Friday, November 14, 2008

Chapter 10 - Walter in the garage

Walter sat motionless in the car. It sat parked in the dark garage. Only a long, narrow slit of light showed at the base of the closed door behind him. The vinyl seats sounded like pages tearing when he moved his legs around at peddles. The bottle sloshed a bit at his waist where his son’s head had laid hours before. He stroked the neck of the bottle with his thumb down from its rim down toward the flared base before he raised it and drank from it again. His face winced only slightly as it retreated back to its crusted, cadaverous form. The car reeked of Walter’s guilt. His heart crushed his chest with each beat. He drank again.


The air filled only with his own breathing and the sounding roll of the engine. ‘Glug, Glug, Glug, Glug, Glug, Glug.” The methodical beating of the mechanical heart beat more keenly than his own. For a moment, he was jealous. His foot stomped at the gas in reflexive anger. The engine roared out, screaming out on his command. He swigged from the bottle more aggressively, his anger forcing more fluid from the bottle. The sting of it now numbed. He reached for the door handle and gave it a yank then a push as it released. The door swung open and bounced against its spring. Walter’s feet landed heavily against the floor of the garage. He sat there a moment before positioning himself onto his feet. He walked to the garage door and fell to his ass, managing to not smash the bottle on his way down. He swigged again and positioned himself against the door so that he could see as the air clouded through - his head heavy.


He thought, “I hate grilling.”

Chapter 9 - At sea

Valero stood meditating at the Stern of a large sleek yacht. She was long and tapered at her tip, rounded out to sloping curve like that of a wasp and ending though her legs sat beneath her under the waves, ready to leap. Even at rest she portrayed speed and power. The light of the ship died as it left its small porthole window before it made it to the deck. This bestowed Valero with an undeserved conical, amber halo. The ship sat atop the waves like a shark laying easily at the surface. The sea was quite choppy, water nearly black against the graying sky and the clouds were moved out toward the sea. There, the fading sun pierced dimly in spots as though to only reveal the vast darkness and at her command a silhouetted figure, brilliant against the glooming dusk.  The Portuguese coast flanked his back approaching infinitely from both directions. The rain did not fall yet and there was no lightning or thunder, just wind, though it did not appear to be affecting the deck much. He stood and snapped a finger. A man came out holding a crystal goblet with a burgundy liquid inside. He bowed at the man and held it out. He reached out for it and then turned his head ever so slightly. He then waived his hand back ushering the servant away. 


He moved to the rear of the ship where he saw a man walking upon the waves, the water flattening out under his foot like snow having been shoveled in front of him. It stayed for about 3’ on either side of him and about 2 feet from his shoulders. As he approached the ship, the water raised like a stair case to meet the railing of the ship. He stood there and the water moved him like an escalator. Once he reached the zenith, he flipped around and landed in front of him and made a bow at the man who was already standing on the deck. As the man retreated from his bow, the fabric of his black and white garments became very threadbare and began to unravel. The thread raced around him in a torrent of motion until the cloud of grey and silver cloth fell down into a pair of low crop deep black jeans, slightly flared at the ends covering all but his toes. His shirt was a painted on tight white tucked shirt. The East Asian features of his face which had once been soft and supple were now rigid and squared, giving him a chiseled appearance. His round baldness of his head served only to contrast the stark, hollowness of his façade.


From his right pockets, he pulled out what looked like a large black marble. His fingers were short and quite thin. He held it to his narrow lips and tenderly whispered something at it. He flung it out to the sea, but before it could land, it spread out flat to an area roughly 50’x 40’, retaining its black, transparent hue. It exposed the remaining color of the background in which it sat motionless. With his other hand, he pulled out a long, slender piece of paper with pictographic writing on it. He rolled it into a tiny roll, held it too, to his lips and whispered something else. He threw it up in the air where it shattered and fell into the black space hanging out the back of the ship. An image appeared of circular sun charts, symbols and moving but hazy images. The men watched for a moment as the show played on. “Aha.” Valero spoke as though his brain had wrestled a mystery loose from its place. Wan clapped his hands and the ball return to one hand while the paper stretched out unraveled and smashed into a ball in the other. The men looked at one another and then bowed. Valero’s face was not as pleased as it had been moments before. “I opposed attempting to seize the book before. I stand behind that position now.” His hand motioned flatly in a wave parallel from his body out to the water. “When a predator cannot match the speed of his prey, he lays in wait until it is close enough to catch.”


“I see, then.” He said. “We have quite a bit to do now. Our plan appears to be… altered. Your efforts have been less than fruitful.”


“The time has yet to come for more direct action. Events are not ready yet to unfold as they should. It is ours if we are patient.” Wan’s mouth did not but barely move as he spoke. His words were temperate and still, the voice of oracle prediction. Wan’s eyes remained fixed at his counterpart, unblinking in the wind. As before, his clothes became threadbare once more. He leapt from them and he man vaulted into the air as they followed him like traces of silver light. A gust took grasp of him, flinging him out and in the air, far above the ship. His garment opened like a sail as he disappeared into the dusk. Valero’s face grimaced as his guest flew from site. He knew that it was a bad decision to send Wan to fetch the book, that it was simply too soon. He felt chastised by his words. This was a feeling he’d not been accustomed to in some time.


Valero’s Fingers snapped again. The door behind him opened as a short, withered man appeared from behind it. The man trembled as he approached. His course white hair flailed in the breeze that seemed not to affect Valero. Stubble ebbed across the old man’s face giving the wrinkles of his face a velveteen appearance. The frail man, clad in a white polo shirt, the collar askew, and his knee length shorts plaid blue and white flared flatly against his frame drew closer. Valero snapped his fingers once more as the servant appeared from the same door as the old man. He held a clear, delicately fluted goblet by its base in one hand, clean linen draped around his forearm starkly contrasting his black suit, shirt and shoes. The mans perfectly groomed mustache flaked with silver strands of hair that opposed his otherwise silver, thinning hair that had only but a few strands left on his head. The servant suave and refined pinned the decanter of burgundy behind the linen as he made his way to Valero without haste. “Pour.” Valero said to the servant. The man did immediately as instructed. The sound of the liquid filling the goblet sang in a way that only real crystal can. The decanter gurgled out as its contents slipped out. The servant presented his master with the glass as he stifled the flask in the hand holding it. Valero’s eyes rolled slightly as he nodded to the servant to provide it to the old man. He accepted the glass and held it in his trembling hand. His age revealed in his patchy skin. His gaze returned to the servant and he knew to leave them. The man pivoted on heel and returned through the door on the deck to the center of the ship. “Embaixador,” Valero paused. “Você treme. Por que?” [You tremble. Why?]


The old man gave a wince as Valero’s attention, He replied, [Because I am afraid of you. Because I am old. Because you are terrible in ways I have never seen in men.]


Valero’s mouth grinned at its edges, softening before he spoke again. [Old man, you are wise and honest. This is why you live.] He pointed to the drink in the ambassador’s hand. [Drink with me. We are friends, no?] The man stared blankly back at Valero.


He responded, [No. We are not friends. We are as man and monster but I will drink with you anyway. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.] His faces severe as his words were as daggers being thrown from his mouth.


[Caution, Ambassador. Caution in your words to me.] He took the goblet in his hands to his lips and emptied it. He removed the empty container and held it upside down by the base at its stem. [Water] he whispered. The glass drained instantly becoming a puddle at his feet. [Get out of my site before the monster eats you old man.] The old man backed away from Valero and moved back through the door.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chapter 8 - To bed

“So now that I have you liquored up, you think you can help me to the shower?” Justin poked at Chad as he continuing to have a laugh at the young man’s awkwardness in the situation. “Well… not actually into the shower but maybe to my room.”  He reached down and adjusted his makeshift kilt, his legs held one over the other in a polite sort of way as to only slightly embarrass the lad.


Now with a drop or two of spirits in his gut, Chad responded, “I would suggest you do a better job of keeping a nickel between those knees, Miss. Next thing I know, you’ll be eating pickles and ice-cream.” He looked over at Justin and pointed his finger all around him. “I’m surprised while you were squatted down digging into the back of the refrigerator on your little binge for food you didn’t drop out a class ring and a wrist watch out of that toll road you call a butt-hole.”


Justin’s mouth dropped to his chest in only a brief moment of shock, Speechless that the Chad from thirty minutes prior had the wit to say something clever, insulting and funny all at the same time. The man burst out in laughter. He wailed with hysterical delight at Chad’s response. “Well, well, well,” he interrupted himself with his own laughter, “aren’t you just a knee slapper.”


Chad joined in the laughter thinking for a moment he may have gone too far. “Look. I’m going to pour another for us and then we need to get to business if you are going to be in London on time. Look,” he paused as he picked up the glasses and walked toward the freezer door and plunged the glass into it and waited briefly for chunks of ice to drop, “I am not opposed to helping you out, I get paid to do this you know. But I think you need to see someone. I mean, for Christ’s sake, where are your clothes, Justin?” He paused again as he dropped about half a glass full of Belvedere in each glass, grabbed a half slice of lime and squeezed generously over each glass, letting the juice pour over his fingers and filter out the seeds and dropping a cherry to finish. He put his finger in the glasses and stirred them up chaotically. “I haven’t worked for you that long, but I know that you don’t scurry around in your kitchen stark naked when no one is looking, do you? I mean, can you even tell me what the hell is up with you running around your house exposed, not answering you phone? Seriously, the last time we spoke it was ‘Oh, cut out early, have a nice weekend,’ yet here we sit drinking and figuring out how the hell we are going to get you across an ocean.”


Chad’s frankness stunned him a bit but he was right. He needed to be here figuring out what the hell is going on rather than being off to Europe. “Fine. You’re right.” The words spilled out of his mouth tasting salty. Justin was not one to admit to an error in judgment easily. “But listen closely as I am only going to say this once. I am not going to the damned doctor, nor are they coming here so long as my heart is beating. Do you understand?” His tone had changed to be more commanding. Justin walked over to the black panel on the wall of the kitchen.  Marshall.” He said sternly.


“Yes, Justin. How may I be of assistance?” The pleasant, ambiguously masculine voice responded.


“Dial Valero’s cell number.” Justin stepped away from the panel. He flexed his arm gently as his hand made its way to his heavy head. The palm arched to cup the crescent of his hairline. His fingers extended as the weight of his arm pressed back his hair. He exhaled smoothly.


“Connected.” Marshall responded calmly. Several beeps and boops followed. The console rang five times and a voice popped on saying, (in Portuguese) [Unfortunately, I am not able to take your call right now. Please leave a message at the tone and I will call you back.]”


The voice sounded so sorry about whatever he was saying, Chad thought. Chad’s head had turned back to the sink where he’d continued to wipe the lime squeezing away though it had already been removed.


Justin responded without hesitation matching the dialect perfectly.  [My love. I am not feeling well and I don't see how I can make it for tea. I hope you are not feeling disappointed and I hope that I do not sound vain for thinking that you might be. I am going to get some rest here and I will try to get to where ever you are later this week. I miss you and hope you are not upset. Call me when you get a minute so we can revise the plan. Talk to you soon.]”


Justin looked up at Chad and said, “You are so fired… Mostly for being right. I don’t’ think I like that about you very much.” A moment passed as he crossed the room and grabbed his cocktail and swigged at it. “I don’t know why I surround myself with decent people.” He laughed as he sipped again.


Chad was taken back and didn’t know what to do but continue to wipe the lime juice from his hand with the wet bar rag. “Oh come on, you know I am not seriously firing you, Chad.” He looked up at the bartender. “At least not until I get upstairs to my room.” Justin pinched out a small chuckle as he swigged a bit more of his drink.


“Justin, you are a freak.”


“Oh now Chad, that is completely true, but you don’t even know the machinations of my madness. Of course, I don’t either.” He chugged the rest of his drink and motioned for his companion to do the same. “How about that ride back to my place?”


“This is your place.” Chad countered. Chad gulped the rest of his drink as well and after a moment to regain composure, he said, “Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?”


“No. Maybe later.” Justin shrugged Chad’s remark off as another friendly jibe. “Can you please help me to my room? Come on.” Justin paused. “You know… for a straight man, you sure are quick with those.”

Chad lowered his shoulder allowing Justin’s arm to hold on to him. Justin hopped down from the chair and used Chad as a large crutch. Chad’s body felt warm against Justin’s cool skin. His nakedness left his arms and chest to loose their heat. He felt woozy but good enough to walk. Chad guided him through the house and over to the stairway that led to his bedroom. Chad marveled at his employer’s taste in furnishings each time he was in the house. Everything seemed to have a place and purpose. Chad found this comforting. His life had been chaos since as far back as he could remember. His home was on the other side of town, literally on the wrong side of the tracks. He left home at 17 before completing high school. This held a secret shame for him but that was then and this was now. Paintings lined the walls. Wall mounted lamps that cast light down delicately, elegantly plotting the course like a series of runway lights. 


The kitchen was blessedly close to the library, but his room was in the rear of the third floor. They reached the entrance of his home and began the ascent round the massive staircase leading up to the first landing and then splitting off again on the 2nd floor and up onto the 3rd. By the first landing, Justin made Chad stop so that he could rest. Chad thought it best to be done with the walk and decided to take things into his own hands. Chad’s body tucked down and he moved toward Justin’s mid section in a slow embracing tackle. He picked the man up off his feet like a wiry bag of mulch and posted him up by the backs of the man’s legs so he would not fall. “What the hell do you think you are doing?” Justin protested. His voice strained as his weight pressed through his diaphragm into Chad’s shoulder.


“Just moving you up these stairs. If you cooperate, this will be a lot quicker.” Chad replied matter-of-factly. Chad stepped up each step making sure he had good footing. Like a mountain goat, he swiftly made it up and around to the third floor where he sat his employer down gently onto his feet, holding his shoulders until he regained his balance against the wall. “There. All done.” Chad said with pride.


“I guess so.” Justin responded. His voice revealed his relief.


 As he turned away to open the massive doors that opened up to his private room, Chad said, “Here you are sire.” The double doors stretched from floor to ceiling. The craftsmanship was evident over every inch. Chad was surprised how easily they opened considering their size. The wood was a rich brown, the color of honey and coffee interwoven in the detailed carvings of Greek gods at some party laying about eating and laughing at the edge of a grove of trees and a stream. As the doors opened, they revealed a large room lined with large block windows separated by white marble columns. The floor sank down three steps, the mahogany floors as most of the rest of the house continued in this room as well. The side of the room opened up to a shower room, vanity and tub. A sitting dressing area along the other wall was further set off to what he supposed as a closet. The ceiling in this room was quite high and rounded at the top. Roman blinds rolled up to their tops hung evenly atop the windows showing out to the evening landscape. From here, the body of the estate could be seen from the four poster bed that loomed in the center of the room. Massive in size, it seemed so much larger than any bed Chad had ever seen in real life before, let alone slept in himself. Every surface was clean and polished, luxurious and stylish. Justin looked on at the face of his helper who was immodestly amazed to behold his bedroom. This made Justin feel proud but awkward for the first time since he’d been provided cover for his body. “Okay, pal. You have been a great help here. I really appreciate it.” Justin walked past Chad who still stood at the doorway shocked back into reality from these words.


“Uh… okay then. Do you think that we should call Eddy and let him know that everything is okay here or was there anything else before I go?”


“That is a great idea. Could you please? Then if you wouldn’t mind, I am going to just take a hot shower and lay down. It would be great if you could come back tomorrow morning.” Justin said as he headed slowly to the outside of the room where a glass wall parted the rest of the room from the shower area. The glass was etched in the center for about three feet witch was enough to hide the center of a man’s body but still revealed thousands of one inch tiles.


“Sure. No problem.” Chad said as he walked back a few steps and reached for the doors, closing them as he went. The doors closed silently until they reached their frame with a click. Justin pressed a clear glass panel similar to others throughout the housel on the side of the snow white vanity by the shower. He touched the black screen and a louder “Click-Clink” sounded at the door alerting him that they were now locked. Another touch and the windows darkened allowing light in but not out. A third touch lowered the blinds down their full length until the rested at their foot against the floor. He pressed a few more buttons turning lights on in the shower area and then the sound of water falling like rain followed. Steam fell from the ceiling and a cloud formed from the stall. He unclasped the cloth that hung on his waste with a flick of his thumb and it fell to the floor where he stood now once again bare to the room. The tile floor felt cool against his bare feet. Playing with the panel one last time, the room resonated with Schubert. Life ebbed its way back to him. The cocktail and food were in his system now and he felt whole again. He lamely made his way into the cloud of steam that flowed from the shower like a warm half lit fog.  

Chapter 7 - Carolyn at the hopsital

Carolyn turned the corner and was on the approach to rescue her son. She saw them pealing bits of black, wet and puss riddled flesh from his chest, muscle revealed below as the men picked at it – “My baby. My baby. My baby,” she wept.


She lunged out as though to shield her son from the monsters that harvest at his flesh. Walter crossed the path in front of her. His body stood like a sand castle against the tide. His arms standing strait out, holding her at bay. His hand went to his face. His finger pressed the center of his lips and he said to her, “Carolyn. If you approach them, if you interfere, they will remove you from here and you will not see him.” She recoiled from him. Her hand reared back and striking out at him, slapping his face squarely. The resonance of the clap made a nurse turn her head at them briefly.


“How… How could you let this happen? How could you, Walter?” He shrunk at her words, the accusation holding true inside him. He looked as though the beam that held him upright had snapped. His eyes bowed to the ground and he stood down from her. This was the first sign of feeling from him since this happened. Carolyn stood suspended in the corridor feet from the team. Walter melted into the walls.


Finally, Doctor Reeve moved away from the boy and came toward them. “You must be the boy’s mother then?” he asked without the expectation of or the pause for an answer. “We will need to ask you some questions separately. His arm rose past her and his bloody, char marked gloved fingers motioned. Two men who had been otherwise unnoticed moved toward them. The identically unmemorable men approached at his request. The men wore black and white security uniforms. The clubs on their sides, their legs and arms all moved in unison toward the couple. “These men are going to escort you to different rooms,” the doctor said.


“What about my baby, I can’t leave him,” she cried out the tall, unmoved doctor.


“He is going to live but we need to figure out some details and make certain that we can arrange for his care. Now, either you go willing with these gentlemen or we will have the police here to assist you.” He motioned her to a room on the right, the other guard moved instinctively to a room down the hall on the left.


Carolyn looked over to the red-black pool on the floor under what looked like her son’s torn carcass. She fell to her knees unable to walk as her sobs boiled out. Her wailing so intense, it pushed silently out of her as she wept breathlessly. The doctor’s face softened slightly as he looked at the guard and said, “For Christ’s sake, Jerry, help the woman up. What the hell is wrong with you?” The guard mindlessly grabbed the woman up, carrying her into a room labeled, ‘Family Counseling Room.’ The room had a coffee pot with coffee, some cups with appropriate condiments sitting on the edge of a counter with a sink. There was a soft faux leather couch, brown and tan squares on its cushions.  A round glass top, steel framed table with horseshoe armed seats sat up to it. The room was gently lit and cool and there were two folded white blankets on the table to the side of the couch. The man laid her on the couch, still weeping. Her eyes were black and sunk into her face. A few minutes later, a woman entered the room. She wore a silky frock that glided around her body as she stepped. Her face was made and her hair rested gently feathered on her shoulders. She wore thin, tall heals and she had gold bracelets, big earrings and costume jewelry on her fingers. In her hand she had a small white container which contained a tiny white pill.


“Excuse me, my name is Claudia. I am the hospitals Social Services Liaison.”


Carolyn looked up in terror at the woman. Carolyn thought how strangely she looked like one of Charlie’s Angels. Carolyn gasped at the woman’s approach.


“What is your name, Misses…” she invited a response.


“Bishop.” Carolyn hoarsely whispered.


“Fine then, Mrs. Bishop. Everything is going to be fine. Now, I have brought you something to help you. It’s a tranquilizer. You have been through quite a bit and you look like you sure could use it.” She reached out with her hand, holding the tiny cup pinched between her fingers. “Trust me, sweetie, you will feel better if you take this. I know.” The woman’s head nodded caringly, compassionately at Carolyn. Her voice meek and sincere and kind, she wooed Carolyn’s trembling hand out flat in front of her in agreement to take the pill. “Here, sweetie, I’ll just get you a nice cool cup of water so you can get that down, okay?” Her question clearly was rhetorical as she spun around in her heals, her brown and beige flowered dress spinning out its length to match her new movements.


“Why are we really here, Claudia?” Carolyn used her name quietly like blame.


“Well, Mrs. Bishop, we need to figure out what happened back there to your son. He’s going to need a lot of care and we need to know that this was really an accident and not abuse. Do you understand how important this is, sweetie?”


“I see.” Her voice was a noiseless movement of lips and air.


“So, let’s talk a bit, okay? Let’s find out what happened here and let’s work on getting a strategy together to take care of that boy of yours. First, why don’t we just start then at the beginning. What happened exactly?”


Carolyn recounted the story to her, how she’d been in the kitchen cooking with her mother and her sister and sister-in-law and so on. She told her about how she’d been going out and getting the supplies for the party, how she’d just gone that morning to pick out his cake and how she’d left him outside with Walter and the other men in the family. That the kids were all playing out in the back yard and so on. Then she said that she heard screaming from the back yard as Walter burst into the house. She went on from there.


Halfway through the story, Claudia’s hand stretched across the table to grab Carolyn’s, her eyes so sympathetic, agreeing and nodding the whole time. After Carolyn had recounted the story thus far, Claudia got up from the table and grabbed one of the blankets from the table and draped it across Carolyn’s shoulders. She pressed the sides of her arm and guided her from the table to the couch. She moved the other blanket from the table and folded it halfway again and leaning it against the arm of the couch like a pillow. She said, “Now, Carolyn, that pill I gave you should help you fall asleep. I’m surprised you haven’t fallen asleep already, in fact. I want you to stay here and I’ll come get you in a little while. She reached her hand to the wall, dimming the lights further and gently closing the door behind herself. The quiet, cool room lulled Carolyn, pulling her into the couch as she drifted off.

Chapter 6 - Walter makes it to the hospital

The boy in Walters’s arms sat motionless, no longer screaming or crying. The black and red flesh turned and bubbled at the surface from where the boy’s nylon shirt had succumbed, melting into the skin from the heat of the overturned grill. The air stood in vacuum, no sound, no wind as the man grabbed his son up from the car, having slid to a stop, ripping the gear shift on the console into park. Walter held the boy gently, his arms like two muscular poles as the boy lay across him. No noise, no whimper or moan, only the boy’s shallow breath disclosed the boy’s nightmarish pain. Walter felt the sticky wet of his son’s clothes as they pressed against his arms. He kicked the door as he attempted to enter the emergency room but the automatic door only served to slow his ingress. The hard thud of his food hitting the door shook the glass sending ripples throughout the face of the building. Occupants swiveled in their seats, necks and heads all turned to see Walter moving the building from his way. No one spoke as Walter pressed through the otherwise ailing but non-emergency hospital patrons in line at the triage desk. A young woman sat casually eating a donut in one hand, a pen, a clipboard and a large computer screen the size of a console television sat on the desk as she casually, absently handed out forms and orders to take a seat. “What seems to be the problem today, sir?” she said as her eyes rolled to greet him. Walter grabbed her attention from the screen by kicking the outside wall of her counter, worn from arms and stomachs leaning on it day in and day out. The sound of Walter’s foot smashing against the side of the desk released a startling, base like ‘THWAM.” The loudness caused the attendant to jump back and let a small bark of fear escape her lips. 


“Listen. My son is hurt. He is in a great deal of pain and I need some help, NOW. I want you to put down that donut, get up off of your ass and get a doctor and a gurney. Do you understand or will I have to kick down that Goddamn door and find my own doctor?” His voice was calm. No inflection. Walter’s eyes were wide and severe. His anger and fear pierced here and she could tell that he meant what he was saying. She did not argue.


“She reached over to the side of the desk and picked up a microphone on a silver, bendable pole. She pressed a red light on the counter and said into the microphone, “Emergency, code 19. Emergency, code 19. Repeat. Emergency, code 19. All available medical personnel and security to the triage desk as soon as possible.” Her voice too was demanding as she articulated each word precisely, never moving her eyes from his gaze.


Almost immediately, the doors leading to the hidden labyrinth of curtains, white waxed tile, bags of fluid and medical staff barely moving, swung open as two tall, men in white coats burst out, their arms swung back to their waists as they approached Walter. The Man on the left said, “My name is Dr. Bimson. This is Doctor Reeve. What has happened?”


Walter recounted the events as he remembered them. The last few minutes a fog to him, he could not recount how long it had truly been so he guessed at less than 15 minutes had passed. As accurate as any guess, the Doctors moved away as a white sheet covered mattress gurney burst out of the door behind the men. A woman was wielding an oxygen mask and tank followed while several other staff members came forth bearing various devices, supplies and implements. They swung around and pulled the gurney back at great speed. The doors smacked the rubber stoppers and gave a shutter as they stood aside while the heard move past. Walter went back into the back. The doctors told the man that he could stay and watch but not to speak or interfere if he wanted the boy to survive. The people buzzed around the boy as Walter watched on. The curtain room filled with shouts and commands for instruments that had appeared from a tray. Monitors were being attached to the boys head, feet and neck while IVs were placed into both arms. He did not move. He stood there like a statue, cold, unblinking as they conducted the affairs of saving the boy’s life. The blood was draining from the man’s face, his soul shrinking back from his eyes, staring. Walter could feel his insides shattering.


The floor was dripping with charcoal laden fluid, bits of skin and streams of cloudy saline. The boy’s screams were deafening as the doctors began to pick and scrub and the wounds. Three men held the boy to the gurney as he tried to break free from the tormenting, the picking, and the scraping of his bleeding, tender flesh. The doctors worked the wounds for a very long time. No one could be sure how long exactly. After some time, the boy’s screams subsided as the trauma gave way to numb distance. The boys breathing was shallow but steady as he laid there, eyes open like a gasping fish being scaled. Occasionally, his face twitched or his arm jerked in reaction to new pain. Walter could now hear his wife’s wailing and lamenting in the lobby as they’d managed to arrive. Walter turned, his stony face looking on his wife. Her face sagged – her eyes like red slits. The green hollows in there center were the color fear and grief. As the contrast their background, Walter could feel how they cut through him, into him, searching, stabbing him.


This was really the moment, the true moment when Walter died.

Chapter 5 - The Negotiation

The streets crowed in the market place. People huddled shoulder to shoulder, movements in the current of flesh, waves crashing in their voices and eddies formed at the booths and shops that lined the street as it wound around the horizon. Awnings and carts sheathed the side of the street on both sides selling everything imaginable. The heads of the people moved back and forth with life and living. 


He was glad to be here. He loved to look at the people as they bustled by him, doing what they do. Xhi breathed in the smells of the street as he stood under the wide arch that led from the room where he had stayed the night before. Morning had already come. There were odors of cooking meats and steamed vegetables. They mixed with the smells of boiling pots of tea and fish and those other odors that only people produce. The smells made him feel connected again, like he belonged. He took a look and marveled a moment at the uniformity of the architecture. He had become accustomed to the hodge-podge and disharmony of the buildings in New York. Here though, here the buildings followed like the curves of the hills in the surrounding landscape, at least in most places, at least the places where the West had not folded over upon the East.  His view was just above the heads of the people passing by.  It was entertainment to see how they were all so totally oblivious to the world that was really around them. He remembered when he was one of them, too.


He stepped out into it, keeping pace with the hurried current moving toward the center where the traffic was moving past the peddlers. It felt like being on the bank of a large river and lunging into its current. He walked past a booth set up along the side of the street. Meat was being served from large boiling kettles. Various foods were smoked, barbecued, slathered in heavy Chinese sauces and rice being served in fist sized balls covered in sesame seeds. He looked up at the vendor and met his stare. A short nod-like bow and he returned to keeping his head down, determined but lively in his steps he meandered through the streets of the city. The man’s bald head covered by a round thatched hat. His black robe covered most of his oat white pants. The bag peeked out of the flap of the arm of his robe on his left side. People crowded the streets as he made his way block after block.


As he turned the corner, he knew that this was a twist in the path he’d not wished to happen quite so soon. The alley was about 80 feet long and 15 feet wide. The people poured past the entrance to the alleyway from where he had turned. The buildings were varying in height and all made of motley brick work. Small windows on both sides of the ally hung wire that strung from side to side, as laundry hung drying in the semi-lit warmth. There were some cans full of refuse and a short row of bicycles at one end. Rusty, corroded pipes lined some of the blotchy brick walls while old ventilation boiled steam and blew warm air into the alley, straining with age. Half of a sun bleached advertisement spanned one of the walls from ground to roof while both roves had electrical wiring spanning their lengths. Each building displayed a skinny, boarded up door about every 18 feet, each locked on the outside with skeleton key locks. Some doors were red and others were yellow though the paint too had aged and was pinker than red and more brown than yellow.


Xhi!” a voice called from behind him. He felt it pulse through the air seeking his ear.


“Wan” he responded without turning, but halting in his step. “You are earlier than I had expected, how clever of you.” His words passed his lips quietly.


“You are too kind, Xhi.” The man paused politely. “I wonder. Has your path led you to happiness?” Wan said with genuine interest, his face open and gracious and identical to that of Xhi.


Wan, all paths lead to their destiny. Lord Buddha said, “Neither fire nor wind, birth nor death can erase our good deeds.”


Xhi, you are gifted with such eloquence as always, of course. Lord Buddha said, “A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker. A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker.” The man’s face was unchanged. His hand waived a bit as he spoke in a comfortable way.


Wan’s left hand raised shoulder length. His fingers pressed to firmly meet his thumb. His lips moved slightly and the corners of the street closed at both ends, walling up to the back of both Xhi and Wan.  “We should need a small amount of privacy.”


Smiling, Xhi turned to great his brother. The men behind him stood sentry as the ally way on both sides now closed. “Wan!” XHI’s hands outstretched. The two men greeted each other cordially, embracing as soon as they were with in reach of one another. Upon their embrace, an audible crackle snapped in the air smelled as though rain were coming. “Wan, it is good to see you. How I have missed you.” The men were identical in every aspect. Neither man had a spot of hair, leaving their scalps to shine. Both men were wearing the same outfit except one was white on top; black on bottom and the other was his opposite. They possessed the same features in every other conceivable way.


“How true. I must admit, all is not right when we are not together. Unfortunately, Xhi, this is not a social occasion. I have come for what you have in that bag.” The joy in his face faded as did Xhi’s. Their faces now placid oceans, unmoving, like quicksilver. Each man backed up slowly, bowing in respect at the other though never losing eye contact with his reflection.


“Though I would deny you not of my own accord, Wan, I must confess my regret for denying your request. It is unfortunate.” Xhi said, his voice inexpressive but polite in his dissension. “Though this request cannot be met satisfactorily, is there perhaps something that I may offer you of mine in its stead?”


Xhi, you are gracious but I must decline. The book is all I require. Should you reconsider, be assured you will have my gratitude.” His brother postured with a duplicate manor.


“Ah – well then it is that we are at an impasse. Perhaps it is that you would be generous enough with your time to wait a few days until my need of the book has passed and then I might be able comply with your request.” He submitted his question out of courtesy knowing that it could not be accepted.


“This is indeed unfortunate. I will not be able to delay and my need of the book is great. We are willing to negotiate for it.” His words flowered from his lips.


Xhi’s expression flashed with his curiosity. His eyebrow rose slightly and his lips smiled at their corners. “Please. What are your terms?” he said.


“We would have the book, Xhi, at terrible cost. We have already considered this cost and are willing to pay it. It is expected that our meeting will not bear fruit; however, we wish to forgo any unpleasantness whatsoever. Great is our desire. Admitting this is no shame. We offer you, the Pangu Axe.” Wan’s face was stern and unmoving as he waived he hand and forward came one of the men from behind him. Xhi’s face washed of its curiosity and was replaced by disbelief.


Wan’s minion came round, standing before him. His suit was stunning. Black and crisp and tailored, it fit him and moved comfortably with his gate. The man stood slightly shorter than Wan and Xhi but only by an inch or so. The man’s face seemed to be pulled back ever so slightly, making him look as though he were hiding some pain. The man’s eyes were thin and his brows were cut tight above them. His hair was laid back over his neck and fell to the shoulders of the jacket. There were small marks about his face and hands, tiny dots in his skin, bumps that were slightly raised like grains of sand. The men were all dressed the same – they all looked the same. There was a certain mob like charm about them. The man bowed before wan, hands to his sides and returned to an attentive stance.


Without warning, Wan’s hands unfurled a blurring series of pokes and punches on the man beginning at his neck and moving around his torso until he let a forceful poke at his sternum. There were smacks across his face and thuds where the blows hit his body. The man gasped silently as his eyes rolled aback into their sockets.


From Wan’s robe, he pulled out a small jade handled dagger and he placed it atop the man’s scalp, blade down so that the tip of it, only three inches long, curving like a snake pricked his skin. It stayed, swaying like a top on its axis. Wan’s hands moved as though he were wielding dough around in the air and the blade spun around the man’s neck as though to core an apple. The score sounded out like cabbage being broke open as it severed the scull from the bones in the neck. The cut was clean. The head fell to the ground and the dagger returned to his hand. The man knelt at Wan’s feet before it fell to the side opposing his now separated head. The blood did not spew out but only drained slightly from the gaping hollow of his neck. His tongue swelled out from his open mouth and his eyes lids danced about as his jaw shuttered.


Another sweep of Wan’s hand and the blade flew once again, cutting the man from neck to groin, popping through the man’s collar bone, ribs, sternum and finally his pelvic bone with a sharp series of cracks as they broke and popped and separated the flesh. The fabric of the jacket and his slacks tore effortlessly as the blade ripped the body apart. The blade flanked around the man’s side and continued in its course down his right leg loosing the flesh and fabric from the bone and core of the body. The ragged tissue gave forth a smell like old pork as Wan’s eyes danced about the carcass as though leading the blade to its task.


The blade again returned to Wan’s hand. Clean from having left every fluid intact in its mark, it was placed again in his robe. Wan’s hand outstretched in offering, gracious and poised, his face had relaxed again and a glow beamed back a subtle release of pleasure. He move back a few small steps and bowed in offering to Xhi.


Xhi had watched the carnage with the respect of a surgeon watching a man be cut open or a patron of a butcher shop. He stepped forward cautiously to inspect the inside of the corpse flayed out before him. In its center, the blood covered vertical crescent peeked out of the open body. He could see the haft of it lodged in and about the freshly spoiling organs of the man. The insides looked as though they had been cherry glazed, like a knife sticking out of a pie. He knew the blade well. His face positioned itself around slightly tilted out from his shoulders. His head cocked to the side to better view the razor like face of the axe-blade. The axe once had been used on him as his right side let a shudder. He stood again. “Why do you have this?” he managed to expel the question over his teeth and out of his mouth.


“We are serious in our wish for the book, Xhi. We have gone to great lengths to acquire this. Many have perished far worse than this man in order to bring such a prize. Now we have placed our treasures on the table. Will you take this in exchange for that book you are carrying or will you reject our negotiations?” The man’s voice was delicate but flat. His words filled saccharine with their sincerity but cautious in their tone.


“I am afraid that we cannot come to such an agreement… even when something this preciously gained is offered in exchange.” He knew these were the last of the words even as he spoke them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chapter 4 - Waking up in the house

His eyes were open in the nearly dark room as though he were in a trance. His chin crusted with dry saliva. His eyes were pealed back only slightly, matching his exposed mouth. He knew that he was there on the couch – he’d regained self realization. He rose or rather; he made the effort to rise. For what he thought would be ample energy to move his limbs did nothing but make them shift a bit and fall back to their station. He marshaled his will to move onto his side so that he could thrust his legs from their root and onto the ground where he hoped his body might follow. Gravity did not fail him as one leg and then the other poured out onto the floor stopped only by the compression of his knees into the rug beneath them. He genuflected at the settee, summoning the will to stand and to move toward the kitchen where he instinctively knew he needed to eat. His lips sat cracked and dry and he could not manage much to focus his eyes in the shadow rich setting.  The whole of his remaining strength propelled him up to a standing if not stable position where his legs moved as though being yanked about like a marionette toward the open, unlit doorway. Colliding into every wall in the corridor from his library to his kitchen where earlier he’d nimbly raced through – he managing to avoid the breakables along the way.  He completed his journey to the kitchen, barely aware of anything but his hunger.


Standing before the reflective grey mass that was the door of his stainless steel refrigerator, he swayed as though he may simply collapse to the ground, his bones having been turned to jelly. His arm lifted and hand extended to the nook in the door and he gave a tug. The door swung open. The light rolled over him, brighter than anything he could ever remember - as though the doors had somehow been hiding the sun behind them. He reached instinctively toward the shelf in the door and grabbed the container of orange juice, ripping off the lid and casting it away from his hand as he tilted back his head and raised it to his lips, letting the fluid drain into his mouth. Down it went as he drank the entire contents of the quarter full jug. He stood there for a moment and dropped the jug on the floor by his feet as his lips burned in the cracks as though they were being cut with glass. He reached for a small wedge of brie and shoved it down his throat not even tasting it. He grabbed everything he could get his hands on, grapes, pickles, roast beef, a beer – anything. He could feel the life returning to his body as the cramping began in his stomach from his ravenous glut through the refrigerator.


The ache in his stomach helped him to abruptly realize his surroundings. He turned his neck to analyze the room but as he did, he felt the muscles in his neck and shoulders twinge with stinging, tedious, pain.


“I am naked” he said, his modesty recovered, his voice cracking at a whisper. He looked down at himself wondering what the hell had happened to him. He took both hands and rubbed the better part of his body, testing each inch of skin and hair to see if it was injured or missing. He reached to his masculinity and found it was intact, reaching to his posterior, up and around to his ears, eyes, hair, neck and chest. “Still there” he thought as he felt along the oddly textured, scarred flesh of his torso. He picked gobs of crust out from his eyes and clearly could tell by the smell from his arms that he had slept past his deodorant. The harsh light of the refrigerator cast clean shadows upon his body. The contour of the pectoral muscles, the cast shadows out to his shoulders, the cleaving, radiant silhouette, the cut of his stomach muscles bristling with the hair of his torso - leading against the black background and the light tenderly licked the round of his leg. “How long have I been out?” He looked over at the clock. 11:45 PM it read. “I’ve been out for a while.” he said, his voice still dry and horse. He stood there in his nakedness, light pouring out of the cool, open doors.


“Mr. Bishop,” a voice gently questioned from behind him, “Sir… are you okay?” It paused only slightly and then continued, “Uh… I came because the driver called and said he could not reach you. I was a little worried about you.”


Justin’s backbone found itself. The sound of the young man’s tenor words involuntarily clenched the muscles firm in his naked backside. Even in the shadow, the white flesh contrasted against the otherwise ruddy, lightly browned skin. Justin’s head rose so that his chin was now slightly lifted and his hands fell upon the sides of his body grasping at the body of his hips, his fingers lay outside the hair of his crotch and his thumb pressed gently into the fleshy summit of his rear arch.


Chad. I think I am okay now.” He said this without ever turning his head to look at the younger man. He stood there proud as he would ever be. “I think I will need your assistance, however.” He paused as well, collecting his breath and forcing what would otherwise not be a possible steady, clear voice to come from his mouth. “How long have you been standing there, Chad?”

“Well, sir…” he stammered. “I walked in about the time you were stooped in the refrigerator… enjoying a snack. If you are truly interested, mostly, all I saw was your bare back and nothing more than a plumber would show… at least until you stood up that is. Then, obviously, I see you now.”


“I see,” Justin, smirked a bit. Letting the embarrassment flow over him - embarrassing situations had never really been much of a deterrent for him, not since he and his mother were in church together. “Well, Mr. Chad, I am pleased to have provided for you what must be the finest show you’ve seen this evening. Say anything less than that and you’ll be without a job.” Justin’s arm raised, forefinger extended and motioned back and forth followed by a chuckle as his head lowered and shoulders bounced in response. “I’m not going to lie to you. I have not a fucking clue what the hell is going on any better than you do. So I shall not begin to condescend to you and concoct some implausible lie. Honestly, the last thing I remember is feeling light headed and going through the box of books you brought me. Would it be too much to trouble you for a hand please?”


“Uh… Sure…” His voice agreed still questioning. After a short unanswered moment, Chad moved like a gazelle to be at Justin’s side. He grasped his arm around Justin’s mid section and placed his shoulder down for him to take it. Chad was strong, but Justin could tell that he did not share his ability to overlook a thing such a modestly. Chad’s muscles quaked tensely at the awkward and unprecedented intimacy they were now sharing.


“You are quite the gentleman, Chad, thank you so very much. Now, if you please, I feel as though modesty requires I should clothe myself, don’t you? I wish to start by perhaps having you hand me that table cloth, just there in the foyer. Would you mind doing that for me please? You’ll make someone very lucky one day, I’m sure.” He giggled at his comment, hoping it would ease his rescuer’s anxiety. “And help me to that stool over by the island first if you would.”


“Yes, Mr. Bishop.” Chad responded to the light heartedness of his patient. “Why don’t I help you over the chair in the sitting room? Then, I think we should call for a doctor, sir.”


“Uh… How about this instead? How about we cut the crap for a little while and you call me Justin. I would say you are being a bit more like a friend than an arms length employee now, wouldn’t you?” He paused only for a breath, then said, “Then, lets rather, help me to my bedroom where I will bathe, and I will need some assistance from you in packing my luggage and I’ll also need you to get me new flight arrangements so that I can still be in London for tea with Valério. I assure you, I will be eternally grateful for your help with this.”


“Let me understand. You have no idea why you are standing naked, practically helpless in your own kitchen and have not so much as packed a bag yet… yet you don’t think it a good idea to go to a doctor.... Justin?” The accent on the name and on inflection made Justin laugh though it revealed the cracking in his voice.


“How is that morsel of modesty coming then, Chad?” Chad looked down at the man’s exposed loins, turning his glance back to his employer’s eyes and then darted toward the foyer to grab the cloth that lay draped across the fine, thin legged Federalist table that greeted guests with a waft of potpourri in matching, Tiffany basket. Back quickly, Chad handed the material to Justin keeping constant eye contact with him to avoid a straying, uncomfortable look to take place again.


“Well,” another rolling laughter interrupting his response, “We could stay here, you with your arms occasionally around me, your face only degrees from knowing me in a more cherished sort of way while we debate the pros and cons of going to seek the care, I use the term loosely, of a physician, or you could simply comply. How about you make a quick decision then?”


Chad’s face reddened even in the dimly lit kitchen, clearly his discomfort was excruciating for the young man. “Fine, but not having a doctor to look you over is on your own head then.” He said, rolling his eyes.


“While you help me up to my room, why don’t I amuse you with a curious little story as to why I am not particularly interested in giving my body over to a doctor for a quick look-see?”  Justin’s voice regained its composure. “Stop off here and let’s get a quick cocktail you and me. Plus, I don’t need quite as much help as all of this; just a shoulder will do until we get to the stairs. You strike me as a ‘Vodka, Tonic, lime and a cherry’ kind of guy.”


“… Alright then,” Chad acquiesced. ‘God knows I could use a drink after this,’ he thought. 

Chapter 3 - Introduction to Portuguese Man and Book

A blond, green eyed man with a strong jaw and trimmed hair sat comfortably back in the reclining chair at a clean topped mahogany desk. A palm pilot and a silver, jade shaded lamp reflected off its glass like surface. A granite fireplace, tall and thin sat to his right. Shelves upon shelves held innumerous books in his enclave office. The three panel glass, floor to ceiling window behind him silhouetted his face slightly in the midday sun. Long, camel colored, velvet drapes hung to their sides as white sheers covered half of the glass, illuminating the fabric slightly. He sat, elbows firmly planted on his desk, hands outstretched and touching each other at their tips. His face unyielding as his counterpart spoke.


The dark haired man sat in one of the symmetrically opposing fat, short backed ruddy brown leather chairs. His deep grey suit accented his faint olive skin and contrasted the black shirt as it casually flapped open at the collar revealing his graceful neck and groomed wisps of chest hair.  He was set back, his body firmly placed in the seats embrace. His legs were crossed, and his arms lay elbow extended over each arm to accommodate his clasped hands. His watch revealed by the tension on the fabric of his jacket. His brown eyes were full, round and unpolluted complemented by dark, perfect brows. He surveyed the blond man’s face. His lips were full, the bottom plump but chiseled.  They moved smoothly across his white teeth as he amused his counterpart with stories of his family and his home in Portugal. The 5 o’clock shadow only enhanced his beauty. He said,  [in purtugese] “I can not wait for you to meet my parents and my brothers. They are sure to love you. How could they not?” His arms lifted while elbows stayed in their place. His hands opened and fingers flared out in agreement with his words. His face was bright, his smile extending out to his muscular jaw line.

The blond man spoke, his hands pulling back toward his body and positioning themselves in mimic. [in Portugese] "You appear excited for me to get to know your family. Does this mean that I can expect something more than a visit when you are in the city?” His right hand clasped together and his forefinger remained extended, pointing down and poking the desk gingerly, “ Perhaps I could arrange a stay in Bordeaux for a week, just the two of us? Then, we meet your family for a few days in Alto Alentejo. This would be bliss.”

The dark haired man responded with a chuckle saying, [continuing in Portugese] "With you, I would stay in a swamp. How about we make it for about a month from now? I have a few things to clean up with the Ambassador and I know my mother will need that long at least to start cooking."

The blond man’s eyes squinted as he responded with a smirk. Bordeaux is not so glamerous as a swamp but I am sure it will prove adequate. Now as for this little adventure, I know we cannot be together every moment and that you have some duties to attend to, but I am still hoping that we will be able to spend some time together at least part of the week. You do not have to be as busy as you are, you know? I can make it so that you would never want for this business again - other than that international relations aspect.”

His brows released his smile and his face reflected a sarcastic response. “Yes. Well, Mr. Bishop,” he said as his eyes rolled, “I have no ring on my finger so I shall not become a housewife just yet. I will make time to be with you of course. We will see each other enough, you will see.

Okay. your plane leaves at Eleven O'clock this evening. Don't over pack like last time. We can pick things up as we go,or at least, I would love to be able to dress you if you let me and we can't if you pack so much they do not let you on the flight.” His attitude changed as he said this, he was now half requesting and half enticing.

Fine, whatever you say. You want to buy new shoes so I can't pack a suitcase. I promise not to over pack my luggage. Now, you have to promise me that you will not buy more than three pairs of shoes." Both men burst out laughing. After a moment, the men fell silent again.

 Valério, I would promise you anything in my power. If it is six shoes that will make you happy, then so shall it be." The blond mans eyes softened as he said this. The sincerity was clear in his voice.

 “Justin, Valério paused thoughtfully, you take things too seriously sometimes. Have all of the shoes in Europe if that is what you want."

Valério stood up, straightening his jacket and his tie. He walked casually beside the tapestry rug that covered the mahogany floor that matched the desk where Justin sat. Justin’s chest held his breath. Valério’s proximity, Justin’s inability to see Valério excited him, though his breathing slowed, his eyes closed and he recovered. Valério’s shoes tapped mutely with each step. “Justin,” the man said in English through his thick Iberian accent, “I am going to the cottage now. I will be showering and then I am going to pack my things and I am going to have the driver take me to the airport. The Embaixador [Ambassador] is meeting with some colleagues and wants me to attend him in Valença [Valencia] next week, you see me, Okay?


The corner of Justin’s lips tipped up with a smirk and his eyebrows furrowed compassionately at Valério. “Very well,” he said, “I will be at the 5 Maddox Street Hotel by Monday morning. London. 9:00 A.M. GMT. Meet me downstairs for tea.” Valério winked at Justin. He put his right foot out, placing only his heal on the ground and forced his weight between the toes of his left foot and the heal of his right. His arms cocked back in dueling L-shapes, and Valério pivoted as his arms juxtaposed. He walked through the door to the nook office and out into the main chamber of the private library. As he crossed under the exaggeratedly elongated archway and lifted his feet off the ground bringing them back down in a triplet of taps before moving forward. The muted clicks of his shoes slowly disappeared out into the distance as he descended the stairs in the towering library.


Justin stared blankly out into the library for a few minutes. The books lining the shelves were a fine collection that gave him a great source of pride – every subject of even modest interest lay in his collection. The walls of all four stories were striped with a rainbow of books in sizes great and small, thick and thin, old and new. Some old, some fantastically old or interesting books lay in his collection. Those sat under UV shielded security glass in this literary palace in the center of the room on the first floor in a venerated position. He had a running of Benjamin Franklin’s, “Silence Dogood” letters, an original, signed copy of Huckleberry Finn, a manifest from a Dutch slave ship, an authenticated copy of Miguel de Cervantes’, “Don Quixote” circa 1670,  a signed, first printing of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s, “Hound of the Baskervilles,” among dozens. He had been collecting since he was just a boy. “Alas, Babylon,” by Pat Frank actually by Harry Hart Frank, 1959, his first signed first printing, but his favorite contemporary work, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” John Berendt, now that was a book he had  read at least a dozen times.  It was his favorite. His head snapped from the library as the bell rang for the gate.


He reached over and adjusted the black acrylic screen that sat atop his desk. The display revealed a clean schematic drawing of the grounds and all of their contents in a ready, managed way.

A moment later, the screen displayed four angles of what appeared to be a delivery vehicle inside of which was a burly, slack-jawed man with a look of confusion and impatience. A voice spoke from it say, “Uhhh… Hey there, I have a delivery for this address.”

“Wait there...” He responded. His hand move slightly to the side where it hit a button that looked like a bull-horn. His voice flowed throughout the house as he again spoke to the monitor saying, “Marshall?”

“Yes, Justin,” The screen responded.

Marshall, open the gate and escort the driver to the delivery entrance please.”

“Of course, Justin. I’ll instruct the gentleman now.”

“Robert, there is a delivery here. Please see to it that the package is placed in the library. I have been expecting it for some time.” 

“Yes, sir,” a voice responded back. He overheard the voice call out to the gate, “After the gate opens, please follow the driveway to the far right side where you will find a small road leading from the main drive. There are lights to assist you. Follow them and a man in denim by the name of ‘Chad’ will sign for the package if you please.”

“Uhhh… Sure” said the delivery man. A buzzing sound followed by the mechanical clicking and humming of the retracting gate followed. The engine of the truck accelerated and faded out of shot of the microphone. Justin followed the progress of the delivery vehicle from the weight sensors in the drive as well as camera triangulation. “What a marvelous device,” he thought to himself.


Justin pressed his finger to the loud speaker icon on the screen again. “Robert?” he said. The screen spoke as a man about his own age came into view. "Please do not forget to have my luggage ready. Pack lightly – only the necessities please. I plan to pick some things up while I am gone."

“Of course, Mr. Bishop. Shall I place them in the keep of your driver when finished or did you wish to see them before you are ready to go?” The man said. His face was grainy in the monitor and his mouth ever so slightly out of sink with the sound of his voice. The man had very trimmed hair, closely trimmed Van Dyke beard and strawberry blond hair though it appeared rather dirty blond on the monitor.

“No Robert, that will be fine. I trust you to pack for me. Thank you.” Justin replied passively.

“You are welcome. Were you ready for lunch?” Robert asked.

“No. I’ll just go and snack in the kitchen when I get hungry. Once you get the luggage to the car and the package here in the library, please feel free to take the rest of the day to yourself.” He said. His smile was sincere and pleasant.

“Sir?” Robert asked back trying to give the illusion of contesting the statement and hiding his happiness that he would have an early long weekend while his employer was away.

“Robert… Shut up with the ‘Sir’ crap and enjoy your long weekend. I’ll be returning Wednesday. Just see to it that the maid fights back the cobwebs and the gardener isn’t putting lurid designs in the grass again. Everything else will be fine until then. Tell Rebecca I said hello and Oh! – That reminds me. I have a surprise for you and her. Go over to the island on the side by the refrigerator, in the 3rd drawer down where the saran wrap is kept. There is a manila envelope. Bring it back over to the monitor where I can see your face.

“Okay…” he responded, not knowing what to say. He just turned and did as instructed. Once he found the envelope and brought it back to the station he was previously. His face illuminated with curiosity and quiet, uncomfortable worry. “Alright. I have it,” he said. His voice cautiously rose.

“Excellent. Open it.” He was practically beaming through the screen. His voice was excited at the surprise of it all.

“Well… what is it?” Robert questioned.

“You’ll never know if you don’t open the damn thing, so now go ahead.” Justin laughingly chastised Robert.

“Alright.” Robert unclasped the prongs the held the end of the envelope closed and then lifted back the flap, reaching his hand to find some pieces of paper and something else he could not quite identify. His eyes looked up to the left as he tried to image what his hands were holding inside the envelope before he managed to remove its contents. Justin laughed and said, “Pull it out! Pull it out and take a look at it before I just burst through the screen and do it for you!” He jolted a smile out of Robert at this statement and a small, patient laugh.

“Mr. Bishop!” Robert gasped. “What have you done?” Roberts face was crossed between glee and horror.

“Robert… now seriously, sit down. It will be just fine. Now either you accept it or I will have to go ape-shit. No one likes that and it’s just something else for the maid to avoid cleaning. Now say something, damn it and it had better not be something trite like, ‘Oh I couldn’t possibly’ or ‘you shouldn’t have.’”

Robert simply stared back and forth between the papers in his hands and the screen. His eyes welled up a bit but didn’t say anything. “Robert, are you alright?” Justin said, his voice turning not to concern. “Don’t move, I’ll be right there.” He jumped from his seat and trotted out the doors of the office and into the library. The massive room bore down three levels up and one more down. He took the stairs that lead down one level. They were made of the same beautiful mahogany that the floor and his desk were. They banister too was made of this and inlaid teak that made subtle crisscrossing patterns and lined the base of the rail with exquisite scalloping. The grasped the railing with his left hand as he jumped the last three steps and hopped over the rail landing on the floor beneath and to his left. His shoes smacked the ground with a hard “clack” that echoed over the tapping sounds from the steps in the very tall room. He made his way into the hallway; wainscoting lined the beige walls of the wide path. He made the turn into the kitchen where he saw Robert standing unmoved. “Robert,” he said catching his breath. “Are you alright? Come here.” He walked over to the man. Robert stood taller than Justin by at least six inches. Justin stood only about 5’10” tall and came only up to Roberts chin. He placed his arm around his shoulder and grabbed him with his other hand by the arm as he ushered them over to a stool situated at the island in the middle of the kitchen. Its beautiful, thick butcher block top held a farmers sink, an array of drawers as well as a large basket of fresh fruits and another of vegetables. Two hoses fell from the 12’ ceiling below the pendant lighting and the rack that held the copper pots and pans. Once he’d seated Robert, he removed his suit coat and laid it on the side of the island. He reached to a glass shelf where he removed a clear glass. He moved to the refrigerator and pressed a button where semi-crushed ice poured itself into the glass. He lifted his finger and pressed another button and chilled water poured into the glass causing the ice to slosh and crack a bit. “Robert, here. Drink this.” He said as he handed the man the glass. Robert reached for it. He lifted it to his mouth and took a gulp. His eyes welled a bit as he placed the glass off to the side.


“This is the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me, Mr. Bishop,” he said as he placed the envelope in the air and waived it around indistinctly. “I mean, no one would do things like this for other people. I am utterly amazed and I can’t quite tell you how grateful I am for this. I will never forget this – Never. His voice cracked a bit and his face grimaced to match.

“Its fine” Justin started but was quickly interrupted.

“No. It’s not fine, it’s most miraculous. No one, no one would do this but you. You are the kindest man I have ever met in my life,” he said, his voice exasperated and passionate. He stood wandering around the kitchen, the envelope pressed between his four outstretched fingers and his thumb made it bend into an arch at the end, causing the flap to stand open.

“Stop.” Justin said. “Come here and sit down. “Look. I know that you would not otherwise be able to do this kind of thing with her. Now, give that over here.” Justin grabbed the envelope from Roberts hand once he’d reseated himself. Justin pulled the contents from the packet and placed them on the surface of the block. There sat several papers, what looked like tickets and some smaller envelopes with things written on the outside of them. “Listen. This is what you are going to do, so pay close attention to me.” He picked up the first paper and placed it in front of Robert. He pointed gingerly at it saying, “This is the general itinerary that I had planned. You can do whatever you want, but I thought out a few things that I thought you all would really enjoy. Now here are your plane tickets. You’ll want to get there a little early to clear security. Don’t bring anything stupid like nail clippers or a hair dryer or anything made of liquid or metal because God knows the last thing I need is to hear about you on CNN when I am in Europe.” He laughed and managed to pull a slight smile from his assistant. “Who am I talking to? You’ll be putting that shit in my luggage and laughing at me as you watch CNN in your hotel room as I get stopped and detained in Heathrow,” He laughed and pointed again to the tickets that said ‘Orlando Florida” and “Disney World” and “Disney Cruise” among the various other cards and so forth. Robert grinned and laughed as he wiped his eyes. “Very cunning of you Robert. In fact, damned clever I’ll say. We can’t have any of that going on so I’ll just be off packing my own luggage while you run along after we’re done here to pack your own. The limo will leave first thing Sunday morning, 7:00 AM sharp.”

“Are you sure you” Robert started to say but was cut off quickly by Justin.

“Again, here are the tickets. Make sure you get there early. Have Rebecca prepared for a surprise but do not tell her until you get to Orlando. When you get to the airport here, a nurse by the name of Kelly Simms will be there by the counter to greet you.” He pointed toward the itinerary and looked back toward his assistant. His hand rose about to his shoulder from the tall stool where he sat and said, “She’s about 5’6”, straight brown hair, big smiles, lots of charm, great with kids. She has worked with kids with Lupus before and knows how to handle the situation. So do not be thinking ‘what happens if…’ Everything will be just fine. She’ll be staying with you the entire trip and I know the girls will hit it off just swimmingly.”

“I just can’t bel…” he started but again was cut off.

“Once in Orlando, here are the passes for everything Disney, these will get you, your wife, the nurse and Rebecca in any of the parks so do as you please. You have nine days there. You will need to be packed and ready to go from there and ready to go to the airport. Again, the limo will pick you up at 7:00 sharp. Be ready in front of the hotel and make sure to have the staff do the lugging of the baggage. Your task is to be there with your family and enjoying yourselves as much as possible. Once in the limo, you’ll be taken to the dock where you’ll be boarding for the cruise. You’ll be gone another 11 days on that. Again, do not worry. Not only will you have Kelly, but Disney has medical staff and facilities aboard ship. If things get really bad, we can fly you out by helicopter back to the mainland.” He paused and opened a booklet about the cruise and pointed out the things to do aboard ship. “Once you are back to land, I have you all being flown back here where you will have another 7 days to recover and bond.” He grabbed the items all together and placed them in the envelope again. He then handed him over the smaller envelopes. “Listen, it is rude to discuss issues of cash but there would be no point in going if you could not totally enjoy yourself. So, rather than say amounts, there are cash-cards in here with various amounts on them. Some are for special surprises that I have arranged as well so don’t spoil it by peeking. The dates are on the outside of those cards. He put the lot back in the envelope. He handed it back to Robert who took it graciously.

“Thank you. Thank you so very much.” That was all he could muster saying before he again was cut off.

“Now listen, slacker. You’ll never get packed if you don’t get your shit packed up and get on your way. So what are you doing hanging out here? Run over to your place. Go on, get going. I’ll give Chad a call and have him bring me the delivery. Out, Out, Out!” He lifted his finger and smiled, pointing at the door.

Robert pulled himself off the stool, holding the envelope in his hand. He walked toward Justin, placed his arms around him, picked him up and squeezed him. Justin returned the embrace and then feigned choking. Robert placed him back on the ground. Justin said, “Robert! I am flattered but you know that I am already spoken for. Not very gentlemanly of you I think.” He smirked and gave Robert a wry look.

“Yes sir. I’ll keep that in mind.” Robert collected himself, and walked out the side door.

Justin felt the warmth of the soul that comes from doing something good for someone. That was a happy man and that made him happy knowing it.

He picked up Roberts glass and placed it in the dishwasher. He walked around the island and back to the console where he’d previously been talking to his assistant. He pressed his finger to the screen on the radio icon marked ‘Chad.’ “Chad,” he said “where are you?”

“Out by the garage, Mr. Bishop,” Chad responded.

“Excellent. Please bring that package the delivery man brought here a little while back and put it in the library on the table so that I can go through it, please.”

“I’ll be right there with it.”

He closed down the communication and walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out a plate with roast beef and a jar of mustard. He reached back with his bounty and placed it on the butcher block island. From a drawer inside it he grabbed a knife and from another, a loaf of French bread. He slathered a sandwich together and put everything back away.

He walked toward the office retracing his steps. Once he reached the office, he decided to fix himself a drink. Scotch, on the rocks, lemon rubbed on the glass.

He sat at the table in the center of the library where he’d instructed Chad to bring the package for him to go through. He stared at the stained glass images that climbed nearly the full height of the very tall room, reaching just short to the vaulted ceiling high above him. The glass illuminated by the sunshine cast various colors down into the room. Timing being everything, just as he finished his sandwich and knocked back the last of his cocktail, Chad trotted in the room with a large, soft wheeled dolly burdened by a large card board box. The box was clearly very heavy as Justin could see the bulging tires and the sweet on Chad’s brow. “Listen. Just go ahead and leave that right here beside me. I’ll go through them,” he said as he motioned for him to drop the box by his side.

“Great job, great job. I really appreciate it, Chad. Why don’t you go ahead and clean up and head home early. I’ll be back on Wednesday. See you then.” Chad wiped the sweet off of him with his sleeve and put his hand down on the dolly. Chad stood about as tall as Robert. He was much younger though then either of the other two men having just turned 21 and only having been in Justin’s employ for a couple of months. The young man had been very athletic previously or was one of those gifted youths with perfect musculature which made him handsome in a real and rugged way. He lifted his hat off of his head, revealing a bush of slightly curly brown hair. He placed it on his chest over his heart and took a bow toward Justin.

“Thank you Mr. Bishop, you will surely be sainted one day.”

Justin laughed and said, “Not if the church has anything much to say about it, but thank you all the same. “Also, never call me surely again.”

Chad laughed and said, “Ooooh., Touché!” He grabbed at his heart and backed up a couple of steps. “Thank you very much, sir. I’ll see you then.” Chad started for the dolly. Just paused and said, “Have you any plans this weekend then, Chad?”

Chad stopped, looking up at his employer for a moment. He thought about it. The man never really took much time or more than a cursory interest in his personal life before. “Well… yeah, I guess so.” He shrugged at the neck as he spoke. “Me and some of the guys are gunna”

Interrupting him, Justin said, “Never mind what you and the guys were going to do.” He said sternly. Chad’s face faded from happy-go-lucky to flat as quickly. “If you want to continue working for me,” he pontificated, hand held out with its index finger waving in caution, “you had simply better do exactly as I say. Understand?”

Chad’s mouth crept open without him knowing. He nodded a stunned yes. His face revealed his confusion as to this sudden change in conversation.

“I cannot hear the rocks rattle in your head. Do you understand me? Yes or no?” his tone sharp but his voice kept its tenor.

“Yes, Mr. Bishop. I understand you.” He enunciated. Clearly holding his tongue, Chad met Justin’s gaze. His face taught as he withheld the sudden anger at his lesson.

“Good.” Justin smirked. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a clip of crisp, perfectly folded bills. “Hold out your hand please.” Chad extended his hand from its place atop the dolly. His palm facing upward as his fingers stretched out their length - the dry soil evident in the prints on the tips of his fingers. Justin removed the cash and folded it up again in half so that the denominations were left hidden and placed the neat package of money in the younger man’s hand. “Now then… You are to take this money. You are to leave here for the day once you put your things away. You are then to proceed to the store of your choice and purchase yourself some nice clothes and a decent watch, for Christ’s sake. No girl is ever going to want to be on your arm if you go out like that.” Justin withdrew his hand and pointed his finger out in a figure eight at Chad.”

“What?!” Chad exclaimed while leaving his mouth agape again.

“Hmm?” Justin’s eyebrows raised and a smile cracked out before he burst forth in laughter again. “Man, you are an easy mark!” Chad stood there still holding the cash in his hand with a dazed look about him.

“Look, Chad. Don’t take me too seriously. I want you to take this money and go get yourself some nice things. Seriously – get a nice watch. There is more than enough cash there to do that and have yourself a nice time to boot. Go ahead. The bills are unmarked, I promise.” Justin laughed again.

“You are ate up!” Chad responded.

“You have been working quite hard for me. I appreciate it. You do good work and the property shows it. Since you have been here, I have not had to worry at all about the fountain out by the gate or anything else on the property for that matter. The lawn has never looked so beautiful since I have lived here. I am glad I hired you and I want to reward your hard work. So take the money. In fact, there should be enough there to…” Justin paused. “Do you have a girlfriend, Chad?” His face revealed his curiosity.

“Well not really. Why?” He responded.

“Never mind the watch then.” Justin reached back in his pocket and pulled out the clip again and withdrew a few more bills. “Here. Then take this too. Now you can have a real good time.” Justin smiled and winked. “Now, like I said. Take off early and get your friends and go have fun.”

“Thank you, Mr. Bishop! You were freaking me out there for a minute.” Chad said.

“No. Thank you… Times ticking.” Justin turned back to his books and then waved goodbye to the young man without turning back around. Chad took the cart up behind him careful to not hit anything as his composure broke to a full smile. He headed out the doorway and in a minute or two; Justin heard the chirp of the security system from the desk alerting him that Chad had left.


Justin reached down and grabbed at the box, ripping the tape from the top of it and pulling it down from the sides. He balled it together and threw it gracefully into the trash can a few feet away. In the box laid the books he’d won from an online auction. He was thrilled. Today was going so well for him. He picked up books of various sizes and shapes, reading the binding and placing them into stacks by category as he went.


Under the first layer of books, he saw some fabric pressing between some of the larger books. He grabbed the books on top and lay the on the table in piles to reveal an oatmeal colored burlap sack. He hoisted it out of the box and placed it in his lap. He held the bags opening with one hand and unfurled the drawstring with the other. Once open, he peered in. Feathers filled the bag but he could  make out what looked like a package on the inside of it. He reached his hand into the bag and felt a cloth covered book and he pulled it out, clumsily letting feathers fall from the sack and onto the floor. He put the opened bag back into the box, dropping it, spilling even more feathers. He blew the remaining feathers to from the top of the cloth cover and watched them fall to the table. He swiveled in his seat and placed the article down upon it. Once it lay before him, he investigated the fabric. How carefully it was tucked in on each side, like an envelope. Curiosity began to get the better of him. He took his hand and moved it toward the mysterious object. His fingers flexed as his thumb and forefinger pressed on either side of the white, pressed linen. A tug pulled apart the side and slowly the envelope fell open as the material spread out lifelessly on either side of the book. It revealed a rather plain book with what at first glance appeared to be nothing but tattered edges and torn binding with a rather unimpressive plain, dirt brown leather cover. How odd, he thought, so plain and old, it was both beautiful and ugly to behold. Its spine was in tatters and the leather looked as though it had been dry for so long that it could have been lying in a pile of sand for centuries. He moved his head closer to get a better look at it. Tiny markings in what might be gold leaf. The markings were faint but still barely recognizable. Strangely, the markings were tine and appeared to be almost interwoven in the leather. He grew even closer trying to gather a better concept of what the markings were. They did not appear to be a pattern, but rather, they looked like letters. He reached into the drawer of the table where he sat and pulled out from it a magnifying glass on a stand. He placed it on the table in front of the book, adjusting it to look more closely into the entwined gold work. After a few minutes of intense scrutiny, he recognized some of the characters as Greek lettering.  “Ξέρτε για πάντα” He only knew ‘for always.” Another part had what was definitely Russian. “Знайте никогда не кончаться”   He understood this. He thought to himself, “Know never to not end?” What the hell does that mean? Then he saw what must be Chinese and Hebrew and Arabic and Sanskrit and so on. He could not quite decipher the words there but he knew it must all be saying the same thing. “How old is this book?” he said aloud. The entire binding was a catacomb of lettering. “Amazing.” He said.  He move back the mirror and reached out to turn the book upon its back to see what other items of interest may lay there.


 The flesh of his fingers pressed against the binding. The shock that reached out from the binding was an audible crack. He felt as though his stomach were going to expel its contents onto the floor. His face was flush and he felt his arms go numb. His vision was growing dim. His heartbeat slowed and he felt as though his breathing moved no air into his chest. Several minutes passed as his hand lay against the cover, his mouth agape, his eyes glazed. His hand rose up and he placed it out, palmed turned inward to his face and stared at it in silhouette. He felt so drowsy, so sick. The vigor passed from his graying eyes. He moved to his feet floated over into the sitting room of his library where a long settee with plumb cushions rest by the window to a small garden. The room barely registered as his only thought was to rest his heavy frame and his swirling head upon it. As he reached the makeshift bed’s soft embrace, the light breaking past the slits in his eyes scored them like broken glass. He lay limply across it, limbs out like wilting stalks. He could feel the impending sleep on its way and he could feel what he thought must be the inside of his skull quiver and warp. The Friday afternoon midsummer sun spilled out upon his chest from the tall, thin window above him.