Desmond the Time Traveler

Desmond the Time Traveler–2009: This is a story I started for fun. It’s really not that well written, but it was all about the idea. It was inspired by my parents childhood in southern California. Like everything else, it never got finished. Here is the first little bit of it. It’s a time travel story for people who don’t like time travel stories. It focuses on the characters rather than the science.

Desmond could feel his heart pounding in his chest. He could also hear it. It’s an interesting thing being able to hear your own heart. You wouldn’t think that the heart made much of a sound except when the doctor let you listen to it through a stethoscope and the only reason it made a sound then was because a stethoscope is little more than a drum channeling sound through a tube to your ears. Of course your heart makes a sound when it’s beating against a drum, but otherwise you wouldn’t actually think your heart made a noise. That’s like saying a drumstick makes noise just resting in your hand. But the heart is not a drumstick, it’s a heart; an organ that provides blood that carries oxygen to the rest of your body. Blood, such a funny thing. The sound of the word blood made Desmond almost pass out. How many times had he been driving and heard the word blood from the radio, his wife, his daughter, or even though about the word blood and felt the need to pull over and take breath of fresh, roadside air. Even downtown he stopped once. He awkwardly pulled into a parking garage, got out of his car and couldn’t think straight because he was listening to talk radio and they just mentioned the idea that the heart of an overweight human being is literally wringing itself in order to send blood around the body just to survive. Blood. Wringing. That’s what you do to a dishcloth just before you hang it over the faucet after wiping down the sink. The downtown air was heavy that day. Los Angeles air really always is heavy, but that day he needed a walk. He walked five or six blocks until he was standing smack in between the Nokia Theater and Staples Center. He sat down right there. He had to get his bearings. He wasn’t even sure he’d ever told anyone that story before.

His heart again.  Why was it so loud? The last thing he could remember was the courtroom. He’d gotten in a lot of trouble. He stole something, or did something. What was it? Thinking was especially difficult at that particular moment. Coffee. That’s what it was. He needed some coffee. He was still asleep, or at least he was drowsy. Hungover? He couldn’t remember drinking. Wait. Drinking. He had been drinking. A lot of drinking. When was that? Why was everything so confusing? He couldn’t wrap his mind around what he done last before falling asleep, or what he’d done last week. Weak. That’s for sure. He couldn’t move anything. Or at least he didn’t think he could move anything. Was he asleep still, or was he thinking he was sleep.

Ok, idiot, get up. Get your coffee and start thinking straight. C’mon, move it. I can’t move. He was still confused, but his thoughts were starting to make a little more sense, at least they were starting to become slightly more organized. Ok, get up. It’s not that hard. Right hand under chest and push. No. Let’s try the left. Nothing. What is wrong with me? This must be one of those twilight zone dreams. The kind where your brain is awake but your body isn’t ready to respond because it needs its coffee. Desmond rationalized to himself that he would just wait until his brain started firing to the rest of his body. Was that something he could force? Could he make his brain fire signals to the rest of his body? He didn’t think so, but it seemed logical enough that he could at least give it a try. He thought to himself, roll over, if you just roll over, you’ll wake up. Now… roll. Nothing. C’mon, body. Am I asking too much! He yelled at himself now, in his head of course. In his head he was sure he should be standing at this point and walking around. Going to wherever it was he usually went. He couldn’t really remember that either.

“What day is it? What time? Is it day time or night? It’s dark, it must be night. But what if my eyes are closed? Eyes. That’s it, my eyes, let’s start simpler. Standing up was advanced stuff right now.” The dialogue between him and himself would have been amusing if anyone could have been able to hear it. He knew it was amusing. He even managed a chuckle. Then he stopped thinking. It was different. The chuckle was real. That sounded different than the rest of the conversation. He could hear the chuckle, no, he could feel it in his chest, where his heart was. Yes, it was down there with only other real sound. Do it again, Des, c’mon. Laugh again. He couldn’t. He tried again and again, but couldn’t manage it. Think of something funny. What’s funny?

What Desmond didn’t realize about himself was that he was actually face down in a nearly bald patch of left field in a neighborhood sandlot. It would have been lucky for him if it had been earlier, as in still dark earlier. But just his luck, it was daytime, and not just day time, it was a Sunday morning kind of day time and staring down at his motionless body that had just chuckled was a group of ten young boys in avid wonderment at the man lying in the middle of their baseball field wearing a really nice looking blue pinstriped suit. None of the boys could remember seeing him there when they started their game. Sach had actually been in left field all morning since Luis was hitting everything Tom-Tom was throwing him. All to left. Maybe Sach hadn’t actually been going that far left. Luis liked to hit to left- center because he knew Sach was left handed and he was horrible at reaching across his body to make a catch with his right hand. It was a weakness that Sach had and Luis was willing to exploit it. They called Luis the dirty Mexican because he was so good at reading every boy’s fielding weakness and using it against them. They were all sure he was going to go pro, it was a foregone conclusion, but he wasn’t Mexican. His parents were from Bolivia. Sure he was born and raised in El Monte, and was used to riding the L.A. freeways in a faded green ’57 Chevy 150 to Dodger Stadium with his old man—so by all accounts he was just as American as any of them—but in sandlot baseball, once you’re branded, it’s for life.

But what about the guy in the suit? “Where’d he come from, Sach?” asked a fat kid in jean cut-offs and a ratty old Red Sox cap.

A skinny kid they called nugget, named for the gold tooth that graced his otherwise pearly smile, replied with sarcasm dripping down his gilded overbite. “I don’t know, Beans, why don’t you ask him, since he seems to be so alive right now?” Nugget shot a look at Beans and turned his seemingly authentic, actually used on the field, Yankees cap so that it faced backwards on his overgrown mop covered head.

“What’re you saying, he’s dead”, replied the boy affectionately called Beans. His nickname was given to him the first day, and quite possibly in the first minute he ever spent on this field. He walked up in his first week on the block after seeing kids playing ball in the lot. They were one short, so they put him at right field. On his way out to right, a fly was hit out. Kids started yelling at Beans—his real name was actually Thomas Papalla—to duck. Luis saw his lack of hustle and decided to initiate the kid. He hit Tom-tom’s fast ball—which wasn’t that fast—on an intercept course with Beans’ trajectory. Of course he stopped and turned his head at the exact wrong time by the any measure of fate. Fortunately for Beans, the ball missed his face by about three inches and connected with his throat. The outcome was like seeing Jackie Gleason get hit in the face by a prize fighter. It was a ballet akin to Swan Lake or the Nutcracker. Beans’ shiny Red Sox cap flew one way as the rest of his body gyrated and stumbled closer and closer to the ground until he hit it like a caribou in season. Of course the field was silent as the boys waited with baited breath for the inevitable jelly roll that would be the finale of this wonderment in human survival instinct. But when the end came it was far grander than even Wagner could have composed. When Beans’ fat lumpy, and completely limp, body smacked the ground, a sound cracked so loud from his backside that it could be heard at home plate. A fart of epic proportion lead to everyone in Baldwin Park calling him Beans. Beans, of course tells all the girls it’s because he’s from “Baston”, that it stands for Boston Baked Beans. He lays on the accent really heavy for the ladies.

“I don’t know, dummy. See if he’s breathing,” barked Nugget. Beans bent down near Desmond’s face. The smell of alcohol was so strong that he actually recoiled and gagged.

“If he ain’t dead, he’s close. That’s a wicked smell.” Beans held his nose. There was a collective groan of disgust as all the boys naturally leaned in to take a whiff.

“What the hell, I think he’s breathing?” Tom-Tom said pointing to the gentle rise of Desmond’s spine.

“He still smells dead” replied Beans waving his cap in front of his face.

“Step aside.” Luis pushed Beans and Nugget out of the way. He leaned near Desmond’s face. Luis was a muscular 15 year-old. He took off his Dodgers cap and handed it to Sach. “Don’t even breath on it, pud.” He shot at Sach before turning back to Desmond’s unhealthy looking body. Luis sniffed ever so slightly at first, then took a bigger whiff. He sat up and grabbed his cap from Sach. “He ain’t dead, ladies. That’s just B.O. and Jack. This hombre smells like my old man after a fight.” Luis’ dad was a middleweight boxer, and a bad one at that. He’d lost every fight but one, and that was because the tub he was fighting was so far out of his weight class that he had a heart attack in the middle of the third round.

Right hand and lift. C’mon, do it now. Desmond was still convinced he could will himself to his feet. His heart was pounding a little faster because of the effort he was putting into doing anything. Physiological response was a good thing. Then he started to doubt his senses. What if he couldn’t really hear his heart? How would he know if he was even alive? Is this what death is like? Trapped in one position in darkness for eternity? The anguish of that thought made the metronome that was his core start to beat in rapid patterns. Then there was something new. He could have sworn he heard something. Not pretend heard, or thought he heard, he actually heard something. What was it? Shut up, Desmond, listen for it again. It was vocal, or seemed vocal. It was a song, no; it was a tone. Then the ringing started. A ringing sound started softly in his left ear and grew louder. The sound began to change. It went from a ring to a whoosh; a subway train entering the station. Then pain. Pain in his face. His cheek. Was he hit by something? A book, it felt like he had been smacked in the face by a book. The sound of the train was now very loud, almost deafening. Then yelling. A voice yelling at him. He couldn’t make out the words. He wanted to get up more than anything and run. Run from the sound and voice and everything. Find a quiet place. He wanted to scream. He opened his mouth. But he couldn’t tell if it was his mouth or his mental mouth. Why? Stop, stop, stop STOP!!!!! Then suddenly a bright pop and flash, then… silence. Desmond opened his eyes, his actual eyes. He was confused by what he saw. Disembodied legs, no that was absurd. They were attached, but where were the rest of their people? Then the voice came, this time he understood it.

“Hey, cabron, you alive?” The voice had a familiar accent and seemed to be insulting him. Desmond thought to himself.

“Let’s try rolling over again”. He tried his arm. It moved. Hallelujah. He pushed against the ground and lifted one side of his body so that his center of gravity and the weight of his body would work to roll him to his back. Things now made more sense. From his back he could see that he was outside and it was warm and day time and there were kids. What the hell was going on? How did he get here? Where was here? His mind raced with questions. He blinked in the brightness of the azure sky.

What now? Stand up? No, rolling over was a chore so standing would be impossible. How about talking? Yeah, talking seemed like a good idea. Ok, go. Talk. Desmond opened his mouth to speak but stopped. He didn’t quite know what to say. Ask a question like ‘where are you?’ That’s a good start. Go, now, ask.

He formed his lips into a “whoo” sound. OK that’s a start, now make sound, speak. The sound was so hoarse that it was barely audible.”whee…”

The kids looked at each other. Desmond relaxed his head to start again.

What the hell was that, c’mon you’re a grown man. you have a college education. you speak three languages, can’t you get one word out in English? His own internal frustration was getting to him. He closed his eyes, raised his arm to his forehead and rested it across his brow. He took a deep breath. It was definitely nice to see that his body was still functioning, though he hadn’t tried any really complicated combinations of movements.

“Where am I?” The words finally found their way out. It was simple, but it was something. A voice came back at him. It was the same voice and accent and he knew the origin well. Had he somehow landed in some gang-ridden, god-forsaken barrio in east L.A.? This wasn’t going to be pretty. He had heard stories of gang beatings and even killings when a white wandered on to the wrong street.

“You’re at the park, man. Where’d you think you were?” The voice was definitely Latino.

Ok now it’s time to stand up. This is fight or flight time. You don’t have time to test it, just get up and start walking. Desmond put both hands on the ground and pushed as hard as he could. He was moving, faster than expected, but he was moving upward. Before he knew it, he was on his feet. Too fast, though. Head rush. He hunched over. It was in his stomach now. Terror gripped Desmond’s entire body. Every muscle flexed in anticipation of what couldn’t really be avoided. No stop! Not here. This gang will mock, laugh at, then kill you for puking on their turf.

The boys looked at each other. “What’s he doing whispered a small Asian kid called Brain, real name Brian.

“I think he’s going to heave.” whispered Tom-Tom back. “My Uncle Marty does the same thing when he’s been drinking too much. He hates to heave, but he does every time he drinks. It’s real gross. His hands get all balled up and his face turns red, and BAM! HE chucks all over the bathroom. My mom hates him for it.”

“Shut up, Tom-Tom!” shouted Beans.

Desmond could hear the conversation going on out of his right ear, but it was too late to not look like Uncle Marty. At least he could spare a blood vessel from bursting. Desmond relaxed his fists and let fly the inevitable. As the first wave flew in a putrid brown, chunky spray, the boys around Desmond parted like the Red Sea. There were groans and moans. One kid could be heard form the back, “breathe, Flat, Deep breath, don’t go making it two piles of puke on our field.”

“Luis stepped into the violated area, a bat in his hands. “You done, now?” You do realize that now Sach is gonna have to jump over your puke every time I hit it to Left?”

“I’m sorry. I’m leaving.” Desmond stood up for the first time and realized that the kids weren’t at all what he expected. They were mostly white kids. It was the big one that was the Latino. He seemed to be in charge. “I’m leaving”, Desmond restated as he started toward the edge of the field. The boys didn’t say much, just moved out of the way and watched him leave.

“That’s just weird.” said Beans. “You know, in Boston, there was this guy…”

“Shut up Beans”, came a collective roar from the group that seemed to snap them all out of their trance.

Sach was protesting having to play left. “I can’t even be near vomit, or I’ll vomit. I swear my skin gets all cold and everything.”

Fine, just shut up. Who want’s left, who’s not a sissy like Barbra over here?”

No one volunteered. Standing near the back of the crowd already farthest out toward left was Ron-Ron, an average sized kid with white blonde hair. He was muscular for twelve years old. All the guys had actually gone to his birthday party the week before.

Ron-Ron was watching the stranger walk down the sidewalk to the corner. “Hey Ron-Ron! You got left, cool?” Luis wasn’t really asking a question, but he knew Ron-Ron didn’t care about a little bit of puke.

“Ron-Ron! You awake?” Ron-Ron turned around to face Luis. “Left”. Luis waited for acknowledgment.

“Yeah, whatever, man. Left. fine.” Ron-Ron watched Desmond at the corner look up at the green street signs. Desmond reached into his pocket and pulled something out. He stared at it for a few seconds, then he held the thing above his head and started walking around like the thing in his hand was supposed to lead him somewhere. Ron-Ron watched until he heard the crack of the bat. He jerked his head toward the infield, looking just in time to see the ball smack into Sach’s glove at third base. Luis was still gunning for him.

 

C’mon, signal, where are you? How is it that there is no signal in the middle of a neighborhood? There’s no way every cell tower in L.A. is down. Desmond walked down the street a little way, then went back the other way. Maybe it was his phone. He took the battery out then put it back in. The phone started back up. Still no signal. He thought maybe his particular carrier was having a service hiccough. He put the phone back in his pocket and looked back at the group still playing ball. He was pretty sure he wasn’t in gangland. It looked like Pasadena or Arcadia or something.

Desmond thought for a minute. Kids have phones. I’ll ask one of them if I can use their phones. He looked around the park as he started his walk back to the baseball field. Not too clean, but at least there was a pool that actually had water in it and kids were playing. He kept his mind on getting information. He reached home plate.

‘Hey, kid.” Luis tried to stay focused on the pitch that was coming.

Sach was sweating and rubbing his fist in his glove.

“kid.” Luis put up his hand up to Tom-Tom and turned around dropping his bat to rest on his shoulder.

“Hey deadbeat.” Luis replied to Desmond with his eyebrows slanted into a menacing glare.

Desmond tried to ignore the hostility. “Do you have a phone?”

Luis looked at Desmond as though he were stupid. “yeah, I gotta phone, so what.”

“can I use it?”

Luis stared at Demosnd confused. You wanna go to my house and use the phone? Hell no. I ain’t taking some drunk home so he can case it.”

“No, a cell phone.”

“A what?”

“A cell phone, you know mobile, like this.” Desmond reached into his pocket to pull out his own phone when a serious possibility struck him.

All the boys were now quiet and watching the exchange. No one spoke for a good ten seconds.

“look, man, calm down. Alright, you need a phone? ok, hold on.” Desmond wasn’t paying any attention to Luis. His mind was suddenly traveling through time.

What was the last thing you can remember? how did you get in this field? Think you idiot, think! Desmond pulled his hand out of his coat pocket and caressed his temples with his index finger and thumb.

Luis was standing with his hands up talking to Desmond but Desmond wasn’t listening. It was in that moment that it had all come back to him.

“Holy…” he began to say then he reached into his back pocket. On the right side he found only his wallet. In the left side pocket he found what he was looking for; a piece of paper folded into small pieces. He unfolded it slowly. Luis was still talking at him with his hands up. Desmond had almost unfolded the whole paper when he realized how desperately he needed a newspaper. The paper had opened. It was a note; a note from the previous day. It had been left on his computer by a former business partner. He refolded the paper. As strange as the morning had been, Desmond realized that all of his memories of the last 24 hours were real. But if his assumption was correct, the last 24 hours didn’t mean a whole lot. In fact, the last 35 years didn’t mean a whole lot either.

“The church!” came Luis’ voice very forcefully this time. “Man, did you hear me? The church over there has a phone.” Luis pointed to a building just over in the north corner of the park. It was definitely a church. There were people walking in. Families dressed up in their Sunday best.

Phone was all Desmond could think. But who would he call? Did he even know anyone here? He had to find out where here was. And, oddly enough, Desmond realized that he was wrong. It wasn’t a Saturday. It was a Sunday.

“Hey, amigo, can you hear me? Just go over there and ask to use the phone.”

Desmond looked up to see Luis’ concerned expression. “Yes, phone. Where am I?” He asked Luis.

You’re in the Park, Baldwin Park Park.”

“Actually it’s called Morgan Park” cut in Beans.

“Shut Up Beans”

“Yeah, I’m just sayin’, my mom calls it Morgan Park.”

“I know, shut up!”

Desmond interrupted. “I’m in Baldwin Park?

“Yeah. BP. Where are you supposed to be?”

“Pasadena.”

Luis didn’t know what to say to that. Pasadena was 15 miles away over a dozen roads and highways. Luis had actually only been to Pasadena once. It took forever to get there.

“What year is it?”

Now Luis was confused. “What year? It’s 1969, man.”

Desmond tried to refrain from showing his complete shock, but his eyes opened widely as he clenched his jaw. His heart rate went up and the sound was back, the blood pounding in his ears. Blood, the thought made him light headed, but the fact that he hadn’t actually been killed the night before was boggling to him.

“1969!” Desmond sounded exasperated. Luis just stared.

“Then how in the hell did I get to Baldwin Park?”

“I don’t know, man. Why don’t you call a cab to take you back?”

Realizing the magnitude of everything that had just been made aware to him, he looked at Luis and said, “that’s going to have to be one hell of a cab, kid.”

It was really all about what happened. Desmond walked away from the group of boys and headed toward a bench near the road. Think, Des. What actually happened last night, or whenever it was? There is no way you ended up here. It just doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work through space, just time. Of course, it also should never have worked because there wasn’t anything to receive you here. You send from one, it goes to the other one. It’s simple. So what happened?

Desmond tried as hard as he could to recall the events of the last twenty four hours. He remembered the court room. He couldn’t forget that. He never should have been there. It was all a misunderstanding; or at least it was a major screw job because that jerk Hodges couldn’t stand that Desmond had succeeded with the grant committee.

They took everything from you. That’s right. They took it all: the license, the lab, the entire project. They were going to give it to Hodges. That smug piece of rat filth wasn’t smart enough to run the project on his own. He got his PhD on a fluke because of me. I knew his theory worked, but he didn’t have a clue. It wasn’t until I used it that he was finally able to publish. Damn that guy. I should have thrown him in and sent him back here. That son of a… 

Desmond sat down on the bench in front of him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the note he had already opened. It was a simple enough note from Hodges. Desmond unfolded the yellow paper. The adhesive on the back still held strong. The note read:

“You’re theory is flawed, it always was. That’s why I did it. You didn’t have the balls to take a risk.”

Hodges didn’t know what he was talking about. The math was right on the money, but that didn’t really matter. What mattered was getting back. Desmond had to get to the University. He stood and only just realized how weak he was. Whatever was in him from the night before—apart from the pint of Jack Daniels he’d consumed—was now laying out in left field. He needed food. He needed a drink. Desmond looked around for anything to eat. Over near the pool he spotted a snack stand. He decided to start there.

The stand was wooden with an open face like a concession stand you might see at a high school football game. It was painted white with a red trim across the front. Children in bathing suits were lined up waiting their turn. A Snickers bar is all Desmond wanted. Did they even have Snickers? He walked to the edge of the counter to peer inside and see what was available. A variety of candy and treats hung from the peg board wall and sat on wooden shelves. Many of them he had never seen before. Some were familiar like Candy Buttons and necklaces, Necco Wafers, Boston Baked Beans, and, to Desmond’s amazement, Mike and Ike candies. But things like Pumpkin Seeds, Mallow Cups and candy cigarettes were a new concept to him.

Desmond surveyed the line of children and their mothers. One lady in particular had been eying him closely. He didn’t really seem to notice her until he tried to get the sales girl’s attention.

“Excuse me,” came the woman’s voice. Desmond didn’t pay any attention. He raised his hand to gain some attention of his own.

“Do you have any Snickers?” Desmond asked. The girl raised a hand to Desmond as if to tell him to wait. She pulled off a foot long tape of candy buttons and handed it to a chubby dark haired girl in a blue bathing suit. The little girl wore bright blue glasses that looked like something from a comic strip.

Desmond suddenly felt something grab him. He turned to see what it was. A woman, maybe 30 years old was holding him by the arm. She had on a pair of dark sunglasses that were big enough to cover most of her face. She wore a green dress with orange flowers on it. Her blond hair was bobbed short and her mouth was coated in pink lipstick. Looped over her left arm was a yellow hand bag. A Blue towel could be seen peeking out the top. At her side was a boy that was maybe 7 years old. He had bleach blond hair and was gripping the handle of his mother’s bag staring up at Desmond with squinted eyes so as not to burn out his retinas from the glaring sun light.

Desmond looked down at the woman’s hand grasping his arm. This wasn’t a gentle squeeze as one may expect from a stranger trying to introduce one’s self. This was a harsh throttle like someone might do to a child they want to keep from causing trouble. Desmond was immediately defensive.

He pulled his arm from her grip with an upward jerk and looked at her giant insect like shades. “I’m sorry, do I know you?” he asked harshly. He didn’t like being touched. In fact, he didn’t like anyone being near him. This was a recent development in the last five or so years. He had developed a cold defensive demeanor and harsh nature. This is what caused his wife to leave him and take their daughter with her. It was all due to the fact that his work had gained him some notoriety and people had been coming to him for favors and help. Money. It was always about money. Money for this and money for that. Family, friends, independent groups, even coworkers were looking for handouts to help with their own research. No one really wanted to be his friend. They just wanted his money.

What came next was not what Desmond had expected. He was used to having the upper hand, to owning the situation, but the words that came from the woman’s mouth were a shock to his system. “No, sir, you don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but I do know that you had better get in line like the rest of us and make your purchase like the rest of us, or one of the many people now staring at you will flag down a policeman.”

The tone of her voice was so familiar to him. He had heard that same timbre from his own mother countless times as a child. He had even heard it from her recently as she lectured him like a little child about facing his responsibilities as a man. His mother had spent the last half decade being ashamed of him. He didn’t much care what she thought, though she was the only person who never asked him for anything.

 

A Million Dollars Ransom Money

Million Dollars Ransom-2006/07
In 2006, I took a class at the University of Oregon that changed my life. I needed an English elective so I signed up for ENG 399 American Detective Fiction. I read two dozen great detective pulps from the first half of the 20th century. Authors like Hammett, Chandler and McDonald introduced me to the Hardboiled Detective. Below is my weak attempt to emulate their old pulp style. My detective is Stan Lane, a burned out forty-something crime solver who encounters an old college friend. The friend is lawyer who needs help solving his daughters kidnapping. I’ve included only a few small sections of the story just to give you a taste. This is not a finished, edited or revised work, so keep that in mind. Hope you enjoy. The last line of this selection is my dedication to the three authors mentioned earlier.

PART I

I sat in the driveway of an extravagantly large mansion outside an iron gate that signaled no guests. It was the kind of gate that lets you out if you’re in, but won’t let you in if you’re out. There’s a lot of that going around in the south hills these days. The house was four stories high with a sort of faux European look to it. I had spent enough time in Italy and France to know that this place was taking its best shot at looking authentic. Its only problem was that the rich American inside had obviously never set foot on European soil.The attic windows were all stained glass with no particular design. They had all the colors of the rainbow in triangular cuts scattered arbitrarily in the windows’ small vertically rectangular frames, not really meant for looking out of, just a sort of break before reaching the red, clay-tiled roof. The rest of the windows looked as though they belonged in an early American colonial home. They were all modern weather proof sliders, but they had that multi-sectioned wood appeal to them. The doors of the mansion were a dark wood, from what I could tell, with an intricate design of wood carvings covering the superficies.

It was getting close to midnight and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d slept. I got called out here to cover for my office partner, Aidan Testanero, who felt it was more important to tale a smooth, long-legged blonde down to the forty-eighth block of Aster Street in Springfield than do his own recon. He claimed it was something about another meth lab in the Springfield underworld. What a joke.  There’s nothing down there but a half dozen townhouse projects too old and too dilapidated to be of any use to anybody. This particular housing project was that of a bored retired high school track coach who made his wealth in real estate development in the early nineties. Jenna Village was just another rundown holdup for tweakers and dealers, a place to hide from the good cops. It’s also where lazy, bad cops go for a little of the easy action to meet monthly quotas on drug trafficking.

I used to live in Jenna Village when it was relatively new. In fact, I used to work there as one of the maintenance crew. I was in college and needed a job. My brother got the job as head manager the year before and offered me a maintenance position when I decided to go to the University of Oregon. Those places were nice on the surface, but I found out that they were cheaply made, kind of like a manufactured home. The investors cut every possible corner in order to minimize expenses on the twenty-million dollar project. The appliances were all bottom-of-the-line models ordered from a large warehouse company that specialized in storing cheap products for projects just like Jenna Village. The paint on the inside walls was a flat, off-white paint that did nothing for the place except give it the deceiving look of an apartment that was well built. The owner and his investors sold the place for a two-hundred percent profit, eight years after the final phase of construction was finished, to a large real estate company in Idaho, and they just let the whole thing go to hell along with the rest of the neighborhood.

In the mean time, there I sat waiting in the south hills for a whole lot of nothing to happen. Some woman is pretty sure her old man is cheating on her with his secretary, so I get to wait and see if she’s right. It’s a gamble for her, but for me, I get $500 a day plus expenses regardless, so I’m a winner anyway this thing turns out. There’s a chance that sooner or later they might come out of that place and give me something to report, but given the party’s guest list: a whole lot of city council people, doped up lawyers, and drunken politicians; my night seemed more for the cops than for a burned out private eye.

I must have dozed off because the next thing I knew there was someone rapping his knuckles on the glass of my Chevy. I shook my bleary head and stowed my flask of down comforter expecting to see a uniform. Instead I saw a black tuxedo looming over my door. On the finger mated to the knuckle that woke me I noticed a familiar piece of jewelry, a class ring for the University of Oregon law school. class of 2008. I’d known Lyman Sherwood since his first year of Law school at Oregon. I was an English major finishing up my undistinguished undergraduate degree while he was the overachiever shooting for the real money. He was one of the only lawyers I had ever trusted farther than I could throw him. Lyman was with some big-to-do law firm in Portland. He had always loved Oregon. I guess his parents used to bring him here on vacation when he was a kid. Maybe it was the closeness of the ocean that appealed to him, but I really don’t know.

Before the electric hum of the window could stop I heard my friend’s familiar voice, “you dead or just drunk in there?” I could tell in his voice he would rather be with my corpse in a 2000 Impala than in the ritziest Eugene mansion with the company in its current state.

“I wish I was both.” I responded as I realized I was neither. I held that damn flask of Jack without taking a single drink. That’s my drinking problem. I haven’t gotten really good and drunk in years.

Lyman leaned into my window and said: “Well, Judge Reynolds just decked Steven Wrathman.” Wrathman was a short, fat, greasy little attorney from LA. The local legal scene called him Wrathmaniac because he’s notorious for breaking the law while trying to uphold his clients’ sins. Lyman told me he was the left over residue of a slime filled cesspool that’s been leaking into Oregon since the Second World War. It seems that the more Mexico pushes its way into California the more we get stuck with the crap the spills over our wooded southern border. “I’m sure the EPD will be here soon. I think I saw a trashed Mrs. Reynolds heading for the phone; she must not know about the little hash party in the third floor study”.

I reached for a cigarette but found none. Lyman chuckled at my displeasure. He was a straight arrow, never smoked, and never drank. I don’t think I’d ever heard him curse once in our twenty year friendship. I guess I did enough of all that for at least two people. Lyman only came to these things in order to represent his firm, or the Oregon Alumni, or some stupid thing. “You still get a kick out of watching these idiots make fools of themselves?” I asked amused already by the thought of the oldest judge in the county laying out the slimiest troll this side of a Tolkien novel.

“It has its moments I guess” he responded with a tiredness that reaffirmed him as the only person with any integrity in his godforsaken profession. “You okay to drive home?” he asked.

“Apparently I just took a twenty minute power nap. I’m good for another twenty-four hours as long as I’ve got a full tank, a full belly, a loaded gun, and some liquid warmth.”

“Speaking of a full belly; forget home; you want some breakfast, my treat?” I’ve never refused a free meal in my life and at one in the morning I wasn’t about to start.

“I’ll drive,” I said as I manually unlocked the passenger side door whose electric lock died ten years ago. “You mind if we go downtown” I said. “I hate this part of Eugene; too many familiar faces.”

“How about Todd’s Place?”

“Sounds aces to me.”I said with a sardonic grin. I put the old car in drive and flattened the accelerator. As we careened down the hills back into the valley I saw the familiar red and blue glow of the EPD’s patrol cars coming up the hill toward us. I was grateful that I didn’t have to stay there for the questions.

The Eugene streets seemed to be driving me. That’s how it always feels anymore. I’d hit these potholed lanes too many times in my life to call them friends. They felt like prison guards keeping me in bounds, not letting me escape my purgatorial sentence. Eugene smelled old at night. I don’t remember how it smelled in ’04 when I first came here. All I remember is the reek of that foul Springfield paper mill. That’s when I realized that Lane County is one of those places you don’t go on vacation. It used to be a great place to raise a family and get away from the big, big world. Now, twenty-one years later, I’m an old man and the smell is getting worse.

“What were you doing there, anyway?” Lyman asked.

“Supposed cheating husband” I said. Lyman just sort of laughed as if to comment on the pathetic worries of the rich. I couldn’t help but reply. “Yeah, but its five-hundred bucks a day plus expenses. Is it wrong to charge a broad when you fall asleep on the job?”

“Ah, I’m sure she has plenty of money to go around. If she doesn’t now, she will after the divorce.” I looked at Lyman with a chuckling grin, he just stared straight ahead, pleased with his humor.

“Well, I think I’ll spare her the expenses since you’re buying breakfast.” I pulled onto 7th headed back toward downtown Eugene.

I parked as close to the front door of Todd’s Place as possible and got out. My legs almost didn’t want to work so I used the car as a crutch. Lyman opened the glass door to the restaurant and we were seated. These places always smell like fifty-year-old cigarette smoke. I guess it’s part of the charm of a place that never closes for cleaning or renovation. Lyman ordered some viciously spicy omelet. He’s always been a nut for spicy foods. I’m not nearly man enough to eat with him. I just ordered a breakfast sampler and got four sausage links instead of the two bacon two sausage. I’d always appreciated Lyman’s willingness to eat on my level considering his upbringing and current taste in fine foods. Any man who can put away a nasty, grease-pit omelet at 1:00 AM is welcome at my table anytime.

“Did you catch the game last weekend?” Lyman asked while adding a liberal amount of hot sauce to his omelet. He was referring to the University of Oregon Ducks football game. It seems that lately every time I see him, the only thing we really have to talk about is football.

“I caught a little of it on the Radio.”

“Well, that QB seems to be the real thing this year”. He spoke as if trying to convince his eggs. There was a long pause as we both ate. Lyman was my best friend, but when it came to quality conversation, there just wasn’t much to talk about. I suppose it’s because I really don’t care much about his elitist lifestyle and he couldn’t really relate to what I had chosen to do with my life. I always knew he had sort of pitied me for the choices I’d made after college, but that never seemed to bother me.

After breakfast I took him back to the Eugene mansion to pick up his car. The ride was consumed by Lyman’s one-sided discussion of some of the cases he’s been working on; a lot of big names with big money. I had become a good listener over the years, but lately I couldn’t care less about the conversation.

“Give me a call sometime and we’ll do something” Lyman said as he negotiated the lock on my decrepit old car.

“I’ll see what I can do”, I said with a grin as I shook his hand. He opened the door and stepped out. “You driving back tonight” I asked.

He leaned his head back in the door and said: “No, I have a room at the Marriott on 6th, but I’m leaving early, ‘round seven. My firm has a day in court. We’re trying to nail a small-time pharmaceutical company on a type of tax fraud and I have to represent our team at noon.”

“Tax fraud?” I said with some amusement. “Committing the oldest sins in the newest ways, eh?” He stood and stepped away from the door. He smiled and pressed the fob to his brand new ’2026, high performance, $500,000 BMW sedan. It had something like 600 horse power. Ridiculous.
“You have no idea, my friend” he said as amber taillights flashed

in the distance near the house. “Well, I’ll be seeing you, Stan,” he

said as he firmly closed the passenger door. My headlights glowed bright

on his black tux as he walked around the iron gate. He didn’t look back,

just pressed on toward his car with perfect posture.

PART II

I was sitting at my desk at 9:30 pm on a Friday getting ready to leave for the weekend when my cell phone started buzzing in my right pants pocket.  I set my phone to silence earlier that evening so I could catch a few winks on the sofa opposite my desk. I reached into my pocket and withdrew the small flashing device. I rolled it over in my palm and saw on the display that it was my answering service. I flipped the phone open and spoke into the mouthpiece: “Lane.” My voice was hoarse and gravelly. I heard a familiar female voice on the other end: “Hi, Mister Lane, I have a mister Sherwood on the other line. He says he needs to talk to you about something, urgently. He says you know him.”

“Yeah, Kimberly put ‘im through.” I waited for the click of the lines switching, then said: “Lyman, what’s up, another fist fight at the Supreme co…”

“Stan, I need your help. He cut me off. “It’s Emily, She’s been kidnapped. I really screwed up, man. I can’t go to the cops; they’ll kill her if I do.”

“Slow it down. What are you talking about? Where are you?”

“A rest stop north of Eugene. Monica got a message from someone that they had kidnapped Emily. I was supposed to meet them here with a million dollars and trade for Emily, but I… I made a mistake. I gave them a wad of newspaper wrapped in a hundred. They’re going to kill her.”

I sighed away from the receiver of the phone. “Just sit tight I’ll be there in twenty minutes.” I slapped my phone shut and grabbed my khaki rain coat. The rest stop he was talking about was about 10 miles north of Eugene on Interstate-5.

I arrived at 9:59 pm and drove around the back of the rest stop where the big rigs park. I saw Lyman sitting on the ground next to his car. He was nursing the side of his face with a wet t-shirt. I didn’t see any blood, but he wasn’t untouched. His right eye looked a little swollen. I pulled in behind him and got out, my car still running, headlights trained on the blue and white propeller logo of his BMW. He shot to his feet and was to my car before I had reached the front fender. “Okay, now what’s going on?” He turned slowly and sat on the front of my car still pressing the wet shirt to his eye as he hung his head.

“I don’t know who they are, but they want a million dollars if I ever want to see Emily again.” Emily was his second child. A 20 year old girl born shortly after Lyman finished his second year of law school.  I hadn’t really known the girl except when she was a baby. His oldest son, Spencer, was killed in a bus accident in Honduras or some other forsaken third-world country about three years ago. He was working on his doctorate at the time. I had only heard about his death through a mass email that Lyman had sent around to friends some three months after the funeral.

“You said you couldn’t call the cops, why?”

“Because I need this thing to stay quiet. If I go to the cops…” He trailed off not sure how to finish that sentence.  “They’ll kill her.”

“How do you know?” I asked. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a mini-digital recorder. This particular device was one of those digital recorders used to replace mini-cassettes and mini-discs. I still don’t trust them. I go with the old mini-disc myself. They’re practically antiques, but they work and you don’t accidentally erase their memory.

“Listen”, he said as he pushed the glowing blue button on the function panel. I placed the small ear piece in and listened. A low electronically disguised voice spoke steadily.

“We have your pretty little girl. If you ever want to see her again, you’ll bring half a million dollars in cash to the rest stop just north of Eugene this Friday at 9:00 PM. Park in the back. Come alone and tell no one. If you go to the cops we’ll kill her.” The message ended with a digital click. I was suppressing a laugh as the device shut itself off.

“Monica said this was the message she heard on Emmy’s voice mail message. I called it with my phone and recorded the message onto this.” He took the device from my hands and put it in his pocket. “Somehow they were able to access her individualized voice mail messages.” He was referring to the way in which a person can have personalized voice mail messages depending on the phone number calling the phone. “They got her password out of her or something I guess.”

“These guys might be amateurs” I said. I didn’t tell him, but the reason I had to suppress a laugh was that that message was so clichéd that I’m sure I’d read it word for word in some classic pulps from a hundred years ago. “So you came out here with a wad of newspaper and they knocked you around?”

“Well, they never looked at the money. I thought Emmy was in the car, but I guess she wasn’t because they said they wouldn’t return her until they had counted it. I told them that wasn’t their deal and that I wanted my daughter back now. They told me I’d have to wait so I lunged for the one with the envelope and another one hit me across the face. I hit the ground and saw them get back in their car and tear out of here.”

“Did you see any faces?”

“No they were all wearing hooded sweatshirts, ski masks, and sunglasses. I did get a plate number though 673 BDC, that should help, don’t you think?”

“Maybe. It sounds like an old plate number. Go to the cops, Lyman. They’re not going to kill her. They’re probably just a bunch of punks looking to take advantage of a high profile attorney. I’ll do what I can, but I think you should call the state troopers in on this one.”

“Damn it, Stan, please don’t do this to me. You have to help me. Don’t ask why. I’ll pay you double your measly rate; just…can you just track down my daughter and get her back?”

“Why?” I could tell by his face that my reaction was too incredulous of his situation.

“C’mon Stan, just do this.” His voice sounded more unsettled than I’d ever heard it. This is one of the most confident men in the world, a powerhouse among west coast litigators, a stalwart icon of authority, and the gutsiest golfer I’d ever known. This man never flinched, but now he seemed eager, maybe scared.  This worried me. It wasn’t frightening, but I knew something had him on his heels.

Lyman looked toward the highway and focused on the brawny flow of traffic that mostly consisted of semi trucks, faceless and looming as they passed in their endless thoroughfare of service to commercialism. He blinked before dropping his gaze to the ground. He wasn’t going to tell me. “I think Monica might know more about this than I do. She was the one that got the message.” His voice was low. His tone was inconsolable as he looked at me with a sad glare and parted his lips as if to speak more but changed his mind and returned his glance to the dark asphalt under our feet.

“Is she at home? We can just go to Portland tonight and talk to her.”

“She left me, Stan. She said it was the pain of never seeing me and that we’d grown too far apart. And with Spencer gone and Emmy leaving for college next year, there just didn’t seem to be anything else for her. I can’t say it didn’t hurt to hear it, but I’m never around. What could I possibly do for her now? It’s too late for anything. She said she wanted a divorce, so…”

“When did all this happen?” My face contorted in amused disbelief. Mr. Perfect’s life had a few kinks after all.

“The divorce was over two months ago. We split it all down the middle. She bought a condo in Lake Oswego where she lives with Emmy.”

I lifted my head and put my hands in my pockets looking for a cigarette. “I’ll start with Monica” I said as I looked into the trees that surrounded the rest stop. Lyman swung around. He didn’t seem to know what to say. For the first time in his life he didn’t have words. “You’ll pay my standard $500 a day plus expenses.  I think you should go to the cops, but there’s still something you’re not telling me about that and that pisses me off, but it’s your business. I’m doing this professionally, no friend’s benefits. I need a retainer of five grand up front; I’ll take a personal check. I’ll find out everything I can about your girl.”

“Thank you”. The relief in his voice was a little unsettling. “Monica’s in Utah right now staying with her folks. She said she needed to get away.”

“I’ll fly out as soon as I can.” The words were barely out of my mouth when Lyman cut in.

“Great! I’ll drive you to Portland tonight. Is that okay?” The cheer in his voice was still unsettling to me. Perhaps it was the idea that Lyman finally felt in control of things again. Whatever it was, I was headed to Salt Lake on the red-eye whether I liked it or not.

 

We left my car locked at the rest area and headed up the interstate in Lyman’s four-wheeled homage to foreign automotive extravagance. We arrived at the terminal in about ninety minutes, not too shabby for a four door. Before I got out of the car he pulled out his phone and speed-dialed a number. He grabbed my elbow as a gesture not to leave yet. I saw him press a few buttons in response to an automated phone system then he spoke: “Yeah, hi this is Lyman Sherwood; I need to authorize use for a Stan Lane. He’s going to have my card in Utah this weekend.” He spoke with more authority than I’d heard in the last two hours. His voice came again: “yeah, hold on.” He tilted the glowing three-inch screen toward himself and tapped a couple of times then signed his name directly onto the screen with a stylus he drew from the back of the phone. He tapped once more to send it. He then tapped a few more times and handed the phone and pen to me. “They need your signature to authorize use of my credit card for as long as you’re working for me.” I’d done this same thing for a couple of other clients in the past few years. It was pretty convenient technology for a private eye, I never had to go back and ask for more money for expenses. I signed my name and handed it back to Lyman. He tapped the send button and spoke into the mouth piece again: “They’re on their way” he said to the voice on the other end. “Thank you very much… you too, bye”. He pushed the red button on his phone and reached for his wallet. From one of the leather flaps he withdrew a silver colored credit card. He handed it to me and thanked me again for doing this.

“Find out whatever you can about this without making too much noise. I just need this to stay quiet.” I frowned with disapproval but agreed to follow his wishes. I shut the car door and heard the tires squeal as Lyman pealed out into three lanes of airport traffic.

With Lyman’s credit card in hand I watched him speed away. I walked up to the Delta counter and asked for a nonstop to Salt Lake. The girl behind the counter wore a gray suit that looked like it was trying to be a throw-back to the nineteen sixties. She was a cute redhead, about twenty five, maybe twenty six years old. She smiled at me with perfectly straight, brilliantly white teeth and said: “I’ll see what I can do mister…”

“Lane”, I finished.

“Okay, Mister Lane, It looks like I won’t have anything for you until 8:00 am. I’m sorry. Will that be okay, I can check the private jets to see if they’re taking on any passengers?” Her tone was so sincerely apologetic that I eased her mind and said I’d just take the 8:00 am.

I found the all-night lounge and pulled up to the bar. The barman threw his white towel over his shoulder and asked for my order. I thought about it for a second and said “Just a water”. I didn’t feel too much like drinking at one in the morning. I was a little bit hungry though. “Whacha got for food at this time of night” I asked trying to sound friendly.

“Just what’s in the cold case, my friend. We close up the kitchen at midnight on Fridays.” He seemed a nice enough guy so I ordered an egg salad sandwich and a bag of chips to go with my midnight ice water. I cozied up to my delectable spread and glanced around for visual entertainment. The TV above the bar was replaying the 11 o’clock local news in subtitles. The anchor was moving her lips with intensity as she laid out her silent drama before me. The screen flashed up pictures of men in expensive business suits. Moments later I saw what looked like a lawyer or a politician in a nice dark suit and dark tie speaking into some microphones on the steps of the federal courthouse in Eugene. To my surprise I saw Lyman standing behind him. I didn’t read the captions; it was all a bunch legal mess that didn’t concern me; something about corporate tax fraud.

Bored with the TV I reached into my coat pocket to see if I had anything in there for reading. My fingers found the tiny pages of a pocket Shakespeare I remember putting there about a week ago; I pulled it out and read the title: Hamlet. It’s a sort of romantic idea, but I guess you could say Hamlet was a detective being commissioned by his father to solve a murder. I’ve read this book probably twenty times in the last twenty years. I really need to get something new for these pockets. I decided to not read it again and see about some shuteye on a terminal bench. I sat down on the hard black vinyl seat, pulled the collar of my jacket around my neck and wished I had a hat to cover my face. The last thing I heard as I drifted into sleep was an echoing woman’s voice over the airport’s public address system: “Captain Sam Archer, please report to gate F. This is the last call for Continental Flight 183 for San Francisco.”

 

The Child Eleanor

The Child Eleanor – 2007
This is a story I started in 2007. It was inspired by my daughter Eleanor. Her hugs seemed to be able to make the worst mood into sunshine. The story takes place in the future after the second civil war in the United States. A western States couple has volunteered to work in a bombed out hospital in the Eastern States. After ten years in the East, a surprise walks through the doors of their hospital.

The shock of an explosion woke me from what seemed a deep sleep. That one was close. How close? My mind raced sweeping the bed side for my shoes. There was a flickering orange light coming in through one of the portholes on the wall. Oh no! I thought. Something was on fire nearby. Finding my shoes I slipped them on and ran for the door. The hospital was buzzing but still rather quiet. Ron was nowhere in sight. Where is everyone? The clock on the wall read 3:43 A.M. I looked to the exits. I saw people running around outside. No one seemed to be any of our people. One of my patients began to moan. I ran to the circulation desk and grabbed my stethoscope flinging it around my neck.  Whirling back around to face the darkened room full of beds I noticed that many of the patients were sitting up looking toward the Operating Room. The lights inside were on and the curtains were drawn. I could faintly hear what sounded like screaming. It was a girl’s voice. I took a meticulous glance around the room looking for an empty bed. Left to right I inventoried every patient, every bed, every breathing soul. All were accounted for. Who was in there? My patient moaned again. I jogged over to where he lay. “Walter. What’s the matter?” I tried to keep my tone quiet, but it was difficult with the seemingly more frequent explosions outside. He didn’t respond. “Walter, are you awake?” I checked his pulse and took his temp. His vitals were fine. Lifting up one eyelid I shined my pen light into his pupil. It constricted and he squirmed. He’s still sleeping. The door to the OR swung open and a blood wrenching shriek tore its way through the room. Kathy sprinted from the door way. Noticing me she demanded I get whatever morphine we had left and take it to Ron.

                Behind the circulation desk was a locked refrigerator. I worked the lock with my keys and opened the door. Pale yellowness illuminated our meager rations of medicines. I grabbed three olive and red tubes labeled Morphine Sulfate Injection 10mg. These were military issued rations used in the field for wounded soldiers. We had formed some alliances with some East States soldiers whom we had saved a few years before. Once in a while we would get a visit from a soldier with a ration box of bandages, medical instruments, aspirin, and morphine. These were field medic supplies. We never asked how they got them. We assumed they were stolen or taken off of a dead medic. We were simply grateful to have anything. President Lyles of the Eastern States refused to supply us with our medical needs. His government allowed the use of the buildings and provided the electricity and water, and gallons of alcohol for sterilization purposes, but saw that as the end of their obligation to helping a neutral party group. Government hospitals in the Eastern States were very few and were used only for soldiers and government officials and their families. We were one of dozens of makeshift hospitals throughout the Eastern States. We had heard that hospitals were closing up shop all the time due to lack of resources. We had heard that the most successful hospitals had allied themselves with military regiments or with government couriers. Through them they were able to get left over rations of supplies. Our alliance with the troops that we had made was tenuous at best, but it still produced results.

                I ran through the door of the OR. The curtains billowed as I broke into the bright lights. Kathy was right behind with a large plastic basin in here hands. Ron I could see Ron’s back was to me. I could see he was wearing a blue scrub top. That meant surgery. Because complete sterilization wasn’t an option, we did the best we could with certain designated garments. On the hospital floor we wore street clothes. Our water rations allowed for one day of laundry a week. That was around five loads if we had the detergent. We normally just used the powdered soap we used for showering. Most of our daily needs like soap and food were all bartered for at the government rationing depot. Our currency was clothing, watched, shoes, and anything you might find on a person who had come to the hospital to die. Recently Ron and I had gotten into the business of making liquor from the government’s alcohol supplies. The soldiers at the depot valued this above anything because of the military prohibitive laws on the consumption of alcohol. For one pint bottle of alcohol we could eat for a week. For two, we could feed everyone in the building. So for the cost of making two bottles of consumable alcohol, we were granted two more weeks of hospital operation.

                Walking around Ron I saw the patients. She was a girl, a very young girl. The OR table was reclined to a forty-five degree angle. Her face was in anguish: eyes pinched shut, teeth bared. She was growling and screaming. For one brief moment she relaxed enough to open her eyes. She couldn’t have been older than fifteen. Her feet were being held up by Kathy and Barbara, another nurse. Kathy had dropped the plastic basis to the floor beneath the girl’s feet. I walked to the girl’s side and noticed that she was pregnant. Barb was encouraging the girl in a voice not accustomed to sympathy. “C’mon, honey. You need to push.” The girl screamed. Her face was bright red. Ron’s voice broke through the screams.

                “We’re at ten. I need a big push.” His voice was almost without humanity. He said the words as if reading a script. It was only then that I realized how desensitized we had become. Living in this inhuman hellhole for three years had completely washed away any trace that we were emotional beings; that we felt anything. Ron and I hadn’t been intimate in years and we hadn’t even felt the desire to make love since the first month we spent at St. Gabriel’s. Even now, delivering a baby felt more like a death sentence than a miracle. I never thought that child birth would ever be a depressing event for me. Even after that fact that it wasn’t often that we got to deliver a baby. Babies were the one thing allowed into the government hospitals without meeting government official criteria, but the baby had to be legal. Mother and father had to be present and the mother had to be 18 years old or she would be turned away. This would explain how we ended up with her.

                “Ok, let’s push. Honey.” Ron told the girl.

                “I can’t. It hurts” Her voice was high and very young.

                “I understand, but if you want this to be over you need to push.” I dabbed the girl’s forehead with a cloth. She was feverish. Her bare arm was thin. I could see the contour of the bone and her skin was almost transparent as all of the blue veins were visible. She was obviously undernourished. How she even had a baby still living inside of her was a mystery.

                The girl started babbling. Most of what she said was incomprehensible, but a few things got out in absolute clarity. “She can’t stay. She can’t stay here. Need to get her out. I need to get her out. Eleanor. Eleanor. Oh, Eleanor. I’ll get you out of here. I will.” She began to trail off into delirium.

                “Ok, this kid isn’t crowning. Can we get her to push some more?”

                I leaned over her and turned her face toward mine. Her eyes were wide open but I felt that she couldn’t see me at all. “Honey, I need you to push. Can you push?”

                “Eleanor. Eleanor. Eleanor. Her name is Eleanor. The girl stared into space. Her eyes seemed to be focused on something behind me. Suddenly her head jerked backward and her eyes rolled up. A long groan issued from her. When she stopped she began grasping for table’s edges. Her breathing became deep and her face began to turn pale. Her heart rate monitor began flashing and beeping.

                “Oh no.” Ron said as he examined the departure area.  “I think…” He pressed around the bulge on the girl’s abdomen. “Dammit! This kid is breech”

                “Didn’t you do that when she came in?” I demanded. Ron just glared at me. I was fully aware of his lack of sleep. Breech at this point in delivery was not a good sign for the baby or the mother. At least not in this facility.

                “Just help me, will you?”

“Her BP is dropping, Doc. It’s dropping fast.” Kathy said with the slightest concern in her voice. Ron felt around inside the girl. “Gah!” Ron grunted in frustration. I looked at his concentrating face.

“Can you turn it?” I aksed

 “Too late for ECV. We need to get this kid out, now.”

Kathy dropped the girl’s leg and she and I reached for the table end that hung loosely beneath the girl’s knees. Barb hopped over to the supply closet to grab some instruments.

“Ok, people, I need a number 12 scalpel and 14k sutchers, half round if we’ve got any left.”

Barb reached into the cupboard and grabbed what she found. She placed her load onto a stainless steel tray and carried them over to the tray table. Kathy and I raised a paper patrician at the girl’s chest so that she wouldn’t be able to see anything. She was looking very pale now. Perspiration was rolling down her forehead. The girl’s body went suddenly limp. She had passed out.

                “She’s out, Doc.” Kathy said as Ron went to work.

                “Vitals.”

                “Her BP is very low. She’s not looking too good” I responded. “I don’t know about this one.” How easily I lost hope anymore.

                “These poor, sick, undernourished…” Ron’s voice trailed off. “Ok, sixty seconds. This baby might never see the light of day.” His voice was flat. It was the voice of defeat. I tended to follow the same path of pessimism in this place, but for some reason I wanted this baby to survive. We had seen this before. Undernourished person comes in and dies in one of our beds because we don’t have the necessities required to nourish a person back to health. We do the best we can, but most of the time it’s not enough.

                I looked at the girl. She was clammy, her breathing was getting worse. If we were to lose her, there would be no defibrillating her. She would just be gone.

                “Oh crap.” Came Ron’s voice. “She’s hemorrhaging from somewhere. There’s a lot of blood in here. She’s not going to make it.” At that moment something changed. The girl’s eyes shot open. She looked at me and wrenched my hand weakly.

                “Eleanor. Her name…” with a deep breath her body went completely limp. Her gaze fell completely blank, eye’s dilated and the monitor behind me screeched. With no more warning than that, she was gone. I turned off the howl of the monitor and Barb gently closed the girl’s eyes. Dropping the curtain and said in a allow, defeated tone, “she’s gone.” When I looked up I saw Ron and Kathy standing at the foot of the bed. The girl’s legs lay dead on the table. In Ron’s arms was the body of a tiny little baby, naked to the open air. We’d lost them both I thought to myself. I walked around Ron toward the sink. He just stood there holding the child. Without warning his voice came hoarsely at first but then brightly and full of energy.

                “Blanket. I need a blanket. We need to cover her up.” We three nurses turned suddenly. I looked at the baby. My mind raced. What was going on? Was it possible? Had the baby actually survived? The mother was lost but the baby was still alive. I ran out to the main room and scavenged for a semi-clean blanket. There wasn’t one. I ran to my room and grabbed a towel from the pile in the bathroom. I rushed back in to see Ron holding the baby close to his chest. His arms were wrapped around it like a blanket. He seemed to be trying to cover it as much as possible; to keep it secure. His eyes were focused only on the child. I approached them and gently laid the towel on top of the baby. Ron choked a spastic gasp. Tears rolled from his eyes. “She’s a girl.” He looked up at me with a swollen expression. I can’t remember the last time I had seen Ron like this. Truly it had been years. Maybe even since our first station in the East Bank camps.

                I reached out and touched his elbow. He wrapped his strong arm around me and pulled me in close to him. He buried his head at the base of my neck and began to sob. I wrapped my arm around him and felt the emotion welling up inside of me. I instinctively fought the feelings, the emotions. I wanted to cry. I don’t know why, but I wanted to cry. I flood of emotion was welling up inside of me. I wanted to hold Ron close to me. I hadn’t felt him that close in years. He held me tighter. I held him. For minutes we remained that way. It felt like hours. As he wept I looked at the miracle in his arms. Her eyes were still closed but she had a peaceful look to her. She didn’t cry. She didn’t move. She simply laied there in Ron’s arms and breathed. She breathed in life with every breath. She was so tiny, but she was so perfect. An instinct deep inside me begged my body to reach out and take the child in my arms. I reached up to stroke her cheek. Her skin was soft to the touch. Warmth radiated from her whole being. I placed my hand on the crown of her head. Warmth. It was a warmth that penetrated deeper than my skin. I could feel it seize my whole body. My breathing began to quicken as my heart raced. Light seemed to fill the room. No, not the room. Me. It filled me. I was feeling. I could feel everything. Emotion seeped into the very tissue of my body. I could feel light and joy. I could feel things that had no business in this part of the world. Suddenly there was hope. But there couldn’t be hope. Not here. Not in this place. But I could feel it all around me. The tears finally began their cascade down my cheeks; tears that had been dammed up for too long. I coughed out a sob. It was as though something was waking up inside of me. It was part of me that had been dormant for so long that it had rusted, stopped working. Now I was restarting that part of me and it almost hurt.  I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning as he choked out a laugh. My sobs came in sputters and then in chuckling torrents. As my breathing fell under control I realized that I couldn’t control the tears as I stared into the face of the miniscule angel before me.

                Ron lifted his head, eyes swollen and red. A Cheshire cat smile opened up across his whole face as he exhaled and regained his breathing. I looked into his eyes. I could see light there that hadn’t been there since the first years of our marriage. He shook his head as he smiled that wide smile.  I looked at him and felt my body begin convulsing beginning low in my diaphragm. It shook my shoulders and my breath came in quick bursts. A chuckle. No, a laugh. I was laughing. Ron was laughing. We just stared at each other and laughed. We cried and laughed. We held the baby in our arms. We were so close to her. We were so close to each other. What was happening? The world around us seemed distant and completely detached from us. This child was a miracle. We knew she was. Her mother had given everything so that she could live. Her mother.

“Oh, no.” I said as Ron and I gazed at each other.

                “What’s the matter” he said wiping a tear from my cheek.

                “She’s gone. The girl. She died on the table.” My heart sank a little as I released the child and turned toward the table. Barb and Kathy had already covered the girl with a sheet and had disappeared to other parts of the hospital. I had almost completely forgotten they were there with us.

I walked over to the girl’s side and placed a hand on her abdomen from where the miracle had sprouted. Sliding my hand down to her side I lifted the sheet and felt her thin, sallow fingers. I grasped at them and felt that she had already gone cold. Slowly I pulled back the sheet to see her face again. Her blonde hair lay in sweat matted locks across her forehead. I hadn’t noticed how cherubic and innocent she looked. Her cheeks were overcome with the paleness that comes with death, but she still had a soft glow about her visage. Though Barb had closed her eyes for her, the lids rested as though shrouding a deep sleep rather than death. The most pleasant part about her appearance was her mouth. It seemed slightly drawn into a content smile. She was at peace. Wherever she was, if she was at all, she was at peace.

Ron came up next to me. “She looks so peaceful. That’s not normal for this place.” His tone was soft and gentle, so filled with the soft caress of emotion.

“I wonder who she was?” curiosity and peace flowed through me.

“I need to sew her up.” Ron whispered as he handed me the baby. I felt the warmth again. The very touch of this child drew out feelings of hope and limitless possibility. The sensation was addictive. I wanted to hold her at every moment. I never wanted to let her go.

Ron recovered the mother’s face with the sheet. His every movement was so precise and gentle. Walking back around to the girl’s abdominal region he dragged the instrument cart with him and parked it right next to him. Normally he wouldn’t have bothered with closing up the wound if the person had died on the table, but he knew as well as I did, that this girl deserved more. There was something oddly special about this her, about her child. Though I couldn’t put my hand on it, something was different. I felt… changed. I could see it in Ron’s expressions and demeanor, too. Things were not as they used to be.

I bounced the baby in my arms and found myself cooing. Her eyes were still closed, but her peaceful expression was unchanged. Her little chest rose and fell with each breath seemingly in time with my bobbing.

Ron had threaded a needle and was delicately stitching up the girl’s stomach. Staying focused on his work and without turning to me he asked, “What are we going to name her?” His voice was light and singsongy. 

It took me only a moment to answer. “Eleanor”.

“That’s pretty. How’d you come up with that?”

“The girl said her name was Eleanor. I don’t know if she meant this little angel, but she said ‘she’, so I say we call her Eleanor.”

“Eleanor.” Another wide grin sprouted across his face.

At that moment I looked to the door of the OR. Standing on the other side of the glass were Barb and Kathy. Their expressions were of confusion, and skepticism. I had completely forgotten they were here with us. I felt giant toothy smile cross my face as I raised my arm and waived them in. Slowly they walked into the room. I rushed to them holding the child Eleanor out for them to see. They glanced at each other with a look that seemed half worry and half sheer confusion.

“Her name is Eleanor.” I said as I got close to the two women. They just looked and stared.

“Touch her. Touch her head. She’s so warm.” I smiled as they hesitated. Barb raised a hand first and touched the top of the soft caloric head. Her whole frame seemed to shake for a second then her face lit up. She bent down to get closer to Eleanor’s face.

“Oh my. You are so beautiful, little one. Little Eleanor”. She choked up and I could see tears as she gentle stroked her calloused hand down Eleanor’s cheek.

Kathy came next. Again, a mere touch elicited such powerful emotions from this woman. Kathy was different from Ron, Barb, and me. She was a native of the Eastern States. She was born the daughter of a military officer in a government hospital in Washington D.C. She was hard to her very core. She hadn’t known joy the way we had as children. Joy to Kathy was having a night’s sleep without a raid; being able to go to school, having more than one pair of shoes. She was orphaned by her father when she was three years old. Eastern States orphans are sent to abandonment houses run by the government. They were essentially orphanages that raised children of all ages to be government indentured servants. They became government slaves. It was President Lyles’s plan to raise up his own soldiers and loyal subjects from the ashes of his own… 

Arthur

Arthur – 2007
This is the story of an immortal god who is completely unaware that he is the eldest brother of hundreds just like him. This chapter of his life begins with him almost alone on Mars. I abandoned this story when two films came out (Hancock and Moon) that were very similar in content. Enjoy.

March 10, 2022.

Happy Anniversary! The words were printed on every monitor in the house. Simona likes to do those kinds of things for me on special days. The sun was shining through my bedroom window casting the same orange-red glow over my world as it did every morning. Eight years on this rock and I still haven’t gotten sick of the contrast that red rock is to earth.

Every morning I wake to the same comfortable room, the same view from my window and the same beautiful woman’s voice bidding me a good morning. Simona’s punctuality is legendary and her consistency and lack of distasteful emotion in her daily greeting should be marked as one of the most desirable wake up calls of all time. I’m sure Delilah’s voice couldn’t have been as beautiful or as fetching in Sampson’s ear as Simona’s is in mine. Simona has been my faithful sidekick for eight years, but I don’t always treat her with the matched love and tenderness she shows me. I’m a difficult man to live with. I tend to interrupt her, walk out of the room to brush my teeth while she is talking. I’ll even make her stay in the car while I hit a bucket of balls. I’m cruel to her, but she knows I love her and she is my only companion on this desolate hunk of red wasteland. Alas, she stays by my side; true and faithful to the end.

“Good morning, Arthur. It’s 6:00 o’clock. Time to get up.” Her voice is gentle at my bedside. I smile and reach to reset my alarm.

“What’s on the agenda for today, sweetheart?” I just lay there in bed rubbing my eyes as I throw the comment out there as if expecting a surprise.

“The usual, Arthur. You can’t forget to exercise today. I’ll be watching.”

“you’re just so worried about me aren’t you. You’re afraid I’ll get fat.”

“You need to maintain top notch physical status if you don’t wish for me to report you to command.”

“Oh, Simona. Why don’t we face the inevitable and just leave this rock and go find a nice piece of oceanfront real estate on earth. We could be so happy there, swimming and living out our lives in pure bliss?”

“I’m afraid that’s impossible, Arthur. You are well aware that I cannot swim.”

“Yeah, but we could figure something out.” I enjoy our morning volley of playful banter. It sort of lightened the mood. Living in near solitude can be a real downer sometimes. As my personal assistant, Simona is with me all day and night and that can get kind of crazy when there is no one else to talk to.

“Have you seen my watch, Simmi? I could have sworn…”

“In the bathroom, Arthur. You left it there last night after logging the data for glacial anomaly Alpha 7.”

“Really? Good thing I was heading in there next.” I had forgotten that the atmospheric sensors on glacial anomaly Alpha 7 had reported some underground movement. I was hoping that it was part of an underground river I was fairly certain about but haven’t gathered enough data to prove. For the past few decades water has been the priority on Mars. It’s really the only thing keeping more people from landing here. Needless to say, I have found underground glaciers which produce an enormous amount of water. I’ve sunk a well into one of them which provides my daily needs. So far it’s just me and a science exploration on the other side of the planet. I hear from them every now and again. Mostly it’s just Elias coming to visit.

My shower was hot and refreshing. Simona was there in the bathroom waiting for me. In fact she’s always there waiting for me. You see I may not have been completely forthcoming about her. As much as I wish she were a fantastic mistress in my quarters, a woman with the physique of an ancient goddess to match her exquisite voice, she is not. She is, as I have said, my personal assistant; my electronic personal assistant. She is a computer of my creation. I developed her from a platform I used to develop personal navigation systems and artificial pilots for the military. She is my model ‘S’, hence Simona.