stairs. Lee followed without hesitation.
The sky was dark and the night air was heavy, but cool and smelled of the ocean. Lee took a couple of deep breaths. The two reached the bottom of the stairs and moved quickly across the tarmac toward an old gray Lincoln Town Car parked on the edge of the runway.
The man opened the driver’s side door and motioned Lee to the passenger side. Lee complied, taking a seat next to his guide.
“I take it you’re the person who was sent to . . .”
The man nodded as he started the car, slipped it into gear, and headed the Lincoln in the direction of the nearest exit gate. The small airport at this hour of the early evening looked almost abandoned.
Lee continued, “You work for the Agency…I mean the United States government?”
Turning to Lee, “David,” he said. “David is my name, but we cannot talk here.”
As they approached the gate, the guard opened it, smiled and waved them through.
For a while they followed a gravel road that ran parallel to the airport’s runway. It soon turned into a narrow, newly paved road. The lights of the airport faded. It was pitch dark. There was no moon. It was only 7:00 or 7:30 Bermuda time, but Lee’s biological clock told him it was the wee hours of the morning European time and he should be asleep. He was having difficulty keeping his eyes open. Lee shook himself and rubbed his eyes. “Where are we?”
“More importantly, where the hell are we going?” asked Lee.
“Not far,” said David. “Twenty-five miles is a short commute in the United States. In Bermuda, it’s the length of our country.”
“You’re from Bermuda?” asked Lee.
“Yes, I am now,” David said with obvious pride. “I came here many years ago. It’s a long story which I will tell you tomorrow.”
“Okay,” said Lee with hesitation. “That’s something I need to know?” asked Lee.
“You’ll understand when I tell you. But tonight we rest. Tomorrow we talk.”
They turned off the paved road onto sand and broken pavement. Lee could hear the ocean. The car’s headlights reflected off of piles of debris, rotting building and aging concrete bunkers. An old military base, Lee was thinking.
“Let me try it again. Where are you taking me?” This time he said it with some force.
“I told you, we will be there in a few minutes.”
Lee started to object, then thought better of it.
David pulled the car into a driveway that ran on an incline to a large concrete structure. He pulled the car up to two large rusted metal “blast” doors.
“Dr. Brazil, please open the glove box and hand me the garage door opener.”
Lee complied, retrieving a large gray metal object that looked to Lee like a Buck Rogers ray gun. He handed it to David who pointed it at a particular spot on the left door. The doors began to slide silently back. David pulled the car into the bunker as the doors closed behind them.
“That’s one heck of a garage door opener,” observed Lee.
David smiled. “We will spend the night here,” said David as he slipped out of the car. Lee followed him into a dimly lit room. The room was filled with electronic equipment, some vintage World War II, and others high tech. In fact, so high tech that Lee could not recognize the equipment. He looked for a corporation label on the equipment or a serial number, but saw none.
“Your bed is over there,” David motioned, “and there’s food in the kitchenette if you are hungry.”
Lee was still looking at the room and the equipment.
“The bath is in that corner,” David said pointing. “Did you hear me?”
“Ah . . . yes. What is all of this? Where is the deluxe room on the beach? What’s with the I Spy bunker?” said Lee, motioning with his hand and hook and looking perplexed.
“We have been planning for your arrival for some time,” said David.
“My arrival?” said Lee with concern.
“We are staying here because their infrared scanners cannot detect our presence.”
Lee smiled. “David, you’ve lost me on that one. Whose infrared scanners?”
“For tonight, just let me say, Dr. Brazil, that if the party who was supposed to meet you at the airport had, you would be dead by now. So, enjoy your good fortune. We will talk in the morning. There are towels and clean clothes on your bed. I have work to do before tomorrow, so if you will excuse me…”
Lee stood for a few seconds, while David, appearing not to take notice, busied himself at one of the Star Wars Galactica control panels.
Lee decided to take David’s advice. He washed his face. There were deep dark circles under his eyes. As his father would have said, “You look like hell warmed over.” Less than twenty-four hours ago he was sitting in a hotel room in France. Now he was in a World War II era bunker in Bermuda with some guy who was telling him he had saved his life and he should be grateful.
Lee’s brain was too tired to give all this more thought. At least not tonight. He did think of Liz. She would be worried. He’d left his cell phone in Paris. He hadn’t talked with her for a day, but if he had the phone, it wouldn’t work inside a reinforced concrete bunker.
Lee sat down on the bed. He took off his shoes. He checked to make sure that the package was still in the breast pocket of his coat. The Greatest Hits of Rock ‘n Roll, Volume I, was still there. David had said nothing about the package. Maybe . . . no, David knew about the package. That was the whole point of Lee being there, he assumed.
Lee moved the “clean clothing” to the chair by his bed. The clothes looked like a workmen’s uniform. On the breast pocket there was an insignia of a cruise ship. The Saint, the one that sailed out of Boston to Bermuda. Lee shook his head and closed his eyes.
Office of Dick Chambers
HOLLOCORE, DALLAS, TEXAS
December 21, 2019, 3:45 P.M.
Pessimist: One who builds dungeons in the air.
~ Walter Winchell
Dick Chambers was on the phone with Reggie Brown, head of security for Hollocore.
“What do you mean, they put the courier on a plane to Bermuda? That wasn’t the plan, Can’t these guys do anything right?”
“You what? You don’t know where he is? Hell, Bermuda is a small island. How could you have lost track of him?”
Chambers stood up.
“You lost track of him at the airport, Wade International? It’s not LaGuardia. Find him, damn it, or you’ll be working as a security guard in Wal-Mart.”
Chambers slammed the phone down and plopped down in his desk chair. He was muttering to himself again about the fools that worked for him. He hit the intercom button. “Shirley, get Special Agent Douglas Jennings on the phone.”
He continued to mutter to himself while he waited. It only took a minute. The phone buzzed. He picked up the receiver . . . “What do you mean, don’t call you at this number? I’ll call you at any number that I want. I have your director’s cell phone number. James and I were planning on having dinner the next time I’m in DC. Would you like for me to call him? . . . Okay, then. Tell me what’s going on with Brazil. Brown has lost track of him . . . I know he’s in Bermuda, but where? . . . And why the hell is he in Bermuda? . . . I thought you told me this fellow would do what he was supposed to do. Wouldn’t be any trouble . . . I know all of that. And why, in the name of Mike, did your man in Paris put him on a CIA flight to Bermuda with those agents from the Paris office?” Chambers’ voice was rising higher now. “Aren’t these the same bozos from the Paris office who lost one of their laptops that contained the identification and facial recognition data on every courier our government has or has used in the last twenty years? . . . Why didn’t you guys just paint a bulls-eye on his back and announce on the public address system he was on a mission for the U.S. Government? . . . Look, I don’t want any more excuses or screw-ups. Find him, unless you want to retire early from the Bureau.”
Chambers slammed the phone down a second time. “I shouldn’t have allowed those idiots to handle something this important.” He walked over to the windows that looked out on the city. Another cloudy day. It looked like it might rain. He put his right hand in his pocket and fondled his good-luck piece. He looked at his Rolex watch. He needed to hurry. He might be late for his next meeting. And he didn’t like being late.
December 21, 2019, 7:45 P.M.
If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you to go on in spite of it all.
~ Dr. Martin Luther King (12/24/1967)
TransSea had arranged a reservation for Jeff at a relatively nice hotel near their offices in Hamilton. He could walk there, and would. He arrived at Wade International late in the afternoon, had a sandwich at the airport, and went directly to the hotel and checked in.
As he began to walk toward the offices of TransSea, his excitement about the possibility of again having a well-paying job grew. His confusion also grew as to why he was to meet the representative of TransSea at such a late hour, 9:00 P.M. Most shops and businesses had closed hours before. The section of Front Street housing the TransSea offices appeared to be abandoned for the night.
The building, with a bright, metallic blue TransSea embedded in a sea of stars, was easy to find even in the dark. There was a security guard at the front desk who took Jeff’s name, looked at his passport, and told him he would not need to sign in. He said that Mr. Perkins was expecting him.
“Fifth floor.” He pointed to the elevator.
Jeff crossed the small lobby as the guard watched. He pushed the elevator button and noticed that his heart was pounding and he was perspiring even though it was a relatively cool evening. Jeff looked down at his shoes. I should, he thought to himself, have worn the other pair. The door opened on the fifth floor. There was a reception desk, but no one was there. He stepped off the elevator.
Jeff looked in the direction of the voice.
“Yes?” He could see a person standing in the dimly lit hallway to his left. The figure motioned for him to follow, and Jeff complied.
Halfway down the hall, the figure turned into an office. Jeff followed. The office was small and also dimly lit. A couple of chairs, a small desk. No papers or books or pictures or electronic devices of any kind.
The figure turned to face Jeff — a man in his late thirties, well-dressed in a gray business suit and tie. Jeff was wearing a clean shirt and jeans; the blazer dated back to high school, the one that he wore to senior prom. There had been no money in the last few years for what his mother would call dress-up clothes. He and his family had only been able to afford the basics.
“Please sit down. I’m Philip Perkins.” He smiled. He had a soft voice. He remained standing.
“Thank you,” said Jeff, his voice cracking as it usually did when he was nervous. He sat down.
“I would offer you coffee, but all of the staff are gone for the day.”
Jeff assured him that he would be fine without coffee.
“Your flight and the hotel?”
“Oh, very . . . very fine, sir.” Jeff smiled again.
“I think we are here to discuss a job,” said Mr. Perkins. “In fact, two jobs. The first will require a few days of your time and some travel.” He walked to the office window and looked out. “And the second, a permanent, well-paying job at our offices in Dallas will be offered to you if you do the first job to our satisfaction.”
Jeff smiled a third time. He had a toothsome smile. “I’m certainly interested in both jobs, Things have been a little tight for us over the past few years. I want to get back to work.”
“I’m glad to hear your interest. You were trained as a seaman by the U.S. Navy?”
“And you even tried out for the Seals, but, unfortunately, you weren’t selected.” Perkins tome was more one of a statement than a question. Jeff put his head down and looked at the floor. Perkins continued to stare out the window.
“Yeah, that’s why I didn’t reenlist.”
“Yes, I know,” said Perkins.
“So, what about the job — or jobs?” asked Jeff, trying not to show the old anger he felt with the Navy rising inside.
“Well, Jefferson, let us focus on just the first job. As you know, TransSea has a close relationship with our military, especially the Navy. An information package that is critical to our country has been taken from our government’s possession. Our government has lost track of the package and the individual who took it. We know he is here in Bermuda and may be traveling back to Boston in the next few days on a cruise ship.” He paused and turned to face Jeff. “We have arranged for you to join the crew of that ship here in Bermuda. You must locate this individual and take the package from him before the ship docks in Boston on Christmas Eve.”
“So, I have to find this guy by Christmas Eve?” Jeff tried to make eye contact with Perkins, but failed to do so.
“Yes. We do know his female accomplice is an American and also a crewman.”
“So, when I locate this person, I must take the package from him . . . without killing him.”
“Yes. We would prefer it that way.” Perkins placed a package wrapped in brown paper on the desk.
“Our security people thought that this might come in handy.” He handed Jeff the small package. “I think you are familiar with this device’s operation.”
Jeff looked at the package.
“It’s a tranquilizer dart gun,” said Perkins, as he turned and walked back to the window.
“If you decide not to work with us, just toss it in a waste bin before you board your plane for home.”
“And I have to take the package away from him without him having any knowledge of who I am.”
“Yes, that is critical. Again, you must deliver the package to our office in Boston no later than midnight on Christmas Eve.”
There was a pause in the conversation. Perkins was staring out the window again.
“We will pay you ten thousand dollars for your trouble . . . up front. We will wire the money to your wife when you set sail.” Jeff started to speak, but Perkins cut him off.
“And if you deliver the information package to our office in Boston by midnight Christmas Eve, we will provide you with another fifteen thousand in cash and a permanent job in the New Year. Think it over tonight; email me your decision. Send the email to this account by 8:00 A.M. tomorrow.” He turned and handed Jeff a slip of paper with the Gmail address. He looked at Jeff again.
“The Saint docks tomorrow afternoon. Be on board the ship by 4:00 P.M. The chief steward, Ron Wilson, is expecting you. Any other questions?”
Jeff had none. Perkins showed him to the elevator,
Jeff walked back to the hotel and called his wife. Jeff felt he had no choice. He hoped he was making the right decision. He told Judy to expect a large signing bonus by wire and that he would be home in a few days and to explain to the kids that he would not be home for Christmas, but that he would see them as soon as he could. Judy continued to sound suspicious of the whole affair. She had questions, but she didn’t ask them, True to her word, she would this time go with her husband’s judgment. She prayed this was the right thing to do.
Jeff did not sleep well that night. He was up early, had coffee and a scone, and emailed Perkins the word “Yes” at 7:30 A.M. He went back to his room and tried to sleep. He couldn’t. He checked out of the hotel at one and took a taxi to King’s Wharf. The Saint had docked at one and was taking on fuel and supplies. He was welcomed aboard by Wilson, his duties were explained, and he was given a quick tour of the ship and assigned a cabin. His cabin was on Deck 2. He walked around the ship. He was waiting for the employee cafeteria to open. He was hungry. While he waited, he stared out at the Atlantic and thought about what he had just signed on for.
He had never killed a man. Not even in Afghanistan. He had hunted all his life. He was an excellent shot. And he wasn’t going to kill this man. If he did, it would be an accident. He was just going to take from this man something that was not his and return it to the rightful owner. He was doing the right thing. Jeff was a man who always tried to do the right thing.
Cabin of Joann Lawrence
December 22, 2019, 3:23 A.M.
Joann could not sleep. She was full of energy. She had another strange dream, although she could not remember it. She was frightened. She heard voices coming through the door from the adjoining cabin. The cabin was occupied by another crewman. A man named Emanuel. They had only exchanged greetings. She knew nothing of the man.
Her room was filled with a bright blue light. She assumed it was the moon. She was afraid to look out the porthole. She was drawn to the voices that she heard. She went to the door to the adjoining room and listened. The voices stopped. She heard the cabin door to the hall open and close. She went back to her bed, but still could not sleep.
Morning finally came. She was first in line for breakfast in the employee cafeteria.
KINGS WHARF, BERMUDA
December 22, 2019, 7:20 A.M.
All things work out in the end and if they have not, it is not the end.
~ An Old Saying from India
The driver opened the door and Joann smiled and took a seat in the back of the taxi.
“St. Paul’s,” she said,
The driver nodded and smiled. The church was on the other end of the island and would take at least forty-five minutes to reach. Joann was carrying a small gold cross that her grandfather had given her as a child. He had served at St. Paul’s as a young priest. She had decided just a couple of weeks ago to return the cross to the church. She wasn’t completely sure why. She had just begun to feel that she should. This was strange for Joann because she seldom made decisions totally based on her feelings.
The winter sun felt warm on her skin. She closed her eyes and drank it in. She was tired. She had not slept well on the ship. On her first night aboard The Saint the sea had been rough, and last night . . . well, last night she had been awakened by . . . she wasn’t sure what had disrupted her sleep. When she woke up, she felt like her entire body was filled with some kind of energy. She was tossing and turning. Her thoughts raced. Her heart pounded. She was up for the rest of the night.
And this morning, she was once again filled with emotion. Her thoughts went back to a December a number of years ago, when she was forced by the Great Recession to close her store.
She remembered that afternoon well. It was cold and gray. Night was falling. She hated the dark. It came on early. The weather forecast was for rain, but it looked like snow to her. She often was open, but closed early on holidays. It was the last day of the year. Why she had bothered to open the store, she wasn’t completely sure. She’d always been open on New Year’s Eve for thirty years. She guessed she wanted today to be no different. But it would be.
Business was slow. It was to be expected. Children’s books and toys, people had had their fill of both by New Year’s Day. But that had always been okay. So, what if the last week of the year was slow? The sales of November and December had always been strong and carried her through, at least in the past that had been true. The holidays had brought people to the Old City. By New Year’s Eve, she could sigh a sigh of relief. She had survived another year. And that’s what it had felt like for the last few years. This year, like the two before, had not been good. Oh, the Old City had been filled with people like it always had, but they had bought less and they were searching for something different. They weren’t looking for a toy or a book for their child. They were looking to forget that these, like so many things, were things that they could no longer afford. So, they didn’t come into her shop. They went to the bars in the Old City. The bars seemed to many a good place to forget about the job they didn’t have or the mortgage payment they couldn’t make.
Joann had told herself things would get better. She had hoped. She had prayed they would. But they hadn’t. She had pulled through hard times before. There had been other recessions in ’01 and ’08. This wasn’t the first one she had had to weather. But each one had taken a little bit more out of her, both emotionally and financially, and it seemed that little bit had not been put back since the recovery. At least that’s what they had called it, when it came. That was certainly true of her savings, which were gone. A month before she had sold the last bit of stock she had left after the crash, the last of her inheritance from her mother who had died twelve years before.
Her attorney had told her to close the store before the New Year. She had just spoken with him that morning. A nice man, and competent, and giving good advice, she was sure, but he didn’t understand. The store had been her life, her dream. She had done it, lived it, breathed it, loved it. Few people she thought really understood how important it was to her. Her sister had understood and so had Lee. She and Lee had been together when she had opened the shop. But she had focused on her shop and he on his career, and they had eventually gone their separate ways. He had married. She had not. But life is strange, she thought. She had gotten a card, a Christmas card from him just the week before. Strange indeed. She hadn’t heard from him in years. He’d asked how she was. She replied immediately with a New Year’s card that wished him well and said that all was fine with her. But it wasn’t. How did he know? Or did he? She thought back to the life they had had before the shop.
Loud voices from the street outside filtered through the windows of her shop. She shook her head. This was not the time to think about the past. She had things to do before she . . . closed.
Her shop was empty. The last customer had left an hour earlier. She moved toward the door, but hesitated. She should close now before some drunk came in saying he was looking for a book for his kids. They usually never bought anything. They were just lonely and wanted company. Someone to talk to. She hadn’t minded in the past, but tonight — tonight was different.
She opened the front door of the store, took down the “Open” flag, and pulled the sandwich board in. She locked the door. She began straightening up the shelves. She put the receipts of the day away. She flipped on the vacuum and moved down the middle aisle. Her eyes began to fill with tears. She turned off the vacuum. She would finish it tomorrow. She would do the inventory tomorrow. She would finish it all tomorrow.
She put on her coat, tied her scarf tightly around her neck, and took one last look at her shop. The tears came again. She picked up her purse, turned off the light and closed the door. She stepped onto Market Street.
The wind off the bay was strong and cold. It was starting to snow.
Joann could remember it all. It was as if it were yesterday. She remembered that horrible winter. The cold and the snow. She followed her attorney’s advice and gave the keys to the bank and went home. She sat in front of the television as if she was paralyzed. Some days she forgot to eat. She applied for jobs, but there were no jobs. She filed for bankruptcy.
She looked out the window of the taxi. She had lost track of where they were. They had already passed Hamilton.
“Well,” she said to herself. She was trying to focus on the present, not the past. She thought to herself, Things did get better. The summer finally came. I finally found another job. Things turned around.
She leaned back again and closed her eyes, returning to her memories. “Yes, things were getting better. Things were turning around. She was remembering that Friday afternoon when she bought the lottery ticket. She had never won anything. She didn’t consider herself a lucky person. But she felt like doing something different that afternoon. The same feeling she now had about returning the gold cross. So, she bought the ticket.
The drawing was the next night. She tuned in to watch the news. She barely paid attention when they began to announce the winning numbers. But amazingly, her numbers came up. She became a millionaire. She finally came into money.
The taxi stopped. The driver got out and opened the door. Joann didn’t move.
“Miss?” the driver said. Joann began to fumble with her purse for the fare. She stepped out of the taxi and gave the driver a large tip.
“Thank you,” he said twice.
She looked up at the tower and at the clock and started up the steps to St. Paul’s.
Abandoned Military Base
December 22, 2019, 7:30 A.M.
I call to remembrance my song in the night.
~ Psalms 77:6
Lee woke a number of times in the night, confused as to where he was. At one point, he was convinced he was still on the plane bound for Bermuda, that he had fallen asleep, as Dr. Wagner droned on about his ungrateful patients and the “agency.” Finally, exhaustion had its way, and he fell into a deep sleep.
He woke early. At least he thought it was early. By his internal clock it was, and his head was filled with the words from a hymn. “Draw the circle wider, draw it wider still . . . no one stands alone.”
Lee lay back and tried to remember the dream that he had had. It came to him very clearly. He had dreamed of his old friend, Griff, who had hired Lee and brought him to Maine so many years ago. Griff became a lifelong friend. He had encouraged Lee and Liz to adopt. He had been there for Lee when he returned from detention in Boston. Griff was one of the few people Lee had confided in about his problems with alcohol.
In the dream, Griff was trying to tell Lee something. From the expression on Griff’s face, it must have been something important. Lee could understand the words, “You must understand.” But the rest was drowned out by the sound of static, the kind you would hear on an old television.
Lee had not seen Griff for about three years. No one had. Griff had taken his lobster yacht, as he called it, on a trip down the coast. He had disappeared somewhere near Cape Hatteras. His body was never found, nor was any wreckage from the boat. Lee sighed and took a deep breath. It was nice having him back, even if only in a dream.
Lee tried to look around the room. It was dark and cold. He fumbled for his watch, the one his daughter had given him. He found it. but could not read it. The only light came from the configuration of lights and symbols on the display panels that Lee had watched David manipulate until Lee could no longer hold his eyes open. Lee folded back the blanket he had covered himself with and slowly swung his legs around to the edge of the bed. He rubbed his eyes, placed his feet quietly on the concrete floor and stood up.
Suddenly, the room was filled with light. David appeared in the door at the end of the room, the one leading into the garage.
“Oh, I see you are awake. It’s getting late. We really must go.”
“Go where?” asked Lee.
“To visit an old friend of mine. But first, we eat. Would you like some eggs and bacon? Scrambled, I’m afraid. Government issue.”
“Well, coffee is what I would really like . . . and a lot of it,” said Lee.
“We have that. Come.” He motioned Lee to a seat at a table near the door.
“Cream and sugar?”
“Just cream. I think I’ll pass on the eggs. I’ve had government issue before.” Lee didn’t say when and where, but it was in the detention center in Boston. Lee felt the cold come over him. He tried to shake it off.
“Just coffee, then?” asked David.
Lee nodded and sat down at the table, David poured and Lee stirred. He took a few sips of the coffee, which must not have been Government Issue since it didn’t taste like dishwater.
“Now, let me look at you,” said David. He was holding a screen in his hand that displayed in 3-D an image of a man who was of similar build and had similar facial features to Lee.
“No, no,” he said with a grimace. “We must do something about your hair — or I should say, your lack of it. And the skin tone. Of course, this tone isn’t right.”
Lee was once again taken aback. “What are you talking about?”
David ignored his question and continued his inspection of Lee.
“Hmm, height and build are okay. Maybe a few pounds over, but it’ll work.” He stopped. “Well, I guess we will just have to let Edward…”
“Let Edward do what?” asked Lee anxiously.
“Match you with Emanuel, so you can get back to Boston.”
“Why are we ‘matching’ me with anyone? Does this guy Emanuel have a prosthetic hook where a left hand should be?”
David didn’t answer.
Lee paused and thought for a moment. “Okay. That sounds okay, especially the part about getting back to Boston. So where’s the toupee and the make-up?”
“Oh, we won’t need those. Just get dressed. We need to leave before the fog burns off.”
Lee splashed some water onto his face. He quickly dressed. Drained his coffee cup and was ready for Edward or Emanuel. Whatever he was ready for, he wasn’t quite sure.
“Turn around,” said David.
Lee turned around. David carefully examined the uniform he had provided for Lee the night before. “A good fit,” observed David. “Now, for Edward. It’s time.”
“Okay,” said Lee, looking around, puzzled. “And who . . . where . . . is Edward?”
“Well, he’s right . . .”
“ . . . here,” said a voice from behind Lee, “David failed to introduce us last night. You were so tired.”
“Yes, I was,” said Lee, turning in the direction of the voice and looking more confused.
“Dr. Brazil,” said David, “let me introduce my assistant, Edward Zan.” Lee continued to look around the room.
“I’m standing in front of you, Dr. Brazil.”
“You’re — you’re a computer?” Lee said.
“I am what your race might call strong artificial intelligence, a label equally insulting and not an accurate description of who I really am.”
Thank God his name isn’t Hal, Lee thought to himself, remembering the super-intelligent computer in an old Sci-Fi movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“I’m sorry, Edward. I’m afraid I never met a . . . a…”
Edward finished his sentence, “Another life form like me.”
Lee was remembering that when they tried to disconnect Hal, he killed most of the human crew.
“Yes,” said Lee, fumbling for words, “another life form like you.” “I could materialize, as your humans refer to it, into a life form like yourself that you might be more comfortable with.”
“Yes . . . I . . . no, Oh, no. That won’t be necessary,” said Lee, sounding completely bewildered. Materialize, Lee thought to himself. What the hell is he talking about?
“You mean a holographic image?”
“Yes, I believe that’s what you humans would call it. Very crude. The one I can create is, as you would say, ‘the real McCoy.’
“Edward,” David interrupted, “we must leave within the next few minutes.”
“Yes. I suppose there’s no time to talk now. Okay. “
“Dr. Brazil, please sit down and face me.”
Lee complied at first and then he stood up.
“Now, wait a minute. What are you going to do to me?”
“To put it in what human beings call ‘layman’ terms, I am going to stimulate your hair follicles in such a way that your hair will grow very rapidly. Then I’m going to remove a few wrinkles and give you a suntan. All perfectly safe.”
Lee still looked quite skeptical of the whole process.
“They are very simple things to do,” said Edward. “Your race will have mastered this process in a few years. Please sit down and face me. We have no more time.”
Lee sat back down and continued to object. “I’m not sure about . . .”
Before Lee could say any more, he felt a warm sensation spread across his face and his head. His scalp tingled. It was over.
“Oh, yes. Very nice. Wouldn’t you agree, David?”
“You’re a genius, Edward,” said David.
“I know,” said Edward.
Lee felt his face. No real change. When Lee touched his forehead and his scalp, he found that he now had much more hair than he had had a few minutes before. Lee jumped from his seat and looked at his reflection in one of the screens. Yes, he had hair. It was gray and thin, but he looked years younger. And his face and hand had turned a light brown. Many of Lee’s wrinkles had disappeared.
Lee looked at David.
“We can talk about this later,” said David. “We have no time. We must get to Sharks Hole before the fog is gone.”
David shoved a fishing rod in Lee’s hand. “I’ll carry the tackle box and my rod.”
“We’re going fishing?” Lee looked more puzzled than before, if that were possible.
“Relax. We just need to look like we’re going fishing. Now, come along, Emanuel. We only have a few hours before your ship, The Saint, weighs anchor and sails.”
“I’m going to Boston on a ship?”
“Yes, it is necessary. Now we must go.”
Lee followed David. The fog was thick and the path to Sharks Hole was a difficult one, even in full daylight. Lee used caution as he picked his way along the rocky slope leading to the beach. His head was still spinning. “Hurry along, Dr. Brazil. I must insist. We are almost there.”
The sun was starting to break through the fog as they reached the rocky outcropping that marked the entrance to Sharks Hole.
Lee continued to mumble to himself as he followed David down the path of sand and rock that led into the sea cave that was Sharks Hole.
ST. GEORGES, BERMUDA
December 22, 2019, 8:35 A.M.
Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing can be made
~ Immanuel Kant
The cave was cold, and the air was damp and smelled of the ocean. The narrow trail opened into a large room. As Lee’s eyes adapted to the dark, it was clear the ceiling of the cave was eighty to ninety feet from the rock-strewn floor. The large room opened onto the ocean on its north side. At high tide, Lee imagined that entrance from the sea would not be possible, even in a small boat.
“This way,” yelled David, over the roar of the water. “Here’s a torch.” He handed Lee a small flashlight. The two walked into the dark. In back of the cave, there was an old boathouse, a very old boathouse that Lee imagined had seen many a storm.
David unlocked the padlock and pulled the chain away.
“Come help me with our transportation. Here, hold the torch while I open the doors. We’ll slide her out and run her down the traces to the water.”
The doors swung open and the light revealed a Boston Whaler.
“How old is the boathouse?” asked Lee.
“Well, it’s younger than I am. I built it the first year I was on the island,” commented David.
“It’s got to be older than twenty or thirty years.”
“Oh, it is. Here.” He handed Lee the light. “There is something else I want you to see.”
David walked to the back of the boathouse. He unlocked another set of double-doors.
“Hand me the torch.” He moved the light across the bow of a wooden boat much older than the Whaler. Covered in dust, sand and cobwebs that appeared to have not seen the sea for many years.
“This was my transportation to the island.” David waited.
Lee said nothing.
“A lifeboat,” said David.
“I don’t know very much about these things, but it looks like a very old one.”
“Yes, and a very special one.” David’s light fell on the words Carol A. Deering.
Lee squinted. He moved closer. He mouthed the words Carol A. Deering again.
“No. No, I don’t think so.”
“You know the story, don’t you? I would assume many people in Maine do. She was built in Bath. Built for the Deering Company of Portland, Maine.”
“Yes,” Lee added, “in the 1920s.”
David nodded and continued. “She was a fine schooner. She was returning from Rio in January of 1921, sailing light, no cargo, bound for Norfolk, Virginia. We had last made port in Barbados.”
“Storytellers call her a ghost ship,” said Lee.
“Oh, I know the story,” said Lee. “The Coast Guard found her grounded in Cape Hatteras in early February. The crew wasn’t aboard. She had been abandoned and the captain’s log and all her papers and instruments had been taken.” David nodded again.
“Most ships run aground when they have no direction and no crew,” said Lee.
“That is correct,” said David. “A ship is like a person. If they have no direction, they will be lost.”
“They never found the crew or the lifeboats?” Lee asked.
“No, they never did, and no wreckage ever washed ashore,” added David.
Lee looked at David again.
“You may not know, Dr. Brazil, but most of the crew consisted of Danes and Finns and . . .”
Lee cut him off. “I know, one black man.” Lee closed his eyes. “And I suppose you’re that man.” David nodded again.
“So that makes you a hundred and twenty years old.”
“Uh…a hundred and twenty-two, to be exact,” said David.
Lee turned around to face David. His face was bright red.
“Enough,” said Lee, with force. “I can take a joke. I can deal with a smartass computer that does tricks, but you don’t look…” “My age,” said David.
Lee took a breath. He had moved closer to the boat. He rubbed at the paint.
“Gently. She’s an old girl. And as you can see, the paint isn’t fresh. Do you want to hear the story of the Carol A. Deering that you don’t know?”
“Yes, I suppose I do.”
David pointed to an equipment bench. The two sat down. “We have time now. Edward tells me another fogbank is rolling in, so we should be fine.”
David began. “The Carol Deering sailed light from Barbados on January the 9th, 1921. The weather was good, the wind strong. The days passed quickly and were uneventful. We sailed easily by the Cape Fear light ship off the coast of North Carolina on the 23rd. What happened next I will try to describe.”
“I’m sure it will be hard, since you couldn’t possibly have been there,” said Lee with a smirk.
“Dr. Brazil, you said you would hear me out.”
Lee nodded, “Yes, I did. And I will. Continue.”
“It was on the evening of the 24th, most members of the crew were in the main cabin. They had just sat down for dinner. I was standing watch with the first mate. Captain Wormell was in his cabin. It was just after sunset. The sky was clear. The last light of the day disappearing in the West. The wind, which had been strong, suddenly died away. The water became still and calm, and we slowed to a stop. There was a quiet that came over the ship and the sea. And then we saw it. Off starboard. A bright, metallic blue light. It became brighter and larger as it approached.” Lee crossed his arms and sighed.
“Something few know is that there was a passenger aboard The Carol Deering, a young priest, Father Michael Lawrence.”
“Yes.” Lee looked stunned, remembering his dream.
“He was bound for Portland, Maine. What he was doing in Barbados. I don’t know. I believe he had some connection to the captain, Captain Wormell.” David paused, “What kind of connection, I never learned. He was on deck when the light appeared. He seemed to be waiting for it.” It had been hard, but David had gotten Lee’s complete attention. What had happened in Winterpool just a couple of weeks before. His missing patient, the fire, the strange circular patterns in the grass, the melted car, and his obsessive dreams about the ships. But there was more. Lee was remembering a time when he was sixteen. Out with friends camping, a light had approached the campsite. When Lee and his friends attempted to approach the light, it had quickly moved away. Over the next week, the light appeared a number of times. Just after sunset and just out of reach, and moved away quickly when approached. It appeared for seven nights. On the seventh night, it disappeared and did not return,
“Are you listening, Dr. Brazil?”
David continued, “We watched the light without speaking. There seemed to be no reason to speak. I sensed that we were not alone in the wheelhouse. I turned, and a young man who I had never seen before, was standing behind us. He was blond, dressed as a seaman, but he was not a member of our crew. Without words, he asked us to follow him. To abandon the bridge. We complied.”
Lee was now mesmerized by the story. The young seaman in his dream with the bright green eyes.
“The crew had left the main cabin and were on deck, beginning to lower the ship’s lifeboats. Captain Wormell was loading his charts and instruments and the ship’s log into a lifeboat. The young man again, without words, asked for our first mate to assist him. He complied.”
Lee interrupted, “What do you mean, without words? Why are you telling me all of this?”
“You will understand later. I can’t explain now.” David continued, “We knew what he was asking and we knew we should follow his direction.”
“Jeez Louise,” mumbled Lee, looking away.
“Father Michael was still standing near the bow, staring at the light. The light had not moved. The young man asked me to follow him. He took Father Michael by the arm and led him to a lifeboat. We were the only ones left on the schooner. He handed Father Michael a small gold cross,” he gestured, “with seven green stones embedded in it. And he ‘told’ me to lower the boat into the water and join Father Michael. I did.”
Lee said nothing.
David continued, “The lifeboats all were now away. Suddenly, a heavy fog rolled in from the west and then from the east.” David again motioned with his hands, “One by one, the lifeboats were swallowed up by the fog. The young man was still standing on deck watching our departure as the fog rolled over The Carol Deering. Not a word had been spoken by him or any of our crew.”
Lee shook his head in disbelief, but there was no eye rolling. This was Lee’s dream.
“I could see nothing in the fog but the cross. The stones gave off a strange greenish light. It seemed to be directing the boat through the fog. I lit a lantern. There was a compass in the lifeboat, but it was of no value to us. Its needle just spun wildly. Father Michael and I took turns rowing.” He paused, “But our efforts were not what propelled us across the water. When daybreak came, we were just a few hundred yards from here.” David shook his head and looked away. “How we had crossed so many miles of ocean in just a few hours, I do not know.”
“What happened to the crew?” questioned Lee.
“I do not know.” David shook his head again. “I was told they were safe and that no harm came to them.”
“The Carol Deering was not grounded until early February. It was sighted two more times off the Carolina coast in late January,” Lee stated, “Yes, I know.” David hesitated, “I have no idea what use they had for the ship or why they wanted the crew to abandon her.” David paused appearing unsure of his next words. “They have never told me.”
“They? Who are they?” Lee’s anger flashed.
“Someone who you will meet later this morning may have more answers than I do. I don’t know who they are. I did not encounter them again until after the war, World War II. Father Allen told me they returned because of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.” David waited. “Apparently, our first steps into space were also alarming to them. And now they have returned again out of concern.”
“Out of concern.” Lee repeated, “Why now?”
“I’ll let Father Allen explain. It was to Father Allen’s church, an Episcopal Church, old St. Paul’s, is where the cross led us that morning. The church helped me find work in Bermuda, and I helped Father Michael get to Maine. I married. My wife and I had two children.” David sighed, “I have outlived all three of them. Life extension was their gift to me, and the cross was their gift to Father Michael.”
“Wait a minute. So this young man you mentioned, the one without words, was Edward?” asked Lee.
“Yes . . . it was many years before I encountered him again. It was in the early Sixties.” David again appeared unsure of his words. “Edward — I know it may sound strange — needed my assistance with another ship, The Enchantress, a yacht also built in Bath, Maine, in the mid-1920s. A beautiful ship. Fifty-nine feet. Teak decks, mahogany trim. She fell on hard times and was bought by a millionaire at auction in the Fifties and refitted.” David began walking toward the bow of the whaler. Lee followed.
“On her maiden voyage, she ran into a gale off Florida. The Coast Guard could not reach the family, a father and mother and two young boys and the small crew in time. But they were saved.”
Lee was remembering the dream he had in London a few days earlier.
“The official report was that the ship and the crew and family were lost.”
“No, they weren’t lost. They are safe!”
Lee said nothing. There was a pause in the conversation. Finally, Lee spoke, “Why did Edward the genius computer need your assistance?” His skepticism was back.
“I helped him disassemble the ship. My father was a shipbuilder. I had learned the trade before going to sea. I actually knew a few things that Edward didn’t know. My last encounter with Edward is the present one. You will talk more with Father Allen. He may answer your questions.” David motioned to Lee, “Come help me get the boat into the water. We must go now.”
When they were at the water, David helped Lee into the boat and started the small outboard motor. The boat slipped out into the fog in the direction of the Village of St. Georges.
A beach near St. Paul’s
ST. GEORGES, BERMUDA
December 22, 2019, 8:40 A.M.
Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.
~ Pamela Vavll Starr
Father Allen was taking his morning walk. He was a small man, an average man, perhaps a bit on the heavy side, a man who looked to be in his late fifties. Graying black hair, casual dress — slacks, Bermuda shirt and sandals. The weather was clear, but cool, and there was some fog. He loved this time of day and he loved being by himself. He could think . . . and he had much to think about today. He understood from his dream last night that late this morning he and St. Paul’s would have a visitor, a woman, who would return something to the church that had been taken many years before. And that, if asked, she would assist him with a second visitor whom he would receive later in the day.
They had been communicating with Father Allen in this way for many years. When he took charge of St. Paul’s it began. Who the authors of the dreams were, he did not know. But he had learned to pay attention to the dreams and follow their direction.
Father Allen stopped and stared at the bay. But only for a minute. He had to return to his walk and to St. Paul’s.
The dreams had told him months ago that his second visitor would arrive today and would be accompanied by Father Allen’s friend, David, and that he and David must keep the true identity of his second visitor secret while assisting him in obtaining safe passage to Boston.
Father Allen and David had arranged for the second visitor to assume the identity of a crewman on The Saint, a cruise ship that would set sail for Boston later that afternoon,
Father Allen picked up his pace. He had much to do before his visitors arrived.
ST. GEORGES, BERMUDA
December 22nd, 2019, 9:15 A.M.
Pessimist: One who burns his bridges before he gets to them.
~ Sidney Ascher
Lee was seated in the bow of the boat. Through the fog he could see no more than ten feet ahead. He said nothing, trusting that David, at least according to his story, was an old, very old, seaman and could handle the situation.
Lee put his focus on trying to understand, to believe, what he had heard and seen in the last few hours. His previous trip to Europe that had included a delivery for Jennings had been relatively uneventful. He had expected the same on this trip. Not people trying to kill him, and a side trip to Bermuda. And David and Edward and the story of The Carol Deering. Who were the “they”? Little green men . . . from Mars? This all had to be just some form of an elaborate ruse. The lifeboat. That was the only hard piece of evidence. It could have been faked. And the talking computer? That wouldn’t be that hard to do these days. But the new hair was real. Lee tugged at it. “Rogaine has strong competition,” he mumbled to himself and laughed. And a quick tanning of the skin. No problem. That could easily be done. So what did he have? A lifeboat from a ghost ship, a talking computer, tall tales from a man who said he was 122 years old, and a super hair replacement system and some strange dreams.
And the man Emanuel who they were trying to make him look like so he could board The Saint for Boston. They had forgotten one important detail. The hook. How many Emanuels are walking around with a prosthetic hook?
But for what purpose was all of this? If they wanted the package that he was carrying, they could have taken it. But David had said nothing about it.
They were nearing the center of the bay, and the water was becoming choppy. The fog was starting to lift; St. Georges was coming into clear view. They would soon make shore. Lee scanned the horizon, trying to keep a small case of seasickness from becoming a large one. Focus on the horizon, right? said Lee to himself. To the west of St. Georges, Lee thought he saw something in the sky. At first, he thought it was a plane from Wade International. As it grew closer, he could hear the chop, chop, chop of a helicopter. It was moving fast and heading directly for Lee and David. As it neared, it slowed. Within a few seconds, it was directly overhead and started to descend. The water around the boat became even rougher and washed over the gunnels. Lee caught a rope tie with his hook and clutched the right gunnel of the boat with a death grip. David increased their speed and began shouting and waving the helicopter off.
The boat could be swamped, Lee thought, but Boston Whalers never sink. At least that’s what he remembered from reading one of those sailing magazines his partner, Bill, used to bring to the office.
A rope ladder appeared from the side of the helicopter, unrolled, and dangled in the wind. A figure dressed in black, attached to the craft by a cable, began to descend the ladder. The deep breathing Lee had been doing wasn’t working. Fear was beginning to take control. Over the roar of the helicopter, Lee could hear David. “Don’t worry, Dr. Brazil. They are going to begin to have engine problems in just about . . . ten seconds.”
And as predicted by David, by the count of ten, the helicopter engines began to misfire. Black smoke began to pour from the exhaust, and the pilot pulled the craft away and headed back, now moving slowly in the direction from which they had come.
The water calmed, and David slowed the boat. They were heading for a boathouse. As they approached, the large double doors opened and they pulled inside. The doors closed immediately behind them with a clang. The boathouse was dark and smelled of fish. There was one light hanging from a rafter near the back. A man stood under the light. He wore the same uniform as Lee. He reached out to assist David in mooring the boat.
It was then that Lee noticed it. The hook. The man had a hook like Lee’s for a left hand. He assisted Lee from the boat. David quickly introduced them. “Dr. Brazil, Emanuel Rodriguez. Emanuel, Dr. Brazil.” They shook hands and nodded.
“A beautiful match,” said David. “I would have difficulty telling the two of you apart. But — enough. Emanuel and I must go. I will find other transportation for him to Boston. But first Emanuel and I must deal with our good friends from TransSea. I’m sure they’re the ones who sent the helicopter. They would love to have the package that you are carrying, Dr. Brazil.”
“You know about the package?” asked Lee.
“Yes, of course.”
David cut Lee off. “There is not time to talk more. Our friends will be returning. I assume you do not want to meet them.”
David cut Lee off again.
“So if you believe what I have told you, go to St. Paul’s. Father Allen is expecting you. He does not know about Edward and much of what I have told you about The Carol Deering. We . . .I mean, I would prefer to keep it that way. I have told him only that they have arranged for an elaborate disguise for you. An old friend of yours is with Father Allen awaiting your arrival.
David looked at his watch. He looked at Lee, this time making eye contact. “You see, each of us only has a small piece from the whole puzzle. Mine is Edward and The Carol Deering. Now go while you still can. You will eventually understand all that I have told you. If you choose not to wait for the understanding to come, take your chances in St. Georges. Unfortunately, I doubt you will last very long.”
Emanuel opened the door that led up the dock into the street. Lee looked back at David.
“Good-bye, Dr. Brazil, and good luck,” said David.
“Yes, well . . . Thank you, David . . . and you, Emanuel.”
David smiled. Emanuel nodded.
“Thank you, I think,” Lee said under his breath, as he started up the dock toward St. Paul’s.
ST. GEORGES, BERMUDA
December 22, 2019, 9:45 A.M.
Cynic: A man who when he smells flowers looks around for a coffin.
~ H.L. Mencken
Lee shuffled up the dock from the boathouse, continuing to mumble and pray to himself. Another fog bank had rolled in and most of the town of St. Georges had once again disappeared. As Lee entered Kings Square, the West Tower of St. Paul’s with its clock could still be seen. The white masonry buildings of St. Georges, many built in the 17th century, gave off a ghostly appearance. The town appeared deserted. Most of the shops and pubs had not opened for the day.
The heavy wooden doors to the church were open. Lee quickly ascended the stone stairs and stepped inside. The sanctuary was dark.
Before Lee could enter, he was intercepted by a young woman.
“Emanuel?” she said.
“Yes,” replied Lee with hesitation.
“Father Allen is expecting you,” she said in a very heavy English accent. “This way,” as she directed Lee to a door on the left side of the sanctuary.
Lee smiled again, nodded and approached the door. The young woman opened it.
“Please be seated. Father Allen will join you momentarily.”
Lee took a seat in front of the large desk in a heavy wooden chair with a purple padded back and seat.
He looked around the room. He felt he had stepped into a museum. All dark wood. The desk, the bookcases and all of the upholstery a dark purple with gold trim. There was a globe and a stack of books on a side table. A large wooden cross also in dark wood hung from the wall behind the desk. There was no computer, or any kind of electronic device, including a phone visible. The only light in the room came from a lamp on the desk. Father Allen was not long in coming. He entered the room through a small door in the wall behind the desk. Lee started to rise.
“Don’t get up,” he said. He smiled as he approached Lee and offered his hand. “I am glad you are safe,” he said as he shook Lee’s hand. “We have prayed for you.”
“Well, thank you,” said Lee, not knowing what else to say.
“I can tell by the expression on your face that you are confused about all of this. Still a skeptic.” He turned away from Lee. “I was. I still am in some ways.”
Lee brightened. “You’re right,” he said, “I really don’t know what to make of all of this.”
“I’m sure David told you some of the story.”
Lee closed his eyes. “David certainly told me some stories.”
Father Allen smiled again and nodded.
Father Allen pulled his chair around to face Lee. “As I said, I was a skeptic too. I grew up on this island. Left here in my early twenties and did not return for a number of years. You see, I did not accept the things my father, a devoutly religious man, told me growing up. Strange things happen here.” He shrugged. “They always have. It is Bermuda. My father tried to explain these things in a way that put all the pieces together, that connected them. But he really couldn’t.” He smiled again and looked at Lee. “There’s a lot to try to understand here. People come looking for pirates’ gold, for the Lost City of Atlantis. I thought he was crazy. I couldn’t accept what he was trying to explain to me. I was a rebellious young man, so I left the island. I tried it my way,” he sighed. “The world finally broke me. I felt a calling. So I turned to the church. Not here, but in a parish in North Carolina. I became a priest. After my mother passed away, my father became more insistent on my returning to Bermuda. I came home.”
Lee appeared not to be listening. “Too much. Too much,” Lee muttered under his breath.
Father Allen smiled, “Would you like some coffee?”
“No,” said Lee.
Father Allen continued. “I asked my father for proof of what he had told me. He provided it.” He waited. Lee didn’t respond.
“Your patient in the reinsurance business, the one who traveled back and forth between Bermuda and Portland. The one with the dreams.” Lee looked at Father Allen. “Were you friends with him? Is that how you knew about the dreams?”
“Yes. But he knows nothing of what we are discussing.”
“So what was that all about?” Lee sounded irritated. “The dreams. Coming to see me. Insisting that I meet him?”
“It was an effort they made. Yes, an unsuccessful one, to communicate with you.”
Lee closed his eyes. Here we go again with the ‘they.’ “Who the hell — excuse me, Father — are ‘they’?”
Father Allen tried to deflect Lee’s question. “I . . . I think you will come to believe what we have told you before you reach Boston. The world is badly out of balance, I’m…”
Lee cut Father Allen off. “Yes, yes, Father. What has that got to do with me getting home?” He stared at Father Allen. “I certainly would be the first to agree that the world is, as you say, out of balance. The one percent controlling the lives of the ninety-nine percent. Our world culture is in its adolescence. And like an adolescent, we are self-centered,” his voice rising. His impatience showing. “We want what we want when we want it. And right now I want to go home. So what does all of that have to do with me getting home?”
“It has a lot to do with you getting home. You must reach Boston and deliver the package that you are carrying. It is very important that you do so. I am sorry, Dr. Brazil, that I cannot explain this better.” He looked away for a moment, then back at Lee, making eye contact. “I can only say again that the package you will be carrying could help restore balance to our world . . . and our universe. It must not fall into the wrong hands.”
“And who might these wrong hands be?” asked Lee, feeling and sounding more confused and exasperated. Father Allen appeared not to hear Lee.
Lee was beginning to have some serious doubts about Father Allen’s sanity and his own. Certainly, the human race’s culture of violence and greed had put the world out of balance, to use Father Allen’s words, but what could possibly be in the package that he was carrying that would change any of that?
“The human race,” said Father Allen, “may soon have the ability to spread the worst of our culture to other parts of the universe. This cannot be allowed. It just cannot be permitted,” he said with force. “The package that you are carrying could help prevent that from happening.” He avoided Lee’s eyes and sighed again. “What is important is that you and the package reach Boston.”
Lee gave up. He didn’t understand any of it. But Lee decided that if Father Allen could help him get to Boston, that was what was important — and nothing else.
“Well, Father, I agree with you, I want to get home.”
There was an uncomfortable silence. Father Allen stood up.
“An old friend of yours is here. She has agreed to help us.”
“And who is this old friend?” said Lee impatiently.
“Before I ask her to join us, I must tell you she knows little of what we have discussed. The less she knows, the safer she will be. This is what has brought her here.” Father Allen drew from his shirt pocket a small gold cross with seven green stones. He laid it on the side table next to Lee.
“This is the cross David spoke of?” asked Lee with interest.
“Yes. It was her grandfather’s.”
“She is from Maine?”
“Yes. She came here today to return the cross to our church. She did not realize that she was being directed here for another purpose.”
“I have explained to her that you need her help to return to Boston.
That you’ve gotten into some trouble in your work for the United States government. She is aware of your involvement with these government ‘projects.’ She said you had talked with her years ago about all of this.”
“Oh, God,” said Lee. He remembered the cross. She had worn it frequently when they were together many, many years ago. She had talked of her grandfather and Bermuda. He remembered. “It took some convincing, but she agreed to help us.” Lee stood up.
“Are you okay, Dr. Brazil?” said Father Allen, as he rose to his feet to join Lee. “I will ask her to come in.”
“Yes, yes. Please. Let’s get on with this.”
Father Allen nodded and stepped to the door he had entered through.
He opened it.
“Joann, will you please join us?”
ST. GEORGES, BERMUDA
December 22, 2019, 10:23 A.M.
Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a good word cheers it.
~ Proverbs 12:29
Joann stepped into the room slowly. She seemed almost embarrassed to be there, avoiding eye contact with both Lee and Father Allen.
Lee spoke first. “Joann,” but he could say nothing else.
Father Allen broke their silence. “Please,” directing Joann to the chair next to Lee. Lee had not moved. As she approached, he reached out to take her hand. She allowed him to do so.
She was a beautiful woman. A woman, Lee had always thought, who bloomed wherever she was planted. In her late sixties, but looking much younger; her hair finally graying. A small woman, still trim. She dressed like a New Englander, a dark blue blazer, white shirt, jeans, and running shoes.
Lee had not seen her in years. They had met over forty years before when he was a young psychologist focused on building his practice, and she was a young school social worker with plans to open her own business. They had fallen in love and lived together for a few years. But the energy in the relationship had faded. And their relationship had ended. Time and other relationships had come and gone before they reconnected years later. But when they realized that having more than a friendship had little to offer either but more confusion and possible pain, they had taken things no further. They continued to talk occasionally, a phone call, a card, an e-mail and maybe even an occasional dinner. When she had left New England to be close to family in Florida, she and Lee had lost contact. It had been years. But a couple of weeks before leaving for Europe, Lee, for some reason, felt he should send her a card — a Christmas card — and he did and to his surprise she replied with a New Year’s card.
“Joann,” he said again, and this time she looked up and made eye contact.
“How have you been?”
“Better than you apparently are,” she said with a smile. She was a quiet person with a quick wit.
Lee nodded and returned the smile. A sense of relief, of peace, filled Lee’s body. In the middle of all of this, this craziness, he suddenly felt at ease. Safe. It was her smile. The sound of her voice. He remembered it had always worked that way. The two didn’t need to have long, labored conversations about their feelings. They just needed to look at each other. It was simple. He remembered.
“I like the new look,” she said. “Who’s your stylist?”
“Edward,” Lee said and laughed.
“I am afraid I must interrupt,” Father Allen said. “Your ship sails this afternoon. Martha has arranged for a taxi to take you back to the dock. Here are your papers, Emanuel. Your passport. Joann will assist you in getting through customs. You will keep these on.” He handed Lee a pair of sunglasses and a cap. “You have a history of migraines and you’re having one. When you’re back in your cabin, which adjoins Joann’s, she will call the ship’s doctor. He will see you in your cabin and arrange a medical excuse. You are sailing back light, without passengers, so this will not be a problem.”
He looked at Lee and with force said, “Stay in your cabin until you arrive in Boston. Customs in Boston will not be a problem. They tell me the dock is only a few blocks from an Agent Jennings’ office. You know the address. Go there directly. They tell me Jennings will be expecting you.”
Lee looked down at the sunglasses and cap and the passport and nodded.
Father Allen herded them toward the door of his office.
“Say little to each other in the taxi. Michael, the driver, is a talker and a gossip. He’ll entertain you with his stories about Bermuda. Joann can explain that you are not feeling well.”
Turning to Joann, “Thank you so very much for your help and for the beautiful cross.”
She nodded. “I’m sure it’s what my grandfather would have wanted me to do.”
“Yes. I am sure,” said Father Allen with conviction. “You may not know how right you are.
Turning to Lee, “Take care, my friend. May God be with you and with us.”
“Well, yes,” said Lee. “And . . . thank you for your assistance in helping me . . . to get back to Boston.”
There was a knock on the door. “Yes, Martha, we are coming.” Father Allen looked down at the sunglasses and the cap, and Lee quickly put them on. He opened the office door and escorted Lee and Joann to the main door of the church.
“Michael is waiting. Godspeed.”
For a moment, neither Lee nor Joann moved. Michael got out of the taxi and opened the back door of the cab.
“Now you must go,” Father Allen prompted, and the two descended the steps and tumbled into the backseat of the taxi.
December 22, 2019, 10:46 A.M.
Their destination, Kings Wharf and the Royal Naval dockyard, was over twenty-five miles away on the opposite end of the island. As Father Allen had said, their driver was a talker. But he was also filled with questions. Where were they from? What brought them to Bermuda? Joann answered these questions as best she could and explained that Emanuel was not feeling well which, from Lee’s perspective, was the truth. As they left St. Georges, Michael pointed out the sights. The unfinished church, the State House. They by-passed Hamilton, Bermuda’s capital, a modern city, and followed the coastline passing beautiful beaches and driving through other small villages that looked similar to St. Georges. Lee paid little attention to the travelogue. He closed his eyes and continued to try to make sense out of everything that had happened over the last twenty-four hours. It was all too much for Lee to understand. There was no sense to be made. The early afternoon sun on his face, the drone of the conversation, the motion of the taxi, Lee drifted off. When they arrived at the dock, Joann had to shake Lee awake.
“What?” said Lee.
“We’re here.” Joann stepped out of the cab, paid Michael and thanked him.
Lee took off the sunglasses and rubbed his eyes. He stumbled out of the taxi and followed Joann up the dock toward the ship. It was a beautiful afternoon. The sky was clear, the ocean a bright metallic blue.
The Saint was the only cruise ship in the boatyard. Built in the late 1990s, she was considered old and, although she could accommodate over two thousand passengers and a thousand crew, she was now considered by “modern standards” to be a small cruise ship.
There was only one customs officer at the ship entrance. Joann smiled, showed her passport and Emanuel’s and explained that Emanuel was dealing with a migraine. Lee nodded agreement, and the two were allowed entry to the ship.
There was no one else in the entryway. They boarded the elevator to their deck, Deck 4. When they got off, Joann directed them down the hall.
The ship was quiet. No sound. No activity.
“Where is everyone?” asked Joann. “It’s like a ghost ship.” “You may be right,” said Lee.
“I’ll see you in a minute,” said Joann, as she slid her keycard into the door.
“Okay,” said Lee, waiting for something else. He fumbled through his shirt and pants pockets, finally finding the card to his room in his jacket pocket. He slipped it into the door. He pushed the door open slowly. A stateroom with an ocean view meaning he had a porthole. He explored the room with his eyes. A small bath, a microwave, double bed, chair. There was a knock on the door. Lee opened it, but no one was there. The knock came again. He realized it was Joann knocking on the door that adjoined the two cabins. Lee opened it.
“What were you doing?” she demanded.
Lee, taken somewhat aback, “Just looking over the place.”
“Well, you’re going to find this is the weirdest ship you’ve ever been on, with the weirdest people. I’ve been on cruise ships before, but never one like this. I almost had the driver take me to the airport this morning for a flight back to Boston. Maybe I should have. Now, tell me what’s going on?What kind of a mess have you gotten into?”
“I don’t know,” said Lee. “I’m just as confused as you. Maybe even more confused.”
“Well, if you don’t know, I don’t. I just answered an ad on the Internet. You know how I hate the holidays. I thought it would be an opportunity to get away for a few days. Some extra money, not that I need any. Taking care of a couple of kids.”
She went on. “It all sounded good, so I e-mailed the couple my résumé and within a few hours, I got a positive response and directions to the dock. The next day I got a FedEx with a train ticket to Boston and a round-trip ticket on The Saint.”
She turned and walked over to the window and continued on. She needed to talk.
“See Bermuda. I had never. I had always avoided it for some reason. And that cross.”
“Oh, yes,” said Lee.
“For some reason I felt like I had to return it to my grandfather’s church. Strange.”
Joann turned to face Lee. “You know, I took the cross to a jeweler once. I asked him if he could tell me what the stones were in the cross. I thought they might be emeralds. He couldn’t. He said they weren’t emeralds, but he had no idea what they were or where they were from.” Lee looked away and changed the subject.
“So what was so wrong with the cruise and the ship?” asked Lee. There was silence. Joann looked out the porthole and put her hand to her cheek.
“I . . . don’t really know. I mean, the passengers weren’t . . . normal. They seemed surprised and fascinated by everything.” She shook her head. “The television, my cell phone, you name it. I don’t know what rocks some of these people had been under for the last fifty years.”
“And the kids?” asked Lee.
“Two little boys. They were fine. But they kept talking about being on a yacht. And a storm. Taking a trip around the world. And the yacht had a strange name–uh, ‘The Empress’–no, ‘The Enchanter.’”
“The Enchantress?” asked Lee.
“Yes. I believe it was The Enchantress.” Joann looked at Lee.
“Built in the mid-twenties. Lost in the Caribbean in the mid-sixties.”
“How do you know that?” snapped Joann.
“You know . . . I’ve always been a fan of Maine maritime history.”
“Oh, yes,” said Joann, remembering.
“There was a family aboard. A husband and wife and two children, and a small crew.” Lee began to pace. “Wreckage of the ship was never found. They all just disappeared.”
“Sounds crazy to me,” said Joann, dismissively. “So what has it got to do with us?” She stared at Lee again.
“I don’t know,” said Lee. “Nothing I guess.”
“Well, there’s nothing I can do about it. This whole thing is beyond me.” She sounded scared. She turned away from Lee. “So, I’m just going to be a good girl and do what I was told to do by Father Allen.” She moved toward the adjoining cabin door. “And what I promised to do. I will report you to sick bay.” She took hold of the door and pushed Lee through it. “Now, back to your cabin and look sick.” She smiled as if all was understood.
“I really don’t think I’m going to have a hard time looking sick.”