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Simpatico

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SIMPATICO

They Will Never Tear Us Apart

by Dermot Davis

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Author Bio

Copyright Information

Other Books by Dermot Davis:

[]Chapter 1

Standing on top of a bluff, in the Santa Monica mountains in the Pacific Palisades, eighteen-year-old Fiona stood looking south towards the Santa Monica Bay. It was approaching her favorite time of day – sunset – and, from her vantage point, she watched three airplanes in the distance as they made their descent towards the Los Angeles international airport.

Nestled off-shore, looking like it was a continuation of the Palos Verdes peninsula, Catalina island captured her attention as she remarked to herself how wonderfully visible it appeared. Usually obscured by a mixture of fog and smog, the island sat up proudly above the deep and tranquil depths of the blue-green Pacific Ocean.

Silhouetted against the blue and orange-hued sunset sky, dressed in a light flowing summer dress, Fiona raised her arms to form a straight line. Imagining herself gliding through the air, she savored the soft cool wind as it breezed past her cheeks and gently ruffled the soft cotton of her floral-printed dress.

Stressed from driving through LA rush-hour traffic, twenty-two year-old Andrew finally turned his pickup truck off Sunset Boulevard and into a narrow side road where a large sign promised a parking lot for Santa Monica National Park visitors. Andrew was now quite used to going out of his way to meet what he considered the whimsical demands of Fiona. Being totally enchanted by her beauty, and what he considered her attractive, quirky nature, he proffered no complaints.

When he finally did find parking, the sun was sinking below the horizon. In the semi-darkness, Andrew had a hard time reading the directions which she had emailed to him earlier in the day. He also had to squint hard to read a visitor information display which outlined directions to each of the hiking trails. When he saw the flickering lights of candles in the distance, he knew that he had finally found her.

Casually lighting more candles, and placing them in a large circle around her, Fiona sang or perhaps chanted a soft incantation which sounded like a sweet lullaby.

“I know I’m late but you wouldn’t believe—” Andrew said as he approached her position but instantly stopped talking when Fiona stood up straight and faced him boldly. Her hands were raised in a gesture of “Stop!”

“Breathe deeply and leave the city behind,” she instructed him sweetly.

Relieved that her gesture didn’t refer to some other, more serious scenario, Andrew stopped walking. As instructed, he took some deep breaths (more as a show of compliance than as a genuine attempt to calm and center himself).

“What’s with the candles?” he asked, stepping forward yet half expecting her to tell him that he hadn’t completed his instructed task.

“I’m going to give you your answer tonight,” she answered.

“All right!” Andrew exclaimed, a broad smile breaking out on his face. Finally, he said to himself.

“Are you here yet?” she asked, looking like she didn’t want him to join her in the circle until he was more centered and present within himself.

“Almost, almost,” Andrew responded as he took some more deep breaths and waited for her to give him the okay to stop and step forward. After a few more labored inhales and exhales from her exasperated boyfriend, Fiona – now smiling and looking happy – stretched out her arms to him.

“Come join me in the circle,” she said. “I’m so thrilled to see you.”

“I’m thrilled to see you too, Fi,” Andrew said as he gingerly stepped between two candles and hugged her like he needed her, heart and soul. “I mean, I’m really thrilled to see you, Fiona, like you wouldn’t believe,” he whispered, his face buried into her neck; his face partially obscured by her long flowing strawberry-blond hair. “You have your answer?” he asked softly, his body now tense with trepidation.

“That’s what we need to find out,” Fiona said as she ended the embrace.

“You don’t know what your answer is? I thought you said?” Andrew asked, looking puzzled.

“Sit here, across from me,” she instructed as she sat down beside a book that was on the ground. “Sit closer,” she asked. “Your left should be at my left, where our hearts are closest.”

Inching his bottom closer to her, Andrew decided against asking any further questions. As in similar occasions of the past, he decided instead to go along for the ride and allow himself to be led by the beautiful young woman next to him.

“We’re going to consult the I Ching,” she said as she took three Asian-looking coins from her small purse.

“Is this the thing you used when you were deciding whether to go out on our first date together, that day?” Andrew asked, remembering how odd it had sounded at the time.

“I ask the I Ching all kinds of questions, not just that one,” Fiona said. “For a question like this, we need to ask it together.”

“Okay,” Andrew said uncertainly. “And if it says no, then that’s it? Your answer is no?”

“That’s not how it works, Andrew,” Fiona replied as she rattled the coins together within her clasped hands. “The I Ching doesn’t give yes or no answers; it gives guidance, that’s all. Kings and world leaders have been using it for centuries. It’s like having your very own team of wise advisers to consult on any issue. It’s brilliant and amazing. You’ll see.”

“Cool,” Andrew said, as if indicating that he had no more questions, for now.

“Now, think of the question in your mind. Try not to be negative or skeptical or it won’t work,” she said, closing her eyes as an aid in concentration.

“Wait, now,” Andrew said quickly, hoping to catch her before she tossed the coins. Fiona opened her eyes and gave him her full attention. “What’s the question, exactly? I mean, I know what the question is, I think, but shouldn’t we be on the same page and ask the same exact question? It’s about going away together, right?”

 “Yes, if it’s in both our best interests, as a couple, to run away together,” Fiona said thoughtfully.

“Cool. Only, I mean, we’re not running away, like, I don’t know, eloping or something. We’re just going to hit the road and be together, start over someplace new. Right?” Andrew asked.

“We’re packing a couple of suitcases and driving away in your truck, probably in the middle of the night without telling our parents or anyone. I think that qualifies as running away together, wouldn’t you think?” Fiona responded with a grin.

“Yeah, I guess,” Andrew agreed, sounding reluctant. “Just sounds, I don’t know, like we’re two teenagers or something, which we’re not. I mean, yes, you are, you’re like eighteen or something, but you’re way much older than that, I mean, you act and think much older, like you’re even older than me and I’m twenty-two already and–“

“Alright,” Fiona interrupted, “we’ll inquire if it’s best that we hit the road together and go on some kind of indefinite road trip and only tell our parents when we’re well gone and not exactly where we are or where we’re going. How’s that?”

“Sounds better, I guess,” Andrew replied, feeling somewhat cowed. “We all know your father’s going to go ape-shit, which is really the only reason we’re—”

“Andrew, just focus on the question, for now, for me. What do you say?” Fiona interrupted kindly.

“Yeah, sorry,” Andrew then said, breathing deeply and shaking his body to induce relaxation. “Okay, I’m good.”

Once again, Fiona shook the coins between her conjoined hands and after a few brief shakes she spilled the coins to the ground. Noting the arrangement of the dispersed coins, she drew a small line on the earth with a twig. “Well?” Andrew asked, looking concerned. “Is it a yes?”

“That’s just one toss, Andrew. We need to do it five more times to complete a full hexagram,” she answered. Deciding not to ask what a hexagram was, Andrew reckoned that he would most likely find out soon enough. Fiona repeated the tossing and recording of coin throws five more times. Andrew looked closely at the coins and each time tried to read her facial expression for clues.

Checking the series of straight lines–some broken, some not–now etched in the dirt, Fiona picked up the book and consulted a chart of hexagrams in order to find a match. “That’s a hexagram, huh?” Andrew inquired, looking at the six lines placed atop each other. “Is it good news?” he then asked as Fiona turned the pages of the book to decode its meaning.

The expression on Fiona’s face was far from good, however. 

“It’s not good news,” Andrew said, answering his own question.

“No, Andrew, it’s not,” Fiona said sadly. “Disharmony,” she read aloud. “This path is fraught with danger. Many obstacles need to be overcome for this journey to be a success.”

“Okay,” Andrew said pensively. “It doesn’t say that it can never be successful, just that there’s a few obstacles in the way first, right? I mean, nothing we don’t know already; it won’t be a Sunday picnic or something.”

“Yeah,” Fiona said, sounding disheartened as she shut the book. “It’s bad news.”

 

Looking like he had barely slept all night, Andrew read on his laptop as he descended the stairs to the kitchen. “What time is your exam today, sweetheart?” his mom, Angela, asked as she put away some clean dishes.

“Um, in like two hours or something,” he replied, his eyes still reading from his laptop screen as he placed the computer on the kitchen table.

“If you don’t know it by now…” Angela said, not finishing her sentence. “Want me to make you some eggs?”

“I’m just going to have some cereal,” Andrew answered, emptying a box of corn flakes into a bowl.

“I don’t have time, anyway,” Angela said, sounding relieved. “There’s some coffee in the pot,” she said as she prepared to leave for work. “Good luck with your exam,” she then said as she departed.

“Have a good day at work,” Andrew said as he looked in the fridge for some milk. “Where is the milk?” he then asked. Looking up from the fridge he watched the front door closing shut. “Great!” he said out loud, his eyes searching the interior of the poorly stocked fridge. “No friggin’ milk!”

Feeding the flakes into his mouth with his fingers, Andrew washed them down with black coffee. Cramming for his exam, he didn’t have the time or inclination to pay much attention to the poor taste or nutritious inadequacy of his makeshift breakfast. When he checked the time, he panicked into full-on action mode.

Slamming his laptop shut, he picked up his keys and raced out the kitchen door to his pickup truck parked in the small driveway. Fatigued from lack of sleep, he drove like he was in a trance. The neighborhood streets looked more surreal than normal. Stopped at a set of traffic lights, he stared blankly ahead.

Thinking of his forthcoming exam, he could see himself sitting at a desk along with fifty other students in a large lecture room. As Professor Collins disbursed the test papers, he could feel himself grow pale and weak with terror: what if he didn’t know any of the questions?

“Cox, you look like death,” Andrew heard Prof. Collins mutter, then saw him slide a copy of the test onto Andrew’s desk. It was as if it were really happening, even though Andrew was aware that it wasn’t. In his vision, as Collins moved on, Andrew held his breath and looked at the test in his mind’s eye. All his eyes could immediately see were graphs and charts. As he was about to read the actual test questions, a car horn blared behind him. Andrew snapped out of his daydream. Seeing that the traffic light was now green, he waved a “Sorry” gesture to the car behind and sped forward.

Arriving to the test room, just as everyone else had taken their seats, Andrew found a vacant desk up front. Looking around to locate his buddies, Andrew caught the eyes of Tony, who sat a few seats behind. Looking just as terrified as Andrew felt, Tony sighed and made a “Here’s for nothing” expression. Andrew smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I feel your pain,” he wanted to tell him.

Andrew spotted Bobby but failed to make eye contact as he sat too far apart.

“Cox, you look like death,” Prof. Collins said as he put a test paper on Andrew’s desk and moved on as Andrew felt a strange sense of déjà vu. Turning over the test, Andrew looked at the charts and graphs: they were the same diagrams he had seen in his earlier daydream.

Andrew’s entire spine tingled as if a wave of cold air had risen up from the ground and went right through him. That was weird, he remarked to himself, not knowing what to think. Casting the experience from his mind, he focused upon the exam.

It seemed like only a few minutes had passed before Prof. Collins called time. Andrew stopped writing and looked at the clock. He was surprised to see that a full two hours had gone by.

Outside of the building, by the non-working large fountain, Andrew joined up with Tony and Bobby. Looking stressed, Bobby put a cigarette in his mouth before he remembered that there was no smoking allowed on campus. “You can’t smoke that here, dude,” Tony chided him.

“I know that,” Bobby snapped back, keeping the cigarette in his mouth on principle. “I’m not going to light it, am I?”

“I don’t know about you two but there’s no way I passed that sucker,” Andrew said as he approached the pair.

“I know, right?” agreed Tony.

“After four years they should just give us the friggin’ degree. I’ve had it with cramming sessions before exams,” Bobby chimed in.

“If it was hard for everybody, they have to pass most of us, right?” Tony asked uncertainly.

“I don’t think it works like that,” Andrew answered. “But maybe,” he added when he saw his buddy’s face drop in despair.

“What was with you being so late, bro?” Bobby asked Andrew. “One minute till and they close that door, see ya,” he said, his hand waving from his head, as if to salute to further make his point.

“I was up all night, dude. Couldn’t get to sleep so I just kept cramming shit; for all the good it did,” Andrew replied.

“Collins sucks, man. He made it hard for us on spite,” Tony said angrily.

“I had this really wild déjà vu thing just before the exam,” Andrew recalled. “I had this daydream; I saw Collins, the exact test paper, everything, like an hour before it happened.”

“You saw the test questions before the exam?” Bobby asked.

“Yeah, well, not the test questions, I mean I didn’t read the questions, just saw the paper with all the graphs and charts and everything. Then Collins telling me that I look like shit, just like he did in the-”

“Collins is a shit,” Tony said, interrupting.

“Doesn’t sound like much if you didn’t see the questions, bro,” Bobby said to Andrew.

“Yes, it does. I mean, what’s the odds of that happening?” Andrew asked, not sure of how to defend his argument and explain his wonder.

“What’s the odds we pass that sucker?” Tony asked.

“Will you shut up about it for a second?” Bobby chided Tony. “So we all fail and have to repeat, big deal.”

“Just saying, is all. I just want it over with, you know?” Tony said weakly.

 “See, if you saw the questions first, in your dream or whatever and then you studied for those and then got the same questions in the test, then that’s something, right?” Bobby asked. “That would be a story, right?”

“Yeah, seeing graphs and shit an hour beforehand, but not getting any useful info, is pretty lame,” Tony added.

“No, you guys are lame,” Andrew answered. “I guess you had to be there, I suppose. It kinda freaked me out, that’s all.”

“Sounds like some shit your freaky girlfriend would say,” Bobby said, smiling.

“Yeah, how is the weird chick these days?” Tony asked. “You haven’t told us any more of that freaky stuff that she— “

“She’s not a weirdo,” Andrew interrupted. “She’s a really cool person with some weird ideas, that’s all. I never said that she was a weirdo.”

“Yes you did,” Tony insisted. “You said she was into all that woo-woo stuff and could see dead people and shit.”

“No, I didn’t,” Andrew said.

“Yes, you did, bro,” Bobby interjected. “Said that she talks to spirits and reads auras and— “

“That was in the beginning,” Andrew said, interrupting. “I maybe thought that she was a bit weird at first but she’s not really like that; she’s a totally cool person, actually.”

“Ooh, touchy-touchy,” Bobby jeered. “Must be getting fond of her, huh?”

“Yeah, you guys doing the nasty all the time, kinda goes to your head, huh, lover-boy, lose your grip on reality,” Tony joked, messing Andrew’s hair for effect.

“Andrew’s in love, uh, uh, uh,” Bobby sang as he accompanied himself on air guitar.

“Andrew’s in lu-uh-ve, da, da, da, da,” Tony joined in, playing air bass.

“No, I’m not,” Andrew denied sheepishly.

“Andrew’s in lu-uh-ve, da, da, da, da,” his buddies had continued, circling him and messing up his hair as they mocked. Andrew now clearly recognized that he had strong feelings for Fiona. However, he was disturbed and worried that the reading his girl had done had seemed negative and might put her off the relationship, for good.

 

Sitting opposite Fiona on the cool earth, surrounded by a circle of flickering candles, Andrew adjusted his position. “There’s a lot of pain in our future,” Fiona said somberly, taking Andrew’s hands into hers. “You have to truly decide if this is what you really want. There’s lots of relationships out there for you that are much less challenging. You’d probably have lots more fun and happiness.”

“I don’t want to be with anyone else, Fi,” Andrew said with full sincerity. “I want to be with you, whatever happens; however hard it gets. I only want to be with you and know that I… I’m pretty sure I’ll never meet anyone else like you and I’d hate to think that I gave this up, gave you up and ended up regretting it every day for the rest of my life. Even thinking about being without you fills me with regret… and dread.”

“If we go forward with this, from tonight on, we are together. Nothing will part us,” Fiona said as she looked deeply into Andrew’s eyes. “Not even death.”

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Andrew said as he was unable to prevent a nervous grin from breaking out on his face. “We’ll have them bury us in the same grave, me on top.”

“We’re linking our souls, Andrew, not our bodies,” Fiona corrected, as a smile broke out on her face. “I can’t believe you that you can’t be serious about this.”

“I can, I am,” Andrew insisted, holding her hands tighter. “This is so totally what I want. You can be so serious sometimes, Fi. I don’t mean to make jokes, just some things you say are so, I don’t know, heavy, I guess. And weird.”

“You need to know what you’re getting yourself into, both of us, that’s all I’m saying,” Fiona said.

“Fiona, my soul was yours long ago, without all this hocus-pocus and candles and stuff. I love you with all my heart and I know I always will.”

“I know you do, Andrew. I love you with all my heart also. I’m just scared, that’s all. I’ve never seen the future be so dark before. It doesn’t mean that it will be; nothing’s written in stone, it could all change. I just want you to know what I see, what I’m sensing, I guess.”

“Come graduation, we hit the road,” Andrew said with full seriousness. “We get our own place and start a new life together. How awful can that be, huh?” he asked, smiling.

“Sounds pretty terrific to me,” Fiona said, her face flushed with a mix of excitement and bashfulness. As Andrew leaned in to kiss her, she stopped him. “Not yet,” she said as she reached down and took out a large needle from her purse. Holding it in a candle flame for a few seconds, she then took his right hand and held the needle above his open palm.

“What are you doing?” Andrew asked, more curious than alarmed.

“We’re going to join our souls together,” Fiona answered. “You okay with that?” she then asked, smiling.

“Cool. Yeah, absolutely,” he answered, grinning. “Ouch!” he then said, as Fiona pierced his palm with the needle, drawing blood.

“By merging our blood we join not just our hearts but our souls,” Fiona said seriously. “I join my life force with yours, Andrew, as you join your life force with mine,” she continued, as she pierced her own palm. Placing her palm on his, their wounds and blood melded together. 

“My joys are now your joys also, as is my sadness and grief. My gifts are yours to use and share, as you so choose. I entrust to you my heart, my soul, my life. You should know and always remember that even if we’re apart or maybe even if I’m cross with you or arguing or fighting or being silent with you… that I do love you and I will love you always. Know this, in your heart,” she said, touching his heart with her right hand, “and remember.”

“I will, Fi,” Andrew answered, his eyes getting tearful.

“No matter what it may look like on the surface or even when you may be engulfed in your own fear and confusion, never doubt my love for you. However it may appear, or even when it may seem hopeless to you, let your heart remind you, always know, that my love for you will always shine; my undying love will always be there for you,” Fiona continued.

“Same goes for me, totally,” Andrew said, a lump in his throat.

“You can never disappoint me, Andrew. You can never fail me. The only time my love will not be there for you is if you chose not to receive it, if, for whatever reason, you block me out and decide not to feel the deep, deep love I will always have for you.”

“And vice-versa,” Andrew said, feeling overwhelmed by her passion and candor. “Same goes for me… to you. I’ll always love you also, Fiona, no matter what.”

As Fiona leaned forward to kiss him, Andrew, for the first time in his life, felt ill-equipped and out of his depth to deal with the love and passion that was surging up from the depths of his being. He felt a hunger for Fiona that felt desperate and so primal that he felt like he couldn’t hold her tightly enough. If he could somehow pull her into himself, body and soul, he most certainly felt like doing it. Instead, he kept his passions in check and kissed her so softly and tenderly that he surprised himself with his own restraint.

“Wow, I feel like we just got married or something,” Andrew said as they slightly pulled apart.

“This goes way beyond marriage, Andrew,” Fiona said, now feeling a bit giddy. “Let the sky be our cathedral and the stars our congregation,” she said, her head jerking up to look at the star-filled, blue-black darkness above. “Let the moon be our witness and let the heavens above rejoice!”

“Hallelujah!” exclaimed Andrew loudly as they rose to their feet and, holding each other’s hands, danced around the circle of candles. “Dancing in the moonlight!” Andrew half-sang, half-shouted.

“When that moon is big and bright!” Fiona joined in.

“It’s a supernatural delight!” Andrew sang.

“Everybody’s dancing in the moonlight!” they both sang together and laughing, fell to the ground in a tight and ecstatic embrace.

 

Sleepless and restless, Fiona lay in her bed trying to rid her mind of thoughts and images of a dark and perilous future. Although she didn’t regret casting her lot with Andrew, deciding to bind her reality together with his, she couldn’t help but doubt if she had truly done the right thing. Was she being reckless? Was she being selfish for wanting Andrew so much that she would ignore the warnings of her intuition? Would it not have been more loving to let him go back to his safe world rather than keep him and risk him finding harm in hers?

Was her selfish need of him clouding her mind? Even though every cell and fiber of her being longed for his touch, what cost might she now have to pay for ignoring her better judgment and the negative confirmation provided by the reading? Had she done wrong?

There is a cost to everything, she considered, and the heavier the denial or disregard, the steeper the price. As loving and giving as the universe truly is, so also is its justice; just like any finely tuned, successful system, when you play by the rules, you prosper. If you ignore the warnings or even worse, deliberately break the rules, then heaven help you, for the rains will surely pour. When that time comes, all you can hope for is that you don’t fully drown.

Glancing at the digital clock on her bedside table–3:03 AM–she slid out from her cozy down comforter and stepped into her flip-flops. The large house was quiet as she left her room to walk down her preferred (right-hand) side of the twin marble staircase. Only a slight hum from the four-door stainless steel refrigerator broke the complete silence of the spotlessly clean kitchen.

“Three nights in a row?” a voice asked from behind, startling her as she opened a refrigerator door. “What’s troubling you?” her father, Simon, asked.

“I was hungry,” Fiona answered casually, not at all startled, as she stared into the fridge for inspiration. “I didn’t have supper again, trying to lose some weight.”

“You wouldn’t be keeping secrets from me, would you?” Simon asked, placing his whiskey glass under the fridge door ice dispenser.

“It’s like 3 AM; don’t you sleep?” she asked, knowing quite well that her father slept at odd hours.

“Come here,” Simon said gently, taking her shoulders into his two hands. “What’s your little secret, huh?” he asked, looking her in the eyes. “You think I won’t find out?”

“I want a glass of milk, that’s all,” Fiona replied, matching his straight look.

“Is it money? School? Boys?” he asked, watching her carefully. “Ah,” he said, noticing a micro flinch in her eyes on his last guess. “Love trouble. Any boy in particular?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Fiona said as she broke from his grasp. “It’s kinda personal.”

“It can’t be that Andrew boy, can it?” he asked pointedly. “Not after your promise to me.”

“Telling you that there’s nothing for you to worry about is not a promise of any kind, dad,” Fiona said kindly.

“We talked about this, Fiona,” Simon said more sternly. “No boys until your gifts are fully matured.”

“You can’t always rule my life, daddy,” Fiona said softly. “I just want to have a normal life, you know?”

“So you are still seeing this boy, then? Even after your promise.”

“I didn’t make you any promises, dad!” Fiona said, her nerves on edge. “I’m not doing anything that will hurt you in any way and it’s not something that I can’t handle. Your concern is flattering but— “

“My concern is flattering?” Simon interrupted. “Don’t you know what you are messing with? You can’t live a normal life, child; you’re not a normal girl. Infatuations and… lust energies will mess everything up, don’t you understand? Your gifts haven’t fully arrived yet and until they do you need to remain contained; alone and celibate. I thought you understood?”

“I understand more than you know, father,” Fiona answered as she walked towards the door. “I can’t give up Andrew any more than I can give up taking my next breath; Andrew is the oxygen I need to survive, to live… to be me. I’ve told you this before, daddy. As your daughter I will do what I can to abide by your wishes but as my own person I need to do what is first of all in my own interest. I thought you understood.”

“I thought you said you were trying to lose weight?” Simon asked, noticing that she was walking away with a spoon and a tub of Rocky Road ice cream.

“It’s low calorie, sugar-free and non-fat,” Fiona answered with a smile.

“Good night, sweetheart,” he said, smiling back. “I love you.”

“I love you too, pops,” she said warmly and left her father alone in the big kitchen. Appearing a bit lost, he looked around at the counters as if he had forgotten what he was doing there. Remembering, he picked up his glass and returned to the library where he reopened his ancient-looking book with the title: Blood Rituals of the Sacred Mysteries.

[]Chapter 2

In the mid-morning sunshine of Southern California, Andrew drove his pickup north to the Pacific Palisades. Singing to the tunes on the radio, his left arm propped on the open window door, feeling the warmth of the golden sunshine, he was in high spirits. Impressed by the large houses and mansions with their immaculately-kept landscaping, he tried not to admit to himself that he was out of his league by dating Fiona.

So what if she came from money and before enrolling in a private school was home-schooled by expensive tutors? So what if she had no idea what life in the real world was like; never having to work, everything simply handed to her?

Andrew shook his head, as if he could banish his negative thinking. He focused again on the current song by his favorite band, The Stokes, that was bringing joy to his world, joining in when he recognized the lyrics.

At least the one good thing about living in America was that there was no class system, he thought. Everyone was born equal and just because he couldn’t look after her in a way that she had become accustomed, didn’t mean that he was a loser. Besides, she’d said numerous times that she didn’t care about that stuff. She loved him for who he was and not where he was from or for the family he was born into or the amount of money he had in the bank.

It may all be a cliché but he knew that, when Fiona said it, she meant it; Fiona was not a liar and she didn’t make stuff up just to please whomever. In fact, she was the most honest, truthful person he had ever met. No way was she amusing herself by dating some working-class kid just because she was curious or wanted to piss off her old man or something.

“Shit,” Andrew said out loud when he pulled up to the address. “You’ve got to be kidding…” he said to the mansion laid out before him. Fiona’s address was a huge estate that was now blowing him away. Outside of some British TV show, he didn’t even know houses this big really existed. Three stories high with balconies and patios all over the place, not to mention a huge front and back lawn with huge old-world trees. “Holy shit,” he said to the piece of paper in his hand where he had scribbled her address. Could this be the right house, even?

“Andrew?” a female voice said from out of nowhere.

Looking around to see where the voice came from, he couldn’t see a soul. “Yeah?” he answered uncertainly.

“I’ll let you in,” the voice said as the huge wrought iron gates began to swing open.

“You can see me?” he asked, now realizing that Fiona was talking to him through the gate intercom. Focusing his ears to the speaker, he waited for a response. When he saw Fiona waving joyfully to him before the open front door, he smiled and drove up the gravel driveway.

“You made it!” she yelled as he approached. “I’m so happy!”

“I guess this is not a rental,” he said, still overwhelmed by the grand scale of the estate.

“I had nothing to do with it, I promise,” she said smiling. “Come in and I’ll show you where I was born.”

“You were born here?” Andrew asked, looking reluctant to even leave his truck. “Am I okay here?” he then asked, wondering about the parking situation.

“Everybody is away today; the place is all ours,” she said excitedly.

“Who’s everybody?” he asked, looking around at the expanse of it all.

“Just Daddy. And the maids and gardeners and stuff…” she said, her voice trailing. “Get out of that truck and give me a hug, you doofus!” she said impatiently. “I’ve been waiting for you all day! Like I couldn’t wait, come here you!”

Once out of the truck, Fiona wrapped her arms around him and hugged him so tightly that all his nervousness left his body. He finally allowed himself to relax and smiled. “It’s so good to see you too,” he said softly into her ear. “I love you so much!”

“Come,” she then said, taking him by the hand. “Welcome to my world.”

Taking off his Angels baseball cap, Andrew flung it through the open window of his truck. He didn’t see it sail right through and out the other open window, landing on the gravel.

Open-mouthed, Andrew took in the majesty of the interior: the marble floors, the twin staircase, the hand-carved balustrade of dark, rich exotic wood, the multi-colored stained glass windows; statues that looked like they came straight from the ancient world, the massive chandelier that hung from a domed ceiling, like something you might see in a medieval cathedral or some place. “You live here?” he asked and then quickly laughed at his own question. “What does your father do, exactly? If that’s not too personal a question.”

“I’m not too sure what he does; we don’t talk about things like that,” Fiona answered disinterestedly. “I know that he sits on lots of boards and stuff.”

“What kind of boards? You mean, like, boards of different companies? Board of directors?” Andrew asked.

“Yeah, I guess,” Fiona answered, like she was weary of the conversation already. “I don’t know what kind of salary he’s on, if that’s going to be your next question.”

Andrew laughed, expecting her to laugh also – wasn’t she joking? When she didn’t laugh, he felt like obviously this was not the kind of conversation that she wanted to have. “Lots of old statues and artwork, huh?” Andrew remarked. “Looks like he’s got a kind of ancient Egyptian thing going on, what do you think?” he joked.

“Oh, yeah,” Fiona nodded her head, “big on ancient Egypt.”

“Are they real?” he asked as he took a closer look at a statue of what looked like an Egyptian Goddess.

 “I don’t think so,” she answered, pulling him away. “This is not what I wanted to show you, anyways.” Leading him upstairs, she walked quickly, hoping not to be detained by more questions about where the wall hangings might have come from or who the people were in the framed oil portraits lining the walls.

“This is where I grew up,” she said as she opened wide the door to a huge room filled with toys. Huge cuddly stuffed play animals, a swing set, trampoline, seesaw and other toys were sprawled around the floor. A mini hot-air balloon and a bunch of toys and planets and flying horses and unicorns, a toy airplane were all hanging from the ceiling.

“Wow,” Andrew exclaimed as he walked around the menagerie of playthings. “This must be where kids die and go to heaven,” he said.

“What?” Fiona asked, her nose scrunched up from puzzlement.

“I mean this is like a kid’s paradise, right?”

“You have no idea,” Fiona said softly as she remembered with fondness what it was like growing up. “I still come in here sometimes but not as much, obviously.”

“Did you have playmates, other kids to play with?” he asked.

“Only what other people call imaginary ones,” Fiona replied. “These were all my friends,” she then added, her arm making a sweeping gesture.

“Very impressive, that’s for sure,” Andrew said, clearly impressed.

“I needed you to see this,” she said, still looking around with a smile on her face.

“How so?” Andrew asked.

“It’s important for you to know how much my father… how much my father cares for me; how much he tries to be a good father.”

“Why is that? Why would I need to know…? I don’t understand,” Andrew said, trying to think it through.

“My father is a good man,” Fiona said. “He may not fully understand me but he really does love me and he really does try very hard.”

“I can see that… but why wouldn’t he? He’s your father, right?” Andrew asked, still not getting her point.

“I just thought it was important for you to see this, that’s all,” Fiona said as she walked from the room. “Let’s get something to drink, you thirsty?”

“Yeah,” Andrew answered, catching up with her on the stairs. “I could drink something, sure.” Walking to the kitchen, Andrew’s eyes drifted toward a room at the end of a hall which was several steps down, beneath the ground floor. “What’s down there?” he asked.

“That’s the basement,” Fiona answered as she opened a fridge door. “I’m not allowed go in there. Cola or root beer?”

“Oh, uh, root beer, thanks,” Andrew answered, his curiosity still aroused. “How come? Why aren’t you allowed in the basement?”

“That’s my father’s… private space.”

“Oh, cool. Like his den, his man cave or something?” Andrew asked as he opened a bottle of root beer.

“Yeah, something like that,” Fiona answered. “Wanna sit on the swing set outside?”

“Sure,” Andrew answered as he followed her out through a kitchen door.

“Give me a push,” Fiona suggested when she sat on one of the swings.

“It’s pretty out here,” Andrew remarked as he took in the expanse of the manicured lawn and lush landscaping. “You have like, permanent gardeners or people who just come by every week or whatever?”

“There’s a couple of permanent staff, that does the handyman work, cleaning and gardening and stuff, but mostly people come and go, depending,” Fiona answered. “Are you going to push me or what?”

“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Andrew answered, pushing the seat of the swing.

“Just for a little bit and then you’ll have to go. Daddy might get home soon,” Fiona said. “Push harder!” she then said, enjoying the thrill of the ride.

“Yeah, I have to go anyway,” Andrew said, now standing and pushing square behind her. “I’m meeting with the guys later, going to celebrate the end of finals.”

“You’re going to go to every bar in town and get wasted is what you really mean, right?” Fiona teased.

“Yeah, that too,” Andrew said and smiled.

“Is this the best you can do? Push harder!” Fiona jeered and then let out a long wheeee when she went airborne once more.

 

Andrew didn’t know what to think about his visit with Fiona. He didn’t really understand what she meant about her wanting to show him her house and the room that she spent most of her childhood in. Chicks are different than guys, he reckoned. They put meaning into stuff that guys have not much interest in; like what toys they played with as kids or how much their parents love them and stuff. He shrugged.

As he parked his truck in the driveway of his mother’s tiny house, he wondered if Fiona was expecting a return invitation from him for her to come visit and check out his bedroom or whatever. Apart from his own room, there wouldn’t be much to show, he figured; just the front room and the kitchen.

Maybe he could show her the framed pictures of him as a kid that his mother still kept propped up on the mantelpiece above the fake fireplace. They might prove how much his mother loved him or whatever. Chicks love old pictures and stuff and maybe he might introduce her to his mom, depending on his mom’s work schedule, of course.

He wondered if his mother was home. It frustrated him, to never see his mom, but he knew that she frequently worked double shifts, often at night, to help cover his tuition and book fees. He hated to see her so tired all the time but he also felt irritated that she was so busy that she seemed disinterested in his life.

“How was your day, sweetheart?” his mother asked when he walked into the kitchen.

“It was good, thanks, mom,” he answered, looking on the stove to see if anything was cooking, which it wasn’t.

“That’s good,” Angela replied as she ate some warmed-up leftover chili.

“Yeah, I went over to see Fiona’s place; I should say, mansion,” Andrew said, still practically shaking his head in disbelief.

“Oh, you have a new girlfriend? That’s pretty cool, huh?” Angela said as if trying to sound hip.

“Yes, mom, I told you like a million times already. And she’s not a “new” girlfriend like I go through them every other week. I haven’t been with anyone since forever.”

“Well, I still think that’s pretty cool. A boy your age needs to get out there and sow them oats, isn’t that right?” Angela asked.

“Yes, mom, that’s exactly right,” Andrew agreed for the sake of it. “You should meet her, actually. I think you’d like her.”

“Oh, I don’t want to be meeting your girlfriends, Andy. That’s your business,” she said, getting up from the table to rinse her bowl.

“Yeah, but she’s not just a girlfriend. I think she may be the one,” Andrew said, blushing despite himself.

“Well, I hope you make each other very happy, I really do,” Angela said, kissing him on the head as he bent down into the fridge to retrieve what’s left of the cheese.

“I just thought that maybe you’d like to meet her, that’s all,” Andrew said as he stood back up and closed the refrigerator door. His mom had already left, however.

 

When Simon parked his Jaguar in one of the parking garages on the estate, he thought it odd to see a baseball cap lying face down on the gravel outside. Knowing that all the staff had the day off, as he picked it up, he wondered who it might belong to. Dressed in an expensive suit, befitting his captain of industry status, and looking like he didn’t want to become contaminated, he held the well-worn cap by the tips of his fingers.

Entering the house through the front door he looked and listened for any sign of his daughter. Placing his briefcase and the cap in his office, he climbed the stairs, looking to see if Fiona’s bedroom door was open, which it was. As he rapped lightly with his knuckles on the open door, he deduced from the loose clothes on her bed, chair and floor, that she was maybe showering or changing her clothes. “Fiona, sweetie,” he said as he entered her room.

“I’m taking a bath, daddy,” Fiona called out from the en suite bathroom. “Did you need me for anything?”

Scanning her room for anything out of place, Simon picked up her smart phone. “How was your day, sweetie?” he asked as he flicked through her texts and photos. “Did you go out anywhere?”

“No, just stayed home. Can we talk later or is there something you need to talk about?” she asked.

Flicking through photos of flowers and birds and insects, Simon came to a photo that got his interest: a photo of Andrew wearing his Angel’s baseball cap and making a goofy face to the camera. “I can’t seem to find the book I was reading, thought you might have seen it around,” Simon said, stalling as he texted the photo to his own phone and then erased the sent text.

“No, daddy, I haven’t seen any of your books lying around. Will we look for it later?”

“Yeah, of course, sweetie,” he said, replacing her phone. “I should let you get on with your bath. I love you,” he said as he left.

“Love you too, dad,” Fiona replied, a tone of relief sounding in her voice.

 

In the fourth bar of their celebratory night out, Andrew, Bobby and Tony found a pool table that no one was using. “Cool, here’s a chance to win some of my money back,” Bobby said excitedly. “You guys suck at pool.”

“I play better when I’m drunk,” Tony said. “Whose turn is it to get the beers?” he said, looking directly at Andrew.

“I guess it’s me,” Andrew said, heading to the bar. “Same again, everybody?”

“Yup,” Bobby said, racking up the pool balls.

Beer after beer and game after game only proved Bobby right and Tony wrong: the two guys did suck at pool and Tony did not get any better the more that he drank; in fact, he got considerably worse.

“Okay, that’s it, I’m officially broke,” Tony declared having lost yet another twenty bucks to Bobby. “You’re the luckiest pool player I’ve ever seen, no doubt about it.”

“Luck has nothing to do with it, asswad. The only difference between you and me is you hit whatever ball you think you can pocket. I play strategy. I think ahead. What am I going to play after I pot this ball; where’s the cue ball going to end up? You don’t have strategy, you don’t win games, simple as that.”

“Yeah, you’re a friggin’ genius, Bobby,” Tony said facetiously. “That’s why you have to repeat your end-of-terms every time.”

“Exams don’t count, obviously,” Bobby said, lining up another shot. “Just because you have a good memory doesn’t mean you’re smart, does it? Ten bucks says I make this shot. Cue ball off the rail, ten in the side pocket,” he said, pointing the route with his pool cue.

“No way you’re going to make that shot. Ten bucks says you don’t,” Tony said.

“Do you even have ten bucks?” Bobby asked.

“I’m good for it, you know that. It’s academic anyway; you couldn’t put that ten in the side pocket even if you hit it straight,” Tony insisted.

“Yeah? Well, watch me,” Bobby said, lining up the shot. Hitting the bank too hard, the cue ball flew off the pool table. It crashed into a collection of beer bottles which the bartender Frank was reaching down to pick up.

“That’s it, fellas, you’re cut off,” Frank said, looking down at the mess he now had to clean up.

“That was a total accident, dude. I wasn’t aiming that at you, I swear,” Bobby said.

“Makes no difference; you guys are wasted,” Frank said, dropping a rag on the floor to contain the flow of spilt beer. “I can’t serve you anymore tonight guys, sorry.”

“Ten bucks,” Tony said, his hand extended to Bobby.

“Thanks to you that ten bucks is your contribution to the twelve pack we need to buy on the way back to my place,” Bobby said as he put away the pool cue.

“What do you mean thanks to me, like I made you trash the place?” Tony argued.

“I didn’t trash the place, asswad. You were giving me the juju vibes with your mind, I could feel it,” Bobby replied. “I told you before about that bad juju shit you always do.”

“No, I wasn’t! And even if I was, there’s no way something like that would stand up in a court of law. What would you say to the judge, I screwed up because he was giving me the evil eye, your honor?” Tony said.

“You’re just a sore loser, admit it,” Bobby said as he grabbed his jacket.

“Coming from the world’s sorest loser, that’s saying a lot,” Tony scoffed. “What’s the expression? The pot calling the kettle black?” he asked Andrew.

“Something like that, yeah,” Andrew said disinterestedly.

“I want that ten bucks, Bobby,” Tony insisted as the three of them made their way out of the bar.

 

Simon entered the basement room at the bottom of the ground-level stairs. Its walls adorned with occult symbolism and Egyptian hieroglyphs, it had the look and feel of a room dedicated to the devotion and invocation of ancient deities. Acting and expressing appropriate respect and reverence, he approached a stone altar and lit some candles which sat upon its marble surface.

 

Bobby sat behind the wheel of his two-door pickup truck and turned up the volume of the heavy metal music. Andrew sat in the passenger seat and scrunched over closer to Bobby when Tony returned from the liquor store with the beer. “You got light beer, asswad?” Tony asked.

“It was on sale, dipshit, and it has just as much alcohol content as anything else. Get drunk, not fat, dude,” Tony responded.

“Watching your figure, Cinderella?” Bobby teased.

“Just drive, fatso,” Tony said.

“I’m not fat, mofo. Most of what you think is fat is muscle and if you want a demonstration, I can take you, any time, any place,” Bobby scoffed.

“Yeah, like that would prove anything. You’ve so much fat, you wouldn’t even feel my punches, dude,” Tony said.

“I wouldn’t feel your punches because you don’t know how to fight is why,” Bobby replied.

“Yes, I do. I just choose not to. I’m not a punk; I use my head instead of my fists,” Tony answered.

“You don’t use your fists because you fight like a girl. I bet you think like a girl too, admit it,” Bobby jeered back.

“Do not,” Tony said, hoping for an end to the jabbering.

“I’m not fat, am I, Andy?” Bobby asked.

“No. No, you’re not fat,” Andrew answered tactfully. “Could maybe lose a few pounds but you’re not fat-fat, no.”

“Let’s go, dude,” Tony urged. “I’m tired looking at this ugly parking lot already.”

As they pulled out onto the street, an oncoming car had to swerve to avoid colliding with them. Andrew checked out Bobby’s reaction to the near-miss but he didn’t seem to have even noticed.

 

Simon placed Andrew’s baseball cap on the altar, then found Andrew’s photo on his smart phone and placed it into the baseball cap. He placed a brass object upon it which looked like a mix of triangles and a circle and an equal-arm cross. He opened an old medieval-looking book and with due reverence began reading aloud a chant in some archaic language.

 

Even though he’d had just as many beers as his buddies, not for the first time Andrew felt like he was the sober one of the group. He looked carefully ahead as Bobby took the truck off of the main road and onto a sparsely-lit narrow road that led up into the Hollywood hills. “I thought we were going back to your place, Bobby?” he asked.

“It’s way too early to go home, bro. Besides, have you seen that moon?” Bobby answered. The moon looked full and a few soft baby clouds drifted before it making the sky look dramatic. “We should park up on Mulholland and howl at the moon for shits and giggles, what do you say, Tony?”

By way of answering in the affirmative, Tony howled like a wolf, which made Bobby laugh. “That’s what I’m talking about, Wolfman Tone!” Bobby said, before he himself joined in. Taking a tight turn, the front left wheel briefly mounted the curb.

“You okay to drive, Bobby?” Andrew asked.

“What’s wrong, lover-boy? Getting nervous?” Bobby teased in reply.

“Yeah man, watch the road,” Tony faked concern and then continued howling.

“This is my truck and I drive it how I please…” Bobby said. Taking another winding turn he had to swerve to avoid an oncoming car. Screeching to a complete stop, the truck stared straight into a foliage-covered ditch. Beyond that was a cliff face with a huge drop into a wide gulley below. “Maybe you should drive,” he then said to Andrew. “These turns are making me nauseous.”

“Hey, if you have to puke, sit by the window,” Tony said. “I don’t care that you own the truck, take your puking outside!”

 

With intense concentration, Simon continued to read aloud the chant.

 

While Bobby went round to the other door and got in beside Tony, Andrew got behind the wheel and adjusted the rear view mirror. Slowly he drove the truck up the winding road being careful on the sharp turns. “I need a beer,” Bobby said, ripping open the twelve pack of beer by his feet. “Who else needs a beer?”

“I definitely need a beer,” Tony answered.

As Bobby opened a beer, foam spurted and spilled from the opening. “Here, you have this one,” Bobby said, passing it to Tony who moved his legs quickly to dodge the spilling foam.

“Mind the new jeans, dickwad,” Tony chided.

“This one’s yours, Andy,” Bobby said as he opened another. “Wasn’t forgetting about ya.”

“I’m good,” Andrew replied, keeping his focus on the road. “Wait till we get off the road.”

“Have a beer, bro. You’re so uptight it’s giving me the heebie-jeebies,” Bobby insisted.

“Yeah, dude, who shoved a stick up your ass tonight?” Tony agreed.

“You know what your problem is, Andy-boy?” Bobby asked. “You got so friggin’ sensible, you don’t have any more fun. Ever since you met that loony chick you’ve become a grade-A pain in the ass, do you know that?”

“Yeah, Andy, what’s up with that?” Tony asked. “You used to be the head case and Bobby was the quiet one,” he joked.

“Give him a beer,” Bobby said as he handed Tony a newly-opened can. “We’re your best buddies, Andy. We’ve got your back, bro; isn’t that right, dipshit?” he asked Tony.

“Get real, guys. I’m not going to have a beer while I’m driving,” Andrew said, refusing to take the proffered drink.

“Take the beer, dude and chill,” Bobby urged.

“Yeah, take the beer while it’s still chill, dude,” Tony joked again, pushing the can into Andrew’s face.

“Take it away, Tony, seriously,” Andrew warned.

“Have a beer, have a beer,” Bobby chanted.

“Have a beer, have a beer,” Tony joined in.

“Tony, cut it out,” Andrew said as he pushed his hand away.

“Don’t be rude, just take the beer, bro,” Tony said, pushing Andrew against the door.

“Yeah, don’t be rude, dude,” Bobby said, joining Tony in pushing Andrew against the door.

“Knock it off, guys; it’s not funny, okay?” Andrew said, trying to keep his patience.

“Have a beer, have a beer,” the guys continued, their bodies swaying together, each time pushing Andrew against the door. In his mind’s eye, Andrew saw the door open seconds before it actually did.

 

Fiona woke up abruptly from her sleep. Looking panicked, she glanced around the dark room as if looking for clues to her upset. Down in the basement, Simon continued with his chant and ritual.

As the car door flew open, Andrew quickly tried to grab it but in doing so, he lost his grip on the steering wheel. The truck careered off the road and barreled down a steep ravine at speed. Gathering momentum, the truck collided with a felled dead tree which forced the truck to somersault into the air. Crashing to the ground upside down, the truck turned over and over as it spun wildly down the steep incline. It finally came to rest by smashing into a large stone boulder.

 

Simon finished his chant and looking like his work was now done, closed the book. The door opened behind him and Fiona stood in the doorway. “Can’t you sleep?” Simon asked, shielding the altar with his body.

“What are you doing?” Fiona asked.

“Just doing some praying,” Simon answered. “I thought we talked about you coming in here; I was deep in meditation,” he said, walking towards her.

“I woke up,” Fiona said, furtively looking around for clues. “I guess I got scared.”

“Let’s get you something hot to drink; a hot cocoa, maybe. Would you like that?” he asked kindly as he guided her from the room. “Let’s go to the kitchen.”

“Yeah, yeah, a hot cocoa would be good,” Fiona answered, unsure in her own head about exactly what was going on and what she was intuitively picking up. “Sorry to barge in on you like that.”

“That’s okay, pumpkin. I know what it’s like to wake up scared and not know where everybody is. You can come to me anytime, you know that,” he said, putting a protective arm around her.

“Yeah, I know. Thanks, dad,” Fiona answered as they walked slowly to the kitchen.

 

The truck was completely trashed, a slowly spinning wheel on the upturned chassis the only movement evident in the semi-dark scene of mangled metal. An eerie silence followed after the horrendous crashing noise of the somersaulting truck. A combination of smoke and dust drifted up past the weak light beam of a still-lit interior light bulb.

Two bodies lay sprawled and lifeless in the truck, their torsos as twisted and bent and broken as the metal of the pickup truck. Several feet away another body lay motionless but still breathing. His arm was the first part of his body to move and, as the rest of his body came to life, Andrew turned his head to check out his surroundings.

“Oh my…” he said in shock, not finishing his sentence when he saw the state of the pickup. “Please, God, no,” he then said as he got to his feet and stumbled with difficulty to the wreck. “Nooooo,” he then shouted upon seeing the terminal, lifeless state of his two buddies. “Noooooo,” he cried aloud as he fell to his knees in absolute shock and pain.

[]Chapter 3

 

His eyes opened but it took Andrew a few seconds to realize that the 6 × 8-foot room with plain brick walls and a solid steel door was his new home. Feeling sore all over, cuts and bruises everywhere, he couldn’t remember a time that he had felt so scared and alone. When he heard footsteps coming to his door, he lifted himself up to a seating position. A key turned in the lock and, as the heavy door swung open, an overweight police officer stood in the doorway. “Your lawyer is here,” he said.

In an adjoining interview room, Angela sat at a desk with the assigned public defender, Victor Delgado. Her eyes puffy from recent crying, Angela looked like she was in shock. “He was never a wild kid, you know,” she said.

“I know,” Victor responded, looking through the contents of a folder, maybe of a different case. “He’s a good kid and we’re going to do our best,” he said, not looking up from the folder.

Angela stood up when the door opened. An officer directed Andrew to sit opposite at the desk. “Andy, sweetheart,” she said, fighting the impulse to grab him and latch onto him. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, mom,” Andrew answered, the intense shame he felt discouraging any meaningful eye contact.

“Andrew, I’m Victor Delgado,” Victor said, standing up and extending his hand. “I’ll be defending you in court.”

“Thank you,” Andrew said nervously as he shook his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“We’re not blaming you for anything, Andy. It was a terrible accident,” his mom said, trying to contain her tears.

“I’ll get straight to the point,” Victor said like he was in a hurry. “The charge we’re answering here is manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter to be precise. The best we hope to accomplish here is to limit jail time to as little time as possible. Do you understand?”

“Jail?” Andrew asked, shocked.

“You’re saying that jail is inevitable?” Angela asked.

“I’m afraid so, yes,” Ben answered.

“But he has his whole life ahead of him; it’s the first time he’s ever been in trouble,” Angela pleaded.

“Angela, I empathize exactly with what you’re saying but you have to understand that two young people lost their lives here. They too had their whole lives in front of them and the reality is that the law says that someone has to do time for that, you understand?” Victor answered.

“What about community service or something?” Angela asked, sounding desperate and distraught.

“I’m sorry but no judge in the country would go for that, right now,” he said. “Andrew’s alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit; they had a case of beer in the truck, they were going to drink even more…” he continued, briefly looking at his notes. “The parents of the boys will be looking for a conviction; they lost their sons, forever… you do understand, don’t you?” he said more softly, as if to totally convince Angela of the stark reality of the situation.

“Yes, of course,” Angela said as she finally gave up on holding back her tears.

Looking still in shock and emotionally numb, Andrew watched his mom cry and accept a tissue from his attorney, a dude who looked like he’d rather be someplace else. “We’re going to do our very best here, I promise,” he said, Andrew wondering to himself who exactly the “we” was that the man was referring to.

“How long in jail?” she asked finally, as if it was a hard question to ask. “How long, exactly?”

“It could go anywhere from one to ten years,” Ben answered.

“Ten years?” Angela almost shouted.

 

Fiona was not allowed to visit Andrew and had to wait until the case went to court before she could see him in person. Sitting in the front row was as close as she could get to seeing him. Encouraged by his willingness to meet her eyes at every opportunity he could get, she wanted to transmit to him with her gaze that she still loved him. She would always love him. She was never going to go away; no matter what seemingly impossible obstacles life threw at them and conspired to part them.

Instructed to stand while the court read out the verdict, Andrew was so nervous, he could barely keep his knees from buckling beneath him. Then the judge sentenced him.

“Andrew William Cox,” the elderly judge addressed him as the entire courtroom fell deathly quiet. “You are sentenced to serve four and no less than two years in the state penitentiary…”

Angela almost fainted at the news and had to be held up from falling. Feeling faint and ill herself, Fiona took a deep breath and urged herself to appear strong and supportive to Andrew.

“You are required to attend alcohol rehabilitation programs to be defined at a later date,” the judge continued. “The court is dismissed.”

Hoping to get an exchange of even one word with Andrew, Fiona stood at the courtroom rail as the courtroom emptied. “Andrew!” she yelled as he was being led back to the holding cell. Trying not to cry, Andrew’s eyes were filled with shame and humiliation. He looked at her sadly. Being too far for him to hear, she mouthed the words “I love you!” to him.

“I love you too,” he mouthed back.

Fiona felt a pain shoot through her heart as they led him away and out of sight. Only then did she allow her tears to fall.

“I’m going to do everything I can to appeal this decision,” Victor told Andrew as he signaled for the officers to stop in the corridor.

“Thanks for everything,” Andrew said resignedly. “We did okay, considering, I guess,” he said.

“I think we did,” Victor admitted. “But look, you should know this going in,” he said, looking pained. “The prison has different wings for certain types of crimes, certain types of people,” he continued, looking like he had a hard time articulating his thoughts. “The system is so overcrowded they can’t keep everyone apart anymore. You should be going to a softer wing but that’s not guaranteed, you know what I’m saying?”

“I’m going to live with other killers. Is that it?” Andrew asked.

“It’s going to be difficult to be left alone, you know? If you do have to take sides, be careful who you take sides with. We want to get you out of there as quickly as possible but still in one piece. I think you know what I’m saying.”

“In other words, I’m on my own,” Andrew said.

“Yeah,” Victor said with a sigh. “Where you’re going, you are very much on your own. Be safe.”

 

For days on end, Fiona didn’t know what to do with herself. Barely leaving the house except to do grocery shopping, she wanted so much to figure out a way to be closer to Andrew. She felt like she couldn’t live with him being out of her life for up to four years, which seemed like an eternity. As she lay on her bed, she realized that the solution to her immediate problem—not being able to see her love—might not be too far away. “Of course,” she said to herself and jumped off of the bed and ran out of her room.

As it was mid-afternoon, her father most likely wouldn’t return till later. Opening the door to the library, she took a peek in, just in case. Glad to see that she had the room to herself, she smiled. With its huge collection of arcane, metaphysical and occult books, she wondered where first to look. Going subject to subject, she scanned the different sections until she came to a subject that got her attention: astral traveling.

Having come across it in various books that she had previously read, she knew that it might offer a solution. Her understanding was that it was possible for the spirit body to leave the physical body and travel to any destination that it so desired, in this world or the next. Although she had never tried it, she was pretty sure that it was not only possible but would provide a definite solution to her problem.

As a serious student and practitioner of all things occult, her father only kept books that were reputable and authentic. If any of his books offered a technique, there would be a good chance that it was something she could make work with proper intent, perseverance, and practice. After grabbing several books and minimizing the new spacing with other books, she left the room.

 

Andrew stood at the door of the prison cafeteria and watched the other inmates to see what the protocol was. Trying not to look as terrified as he felt, he adopted a demeanor that would signal to others that he belonged. Watching how the other inmates walked and moved gave him valuable clues about how he should conduct himself. I’m a badass, just like you, he hoped his walk would communicate as he made his way to the food line.

With his tray full of tasteless-looking food he scanned the room for some safe place to eat. Inmates sat on benches before rows of tables that cluttered up the large dining hall. This isn’t high school, he thought to himself, where students sat in cliques ranging from geeks to cheerleaders. In here, people segregated by gang affiliation and ethnic groups did not mix, he noticed. In fact, there was so much tension between each group that without prison guards the place would most certainly break out into a complete riot.

Sitting down in one of the white gang member’s sections, he stood out like a new and shiny model in a line of used cars. Keeping his head down, and deciding not to make eye contact with anybody, he adopted a blank expression on his face. Wincing at the awful taste of what looked like meatloaf, he tried not to show his displeasure. Just eat this crap and get out quick, he thought to himself.

“Hey,” a scary-looking dude addressed him as he sat down beside him. His fellow gang-members sat opposite as other inmates finished up and left.

“Hey,” Andrew said, trying to sound both tough and disinterested.

“You must be new around here,” the tough guy said as the other dudes sniggered.

“Yeah,” Andrew replied.

“What’s your name?” the guy asked.

“Andrew.”

As if impressed, the scary dude smiled and nodded smugly to his gang.

“Or Andy,” Andrew corrected himself.

“Then you don’t mind if we call you shithead?” the dude asked as the others laughed. “And tell me, shithead,” the dude continued, “what act of sin did you commit to get into our privileged club, huh?”

Acting like he just wanted to be left alone, Andrew remained silent and kept eating the awful tasting food.

“Did you cheat on your homework?” the dude asked. “You stayed out too late? Stay out past your bedtime, huh?”

“I’m in for manslaughter,” Andrew answered, acting as tough as he could.

To the surprise and amusement of the others, they each cheered and applauded him. “Way to go, bro,” one of them said. “All-right,” another said, raising his hand to Andrew for a high-five, which Andrew completed. Feeling more accepted and as if he were now more respected, Andrew smiled. Without warning, Andrew’s body stood frozen in pain as he dropped his utensils.

 Acting nonchalant and innocent, beneath the table, the scary dude held a fork to Andrew’s side. The blood stain on Andrew’s orange prison uniform proved that the fork had pierced his skin. “I want your undivided attention for a moment, shithead, because I want to introduce you to your new friends,” the dude said. “We will be taking care of you during your stay with us, won’t we, guys?”

As the other gang members guffawed like this was great entertainment, Andrew breathed through the pain. He did not want to show his distress. Covertly looking around to see if there are any prison guards about, he spied a couple of guards at the doorway and two on the balcony. None of them, however, seemed aware, interested, or bothered enough to notice his predicament.

“Over here we have Franco,” the dude continued, pointing out a not-too-bright-looking individual whose face was disfigured by a thin scar that ran down the left side of his face. “Say hello to Franco,” the dude said and jabbed Andrew with the fork.

“Hello, Franco,” Andrew said and winced with the pain.

“Aren’t you going to shake his hand?” the dude asked.

Andrew extended his arm and shook with Franco. “Pleased to meet you,” he said.

“This is Billy,” the dude continued, pointing out a biker-looking dude. “Say hello to Billy.”

“Hello, Billy,” Andrew said as he extended his hand which Billy seemed too confused to know what to do with, so he punched Andrew’s hand with his fist.

“And sitting on the other side of you is Malice,” the dude continued. “Say fuck you to Malice.”

Malice was a huge, ugly-looking guy with bad skin that was missing a bunch of teeth. He smiled and extended his hand to Andrew. “Fuck you, Malice,” Andrew said as he shook his hand.

“Fuck you, shithead,” Malice said with a huge grin on his face.

As the others continued to show their amusement, the dude finally withdrew his weapon. “Well, that breaks the ice,” he said.

Andrew relaxed his body and allowed himself to breathe deeper. “You didn’t say your name,” he said to the dude.

“My name is Duke,” the dude answered.

“Fuck you, Duke,” Andrew said, looking straight into his eyes and extending his hand. Taking the gathering by surprise, they waited for Duke’s response. Sizing up Andrew, it looked like his reaction could go either way. Staring hard into Andrew’s eyes, Andrew didn’t blink.

“Don’t push it, shithead,” he said to Andrew, pushing the bloodied fork into Andrew’s extended hand.

 

Fiona walked nervously into the prisoner visiting room and took a seat at a long table. As she waited for Andrew to arrive she couldn’t help but notice how scary the prisoners looked. Her heart went out to Andrew having to associate with such people who all looked so violent and rough.

She perked up when she saw Andrew being led into the room by a prison guard. She had been instructed not to stand up or touch, so she waited excitedly for him to sit. Looking sad and sleep deprived, Andrew still managed a broad smile upon seeing Fiona’s bright and happy face. “I can’t believe they put you in here,” she immediately said when he sat opposite. “How are you? Is it awful?” she asked.

“It was hard the first few days but you get used to it, I guess,” Andrew answered. “It’s so good to see you,” he said with a smile.

“I can’t believe they made me wait this long. I’m dying without you, seriously,” she said.

“I’m dying without you,” he responded. “I’m still not sure how this all happened.”

“I’ve been trying to come visit you,” she said.

“You are visiting me,” Andrew said, a bit puzzled. “You mean before?”

“No, I mean at night. I’ve been trying to come visit you at night.”

“Visiting time is during the day, Fi. They’re pretty strict about that,” Andrew said.

“I’ll explain when I get the hang of it,” Fiona said. “You probably won’t see me, not in the beginning anyway, but when I do, I’ll teach you too and we can meet anytime we want,” she said excitedly.

“Fiona, don’t go all weird on me, okay? It’s hard enough—”

“What if I told you that we will be able to see each other and hang out together any time we want?” she asked.

“I don’t understand. Meet anytime we want?” he asked.

“Andrew, we’re soul mates; it’ll probably work better for us this way… I mean that our souls, not our bodies, can meet anytime we want. Isn’t that exciting?”

“Yeah,” he answered, not wanting to burst her bubble. “That would be amazing.”

“I know, right?” she asked and almost giggled with the possibility and the thrill of it.

“Yeah, Fi, that would be amazing,” he said, a sucker for her beauty, joy and optimism. He didn’t know what she was going on about and he didn’t care. “I’m so delighted to see you. Thank you for being in my life,” he said, and meant it so much that he almost cried.

 

Andrew awoke in the top bunk of his shared cell and immediately checked the time on the beat up clock on the prison desk: 6:00 AM. His cell mate was already up and sat at the desk, studying a book that he had made drawings from. It looked like he had drawn lines going up and down a drawing of a human body.

Andrew watched the bearded, older guy and wondered what his story was. He was maybe in his fifties and didn’t look like the other, more typical, gang member types. Even though his hair was long and scraggy, Andrew could imagine that the man would clean up well enough. Andrew thought that maybe he could be a store clerk or something similar in the outside world.

He had shared the cell with the guy for several days but he still didn’t know his name. Beyond a brief rundown of the rules, they had not exchanged any meaningful conversation.  Andrew got the impression that the guy was a serious introvert that just wanted to be left alone. Even though the guy looked harmless enough, Andrew wondered what his crime had been and perhaps, even more relevant, if the guy was in any way a current danger or threat.

“My name is Andrew,” by the way, Andrew said, leaning closer to the side of the bed in case the guy extended his hand upward for a handshake.

Turning his head to look up at Andrew, the dude’s expression suggested that he didn’t want to be disturbed. “Just so we’re clear,” the guy said, “I’m not going to be your friend, no disrespect.”

“Sure,” Andrew said, wondering to himself, what the heck?

“I know that we’re sharing a cell together but that doesn’t make us roommates, you know?” the dude continued. “It’s not like I put an ad out on Craigslist, room to rent, know what I’m saying?”

“Yeah, sure,” Andrew agreed. “Not a problem.”

As the guy returned to the study of his book, Andrew wondered if he should sleep some more or get up and out. It being Sunday, he wondered if the daily routine would be any different. Not that he knew the daily routine, yet, exactly. Up to now it was simply a matter of doing what he was told whenever the guards showed up or the cell doors opened when it was time for food or outside exercise or something.

“I’m just saying that if anything goes down or you get into some kind of trouble, I’m not going to get involved, you know?” the guy said, his head turned back around. “First rule of prison: unless you’re a gang member, it’s every man for himself, know what I’m saying?”

“Oh, yeah, sure, I get it,” Andrew agreed. “Same goes for me, definitely.”

“Just so we’re clear,” the guy said and turned his head back around.

“We’re good,” Andrew said, hoping to sound like he was cool with everything. “What’s the book?” he asked casually.

“The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine,” the guy answered. “You probably never heard of it, it’s only like, a few thousand years old.”

“The book?” asked Andrew, immediately regretting the question.

“Not this particular copy, obviously,” the guy said, turning it over to show Andrew the modern yellow cover, “they think he wrote it in the third century BC or thereabouts.”

“Cool,” Andrew said, lost for a meaningful comment or question.

“They knew more about health and the body back then than they know now, can you believe that?” the guy asked.

“That’s pretty wild,” Andrew said, not believing it.

As the guy returned to his study of the book, Andrew wondered how he could swing the conversation towards what the guy was in for. Was it rude to ask straight out or was it more like the movies where inmates talk and brag about what why they are doing time? “Have you been here long?” Andrew asked.

“Long enough to know how to stay out of trouble,” the guy answered, his head not turning around.

“Is there a Cliff Notes version?” Andrew asked, making a serious question sound like it was a joke. “How to Stay out of Trouble in the Modern Penitentiary,” he proffered a book title.

“You want to know how to stay out of trouble?” the guy asked, his body now turning around.

“Yeah, sure,” Andrew answered. “I do want to know.”

“You do what everyone else has done since the beginning of imprisonment. You join a gang,” the guy said without a hint of frivolity or sarcasm.

“Okay,” Andrew answered, wondering about that.

“Did you know that most of the gangs on the streets were actually started in jails first?” the guy asked.

“No, I didn’t know that,” Andrew answered.

“It’s how people stay alive. On your own, without any protection, you’re a sitting duck. You get together in a group and you’ve increased your chances of staying alive. Basic survival strategy,” the guy said, “just like the nature shows on the Discovery channel.”

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Andrew considered. “Do you have any recommendations?” he asked.

“Do I have any recommendations?” the guy asked back, bursting into laughter. “Do I have any recommendations about gang membership?” the guy asked, now laughing hysterically.

“Well, I didn’t mean…” Andrew said, and stopped because he realized he was coming across like an idiot.

“Like you’re ordering a bottle of wine?” the guy says, tears rolling down his face. “This one is fruity and aromatic with a hint of spicy undertones?” he asked, laughing so much, he looked a little psychotic. “Or maybe you might like the one with the earthy flavors and the sweet and savory aftertaste?” he asked, trying to stop himself from laughing too hard.

“Stupid question, I’m sorry,” Andrew said and tried to get the guy’s attention. “I was just wondering by what you meant by join a gang, that’s all,” Andrew said, wondering if the guy was a bit touched in the head.

“I’m sorry,” the guy said and wiped his eyes with the backs of his hands. “I don’t know why I thought that was so funny. You can get starved for humor in here sometimes, you know?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Andrew answered. “Forget I said anything, I’m sure everything’s going to work out fine.”

“Seriously?” the guy said, taking a few deep breaths. “Joining a gang isn’t the answer, either. Then you’re just switching one prison for another and once you’re in that hell, they’re never going to let you out, know what I’m saying?”

“Yeah,” Andrew answered. “I wasn’t really considering it.”

“Just keep a low profile and try not to piss anyone off,” the guy suggested.

“You do okay?” Andrew asked. “They leave you alone?”

“Lifers and old geezers like me they leave alone for the most part. It’s the young guys they like to mess with,” the guy answered.

“Good to know,” Andrew said and immediately felt scared.

“Old guys and lifers don’t have any fear,” the guy said, as if answering a question that wasn’t asked. “In fact, some lifers would welcome it, you know? Go ahead, punk, put me out of my misery, know what I’m saying?”

“Yeah, sure,” Andrew said.

“The more you reek of fear, the more you attract attention. It’s like those nature shows, when they go into the jungle or the ocean or whatever? Same thing in here. They can smell fear just like a tiger or a shark. You know how a shark can smell a drop of blood from like a mile away?”

“Yeah,” Andrew answered.

“Gets their attention and then they zoom in until they find the wounded animal and snap!” he said, clicking his fingers. “You’re breakfast.”

“That’s pretty wild,” Andrew said, feeling spooked.

“I help some of them out in the library; help them write letters to the courts or their girlfriends, whatever. Helping them out like that shows respect, know what I’m saying?”

“Yeah.”

“In here, it’s all about respect. Show equal respect and never, ever, dis anyone; that’s a surefire way of getting yourself killed.”

“Okay,” Andrew said and nodded his head like he was taking it in.

“You’ll know gang members from what kind of tats they have,” the guy continued. “They wear tats the same way an army guy would wear his medals, you know?”

“I’ve heard of that, yeah,” Andrew said.

“They go by ethnicity and they all hate each other, pretty much. And it’s not like you can go join a Mexican gang or something; you can only join the white ones, okay?”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t really thinking— “

“Those Aryan supremacist dudes that were messing with you the other day?”

“You saw that?” Andrew asked.

“Let me tell you something. It might look like the place is in chaos or no one is paying any attention to anybody else? It’s the opposite. Everybody is watching everybody else, all the time, twenty-four seven. That’s the only way you stay alive and out of trouble, okay? Never think no one is watching what you do. This is not a rag-tag bunch of criminals and reprobates; this is one of the most organized places you’ll ever get to see in your life; don’t ever forget that.”

“I won’t,” Andrew agreed respectfully.

“Most of those gangs are run just they do in the army. Same difference. They got rules and hierarchies and command centers and ways of doing things and shit that even the Feds can’t break or understand. They may be criminals but some of those guys at the top have IQ’s like you wouldn’t believe, know what I’m saying?” the guy said and sat back in his chair like maybe he was finished talking. “Stay alert and live. Don’t pay attention and you’ll get hurt, that’s all I’m saying,” he then said.

“I appreciate the tip, thanks,” Andrew said, feeling like he never wanted to leave the safety of the cell.

“Henry,” the guy said, turning back to his book. “The name’s Henry.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Andrew said as he lay back in the bunk.

“One more thing,” Henry then said. “You won’t read this in the newspapers but every now and then there’s a riot breaks out. It’s rarely a whole-scale riot, mostly put out pretty fast, but when it happens, doesn’t matter where you are, you need to hit the deck, you know what I mean? Shit goes down, you get down.”

“Yeah, of course,” Andrew agreed.

“Sometimes I hear about it in advance, in which case, I’ll give you the heads up.”

“Cool, thanks,” Andrew said. “They plan riots so they can escape?”

“No. They plan riots to keep order,” the guy answered.

“Who does?” Andrew asked, looking confused. “The gangs?”

“Yeah, the gangs,” Henry answered. “If they want to get someone: kill, hurt, get back at someone, keep someone in line, make a point, whatever, they’ll create a riot as a distraction. Soon as the smoke clears, whoever ends up hurt was the target. Some poor punks low down on the totem pole or someone trying to pass their initiation into the gang are ordered to take the fall and they’ll most likely end up in solitary or some shit but the gang leaders that planned it never get their hands dirty or take the rap. The guards know what’s going on but they can’t do shit except deal with the mayhem and try to keep some semblance of order. It ain’t easy for the screws.”

“Oh,” Andrew said, not knowing what to think.

“Welcome to my world, dude,” Henry then said.

[]Chapter 4

 

Fiona sat on the floor in the center of her bedroom and, not for the first time, tried to have her spirit leave her body. Thinking that maybe she had got it wrong, she once again consulted one of the arcane books. Closing her eyes and concentrating hard, she willed her spirit body to fly up and out through the top of her head so that she could travel to Andrew.

Feeling that maybe she was trying too hard, she tried to relax more and “let it happen,” as this particular book suggested. As she relaxed more while still maintaining her intent and focus, she began to hear a sound, as if a wind were passing through a tunnel. Feeling encouraged, she concentrated her focus even more upon what her spirit body would feel like as it detached from the physical body. As she did so, she could feel The Vibrations; a state of transition that the book explained was the result of the bodies being separated.

As the sound of wind and the feeling of vibrations intensified in her body, Fiona smiled. It was happening. She could do it and soon she would be visiting with Andrew. The thought of seeing him made her feel delirious with happiness and excitement. As a faint light emanated from her body and she prepared herself for flight, she failed to hear the increased loud knocking on her bedroom door.

Just as she felt she was ready to separate from her body, the door opened and the vibrations immediately ceased. Seeing her father standing in the doorway, Fiona reacted with fright. “Why are you sitting on the floor like that?” Simon asked, looking around the room for further clues.

“I was taking a nap, dad,” Fiona immediately replied, without thinking.

“Taking a nap? On the floor?” he asked.

“It tones the body muscles,” she answered, coming more into her own self. “It’s the new yoga thing,” she said and indicated the open book beside her that she hoped he wouldn’t recognize as his.

Not so easily assuaged or fooled by her responses Simon walked softly into the room and squatted down in front of her. “You’d tell me if your special gifts had arrived, wouldn’t you?” he asked quietly.

“Of course,” Fiona answered.

“You wouldn’t keep me in the dark, on purpose, would you?” he asked.

“You’d be one of the first to know, dad,” she answered, hoping he would go already.

“One of the first?” he asked. “I would have thought that I’d be the only one you would inform,” he said. “Who else have you talked to about this?”

“No one, honest,” Fiona replied. “It’s a figure of speech and anyway you know how I am about making promises I can’t keep. You will be one of the first to know,” she said, smiling.

“Okay,” Simon said, finally. “I’m not going to interrogate you; I know that you tell me only the truth. Enjoy your nap,” he said with a wry smile as he rose again to stand above her. “Doesn’t look very comfortable to me but then, my body muscles are perfectly toned.”

“Yes, they are, father,” Fiona said facetiously as she checked out his middle-aged spread. “Beneath all that fat is a fully toned, athlete’s body just waiting to be let out.”

“Well, maybe we can do what you’re doing together some time, if you’d care to show me,” he said, walking towards the door.

“Just say the word, dad,” she said brightly.

Smiling, he gave her a look that could be perceived as a warning look, and slowly left her alone and closed the door behind him. Fiona’s body almost collapsed to the floor with relief.

 

Andrew awoke from a bad dream and wanted desperately to go to Fiona. Looking around the darkened room, he remembered his new reality with an upset that brought him to tears. He wanted to hold Fiona in his arms so much that he felt like his heart might burst from the grief. For the first time in his incarceration, he felt like his new situation might very well be the end of him. Without Fiona in his life, he felt hopeless; like nothing else really mattered.

Unable to stop crying, he tried to stifle it for fear of being overheard. The mangled faces of both Tony and Bobby shot into his mind as if a remnant of his bad dream. He was filled with so much nausea and dread, grief, sorrow and regret over the loss of his friends, that he thought he was going to throw up right there and then. Managing to subdue his stomach, he tried to wipe their images from his mind. Their bloody faces haunted his inner peace and he felt so pent up with emotion, he had a hard time stopping himself from screaming.

The loss of his two friends sent a deep sadness into the core of his soul. He remembered their smiling faces in the happier times that the three of them had shared together. The guilt and responsibility he felt by the loss of their lives filled him with utter despair. He didn’t deserve to live, a voice inside his head told him. Why didn’t you die with your friends? Who do you think you are that you chose to live while you let your best friends die? Who do you think you are, asshole?

“Andrew,” a voice called out and in his reverie, he could have sworn he heard Fiona call his name. Straining his ears to listen, he hoped that he would hear her voice again. After what seemed like an age, he relaxed his hearing. Was he losing his mind?

He considered that maybe he needed to see someone, a therapist or something, before his feelings began overpowering him. Talking to a professional might help prevent the loss of what was left of his mind and his inner peace. Perhaps his very sanity was at stake, he reasoned, as he looked at the sorry state of his new living conditions.

Wanting desperately to get up and move, walk around, drive somewhere, anything but be trapped in the tiny crappy cell, he felt like maybe he would go insane. It mightn’t happen immediately, but it could happen so slowly and over time that he wouldn’t even notice he had lost his mind. By then, it would be too late.

He imagined how it might be. To outside observers and especially to those who once knew him he would appear to be thinking and acting like a madman. To himself, he wouldn’t see any difference. To himself, he wouldn’t even remember who he used to be or what he used to think like. To himself, he would still know himself as Andrew.

Lying in the shitty bed of the upper bunk somewhere in cell block B2D, Andrew lay awake and disturbed. He had never experienced before such dark and dreadful thoughts as the ones that now invaded his vulnerable mind. He had never before felt such powerful and scary emotions as the ones that now ripped him up on the inside. It scared him that he didn’t seem to have much protection against such terrifying feelings and thoughts.

Did the old Andrew die? Somewhere between the car accident and the court case and jail, did that soft and tender Andrew become replaced with a different Andrew? A dark and more sinister version of the one that went before? For the old Andrew, life used to be full of hope and promise. For this new Andrew, whoever it was that now inhabited his mind and body, life was nothing more than a giant shithole.

 Lying awake, and noticing every little sound that echoed throughout the corridors, Andrew waited for Henry to get up first and do his morning ritual. The guy was so rigid and institutionalized that Andrew could sense that anything that upset Henry’s daily routine practically disturbed him to the core. Once Henry dressed and took care of his bathroom functions, Andrew pulled himself down from and out of the bunk.

Even though the breakfast was barely edible, the food did help him to feel better. His spirits were lifted further when he took advantage of his exercise privileges in the yard. Breathing the morning air deeply and tilting his face up towards the sun, he felt stronger, refreshed and more himself.

Remembering his talk with Henry about paying attention, he watched everyone around him with disguised interest. What had seemed like the random behavior of the inmates on his earlier visits to the yard, he now could see was actually much more structured. Their behavior only seemed random because everyone acted so casually, he now noticed.

A certain pattern of behavior began to make itself known to him as he watched a similar scenario play out. With almost absolute regularity he watched as each gang congregated in the same places each day. The higher-up gang members would sit and the lesser members would stand. What he termed “the runners” would be sent to different groups or individuals, directed by the seated members of the gang.

The runners were most likely newer members that would trade drugs or payment or information with other gang runners. They would then report back to their bosses; the expressions on the bosses’ faces either displaying satisfaction or displeasure. If it was displeasure, the runners would usually return to the other gang or individual to impart a follow up message.

Then there were what Andrew termed the tourists; those mid-level gang members that toured around the yard, visiting with other gangs to catch up on current events and find out what the other gangs were planning. Although they greeted the other respective gang members with respect and apparent friendliness, Andrew could tell that it was like a business respect. It was the kind of respect borne out of the understanding that it’s in all their best interests to cooperate to some degree in order to run a successful enterprise within the confines of their shared living conditions.

“What’s going on, shithead?” a voice said from behind him. Andrew knew exactly what he was going to see before he even turned around. Duke and his posse of loser White Supremacist morons stood together looking like they were kingpins of the yard, which they were not, nor even close.

“Not much,” Andrew answered. “You?” he asked.

“Not much,” Duke said; a smug smile on his face that made him look more obnoxious. “You want to walk with us?” he asked.

Andrew stopped himself from telling them to go take a hike and wasn’t sure exactly how best to answer. He figured that they wanted to get him to do something for them; something that would get him into trouble and allow them to get away scot-free. At the same time, declining their invite would also set him up to suffer in some way from their wrath. It was a lose-lose deal for him, no doubt about it.

“Sorry, guys, I’m supposed to meet someone,” Andrew said, looking at his wrist and feeling instantly stupid because he didn’t wear a watch.

“You’ve got a meeting, dipshit? Are you shittin’ me?” Duke asked, an exaggerated expression of incredulity on his face. “Hey, don’t walk away, I’m talking to you, shithead!”

“Gotta go, sorry guys,” Andrew said, scurrying off and kicking himself for not coming up with a better excuse.

“You’re going to regret this, An-drew,” Duke shouted after him as Andrew left the yard.

Andrew returned to his cell and feeling bored out of his skull, jumped back onto his bunk. Henry sat at the desk, still studying and drawing from the same book. “What are you doing in here, Henry?” Andrew asked straight out. “You’re smart, you’re educated and apart from me, you’re the only guy without any tats in here; you’re totally not like the rest of the losers in this kip, so what’s your story, dude?”

“You know what an alternative healer is?” Henry asked.

“No,” answered Andrew.

“You know what a homeopath is? A herbalist? An acupuncturist?” Henry asked.

“Yeah,” answered Andrew. “You’re an acupuncturist?”

“I combine all these therapies together, along with others that you never heard of, energy healing and stuff,” Henry said.

“So, you’re in jail because you heal people?” Andrew asked, looking confused.

“Pretty much,” Henry answered. “They put me away, along with tens of thousands of others, because we threaten the status quo. You think this is a free country? Think again,” Henry said.

“Okay,” Andrew said, lost for a follow up question.

“Medicine is big business, right?” Henry asked.

“Yeah,” Andrew answered.

“Let’s say you get cancer. You go to your doctor, he sends you to specialists, they do tests, you go to hospital, they do more tests, give you chemo, the whole nine yards. How much does that all cost?”

“With health insurance and—“

“Forget about health insurance,” Henry interrupted. “With or without health insurance, how much is that all gonna cost?”

“I don’t know, a lot?” Andrew said.

“You could be lucky and get away with paying tens of thousands or you could be unlucky and pay hundreds of thousands, right? That’s maybe if they can even cure you, okay?” Henry asked.

“Sure.”

“Suppose I told you I could completely cure you for less than a thousand bucks, who would you go with?”

“Well, considering I don’t have health insurance and I sure as heck don’t have tens of thousands— “

“Exactly,” Henry interrupted. “Now suppose you’re big business and you see all these alternative therapy folks not just taking away your business but making you look like a greedy, foolish fat-cat that doesn’t even know what you’re doing, what would you do?”

“I don’t know. Take a look at what you’re doing and, if something works, I’d use it in my therapy as well, maybe?” Andrew answered.

“Seriously, dude?” Henry asked. “That’s how you think big business operates? Instead of making a huge profit on drugs that don’t work, I’m going to give you a few herbs for you to take that will cure you and I’ll make maybe two bucks profit?”

“If the herbs work, right?” Andrew said.

With a bewildered expression, Henry looked down at the floor and gave an exasperated sigh. “They were curing people of major diseases in China thousands of years ago,” Henry said, holding up his yellow book. “For nothing,” he said, “maybe they’d give the healer a chicken or a few eggs or something. They knew more about health and disease back then; how the energy system in the body works, for instance…” Henry said, shaking his head with disgust.

“So, you can cure cancer?” Andrew asked uncertainly.

“I was curing all kinds of so-called incurable diseases. People came to me when they’d tried everything else; when all the doctors and all the specialists in the world couldn’t cure them, they came to me. When they had no money left and they’d spent their life savings on a system that doesn’t work, on a system that’s corrupt…” he said, almost tearful.

“That’s pretty cool,” Andrew said, feeling awkward.

“You know why I could cure them and Big Business couldn’t? Because it’s not about the disease; it’s about health. Make the body strong and it can fight any kind of disease: cancer, aids, lupus, MS, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s, Cystic Fibrosis, it doesn’t matter. You don’t fight the disease; you make the body healthier. The body is a series of interrelated systems; you don’t just treat a part of the body; you treat the whole system. They know this, like I say, this is nothing new; I didn’t invent this, this is researched and documented… All they have to do is change the emphasis from disease to health. It sounds too simple, right?” Henry asked.

“Yeah,” Andrew answered.

“You don’t make money from simple; simple is free or maybe it costs a few measly bucks,” Henry said, sounding sad and defeated.

“So, they put you in jail for giving people herbs? I don’t understand. No one died or anything?” Andrew asked.

“No, no one died,” Henry said, sounding like he was offended. “People lived. People that were given death sentences by the corporations got so friggin’ healthy that they couldn’t shut up about it. They told their friends and their friends told their friends and they blogged and they Facebooked… Nothing gets bigger word of mouth than a supposed miracle, right? But this isn’t a miracle,” Henry said, holding up his book. “This used to be normal; this used to be average. Just shows you how messed up the system is now when what should be normal and average is considered miraculous.”

“So, they put you in jail because?” Andrew asked.

“You’re a pretty naïve kid, aren’t you?” Henry asked. “I don’t mean that in a bad way; it’s your whole generation. You probably think that a lone gunman killed JFK and that they invaded Iraq because they had weapons of mass destruction.”

“I haven’t really thought much about that stuff, to be honest,” Andrew said.

“That stuff?” Henry asked, like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “It doesn’t bother you that the rich control your life and they can do what they want, when they want and ruin everything on the planet in order to make themselves richer? That doesn’t bother you, no?”

“I don’t really… care,” Andrew said honestly.

“Well, then,” Henry said, trying to hide his disgust. “If you don’t give a shit about humanity, there’s not a lot to talk about, is there, huh?” he said and turned back around to his studying.

Andrew lay back in his bunk and looked vaguely up at the ceiling. How am I going to make it here? he asked himself. If I don’t get beaten up or murdered by gang members, I’m going to go insane through boredom or conversations with conspiracy nut jobs.

Even if the guy was a bit nuts, Andrew did admire Henry for his passion and concern. Aside from Fiona, Andrew didn’t really have anything that he felt passionate about.

“You really don’t care?” Henry turned around and asked. “I’m just curious. How can you not care?”

“It doesn’t concern me, I guess,” Andrew answered.

“This country is fucked, man. This once great, majestic country of ours is being raped and sacked and pillaged and you don’t give a shit, is that it?” Henry asked.

Pillaged is a funny word, Andrew thought to himself. “I don’t see what you see, I guess,” Andrew answered diplomatically.

“You don’t see the rich getting richer while there’s more and more hungry and homeless people showing up on the streets? You don’t see where everything we buy is made in China and nothing says ‘made in America’ anymore? You don’t see where there’s no jobs for kids leaving school except maybe to, what, stack the shelves at Walmart? You don’t see your folks working harder and harder and still they never seem to get ahead; they work their asses off and they never seem to have enough; they always have to borrow more and more just to keep what they have, just to keep on going? All of that shit escapes your notice? I’m just asking,” Henry asked.

“My mom does work a lot and she never seems to… yeah, it’s always like she has to borrow all the time,” Andrew said, remembering how his mom often complained that she could never seem to pay off her rising credit card bills.

“The dollar isn’t worth shit. They keep borrowing trillions just to keep the lights on and there’s not going to be anything in social security when all the baby boomers retire. The country’s heading for a cliff but you don’t see it coming, or you don’t care, is that it?” Henry asked. “We owe so much money to China, we might as well be their little bitch. How the heck did that happen? Fucking China, dude.”

“I don’t know,” Andrew answered, wondering to himself how he could put an end to the conversation. “It’s a global, international business community.”

“Oh, shut the fuck up,” Henry snapped. “It’s morons like you that helps put us in this friggin’ mess. Your stupidity and apathy makes me want to go throw up.”

Andrew dozed off to sleep and wasn’t sure how long he was out when he was awoken by Henry. “Time to go eat,” he said. “Miss out on this and you go hungry for the rest of the day.”

“Oh, yeah, thanks,” Andrew said, genuinely grateful.

“Sorry for snapping at you earlier,” Henry said. “I didn’t mean the things I said about you; I don’t know you from Adam,” he said.

“Hey, not a problem,” Andrew said, rising himself up. “I wasn’t offended.”

“I can get too riled up sometimes,” Henry said. “I didn’t mean to take it out on you, no hard feelings, okay?”

“I probably needed it. I don’t get riled up about anything,” Andrew said and smiled.

As soon as they left the cell and walked down the corridor, Henry walked alone and acted as if he didn’t know Andrew. It was as if he adopted a different persona where the way he held his head and even how he walked changed.

Andrew thought it strange but tried not to take it personally. He understood that maybe this was how the guy protected himself in this tough environment. Henry had even told him so much, that it was every man for himself. Prison does things to a man, he considered; changes him in a way that may even go against a person’s better nature. It was probably like this in the beginning of the country. Out in the Wild West, before law and order got established, the same principle applied: you gotta look after yourself because nobody else gives a rat’s ass whether you live or die.

Andrew watched Henry find a place for himself along with the lifers and the old timers. They didn’t talk to each other at that table but, then again, nobody from the other tables bothered with them, either. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for Andrew as he looked around to see where Duke and his minions were sitting. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw them already seated down the far end and eating.

Once he got his food, he turned to look for a place to sit. As he turned he bumped into the large frame of Malice who looked down at him and smiled. “Come sit with us,” he said, extending his arm to show the way where Duke and the others were smiling and waving him over.

“I told someone else that I—“ Andrew said and stepped aside.

“I’m asking you nicely,” Malice said, still smiling and moving to block his path. Again, Andrew looked over at the table where the others were smiling and waving warmly towards him. What would happen if he dissed them and sat someplace else? he wondered. Would they start a mini riot and make sure that he got hurt in the middle of it? If not now, would they bide their time for a better moment?

Andrew looked to see if there were any guards watching but because the goons were acting so friendly, no one watched with concern. As if losing patience, Malice bumped his body into Andrew to get him to move in the desired direction. Feeling like he didn’t have much choice, Andrew let Malice lead him to the table with Duke and the others.

“Hey, Andrew,” Duke greeted him with a broad smile. “Come sit over here, beside me. We were just talking about you,” Duke said as Andrew sat down. “I think we might have gotten off on the wrong foot, my friend,” he said, extending his hand to shake. “No hard feelings.”

Andrew thought twice before accepting the handshake. Whatever these guys were up to, he couldn’t figure out. “Go ahead, eat,” Duke suggested. “It’s good today; turkey meatloaf or some shit,” he said, his facial expression of disgust eliciting a snigger from the others. “Billy didn’t eat all of his, so you can have it if you want it,” he said.

“No, I’m good,” Andrew said, trying not to show any fear as he took his first mouthful.

“Yeah, Billy’s a vegan, aren’t you Billy?” Duke asked.

“No, I’m not,” Billy responded, as if insulted by the accusation.

“You would be if you knew what it is, you ignorant shit,” Duke said.

“I know what it is,” Billy argued.

“Yeah?” Duke said, suddenly looking serious. “What’s a vegan? Go ahead and tell us.”

Billy looked at the expectant faces of the others and smiled like they were just pulling his chain. “Everyone knows what a vegan is,” he said, clearly not knowing. Duke and the others watched him and waited.

“Here we go,” Billy said, suggesting that he was seeing something behind Duke. “Looks like it’s a go.”

As the rest of the group turned and watched behind, Andrew tried to eat. Is someone going to be murdered? he wondered as he looked to see who they were looking at.

“Okay, act normal, everyone,” Duke said, turning back around. A palpable state of prepared readiness descended on the group as Andrew surveyed what was in front and around him. Up on the balcony, two guards chatted to each other. A good distance away, standing by the doorway two guards looked generally around.

Andrew followed the eye line of Billy who was now looking at something to his left. “Just concentrate on your food, shithead,” Duke told him menacingly as once again, Andrew felt a sharp instrument press against his left side, just below his rib cage.

Finding it hard to chew and swallow, Andrew felt increasingly terrified about what was going to happen. “What’s goin’ down?” Andrew asked as casually as he could.

“What did I say, shithead?” Duke snarled and poked him again in the side.

Andrew heard loud voices shouting at each other and as he looked to his left, bodies began milling about in a cluster. Punches were now being thrown and more and more inmates joined in. Like a wild fire it spread to the rest of the dining hall, prison guards running in from all angles, their truncheons raised, some of them yelling. “Lock down! Lock down!”

Duke and his posse stayed put, however, as if he waiting for the right time to move or get involved. He now held onto Andrew’s collar, as if wanting to keep him close. Terrified that he was going to be knifed then and there, Andrew didn’t know what to do. It would be useless calling out for help. If he was the target, it would be so easy for Duke to run his weapon through him and not be seen or get caught.

“Whatever it is you want,” Andrew said, then was suddenly pushed forward by Duke who looked like he spotted something.

“Move!” he told Andrew, pushing him in front of his own body like Andrew was to be his human shield. Guiding Andrew’s direction with his hand on his collar, Duke controlled his speed by prodding him in the ribs with what felt like a knife.

Cutting through the mass of fighting bodies wasn’t easy but the more Andrew was being stabbed, the more aggressive he became. “Move! Move!” Duke kept shouting, pushing Andrew forward, his buddies tucked in close behind. Pushing him through the kitchen doors of the cafeteria, they were now in the kitchen, which was eerily deserted.

“This way,” Duke pushed Andrew, not slowing his frenzied pace. Andrew quickened his own step when he heard gun shots going off in the main mess area. Are they shooting inmates, he wondered?

Looking left and right, Andrew quickly considered that if Duke and his gang didn’t knife him, there was a good chance that he would get shot by a guard. In fact, that’s probably the reason why Duke and his gang “recruited” him in the first place: so that he would take the first hit and provide cover.

“To the right!” Duke shouted, pushing Andrew out into a corridor where they had no way of knowing if guards would be present or not. Heaving a sigh of relief at the absence of anyone, Andrew raced down the empty corridor. “Next left, no right!” Duke yelled and for the first time Andrew realized that Duke didn’t perfectly know what their exit strategy was. Duke was trying to remember the exact route.

Andrew felt relieved that what seemed to be happening now was not going to be his murder but a daring prison escape, instead. If he could stay alive, and not get shot by a prison guard, the nightmare may soon be over. Coming to the end of another long corridor, Andrew faced a door which looked like it opened to the outside. An alarm went off which probably suggested that the riot had gotten bigger. Even though it made a terrifying sound, Andrew was happy to think that the more guards that were needed in the canteen, the less would be hanging around where they were.

As they ran past a crossing corridor, two guards yelled and ran right at them. “Keep moving!” Duke shouted as he pushed Andrew even harder. Andrew couldn’t see but it sounded like the guards and a few of Duke’s posse got caught up it. It felt like it was just him and Duke and maybe one other inmate behind Duke as they raced to the door.

Pushing Andrew right up against the door, Duke pushed something into the lock and frantically tried to turn it. Did he have a key? How did he get that? Andrew wondered, unable to look down as his face was being smashed up against the door. “Come on, come on!” Duke yelled as he jiggled and tried to turn the lock, positioning the key this way and that.

The lock turned and the heavy door moved. As the door swung open, Andrew saw daylight. A scurry of feet quickly approached and Duke got pulled off of Andrew by a beefy prison guard. Momentarily stunned, Andrew stood in the open doorway as Duke and the prison guard tussled fiercely. Free of his captor, an air of calmness descended upon Andrew. Time seemed to slow down as he perceived everything as if it were moving in slow motion.

Looking out the open door, Andrew could see the outer prison wall, beyond which was the freedom of the outside world. Rolled up and leaning against the wall was a dumpster. Above that a whole mass of blankets was strewn over the razor sharp wire, presumably for Duke and his men, and maybe others before them, to make their escape.

Andrew looked back into the corridor where the guard was getting the better of Duke. Wrestling him to the ground, he had Duke by the throat. Looking up at Andrew, Duke’s pleading eyes said, “Help me!” Andrew could easily have picked up the guard’s truncheon that lay at his feet and take out the guard, thus helping Duke to escape.

Instead of doing that and without any kind of clear, calculated thinking, Andrew held up his right hand. Forming a cartoon mouth with his hand, he moved his fingers up and down and waved “bye, bye” to Duke and closed the door behind him.

Once out in the yard and the fresh air, Andrew climbed up on the dumpster and scaled the wall. He crawled over the wad of blankets which protected him from getting cut by the sharp coils of wire. He looked down from the top of the wall. A delivery bread van was deliberately parked by the wall. Scaling down the wall, he landed onto the roof of the van. Uninterested to didn’t stick around to see who might be sitting inside of it, if anyone, he jumped to the ground. He then quickly ran down the nearest side street that he came across.

When he felt safe and stopped running, he realized what he must look like wearing a bright orange jumpsuit. His outfit screamed escaped prisoner. Peeling off the top part of the uniform, he folded it down and tucked it into his pants. Acting like he was a regular guy in a white t-shirt and orange pants, he reckoned that, this being LA, he would blend right in.

Suddenly out walking in the free world again, he couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Seeing a phone booth, he knew the first person that he needed to talk to. Asking some passersby if they could spare some loose change, he soon had enough coins to make a phone call. Dialing the number with excitement, Andrew couldn’t wait for the call to get answered. As soon as Fiona said, “Hello?” he laughed with glee. “Guess what?” he asked.

[]Chapter 5

 

Hand in hand, Andrew and Fiona lay together, on their backs, on the cliff in the Pacific Palisades. They watched as the sun set and created a sky of majestic blue-green-orange blended colors. “When I’m with you like this, everything seems right and I don’t have a care in the world,” Andrew said.

“You just read my thoughts; I feel exactly the same way,” Fiona smiled and said.

“When I look up at the sky like this, the vastness of space, I think, how can one person’s problems compare to such… infinity, you know?” Andrew asked.

“Has prison turned you into a philosopher?” Fiona teased.

“I know it was just a short while but I do feel changed as a result. Battle hardened and wiser,” Andrew said thoughtfully.

“You are going back, aren’t you?” Fiona asked. “I mean… you’re not planning to be on the run forever or something?”

“I can’t go back there, Fi,” Andrew said, a hint of terror in his voice. “It’s the worst place you could possibly imagine.”

“But that’s the law, Andrew. You did break the law; you can’t just shirk off… I guess it’s none of my business, but you do have some responsibility over what happened,” Fiona said.

“You think I don’t know what happened, Fiona? My best buddies dead?” Andrew said angrily. “Of course I take responsibility for that; it kills me inside, every time I think about it…”

“Four years is not such a long time. I’ll be with you.” Fiona said softly.

“You don’t understand, Fi. The place is a hellhole; full of gang members and killers and psychos… If I don’t get killed or beaten to a pulp, I could very easily lose my sanity. I may not make it past two weeks. Seriously.”

“Andrew, no matter what happens, I’m with you. I’ll always be with you,” Fiona said.

“I think you’re the only reason I’ve made it this far and I mean that,” Andrew said, pressing her hand even tighter.

“I did come see you,” Fiona said warmly, “at night.”

“How do you mean? That astral traveling thing?” Andrew asked.

“I figured out that sitting on the floor and leaving through the top of the head wasn’t working so I—”

“You seriously left your body?” Andrew asked, astounded, “and traveled to see me?”

“I called your name but you didn’t see me,” Fiona said as Andrew shot his body up to a sitting position.

“I heard you!” he exclaimed. “I heard you call my name once but I thought I was going nuts! You could see me?”

“It’s not the same, like, it’s not as clear, everything’s fuzzier. It might get better the more times I— “

“You saw me in the prison cell?” Andrew asked, excited and confused. “What do you see, exactly?”

“It’s a small room with a bunk bed and you were on the top one,” Fiona recalled.

“Yes!” Andrew almost shouted.

“There was someone on the bunk beneath but I didn’t get a good look; it was dark and things weren’t that clear,” Fiona said.

“OMG,” Andrew said, clearly flabbergasted. “What else? What else did you see?”

“There was like a small desk and some clothes folded up and a clock and some books. The book sitting on top had a yellow cover—”

“O-M-G,” Andrew said. “That’s Henry’s book about healing, the yellow Chinese something…” he said, his mind racing.

“Then I got pulled back, I think there was like a noise outside…” Fiona said, trying to remember.

“How can you do that?” Andrew asked. “How do you know all this stuff and all the things that you sense and see, all the invisible, psychic stuff? Does that all just come natural or what?”

Fiona hesitated and thought hard, as if trying to articulate the best possible response. “What?” Andrew asked. “That’s a fair question to ask, right? I don’t mean anything; I think what you do is radically cool…”

“No, it’s not that, I’m not offended or anything,” Fiona said, clearly stumped for a reply. “Come on,” she then said, pulling him up by his hand. “Let’s walk.”

As they stood and dusted the earth off of themselves, Fiona led him by the hand towards the cliff face. Although not a full moon, the lunar body was a powerful presence in an evening sky filled with tiny, soft, baby clouds. The moonlight glistened brilliantly among the waves of the ocean below, which they could only see but not hear. “I need to tell you a bit about my dad, I guess,” Fiona finally said.

“What about him?” Andrew asked.

“My father is a student of the occult,” Fiona said and paused.

“Okay,” Andrew said, not understanding but allowing her to talk.

“You’ve heard of the occult, right? The unseen realms, the supernatural, mystical, and magical and stuff?”

“Sure,” he said although he was flabbergasted by her statements and somehow had always generally associated the word occult with evil.

“He belongs to this group, this secret group that do all that kind of stuff; the Order of the Wise Serpents,” she continued and paused to think.

“That’s pretty wild,” Andrew said.

“When I was born, they had a ceremony, a ritual. He does rituals all the time; you can influence things in the world that way, like in business and politics and stuff, I guess,” Fiona said, annoyed with herself that she can’t explain it any better. “It’s like if you want something, you can do a ritual to get what you want like maybe it’s a job or a car or something…”

“Okay,” Andrew said, holding off all the burning questions in his head.

“Or if it’s something bigger, like a business merger or something; most of the members are big business people, then several members will get together; you know that room in the house you asked about?”

“At the bottom of the stairs, yeah,” Andrew remembered.

“That’s his ritual room; he treats it the same way like you’d act in a church or if you had a chapel in your house, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah, with reverence and silence and everything,” Andrew said.

“Anyway, when my mom was pregnant they did a ritual so that my mom would give birth to a Moonchild. Me,” Fiona said, like she just got something major off her chest.

“You’re a moonchild?” Andrew asked.

“Yeah,” Fiona answered.

“No, I mean, what is that, exactly? A child of the moon? What does that mean?” Andrew asked.

“Okay, the short answer is that a Moonchild is born with certain powers, certain gifts from the other side, magical gifts or powers, for want of a better word.”

“Magical powers?” Andrew asked.

“Yeah, well, that’s the theory behind it, no one really knows, okay? I don’t think my dad actually knew what he was doing,” Fiona said, sounding exasperated. “Anybody that messes in this stuff, I don’t think any of them know for sure what they’re doing. They read and study these old books like they contain the lost secrets of the world and stuff and then they do these rituals and they think that they’re sublime wizards or rulers of the world or something,” Fiona said.

“Wow, I’ve never seen you like this before,” Andrew said, smiling. “No, I mean, it’s good. I’ve just never seen you this riled up about something, it’s like, wow, I don’t even know you! Who is this girl? I like it,” he said.

“I never knew I was any different from anybody else till I start hanging out with other kids; not that I’ve done much of that, I’ve been like a prisoner of the house my whole life…”

“Is that how you feel… how you’ve felt?” Andrew asked, shocked. “Like a prisoner?”

“Only sometimes,” Fiona said in a more reasoned tone. “It’s just that I’ve been cooped up my whole life and it’s like I’ve been watched all the time and smothered, yeah, smothered is how I’ve felt most of the time. My father loves me, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I’m not so sure if he loves me for me or if he treats me the way he does like I’m some kind of priceless, ongoing experiment that’s going to make him even more rich or powerful or something.”

“Wow, wow, wow, wow,” Andrew said and kicked a pebble off of the cliff.

“Don’t mind me,” Fiona then said. “I don’t mean to lay all this stuff on you.”

“I had no idea, Fiona,” Andrew then said, gathering her into his arms. “I had no idea.”

“Are you hungry?” Fiona asked.

“Starving.”

“Let’s go eat,” Fiona said, smiling like she was back to her old self.

As Fiona drove down the quiet residential streets towards Palisades village, Andrew tried to focus on the drive and the surrounding view. His head was bursting with questions but he knew better than to bombard her with question after question. From his past experience with her, he knew that Fiona would feel overwhelmed and then clam up altogether. It was always best to give her space to be and breathe, to wait for it, and have her volunteer information in her own time.

“What about your mom?” Fiona asked.

“What about her?”

“Won’t she be worried? Have you contacted her? Won’t the police go question her, looking for you and stuff?” she asked, concerned.

“That’s exactly why I didn’t contact her,” Andrew said. “I didn’t want to put her into the position of having to lie to the police.”

Fiona looked sideways at Andrew, her look calling him on his bullshit.

“Look, my mom is so checked out most of the time, she doesn’t even know I’m not there in the evenings,” Andrew said, hiding his hurt.

“Your mom totally loves you and, yes, she absolutely cares. I saw her every day at the trial and I don’t think I ever saw her where she wasn’t crying. She was a mess, Andrew. Seriously.”

“Well, I can’t go home, if that’s what you’re suggesting,” Andrew said sullenly. “First place they’ll look. Probably have a black and white parked outside, day and night.”

“A black and white?” Fiona asked, breaking into a grin.

“A police car.”

“I know it’s a police car, but come on? A black and white?” she teased. “Have you gone all gangsta now that you’ve spent some time in the pen?”

“I’m on the run from Johnny Law, baby doll,” Andrew joked.

“Ooh, baby doll,” Fiona gushed, slapping him playfully on his shoulder. “I like being your baby doll, gangsta homeboy!”

“I love how street you sound, talking all tough,” Andrew joked. “Not.”

“I’ll be your Bonny, Mr. Clyde. Let’s take these mofo’s down!” Fiona said in an unconvincing tough voice.

“You just gave me chills, homegirl!”

“We’re gonna take this place down,” Fiona said, like she was a rapper, “all the way to Chinatown!”

“That’s what I’m talking about, beeyatch,” Andrew said encouragingly.

“We’re the troubled kids from the Palisades,” Fiona rapped while Andrew provided sound effects. “You can’t keep us trapped behind no barricades,” Fiona continued, trying not to make herself laugh. “We gonna come mess you up, coz we don’t truck with no cover up…”

“What?” Andrew said and laughed.

“All those cops don’t know no better,” Fiona continued, sounding like she’s struggling.

“Know no better?” Andrew teased.

“Just because we eat bread without butter,” she sang and laughed.

“Oh, yeah, baby, that’s some tough shit right there,” Andrew joked and laughed. “We’re so tough we eat our bread commando style!”

“We don’t need no stinking butter,” Fiona joked.

“Don’t you go mess with the Pacific Palisades gangsta rappers, y’all,” Andrew said laughing.

“We might look harmless but we’re tough sonsa breeches, mofo’s,” Fiona said and they both laughed even more.

“We’re pathetic, you know that, right?” Andrew said, tears rolling down his eyes.

 “Oh, yeah, baby,” Fiona said as she parked the car in the diner parking lot. “Let’s lock and load.”

“You’re a keeper, you know that, girl?” Andrew said, looking at her adoringly.

“That’s coz we’re a team,” Fiona said, looking lovingly into his eyes. “We’re the A-team.”

“That’s my girl,” he said and pulled her face to his for a sweet and tender, lingering kiss.

Conscious of being recorded on camera when he entered the diner, Andrew tilted his head towards the floor. “Where’s that ugly baseball cap you used to wear all the time?” Fiona asked.

“It wasn’t ugly,” Andrew said as they slid into a red vinyl booth. “That was one of the few things my dad ever gave to me.”

“Oh,” Fiona said, regretting her accusation.

“Yeah, it was pretty ugly,” Andrew admitted. “I think I lost it in the accident.”

“How are you guys doing tonight?” the chirpy young waitress asked as she presented them with menus.

“Good, thank you,” Fiona answered. “Can you give us a few minutes?”

“Sure thing,” the waitress said, returning to the kitchen.

As Andrew and Fiona ate in silence, they looked at each other as if something very major between them had changed. They felt closer to each other and Andrew wondered why. Even though it seemed like it happened ages ago, was it a delayed bonding of the blood ritual and the soul mate ceremony thing? Was it their forced absence from each other? Or was it because the involuntary intrusion of the outside world had caused them to grow up a little and take themselves and each other more seriously?

“You could crash at the guest house until you decide when you want to give yourself up,” Fiona suggested, her mouth still chewing her food.

“Till I decide to give myself up?” Andrew repeated, smiling.

“As long as you don’t keep any lights on at night, my dad would never notice. The cops wouldn’t find you there because even if they did show up, my dad would never let them past the front gate,” Fiona continued.

“Why don’t we stick to plan A and hit the road? It’s sooner than expected but—”

“I’m not hitting the road with an escaped convict,” Fiona interrupted. “Are you absolutely crazy?”

“Can you shout that any louder? I don’t think the staff in the kitchen heard you,” Andrew said, looking around to see who might be within earshot.

“Don’t be so paranoid. Like anyone cares,” Fiona said, signaling the waitress for more coffee.

“They’re going to slap on more years for my…” Andrew said and stopped when the waitress came to refill both their cups. “I’ll get another few years for my escape,” Andrew continued in a hushed tone as she left.

“I’ll teach you to astral travel,” Fiona said casually. “We don’t care about no barricades,” she rapped.

“Can you be serious for a minute?” Andrew asked, looking like he was getting annoyed. “I don’t know what to think about all that woo-woo stuff,” he said sullenly.

“What?” Fiona asked, surprised by his change of mood.

“Visiting me at night like you’re a ghost and all that black magic, moonchild stuff… it’s beginning to freak me out, to be honest.”

“I don’t blame you,” Fiona nodding her head in understanding. “I should have told you all this up front…” she said and paused. “Probably would have been the proper thing to do.”

“Why didn’t you?” Andrew asked.

“Because I liked you too much,” she said, as if remembering her thought process back then. “I wouldn’t have been able to bear it if you looked at me like I was some kind of deranged loony-tune, that’s why,” she said.

“What, you mean, look at you like this?” Andrew asked as he donned a comical facial expression.

“Yeah, just like that,” Fiona said, grinning. “You look totally hideous, by the way.”

“That’s the look I was going for,” Andrew said.

“I should have done us both a favor and told you straight out,” Fiona said seriously.

“You don’t really mean that, do you?” Andrew asked, feeling hurt.

“No, I don’t,” Fiona finally agreed. “I wouldn’t give up what we have for the world.”

“Me neither,” Andrew said, feeling relieved and smiling warmly.

“So, what do we do now, Andrew Cox?” Fiona asked, pushing her plate away.

“I really don’t want to go back to that place,” Andrew said, terror making his body feel cold.

“My father knows people…” Fiona said and then stopped. “No, forget about that.”

“Your father knows people in the law?” Andrew asked.

“I can’t get my father involved in this,” Fiona said, regretting that she even mentioned him. “Besides, he totally doesn’t like you,” she then said. “I should say that he doesn’t know you, obviously, so it’s not personal. He doesn’t like anybody that I get involved with.”

“Who have you been involved with?” Andrew asked with alarm.

“Just you,” Fiona answered. “He doesn’t like anybody that I get involved with: you,” she then said to clarify.

“Why not? It’s not like you’re a little girl and too young to date or something; I mean, he wants to lock you up in the house till you’re an old maid or something, what is his problem?” Andrew asked.

“He thinks that maybe I might transfer my gifts to you or whomever I might get involved with, I’m not really sure,” Fiona answered uncertainly.

“Is that possible? That you could, that that could happen? Like they could rub off or something?” Andrew asked, clearly confused.

“I don’t know, Andrew,” Fiona said, sounding annoyed but not necessarily with him.

“So, when exactly is he going to leave you alone and let you live your own life? What needs to happen for that to happen?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Fiona answered, looking like she wanted to get up and run away.

“You do know,” Andrew insisted. “You must know; you’ve had years and years to think about this, Fiona. I don’t believe that you don’t know; you must have some idea, come on!”

“If I transferred my gifts over to him, then, then he would leave me alone,” Fiona said and her whole body relaxed like she had just answered the sixty-four-million-dollar question.

“So?” Andrew asked, as if she just found the entire solution to her problem. “Why don’t you? Why haven’t you? You want to keep them for yourself?”

“First of all, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Fiona said, feeling like she was being pressed into a corner. “It’s not like I’ve got a twenty-dollar bill or something and all I have to do is hand it over to him. I have no idea what’s possible or how it would work or what the consequences would be. If it was possible and I went, sure, go ahead, take all my gifts, how would it be or what would I be like afterwards? Would I even survive or would I pass on like my mother?” Fiona said, sounding truly frightened and scared.

“I see,” Andrew said, softly.

“My mother died giving birth to me,” she said gravely. “I don’t even know who she was; my father never, ever talks about her.”

“Wow,” Andrew said, feeling sorry for pushing her.

“This is not like playing a parlor game with a Ouija board for fun or something, Andrew. The stuff my father is into is serious; it’s real and it’s big and people can get hurt; no, people can die. This is life and death and I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you on our very first date, or before we bonded our love permanently, because, seriously, I really should have,” Fiona said tearfully.

Shifting seats to go to her, Andrew put a comforting arm around her. “I’m so glad you didn’t,” he said softly. “I would have been so sad and lonely without you, without even knowing you. Going out with my buddies and getting trashed every night in bars and shit… what kind of life is that? What kind of person would I become?” he asked and held her tighter when he saw a heartening smile cross her face. “Everything’s going to be okay,” he said reassuringly. “It’s going to all work out; everything’s going to be just fine.”

“My gifts did arrive,” Fiona confessed quietly. “My third eye opened when I was maybe five years old.”

“Yes,” Andrew whispered, leaning closer to hear her more fully.

“I remember waking up and I was scared. I was seeing things, crazy, scary things and it wasn’t like in a dream or something; I was awake. I was totally awake and lucid. I went looking for my father and he wasn’t in his room and I was getting more and more terrified. I opened the door of his ritual room and there were all of these people; the people in his group and they were chanting and wearing masks… they were in a circle and very clearly, right above them, all over the room…” Fiona said with difficulty and stopped.

“It’s okay,” Andrew whispered. “You don’t— “

“All over the room were these horrible… they were like demons, you’ve seen pictures, right, of demons?”

“Yes.”

“They were real, Andrew. They were there, and entities, and all kinds of… I don’t know what, other realms, all of them stacked up upon one another, and they saw me, I saw them and they saw me, and I don’t think anybody in the room could see them, except for me, because if they did… I mean, the entities and demons looked evil, you know?”

“Yes.”

“And my father turned around and he looked at me like I was interfering, like I was ruining everything…”

“I know,” Andrew said softly as she wiped her eyes.

“So I told the angels to take my gifts away, I didn’t want them; I didn’t want to be seeing these… these horrible… things.”

“I understand,” Andrew said, gently brushing back her hair.

“My father is a good man; I do believe that my father is a good person, he is.”

“Of course.”

“He doesn’t know what he’s dealing with; if he could see what I could see…” Fiona said and stopped to blow her nose with a napkin. “I’m afraid that if he got more power… even if I left and I wasn’t in his life anymore…”

“I see,” Andrew said, holding back the first flippant joke that came into his mind about her father going to the dark side.

“I don’t think he could resist; he wouldn’t have enough will power to resist because it can be very tempting, you know?” Fiona asked.

“Yes,” Andrew answered automatically.

“Having the power to do things doesn’t mean that you should just do them and it can be very tempting, really, really tempting,” Fiona stressed.

“I know,” Andrew said encouragingly although he didn’t really know, at all.

[]Chapter 6

 

Waking up in the guest house of Fiona’s father’s estate, Andrew could now look around at the interior for the first time in proper light. Having crashed there the night before, in the darkness, he had no idea how swanky the place really was. For starters, the guest house itself was equally as large, if not larger, than the house that he had grown up in.

Furnished with classy antique furniture, the place had the air of what he imagined a rich estate in Cape Cod might look and feel like. Although he had never been to New England, he had seen pictures of the wealthy estates there.

The sheets felt so smooth, he wasn’t sure if they were made of silk or something equally exotic and luxurious. If they were cotton, they must have a huge thread count. The four poster bed itself was so sturdy and ornate, he imagined that it could easily have belonged to royalty at some point. The sharp contrast of waking up in sublime luxury versus waking up in a bunk bed in prison was so disconcerting that he had a hard time reconciling it in his mind.

Expecting the door to burst open at any moment by a swat team or a squadron of police officers with guns drawn, upon waking he was almost too afraid to move or make even the slightest sound. He knew that Fiona would never turn him in but although he never met him, he could not count on the same treatment by her father. What a piece of work he seemed to be, he considered as he began to remember pieces of his conversation with Fiona.

What was all that talk about black magic rituals and Fiona being a moonchild? If her mother died giving birth to her, was it a natural death or was she sacrificed or something in order to do the black magic ritual thing successfully? What did it mean that Fiona was born to bring in “gifts” from the other side? She didn’t say the word satanic or cult but it sure did sound like that’s the kind of stuff that her father was into. It scared the crap out of Andrew. What kind of person was her father?

Then there was the suggestion that Fiona’s gifts might rub off on whomever she was with? Was that why he had been having these weird déjà vu images pop into his mind? Were Fiona’s powers rubbing off on him?

Having way more questions than answers, Andrew lay in bed and considered what his next step should be. Although he was terrified of going back to his prison cell, he wondered if he had any other choice? How long could he stay on the run and how would he even support himself? Would it be possible to move to a different state and completely change his identity and never get caught?

 With each scenario he concocted in his head; working in a diner in the back woods of Oregon or someplace remote; moving from state to state and never living in one place for more than a few months and so on… he could not envision a life without Fiona.

Living in “freedom” without Fiona would be worse than being in a prison for the rest of his life. Yes, he may be “free” but it would be like living in a different kind of prison. Fiona had made it perfectly clear to him that she thought that he should turn himself in. If that’s what he needed to do to keep her in his life, then that was what he would do.

But first, he needed access to a computer and the internet. He had way too many questions about Fiona in his mind. If he didn’t get them resolved before he went back to his miserable bunk, he would never get them answered. A few hours on the internet should do it, he reckoned. What was a few more hours compared to the number of years he would now be spending in the nearest equivalent to hell that he could think of?

Finding a twenty-dollar bill left on the on the dresser by Fiona made his heart ache even more for the girl. It also raised some major concerns within him. The more he had gotten to know her, the more he worried that the little voice in his head that he had heard when he met her might have been correct. Forget it, she’s out of your league, his little voice had said to himself, back then. She’s too pretty for someone like you. She’s too good and pure for your tarnished soul and besides, fall for her and your heart will surely get broken.

Shaking his head of all doubt and self-loathing, Andrew slung himself out of the bed and dressed in the borrowed clothes that Fiona had left out for him. He didn’t want to know where she had gotten them; the thought of him wearing her father’s clothes filled him with disgust. That guy seemed like a real freak of some kind… maybe even evil. He preferred to think that the clothes were part of the wardrobe that they kept for visiting guests, the same way that you might put on a robe that was provided when staying at a plush hotel.

What to do next? he wondered. He would make his way to the library on campus, he finally decided. Once there, he would not be disturbed and could stay on the computer for as long as he liked. He had a vague understanding that because a university is considered a private space, the regular police are not allowed to trespass without permission.

A short time later he was on campus. Because finals were over, the library was quiet and there was no possibility of bumping into anyone from any of his classes. Scouring for books on the occult in the parapsychology section, he found a few that looked promising. Finding a seat by a window, he searched through the books and on the internet for any information he could find on the Order of the Wise Serpents, Moon children and the phenomenon of déjà vu.

Surprisingly, he could find very little hard information on any of the subjects upon which he had searched. He found nothing worthwhile about the secret group except a mention here and there. There was no explanation on the concept of a moonchild in the context that Fiona had described it.

Déjà vu was pretty much ridiculed as a function of extrasensory perception. As far as he could tell, the academics wrote it off as being some form of “false memory” or the like. All in all, searching for information had been a fruitless and unproductive use of his time.

Surprised that the hours had sped by, extremely tired and hungry, he finally decided to call it a day. He left the library with a strong appetite for a quarter pound burger and fries. As he walked down the library steps, the campus street lights flickered on. Turning right as he had habitually done in the past, Andrew stopped. He reminded himself that he wasn’t going the usual way home and so he paused to readjust. He reminded himself that he needed to reorient himself to find the nearest bus stop for his ride to the palisades.

Looking around, at his options for leaving the campus, he was unsure of which exit to take. He didn’t have his smart phone so he couldn’t look up the route nor the bus stop most proximate to him. His mind flushed with stories and notions of extrasensory perception, he decided that he would test his own abilities. Wouldn’t it be something if could find the exact route by his intuition alone? Relaxing his mind, he allowed his body to simply walk where it so desired.

 Trusting that he would somehow be led to the ideal route to get himself home, he found himself in an unfamiliar area of the campus. The sun had gone down and there were less people about than before. Was he being foolish and merely prolonging his already long and tiresome road home? A weathered sign pointing to various faculty buildings caught his attention. One of the buildings mentioned got his attention big time: The Parapsychology Lab.

Looking toward where the arrow was pointing, Andrew decided to go check it out. He walked to an odd-looking building that looked more run down and neglected than the rest. Seeing that only one light was switched on, he figured that little or no activity was going on inside. Leaning over a hedge, he peered through a window. He was unable to see anything other than a large cardboard box which obscured his view.

Perhaps the building was vacant, he thought, as he turned the door handle and walked right in.  Although the inside of the room was quite large, it was crowded with moving boxes. A short, stocky man, possibly in his sixties, packed a box with old books. “Hello?” Andrew called out, and stood still, hoping not to startle the man.

“Hello?” the man called back.

“Is this the parapsychology lab?” Andrew asked as he walked slowly forward.

“Used to be,” the man answered, still packing.

“Are you moving buildings?” Andrew asked.

“And you are?” the man asked.

“Andrew,” Andrew said, walking closer. “Andrew Cox. Business studies. I’m a student here, at the university.”

“They’re shifting business studies in here?” the man asked.

“They are?” Andrew asked. “I mean, are you asking me?”

“What are you doing here, exactly?” the man asked, now stopping to give Andrew his full attention.

“Oh, I was just passing by and, well, this might seem strange but I think I was led here, to this building,” Andrew answered and paused.

“You were just passing by?” the man asked, clearly puzzled.

“You could just be the person I’ve been looking for,” Andrew said.

“And why is that?” the man asked.

“This may seem very weird and I guess it is but I was coming from the library and something told me to come this way, to come into the building, well, when I say something told me, I don’t mean I’m hearing voices, but I do have these powers that I’m not sure about, psychic powers; see, I spent the whole day looking up all about this stuff, parapsychology, I mean, and psychic powers or extrasensory perception, I guess is the academic name…” Andrew rambled excitedly and then stopped when he realized that maybe he was making an ass of himself.

“Psychic powers, huh?” the man said, not sounding impressed and returning to his task.

“Precognition,” Andrew said, as if finally finding the word he was looking for. “I can see things before they happen.”

“Precognition?” the man repeated. “The foreknowledge of information or of an event in time?”

“Yes,” Andrew answered.

“You can tell the future?” the man asked.

“I guess,” Andrew answered, now unsure.

“What card is this?” the man asked, holding up what looked like an over-sized playing card.

“Oh, uh,” Andrew floundered, not expecting to be so immediately tested. Relaxing his mind as best he could, he mentioned the first image that came into his mind. “King of spades,” he answered confidently.

Looking impressed, the man held up another. “This one?” he asked.

“Five of clubs.”

“How about this one?” the man said, holding up another.

“Queen of hearts,” Andrew answered. As the man turned over the cards, Andrew’s facial expression turned to one of puzzlement. The front of the cards was not at all like a regular playing card deck; instead, they displayed an assortment of circles, triangles and wavy lines.

“You never saw ESP cards before, did you?” the man asked.

“Well, it’s not something that I can control,” Andrew said defensively. “It kind of just happens when I’m not expecting it.”

“You’re too late, my friend,” the man said, putting away the cards. “I lost my funding; they’re closing me down.”

“Look, I don’t know you and you don’t know me but I really don’t think that this is an accident,” Andrew said. “Me showing up here like this. As a matter of fact, you’re probably the only person that can help me, right now.”

“Help you?” the man asked. “Help you with what?”

“I’m in trouble,” Andrew explained, wondering to himself how much he should reveal.

“We’ve all got troubles, son. Go on home and sleep it off and I guarantee you it’ll all look different in the morning.”

“No, it won’t!” Andrew said sharply, the man taken aback. “All due respect, sir, but no it won’t look any different in the morning. I lost two of my best friends and they won’t be coming back tomorrow or any time soon because they’re dead,” Andrew said, unable to stop his eyes from welling up.

“I’m on my way back to prison and I pissed off so many gang members, I don’t even know if I’ll wake up alive in the morning. My girlfriend was born into a secret cult and her father practices black magic which is why I’m trying to understand all this stuff but I’m way in over my head and I swear to heaven if my head doesn’t burst, I’m going to go out of my mind…” Feeling suddenly faint, Andrew held onto a desk to steady himself.

“Are you okay, son?” the man asked.

“Yeah, just hungry, I guess. Haven’t eaten all day,” Andrew said, regaining his composure.

“I’m professor Dowling,” the man said, extending his hand. “Everyone here just calls me Dowling.”

“Andrew,” Andrew said, shaking his hand.

“Yeah, I got that,” Dowling said, smiling. “I haven’t eaten yet either,” he then said, looking around at how much work remained. “How about we go grab a bite? I’m buying.”

“That would be fantastic,” Andrew said, smiling and feeling much better.

 

For the sixth time that day, Fiona walked across to the guest house to see if Andrew was around. Although she had advised him to turn himself in, she had hoped that she would see him again. If only she could have him hold her in his arms, at least one more time. Disappointed that there was still no evidence of his return, she sat upon the bed, her tears welling up.

Even though she knew that he had no phone or any easy way to contact her, she felt angry that he didn’t call and let her know what was going on with him. Was he angry with her that she had advised him to return to the prison? Did he misinterpret her advice by thinking that she didn’t care for his welfare or that she would prefer for him to be behind bars?

Could he be so insecure in her love for him that he would think the worst of her intentions? Checking her phone again, for any sign of an incoming call or text, with utter distress in her heart, she returned to the main house.

Blinded with sadness and despair, she didn’t notice that her father had returned home and was parking his car in the garage. Entering the main house, Fiona closed the front door behind her. Retrieving his briefcase from the trunk of the car, Simon wondered why Fiona had come from the direction of the guest house.

Glancing around for clues, he entered the guest house from the rear. Although it had been a while since he had spent any appreciable time in there, he carefully looked for anything that might be obviously amiss or out of place.

The hastily made bed, which looked like it had been recently slept in, sent a shiver down his spine. Was Fiona sleeping with a boy while he was away at work? What did she do all day long while he is gone?

Looking underneath the bed, and finding an article of clothing which did not belong, sank his painful anguish even deeper to the bottom of his gut. It took him only a second to identify the orange jumpsuit as a required uniform for prison inmates. Fiona had some answering to do, he almost said aloud as he stormed out of the room.

 

Between mouthfuls of fries and a tenderloin steak which he savored with every bite, Andrew told his story to Dowling. “I know that he’s her father and everything but, honestly, I’m concerned about her. I don’t know what he’s capable of, you know? If her mother died while giving birth and he never even talks about her, like she never even existed, I mean, how cold-hearted can he be? What if he turned that way on Fiona?”

“The secret order he belongs to,” Dowling said, looking around and quieting his voice, “what did you say the name was?”

“I couldn’t find any information about it on the web. I probably got it wrong or maybe it doesn’t even exist. The Order of the Wise Serpents,” Andrew responded, surprised when he sensed a recognition on Dowling’s part. “You heard of it?” he asked.

“Yeah, it exists alright,” Dowling said, putting down his fork to take a sip of red wine. “My wife used to be a member.”

“Well, then,” Andrew said, excitedly. “That’s fantastic!”

“No, it isn’t,” Dowling said, sounding sad. “She was last seen going to a meeting there over twenty years ago and she’s been missing ever since.”

“Wow, I’m sorry,” Andrew said, shocked. “Did she make it there or did she?” he asked and then stopped, feeling like maybe he was being intrusive.

“I don’t know at what point she went missing or whether the group was involved in her disappearance,” Dowling answered. “It’s an unsolved cold case at this point.”

“I assume you asked everyone there, at the meeting?” Andrew asked.

“As far as they were concerned, she never showed.”

“You didn’t believe them?” Andrew asked, sensing Dowling’s skepticism.

“No, I didn’t believe them but what could I do? No leads, no clues, the police spent their time focusing upon me and eventually pretty much told me that maybe she took herself off someplace and started over with a new identity or some idiocy,” Dowling said, sounding angry.

“Why would they say that?”

“Her body was never found so, to cover up their incompetence, they made up a story so they could close the case. Cops hate missing person cases, FYI.”

“Fiona said that this group does rituals and magic… maybe black magic and stuff?” Andrew said, like it was a question.

“I guess,” Dowling said, sounding and looking sad.

“You miss her, your wife?” Andrew asked gently.

“I’d like to know what happened, you know?” Dowling said. “Just to know how she…” he said and stopped. “If she suffered in any way, I guess,” he then said.

Although Andrew had more questions that he was dying to ask, he respected the sadness and pain that Dowling seemed to be feeling: he remained quiet.

“So, what’s your next move?” Dowling finally asked.

“I don’t know,” Andrew answered as he placed his knife and fork on his empty plate. “I go back to jail and Fiona stays living like a prisoner with her father, I guess.”

“I live a few blocks from here,” Dowling said as he opened his wallet to pay the check. “You can crash at my place tonight if you promise not to snore.”

“I don’t snore,” Andrew said.

 

Fiona cut some homemade bread and made a cheese sandwich for herself.

“What’s this?” Simon asked, holding aloft the orange jumpsuit as he stormed into the kitchen.

“Where did you?” Fiona immediately asked but stopped herself when she realized she had given herself away. “Are you spying on me now?” she then asked, the bread knife still in her hand.

Simon threw the jumpsuit onto the kitchen island before her and moved closer to his daughter. His facial expression suggested that he was still awaiting an answer. “Well?” he asked.

“You’re not the boss of me,” she then said.

“You’re not the boss of me?” he repeated, like her answer was lame. “What was that doing in the guest house, Fiona?”

“I can see whomever I want, whenever I want,” she answered defiantly. “I’m eighteen and that’s the law.”

Simon made a face as if he couldn’t believe the words coming from his daughter’s mouth. “What’s happened to us, sweetie?” he then asked in a softer tone. “We used to be so close? We shared everything together; we never kept any secrets from each other.”

“We still are close,” Fiona said and relaxed her defensive posture as she continued to butter her bread. “Since when did you get all inflexible and… controlling?”

“Things changed between us since you began seeing that boy,” Simon said. “This belongs to him, doesn’t it?”

“I can’t stop seeing him, daddy, I can’t. I tried but I can’t.”

“You can see what’s happening here, can’t you, Fiona?” Simon said gravely. “I’m losing you and you’re losing yourself to some… to a puppy love crush on some kid that’s obviously not good for you.”

“He’s the best thing that’s ever— “

“This is a prison uniform!” Simon shouted, interrupting her. “What did he do? Break out of prison?”

Fiona sliced a tomato and kept her eyes down on her task.

“That makes you an accomplice, you know that, right? They could charge you and, heaven forbid, put you in jail along with him,” Simon said sounding deeply concerned. “Is that what you want? Where is he now?”

“I don’t know,” Fiona answered. “He’s probably on his way back to jail.”

“You don’t know or you’re not going to tell me? Which is it?” Simon asked. “Is he on his way back here?”

Fiona didn’t raise her eyes as she placed some cheese on her sandwich.

“That’s why you went to the guest house, isn’t it?” he asked, watching her face closely for any kind of reaction. “You went to see if he was back there,” Simon suggested. “Give me a good reason why I shouldn’t call the police?”

“Why would you do that?” Fiona asked.

“Because now I’m an accessory too! You brought home an escaped convict to my house. I would have been in trouble if I didn’t know but now that I do… they could arrest both of us, sweetheart! What were you thinking?”

“I’m not expecting him back; he was going to turn himself in,” Fiona said.

Placing his hands on his hips, his head dropped in exasperation, Simon let out a big sigh.

“I didn’t ask for a “royal birth,” you know,” Fiona said as she spread some mustard on her sandwich.

“This is not going to get any better, is it?” he then asked, sounding fatalistic. “We’re not going to get any closer than we are, right now, are we? In fact, realistically, we’re going to get even more distant from each other. Isn’t that true?”

“Why can’t I just live a normal life like every other teenager— “

“Come,” Simon then said, taking her by the wrist.

“What? Where?” Fiona asked, now frightened.

“You want to be an ordinary girl with ordinary girl problems, then let’s go settle this,” he said, pulling her out of the kitchen. “For once and for all.”

Opening the door to the basement room, Simon flung her in before him and closed the door. “Sit,” he said as he pointed to a seat near the altar that looked more like a throne. Once seated, Fiona relaxed a bit more.

Tilting forward, his hands leaning on the chair armrests, Simon looked squarely at his daughter and took a deep breath. “This cannot work without your permission,” he said. “I know that your gifts have arrived,” he said, as if to preempt her denial. “Transfer them over to me and all your problems are solved. You’ll be free to do as you please; free to love whom you please.”

“A transfer of powers? Is that even possible?” Fiona asked.

 “Let’s find out, shall we?” he asked as he turned to light some candles.

Unsure about the right thing to do, Fiona tried to sort through possible options and consequences. “I really need more time to think about this, dad,” she said softly.

“What is there to think about, sweetie?” Simon asked, not breaking his concentration on his task.

“What happened to my mom?” she then asked. Simon paused, a match still lit in his hand. “I know that she… what exactly happened; what exactly went wrong?” Fiona asked.

Blowing out the lit match, Simon turned to face his daughter. “That can’t happen to you, sweetie. It’s not the same.”

“Why do you never mention her or talk about her, like she never even existed?” Fiona asked tearfully.

“It’s not what you think, sweetie,” he answered softly. “I loved your mother very, very much.”

“Then I don’t understand why you’d never even tell me about her; what was she like? What were the things she used to do and say? What kinds of food did she like? I don’t know, everything!” Fiona said, her voice quivering. “Do I look like her? In what ways am I like her? How much of her is in me?”

Looking completely lost for words, Simon lost his balance and fell to one knee. Reaching out in concern, Fiona could see that he was sobbing. “What is it?” she asked.

“There’s not one day goes by,” he said, not even trying to regain his composure. “I miss her so much. I thought that over time it would go away, that I’d get over her…” he said, looking up at her with sad and tearful eyes.

Fiona had never seen her father so distraught; the intensity of his raw emotions frightened her. He took her hands in his own. “You so remind me of your mother, it’s… it’s hard to even look at you, sometimes,” he admitted.

Empathically feeling the emotions of her father, Fiona also began to cry. As if to say, “It’s okay,” she squeezed his hands tighter. She understood now how much her mother had meant to him and how much pain he had been feeling all along. It was a pain he had hidden from her–and most probably himself–since her passing.

Beneath the deep sadness at the loss of his wife, she could also feel his guilt. It was a guilt so powerful and strong that when she tuned into it, her body felt weakened. The self-blame was so overwhelming, she had to catch herself from losing consciousness.

“It’s okay, dad,” she then said soothingly. “I had no idea. I didn’t know. It’s okay.”

“You are so much like your mother,” he said, finally looking up at her. “You are so like her that sometimes, sometimes I think that you are her,” he said.

Rising to his feet, Simon looked lost and utterly confused. As if irredeemably broken in some way, he wiped away his tears and dejectedly left the room. Shocked by his departing statement, Fiona remained seated. She wasn’t sure what exactly he had meant and if what he was implying was a good thing or a bad thing. What did he mean by that? Did she inherit the soul of her mother? Could her mother and she by the same person? Was she her mother, her mother’s soul reincarnated into a new body? The thoughts that ran through her mind were terrifying.

With so many questions flooding her head, Fiona felt so tired that she wanted to immediately go to sleep. Gazing wildly around, as she stood up from the throne-like chair, an object in the waste basket caught her attention. As she walked closer to get a better look, she felt an increasing sense of dread.

As she began to recognize Andrew’s baseball cap, a shocking pain exploded into her brain. Feeling like her head had just been stabbed with an ice pick, she struggled to manage her mental and physical pain and retrieved the hat from the trash. The memory of that night: that evening when she couldn’t sleep and she had stormed into that very room, shot into her mind’s eye.

The implications of finding Andrew’s baseball cap in her father’s ritual den made her insides churn. Her heart dropped and her stomach suddenly felt so nauseous that it could not be dissuaded from evacuating its contents. With absolute certainty, she was going to throw up. Running from the room, through the kitchen and out the back door of the house, Fiona managed to make it outside. As her insides erupted and emptied what little food was present, she felt an anger rise up within her.

Wiping her hands in her dress, she took out her phone to call Andrew. Realizing that Andrew could not be reached, she paused to think. He had to call her at some stage, she thought. Hoping from the bottom of her heart that he was still free and not in jail, she decided to change her outgoing voice mail greeting:

“I miss you and I need you,” she began, quickly composing in her head a message that only he would understand. “This is very important. Do not do what I advised you to do; do not go to the big house and actually, stay away from the little house, as well. We should totally do Plan A,” she said and paused, feeling like she wasn’t doing a great job. With the shakiest voice ever, she began to sing. “We should hit the road, Jack, don’t you come home no more, no more.”

Hanging up on her greeting, she was given the option to change it. Unable to think of anything better, she left it. Couldn’t make it any clearer than that, she said to herself and reentered the house.

[]Chapter 7

 

Andrew woke up on Dowling’s sofa with a sore neck. In the morning light he looked around the ramshackle room. It was cluttered with books, curios and all kinds of lab equipment.

“He’s awake,” Dowling said as he stood in the kitchen doorway. “Want some coffee?”

“Love some,” Andrew replied as he stepped on a figurine of a Goddess or something that was lying on the floor. “Is this your house or an upscale thrift store?” he asked as he picked up the statue and moved it out of harm’s way.

“You found my statue of Isis,” Dowling said, sounding pleased. “That’s quite a propitious omen.”

“What’s with all this ancient Egypt worship?” Andrew asked as he noticed more and more Egyptian statues and artwork. “Fiona’s dad has tons of this stuff in his house.”

“That’s where it all started, I guess,” Dowling answered, returning to the kitchen.

“That’s where what all started?” Andrew asked as he followed him into the kitchen.

“What do you want for breakfast?” Dowling asked, pouring some coffee. “I’ve been up a while. You want some eggs?”

“Sure,” Andrew answered. “I’ll eat pretty much anything.”

“Have you talked to your girl yet?” Dowling asked as he took out some eggs from the fridge.

“Not yet, no,” Andrew answered as he added some milk to his coffee.

 “Oh, that’s right, you don’t have a phone. Feel free to use mine. You can use any room for privacy.”

“I appreciate that but…” Andrew answered and hesitated.

“You guys had a falling out?” Dowling asked.

“No, nothing like that. It’s gonna sound pretty lame but I don’t know her number off by heart. I always just pressed her avatar on my phone, you know? Never actually dialed her number.”

“Ah, that’s a generational thing; the bane of new technology. Bet you use a calculator for multiplying six times seven,” Dowling said.

“I guess,” Andrew answered uncertainly. “Why six times seven?”

“Just an example. When I was in school we learned our multiplication tables by rote. Six times seven is forty-two, six times eight is forty-eight and so on,” Dowling sang.

“Whatever,” Andrew said, not understanding.

“Have you decided what you’re going to do?” Dowling asked as he scrambled some eggs in a pan. “No pressure. Stay here as long as you like.”

“I should go back before it gets too serious, right? If I’m going to end up back there, sooner is better than later, as far as getting a longer sentence is concerned, would you say?”

“I would think so, yes,” Dowling answered. “I can drive you there, if you wish.”

“That would be good, thanks,” Andrew answered, cringing at the thought of going back. “Hey, I want to thank you for all of this,” he said as Dowling served up his breakfast. “You’ve been nothing but helpful and I appreciate that.”

“Not a problem,” Dowling answered. “It’s not like I have a paying job anymore. Eat up.”

“What are you going to do now?” Andrew asked. “Is there something else you can do?”

“Oh, I’m not too worried; I’ll get by. Could always get a teaching job in a community college or something,” Dowling said as he sat at the table. “What makes me unhappy is losing the funding. I really wanted to continue my research.”

“What were you working on?”

“Believe it or not I was working on the very thing you brought up: precognition.”

“Seriously?” Andrew asked.

“I tried not to smile when you said it. Seriously,” Dowling said, smiling.

“That’s pretty freaky, huh?”

“Not really,” Dowling answered to Andrew’s surprise. “When you’ve been working in the psychic field as long as I have, you get used to synchronicities.”

“What are they?”

“Synchronicities? Meaningful coincidences or mutual incidences that share an acausal relationship, you know?”

“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about, so, no, I don’t know,” Andrew confessed.

“I thought you said you had super powers?” Dowling teased.

“I may have exaggerated a little to get your attention.”

“If you’ve got time we can test you.”

“You can test for stuff like that?” Andrew asked. “You mean with those ESP cards? I don’t think so.”

“There are more scientific ways to test a person’s brain activity. Finish your breakfast and we’ll hook you up.”

“Hook me up?” Andrew asked, laughing to himself. “Is that a technical term or am I going to get psychically lucky?”

After breakfast, Dowling took Andrew to his office and sat him before a computer screen. “Is this switched on?” Andrew asked, noticing that the screen had no image but didn’t look entirely dark, either.

“It’s on, alright,” Dowling replied as he placed a brainwave monitoring headset on his head. “Your thoughts will activate it.”

“I turn it on with my mind?” Andrew asked.

“In front of you is a blank screen,” Dowling explained as he sat down. “Hidden from view are four very different pictures: a portrait of a woman, a city, a forest and a view of outer space. I want you to choose one of those images and, from your thoughts alone, bring it up on screen.”

As if computing the difficulty of the task, Andrew looked from Dowling to the computer screen. “You mean, like, think about outer space and the picture comes up?”

“It’s not as difficult as it sounds, believe me,” Dowling said. “The main thing is you play with it, have fun with it. It’s not a test you can fail; you’re not going to be graded or anything. Look at the screen and think of a picture.”

“But I don’t know what the actual picture looks like,” Andrew said.

“That doesn’t matter. You’ll see,” Dowling said encouragingly as he looked at the screen in expectation.

Andrew looked at the screen and squinted his eyes slightly, as if straining to make an image appear.

“You’ll find that it works better the more relaxed you are. Just to be clear, you’re not making an image appear from your mind directly to the screen. You’re choosing an image that already exists,” Dowling explained.

“Cool,” Andrew said, shrugging his shoulders to relax his body. As he relaxed even more the screen came alive. A series of colorful pixilated images that looked more abstract shapes than recognizable pictures. “Wow,” Andrew exclaimed excitedly. “Something’s happening.”

“You’re doing terrific,” Dowling encouraged. “Focus on only one of those images.”

“Wow, see that?” Andrew said excitedly. “I could see buildings, did you?”

“Yes, you’re doing fantastic,” Dowling said. “You’re thinking of the city, I assume?”

“Yeah,” Andrew answered, his eyes glued to the screen, watching every movement. “There, that’s definitely a skyline!”

“You’re a natural,” Dowling encouraged. “The more you do it, the more you learn how best to focus your mind to see more of the image.”

“This is fantastic,” Andrew said as parts of a cityscape became more and more recognizable. “It looks like London or someplace European, right? Is that Big Ben and the houses of parliament? I used to have a jigsaw like that when I was a kid.”

“It is the city of London,” Dowling agreed. “You’re the best I’ve ever tested.”

“Really?” Andrew asked looking pleased but still not moving his head from the task at hand. “Wow, I’ve almost gotten the entire picture up. It’s hard to keep it all up at once, especially away from the center, in the corners.”

“Switch images,” Dowling suggested. “See if you can bring up one of the other pictures.”

“Okay,” Andrew said, finally looking away from the screen to shake his body to relax it and start over. As he broke his concentration, the screen went dark again. “I’ll try the woman’s face,” he said, concentrating again, looking as focused as a chess player.

Images immediately began appearing on the blank screen; some more distinct than others. “I think it’s getting easier,” Andrew said.

“Yes,” Dowling agreed. “It gets easier with practice.”

“There’s her eyes!” Andrew said proudly. “Wow, this is so cool!”

The more that Andrew focused his full attention on the assignment, the more successful and more encouraged he became. Switching from image to image, he was soon able to pull up an identifiable picture from each of the four choices. “So, how does the computer know what picture I’m thinking of, in my head?” he then asked, turning to face Dowling. “Does it pick up signals from my brain through the headset? What?”

“No,” Dowling answered, reaching down to pick up and then hold up the connection at the end of the headset lead. “This isn’t even plugged in to anything,” he said.

“So, why am I wearing it?” Andrew asked, puzzled.

“I had you wear it because I didn’t want the part of your brain that says the task is stupid or impossible to overrule the part of your brain that says that anything is possible,” Dowling answered, removing the headset from Andrew’s head. “If you believed that it was impossible for your thoughts to have any effect on the computer screen, then nothing would have shown up. In this experiment, believing is seeing and not the other way around.”

“We say seeing is believing… but this is believing is seeing,” Andrew said, as if thinking out loud.

“Correct.”

“So, how did the computer know what I was believing or thinking? I don’t get it?” Andrew asked.

“I had you demonstrate to yourself what the prior, most fundamental understanding in this field of inquiry is,” Dowling said, putting away the headset.

“The most fundamental inquiry?” Andrew asked. “What’s that?”

“That thoughts have power,” Dowling answered. “Once you understand that, well, you understand everything. It explains how physics works, cause and effect, the nature of reality… like I say, pretty much everything.”

“Wow,” Andrew said, terribly excited, his mind racing but still not fully understanding. “Your work is amazing! How can they close you down? This is mind-blowing stuff!”

“Thanks but this is not my work,” Dowling answered. “This is a program I bought on the internet. Thought control experiments are not new and the current research is vastly more advanced than this. Air force pilots are being trained to fly planes with their minds, for instance.”

 “Wow, what do they do? Think of Helsinki and the plane flies them there?” Andrew joked.

“Not quite that advanced but who knows?” Dowling said and smiled. “Just so you know,” he then added, “when you said you had super powers? You pretty much do.”

“How come?” Andrew asked.

“Of all the students I’ve had operate the same test, very few can produce images wearing the headset,” Dowling said.

“Sweet,” Andrew said, feeling proud of himself.

“No one has been able to produce any images while not wearing the headset. Until now. That, my friend is a precious gift. Pretty astounding, as a matter of fact.”

“Well, I,” Andrew said, feeling almost embarrassed, “I really don’t know what that all means. Not something I can put on my resume, I don’t think.”

“Probably not but, trust me, whatever you’ve got going on up there… it’s so rare I’ve never seen it before and I’ve seen lots, you know?” Dowling said, playfully ruffling Andrew’s hair. “You want that ride back to the slammer?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Andrew answered sourly. “Actually what I would most love to do is see Fiona. If I can’t get her on the phone, I’d really like to go see her.”

“That’s understandable,” Dowling said, thinking to himself of the logistics of how he could fit it into his day. “Where does she live?”

“Pacific Palisades,” Andrew said defensively. “If you can’t do it, I so understand,” he then said, seeing the pain-like expression on Dowling’s face.

“That’s a good ways north,” he said, looking apologetic. “With traffic and everything…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Andrew said, getting up from the chair. “It’s a dumb idea anyway. I couldn’t just show up and have her father see me. I’d so totally get her into trouble. Even if he’s not there, we’d probably have like five minutes together and I’d have to leave. It’s so not worth it. I’ll go to the bathroom real quick and then we can go.”

As Dowling drove Andrew back to the prison he wasn’t sure how he could cheer up the young lad. Being unsure of Andrew’s mental state, he allowed him some space and quiet instead. It was an awkward silence. The closer that they drove to their destination, the more that Andrew squirmed about in his seat.

Looking out the passenger door window, Andrew watched people going about their business and envied them their freedom. Longing to be free, to spend all the time with Fiona that she could stand, was his only wish. The thought of not being able to see her, nor go on normal dates with her to the cinema or to a café or restaurant, made him feel sick to his stomach. Even though he knew that she was right to advise him to go back, he still secretly hoped that she would have changed her mind.

What if she did change her mind, he then wondered. Since he hadn’t spoken to her since he left the guest house the day before, there was plenty of time in between for her to consider other possibilities. What if she did want to go on the road together, after all, and how awful would it be for him to only find out about it when he was back behind bars?

“Maybe I could use your phone, after all,” Andrew said as he turned to Dowling. “Maybe I can look her number up on the social media sites or whatever.”

“Knock yourself out,” Dowling said as he handed him his smart phone. “Maybe her number is in the regular white pages? Worth a try, huh?”

“I guess,” Andrew answered, unsure what exactly Dowling was referring to.

Doing a general search for her name and location brought up very little except person-finding sites that requested payment. A quick search through the social media sites unearthed nothing useful except an email address and twitter handle. “I’ll send her an email and if she gets back to me with a phone number in the next five minutes or so, I can at least talk to her real quick, if that’s okay?” Andrew asked.

“Sounds good,” Dowling said as he gave Andrew an encouraging sign.

“You might want to park a block away?” Andrew suggested. “In case they see you and assume that you’re assisting me in some way, which you are, of course but you know what I mean,” Andrew said awkwardly. “I don’t want you to get into any trouble over this.”

“I appreciate that,” Dowling said, pulling over to the curb. “How about here?”

“Perfect,” Andrew said, checking his email inbox once more.

“Anything?” Dowling asked.

“Not so far. I’ll give it five minutes?” he asked.

“Sure. If we don’t get moved on in the meantime,” Dowling answered, reading the parking sign. “This whole block is an orange loading zone it looks like. Don’t worry about being recognized,” he then said, noticing Andrew’s nervousness. “It’s not like the cops have your picture plastered on every billboard across town. This is not the movies; you’re small fry in the larger scheme of things.”

“Yeah, I’ll probably have to convince them to take me back,” Andrew joked.

“Well, you know where to find me,” Dowling said. “My first name is Gus and I’m pretty easy to find on the web.”

“I appreciate all your help, Gus,” Andrew said, extending his hand for a handshake. “I wish we could have met under different circumstances.”

“I was serious about I said about your psychic gifts, Andrew. I hope you give yourself the opportunity to develop them further.”

“Something tells me I’m going to have lots of time to do just that,” Andrew replied as he returned Dowling’s cell phone.

“Sorry that you didn’t get to talk to your girl.”

“Yeah, so am I,” Andrew replied sadly. “So am I.”

Andrew shut the car door behind him and gave a final wave to Dowling. His feet felt heavy as he turned the corner to walk toward the ugly grey buildings of LA’s finest correctional facility. Passing police and sheriff’s deputies who walked and congregated in small groups, Andrew didn’t shift his gaze or try to disguise his identity in any way. As he climbed the steps to the entrance of the building he noticed that with each step he became more and more terrified.

Stopping on a step, his entire body trembled with so much fear that he found it hard not to cry. I can’t go in there crying like a baby, he thought to himself, wiling himself to be stronger. The longer that he stood, almost paralyzed near the middle of the multi-tiered concrete steps, the more that time seemed to slow down. As if looking ahead and seeing his future for the next few years, he began to realize that he just couldn’t face it.

Feeling a debilitating heaviness in his heart and soul, his already wobbly knees buckled and he landed on a step in a sitting position. Unable to climb another step, he sank his head into his hands and sobbed. I can’t do it, he said to himself. I’d rather die than go back in there. It wasn’t that he wanted to shirk his responsibility and evade paying back his debt to society; it was simply that he hadn’t got the strength or the fortitude to see it through.

Sitting in the middle of the granite staircase in the blazing midday sun, Andrew felt lost and alone. Feeling so low on hope, he was close to bottoming out into abject despair. The one true optimistic notion he had remaining in his mind; the one true glimmer of light left shining in his darkened heart, were his thoughts about Fiona.

If anything could give him strength it was the knowledge that Fiona loved him, no matter what. If anything could give him some semblance of hope for the future, it was the knowledge that he would still get to see her smile. If he didn’t have the strength to do what he needed to do for himself, he knew that he could do it for her. He could do anything for her, he realized. As long as she remained in his life, he would show up for her. I can go on, he almost said out loud as he rose to his feet.

With a sudden influx of energy and a renewed sense of purpose, Andrew turned to face the entrance of the building. People came and went and yet no one seemed to notice or care about him. I can do this, he said as he gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. Summoning all his will power and thinking only of Fiona, he climbed the remainder of the steps that led to the front entrance.

“Andrew!” he heard a male voice calling him from behind. An immediate smile crossed his face as he turned and saw Dowling running breathlessly up the steps towards him. Waving aloft his cell phone, the man looked like he had been running quite a bit. “I didn’t think I was going to make it,” he said, finally stopping to catch his breath.

“What’s up?” Andrew asked, puzzled but looking happy to see him.

“I was driving home,” Dowling said and paused to get another breath. “Let’s walk over here,” he then said as he felt uncomfortable with all the security personnel coming in and out of the building. “My cell phone beeps when I get an email so I thought that maybe I should pull over and check it out,” he explained as he took another big breath. “It wasn’t for me, it was for you,” he said, giving Andrew his phone. “Obviously I read it, hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not,” Andrew said, scrolling to the last message of the inbox.

Realizing that it must be from Fiona, he felt some trepidation as he opened the message: was it going to be good news or bad? As soon as he clicked on the email, he smiled. Following her phone number was a very short message, all in caps: DON’T GO BACK THERE! CALL ME!! LOVE YOU!!!

 “I don’t know how your girl normally sends emails but that one looked important,” Dowling said.

“Once again, I’m so grateful to you,” Andrew said. “I mean, I don’t know what this means, maybe she’s changed her mind, I don’t know, maybe she just wants to talk, you know?”

“Well, we shouldn’t hang around here too long,” Dowling said, looking increasingly uncomfortable in the surroundings. “Why don’t we go back to the car and you can make your call, sound good?”

“Thanks again, Gus. You’re a life saver,” Andrew said, smiling and walking like he had a spring in his step. Unable to wait till they were back at the car, Andrew dialed Fiona’s number.

“Hello?” she answered tentatively, not recognizing the number on the caller ID.

“Fiona, it’s Andrew,” he said, a huge smile on his face.

“Where are you?” she asked urgently. “I’ve been worried sick! Are you okay? Where are you calling from? Did you go back to the—”

“Relax, no, I’m okay, I didn’t go back,” Andrew interrupted her. “I was on my way back, right outside, actually.”

“Oh, thank heavens, you’re free and you’re alive and I can’t believe I’m hearing your voice,” Fiona said delightedly.

“Of course I’m alive,” Andrew said, almost laughing with pride and pleasure over how much she was excited to hear from him. “How come you changed your mind?” he asked. “Have you changed your mind, about me going back there?”

“Andrew, I am so sorry for advising you to do that,” Fiona said. “It’s so confusing, I didn’t know what to think and I really should have known better, I’m sorry,” she said quickly.

“Are you okay?” he then asked. “You sound, I don’t know, this is such a big turnaround, I guess.”

“We need to talk,” Fiona said, sounding more calm. “We need to devise a better plan. I wasn’t thinking. You can’t come down here, just yet,” she said, as if thinking out loud. “Can you stay some place safe?”

“Yeah, I think so,” he answered, looking directly at Dowling. “You want to meet someplace neutral?”

“No, I need to meet with my dad first and then we should talk or maybe we should talk and then meet with my dad,” Fiona said, her thinking confused.

“O-kay,” Andrew said, pausing for the right question to ask. “Sounds like things are still changing. I’m so glad to hear your voice, you have no idea,” he then said, his face breaking out in another big smile.

“I love you so much,” Fiona said. “And I’m so sorry for everything.”

“What do you have to be sorry for?” Andrew asked. “You’re like a gift; a gift in my life.”

“Well, now that I know that you’re on the outside and safe…” Fiona said, her mind still thinking and planning. “Let’s talk in a bit and I’ll get my head straight in the meantime. Is this a good number for you?”

“For a little while, I guess, yeah,” Andrew answered. “I have your number now, anyways.”

“Oh my God, this is so…” Fiona said excitedly yet unable to find the right word to complete her sentence. “Call you later, love you,” she then said and then hung up like she had something important to do.

“That went well?” Dowling asked as Andrew returned the cell phone.

“Yeah, real well,” Andrew said, sounding doubtful.

“Is everything okay?”

“I’m not sure if everything is okay, Gus. She’s changed her mind but she hasn’t yet told me why,” Andrew said thoughtfully. “Something must have happened with her father, or whatever it is, the father has something to do with it, pretty much guaranteed.”

“The offer of my hospitality is still on the table, if you choose to partake?” Dowling said.

“Yeah,” Andrew laughed. “I choose to partake, thank you very much.”

[]Chapter 8

 

Question after question and coin toss after coin toss, Fiona sat in her room with the I Ching divination book in her hands. Looking more confused than when she started, it was becoming clear to her that there really was no easy answer from there on out; she would have to come up with her own solutions.

It was painful for her to consider that her father may have had something to do with Andrew’s misfortune. Not wanting to dwell on her father’s intent, she felt more peace of mind admitting that he may have inadvertently crossed a boundary. However, even assuming that he was acting in her best interest, his attentions needed, in some way, to be neutralized. Giving him what he so obviously desired was the only way to divert his attentions away from her and subsequently, from Andrew.

Finding her father reading a book in his customary armchair in the library, she stood in the open doorway. “Everything okay?” he asked, wondering why she was standing there, remaining quiet.

“We can do it now,” she said somberly. “If it’s convenient for you.”

Simon placed a leather book marker to keep his place and gently closed the antiquarian book. “The time is most convenient,” Simon said and smiled.

Back seated in the throne-like chair in her father’s ritual room, Fiona was still not sure she was doing the right thing. She was also not sure how she would be feeling after the transference. Would she lose all her gifts and suffer a reduction in consciousness, of her identity, even? Would she feel like herself afterwards or would she experience herself as being “less smart” than ever before?

If it meant that her father would leave Andrew and herself alone, she was prepared to do pretty much anything. However, even if the transference of her gifts actually did work, she could not be certain that her father would, indeed, leave them both alone. Fiona felt queasy as she watched her father prepare himself by reading a passage from some creepy old book.

“If I do this you have to promise me that you will leave Andrew alone from here on out,” she then said.

“What do you mean?” Simon asked innocently. “I never even met the boy.”

Fiona got up from her chair and retrieved Andrew’s baseball cap from the trash. She placed it before him on the altar. “Promise me,” she said, looking him firm in the eyes. “This stops here.”

Unable or unwilling to explain how the baseball cap ended up in his trash, Simon lowered his eyes as if he felt busted. “I promise,” he then said quietly, although he secretly had his doubts. Returning to the chair, Fiona settled herself and shook her body to relax.

Placing her hands upon the armrests of the chair, she gently closed her eyes. “I’m ready,” she then said.

 

As they feasted on take-out Thai food, Andrew answered another question as Dowling grilled him about his childhood. Fascinated by the abilities he had demonstrated earlier, Dowling engaged his scientific mind in order to determine whether Andrew’s gifts were a product of nature or nurture; was he born with them or did he in some way develop them throughout his upbringing?

“Please forgive all these questions,” Dowling said as he spooned more food onto his plate, “but your gifts are so rare it would be remiss of me not to delve any deeper.”

“Not at all,” Andrew answered amiably. “I’m enjoying talking about myself.”

“What I’d really like to do is get you into the lab tomorrow and run you through some more tests. I’ve got some very interesting gizmos over there that I think you might like.”

“I’d love to,” Andrew said, smiling. “I’d like to know, for myself.”

“Excellent!” Dowling exclaimed, already deciding what tests he would run. “I could maybe write a paper, if the results are as good as I think they are going to be; this could get my funding back!”

“Yeah, what happened with that?” Andrew asked between mouthfuls. “You didn’t publish, so you perished?” he asked, referring to the classic academic cliché, “publish or perish.”

“In some ways, yes, but in other ways, no,” Dowling answered, his facial expression suggesting that it was more complicated than that. “Academic funding has changed,” he explained. “It’s a whole different ballgame than it used to be; there’s very little funding for pure research anymore.”

“How do you mean?” Andrew asked.

“Used to be you’d get funded because the science was good; simply on its own merits. Nowadays the only way to get money is from private industry or the military. Science doesn’t get funded because it might benefit the discipline or help out humanity in some way.”

“It doesn’t?” Andrew asked.

“Private industry wants to use the work to get people to buy more stuff and the military wants to use it either to get more intelligence or worse, use it as some kind of weapon. I’ve taken money from both of them but I don’t want to do that anymore. Maybe I’m getting old but it’s important for me to be able to sleep at night. I think you know what I’m saying.”

“I think so,” Andrew answered.

“I don’t know much about your present situation but your girlfriend’s father could be…” Dowling said and stopped to think of the right word.

“Dangerous?” Andrew suggested.

“Yeah,” Dowling agreed. “What do you know about that serpent order?” Andrew asked. “Did your wife tell you anything at the time? What they did and stuff?”

Dowling made a face as if it was an old pain he didn’t particularly want to start dredging up all over again.

“If it’s too—“

“No, that’s okay,” Dowling said, interrupting. “You should know what it is you’re dealing with here. I don’t know much; my wife… Abigail was her name,” he said fondly. “She was English, as the name may suggest,” he added.

“Cool,” Andrew said, for want of a better response.

“Abigail was very secretive at the time; we weren’t married that long… The order has a presence in a lot of cities in Europe and the US. According to them they can trace their roots back to ancient Egypt but as far as I can tell they started in England early last century and spread out slowly.”

“What is it they do, exactly?” Andrew asked.

“Well, like all such secret societies, each member primarily helps each other to advance spiritually and in their careers and what have you; some of them are very high up in finance, politics, global commerce and so on. Purportedly they seek enlightenment and higher knowledge. Is their agenda pure? Or have they got a subversive agenda, working behind the scenes to affect the course of history in an attempt to control the world or whatever? I don’t know. Their activities are secret; that leads to a lot of speculation, a lot of anecdotes and conspiracy theories… it’s hard to tell what’s true from false.”

“That clears things up,” Andrew said jokingly.

“Well, let me put it like this. Are they powerful and dangerous? Certainly. Anybody that can pick up the phone and have access to someone in authority… access to power is power, right?  Dowling asked.

“Like if someone say, knew the prison warden and said, hey, let that guy free or let that guy serve more jail time… he’d have the power to change things, I get it,” Andrew said, nodding his head in understanding.

“Exactly,” Dowling said. “And let’s face it, it’s human nature to form groups with others that share a similar purpose, happens everywhere. Everyone strives to make their agenda become a reality, whether that agenda be political or religious or racial or sexual orientation, whatever.”

“Yeah, except in those situations we all know what their agenda is. If they’re a secret group, maybe they don’t even know what their agenda is?” Andrew suggested.

“Every group has a mission statement, Andrew, defined or not. It’s implied in the very matrix of their organization, it’s their reason for joining together in the first place. Maybe at the bottom of the organization they don’t know but rest assured, whoever’s pulling the strings at the top knows exactly what their organization’s agenda is.”

“So, Fiona’s father is dangerous because he knows people? He can pick up the phone and get to talk to someone that can help or hinder, right?” Andrew asked.

“Correct,” Dowling agreed. “But he could also be dangerous by the magick, the rituals, that he does, alone or, more powerfully, in groups. That’s what that power of thought exercise demonstrates,” Dowling said as Andrew nodded in the affirmative. “But that’s another conversation,” Dowling said, picking up the empty food containers from the table.

“So, magick is basically thinking about something that you want?” Andrew asked as he cleared away the dirty plates.

“There’s more to it than just thinking but yeah, thinking, or rather, intention, is a large part of it,” Dowling said as his phone rang. “This might be for you,” he said as he didn’t recognize the number on the caller ID. “Hello?” he answered. “Yes, he is,” he then said and handed the phone to Andrew.

“Hello?” Andrew spoke into the phone, wishing it to be Fiona, which it was.

Fiona lay on her bed, her mood brightened upon hearing Andrew’s voice. “Is it my imagination or has everything become so life or death all of a sudden?” she asked, smiling.

“It’s just your imagination,” Andrew answered and smiled. “What’s going on?”

“Not much,” Fiona answered, feeling more and more relaxed. “Just Facebooking some friends and stuff.”

“Fi, no disrespect but you don’t have any friends. And if you do have a Facebook account, you must have been keeping it a secret from me,” Andrew teased.

“Can a girl not have any secrets?”

“I’m beginning not to like secrets, anymore,” Andrew said, only half-joking. “Are you at home?”

“Yeah, just transferred my secret magical powers to my father,” Fiona said lightly. “Just another Saturday night in the Palisades.”

“You did that, seriously?” Andrew asked.

“Want to hit the road with me?” Fiona asked.

“Absolutely,” Andrew answered, excitedly. “When and where?”

“Tomorrow? Your place?”

“Wow,” Andrew said, realizing that she is serious. “Are you okay? Did anything—”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Fiona answered quickly. “Might be slow in thinking but otherwise, I’m right as rain.”

“I can’t believe you want to do this,” Andrew said, his thoughts feeling jumbled.

“Well, let’s just say that at this point the very worst idea we had turns out to be the best. Or maybe it’s the only one, after all,” Fiona said cryptically.

“It wasn’t the worst idea, Fi, it’s just that maybe we’re going earlier than we had planned, right?” Andrew asked.

“I’ll bring as much money as I can and travel light, I guess,” Fiona said as she mentally computed what she would need to bring with her.

“I’ll email you the address here,” Andrew said, also shifting into planning mode. “I should call my mom.”

“You should definitely call your mom, dum-dum. I can’t believe you’re not calling her, like, every day, what is wrong with you?” Fiona chided.

“Road trip!” Andrew said with glee. “I’m am so excited; you have no idea!”

“Make sure to get some good rest, you hear? No all-night booze sessions with your new BFF there,” Fiona said, smiling.

“Love you, sweets,” Andrew said.

“Love you too, ex-con,” Fiona joked and kissing into the phone, hung up.

“Wow,” Andrew said as he gave the phone back to Dowling. “Have to take a rain check on the lab test thing tomorrow,” Andrew said, smiling. “Me and Fiona are hitting the road.”

“That’s okay, Andrew, another time,” Dowling said, unsure if they were making the right move. “Where are you two headed?”

“Basically, the idea was for us to… not run away, exactly, just to get out of town and get lost for a bit, travel around maybe. I could find work someplace and move on, I don’t know, it wasn’t like we totally planned it out.” Andrew paused when he realized how lame was sounding. “I guess, now that I’m on the run and everything, it kind of changes things. My dad went back to his hometown in Kansas. I thought that maybe we could head there first and see what kind of reception we get.”

“Just show up without notice?” Dowling asked.

“Yeah, well, he’s got a new family now and everything. I mean, we still keep in touch, not very regular or anything, but he’d definitely love to see me and I’m sure he’ll help us out,” Andrew explained.

“Well, going on a road trip is always exciting,” Dowling said, hoping to cheer Andrew up. “The way you’re doing it is definitely for the young, but, hey, that’s what being young is all about, huh? Just do it, right?”

“Yeah,” Andrew agreed, now wondering if it really was the right thing to be doing. “At least we’ll be together. Doesn’t matter what we’re doing, it’s when we’re together, everything makes sense,” he then said. “Hey, do you mind if I call my mom real quick?”

“No, of course not,” Dowling said, handing him back the phone. “Talk to her for as long as you want.”

When Andrew dialed, he immediately got her outgoing message. “Went straight to voice mail,” he said, returning the phone. “It’s late for her,” he said, checking the time. “I’ll try her tomorrow, maybe.”

“You should consider getting a prepaid phone,” Dowling suggested. “Pay as you go. If you pay by cash, you’ll get a new number and they won’t be able to trace it back to you. Just a thought.”

“Yeah, thanks, I might just do that,” Andrew said, realizing that his mind was now shifting into a new mode of thinking; a more secretive, criminal way of thinking that he definitely didn’t like.

 

Fiona got little sleep as she nervously looked out her bedroom window and awaited the new dawn. Careful not to tip off her dad as he prepared himself for work, she went about her normal breakfast routine. “How are you feeling?” he asked her as she poured some cereal into a bowl.

“Good,” she answered. “Not too sure yet,” she then added, realizing that it was not a general question. “How are you feeling?” she asked.

“I’m not too sure, either,” he said, as if trying to ascertain his state of mind. “I slept well.”

“Well that’s something,” Fiona said, smiling.

“Let’s check in later,” he then said, closing his briefcase, preparing to leave.

“Have a great day at work, dad,” Fiona said, her mouth still chewing her cereal.

“Thanks, sweetie,” he said, kissing the top of her head. “I love you. Enjoy your day.”

As soon as the front door closed behind him, Fiona let out a massive sigh of relief. Dumping out the remaining cereal that she never even wanted, she ran up the stairs to her bedroom. Within minutes, she was packed and ready to leave. Looking out her window to make sure there was no sign of her father or his car, she quickly left the room.

Reading out the address that Andrew gave her into her GPS, she turned her ignition. Her first driving direction came as she pulled out of the drive. Once through the gate, she took off heading south towards downtown LA.

Andrew gave a large wave when he saw her turn into the street. Scared and excited all at the same time he was nevertheless delighted to finally see her park. She rushed from her car to give him the warmest and most desperate hug that he had ever received. “Oh, you poor thing, you’re shaking,” she said, hugging him tighter. “Are you cold?”

“I didn’t think you’d show,” he confessed. “I’ve been waiting here for like—“

“I’m so sorry,” Fiona interrupted. “I got confused with the one-way streets back there and kept going around in circles… but I’m here now. We’re soul mates; of course I was going to show. I love you, darling.”

Hugging her even tighter, Andrew realized how weak, aimless and frightened he would be without her. “God, I need you so much,” he said. “Don’t ever leave me.”

“I won’t, sweetheart,” she said into his ear. “I will never leave you.”

Realizing that a strange man standing in a doorway of a house had been watching them with a smile upon his face, Fiona broke from the hug. “Who’s that?” she whispered to Andrew.

“Fiona, I’d like you to meet my good friend, Professor Dowling,” Andrew said loudly enough for Dowling to hear.

“Pleased to meet you,” Fiona said, extending her hand. “Thank you so much for taking care of him.”

“You make a terrific couple, you know that?” Dowling said, smiling broadly. “Very pleased to meet you, finally.”

Reaching into her purse, Fiona smiled and presented Andrew with his Angel’s baseball cap. Seeing his eyes opening wider and the delighted expression on his face made her heart warm. “Where did you find it?” he asked, taking it from her and looking at it like it was the most marvelous thing in the world.

“Turns out you left it at my place,” she said. “Believe it or not, this is his most prized possession in the entire world,” she explained to Dowling.

“It’s the simple things,” he said, turning to leave. “You two have the best time together and don’t you dare forget about me,” he warned Andrew.

“Thank you for everything, sincerely, Gus,” Andrew said. “This is not over, I promise. We’ll meet again.”

After Dowling saluted a parting gesture, he then closed the door. Andrew placed the baseball cap upon his head and turned once again to Fiona. “Let’s do this,” he said smiling.

“Do you want to drive?” she asked.

“Sure,” he answered as they went to their respective doors.

“We should probably use the GPS,” Fiona said, typing in their ultimate destination. “Obviously it will take us a while to get there but at least we can make sure not to get lost. Holy crap, it’s like thirteen hundred miles from here to Dodge City,” she said as the GPS screen loaded directions to their next destination.

“We’re in no hurry, right?” Andrew said and smiled. “Let’s go explore this great country of ours, what do you say?” he then said as he pulled out into traffic. “Put some good music on, girl,” he said, turning to give her a huge smile. “Let’s rock this road trip!”

Plugging her media player into the dashboard radio, Fiona played her favorite playlist. As they merged into traffic on the 10 freeway heading out of Los Angeles, they sang loudly. Moving their bodies to the music, they tried unsuccessfully to get into sync. “I’m so happy, like you wouldn’t believe, right now,” Andrew practically shouted.

“So long, LA,” Fiona turned to shout behind her. “We’ll miss ya.”

“But we wouldn’t want to be ya,” Andrew joined in and they both laughed for no good reason.

[]Chapter 9

 

Simon tried to concentrate upon his own work but he felt too distracted by the mystery of Fiona’s disappearance. He had just spent a few wasted hours on the internet searching for anything that he could find about Andrew Cox and his possible current whereabouts. Although Fiona had been missing for days, the pain of her absence was so severe that, to Simon, it felt like she’d been gone for years. He missed seeing her smiling face and he especially missed her positive and uplifting presence around the home. The large house felt so empty and cold without her.

In his mind he dwelled upon the fact that her recent behavior was so unusual that she must have been strongly and negatively influenced by her association with that boy. He was beginning to dislike him so much that he found it hard to even think about or mention his name.

He had thought several times about calling the police and maybe filing a missing person’s report. He hesitated though, and ultimately decided against it, as he didn’t want Fiona being recorded in a police report or to end up with any kind of a police file of her own. He certainly didn’t want her blaming him for his interference in her life. As she so often mentioned to him, she was a young woman, not a child, and old enough now to make her own decisions.

What galled him the most, however, was the fact that she had misled him; no, he felt stronger than that; she had downright tricked him. He hadn’t felt one bit different since their transfer of gifts and he didn’t know what angered him the most; her deceit or the fact that she felt like she had to deceive him to get what she wanted.

He was proud of the fact that they had always had an unusually trusting relationship; one where she could talk to him about anything. He had never known her as a liar; in fact, her honesty and innocence were her primary attractive traits. Just a few short months spent in the company of some young upstart and it’s like her life-long, upstanding morals and principles had been flushed right down the toilet. It was sickening to him.

If her physical life was not in danger, then most certainly her spiritual integrity was. Not to intervene, and live up to his responsibilities as a caring and loving father, would be no less than a karmic transgression. He was her father and legal guardian, after all.

She might not want or invite his interference but she was acting so out of character, that her logic and sanity were clearly impaired. He now felt that he must intervene. If she didn’t thank him right away, she would most definitely thank him later. Considering the mess that she was potentially making of her life, he could see no option but to do everything that he could to save her.

He must find his daughter, wherever she might be, and bring her home to safety. If, after finding her, he had to lock her up in her room to prevent a recurrence of her disappearance trick, then so be it. If he needed to be tough, and have her hate him in the short term, it would be worth it if he was saving her life and, most probably, her soul.

Where to begin his search was a mystery. If it was the boy that was doing the leading, he would be taking her someplace familiar to him. The country was large and diverse but it became smaller and more local by the connections that people had with each other. He needed to find out what people connections this young man possessed, whether those connections be family, friends or group affiliations. He could then track him down to the most likely destination.

Looking over his notes he realized that he had the kid’s home address; the home of where his mother resided. He should start there, maybe pay her a visit. Talking to Andrew’s mother might provide invaluable information that he could never obtain in internet searches.

Sunday being a good day to catch her at home, Simon decided to pay a visit to the house. Angela Cox looked younger than he had expected and she had a freshness to her face that he found attractive. “I’m Fiona’s father,” he explained when she opened the front door to him. “I’m terribly sorry to show up on your doorstep like this but I didn’t have a phone number for you—“

“Oh,” Angela interrupted, as if now realizing who he was. “Andrew’s girlfriend is called Fiona.”

“That’s right,” Simon said and smiled. “I’m her father.”

“Please come in,” Angela said, opening further the door. “I’m a bit slow at times, please forgive me.”

“Not at all,” Simon said, looking around the shabby room like he was mentally holding his nose. “How are you holding up?”

“Oh, it’s been hard,” Angela responded, fixing her clothes a bit and wondering to herself how she must look. “I miss him so much.”

“I know how you must feel,” Simon said sympathetically. “I’m feeling quite lost without Fiona.”

“Is she English, as well?” Angela asked, recognizing his unmistakable British accent.

“Oh, no, she was born here; she’s very American,” he answered. “You haven’t met her, then?”

“No, he mentioned a few times that he’d bring her over to visit but I guess, you know how it is, always something comes up,” she said. Expecting him to explain the purpose of his visit, she wondered if she should be offering him some tea or something.

“To be quite honest, I’ve been worried sick about Fiona, to the point where I can hardly sleep at night,” Simon said in a sad voice. “I’ve explored every avenue,” he said, as if he had finished his sentence.

“Yes,” said Angela, as if she totally understood. “I can only hope that they are all right, wherever they find themselves.”

“So you haven’t heard from him, then?” Simon asked pointedly. “You have no idea where they were headed?”

“I don’t,” Angela responded. “I talked to him just after they had left the city but all he told me was that they were very happy together. He said that he was the happiest he’s ever been.”

“The happiest he’s ever been?” Simon asked, feeling a tad nauseous. “He actually said that to you?”

“He was making sure that I didn’t worry, saying all kinds of things, I’m sure. Although, he actually did sound like he was happy. I know my boy and he wasn’t faking it,” Angela said, as if slowly remembering the emotional tone of the conversation. “I was going to make some coffee for myself, if you’d like some?” she then asked. “Or would you prefer tea?”

“Coffee sounds great, thank you,” Simon said, flashing her one of his charming smiles.

Simon followed her into the kitchen as she filled the coffee pot. Looking around for anything noteworthy, he checked out the photos posted on the fridge door. “Is Mr. Cox still with us?” he asked tactfully.

“He’s not with us, anymore, no,” Angela answered.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, bowing his head slightly.

“Oh, no, he’s still alive; he’s not just with us, anymore,” Angela clarified.

“Do they still keep in touch? Your son and his father?”

“Yes, of course,” Angela answered tetchily. “How do you like your coffee?”

“Black, please, one sugar,” Simon answered, smiling but concerned that he was getting nothing worthwhile with his questioning.

 

Professor Dowling wiped away his tears as he sat upon his bed and looked through old photographs and other memorabilia. It was because of such upset that he rarely opened the old tin cookie box stashed deep at the back of his clothes cabinet. It surprised him how much emotion he still felt after all the years. He should have known better than to think that he was over her, irrespective of the number of years since her disappearance. Time heals nothing, he reminded himself.

As his years of research had borne out, the mind is a tricky thing. One of its great faults is how it can fool us into believing what we want to believe, even if that belief is one hundred percent incorrect.

In some ways, looking through the box of mementos gave his life a certain perspective. The past twenty years seemed to have sped by so fast that it was hard for him to believe that he was now in his sixties. In most circles he would be considered an “old man.” At what point, exactly did he become an old man, he wondered? When he turned sixty, perhaps?

He didn’t feel old. In fact, in his head he considered himself still quite young; probably felt and looked somewhere in his forties, he reckoned. In order not to dispel his own false belief, he studiously avoided looking at himself in the mirror. Most likely aging was the main reason he had kept a beard, he found it hard to admit.

What had he done with that twenty years? Why did he abandon his search for the wife he vowed to love till death do them part? Had he settled too willingly into an academic life of ease where he could hide away from the world and occupy himself in endless research? What kind of science was so important, anyway, that private industry needed help in selling more bubblegum? Or providing science to the military so that they could devise a more elaborate way to control, dominate, and kill?

Having spent over sixty years on planet earth, what had he got to show for his time and efforts?

Andrew showing up at his lab could not have been an accident. Yet, if he was to take some meaning from the kid’s visit, he was stumped for an explanation. The odds of the kid showing up accidentally had to be small. The odds of Andrew mentioning the same obscure group that Abigail belonged to defied calculation, however. Yet, again, what was the meaning of that coincidence? Clearly the anima mundi, the World Soul, was instructing him in some way.

Yet what action was he being asked to take? Was he to resurrect his search? Was Abigail in some way reaching out to him from beyond the grave? Was she still alive and needing his help? Certainly all things were connected. Perhaps he was being asked to take a journey.

What if this kid was somehow holding the key for him to complete the past? Perhaps the kid’s appearance was to help him come to some closure about his wife and maybe even bring some meaning to his life? The poor guy was in so much trouble and clearly way in over his head; maybe he was meant to help Andrew even more than he had managed to do so far?

What further help could he provide the lad, he wondered. The kid didn’t even know who or what he was up against. If fate were pitting him against the might of Fiona’s father and this secret group, on his own, he didn’t stand a chance. He should keep track of Andrew, he decided. He should appoint himself as his ally, maybe even his guardian.

Remembering that Andrew had called his mother from his cell phone, Dowling scrolled through the recent outgoing calls. When he found the one local number he didn’t recognize, he paused. He could ask his mom if she had heard from him or if she had any news of his whereabouts. If the kid was back in jail, he would go visit him. Considering the untapped potential of the young man, he would maybe offer to become his mentor. He dialed.

“Hello?” Angela answered.

“Oh, hello, is this Andrew’s mom?” Dowling asked.

“Yes?” Angela answered warily.

“Oh, excellent. My name is Professor Dowling; I know your son from the university.”

“He’s not here, right now,” Angela answered, thinking the call had something to do with exams or graduation.

“Oh, yes, I’m aware of that, I wasn’t expecting him to be there,” Dowling said, feeling a bit flustered. “It’s you I intended, intend, to be speaking to,” he said, correcting himself.

“You intend to be talking to me?” she asked, thinking the caller a bit weird.

“Well, I know that Andrew and Fiona are on a road trip together and I got your number because he called you from my phone,” Dowling said, losing his train of thought.

“Do you know Fiona, as well?” Angela asked, wondering why everybody else has met the girl except her.

“Yes, she’s a lovely girl,” Dowling said genuinely, “and it looks like they love each other very much.”

“Well, that’s great,” Angela said with an edge to her voice. “Her father would be just thrilled to hear that.”

“You know Fiona’s father?” Dowling asked.

“He came here looking for her, just today, as a matter of fact. The poor man is sick with worry over her.”

“So, nobody knows where they are, right now?” Dowling asked.

“I don’t know, her father doesn’t know,” Angela answered. “He said that he’s going to go find them.”

“Where will he go?” Dowling asked, his concern aroused.

“Well, we talked a bit about that and seeing as Andrew doesn’t know anybody else outside of LA, most likely he’s driving over to visit with his father,” Angela answered, worried that maybe she gave out too much information.

“To his father in Kansas?” Dowling asked.

“He’s the only father he’s got, yeah,” Angela answered, anxious now to get off the phone. “Was there anything else you wanted to know?” she asked.

“I’d just like to say that you have a wonderful, terrific, young son and I know that this past while must have been very stressful for you. I hope you don’t blame him in any way. I know that he loves you very much and he really is trying to do his best.”

“Well, I appreciate you saying that,” Angela said, feeling surprised by his honesty and deeply touched by his kind remarks. “He is a good boy and I only hope and pray that he doesn’t come to any more harm.”

“I appreciate your time, Mrs. Cox. If you need for anything or would like to talk to someone, or whatever, please feel free to call me anytime.”

“I will, thank you,” she said and hung up.

Dowling sat on his bed and thought about the conversation for quite a while. Fiona’s father had visited Andrew’s mother and told her that he was going to physically drive after them all the way across country to Kansas? Who was this father person, he wondered, and why is he so intent upon chasing them across the country? Is it purely parental concern or was something else going on that required such fervent action on his behalf?

Leaving his bedroom to access the computer in his office, Dowling again scrolled through the outgoing calls made on his cell phone. When he found Fiona’s number, he entered it into his computer search engine. expecting to find more information about her and her father, he read down through the results. Nothing of consequence came up. He then paid ten dollars to a reverse phone number look-up service.

In a matter of seconds, he retrieved Fiona’s last name, her age, home address and other data that the service had pulled from public records. If Fiona’s father was going to go chasing after them, he most likely wouldn’t have left directly after his visit to Andrew’s mother. Quickly devising a plan of action, Dowling considered that if he was going to be of genuine assistance to Andrew, he quite likely needed to do something bold, risky and out of character.

Perhaps it’s about time I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and did something really precarious for a change, he said to himself, smiling at his new-found sense of badass risk-taking.

 

Unusually dressed in his casuals, for a Monday morning, Simon parked his luxury SUV by the front door of his home. He then loaded the large vehicle with what he needed for a road trip.

Parked on the street outside of the gates, Dowling sat in his old, beat-up Japanese import. He watched Simon through a pair of weak binoculars. Suitable for the opera, that he used to regularly attend, the opera glasses were less well-equipped for outdoor spying. Hoping not to show his hand too soon, or worse, make a complete ass of himself, Dowling watched carefully to ascertain if Simon was indeed preparing to take his car across the country. 

Even though Simon looked like he was dressed for a game of golf, Dowling noticed that he didn’t pack any golf clubs. Deciding that the suitcase and overnight bags the man was packing into his SUV qualified for out-of-state travel, Dowling made his move. Getting out of his car, and casually walking to the front gate, he pressed the talk button on the gate intercom.

When Simon looked over, Dowling gave a friendly wave and smiled. Squinting to get a better look, Simon failed to recognize him. Pressing a remote to swing open the gate, Simon waved him on in. “Hello?” Simon asked as Dowling walked through the gate. “Can I help you?”

“Hello, Simon,” Dowling said cheerfully. “I’m Gus Dowling, a friend of your daughter.”

“A friend of my daughter?” Simon asked, skeptically.

“Well, actually I just met Fiona once, lovely girl,” Dowling said, trying to hide his nervousness. “I’m Andrew’s father, step-father,” he said, smiling as broadly as he could.

“Want do you want?” Simon asked coldly, returning to his task.

“Angela told me about your visit yesterday,” Dowling said, trying to remember his prepared deception. “She said that you were planning to go after them.”

“So what if I am?” Simon asked.

“I’d like to come with you,” Dowling said assertively. “You may not like Andrew but I can assure you that I am just as much concerned about his welfare as you are about your daughter.”

“I don’t doubt that, Mr. Dowling, but, no disrespect, I prefer going it alone.”

“I understand,” replied Dowling, expecting his uncooperative response. “But don’t you think two heads are better than one?”

“Honestly? No, I don’t. Again, no disrespect,” Simon said. “Besides, what would you be bringing to the table, exactly?”

“I know where they are,” Dowling said, getting Simon’s attention.

“So do I,” Simon said.

“You think that they’re going to his father’s place in Kansas but you really don’t know that for sure, do you?” Dowling asked, looking Simon in the eyes.

“Why don’t you tell me where they are?” Simon asked.

“I’ve got a beat-up old car won’t make it out of the state,” Dowling said, referring to his parked car. “Besides, with two drivers you’d get there faster; one drives while the other sleeps, what do you say?” Dowling asked and extended his hand for a handshake.

Catching sight of a tattoo on Dowling’s under arm, he recognized the image immediately: a coiled winged serpent with its tail in its mouth. “You’re a serpent?” Simon asked, looking surprised.

“Haven’t been active in a while,” Dowling answered. “You?”

“You were active in LA?” Simon asked.

“San Francisco,” Dowling answered. “What do you say? You could use the company?”

“You got luggage or anything?” Simon asked.

“Just a small suitcase; I’ll go get it,” Dowling said, smiling to himself as he walked back to his car.

An awkward silence pervaded the car ride. Neither Simon nor Dowling had much in common with which to form a meaningful discussion. Driving through a monotonous, semi-desert landscape, Simon set the cruise control. Dowling looked blankly out of the passenger door window and tried not to think too much about what it was that he was actually doing. Too late to have second thoughts about his earlier pretense, he kicked himself for being so impulsive and not thinking his plan through a bit better.

“So, Gus,” Simon said, breaking the silence. “You say you haven’t been active in a while? How long has it been?”

Dowling had to think a few seconds to catch on to his line of questioning. “It must be over twenty years by now,” he answered.

“That’s a long time,” Simon responded, sounding surprised. “Why did you stop?”

“My wife at the time went missing,” Dowling said, deciding to be brave and go all in. If he could find any scraps of information about his missing wife, his reckless deceit could be considered worthwhile. “I’m not sure if her membership was in any way a factor but for me, I guess, I lost the faith, if you know what I mean?”

“No, not really,” Simon answered. “Your wife was also a member and she went missing?”

“Correct,” Dowling answered.

“And you think that her being a serpent was a factor in her disappearance?” Simon asked, looking over at Dowling as if a read of his facial expressions would be a help in his understanding.

“She was on her way to a meeting and that was the last time anyone saw her. It was like she vanished into thin air,” Dowling said, also looking over at Simon to read his face when Simon wasn’t looking over at him.

“This was in San Francisco?” Simon asked.

“Correct.”

“Huh,” Simon said nonchalantly. “That must have been awful. Not knowing what happened?”

“Yeah,” Dowling agreed. “It was.”

“We’re staying with some friends in Albuquerque; you might know some of them,” Simon said. “I know at least two of them were members in Frisco back then.”

“Oh?” Dowling said, trying not to appear spooked.

“Frank Webster?” Simon asked. “He goes way back up there.”

“Sounds familiar alright,” Dowling lied. “It’s so long ago.”

“How about Herb Sangster?” Simon asked. “You’d remember Herb if you ever met him,” Simon said and grinned. “Larger than life, know what I mean?”

“Sounds familiar, all right,” Dowling said like he was searching his memory banks.

“They’ll know people you used to know, don’t worry,” Simon suggested. “You can talk about old times; they’ll remember your wife, I’m pretty sure. Maybe they might have some answers for you; could be fortuitous, right?”

“Could be,” Dowling answered, feeling himself beginning to sweat. “There are no accidents.”

 

Driving through the semi-desert terrain of the Mohave Valley, in eastern California, Fiona couldn’t resist taking a detour. She quickly signaled and exited the freeway. “Do we need gas?” Andrew asked, taking his eyes up from scrolling through the song playlist on her MP3 player.

“Ever take a hot air balloon ride?” Fiona asked, as if secretly plotting.

“You know I haven’t,” Andrew answered. “Seriously?” he then asked, as if hit by a sudden realization. Looking around the horizon for clues, he looked back at her face to adore her devious-looking grin. “Where are we going?”

“Lake Havasu,” Fiona answered. “It’s probably like twenty miles south into Arizona.”

“You’ve been there before?” Andrew asked, looking bewildered.

“No, but I did see a billboard for their annual hot air balloon festival.”

“Oh,” Andrew said, looking a bit stumped.

“It’s not on my bucket list but jeez, a hot air balloon festival? Come on!” Fiona said, excitedly.

“Okay,” Andrew said, unable to form any meaningful pictures in his head to imagine what such a thing would look like. “We’re in no hurry, I guess.”

“You’ll see,” Fiona said, following a road sign for Lake Havasu. “I’ve always wanted to ride in one, haven’t you?” she asked as she made a sharp turn onto a narrow secondary road.

“Never gave it much thought,” Andrew replied, sounding unimpressed.

“Floating in the air like that?” Fiona asked, getting excited with the thought. “In a friggin’ wicker basket where you can drink champagne and look all around, in all directions; like you were sitting on a cloud?”

“They won’t serve you champagne until you’re twenty-one,” Andrew commented.

“So we bring grape juice,” Fiona retorted. “Besides, it’s not about the champagne, doofus. Have you never had dreams where you’re flying? I don’t mean in an airplane or a spacecraft or something. Flying dreams? Anybody?” Fiona asked.

“I don’t think so,” Andrew thought and responded. “I don’t dream very much.”

“Yes, you do; everybody dreams. You just don’t remember them. I can’t believe you’ve never had a flying dream! They’re so, what’s the word, archetypal.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Andrew confessed. “I don’t put much stock in dreams, I guess.”

“Well, we’ll have to continue that conversation at another time, old man. Your lack of appreciation for magic and the spiritual realms is killing my flying buzz.”

“My lack of appreciation for magic?” Andrew scoffed.

“Where do you think magic comes from, dude? Dreams. Note to self: get Andrew a dream journal for his birthday.”

“That’s exciting,” Andrew joked.

“Wasn’t it Freud who said that dreams are the basis of the mind? Isn’t that what the whole science of psychoanalysis was founded upon?”

“Psychoanalysis is not a science,” Andrew said surly.

“What is it, then?” Fiona asked. “Sure it is.”

“It’s not a real science, like biology or chemistry or something,” Andrew said, sounding uncertain.

“You’re so full of it, Andrew Cox,” Fiona teased. “We so have to work on unleashing the fantasy and magical part of your brain.”

“Yeah, now that’s a science,” Andrew said and laughed. “The fantasy part of the brain is right below the neo-cortex near the cerebellum.”

“You so don’t know what you’re talking about. Throwing in a few words you think you know about the brain doesn’t mean that you know anything, Einstein. They’re the only two parts of the brain that you know, aren’t they?” Fiona asked, testing him.

“I know enough to know that they have yet to find the fantasy and magical centers of the brain. And I also know that if they ever do find them, they’ll be given Latin names. Something like the magicalistus fantasmigorium or something,” Andrew suggested.

“I like that,” Fiona said, smiling and putting on a mock scientific voice. “Just to the right of the Cortex Vortex—”

“The Cortex Vortex?” Andrew teased.

“We have the Magicalistus Fantasmigorium which is responsible for all higher functions of the human animal. It was discovered by the eminent armchair skeptic, Mr. Andrew Cox.”

“You’re so full of it,” Andrew jeered.

“He knew exactly where it was but never decided to use it himself because he was just too afraid of what might happen if he did.” Fiona continued.

“What?” Andrew asked, smiling nervously, “are you going on about?”

“I think a balloon ride is going to be very good for you, Coxy,” Fiona said thoughtfully. “Maybe blow away some of those mental cobwebs preventing you from thinking straight.”

“Are we fighting?” Andrew asked, unsure of where she was coming from. “Is this like, how we argue now?”

“No, we’re not fighting, sweetie,” Fiona said reassuringly. “If I was fighting with you, you’d know all about it,” she said, turning to him and giving him a broad smile.

“You are so weird sometimes,” Andrew said, feeling more relaxed. “Cortex Vortex, that’s impressive,” he said jokingly as he tickled her in her side.

“Oh, look!” Fiona said as she pointed ahead.

“What?” Andrew asked as he turned to look.

In the distance they could see specks floating in the sky, all at different altitudes. “Wow, they look like big birds hanging in the sky like that,” Andrew said.

“Big, fat birds,” Fiona said. “Oh, I do want to go up in one. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?”

“Looks pretty dangerous to me,” Andrew remarked. “It’s not like those things have motors or guidance controls of any kind. It’s basically a big bag and a furnace thing for heating the air and up you go, totally dependent on the wind for your direction and speed.”

“Do you want a wet blanket with that?” Fiona asked, looking more and more in awe as they came closer to their destination. “Wow, they’re all different, look,” she exclaimed as they could now see that they were all different shapes and colors. “Look how high that one is?”

“Yeah, that one’s called Icarus,” Andrew suggested. “He who flies closest to the sun.”

“Oh, come on, you must have some sense of awe trapped in that stone heart of yours,” Fiona teased.

“They do look pretty awesome,” Andrew admitted, smiling. “Especially young Icarus. Don’t fly too close to the sun, Icarus,” he mock-yelled up at the balloon. “You always do this! Haven’t you learned anything in two thousand years?”

“Go higher, Icarus,” Fiona joined in. “Don’t listen to the groundlings who don’t know what it’s like to fly,” she yelled, looking over at Andrew and laughing. “Fly! Fly, like there’s no tomorrow, Icarus. Fly like your sole existence depends on it!”

“Come back, Icarus!” Andrew yelled up. “You’re going to crash and burn!”

“So what if you crash and burn, Icky, my friend,” Fiona yelled and laughed. “It’s better to have flown to the sun, and burnt up on the holy pyre of your ambition, and crashed, than never to have flown at all.”

“Oh, see… he heard me,” Andrew said, looking closely at the craft as it lost altitude. “They’re coming down. Good going, Icarus! Live to fight another day, that’s the spirit,” he shouted.

“Oh, look at that one,” Fiona pointed at a balloon shaped like a flying saucer. “It’s a hot air balloon from outer space.”

“Obviously,” Andrew said. “Lake Havasu is a travel destination well-known throughout the entire galaxy.”

“And beyond,” Fiona added. “Aren’t their colors amazing?” she then said, taking in the scope of all the floating balloons. The balloons were every bright color of the rainbow as well as metallic and, like priceless jewels, almost breathtaking in their radiance.

“Which is your favorite?” Andrew asked, looking around to pick a favorite for himself.

“They’re all winners,” Fiona said. “Hey, there’s London Bridge!”

“London Bridge?” Andrew said, looking towards the lake.

“Yeah, believe it or not that bridge used to be in London, England. It was shipped over here, brick by brick,” Fiona explained.

“No, it wasn’t,” Andrew said, looking more closely at the bridge. “It doesn’t even look like London Bridge.”

“Suit yourself,” Fiona said. “You owe me dinner and a movie when you look it up on Wikipedia.”

“You don’t have to win a bet for me to take you on a date, gorgeous,” Andrew said, smiling.

“I should hope not,” Fiona answered, now smiling mock-demurely and fluttering her eyelids in a sexy Betty Boop kind of way.

“I’ll just need to borrow like, twenty bucks,” Andrew said.

“If you can get us dinner and a movie with twenty bucks, I’m putting you in charge of all the household finances,” Fiona said, reaching over to take his hand. “Maybe you could get us a cozy house somewhere for like a couple thousand bucks?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Andrew said and winked, like he had it totally under control.

[]Chapter 10

 

Andrew and Fiona had a fantastic time as they goofed around the small fairgrounds. As they rode the Ferris wheel the happy couple looked and acted like they could have been on their honeymoon.  When Andrew won a small teddy bear, by knocking down five skittles with one baseball throw, Fiona bowed down to him like he was a god.

Having successfully pleaded with Andrew, and gotten him to agree to spending a significant amount of cash for a sunset balloon ride, Fiona was thrilled. Stepping into the basket, she was bursting with excitement. “You’re so going to love this,” she said as he followed in behind her.

Expecting the basket to be larger, Andrew smiled nervously as the pilot closed the basket door. As the pilot explained the safety protocol, Fiona barely listened to a word.  Nuzzling her face into Andrew’s shoulder, she powerfully squeezed his hand. Andrew smiled and kissed her forehead. A moment later, his body jerked upright, spooked by the thunderously loud noise of the burner as the pilot made his preparations. Once satisfied, the pilot radioed to an unseen crew that they were ready for takeoff.

Holding the rail of the basket to steady himself, Andrew put his arm around Fiona and pulled her in tight. “I can’t believe we’re doing this,” he said, smiling with nervousness.

“Your love will take me higher,” Fiona said into his ear as the hot air from the burner urged the balloon upwards.

“Are you going to sing?” Andrew asked, touched by her overt and obvious affection towards him.

“If this was a movie, that would totally be the song playing,” Fiona suggested. “I think you should sing it.”

“I don’t think so,” Andrew demurred. “I don’t even know how it goes.”

“It goes higher and higher, silly,” Fiona said, fluttering her eyelids at him.

“Wow, this is amazing,” Andrew said as he looked around and finally began to relax. Even though it was billed as a sunset ride, the sun was still high in the sky and they could see everything around them clearly. Passing over the fairgrounds, they watched as people lined up for the Ferris wheel. Courting couples walked hand in hand eating typical fairground food like corndogs on a stick and light pink and baby blue candy floss.

People boated lazily on the lake while others sun bathed on the banks. Bodies swam and splashed about in the water. Here and there, dotting the skyline, other hot-air balloons floated in various stages of elevation. Some balloons were landing, some taking off. “I never expected to see something like this in what is practically a desert, did you?” Andrew asked Fiona as he embraced her fully from behind.

Smiling that Andrew now seemed to be excited and enjoying himself, Fiona pulled his arms tighter around her. “Let’s be like this forever,” she said without a hint of irony.

“I’ll check out the auction sites for a used balloon, how’s that?” Andrew joked.

“I’m serious,” Fiona said.

“Oh,” Andrew replied, feeling somewhat reprimanded. “I want to be like this with you forever,” he then said, pleasing her with the earnestness in his voice.

“We should get a nicer motel room this time,” she said, her voice sounding romantic.

“Nicer than the one last night?” Andrew asked. “That won’t be hard.”

“We should get something with a pool and a hot tub,” she said as she looked wistfully at the baby white clouds that drifted slowly along. “They look like balls of cotton wool, don’t they?” she asked.

“I like it when you get all soft and sexy,” Andrew commented.

“There’s London Bridge,” Fiona nodded as they drifted higher.

“Blimey,” Andrew said in his best London Cockney accent, “the bloody yanks stole our bridge, guvnor. We let them win the war and this is how they repay us, bloody ‘ell.”

“Don’t give up the day job just yet, guvnor,” Fiona joked. “Hey,” she said, turning to the pilot. “That’s London Bridge, isn’t it?”

“It is indeed, miss,” the pilot answered, looking happy to be engaged. “It’s not the tower bridge, obviously, but it did straddle the Thames in London once. They shipped it over to its present location, brick by brick.”

Turning to smile at Andrew, she didn’t need to say “I told you so.” Her facial expression said it all.

“I knew it wasn’t the London Bridge,” Andrew responded. “I just saw a picture of that a few days ago, as a matter of fact.”

“You guys want a splash and dash?” the pilot asked, looking hopeful that they would say yes.

“Sure,” Fiona answered, not knowing what it was and sensing that Andrew was about to ask for an explanation. “That would be great,” she said, looking and smiling at Andrew. “Splash and dash, guvnor?” she asked him in a bad cockney accent.

“That would be delightful, darling,” he answered in a posher English accent.

Almost losing her balance, Fiona held Andrew tighter as the balloon dropped in elevation. Looking down and then back again at each other, they wondered why the balloon looked like it was going to land on the water. “What’s he doing?” Fiona whispered into Andrew’s ear.

“I thought you knew,” Andrew whispered back to her.

“I didn’t hear him use the word crash, did you?” she whispered.

“Can this thing land in the water?” he asked as he checked out the bottom of the basket. “I don’t see anything that would even float, do you?” he asked.

“He looks like he knows what he’s doing,” Fiona whispered back as she watched the craft drop even closer to the water. The pilot looked unconcerned.

“We’re going into the water,” Andrew whispered as the balloon sailed over the bridge and narrowly evaded some tall lampposts.

“At least we’ll make it to YouTube,” Fiona commented quietly as she drew his attention to some people on the bridge. As they became a spectacle, groups of people gathered, some taking photographs, many taking video. Dropping closer and closer to the water, Andrew and Fiona held each other tighter for the inevitable.

With his hand on the burner lever, the pilot guided the balloon downward. He watched intently as the basket glided towards the shimmering surface of the water. Timing his move, he then pulled on the lever to force a resurgence of hot air into the balloon.

Gracefully skimming the surface of the water, the water lit by the blaze of the reflection of the later afternoon sun, the basket then rose back into the air. Water droplets fell from the base as the onlookers clapped and cheered. The pilot waved at them and smiled with pride.

“Wow,” Andrew exclaimed, clearly relieved, yet impressed. “That was awesome!”

“Splash and dash,” the pilot said, still smiling. “Thought you guys knew about it, otherwise I would have explained beforehand.”

“Not knowing was much better,” Fiona said, looking like she was totally thrilled. “Can you do it again?”

“Maybe next time. We need to head back,” the pilot explained. As he pulled the lever on the burner, the red and orange and yellow flames shot higher. “Most folks are too scared to do it once, never mind wanting a repeat,” he said in a complimentary tone. “Helps to be young and in love, I guess,” he said and gave them a friendly wink.

As the balloon rose higher and higher, Fiona noticed the onset of a beautiful sunset. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she asked Andrew, her eyes focused on the sun dropping in the sky.

“It’s amazing,” Andrew answered. “Thank you for talking me into it.”

“Any time, guvnor,” Fiona said and smiled. “Any time.”

 

Simon exited the freeway at Albuquerque and drove away from the city. Dowling sat uneasily as they approached some upscale neighborhoods. Wondering what he had gotten himself into, he tried not to think about how the evening could go disastrously wrong for himself. Going over cover stories in his head, he was unsuccessful in coming up with anything convincing. He was not looking forward to meeting with other members of this mysterious group.

“You know, Gus,” Simon said as he pulled into the driveway of a large house. “I think that after tonight, you might just be converted back into the fold.”

“You think so?” Dowling asked, playing along.

“These are good people, my friend. You’ll see,” Simon said as he exited the SUV. As the front door opened, a middle-aged, well-dressed elegant woman, came out to greet them. She looked especially pleased to see Simon. “Are you a sight for sore eyes, Ursula,” Simon said as they hugged.

Once inside, Dowling lagged behind as Simon was greeted by four males and two other females, all Wise Serpent devotees, presumably. “Everybody, this is Gus Dowling, formerly of the San Francisco lodge,” Simon announced.

Dowling shook hands with the others as Ursula reappeared from the kitchen. “Come, sit down everybody,” she said brightly. “Let’s eat!”

Although he hadn’t eaten since early morning, Dowling looked at the sumptuous spread with ambivalence. Wishing not to engage, he hoped to remain anonymous and invisible. “Gus is anxious to meet Frank and Herb,” Simon said to Ursula. “They haven’t arrived yet?”

“They hit traffic in Tucson but they should be here in time for the meeting,” Ursula answered.

“I asked if everyone could sit in on a ritual for Fiona,” Simon explained to Dowling. “Just to ensure her safety. And your Andrew, of course. I hope you can join us?”

“My pleasure, sure,” Dowling responded, uncertain of the full implications.

“You were with the Frisco group?” an older gentleman, Benjamin asked Dowling.

“Long time ago,” Dowling responded, waving it off like it was in a different lifetime altogether. “So long ago, I hardly even remember.”

“Gus hasn’t been active for a long time,” Simon announced. “But I’m hoping that maybe tonight we can do something special for him?” Simon looked around the table as the others signaled their assent. “Sure thing,” Benjamin said, as if he spoke for the others.

“I appreciate that,” Dowling said, sounding humble but secretly panicked. “However, there’s really no need to do anything special.”

“Nonsense, my friend,” Simon said as he patted Dowling on the back. “One for all and all for one, right people?”

“Once a serpent, always a serpent,” Benjamin said as he raised his glass in a toast. Standing up, everybody around the table enthusiastically toasted each other.

Once the conversation shifted to the members catching up with each other, Dowling was relieved to be left alone. He made himself look very preoccupied with his food. Even though they looked and acted like decent folk, Dowling reminded himself not to let his guard down. Hiding behind masks and robes, the earlier incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan were allegedly decent people that performed pretty hideous hate crimes.

“So, shall we make our way to the meeting room?” Ursula asked once everyone had finished eating. One by one, the members put down their drinks, napkins and such, and followed Ursula.  She led the assembled out of the dining room and across the hall to a more private section of the house.

“Don’t worry, Gus,” Simon said privately, noticing that Gus looked somewhat anxious. “It’s just like riding a bike.”

“Oh, I’m not nervous,” Gus protested. “Just feeling a bit tired,” he said. Hoping that Simon would suggest that he sit out and maybe adjourn for the evening, he yawned.

“Me too,” Simon said, not at all sounding tired, “but I’m pretty sure the group energy will revive us both. Trust me, it’ll be fine.”

“Simon, why don’t you sit at the head?” Ursula suggested as everyone congregated around a huge table in the center of the ornately adorned room. Filled with ancient Egyptian Royal regalia, Dowling tried to look not to stare around or appear too inquisitive or nosey.

“Come sit here, on my right,” Simon addressed Dowling, who looked like he was wondering to himself what the proper seating etiquette might be. “May I say how wonderful it is to be sitting again with such familiar, warm and friendly faces,” Simon said, looking sincerely at each and every pair of eyes sitting around the table. “We are stronger together,” he continued to the earnest and enthusiastic gathering, “and if there’s anything I or the group can do for any of you, don’t be too proud or too shy to let me know, in group or privately, if that would be more appropriate.”

A palpable sense of ease and calm descended upon the group as Simon spoke. Each of the members smiled and nodded their approval and appreciation for his kind words.

“Here, here,” Benjamin responded as if Simon were taking the very words from his own mouth.

“So, if there are no other pressing matters, I’ll start us off with a brief meditation so as to align our energies and achieve a group focus,” Simon said. Dowling watched as each of the members took both their neighbors hands and placing them on the table, formed a circle of comradeship. Dowling joined along and as they each closed their eyes, he was the last to follow suit.

“So let’s all focus in the third eye,” Simon said softly, “and leave the material world behind along with all its stresses and concerns. Only here and now exists.”

A deep and heavy silence fell upon the group. As no one spoke for a good bit of time, Dowling resisted the temptation to open his eyes to check them all out. “Keeping your eyes closed,” Simon said, as if he had read Dowling’s thoughts, “let us join our energies with all who have come before and all those who are with us in spirit and in like mind and purpose. Let the work move forward.”

Once again, there was a long pause and Dowling noticed how still everything had become, as if time itself had slowed down.

“I know that some of you have met my daughter,” Simon finally said. Even though he spoke softly, Dowling’s body jolted upright by the sudden break of silence. “But for this visualization it’s not necessary to know what she physically looks like. Simply imagine her enfolded in a bubble of bright light, safe from all harm.”

Simon paused once more and Dowling resisted the urge to clear his throat by coughing or making any other kind of noise. Just as Simon was about to speak again, the doorbell rang. Wondering what the group response was going to be, Dowling sneaked a peek by opening one of his eyes. As the doorbell rang again, Dowling could see that Ursula was the first to fully open her eyes.

“I’ll need to get that, Simon,” she said quietly. “Most likely Herb and Frank arriving.”

“Why don’t we end our focus here,” Simon announced to the group, “for the time being. Once the others join us, we’ll resume with the larger group.”

Very quietly and somberly, the group reopened their eyes. When Ursula left the room, no one seemed to want to talk or chat unnecessarily. As Ursula opened the front door, Dowling heard the voices of two men and immediately felt a surge of dread erupt in his chest. His thoughts raced. What would happen if, when, they uncovered his deception? He simultaneously felt overly warm, a bead of sweat trickled down his brow, as he broke into a cold sweat. What would they do? What would they say?

“This should be a nice reunion for you guys,” Simon said quietly, leaning closer towards Dowling. “I’m sure they’ll be very glad to see you.”

“Oh, I’m sure they won’t…” Dowling began but lost Simon’s attention as Ursula led two older gentlemen into the room. Everyone remained seated as Ursula added two more chairs to the table.

“Sorry we’re late,” Frank said. “Hope we’re not interrupting at an inconvenient time or anything.”

“No, not at all,” Simon responded, remaining seated. “We had just begun, actually. Come join us.”

As the two gents sat down, they greeted the others with nods and quiet hellos.

“Are you guys hungry or thirsty or anything?” Simon asked.

“Not at all, Simon, thanks,” Frank replied. “We can get to all that later. Let’s do this!”

“You know everybody here?” Simon asked.

“Everybody except…” Frank answered, looking at Dowling, as if trying to place him.

“You do know Gus,” Simon then said. “I’m sure he hasn’t changed much all these years. He was a member of the Frisco lodge back in the day.”

Both of the new men looked more closely at Dowling. They then looked to each other, as if looking for confirmation. “I’m sorry,” Frank then said. “Your name is Gus? I don’t recall?”

“I was just a member for a very short while, maybe twenty years ago?” Dowling said, smiling. “I don’t think I met you guys, either. I didn’t go to that many meetings.”

“Well, I attended every single meeting and I would have remembered… it’s not like we were a big lodge back then, right Herb?” Frank asked.

“Maybe five or six at the most,” Herb answered.

“Who do you remember?” Simon asked Dowling. “You remember even one name?”

“I don’t remember…” Dowling answered, not appearing to be trying.

“What did the serpent say to its tail before he ate it?” Herb asked Dowling.

Feeling tested, Dowling smiled nervously as every eye in the room focused hard upon his presence. “I never took any of the initiations,” he said defensively, knowing that even taking a guess at the answer would damn his case. “I accompanied my wife, once or twice.”

“Your wife was a member?” Herb asked.

“Yeah,” Dowling answered, hesitating before mentioning her name. “Abigail.”

A palpable sense of recognition caused the men’s heads to tilt upwards, their eyes widening. “Abigail Fletcher was your wife?” Frank asked.

“Yes,” Dowling responded, wondering to himself why they should know her by her maiden name.

Looking one to the other, as if thrown for an appropriate response, Frank looked back at Dowling, a look of suspicion in his eyes. “You, personally, never attended a meeting, did you?” he then asked.

“No,” Dowling answered, his cards all in. “I never did.”

“Do you mind?” Simon asked and, not waiting for a response, he grabbed Dowling’s arm. Rolling up Dowling’s sleeve, Simon revealed the tattoo of the lodge insignia.

“I thought you said you weren’t initiated?” Frank asked with grave suspicion.

Dipping his cloth napkin in some water, Simon applied it to the tattoo and rubbed it hard. The ink smudged and bled onto the damp cloth. His deceit now exposed, Dowling looked sheepishly around at the assembled members. Most reacted with stunned and confused facial expressions at this remarkable turn of events.

“I think you have some explaining to do, Gus… or whatever your name is?” Simon said, looking very disappointed with his new friend.

“Looks like we have an infiltrator in our midst,” Herb said. “Were any secrets exposed?” he asked, looking around at the others.

“No,” Simon answered firmly. “I had my suspicions from the beginning.”

“What’s your purpose here?” Herb asked Dowling. “Why this cloak and dagger, spy stuff?”

“I need to know what happened to my wife,” Dowling replied.

“You think we had something to do with that? Her… disappearance?” Herb asked.

“Yes,” Dowling answered, looking Herb in the eyes.

Sitting back in his chair, Herb sighed and looked around at the others. “I don’t know about any of you,” he said, as if lost for patience, “but I don’t trust this… spy. I don’t believe who he says he is and I don’t believe what he says he is doing here. Anybody?” he then asked, looking at each of the assembled. “You brought him here, right?” he asked Simon, who nodded his head. “So then it’s up to you, yes? What we do with him?”

“There is a procedure,” Simon said, looking at Dowling. “But at this point we do not know his level of threat.”

“Then you’ll have to take him outside. This is not the place for such… interrogation,” Herb said.

“Of course,” Simon said politely. “I may need some help,” he said, looking around for volunteers. As soon as he had said the word, “help,” all the men stood up and slowly approached Dowling. He swallowed hard and felt panicked over what might come next.

 

Dining at a gorgeous lakeshore restaurant Fiona and Andrew couldn’t stop smiling at each other. Despite a dramatic and beautiful full moon, Andrew couldn’t take his eyes off of Fiona. “Why are you staring at me like that?” she asked, not complaining.

“Staring at you, like what?” Andrew asked, smiling. “Like, maybe, I’m besotted by you?”

“Besotted?” Fiona said and giggled. “Where did you get that word from? Been reading Jane Austen or Shakespeare on the sly or something?”

“I think the word is appropriate and I stand by it,” Andrew said with a smirk. “This is a first for me and maybe I need to add a new bunch of words to my vocabulary.”

“You could maybe get a new word to replace the word bunch, I would suggest you consider it,” Fiona said, clearly flirting with him.

“I will do that, your highness,” Andrew said as their food arrived. “Thank you,” he said to the server.

“Enjoy,” the graceful waiter responded and left to attend to the rest of his busy section.

“I could get used to this,” Andrew said, looking at his elegant food and the overall, softly-lit, ultra-romantic surroundings.

“I always knew there was a gent buried deep within that good ol’ boy exterior of yours,” Fiona said as she munched on her salad.

“Good ol’ boy?” Andrew asked in surprise. “You think I’m like a good ol’ boy, red neck, hick, or something?”

“No, of course not,” Fiona responded quickly. “Just because a person is born, you know, into a poor family, doesn’t mean they are that person, you know?”

“What?” Andrew asked, an incredulous look on his face.

“I’m just saying that… I don’t know what I’m saying. How’s the fish? It looks amazing.”

“Sometimes I think you’re the world’s biggest snob, you know that?’ Andrew said without malice. “As hard as you try to hide it…”

“Oh, I don’t try to hide it, sweetie,” Fiona said lightly. “I can’t help my upbringing, no more than you can yours. I see the world through the eyes of the world that I was brought up in; same as you. I like it that we’re different. I like that you are you. I’ve no idea how the world looks to you or how it looked to you where you were growing up. I’m not judging you, you know that, right?”

“I guess,” Andrew said, uncertain of his feelings.

“Vive la difference, you know?” Fiona added.

“So, you’re like, slumming it, is that it? Being with me? I don’t follow,” Andrew said grumpily.

“No, sweets, that’s not it, at all,” Fiona said, leaning towards him and touching his hand reassuringly. “All I’m saying is that we had different upbringings. As a result, we have different viewpoints of the world. And I’m saying that I like that. I’m not saying that one is better than the other or one is more fortunate and the other less fortunate or something. Just different, that’s all.”

“So, being here, for example,” Andrew began, looking as if he were forming some thoughts in his head.

“Oh, look,” Fiona interrupted, as she directed him to look behind him to his left. “Night balloons,” she said as several brightly-lit balloons floated majestically across the cloudless night sky.

“Do they fly balloons at night? A bit dangerous, don’t you think?” Andrew commented.

“They’re racing each other. They’ll be flying all night, maybe round the clock, even; twenty-four hours at least, most likely,” Fiona said brightly.

“How do you know all this stuff?” Andrew asked, not sure if he approved. “See, this is my point,” he then said.

“You were making a point?” Fiona asked playfully.

“Yeah,” Andrew said, pausing to gather his thoughts. “How is this going to work out? You and me?”

“How do you mean?” Fiona asked, her heart skipping a beat.

“This is not a first for you, is it?” he asked.

“Is what a first?” she asked back.

“All this,” he said, indicating their surroundings. “Fancy, fairytale places like this with linen table cloths and a view of a lake and mountains and stuff. Hot-air balloons all lit up, racing across the sky and a full moon, everything majestic and magical, like it was a painting in a friggin’ museum or something,” he said and smiled, as if hearing himself and realizing he was sounding foolish. “You know what I mean,” he then said. “This is all so normal to you, so every day ho-hum, that I feel like I want to throw up.”

“No, Andy, that’s so not true,” Fiona said in all seriousness. “I mean, no, this is not a first for me, eating some place like this. In fact, I’ve eaten in much nicer places. But you’d be wrong to judge me; this is a first, this is a first for me.”

“It is?” Andrew asked, cowed by his own insecurities.

“Yes, Andrew, this is so definitely a first. This is the first time I’ve been in an enchanting place like this where I’ve actually enjoyed and appreciated a place with linen table cloths and a view of the lake,” she said, smiling. “It’s the first time for me where I’m actually so giddy inside I can’t stop smiling. This is the first time for me where I can truly say that I feel alive.”

Fiona paused to appreciate the smile breaking out on Andrew’s face. “I do feel alive with you and I feel like I’m so much in love with you that, I swear, I don’t think I could live without you. You’re my first, Andrew. You’re my first One-And-Only… first in all things… first, first, first, first, first!”

Fiona could have kept repeating the word but as if Andrew couldn’t stop himself. He quickly leaned across the table and pulled her head closer so that he could kiss her. They kissed a long and slow and tender, erotic kiss that seemed to melt both their hearts into one.

“You are my first One-And-Only too,” he said as he pulled back just enough to look deeply and tearfully into her moist and tender eyes.

[]Chapter 11

 

Just before Professor Dowling woke up and opened his eyes, a series of brief images flashed through his mind. They were so jumbled, that he wasn’t sure if the pictures were dreams or memories. He could see the faces of the serpent group, a struggle, a sense of being drugged, an interrogation, then darkness again.

With a splitting headache and feeling groggy, he opened his eyes more fully. It was dark. Feeling like maybe he had been given a drug of some kind, he realized that he didn’t know where he was. His arms were tied behind his back and he was sitting upright in a chair. With only a faint light seeping through a crack, at the bottom of a door, he looked around for possible clues. The dimly lit room smelt musty and he got a sense that where he was imprisoned was a basement or maybe a storage room of some kind.

When the door opened, revealing more light, he had to squint and turn his eyes away to prevent further pain shooting through his brain.

“How did you sleep?” Ursula asked as she entered, carrying what looked like a glass of water.

Dowling could now see that he was in a basement or maybe it was a garage attached to the house.

“Would you like some water?” she asked.

“What did you do to me?” Dowling asked. “I can’t remember a thing from last night. Was I drugged? Did you people drug me?”

“Funny how you have all these questions now when you yourself wouldn’t answer any of our own,” Ursula said. “I brought you some water, although, if you’d prefer, I could make some coffee.”

“How do I know it’s just water?” Dowling asked suspiciously.

“Suit yourself,” Ursula said as she placed the glass upon the ground and turned to leave.

“What are you going to do to me?” Dowling asked.

“What do you mean?” Ursula replied as if she felt insulted. “What are you going to do to me? To us?”

“What?” Dowling asked, feeling annoyed and confused.

“Mr. Dowling, you are the intruder here. You lied and tricked your way into my home for I-don’t-know-what purpose. You then created a scene and struggled with some guests at my dinner party… you should be grateful that I didn’t call the police.”

“You tied me up and held me against my will. That’s a punishable offense! I should be the one calling the police!” Dowling insisted.

“Then, go ahead and call them,” Ursula responded back. “We had an off-duty member of the security forces here last night, as a matter of fact.”

“You still haven’t answered my question,” Dowling said, struggling with the binds behind his back. “What are you going to do with me?”

“We wish you no harm, Mr. Dowling. You’re free to leave at any time. What kind of people do you think we are?”

“If I’m free to leave, then untie me, then,” Dowling said.

“I have your assurance that you mean us no harm?” Ursula asked.

“Of course!” Dowling retorted. “I’m a college professor, not a secret agent or something, for crying out loud.”

“Yes, you are a college professor,” Ursula said, reaching for a knife. “We did manage to check your identity,” Ursula said as she bent down to cut his binds. “So far, you don’t have a criminal record. I suggest you keep it that way.”

“Thank you,” Dowling said as he reclaimed ownership of his arms and massaged them to aid his blood circulation.

“You’re welcome to stay for coffee,” Ursula said as she hit a button that slowly raised the garage door. “Or you can continue on your way, your choice.”

Unable to look directly at the streaming sunlight that increasingly shone in from the outside, Dowling stood up. Standing uncertainly, he held the chair for balance. He could now see that he was below ground and beyond the garage door, a ramp led up to street level. “I’d like to leave, if it’s all the same to you,” Dowling responded, still unsure if indeed he was actually being released. “I appreciate the offer and the hospitality.”

“We are good people, you know,” Ursula said kindly. “People of the light. If I were you, I’d be very careful deciding which side of the light or darkness that you choose to align yourself with.”

“Yes,” Dowling said, his mind still trying to wake up.

“Well, off you go, then,” she said, her hand reaching for the garage door button.

“Thank you,” Dowling said, and let go of the chair. Slowly walking up the ramp to freedom, he maintained a watchful eye out for other members of the group. Perhaps there was a parked van on the street from which they might appear or into which they might abduct him. The upscale neighborhood was quiet and deserted, however. It had a Sunday morning sense of sereneness, he thought.

Once away from the house and closer to a main road, Dowling considered his options. “What now?” he asked himself as he scanned the skyline for clues to his possible whereabouts. Seeing the silhouette of the city skyline provided him with direction.

As he walked towards the city, he pondered his earlier exchange with Ursula. He was surprised that he had been met by her alone, whom he could have quite easily overpowered, if it had come to that. Obviously, whoever these people were, they did not consider him a threat. Perhaps there had been others nearby, staying close, as backup, in case she had needed assistance?

Was it justifiable for them to have drugged him and kept him tied up in a basement? If he was in their shoes, would he have done the same or similar? Irrespective of who or what he judged these people to be, it was indeed true that he was the gate crasher, the interloper, the one who had practiced deception. Was it unreasonable for them to assume the worst and act accordingly?

Even if he did report their misconduct to the police, with whom would the authorities most likely side? The out-of-town stranger or the local wealthy socialites who were likely well-respected? According to the law, every homeowner had a legal right to protect themselves and their property. In some cases, even deadly force was permitted. Additionally, what wrongdoing could he honestly accuse them of?

Had he misjudged these people? Despite so many unanswered questions echoing around his head, he shook his head and tried to clear it. He needed to plan his next move. Should he go back home or resume his pursuit of Andrew? Retreating back home, with his tail between his legs, did not seem like an option worth considering. His questions about Abigail would remain unanswered and he would be little or no help to Andrew.

He would find a way to continue on the road to Dodge City.  If Andrew was indeed in some form of peril, at least he could do something, whatever he could, to provide his assistance. If the kid was not in any kind of jeopardy, well, a wasted trip to Kansas would probably turn out to be the best case scenario.

 

Cruising in their SUV, across the Kansas state line, Andrew smiled when he saw road signs for cities that he had only seen in movies: Topeka, Fort Smith, Oklahoma City. Seeing a road sign for Wichita encouraged him to break into song.

Fiona giggled and then joined in. Unable to remember the lyrics, they both made up some fresh ones. As they laughed and sang, they had little idea that her father was not far behind. Cruising in his SUV on the very same freeway, Simon listened to the cheerful strains of a Mozart concerto.

Further back, and traveling on the same route, Dowling dozed in a window seat of a half-empty Greyhound bus.

“So, what’s the plan here?” Fiona asked as she pulled off of the interstate.

“I can’t believe we’re here,” Andrew said, looking around at the strange and unfamiliar town.

“Welcome to Dodge City, amigo,” Fiona said playfully.

“Wow,” Andrew said as he saw a street sign for Wyatt Earp Blvd. “This is not what I imagined,” he said, sounding disappointed.

“What were you expecting?”

“I don’t know. Not so industrial, I guess,” he said as he tried to make out what kind of factories he was looking at. “Does that say meat packing?” he asked, squinting his eyes at the largest building he could see. “What’s that smell?”

“You should remember this next time you order steak or a burger in a restaurant, cowboy,” Fiona teased. “So, where to? This is not a big place, if you haven’t noticed already.”

“We should go straight to my dad’s place, I guess,” Andrew said.

“We could check out Old Town,” Fiona said, referring to the street sign. “Wanna see what the O.K. Corral actually looks like?”

“Maybe tomorrow,” Andrew said nervously. “We should go see my dad. Get it out of the way…”

“Are you nervous? About seeing your dad?”

“What if he doesn’t want to help us?” Andrew asked, more of a fear than a real question.

“Of course he’ll want to help you! He’s your dad. You guys still talk, right? Still stay in contact?”

“Birthdays and Christmas, sure. Rest of the year, not so much.”

“Well, he’s not going to turn you in, is he?”

“Course not!”

“Then, worse-case scenario, we’re on our own. That’s not so bad, is it?” Fiona asked, trying to sound supportive.

“No, that’s not so bad, at all,” Andrew answered.

“You’re afraid that he’s going to be disappointed in you? That maybe you won’t make him feel proud, is that it? Something like that?” Fiona asked gently.

“Yeah, something like that. I guess.”

“Well, according to the GPS, this is the place,” Fiona said, pulling to the opposite side of the street.

“Yeah, it looks familiar,” Andrew said, not recognizing anything.

“What do you need to hear?” Fiona asked as she placed a comforting hand on his. “Even if he doesn’t help us, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love you. Just maybe, with his new family and everything, maybe it’s not possible for him to help. He’s your dad; no matter what, he still loves you.”

“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” Andrew said, feeling panicked. “I mean, why get him involved, you know? What if the cops have already been here? What if they’re staking out the place?” he said, looking around wildly. “They could have his phone bugged and they’re inside right now, waiting for us to show up?”

“Andrew, relax,” Fiona said softly. “Look at me,” she said, holding his face in her hands and looking him in the eyes. “You’re feeling scared and that’s perfectly okay; that’s perfectly normal. But you need to chill, alright? Why don’t you take a few deep breaths and get more into your body, okay, sweetie?”

“Okay,” Andrew agreed as he forced himself to breathe deeper.

“It doesn’t work that way, with the cops, I mean,” she said reassuringly. “Cops don’t work with each other across state lines. This is Kansas,” she said gently, like she knew what she was talking about. “The cops here don’t give a crap what happens in LA. In fact, the cops here hate the cops in LA. Let‘s face it, everybody hates the cops in LA,” she said and smiled when Andrew laughed.

“Of course they do,” he agreed, smiling. “I’m sorry, I was kinda losing it there for a bit,” he said, coming back to his senses. “It’s just been so long, you know? He’s my dad,” he said without further explanation.

“I know, Andrew. I know he is,” Fiona said softly.

“Thank you,” he said meaningfully. “You’re the friggin’ best!”

“You’re my one and only, sweetie,” Fiona said and smiled. “We gotta look after each other, right?”

“Yeah,” he answered and kissed her lips. “Yes, we do.”

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Fiona said, playfully punching his shoulder.

“Okay, let’s do this,” he then said as he opened the car door.

As they walked to the house, Andrew looked around to see who might be watching them. Apart from the odd passing car, the street was quiet. Taking a final deep breath, Andrew rang the doorbell. The house was silent and there was no sign of life or movement inside. “You think they’re home?” Fiona asked.

“I don’t know,” Andrew answered, secretly relieved no one had opened the door.

“Try again,” Fiona said, looking through a window. Andrew rang the doorbell a second time. He then gently knocked.

“I guess they’re not home,” he then said as he leaned his face closer to the window to get a better look. “Could be out shopping or something,” he said.

“You have his phone number?” Fiona asked.

“Yeah, of course,” Andrew answered. “I figured he’d be home, I guess.”

“Do you want to call him?” Fiona asked, unsure why he wasn’t reaching for his phone.

“Later, maybe,” he said, looking like he was thinking of a plan. “We should check into a motel for the night and get something to eat, first. You hungry?”

“Sure,” Fiona said, even though she wasn’t.

On the way back to the car, Andrew checked the internet on his smart phone. “The nearest motel is just a few blocks from here,” he said.

“Okay,” Fiona answered as they got into the car.

Right behind them, Simon’s SUV turned the corner. Keeping his eyes on the house numbers, he stopped. As Fiona’s SUV pulled out, Simon casually looked over. His eyes widened when he instantly recognized it.

“Hello, hello,” he said out loud, not believing his luck. Keeping a discrete distance, he followed them to the motel and parked. Unsure of his next move he remained in his car. He watched Andrew and his daughter as they left the registration office. Climbing the stairs, they entered their motel room on the second floor.

Relieved that he had found his daughter looking healthy and happy, Simon weighed up his options. How could he possibly persuade his daughter to come back home with him? He knew how headstrong his daughter could be. He had learned that the way to get her to do what he wanted was not to demand her to do so. Any time that he demanded that she do something specific, she would either do the opposite or just downright refuse to do anything. Making suggestions and giving her time to think them over was usually the most successful ploy.

However, he hadn’t had a situation before that involved a boyfriend of hers. He wasn’t sure her behavior would or could be in any way predictable. Affairs of the heart were different for everybody, he considered. Even more so when it involved teenage, puppy love, such as it was.

Considering that he was going to need a place to stay for the evening, he decided that he would go ahead and check in. As the young couple were also staying the night, he figured that he had time to think things through and come up with a plan that he could be happy with.

If he could get her alone, maybe if she came out to get some ice or something, he stood a better chance. Then again, if he approached them when they were together he could get a good sense of their true connection. Were they still in love or was there any kind of underlying tension between them? He would get a room close to them and bide his time.

Inside their motel room, Fiona ran a bath while Andrew stretched out on the bed and flicked through the cable channels. Seeing a bunch of local restaurant menus on the bedside table, he picked them up. “Hey, sweetie,” he said loudly so that she could hear him in the bathroom, “what kind of food are you hungry for?”

“Nothing special, maybe just a salad or something,” she answered. “What are you in the mood for?”

“Pizza?” he answered with a question.

“Sounds good. Anything veggie for me would be fine,” she said.

“Of course,” he said, like he wouldn’t have considered anything different. “Want to eat in? Have it delivered?”

“Sure. We could watch a movie,” she said enthusiastically.

“Sounds like a plan,” he said, smiling in anticipation.

Disembarking from the bus, at the local Greyhound station, Professor Dowling scanned his unfamiliar surroundings. On the edge of town, he noticed that there was a train station close by but not much else of note. Making sure he still had the address of Andrew’s father, which he did, he wondered if he lived close by.

“What do you want first?” the bus driver asked when Dowling showed him the address. “Good news or bad news?”

“Bad news first, I guess,” Dowling answered.

“Bad news, that address is way over the other side of town,” he said with a frown.

“Oh,” Dowling said, saddened by the news.

“Good news is, it’s a small town,” the driver said cheerfully. “But no, you couldn’t walk there,” he then quickly added, as if reading Dowling’s mind. “Public transport here sucks and by the time you call a cab and wait for it to arrive… know what ‘m saying?” he said, making a forget-about-it gesture with his hand. “Best bet, you rent yourself a car.”

“Oh, I can do that,” Dowling answered, brightening.

“Bad news, there ain’t any close by,” the driver then said. “You’d pretty much have to rent a car to get to the car rental place, know what I’m saying?” the driver said, sounding amused with himself.

“Yes. Is there good news?” Dowling asked hopefully.

“Good news, there’s a truck rental place right over there,” he said, pointing.

“I don’t need a moving truck…” Dowling said quickly.

“I get that,” the driver said, looking at Dowling like he was a bit slow on the uptake. “You could rent out a pickup truck… you okay to drive one of those?”

“Oh, sure,” Dowling answered, considering it now a good idea.

“Good news it’ll cost you about half the price of a rental car, depending on your mileage, which in this town…” he said, again making the same hand gesture. “Know what I’m saying?”

“Yeah, I do,” Dowling said, happily looking straight at the truck rental office. “I appreciate your help.”

“Don’t mention it,” the driver said and turned his attention away. “Have a good one.”

“You too,” Dowling said and walked towards the rental office.

With the rental logo boldly and colorfully emblazoned along its side, Dowling drove a pickup off the lot. It really was a small town, Dowling thought; he had driven to the address in no time.

“They’re away on vacation,” a neighbor duly told him as he rang the front doorbell several times.

“Oh, thanks,” Dowling replied, stumped for his next move and returning to his rental truck. Checking his smart phone for the nearest motel, he had the GPS direct him to it. He was soon parked in the parking lot of the very same motel that the others were staying at. Entering his room on the second floor, he had no idea he was rooming right next door to Andrew and Fiona. First thing he did was run a nice hot bath.

Watching a corny B movie on the TV, Andrew and Fiona sat on the floor while munching away on take-out pizza. “The pizza sucks, the movie sucks and I’m having the best time ever,” Andrew said smiling.

“I know, right?” Fiona said, picking off the green peppers from her pizza. “I can’t wait for us to be living together.”

“You think this will wear off, after a while?” Andrew asked.

“What, the novelty?” Fiona asked.

“Yeah, you think it will get less amazing, over time?”

“Of course not,” Fiona replied, her answer surprising him nicely, “it’s going to get more and more amazing the deeper we get to know each other.”

“You think so?” he asked, hoping she wasn’t being sarcastic. “Don’t most couples go through, I don’t know, get bored with each other, over time?”

“Let me tell you something, Andrew,” she said smiling. “We’re not most couples.”

“Cool,” Andrew said as he lifted another slice of pizza to his mouth.

“Not going to happen,” Fiona said. “Forgetaboutit,” she said in a bad New York accent.

“You’re so weird,” Andrew said, smiling.

“You can talk,” she said, dumping her unwanted peppers onto his pizza.

“I never really knew how weird you were,” he said, then rethought his comment. “I did know that you were weird, like, all along, but in the beginning I thought that you were weird, in a different way.”

“You can sure use a lot of words to say not much, Andrew Cox,” she said, taking a swig from her soda.

“No, don’t get me wrong, I like your weirdness, I love your weirdness but it’s like the more we hang out, I’m finding different layers of weirdness; like, you’re not just one kind of weirdness, you’re many different kinds. You’re complicated, I guess, is what I’m saying,” he said, still not looking happy with his long evaluation. “You’re right; I could have put that much better,” he then said.

“I’m not so weird,” she then said. “Honest, maybe but what does it mean to be weird, anyway? I think what you’re mistaking weirdness for is fearlessness,” she then said, lowering down the volume on the TV while the commercials played.

“Fearlessness?” Andrew asked, not following.

“Yeah, like we’re all so socially conditioned to be polite to each other, right? We tone done our impulses and our humanity in order not to offend or push people away. We want to be liked and included, socially, so we don’t say what we’re thinking most of the time. Like, have you ever told someone that you just met that their breath stank?”

“No, of course not,” Andrew replied.

“Why not?”

“Well, assuming that their breath really did stink, I… no, I wouldn’t mention it,” he said imagining the situation in his head.

“Under what situations would you tell a stranger that their breath stank?” Fiona asked, enjoying the debate.

“I wouldn’t.”

“Suppose the person was an employee and you were their boss and maybe you owned a health salon or something and an influential reviewer, a blogger with millions of followers was coming in for a facial, would you say something then?”

“Yeah, sure, of course,” Andrew answered.

“If you were a sergeant major and some smartass private you didn’t like was jerking you around, would you tell him his breath stank?”

“Maybe,” Andrew conceded. “What’s your point?”

“I guess I’m just saying that we’re more likely to speak our minds to someone that we think is inferior to us in some way than to speak our mind to someone that we might feel is superior to us; someone who could hurt us socially.”

“That’s your point?” Andrew asked, looking confused. “What are we talking about?”

“We’re just discussing, that’s all. I’m saying that maybe we hold ourselves back in social situations that we think might hurt us; whereas being “weird” is not giving a rat’s ass and saying what we’re thinking, without censorship, that’s all. I don’t care if people like me.”

“You don’t give a rat’s ass if people like, you, is that it? I don’t believe you.”

“I don’t. And by the way, have I told you lately, your breath stinks,” Fiona said, smiling.

“No, it doesn’t not, weirdo,” Andrew said, laughing.

“I can be normal,” Fiona said. “If that’s what you want.”

“Don’t you dare,” Andrew warned.

“Like you’re the normal one,” she said, teasing.

“You know what I want,” Andrew said, suggestively.

“I know what you want,” Fiona said back cheekily. “But sometimes what you want and want you get are two different things, homeboy.”

“Homeboy?” Andrew laughed. “You don’t even know what a homeboy is, do you? Admit it.”

“Of course I do. I know lots of home boys in the hood.”

“You are so full of it,” Andrew said, moving towards her on his hands and knees.

“Oh, yeah? What are you going to do about it, tough guy?” she said, playfully.

“I’m going to run my hands all over your body,” Andrew said, grabbing hold of her arms. “And tickle you!” he said quickly. Despite her laughing and screams, Andrew tickled her sides and her tummy.

“Don’t! Stop! Let me go!” Fiona laughed and screamed with laughter and struggled until she heard a knock at the front door. “What was that?” she asked, sitting up to attention. Another knock soon followed. “Who could that be?” she asked as Andrew got up to answer it.

“Some dude,” he said, having looked through the spy hole in the front door. When there was another knock, Andrew opened the door to the length of the security chain. “Yes?” he said to Simon.

“Hello, Andrew,” Simon said.

“Do I know you?”

“Dad?” Fiona asked as she walked closer to the door.

“Hello, pumpkin,” Simon said sweetly.

Brushing past Andrew, she unlocked the door to let him in. “What are you doing here? How did you know?” she asked, totally perplexed.

“Never mind all that. I found you, that’s what matters,” he said, looking around the room suspiciously, “Are you alright? I heard you screaming.”

“I’m find, we were just playing,” Fiona said.

“Playing?” Simon repeated.

“I was ticking her,” Andrew admitted sheepishly.

“I don’t understand? You had us followed?” Fiona asked, still incredulous.

“I care about you, Fiona,” Simon said sternly. “You left without as much as a goodbye! I was out of my mind with worry! I may not have been the best father to you but you should know that your welfare means everything to me!”

“I’m fine! I’m great!” Fiona said, her arms raised in exaltation.

“If it’s all the same to you, I wasn’t going to rest until I saw for myself. I’m very relieved to see you… safe and sound,” Simon said, wondering if he should sit down some place.

“I can’t believe…” Fiona said, looking at Andrew with a puzzled expression. Andrew shrugged, as if he didn’t know what to say or know how to respond to the situation.

“Do you have anything to drink?” Simon asked, as he sat down on the side of the bed. “I’m parched.”

“Yes, of course,” Fiona said, quickly moving to the fridge. “Is a can of cola okay?” she asked nervously. “That’s all we’ve got, I’m afraid. Or tap water?”

“Cola is fine, thank you,” Simon answered, sounding more relaxed. “I’m sorry for showing up like this. I can understand how crazy it must seem.”

“Pretty crazy,” Fiona said as she handed him the soda. “But as you can see, things couldn’t be better, right, Andrew?”

“Yes, absolutely, couldn’t be better,” Andrew answered politely.

“That’s good to hear,” Simon said, as he took a swig of the drink. “That’s really good to hear. Don’t let me intrude on the…” he then said, referring to the left-over pizza.

“Don’t worry about it, dad. We were finished anyway,” Fiona said.

“So, what’s the plan, if you don’t mind me asking?” Simon asked, looking directly at Andrew.

“Well, we…” Andrew said but paused.

“We’re considering the possibilities,” Fiona interjected. “Nothing’s written in stone, just yet.”

“Considering the possibilities?” Simon repeated. “What range of possibilities are you considering, exactly?”

“We’re not going back to LA… right away,” Fiona answered. “We were hoping to travel, see a bit of the country, before we settle, while we’re still young and everything.”

“You want to travel?” Simon asked.

“Yes,” Fiona answered. “We’re going on an adventure.”

“I see,” Simon said, taking another drink. “Your urge for sudden travel wouldn’t have anything to do with your boyfriend being on the run from the law, would it?”

“It would have something to do with that, yes,” Fiona said, looking at Andrew as she spoke.

“Not exactly, we talked about it last year before everything… and, anyway, I’m not asking Fiona to do anything that she doesn’t…” Andrew said but was interrupted by Fiona.

“It was my idea. I convinced Andrew to come,” Fiona said firmly.

“Do you need money?” Simon asked, taking out his wallet and surprising them both.

“No, we’re fine,” Fiona said quickly. “We’re going to get jobs, at some point. We’ll be fine.”

“Travel is always way more expensive than you first think,” Simon said, leaving a wad of cash on the mattress. “I trust you’ll do everything in your power to keep my daughter safe,” he then said to Andrew.

“Yes, sir, of course, absolutely, no need to worry on that score. I’d lay down my life before I’d see Fiona get hurt,” Andrew answered.

“Well then,” Simon said and stood, as if to leave. “I’m so glad to see you safe, you have no idea,” he said to Fiona.

“Thank you, father,” she said softly as she ran to hug him tightly. “I’m safe and I’m happy; very, very happy. You have no need to worry.”

“That’s my girl,” Simon said, kissing her on the top of her head. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too, pops,” she said, tearfully.

“Look after her, son,” he said to Andrew as he broke away. “It’s up to you now.”

“Yes, sir, I totally will look after her,” Andrew said, shaking Simon’s hand.

“You have some place to stay?” Fiona asked as Simon opened the door. “Are you flying back?”

“I’m fine,” Simon answered. “Look after yourselves. Best of luck to you both.”

As the door closed, Andrew looked quizzically at Fiona. “What just happened?” he asked.

“That’s so my father,” she said, looking out through the side of the curtain. “He’s very unpredictable, like that.”

“So what does it mean?” Andrew asked, not sure what kinds of questions to be asking. “Him showing up like that? I mean, how did he even know we were in this state, never mind this very motel room? Aren’t you spooked? Coz, I’m so spooked. I almost crapped in my pants when he walked in the door.”

“Relax,” Fiona said, looking through the cash her father left behind. “He’s not going to do anything.”

“Okay, when you say he’s not going to do anything, what does that mean, exactly?” Andrew asked, sounding even more panicked. “What could he do? That he’s not going to do?”

“He just gave us his blessing; don’t you see?” Fiona said, waving the bunch of cash in the air and smiling. “He wished us the very best of British luck!”

“I know, and that accent?” Andrew said, softening. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“I told you he was British,” Fiona said.

“I know you did and I don’t know what I was expecting but… just the way he talks, it’s so like, I don’t know, he sounds like a James Bond villain or something,” Andrew said, smiling. “No offense.”

“You were probably expecting cockney or something. He’s upper class British, different accent,” Fiona explained as she counted the money.

“That’s a lot of cash,” Andrew remarked, trying not to sound greedy.

“It’s good that he showed up,” Fiona then said. “It’s out of the way, like it’s not hanging over us, you know?”

“I guess,” Andrew replied as he sat on the bed beside her. “Did he just give us his blessing?”

“Did he give you his approval you mean?” she said, smiling.

“Yeah. Did he?” Andrew asked, faking shyness.

“You know, I think maybe he did. He shook your hand, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, that was weird, in a good way,” Andrew said, remembering how good it felt. “I guess that was a good visit, huh?”

“Don’t get too cocky, buster,” Fiona cautioned playfully. “He approves of you as my traveling partner; it’s not like you were asking permission for anything else, okay?”

“Anything else, like what?” Andrew teasingly asked.

“You know,” Fiona said coyly.

“Hmm,” Andrew said, lying back onto the bed. “Me and Simon is great buddies, so we are,” he said in a bad cockney accent.

“Yeah, see, talk to him like that and you’d never stand a chance, trust me,” Fiona said, lying back and snuggling into his arms.

“I would like your permission,” Andrew said in a very posh English accent. “I would be very much grateful, old boy, if you would consider…”

“Oh shut up,” Fiona said and playfully belted him with a pillow. “My father sounds like a James Bond villain!” she scoffed.

“Well, he does! I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Bond,” Andrew said in his best upper crust English impression, “but I’m going to have to destroy the world now, terribly sorry for the inconvenience.”

“He’ll totally crack up when I tell him that,” Fiona said, teasing.

“No you wouldn’t! You are never to tell him I said that! I don’t care how pissed you might be with me, you are never to tell him I said he reminds me of a James Bond villain!”

“We’ll see,” Fiona said, a mischievous expression on her face. “Can’t make any promises.”

“Come here, you,” Andrew said as he grabbed her with intent to tickle the living daylights out of her.

[]Chapter 12

 

Looking torn and confused, Simon paced his motel room. Staring at the motel phone, he sat on the side of the bed. He looked at it for quite some time. He then picked up the receiver and dialed. “Police,” he said when asked what emergency service he required. “I want to report the whereabouts of an escaped convict,” he answered when connected to the police.

Passing Simon’s motel room, Dowling had to walk some distance to get to the stairs closest to where his rental was parked. Stepping out to pick up some food and toiletries, he took note of the best place to park upon his return.

Andrew and Fiona lay snuggled together on the queen-sized bed. They were now watching an old black and white movie which starred William Powell and Myrna Loy. “Hey, they talk just like us,” Andrew remarked, charmed by the couple’s onscreen chemistry and smart repartee.

“Totally,” Fiona agreed.

Simon looked out the gap in the curtains to check for any arriving police. He checked his watch and wondered why it should be taking so long for the police force to respond to an emergency phone call. It was a very small town, after all, he considered. What could the officers possibly be doing that was more urgent than picking up a wanted convict?

When a police car with its lights flashing pulled up on the street near the motel office, Simon became nervous. Had he made a mistake by calling the authorities? What if they arrested his daughter, as well? What if his daughter found out that he had turned them in? Would she ever forgive him? What on earth was the police car doing with its flashing lights on? His thoughts were interrupted when the motel telephone rang.

“Yes?” he answered. “Why are you not acting on the information that I gave you earlier?” he asked the police dispatcher. “And why is it taking you so long to do something about this?”

When he was told that they had to check with the authorities in Los Angeles, Simon calmed down. “Well, why does the police car have its lights flashing?” he asked. “You might as well be giving an advance warning to every criminal in the area?”

“Sir, we have no knowledge of that,” the officer responded. “The unit we dispatched is still en route. They should be arriving there shortly.”

Simon carried the phone to the window and peeked back out. He could now see that the police car with the flashing lights below had actually pulled over a motorist. One cop was interviewing the driver while another cop stood nearby. Another police car pulled into the front parking lot. Its lights were not flashing. “I see them, they’re here,” Simon said and hung up.

Andrew noticed the reflection of something flashing at the side of the curtains. Diverting his eyes from the TV, he watched closer. “Do you see that?” he asked.

“See what?” Fiona asked, following his line of sight.

Jumping off the bed to check it out, Andrew slowly pushed aside the curtains. “Oh, shit,” he then said in a panic. “We need to go!”

“What?” Fiona asked, jumping off the bed to investigate.

“Don’t move the curtains,” Andrew warned as he threw his clothes on. “We need to leave, now!” he said urgently.

Looking out the window, Fiona saw the police car with the flashing lights. She saw the other police car as two police officers got out. They walked to her SUV and inspected it with their flashlights. “They’re at the car!” she exclaimed.

Running back to the window, Andrew looked out to see for himself. “Shit!” he almost yelled. “We’ll have to go on foot! Are you dressed?” he asked impatiently.

Quickly dressing, Fiona made sure she had collected all of the cash. Throwing her stuff together, she rapidly scanned the room for whatever else they might need.

“We have to go, now!” Andrew insisted, looking through the spy hole, his hand on the door knob. “Is there another door out of here?” he asked. “Like a bathroom window or something?”

Running into the bathroom to check for an escape, Fiona instantly evaluated their chances. “There’s a window!” she breathlessly remarked.

“Help me take out the slits,” Andrew said as he ran into the bathroom. He jumped straight to the window above the bath. “Put the lock on the front door,” he then gasped as Fiona ran to do so. Once all the window slits were removed, Andrew leaned out to make sure the corridor was clear. “Hurry,” he said, taking her hands and lifting her up towards the open window.

Once both out and landing in the rear corridor, they ran for the nearest stairs.

Dowling parked his rental car in the more convenient rear parking lot by the very same stairs. Taking his bags of food and toiletries, he locked the car. He had climbed a few steps when Andrew and Fiona came bounding down, Andrew almost colliding with him.

“Andrew?” Dowling asked.

“Professor Dowling?” Andrew responded. “What are you doing?” he asked, not quite sure if he should keep running or not. “The cops,” he then said in a loud whisper. “They’re at our car; we need to go!”

“Take mine,” Dowling said quickly, holding out the key. “We’ll do a switch,” he then said, suggesting they exchange keys. “You can call me when it’s all clear, we’ll switch back!”

“Perfect!” Andrew exclaimed like he just got the best gift ever.

“I’ll explain everything later, when we talk,” Dowling said as he watched the couple hustle into the pickup. They wasted no time in taking off.

Rounding the corner by the motel office, Andrew didn’t dare turn his head in the direction of the police cars. Looking past Andrew, Fiona tried to see exactly where the police were positioned. “We’re good,” she said as she saw two police officers knocking on their motel door.  “Don’t drive too fast.”

“Shit, the lights!” Andrew said as he turned on the headlights. His heart pounded as if he’d just run a race. He was sweaty and felt panicked. Holy crap, they’d almost been caught. “Okay, we’re in the clear,” he said to calm himself. As casually as he could, he pulled out onto the road and merged into the regular street traffic.

Making sure to drive just below the speed limit, it didn’t take the two of them long to be free of the town. Constantly checking his rear view mirror, he was sure they were not being followed. Once on a rural, secondary road that was dark and mostly deserted, Andrew sighed. Both still in shock, neither of them had spoken for quite some time. “Now it’s a movie,” Andrew said, hoping to break the tension.

Fiona remained silent, her gaze still focused on the road ahead.

“You okay?” Andrew asked.

“I don’t think so,” she answered.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

“No, of course I’m not hurt,” Fiona answered, perhaps not sure herself of how she was feeling. “I’m pretty shook up, I guess.”

“Yeah, me too,” Andrew said, relieved that she was physically alright. “I can’t believe he did that!”

“Who? Did what?” Fiona asked.

“Your father,” Andrew answered, curbing his anger.

“You think my father turned us in?” Fiona asked, incredulously.

Looking over at her quickly, he wondered if she was being for real. “You don’t?” he asked delicately.

“He gave us a bunch of cash,” she said, like it was a ludicrous suggestion. “He was nice to you, shook your hand, gave us his blessing, you were there, for chrissakes!”

“Yeah,” Andrew answered, sounding perplexed.

“You think my father called the cops?” she asked accusingly.

“How else?” Andrew answered. “Who else knew we were there?”

“Everybody, apparently,” Fiona scoffed. “What about that professor dude, your new BFF?”

“You think Professor Dowling turned us in? Why would he do that?” Andrew asked like it was a crazy notion.

“You don’t think it was a bit suspicious, he meets us in the rear parking lot? Right at the same time the cops arrive? Hello?” she said sarcastically.

“He wouldn’t do that,” Andrew answered. “He’s been helping us all along.”

“Why, Andrew?” Fiona asked pointedly. “Why has he been helping you all along? Huh? He shows up out here in this Godforsaken place? Why? What’s he doing here? What’s he getting out of helping you, out here? Huh?”

“That, I don’t know,” Andrew confessed. “Maybe I’m the son he never had; maybe he wants to avenge the death of his wife or something… Look, all I know is, he would not, he did not turn us in. I know that. Don’t ask me why but I just know that, okay?”

“But you know for sure that my father did it?” Fiona asked sourly. “Stop the car.”

“You’re kidding,” Andrew said.

“Stop the car, Andrew,” Fiona insisted.

“I’ll pull over but don’t you dare think of opening that door, promise me?” Andrew said, totally freaked out.

Andrew checked his mirror again before he pulled onto the dirt shoulder of the deserted country road. Fiona put her hand on the door handle but hesitated and didn’t open it, as if she was still undecided.

“I’m sure he thought that maybe he was doing the right thing but…” Andrew said but ceased talking when Fiona raised her hand for him to stop.

“My father loves me,” Fiona said, still looking straight ahead. “He’s concerned about me, yes, but he would never, ever, put me into this kind of situation. I mean, look at us, Andrew?” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “We’re like, on the run here; seriously on the run from the friggin’ police; like criminals and, no, this is not like a movie, this is as real as it gets!”

“Look, I know you’re upset,” Andrew said, talking softly and leaning towards her to comfort her, “but I don’t want us to lose it, okay? I don’t want either of us to lose this, okay?”

Tears now running down her eyes, Andrew took her hand in his.

“I’m scared too, Fi,” he said softly. “I really am totally freaked out and I don’t want to lose you.”

Immediately spooked by the approach of the headlights of an approaching car, Andrew watched it closely until it harmlessly passed.

“I need you, Fiona,” he then said, now giving her his full attention. “And maybe you don’t need me or maybe it’s not right of me to ask you to come with me… Should I take you back home, Fiona?” he asked gently. “I should turn this car around and take you back to your father, shouldn’t I?” he asked, dreading that she was going to nod her head, yes.

“This is too much, I agree,” he then said. “This is too much to ask of you. I’m taking you back and I’m going alone, okay?” he said, fully prepared to do so.

“No,” she finally said, holding back the tears. “No, I got scared, that’s all. We’re together,” she said, brightening up. “It’s you and me, me and you,” she said and smiled between her tears.

“And your father?” Andrew asked.

“What about my father?”

“Between him and me, you’re choosing me,” Andrew asked hopefully.

“What?” Fiona asked, reacting as if he had slapped her. “Choose between you and my father? Choose between you and my family? Are you insane?”

Looking totally confused, Andrew didn’t know how to respond.

“I can’t even look at you, right now” she said and quickly opened the door. Jumping out, she ran into the darkness.

“Fiona!” Andrew shouted and quickly opened his door to run out but was jerked back by his unbuckled seat beat. “Fiona!” he yelled again as he struggled to get free. Finally getting out of the car, he ran to the side of the dark and impenetrable woods. “Fiona!” he yelled again, squinting into the darkness. He peered into the gloom and saw nothing.

Spooked by the lights of an approaching vehicle, he hesitated. Should he leave the car by the side of the road, lights on and doors open, or should he stay by their car until the other car passed? Watching the car lights as they got closer, he saw what looked like a bank of emergency lights on the vehicle’s roof.

Worried that it might be a police car, Andrew turned his head so as not to be seen. He walked to the front right tire of the pickup, and kicked it, as if he was checking to see if he had a flat tire. The approaching lights slowed down, as if they might stop. “Everything okay?” a middle-aged officer asked, having rolled down the window of his patrol car. Andrew saw part of the word SHERIFF written on the side of the car.

“Yeah, thought I hit something,” Andrew answered. “Guess not,” he then said, shielding his face with his hand, as if the light that the Sheriff was directing to the rental pickup was too bright. “Thanks for stopping, though,” he said, urging the officer on his way.

“Will it drive?” the officer asked, as if parking it there was going to be a problem.

“Oh, yeah, sure thing, officer,” Andrew answered, as he opened the driver’s side door to get back in. Once seated, Andrew wondered why the officer had not yet driven off. Acting as casually as he could, he turned the key in the ignition. When the car turned over, he acted relieved and with a broad smile, he gave a thumbs-up gesture to the officer.

Nodding his head in acknowledgement, the police officer turned off his search light. Shifting the gear lever to drive, he drove slowly away.

Andrew watched until the rear red lights of the police car vanished. Taking a huge sigh of relief, he left the engine running and stepped out of the truck. He walked to the edge of the woods and took another look around. Not seeing anything obvious in the darkness and sensing her to have walked deeper into the forest, Andrew sighed deeply. “Oh, Fiona,” he said, annoyed, yet sympathetic.

Tired, alone and afraid, Fiona felt a massive sense of relief when she finally found her way out of the woods. Landing back onto a road which looked a bit like the one that she had left earlier, she looked around for Andrew. As she had no way of knowing where she was, or even if it was the same road, she was unsure which direction to walk in. She had no idea how far she had walked through the dark woodlands. For all she knew, she could have been walking in circles, all along.

She already had looked for her phone but decided that she had most likely had left it in her purse in the rental truck. Wanting desperately to be reunited with Andrew, she chided herself for being so impetuous. She was so very foolish to have left him behind like that.

What on earth was she thinking by walking so headstrong into a forested area in almost complete darkness? She was always very proud of her stubborn streak because she knew it was a trait which she had inherited from her mother. However, at certain times, like right now, she also realized that it did not always play out in her favor. Choosing what looked the most likely direction to take, she walked. She sent a silent prayer to Andrew that he should please come and save her right away.

As she walked, she thought about their argument. Why did she have such a strong reaction to Andrew’s suggestion that her father could have betrayed the two of them? Was she so strongly annoyed because that was indeed possible (the most probable explanation, given how rapidly they’d been found) or was it the fact that it was Andrew that was making the accusation? Did she storm off in some kind of blind defense of her father? Did she really have to choose between the two men in her life, as Andrew was suggesting?

It petrified her to think that she might not know her father as well as she’d thought. Could Andrew have been right? Was her father both deceptive and the kind of man that would put her in jeopardy to make a point? He’d had Andrew’s hat, in his ritual room. What did that mean exactly? What had he done?

Lost in thought, she didn’t notice a car coming up behind her until it slowed down and stopped. “Are you okay, miss?” a male driver asked through the open window of his pickup truck. Nicely dressed, he looked to be in his thirties.

“Oh, yes, I’m fine, thank you,” Fiona answered although she felt flustered and uneasy.

“Your car broken down or something?” the man asked, looking puzzled. “Where you headed?”

“I’m…” Fiona said and looking at the road ahead, didn’t know how to answer. “How far is the nearest town?” she then asked.

“There ain’t nothing for a good ways, miss,” the man answered. “I ain’t got a cell phone but I can drop you off at Crankston. They got some bars and restaurants and all that good stuff.”

“How far is that?” Fiona asked, contemplating a walk.

“How far?” the man asked as he looked ahead as if to mentally compute the distance. “It’s like maybe a three hour walk from here,” he then said. “I could get you there in ten, fifteen minutes,” he said, seeing her face drop. “Wouldn’t be taking me out of my way; I could just drop you off.”

Fiona quickly considered her options. The thought of a three-hour walk did not sound appealing.

“Hop in,” the man said, reaching over to open the passenger side door. “Get you there in fifteen minutes, tops,” he said smiling. She looked at him. He was clean and seemed okay. He was relaxed and wasn’t staring at her or anything creepy like that.

The thought of being together with Andrew sooner rather than later was too tempting for her to pass up. Opening the door wider, where the comfort of a soft seat awaited her, and relieved to escape the darkness of the night outside, Fiona got in.

Andrew drove down the unlit road with his headlights on high beams. He dimmed them whenever he saw a car approach, which was not frequently. He figured that he had completely circled the wooded area that had Fiona entered several times over and would continue to do so. He was sick to his stomach by her continued absence and the fear that something bad might have happened to her. Mentally begging for her to appear somewhere on the road before him, he scanned both sides of the road for any sign of life or movement.

Dimming his lights for a passing car, on the other side of the road, he failed to notice that it was the same patrol car that had stopped behind him earlier. The Sheriff’s Deputy had no problem recognizing the rental pickup truck, however. Deciding that it was worth investigating further, he slowed his car so that he could pick a good spot in the road to make a safe U-turn.

Fiona idly looked out the door window into the dark and foreboding forest. So thankful to be out of its dark and dense interior, she was beyond excited at the thought of being with Andrew again soon. Her heart and body feeling warm by merely imagining his tender face, she smiled.

“Good to be off the road, huh?” the driver asked, seeing her smile.

“You have no idea,” Fiona said, briefly turning her head to acknowledge him. Catching him checking out her bare legs gave her an instant jolt of panic.

“You got pretty scratched up, there,” the driver said, noticing her reaction and defending his stare. “You been running through those woods?”

“It’s not a big deal,” Fiona said, pulling her dress down further to cover her bare skin.

“You in trouble, miss?” the man asked. “You running from somebody?”

“No, I got separated, that’s all,” she replied, thinking quickly of a plausible scenario. “From my husband. We had an argument.”

“And he let you walk all by yourself?” he asked incredulously. “Out here in the boonies?”

“How far are we to town?” she then asked, realizing that they had been driving for quite a while.

“We’re coming up right on it,” he answered. “I cannot believe someone would leave a beautiful woman like you all by herself out here in the wilderness,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. 

Spooked by his reference to her physical looks and feeling increasingly creeped out and unsafe, Fiona turned to see if there were any other cars on the road behind them. To her relief there was another vehicle. “You know what?” she said, seeing the pair of headlights following. “I think that’s him, right behind us. Could you pull over, please?”

“Why do you think that’s him?” the man said, checking out the lights in his rear view mirror. “That’s just a pair of lights, could be anybody.”

“Please, pull over,” Fiona said firmly. “This is good here. I’d like to get out, if that’s okay.”

“We’re right close to town,” the man said. “You got nothing to fear from me; I ain’t going to hurt you.”

“If it’s all the same to you, I’d really like to get out and wait for my husband,” Fiona insisted. “You’ve been very kind to take me this far.”

He completely ignored her requests and even appeared to smile a bit at her silly request. His reaction terrified her. Oh, God, what an idiot she’d been to get in the car alone with a stranger in a remote location. She could die, or worse. Her terrified thoughts made her feel sick.

“Hey, if I wanted to do something to you, I woulda done something by now. I could have turned off into one of them dirt roads that we passed…”

“Let me out of this car right now!” Fiona yelled. “Stop this car and let me get out! Now!”

“Hey, relax, relax,” the driver said, slowing down and looking spooked by her outburst. “Where you going?” he then shouted as she opened the door and jumped out before he had come to a complete stop. “You left your shoe!” he said, grabbing it and jumping out to go after her.

Seeing the man hurriedly get out of the pickup in pursuit, Fiona ran faster and further away and out onto the road. She waved her arms frantically for the oncoming motorist to stop.

Andrew panicked when Fiona suddenly appeared in his headlights. Waving her arms about, she appeared to be in distress. “Fiona?” he yelled, hitting his brakes and pulling the truck off the road as he passed her. When the chasing man appeared right in front of him, Andrew swerved the truck to avoid hitting him. In doing so, he smashed into the man’s parked pickup truck.

“Andrew!” Fiona yelled in horror and rushed to his aid. As she got to the pickup, she immediately opened the passenger side door. “Andrew!” she yelled again, praying for his safety. Pinned behind the deployed airbag, Andrew pushed it away. He appeared to be okay. “Oh, my God, Andrew!” Fiona said tearfully and jumped into the truck to help him out.

“I’m okay, I’m okay,” Andrew said, almost laughing with joy that they were now finally together. “What just happened?” he asked, looking her over to make sure she wasn’t hurt. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m okay,” she said crying with happiness. “Don’t ever let me do something that stupid, ever again,” she said, pulling him to her and spoiling his face with kisses.

“I won’t, I won’t,” he said, holding her face in his trembling hands and returning her kisses ten-fold. “No one will ever tear us apart, ever,” he assured her tearfully.

“Hands on the wheel,” a voice shouted to Andrew. They had not noticed the Sheriff patrol car pull up behind them, emergency lights flashing. Andrew now turned to see the policeman he had seen earlier. His gun drawn and pointed directly at Andrew, the officer looked in no mood for small talk. “I need to see your hands on the wheel,” he sternly demanded. “Miss?” he then shouted to Fiona. “I need you out of the truck and face down where I can see you. Now!”

As Andrew put his hands on the wheel, he wasn’t aware with how much force he was using to grab hold of it. “Can’t I catch a break?” he shouted loudly.

[]Chapter 13

 

Quickly transferred to Los Angeles, Andrew ended up back in the same cell of the same prison that he had escaped from.

“Morning, sunshine,” Henry said when he saw that Andrew’s eyes had finally opened. “Welcome back.”

Groggily, Andrew looked around the cell like it was all a bad dream. “How long have I been sleeping?” he asked.

“You’ve been out a long time,” Henry answered, getting dressed. “Did they give you something?” he asked but Andrew was too out of it to respond. “They sometimes do that,” Henry continued, “keep you sedated and servile. Well, you didn’t miss much, that’s for sure. Same old, same old. They slapped on a few more years for your Houdini act, huh?”

“Yeah,” Andrew said, feeling like he might actually prefer to die rather than face the rest of his life.

“You might want to grab some breakfast while you can,” Henry said as he prepared to leave the cell. “Your only chance to grab some coffee; I’m sure you could use some,” he said and left.

Spaced out and feeling numb, Andrew remained on the lumpy mattress of the top bunk of the prison cell. He could barely remember the past few days, nor did he want to. It was as if the memory of what had led up to his present was a painful blur. It was disturbing to recall the pained and tearful face of Fiona as he was being taken away in the back of a police car.

Divorcing the image from his mind, he felt like he dared not dwell on the memory of Fiona and the times that they had shared together.  He was sure that the agony of dwelling upon their separation would surely destroy him. He needed to survive. In order to do so, he needed to adjust to the reality of his present, no matter how unpleasant it seemed.

What would happen if he simply stayed in bed, he wondered? In truth, that’s all he felt like doing. He didn’t actually have the strength or the will to get up. He didn’t want to die but he didn’t particularly want to live, either. He didn’t want to live without Fiona in his life. Indeed, how could he, considering that the thought of her was the only reason he could manage to take his next breath. She was the only good thing in his world; the only beam of sunlight that brought any kind of spark or brightness to his life.

Seeing her face was the only thing that could make him strong; her laugh the only thing that could make him smile; her words, the only thing that could touch his soul. I need to be strong, he thought.

For the sake of Fiona and in her name and honor, I need to go on, he told himself. I will not give in and I will not give up; for her. If not for me, then for her.

Deep in his heart he knew that were he to surrender his will and wilt, so too would Fiona. They might not be together in person but, deep within his soul, he understood how bonded they were. He intuitively knew that his strength was her strength; and her strength his. He knew that whatever decision he would make would affect not just him but her, also. For him to give up and give in would be to pass sentence upon her life. There was no way he would even contemplate hurting her in that way.

Even if he didn’t have the freedom and life that he desired, there was no way he would take Fiona down with him. Despite the pitiful circumstances of his life, he needed to stay positive. If he couldn’t stay strong for himself, he urged himself to remain strong for her.

Even though there was a strong possibility that they would never see each other again, he was not going to let her down. Even if she was to meet and be with someone else, he would not be so selfish as to take her out of the game, before her life had even begun. No matter how much he hurt and no matter how much he felt utterly alone, he would live to see her strong and happy. He would live to see her reach her full potential. He would live to see her tender and beautiful face, no matter what the future held.

Yes, he would see her again, he vowed. They would be a couple again; they were destined to be together, no matter what. Even though the future looked bleak and the possibilities of their togetherness looked remote, he urged himself, for her sake, not to give up.

Fiona would not give up, he reckoned. Fiona would expect him to man up; in fact, she would insist upon it. He owed it to her not to give in and crumple like a broken person. They will not break me, he declared, feeling his hands clench into a tight fist. They will never tear us apart!

 Jumping out of the bed, Andrew landed his bare feet onto the floor with a thump. “Good morning, prison life,” he said to his filthy, miserable cell. “You are not going to break me.”

Putting aside all feelings of dread and horror over his despicable surroundings, Andrew made his way to the cafeteria. Inmates hung out in their cells; some of them watched as he walked towards the stairs. Looking across to the other wing, Andrew noticed a pair of eyes that were beaming into him as he walked.

Surrounded in his cell, by some of his buddies, Duke stared across at Andrew.  Andrew returned his look as the expression on Duke’s face changed from surprise to one of glee. It was as if the criminal had been given a gift, an opportunity to exact his revenge. Duke smiled knowingly at Andrew. Just as Andrew had done the last time they saw each other, Duke formed a cartoon mouth with his hand and motioned “bye, bye,” mouthing the words menacingly as he moved his fingers.

Oh, great, Andrew thought to himself as he continued on his way, I’ll never make it out of here alive.

After a lousy breakfast, of possibly the worst coffee and food he had ever tasted, Andrew walked to the exercise yard. In contrast to the filth and claustrophobia of the inside, he took deep breaths of the outside air. With his eyes, he expressed his gratitude to the bright and hopeful, golden sun.

Quickening his step to power-walk some laps, he realized that his spirits were flagging. If he was going to make it through the day, he needed to give himself another inspirational pep talk. “You can do this,” he said, not realizing he had said it out loud.

“You can do what?” Henry asked, appearing from behind.

“This,” Andrew answered, gesturing to his surroundings. “How do you keep it together in here?” he then asked. “How do you not go stark raving crazy in here?”

“Yeah, I feel you,” Henry said, sounding to Andrew like he could be stoned. “It’s not easy.”

“I’m serious,” Andrew said. “How can anybody live like this?”

“You gotta keep hope alive, I guess,” Henry answered. “You don’t have hope, you die.”

“Are you stoned?” Andrew asked.

“Keep it down,” Henry said, looking to see who was around. “You want something?”

“What?” Andrew asked.

“It’s not cheap but you can pretty much get whatever you want,” Henry answered, looking around cautiously. “Just stay cool and keep it on the down-low.”

“Keep what on the down-low?” Andrew asked, like Henry was talking like a crazy person. “You’re talking about drugs?” he asked in a loud whisper.

“What do you think I’m talking about?” Henry asked. “Drugs, cell phones, cigarettes, knives, porn… whatever you want, you can get. Just don’t get caught.”

“So, you are stoned,” Andrew said.

“Everybody is stoned,” Henry said, grinning. “Maybe not all at the same time but pretty much, yeah, everybody. Friggin’ unbearable otherwise, wouldn’t you say?”

“I guess,” Andrew said, trying not to pass judgment.

“Don’t ask the questions if you can’t handle the answers,” Henry said. “You can’t handle the truth!” he then said, doing an impression that took Andrew by surprise

“Steady on there, Henry,” Andrew said, looking around. “You don’t want to make it obvious.”

“You’re worried about the law?” Henry asked.

“Of course,” Andrew answered, like it was a dumb question. “They’re kinda running things around here.”

“Who do you think started the drug problem in this country?” Henry asked.

“Who?” Andrew asked back.

“Yeah, who do you think started this whole drug epidemic in the first place? Have a guess.”

“I don’t know,” Andrew answered. “Don’t want to sound racist or anything…”

“The blacks?” Henry asked bluntly. “The Mexicans? The Columbian cartels? The Mafia? Who?”

“All of the above?” Andrew answered.

“Nah,” Henry said, making the sound of a buzzer like he gave the wrong answer on a game show. “The CIA,” Henry then said. “The law. The very same people that you say are running the place. You got that part right.”

“The CIA?” Andrew asked.

“Look it up,” Henry said firmly. “Ever hear of the Iran-Contra scandal?”

“Heard of it,” Andrew answered.

“Yeah, bet you they never taught you that bit of American history in your public school or your fancy university,” Henry said as they continued walking in a circuit. “Back when Reagan was president the CIA secretly sold guns to Iran. They were also secretly working with the drug cartels in Central America to ship drugs into the states. They used the money they made from drugs to buy guns. They gave the guns to the Contra rebels who were fighting communism in Nicaragua. True story,” Henry said, smiling at the look of shock and puzzlement on Andrew’s face. “Don’t believe me, look it up in Wikipedia and wherever else you get your truth on.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t as clear cut as all that,” Andrew said. “Maybe some bad apples giving everyone a bad name.”

“Yeah, you go on believing that,” Henry said sarcastically. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

“Just sounds, I don’t know, a bit far-fetched?” Andrew said, hoping not to hurt Henry’s feelings.

“Oh, it’s far-fetched, all right,” Henry said, grinning. “It’s nothing if not far-fetched, which is why no one wanted to believe it. Same thing with Watergate, the JFK assassination, the gulf of Tonkin, the Martin Luther King Assassination, nine-eleven, the Skull and Bones society, the Bilderberg Group… you have no clue what I’m talking about, do you?”

 “Not so much,” Andrew answered. “Doesn’t really affect me, I guess.”

“Doesn’t affect you?” Henry asked and laughed. “Are you shitting me? Of course it affects you; it affects all of us. Anything the powers-that-be do in secret affects every single person living on this planet. You probably think you live in a free society, yeah? Home of the brave and the free?”

“Of course,” Andrew answered.

“If we’re living so free why does this country incarcerate more people than any other country in the world? Imagine all the people around the world who are in prison, right now,” Henry said, stopping in place.

“Okay,” Andrew said, imagining it.

“Of all those people, and that includes communist countries and dictatorships and all the countries that we like to bust their balls for lacking in basic human rights… of all the people in jail, this country owns close to 25 percent of their asses. That’s like, a quarter of the total number of prisoners on earth is in this country! To put that in context, we have less than five percent of the total world population. Think about that,” Henry said and walked off.

Not knowing what to think and not really caring to think about it, Andrew caught back up with him. “You mentioned that secret society,” Andrew said.

“The Skull and Bones? What about it?”

“Secret societies exist?” Andrew asked, thinking about Fiona’s father but not really knowing what he wanted to ask. “I mean, what do they do, exactly?”

“Secret societies run this world,” Henry said in all seriousness. “They run the friggin’ world.”

 

Fiona had her cell phone confiscated by her father and was confined to the house. She was told that as long as she remained under the roof of her father’s home, she was to follow his rules. Sitting by her main window, she looked out longingly in the direction of where Andrew was imprisoned. She tried to imagine what life was now like for him. Her heart ached and as she tuned into his heart, she found her own heart ached even more. He is in so much pain, she realized.

Missing him much more, now that it was visiting day at the prison, she tried not to think about it. She knew how much it would mean to him for her to visit. For her own peace of mind, however, she didn’t allow herself to dwell on such thoughts.

“Give it time,” Simon said to her as she went down to the kitchen to make herself something to eat. “I know that it can’t be easy for you but with enough time, things will get better.”

“No, they won’t,” Fiona responded, refusing to even comment on how naïve he was being. “You don’t have work today?” she asked, knowing very well that he was staying home to prevent her from leaving.

“No,” he answered casually. “Well, I’m working from home today, actually.”

“Me, too,” Fiona responded with a hint of sarcasm. Staring into the large fridge, she soon decided that she really wasn’t hungry, after all.

“You should eat something,” Simon said as he took a large bite of his sandwich. “I haven’t seen you eat anything in days. Look at you,” he said, pointing at her skinny and frail-looking torso. You’re wasting away.”

“Yeah,” Fiona said, as if disinterested in anything he had to say. Grabbing a small bottle of juice, she closed the fridge door and left the kitchen. Watching her go, Simon felt a pang in his heart. He couldn’t bear to see her looking and feeling so sad. He was mildly concerned about the weight loss but certain that, in a few days, she would begin to forget about Andrew and would eat again.

 

Once the daily prisoner count was finished, the prisoners were allowed to move about again. Andrew hung out in his cell so that he could be called for visiting. Expecting to see Fiona, he was concerned that he looked dirty and his hair scruffy. “Cox,” a guard called as he approached the cell. “You have a visitor.”

Escorted to the visiting room, he walked briskly and could barely contain his excitement. Directed to sit at a seat at a long table on the prisoner side, he looked expectantly at the line of visitors as they entered. So focused upon seeing Fiona, he was surprised to see Dowling enter. “Professor Dowling?” he said, almost like a question.

“How are you holding up?” Dowling asked as he sat opposite.

“It’s good to see you. Thanks for coming,” Andrew then said, adjusting to his surprise visitor.

“Are they treating you okay?” Dowling asked, feeling a bit awkward and wondering if he should have made the visit.

“You get used to it, I guess,” Andrew answered. “How have you been?”

“Still moving stuff in and out of storage, if you can believe it,” Dowling answered. “You know, I figured you might have had some questions,” he continued, as if justifying some purpose for his visit. “The way it went down in Kansas?”

“Yeah, I never did figure out how everyone just showed up like that,” Andrew said, his memory faint as if it were in the distant past.

“When you told me you were going to your father’s place?” Dowling asked. “I felt a bit worried for you, I guess, so I contacted your mum. Hope you didn’t mind?”

“No, not at all,” Andrew replied.

“When she told me that Fiona’s father had also contacted her, then I got more worried. When I found out that he was going after you, I decided to hitch a ride with him…”

As Dowling explained the course of events that led up to their meeting in the motel in Dodge City, Andrew listened as attentively as he could. Unable to fully concentrate, he stole sporadic glances towards the entrance to see if Fiona might appear. Maybe she’s unwell, he thought, concerned that he had not heard from her.

He tried not to give any heed to a nagging voice in the back of his head that was telling him that she had moved on. Unable and unwilling to deal with his impossible situation, she had probably decided that what was best for both of them was a clean break. If she wrote him a letter explaining it all, wouldn’t he have received it yet? Did the guards decide not to deliver it?

“So when I saw you two running down the stairs like that, I knew that he had turned you guys in,” Dowling continued. “He’s probably locked her up in her room,” he then said, as if reading Andrew’s thoughts.

“Of course he has!” Andrew exclaimed, like he hadn’t had that thought. Hearing it being said made perfect sense, however. “He so totally has her under lock and key! He took away her phone!” he said, like a mystery had just been solved. “She can’t leave the house to go anywhere! Wow!”

“She loves you very much, Andrew,” Dowling said like he felt that it was something Andrew needed to hear. “I could tell by the way she looks at you. She loves you very deeply.”

“Thank you, Gus,” Andrew said, now feeling emotional. “I love her deeply, too.”

“I know you do, Andrew,” Dowling said. “What happens now? I mean, it’s not like you guys can talk and draw up some kind of a plan,” Dowling said, trying to be delicate. “You’ve just got to take it day by day, right?”

“Yeah,” Andrew said, sounding sad. “Day by day, I guess.”

 

The sun had dropped below the horizon but for a long time Fiona lay awake on her bed and stared into the darkness. Missing Andrew so horribly and wanting so desperately to visit with him, she prepared herself to leave her body. If she could do it before, maybe she still had some ability. She hoped she could still do it. “I want to leave my body,” she commanded her subconscious mind.

When she heard what sounded like a powerful rush of wind all around her, in her mind’s ear, she knew that it was going to work. Holding fast to her deep focus and concentration, her body began to glow. Looking like a bright light, with blue tints around the edges, her astral body began to separate from her physical body. As strong vibrations shook her from head to toe, the power and sound of the internal wind intensified to a deafening volume.

As the light body completely separated from her material body, all sounds and all vibrations ceased. Feeling an immediate sense of beauty, lightness and joy, Fiona’s spirit hovered in the air. She looked down at her body lying motionless on the bed. “Yes!” she said to herself. “I’m free!”

An ethereal silver cord connected her spirit to the navel of her physical body. She intuitively knew that that was the lifeline to keep her material body alive. If she were to sever that, the physical body would perish and she would exist only as a spirit.

Feeling almost giddy with her new-found lightness of being, she knew that there were no limits to her freedom. I can travel anywhere, she thought, as she commanded her light body to leave the house. Rising up above the roof of the house and heading upwards towards the luminous sky, Fiona was free. All she needed to do was think of where she wanted to be and she knew that she would be transported there instantaneously.

I can go up; I can go down, she said to herself, her movements matching her thoughts. Looking up at the almost full moon, she briefly considered a visit and then discarded the idea. “I want to fly to Andrew,” she then said to herself. She knew that of all the places in all the world, and all the galaxy, it was with Andrew that she longed to be.

Deliberately flying at a slow speed, her spirit moved towards downtown. Admiring the beauty of the lights, and the movement of the cars below, her spirit flew above the city as if she were a bird. Or perhaps, she thought to herself, this is what it’s like to be an angel. This is so amazing, she thought to herself as the lights of the city below twinkled and dazzled so radiantly that they glimmered like multi-faceted brilliant diamonds and jewels.

When she thought of Andrew, had a clear mental picture of him in his cell… she was instantly there.

Andrew’s cell looked different to the first time that she had astrally visited. Back then, everything was indistinct and very much a blur. This time around, she could see more clearly. Reacting to the negative energy of the building, she could feel her own vibration drop. It was if she had just landed in the equivalent of a cold and inhospitable, dank, dark, swamp. The cell was so small, gloomy and claustrophobic that she felt that, if stayed longer than a few seconds, she could positively get ill.

 Seeing Andrew asleep in the top bunk made her feel like her heart was about to tear open. Filled with a mix of joy, delight, love, fear and sadness, she began to lose focus. The heady combination of powerful emotions almost caused her to pass out. Thoughts and emotions were much more potent in this light body form, she considered. She needed to stay present and alert.

If she did pass out, she knew that she would simply return her to her physical body. However, she still didn’t want to lose control of her consciousness in that way. She wished to master her experience and to learn how to be in control of her spirit, at all times.

Knowing now that, through this experience, when the body dies, the spirit lives on was a huge delight to her. Although it was what she had always believed and intuitively suspected, to experience it first-hand was immensely satisfying and comforting to her.

Overpowered by the seriously low energy of the prison, she knew that to stay any longer might put her in spiritual jeopardy of some kind. Before leaving, Fiona blew sweet kisses toward Andrew as he lay sleeping. Hoping that she might secure him some happy dreams, she told him that she loved him, many times over.

Wishing to be back in the comfort and safety of her own room, she was instantaneously there. As she opened her eyes, she was immediately struck by the weight and crude density of her physical body. Wow, it actually feels unnatural inhabiting a body of flesh, she thought. That’s weird. She was exhausted, yet elated.

Exhilarated by the thought that she could visit Andrew any time she so desired, she smiled. If she could teach him the same technique, they could then visit together! How amazing would that be! I have found the answer, she giggled to herself; giddy at the thought of them both, hand-in-hand, flying, traveling, and exploring the galaxy, together.

 

Starved of any communication from Fiona, Andrew found it increasingly hard to get out of bed in the morning. Trundling through his day, his feet moved like they were getting heavier and heavier. He wondered how long he could go on without seeing her face; without hearing her sweet voice.

“Watch your back,” Henry had told him soon after he had returned to the cell. “Word is, Duke and his gang are out to get you.”

Andrew had passed Duke many times in the yard, the cafeteria and generally around the prison. Each time, Duke had given him a menacing look. He had wondered why Duke hadn’t yet made his move. Was he teasing him in some way? Making him sweat? Since the attempted escape, Duke had served some time in solitary. He was being closely watched since. Maybe he’s waiting for the heat to die down, Andrew reckoned.

As the days went by, Andrew became less scared of Duke. As his depression over Fiona’s absence increased, he grew more and more ambivalent. So what if they roughed him up or even killed him, he thought as he walked aimlessly around the exercise yard. Maybe they’d be doing him a favor. Life without Fiona was pretty much meaningless, anyway.

Although he considered that a life without Fiona was not worth living, he felt torn inside. Constantly missing her and wanting her was making the hurt feel ten times more painful. What’s worse? he asked himself: to live without Fiona knowing that he would not see her again or to live without Fiona wishing that he could be with her again?

I can’t do this, he then said to himself. I can’t live like this and I can’t do this to her. This has to stop. Although it was as horrible a thought as he had ever had, for the sake of them both, he knew what he had to do. We must end the illusion of ever being together, before it destroys us both. Keeping the fantasy of a future life of happiness together was killing him, it had to be killing them both.

“Cox!” a guard yelled as he approached. “You have a visitor.”

Surprised about who might be visiting, he realized that he had forgotten that it was visiting day. Expecting to see his mother again, or possibly Dowling, he followed as the guard escorted him to the visiting room. Bracing himself for yet another emotional outpouring from his mother, Andrew sat on the prisoner side of the long table.

Watching the line of visitors as they entered the room, his eyes practically popped out of his head when he saw Fiona appear amongst them. Looking absolutely resplendent in a flowing, floral summer dress, she looked so radiant that she glowed. Seeming so out of place among the other, mainly ethnic visitors, Fiona beamed a bright, white smile so beautiful and large it was like someone just opened the door to let the sunlight beam through.

Getting to his feet, Andrew stood in bewilderment. “Fiona?” exclaimed as she landed before him.

“Hello, sweetheart,” she said, smiling an impish smile.

“Oh my God,” Andrew said, his heart and body trembling with a mixture of shock and joy. “I can’t believe you’re here.”

“Sit!” a guard yelled to Andrew.

“How did you?” Andrew asked as they both sat down. They grabbed each other’s’ hands like they were each other’s’ savior and lifeline.

 “My father had to go to a meeting today,” she said, not wanting to go into the details. “I’ve missed you so much!”

“Are you kidding? I can’t live without you,” Andrew said.

“I can’t live without you, either,” Fiona said, clutching his hands tighter.

“Fi, I don’t think I can go on much longer,” Andrew said sadly. “We have to make a decision.” He was saddened to notice how thin his beloved Fiona was, the stress of his incarceration was obviously making her physically ill. As beautiful as she was, she didn’t appear to be eating regularly.

“Shush, Andrew, listen to me,” Fiona said, not liking where he was heading. “I’ve been visiting you!” she said brightly. “Every night!”

“What?” Andrew asked.

“You can’t see me but every night I’ve been leaving my body and visiting you in your cell.”

Looking pained, Andrew dropped his eyes and softened his grip of her hands.

“I can teach you!” Fiona continued excitedly. “We can visit together. Our astral bodies can go anywhere we want! If we can’t be together in the flesh, we can be together on the astral plane.”

“Stop it, Fiona, enough already,” Andrew said, pressing his grip tighter to get her attention. “I’m done.”

“What?” Fiona asked, her heart missing a beat.

“I’m done, I’m through with all this magic and supernatural stuff.”

“Andrew,” Fiona said, feeling a tsunami of tears about to well up. “We can’t give up.”

“Fiona, listen to yourself,” Andrew said, his heart hardening.

“You think I’m a crazy person?” Fiona asked tearfully.

“No, of course I don’t think you’re crazy!” Andrew answered. “I just can’t live in the same world you live in, Fiona. I’m not built the same way you are. I don’t see what you see or believe in what you believe. I don’t know what you’re talking about half the time.”

Pulling her hands closer, he stroked them. As his heart softened again, he took a deep breath before he spoke. “There’s nothing wrong with you. I adore you. I admire you for believing in magic and fairies and angels and astral bodies… but I can’t. I’m the one with the problem, sweetheart. I’m the one that’s blind and can’t see what you see. I’m not as strong as you are…”

“Of course you are!” Fiona argued.

“I’m not, Fiona, trust me, I’m not. It’s the one thing I admire in you and the one thing I hate to admit to myself. I’m not as strong as you are. I can’t do this any longer. It’s killing me. Maybe it’s killing us both, I don’t know.”

Willing himself not to crumble into a heap and cry, Andrew watched with a broken heart as the tears fell from her face.

“I won’t survive without you, I know that,” he continued softly, “but I can’t go on pretending that we’re together when we’re not. That’s more painful to me than not having any hope, at all.”

“We can be together,” Fiona said tearfully. “I can teach you. We can fly!”

“Fiona, listen to me,” he said urgently. “Twelve years! You’ll be almost 30!” he said with emphasis, pleading to her logical mind. “I want you to forget about me. Carry on with your life. I’m a weight around your neck and it kills me to think that I’m destroying you.”

“Andrew, stop,” Fiona pleaded. “I will never let you go.”

For fear that he would fall into a helpless and broken bundle onto the floor, Andrew stood up. With a heavy heart he signaled to the guard that the visit was over. “I’m so sorry, Fi. Forgive me my weakness. I will always love you.”

Fiona felt helpless as she watched the guard escort Andrew out of the room. Remaining seated as the door closed, she watched Andrew vanish from her life. That’s it, she thought to herself; this is the end. Right then and there, she felt like her life had just ended.

Remember this moment, she thought. This is the moment, the very moment where all meaning is vanquished from my life. This is the very moment where I cease to live. Even if I do continue to survive, from this moment on, I won’t be living… I’ll merely be existing.

[]Chapter 14

 

In their prison cell, Henry studied at the desk while Andrew lay in bed. “Do you need help?” Henry asked, turning his head slightly.

“What kind of help?” Andrew asked back.

“Help with depression. Do you need to see someone?”

“No,” Andrew answered like it was an idiotic suggestion. “I don’t suffer from depression.”

“You spend your time moping and laying around in bed. You appear to have no energy. You never smile or laugh or talk. You have no ambition or goals, you’re clearly depressed.” At Andrew’s failure to respond, Henry continued, “It’s no disgrace. Pretty much everybody suffers from depression in here. Goes with the territory,” Henry said. “I don’t agree with medication but if you need something, antidepressants or whatever…” he said kindly, “you have to speak up or they’re not going to do anything about it.”

“I don’t need antidepressants, thank you very much,” Andrew replied.

“If you’re bored you can volunteer for work detail. I help out in the library,” Henry suggested. “Breaks up the day.”

“Am I bothering you?” Andrew asked. “Getting on your nerves or something?”

“Just trying to help, bro,” Henry answered. “If you were hurting, I’d want you to tell me about it, you know?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” Andrew answered, shifting his position on the bed.

“When was the last time you took a shower?” Henry asked as he got a whiff of Andrew’s smelly feet.

“Are you kidding? That place is so foul, I feel dirtier just being there.”

“Andrew, we all know that this place sucks but you’ve got to roll with it, okay?” Henry said. Figuring that Henry was not going to get off of his case unless he made some kind of change, Andrew decided to get up, just to shut the guy up.

Sliding off the bed and landing on his feet, Andrew looked around for his towel.

“What are you looking for?” Henry asked, surprised at the kid’s sudden shift in mood.

Finding his towel, Andrew slipped into his shoes. “I’m going to take a shower,” he said and left. Slinging his towel over his shoulder he caught the attention of Duke who watched him leave.

Once in the shower room, Andrew tried to ignore the filthy state of the place. There were dark stains on the walls and floor, discarded shampoo bottles, shower caps, body hair, and what looked like used condoms on the floor. Andrew chose the cleanest-looking shower stall that he could find and began to undress.

“Well, well, looky what we have here,” he heard a familiar voice from behind. Turning around to see Duke and two of his cronies sent a wave of panic through Andrew’s body.

“You would have done exactly the same, admit it,” Andrew said, trying not to sound as scared as he felt.

“Friends don’t let friends escape alone, do they, shithead?” Duke asked.

“If I came back for you, then I would have gotten caught,” Andrew countered.

“Looks like you got caught, anyways,” Duke said, smiling. “What’s it feel like, to be back among friends, huh?”

“One on one,” Andrew then said, knowing what was about to happen. “Me and you.”

“Mano a mano, bro?” Duke asked sarcastically. “Seriously?”

“Are you chicken?” Andrew asked, positioning himself for a fistfight.

“I ain’t chicken, bro, but we don’t have time for that shit, either, do we, assfuck?” Duke said, checking behind for any sign of guards or interference.

Taking his chance to make a run for it, Andrew ran past Duke but was easily caught by Malice. Andrew pushed the big guy away but the three gang members were on him so fast, that he didn’t stand a chance. They pummeled him with blows to his head and torso.

Falling to the ground, Andrew received a nasty kick to the stomach. As they kicked him with all of their strength, he did his best to shield his face and head. In response to the savage beating he was receiving, his body went into shock.

Even though it lasted less than a minute, time for Andrew slowed down as he began to lose consciousness. Unable to maintain his body in a curled-up defensive position, Andrew’s form loosened. As if channeling all their angst and rage into their feet, the gang members didn’t hold back. “Okay, let’s go, that’s enough,” Duke said, more concerned about being caught than fearing for Andrew’s condition.

“Rat us out, punk, and you’re a dead man,” Duke said to Andrew as they left. Now unconscious, Andrew had no chance of hearing him.

Waking abruptly from her afternoon nap, Fiona sat upright in bed. “Andrew?” she said out loud.

 

Nurses and doctors bustled around Andrew as he was wheeled into the emergency room. Taking his vitals and hooking him up to blood and IV feeds, the medical staff acted as if his life was on the line. “We’re losing him!” one of the doctors yelled as a nurse connected Andrew to an EKG. “Prepare defibrillators,” he commanded as he performed manual compressions on Andrew’s chest and desperately tried to keep the kid alive.

 Remotely aware of the mayhem of his surroundings, Andrew felt remarkably removed from it all. He felt an inner peace that, under the circumstances, seemed extraordinary. As if finding himself in outer space, everything became still and quiet.

When he opened his eyes, his vision at first, was blurred. When he tried to focus, he couldn’t. He felt like he wasn’t in control of his eyes. In some strange way, he wasn’t focusing with the lenses of the eyes; it was as if his eyes were his mind. What he saw when his vision became clear, shocked him.

As if seeing everything around him all at once, he felt like he was in the air, floating. Below him, on the bed, he could see his own body. Stunned by the bloodied and broken mess that his body was in, he didn’t feel scared or panicked. He felt only compassion… and peace. Looking down at the body on the bed, as if he were looking at someone else, he felt only love.

Although the body looked familiar, Andrew didn’t feel a sense of ownership. “I” am not down there, he thought; “I” am up here. It was a bizarre, yet weirdly familiar feeling. He had never felt so light and peaceful. Enjoying the experience very much, he didn’t fear for his body’s welfare. Even though there was nothing but mayhem below him, everything seemed right with the world.

The frenzied nurses and doctors looked like they were performing in a stage play. Fully committed to their roles, they gave one-hundred-percent to what they were doing. In fact, the same could be said for every person on the planet, he noticed, when he expanded his vision to take in humanity: everyone was totally committed to their role in life. Every actor in the drama of life was turning in a very fine performance, he thought. Yes, that’s all that it is, he concluded: a performance. It’s so beautiful, he decided. Why am I up here? he then wondered.

Was he experiencing a kind of out of body experience that Fiona was telling him about?

“Clear!” the doctor yelled as he engaged the defibrillators on Andrew’s chest. As if vacuumed back into his body with great force, Andrew felt slammed into severe physical pain and panic. I’m back in my body, he thought. The sounds that the machines and the staff were now making sounded so loud and intolerable, it was like a war just broke out around him. His body felt unnaturally heavy and he was in terrible agony. The increasingly loud noise and the raw pain and the intense fear were so brutal and unmanageable, that Andrew lost consciousness.

 

The next time that Andrew woke up, he wasn’t sure if he were dreaming or awake. His head felt so muddled and his vision so blurred, that he could vaguely make out his surroundings. His body was now lying on a hospital bed in a ward shared by maybe five or six other patients. He did not have the strength to raise his head to see anything more. Sitting on a chair by the wall, a uniformed officer sat reading upon a computer tablet.

A nurse checked the IV drips hanging by the bed. He couldn’t make out if she was looking at him or ignoring him to concentrate on her task. He tried to speak but he couldn’t open his mouth. He didn’t seem to have any control over his vocal cords.

“Mr. Cox,” a male voice said as a doctor came into view. “I’m glad you’ve decided to rejoin us; it was touch and go there for quite some time,” he kindly said as he read from his chart.

Turning his head to see the doctor more clearly took great effort. Andrew could only manage a slight improvement in his view. Speaking too fast for Andrew to fully process, the doctor continued. “You have suffered serious trauma and quite frankly, you’re lucky to be alive. Apart from fractures to several of your ribs, you’ve sustained substantial injury to most of your internal organs, most especially your spleen and kidneys. Expect to be with us here for quite some time,” he said.

Andrew noticed that the doctor glanced sideways to the guard as he spoke. “As a police custody patient please be assured that you will get the best treatment, equal to any other patient that we attend to, here at this facility. Do you have any questions?”

The question most pressing on Andrew’s mind was how long he was to be hospitalized. Unable to form the question with his mouth, Andrew struggled in vain.

“Depending on your responsiveness to treatment, I expect the length of your stay to be measured in weeks rather than days. Was that your question?” the doctor asked when he saw Andrew relax his struggles. Andrew nodded his head, yes, but he wasn’t sure if it could be seen by others.

“Main thing is not to worry about a thing. Concentrate on your healing. Get complete rest and avoid stress at all costs; you think you can do that?” the doctor asked but didn’t wait for a response. “Excellent,” he said, making a final note on the chart. handing off the chart to an attending nurse, the doctor went on to his next patient.

 

Fiona looked furtively out her bedroom window. She waited until her father drove through the gates and onto the street. Quickly dressing in a long-sleeve cotton shirt and a pair of jeans, she ran to the door. Turning the knob, she got a terrible shock: her bedroom door wouldn’t open. Turning it this way and that, she thumped the door in frustration. Her father must have locked it from the outside.

Seeing a note that had been slipped beneath her door, she picked it up and opened it: BACK SOON. DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID. LOVE YOU, DAD.

Scrunching it up into a ball, she threw it angrily across the room. After her last escape, he had warned her that on prison visiting day he would lock her inside. Realizing the hopelessness of her situation, she was incensed. Her father was now treating her like a prisoner in her own home. Fatigued due to her weight loss and inability to focus upon anything other than developing the ability to astral travel nightly and see Andrew on visiting day, she no longer speculated about her father’s intentions.

I’m going to see Andrew today if it kills me, she declared. She looked out of her bedroom window for a possible escape route. Judging the distance from the far window to the drain to the roof of the conservatory below, Fiona considered her options. Opening up fully the end window of her bathroom, she stuck her head out. She mentally measured the distance against what she considered to be her physical capabilities. I can do this, she said, pumping herself up.

Trying not to look down, she plucked up her courage. Taking solid hold of the window frame, she stepped out onto the window ledge below. Reaching out to her right, she grabbed hold of the drain and shimmied closer to it. Adjusting her body position so that she could jump to the conservatory roof below, she shrieked when she almost lost her balance.

One, two, three, she counted and then made the leap. She landed on the tiled roof with a thud. She steadied herself and took a deep breath before taking another step. Grabbing hold of the drain near the gable, she lowered herself down. As soon as her feet were close enough to the ground, she closed her eyes and let go.

When she landed safely, she was so pleased with herself that she fist-pumped the air. “Yes!” she said out loud. Once in her car, she turned up her music. A girl on a mission, she drove with purpose through the city streets to rendezvous with the one she loved.

Once through security, she took her place in line at the busy visitors’ check-in window. “Andrew Cox,” she said to the female officer behind the glass. Knowing the routine, she prepared to show her identification.

“That name isn’t on here,” the officer said, looking on her computer screen.

“Cox,” Fiona repeated and spelled it out in case there was a communication error, “Andrew.”

“I heard you the first time, miss,” the officer said, looking like she was bored already. “That prisoner isn’t here no more, that’s all I’m allowed to tell you.”

“He was released?” Fiona asked hopefully, even though she realized how much wishful thinking inspired her question. “Was he transferred?” she then quickly asked. “Why would he not be here anymore?”

“I don’t have that information and if I did, I’m not at liberty to say. You need to take it up with admissions, next?” the officer said and looked past Fiona to the long line that had formed behind her. “Next?” she said again, looking at Fiona as if to ask why she was standing in the way.

“Okay, thank you,” Fiona said weakly. As she stepped aside, she wondered what her next move should be. Unable to see a sign that said, “Admissions,” Fiona got in line for the “Information” window.

“Miss?” a soft female voice said from behind. Fiona turned to see a young Hispanic woman approach her.

“Yes?” Fiona asked, wondering if the young woman had maybe left something at the window.

“Last time they took my husband from inside, they no tell me where they take him,” the woman said. “They gave me run around, also.”

“Oh, did you find him?” Fiona asked. “Where they had taken him?”

“Eventually,” the young woman said, her tone suggesting that it was a nightmare. “They take him to hospital.”

“Oh,” Fiona said, surprised and panicked by the implications. “Was he alright?”

“He was in a fight; they hurt him pretty good,” the woman said sadly.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Fiona said sympathetically. “Which hospital was it?”

“County hospital,” she answered, pointing in the direction. “Not many blocks from here. Maybe you check there.”

“Thank you so much,” Fiona said gratefully. “If it’s so close, it’s definitely worth checking out.”

“They give him different name,” the woman said just as Fiona was leaving. “They don’t want you to find him. They would not let us visit to see him.”

“Wow,” Fiona said, seeing in the woman’s eyes how difficult and painful the experience was for her. “They wouldn’t let his family come visit. That’s effed up.” Fiona patted the young woman’s arm and her eyes filled with tears of compassion.

Fiona knew in her soul that the woman was right about where Andrew had been taken. She left the building and, in the hot sun, walked towards the hospital. If they had changed his name for the hospital record, she wondered how she was going to find him, never mind get to visit with him. How would she get past security? How would she find what name they had him registered under? What was she going to do?

Unanswered questions rebounded about in her brain as she entered the hospital grounds. Looking at the passing pedestrians gave her a hint of how she could answer some of them. It became immediately clear that doctors, nurses and staff could move freely within the buildings, without being hassled by security. Although many of them wore identity badges, if she could somehow get hold of a staff uniform, she might be able to walk about unchallenged within the main hospital itself.

I need to get hold of a nurse’s outfit, she told her subconscious. Trusting that the universe would provide, she continued on her walk. As she did so, she remained alert and watchful for any signs or clues that could answer her need.

Stopping still in her walk, she noticed something in her peripheral vision. A rack of clothes stood outside what looked like a used clothing store. When she walked closer, she could see a sign above that said: Second Time Around: Thrift Store.

It was what she needed. Entering the crowded, ramshackle store, she headed straight toward the ladies clothing racks. She knew before she found them what she was going to find: lots and lots of used hospital uniforms. Grabbing some matching white outfits that might fit, she took them into the fitting room. Selecting the closest to her in size, she checked herself out in the mirror.

Smiling the broadest smile that she had smiled all week, she marveled at how well she looked in a nurse’s outfit. Damn, but you look good, she said to her reflection. With new-found confidence and a spring in her step she left the store as a petite, attractive nurse.

Attracting some complimentary looks from passing males, she walked into the main hospital. Breezing her way past security, she smiled at the guards as if they were her close friends. Scanning every sign in sight for the right direction, she landed at the elevators. As other hospital staff gathered around her, she instructed her subconscious mind to lead her to the right floor.

Lead me to Andrew, she commanded to herself.

Once in the elevator, she calmed her mind as best she could and watched as the lights on the panel counted upwards. There were four floors but she didn’t get a sense that the first three held any reward for her. Once on the fourth floor, and not wanting to appear indecisive, she left the elevator and took a hard right.

It was a wrong turn: straight ahead was a nurse’s station where nurses were gathered, chatting. She knew right away that if she proceeded any further she would be challenged by the very people that could easily blow her cover. Stopping at a doorway of a private room, she lifted a medical folder from the clear plastic holder on the wall by the door. She checked it out as if it was her task. Taking the folder with her, she returned back towards the elevators.

“That’s weird,” a nurse at the station said, having witnessed Fiona’s theft.

“What?” another nurse asked, looking around to see what she just missed.

“That nurse just grabbed Watson’s medical file and walked off with it.”

“Oh,” the other nurse said, “maybe Dr. Sarkasian requested it?”

“Maybe,” the nurse replied, looking not entirely convinced.

Turning the corridor, file in hand, Fiona used it as a prop. Slowing down in her walk every now and then, she pretended to read it while stealthily scanning her surroundings. When she saw an officer with a Sherriff’s badge grab himself some coffee at a vending machine, she felt hopeful. She knew that she was close. Andrew was nearby; she could sense his proximity.

She looked through the glass at a body at the end of the ward that lay low in the bed. She could see neither head nor legs nor even deduce its sex but deep within her, she knew that it was Andrew.

Imagining herself to be a working nurse, she entered the ward. As she got closer, she took a deep breath and preparing herself mentally for whatever messed up condition he may be in. What would a nurse do that could get her close enough to him so that they could talk without them being found out, she wondered? Looking around one last time to check where the staff were positioned, she gave herself the all-clear to approach him.

She walked to the end of the bed and pulled the chart. Stalling for time, she pretended to study the line-by-line entries. Drifting her eyes to look past the chart, her heart briefly stopped. Andrew’s face looked horrific. Distorted with inflammation and nasty, multi-colored bruises, bandages covered most of his head. Oh, Andrew, she felt like saying out loud, you poor thing, what did they do to you?

Willing herself not to give in to a strong impulse to lie down on the bed beside him, she held the chart firm in her hands. Wanting desperately to hold him and hug him and kiss his face a thousand and more times, she struggled with her desires. As she stood motionless, for what seemed to her like a long time, she talked herself down. Pull yourself together, she told herself, knowing that if she got caught now, she would never get to see him.

“And how are we doing today?” she asked cheerfully, finally moving to his bedside.

With a sudden burst of recognition, Andrew’s eyes opened wide.

“Shush,” she said quickly as his lips began forming to say her name. “Have you taken any liquids today?” she asked, fooling around with his IV drip.

“No,” Andrew said, surprised beyond reason. “I mean, yes,” he then corrected himself.

“I need to take your pulse,” she said, lifting up his left wrist. She got a fright when she saw that he was handcuffed to the bed-rail. “You okay with that?” she asked, recovering from her shock.

“Absolutely,” Andrew answered, unable to prevent a broad smile breaking out on his face. “Ow, that hurts,” he then said, realizing that that was the first time he had smiled since his hospital admission.

Pretending to have a watch, Fiona did her impression of a nurse reading a patient’s pulse.

“I left my body,” Andrew said loud enough for only her to hear. “I think my heart stopped for like a few seconds. Maybe I died, passed out or something but I did that thing that you were talking about. I left my body!”

“You went out of your body?” Fiona asked. “You could look down at yourself?

“Yes!” Andrew answered.

“That’s so fantastic, sweetie,” Fiona said, forgetting herself for a second. Seeing a doctor and nurse visit the bed at the end of the ward quickly sobered her up.

“He’s doing his rounds,” Andrew said, following her look. “We don’t have much time. I’m going to escape.”

“What?” Fiona asked with concern. “You need to take it easy and get lots of rest,” she said more formally as the officer returned to his chair.

“Listen,” Andrew whispered urgently. “This is a regular hospital; much easier to escape from here…”

“Your vital signs are improving,” Fiona said, shifting her position.

“I have it worked out,” Andrew continued. “The 28th of this month; they’re replacing all the TVs in here with flat screens. There’s going to be lots of workers and things being moved around and stuff…”

Fiona turned her back as she watched the doctor and nurse move to another bed.

“Meet me on the cliff at sunset,” Andrew said, “the 28th.”

“I will,” Fiona said, a tear about to trickle from her eye.

“Don’t go till I call you,” Andrew said quietly.

“My dad took my phone,” Fiona whispered.

“Everything okay there, nurse?” the officer asked from his chair.

“Yes, of course,” Fiona replied politely. “Low blood pressure,” she then said.

“Okay,” Andrew said softly, thinking quickly. “Look out your window at the tree just outside your gate.”

“The tree?” Fiona asked quietly.

“If you see a white sheet tied to a branch, you know I’ve made it,” he whispered.

“A white sheet on the 28th,” Fiona softly said, as much to herself so as not to forget as an acknowledgment to Andrew.

“If I don’t make it…” Andrew said, looking down at the approaching nurse and doctor, “I’ll leave my body. For good.”

“Oh, Andrew,” Fiona said, fiddling pointlessly with a blood pressure monitor.

“Otherwise, what’s the point?” Andrew said.

“If I don’t see the white sheet,” Fiona said, her tears now flowing freely, “so will I. I will leave my body to meet you.”

“We can fly to the heavens, together,” Andrew said smiling. “Just like you said we could.”

“I want so much to fly with you, my darling,” Fiona said.

“I love you, Fi,” Andrew said and then noticed the officer looking curiously at them. “You need to go,” Andrew then said urgently as he got up from his chair. “Now.”

“I love you too, my soul mate,” Fiona said as she gently touched his face and left.

The officer watched with suspicion as Fiona left the ward.

“Low blood pressure,” Andrew said, attracting the officer’s attention. “The least of my worries, right?”

The officer checked that Andrew was still cuffed to the bed rail and once satisfied, returned to his chair. He did not see the startled look on Andrew’s face as he watched Fiona walk boldly back in and head directly towards him.

“You need to read this,” she said imperiously as she extended a brochure to Andrew. “It explains the dangers of having low blood pressure.”

“Thank you, nurse,” Andrew said as he took the brochure from her hand. Glancing at the officer, he again noticed his interest. He also noticed that the doctor and nurse had made their way to the bed beside him. “Could you get me a bedpan, please,” Andrew asked Fiona loudly. “Urgently,” he added, as if telling her to scram fast.

“Of course,” Fiona said as she winked with her hidden eye and quickly scarpered away.

“Nurse!” the doctor called as Fiona was walking out the door.

“She’s gone to get me a bedpan,” Andrew quickly interjected.

Falling for the ruse, the doctor resumed his checkup on the neighboring patient. Making sure that the officer’s attention was not on him, Andrew looked at the brochure. It was a general brochure about the hospital which Fiona must have grabbed from one of the information desks. Hiding inside were three twenty-dollar bills. Boy, I so love that girl, he said to himself and smiled.

Prior to Fiona’s visit, Andrew had been planning an escape. Now that she was also on board, he was determined to make it happen. Running a mental checklist in his head, he calculated what he needed to have it be a success. In order to determine his requirements, he realized that he needed to start with the escape end result first and then run it backwards.

What would the escape look like, exactly?

In his head he imagined the day in question. Workmen would be installing TVs, running cable and generally getting in the way of patients and staff. Although the workmen may be a distraction, there were still two main problems for Andrew to solve: number one, getting out of the handcuffs and number two, evading the officers who rotated on a 24/7 watch.

Getting himself out of the handcuffs turned out to be easier than he expected. The problem solved itself when a nurse dropped the tube of ointment that she was using. When Andrew later found it among the sheets, he got some on his fingers. Noticing how slick and gel-like it was, he knew right away that that was how he was going to slip his left hand right out of the metal handcuffs. Probably concerned about his wounds, the guard seldom put the cuffs on very tightly. By smothering his left hand in the gel, he was sure he could squeeze his hand and slip it out without too much trouble.

Once free of the handcuffs, he would bide his time to make a getaway. The guards seldom left the chair, even when switching with each other in shifts. The longest time that he had seen any guard be away was when the day guard took a bathroom break after lunch. Presumably that was the time of day that he moved his bowels. Upon his return, the guard seldom, if ever, made a physical check of the handcuffs. Instead, he usually looked over to see if the bed was still occupied.

What Andrew needed to do for the next several days was to get into the habit of resting in the bed in a certain way. If the officer was only looking for a body beneath the blankets, then, on escape day, he could replace his body with pillows and the guard would be none the wiser. The ruse would at least give him enough time to flee the hospital and lose himself into the city. As well as stashing away a white sheet, to take with him on the day, he would ask for extra pillows.

Making sure not to be released before the planned escape date, Andrew determined to constantly ask the doctor for a possible return to prison date. As his body got stronger he decided that he would also ask that the guard escort him around the hospital corridors so that he could get some exercise. By so doing, he would check out his best escape route and regain some strength. He would also make a note of what other rooms were on the floor that might contain anything useful, like uniforms or street clothes.

He would also check out where the other patients on the ward kept their stuff. Already, he could see where he could grab some house slippers and even a few pairs of shoes. Robes hung by their beds, one or two of which he could maybe turn inside out to make them look like an overcoat.

Freedom, here I come, he said to himself as he nodded off for his afternoon nap.

[]Chapter 15

 

Fiona very much wanted to be excited about the escape being planned by Andrew but in her heart, she felt nothing but despair. She was worried that he would get caught, hurt or even killed in his attempt. Unusually for her, she couldn’t see a silver lining.

If he got caught, he would get an even heftier sentence than the one that he was currently serving. They could also send him to a maximum security prison, or a facility outside of town, where visiting might be curtailed or not even allowed. Should he persist in his escape attempts, he could very possibly spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Her anxiety about the impending escape day made it practically impossible for her to sleep at night. Even if he was successful in his attempt, what kind of life could they have together? Their earlier, short-lived adventure to secure a new life for themselves had ended disastrously.  Their dreadful flight to Kansas was clear proof that a life on the run was really no kind of life, at all.

Spiraling into a deep depression, Fiona lost all appetite. She lost even more weight, which her body could ill-afford to shed. Confined mostly to her bedroom, she spent her day drifting in and out of daydreams and astral traveling. In fact, she found more comfort out of her body than imprisoned within it.

At night, she would visit Andrew. The novelty of the initial few visits had worn off, however. There was only so much visiting she could take when Andrew was mostly asleep or drugged up and oblivious to her presence. His broken body was still healing. Still, each night she would visit him in his hospital room. Seeing him asleep was better than not seeing him at all.

She liked to hold his hand as he slept. As she did so, she wondered what dreams was he dreaming? Did he dream of her each night, as she dreamed of him? Did he find a freedom in his dreams that he lacked in his day-to-day life? Or did his dreams haunt and disturb him? Judging by his pained facial expression, and the way that he ground his teeth, she feared the latter.

“I’m very concerned about you, pumpkin,” her father said when she walked to the kitchen to get some water. “You’re wasting away to nothing. What can I do to make you happy?” he asked with great warmth and concern. “If there’s anything at all I can do, I’d be glad to do it. Just mention it, I’ll do it, no questions asked.”

“There’s really nothing you can do that you haven’t done already, father,” Fiona answered as she poured herself a glass of water and sipped it.

Unable to ascertain her mood and possible implied accusation, Simon looked at her closely for any clues. “Do you hold me responsible for anything?” he asked. “For what went wrong between you two? I don’t blame you, if you do,” he said, struggling to connect.

“Why would I blame you, daddy? What did you do?” she asked.

“I’d like to know what you think I did,” he answered. “I feel like you’re holding something against me,” he said as he got closer to her. “Like you do blame me. But you won’t tell me and it’s tearing me apart inside, Fiona. It truly is. Won’t you at least talk to me?” he pleaded.

“My soul mate has been taken from me,” Fiona said, looking him straight in the eyes. “Without his eyes to see me, I don’t exist. Without his hands to hold and enrich me, the flesh withers from my bones. Without his smile to enliven me, I live without purpose. Without his lips to kiss me, I shrivel and die. Quite simply, without him I am nothing. Without him I expect to die.”

Hearing his daughter speak so dramatically made Simon sick to his core.

“No, there’s nothing you can do to make me happy, father, but I appreciate the sentiment,” Fiona continued. She then paused like there was something bothering her that she couldn’t put a finger upon.

“Are you okay, princess?” Simon asked and stared at his painfully thin child. Worried about her increasingly bizarre mood-swings and possible psychotic outbreaks, he felt at sea.

“No, I don’t think I am,” Fiona answered, frozen to the spot, as if she was afraid to move. “I think you need to take me to the hospital,” she said. Her eyelids fluttered and closed as she collapsed to the floor.

Unable to revive her, Simon called the family doctor who lived close by. Assured that he would be there in less than twenty minutes, the doctor told him to keep her warm. Carrying her to bed and covering her up, Simon took her temperature and her pulse. They both seemed normal.

When the doctor arrived, Fiona had regained consciousness. Requesting that Simon wait outside to give the girl some privacy, Doctor Weiss conducted a full examination.

“Is she going to be okay?” Simon asked nervously as the doctor left Fiona’s bedroom. Walking further down the corridor so as not to be heard, Doctor Weiss looked pensive. “Well, what’s wrong with her?” Simon asked more urgently.

“From my initial evaluation, and I suggest that you take her in for more extensive testing,” the doctor began.

“Yes, yes, of course,” Simon interrupted. “Tests for what, exactly?”

“Possible stress-induced cardiomyopathy and she’s lost a significant amount of her body weight,” Doctor Weiss answered.

“Stress?” Simon asked skeptically. “What kind of stress could she be under? She just hangs out at the house all day, every day?”

“She mentioned a boyfriend,” Doctor Weiss said delicately. “A recent breakup?”

“Yes,” Simon answered, wondering what that would have to do with anything. “She had something of an infatuation with a boy, puppy love and all that,” he said dismissively. “Haven’t we all?” he then asked.

“Indeed,” the doctor agreed but didn’t look too convinced.

“So, there’s something wrong with her heart?” Simon asked, getting back to the point. “What did you say it was?”

“Stress-induced cardiomyopathy,” the doctor repeated. “It’s a disruption of the heart’s normal pumping action, usually brought on by stress. In layman’s terms, it’s also called Broken Heart Syndrome.”

“Seriously?” Simon asked, almost smirking. “Broken Heart Syndrome? There’s such a thing?”

“It’s usually a temporary condition and quite treatable,” Doctor Weiss continued.

“Okay,” Simon said, seeing that the doctor was being serious. “What kind of treatment does she require?”

“Lots of rest, obviously,” the doctor said as he wrote out a prescription. “She can take this for her anxiety and maybe you could get her some of those over-the-counter meal replacement smoothie drinks. She doesn’t appear to have the appetite to eat proper meals. She is terribly thin but she’s never had other symptoms that suggest an eating disorder. Her loss of appetite is probably situational.”

“Yes, of course,” Simon said, taking the prescription from the doctor.

“She will get better, won’t she, doc?” Simon asked.

“As I say, the condition is usually temporary and could very easily reverse itself within the week. We’ll have her do more tests and take it from there, I would suggest. She really needs to gain some weight, too. Excessive weight loss can further stress the organs, particularly the heart.”

“Very good,” Simon said, grateful that it wasn’t anything more serious. “I appreciate you coming out on such short notice.”

Simon filled the prescription and did take his daughter for all the prescribed tests but there appeared little improvement in her condition. Fiona was getting so much rest that she was practically bed-ridden. Despite her idleness, Fiona’s stress levels did not decrease. Taking the meal replacement drinks didn’t seem to help much, either. She was losing more weight and her energy levels dropped to the point where it was a sublime effort for her to even get out of bed.

Worried sick that she was not going to pull out of it, Simon took her to the best specialists. He spent every evening in his meditation room, praying and doing ritual in the hopes that her health would improve. In his regular meetings with the serpent group, he asked that they hold both individual and group healing rituals on her behalf. Nothing seemed to help, however.

“Her health is in her hands,” Doctor Weiss confided in Simon. “We can’t will people to live and be healthy; that must come from her alone. If she has lost the will to live, well, then…” he said gravely, “there’s nothing you nor science can do for her, I’m afraid.”

 

Andrew had counted the days until finally the day had come: the 28th. His medical condition remained a concern to the staff; his internal organs were still not functioning to their full capacity. However, his poor condition had kept him away from the prison, so, for that, he was thankful.

He had watched out all day for the arrival of the TV workmen but by lunchtime they had still not arrived. Having told Fiona of the date, he felt committed to pull it off. All along, he had planned his escape to coincide with the after-lunch bathroom break of the officer. Workmen or no workmen, he was not going to call the effort to achieve his freedom and find meaning in his life.

Making sure that the nursing staff were either absent or preoccupied elsewhere in the ward, Andrew made his move. He squeezed the tube of ointment and liberally applied the gel to his left wrist. He kept an eye upon the officer who was reading on his tablet. Waiting for the best moment, Andrew pulled his left wrist that was secured to the handcuffs. It didn’t come free.

 Expecting it to be easier, his wrist soon began to hurt badly. He had to apply more and more gel to prevent his skin from peeling off as he scraped his hand against the handcuff. Pulling on it harder, the pain was so great that it caused his eyes to well up. Coming off, with a clunking sound from the bed-rail, a shooting pain shot up his arm. Remaining calm, he moved his body position to pretend that he had slammed into the bed-rail by mistake.

He looked over at the officer but the man didn’t seem too concerned. Andrew nursed his hurt hand and wrist as the reality of what had just happened sank in. Excited beyond belief, he had to force his lips from smiling. He was free. Nearly.

Andrew could feel his heart thumping in his chest. As he waited, his body flooded with adrenalin. Biding his time, until the officer decided it was time for his post-lunch longish bathroom break, Andrew’s body began to shake with nervousness. As the seconds passed, Andrew felt himself perspiring all over. “Go to the bathroom, go to the bathroom,” he chanted in his head to the officer.

When the officer finally put down his tablet and casually stood up, Andrew felt like shouting, Hallelujah! The officer cast one last look over at Andrew and then strolled away to the public bathroom down the hall.

Yes! Andrew exclaimed to himself. Grabbing the white sheet that he had saved for this very moment, he slid out of the bed. He then stuffed the spare pillows beneath the sheets to replace the form and shape of his body. He told himself not to be in a hurry as he made sure that it looked convincing and accurate.

Gingerly stepping to the next bed, where his neighbor patient slept, he slipped into the man’s shoes. Making sure that he wasn’t seen, he grabbed the man’s robe. Although the shoes were a few sizes too big, they would serve the purpose, he thought. As he turned to go, he saw that the patient was now looking at him with fully awake eyes.

Andrew froze and stared back at him. Was he going to reach for the bell to call a nurse? Silently praying that the patient wouldn’t call for help, Andrew placed a finger to his lips. With his eyes he pleaded that the man please stay quiet and don’t rat him out.

The elderly patient looked unsure for a moment and then didn’t move. As his face softened, Andrew felt hope. When the man nodded, yes, okay, Andrew gestured a sincere thank you. He then quickly turned heel.

Rushing in the opposite direction of the men’s public bathroom, he opened the door to the stairs. He bolted down them, two steps at a time. Once he got to the next floor, he stopped abruptly. A sharp pain pierced into his insides like an icepick. Doubled over in agony, he almost fell to the ground. The pain became so severe, he felt like he might actually pass out.

Willing the pain to go away, he took some deep breaths. As he slowly stood back up, the pain eased off. You can do this, he said, cheering himself on. Baby steps, baby steps, he then said, encouraging his feet to begin walking again. With slow progress he descended the stairs.

The officer would have returned from the bathroom by now, he reckoned. He looked up at the door where he had come from; it was still closed. Half expecting it to open, and the officer to come charging down, he said a silent prayer. Let’s pray that the pillows are as convincing as I think they are, he added. Hoping against hope that the officer was now rejoining his book on his tablet, and not suspecting a thing, Andrew moved on. He held the stair rail as he made his gradual descent.

Stopping at the base of the stairs on the ground floor, he took some more big breaths. He stopped breathing completely when the door opened. A nurse dressed in scrubs came through the door. She turned on her way to climb the stairs. “Are you okay?” she asked, a look of surprise to see him standing there.

“Yes, fine,” Andrew answered, turning his face down so as not to be identified. Seeing some cigarettes lying about on the ground, he stomped on one, as if putting it out. “I need to give these up,” he said, smiling guiltily.

“Yes, you should,” the nurse said, her face looking disturbed by his comment. “You could also face a major fine. Smoking anywhere on the hospital grounds is a big no-no,” she said judgmentally as she hurried on her way. Briefly wondering if she might report him, Andrew quickly exited the door to the front lobby.

Andrew paused to check out the scene and to see if he was being noticed by security personnel. He was pleased that the lobby was busy with people trundling about; it was business as usual. Heading towards the front door, he denied his impulse to make a run for it. A security guard watched him with interest. Don’t panic, he said to himself. Security guards are less concerned with people leaving the building than those coming in.

Stepping through the main glass doors and into the sunlight, he felt a huge relief. He took a left turn where the main road looked active with traffic. Two cars sat at a Taxi rank. He waved for the first taxi in line.

Oh, dear lord, I’m going to make it, he almost cried to himself. Afraid to even turn around to see who or what was behind him, he waited for the cab. Acting as normal and as unhurried as he could, he opened the rear door of the taxi.

“Is this for you?” the cab driver asked, perhaps a little thrown by Andrew’s dress code.

Not wanting to explain himself or delay with any kind of conversation, Andrew sat into the cab and pulled the door shut. “Pacific Palisades,” he instructed.

“You got it,” the cab driver said, pleased that the fare would be a decent one. “Just being released?” the driver asked, checking Andrew out in the rear view mirror as he pulled away.

“Yeah,” Andrew answered, looking around to see if there was any unusual commotion at the hospital entrance. “I just got released,” he said and beamed a huge smile of joy.

As the cab driver took a sharp turn, the movement caused another severe pain to Andrew’s insides. Winching with the severity of it, he pulled back the robe and saw fresh blood. One of his wounds had opened, but thankfully, it wasn’t a gusher, he considered. Rather than investigate any further, he placed his hand tightly on the wound.

Feeling weak and lethargic, he worried that he might pass out. Willing himself to stay awake and alert, he looked more closely at the passing traffic. If he paid special attention to his surroundings, he might stay more present in his body.

“Everything okay?” the cab driver asked, looking at Andrew in his mirror.

“Yes, fine,” Andrew replied. “Shouldn’t have had that pepperoni pizza for lunch.”

“I hear you,” the cab driver said.

 

Simon knocked on Fiona’s open bedroom door and entered. He watched her fondly as she slept. Pale and frail-looking, though still an ethereal beauty, her increasingly sunken cheeks gave her a scary, skeletal appearance. Simon placed the tray of food that he was carrying upon her bedside table and switched on her lamp. Waking with a start, Fiona looked around, as if panicked. “Made you some soup, pumpkin,” Simon said, lifting up a napkin for her to take.

“What time is it?” she asked urgently as she double-checked her calendar. Every day of the month was crossed off, right up until the 28th, which was circled in red. Looking out her window she could see that it was just past sunset.

“What is it?” Simon asked as Fiona tried to rise herself.

“I have to get to the window,” she said, struggling to get up. To her consternation, she didn’t have the strength to rise herself fully.

“Stay,” Simon said, standing. “I’ll go; what is it I should do?” he asked.

“Look out the window,” Fiona said.

“Look for what?” Simon asked as he got to the window.

“If there’s a white sheet tied to a tree, he’s escaped!” Fiona exclaimed.

“Escaped?” Simon asked, his anger triggered.

“Andrew,” Fiona said impatiently. “Is there a sheet tied to a tree out front? At the gate?” she asked desperately.

Looking in the direction he was asked, Simon could feel his blood begin to boil. He thought he had heard the last of that stupid kid. That feckless, moronic kid had gotten her into such an unhealthy mess. He not only destroyed their father-daughter relationship but the boy had destroyed her health, as well. Now he was back, this kid from hell; the kid that refused to stay away.

Simon stared ahead not wanting to believe what he was seeing. Wafting in the soft breeze, a white sheet hung from the low branch of the Magnolia tree.

“Well?” Fiona asked, trying to lift herself up. “Is it there?”

“No, sweetheart,” Simon answered sadly. “I don’t see anything. There’s nothing on any of the trees. I guess he didn’t make it.”

Falling back to the bed with a thud, Fiona felt bitter disappointment.

“I’m so sorry, princess,” Simon said, coming back to tuck her in. “I know how disappointed you must be feeling. Eat some soup,” he suggested. “Mark my words,” he then said sagely, “time really does heal all wounds. We all suffer broken hearts, kiddo. He’s your first, I know. It’s always the first that hurts the most. “Here,” he said, gently placing the food tray before her, “eat some soup.” Putting a spoon into her hand, Simon kissed her forehead and stood up. “I’ll be right back,” he said as he slipped out of the room to remove the sheet.

Looking listlessly ahead, her will to live now fully shattered, Fiona sobbed. “If I don’t make it, I’ll leave my body… for good,” Andrew had told her. Throwing off the food tray, it crashed to the floor, soup spilling all over. Fiona then lay back and closed her eyes, probably for the last time. “Don’t worry, Andrew,” she said out loud, “I’m coming.”

Wracked with guilt, anger and remorse, Simon pulled the sheet from the branch. What a stupid, lame-ass son of a… he said angrily. His heart softened when he saw heavy bloodstains on the cloth.

Looking up at Fiona’s window, he saw her light go off. The darkness of her room terrified him. If he kept to his present course and denied that the kid had made it, his daughter would surely give up all hope and die.

“What do I do, Alice?” he asked as he looked up towards the stars. “She’s made of the same stuff as you… what do I do?” he tearfully implored his dead wife. Realizing that if he wanted his only child to survive, he needed to give her that one thing—the only thing—that she so critically desired. As much as he detested the idea, he would have to allow his child to be with that kid, at least for the moment. The girl needed hope but once past her critical period, all bets would be off.

Fiona’s astral body lit up the room as it left its physical counterpart behind on the bed. Feeling now utterly vibrant and healthy, strong and liberated, Fiona’s spirit hovered above the bed. She looked down at the sad, thin, and emotionally beat up, flesh and blood shell that had once housed her consciousness. “Thank you,” she said with genuine gratitude. “You have served me well. I’m so sorry for leaving you in such poor condition.”

The silver thread of light was the last thing that connected them now. Wondering how best to sever the strand of energy connecting her soul to her physical body, Fiona instinctively knew that she had but to wish it be so. Turning her attention to tune into Andrew, she quickly changed her mind about connecting with him. If she thought of him, she felt that she might go directly to him while still connected to her body on the bed. That wouldn’t be the right thing to do, if he had already left his physical body and were now free. She realized that she must first leave her flesh body behind. Forever. She began to pray.

 

Andrew stumbled through the wooded path that led to the cliffs overlooking the ocean. As the wound around his spleen had opened more and more, he was now losing a lot of blood. With his eyes focused ahead, his determination was the only thing that forced his body forward. He was in no condition to be standing, let alone walking through a wooded park.

Spreading his fingers wide over the wound, to prevent further blood loss, he willed himself to make it to the rendezvous spot. Light-headed and weak, his eyesight began failing him. Nevertheless, with blurry vision, he trundled west towards the ocean. Fiona, I’m coming, he thought and tried to send the knowledge to her.

He knew that he had made it when he saw a familiar cleared area. Several candles were strewn about; the very ones that Fiona liked to use. The view of the sky and the ocean was dramatic as he stopped to drink in the success of his accomplishment. Free, he told himself; free at last. While taking in his next breath of freedom, his body collapsed to the ground.

 

Fiona hovered and said a final goodbye to the world that she was about to leave behind. Looking around the room, she thanked the house for providing her with shelter all these years. Giving appreciation to her father, she said a silent prayer that he be well, always. She then turned her attention to the body on the bed and thanked it, again, with deep love and grace.

About to make her final command on earth, she then took the silver cord of energy in her etheric hands. I wish to separate, she began to say, but was interrupted as Simon burst through the door. “Fiona! Fiona!” he yelled as he carried the crumpled white sheet in both his hands.

Losing control, Fiona was sucked right back into her body with great force. Everything was dark and quiet.

“Fiona,” her father called again, shaking her awake. “The white sheet! It was on the tree! Just like you said it would be! Fiona,” he yelled again, shaking her madly. “The sheet! The sheet! Wake up!”

Fiona’s eyes opened.

“Oh, thank heavens,” Simon said and held up the sheet. “He made it, darlin’,” he said like a crazy person. “He’s here and he made it!” Weeping and distraught that his only child, his priceless Moon child, might die, he had come to a decision. He determined that that it was far better to keep his daughter alive by supporting her rather than to remain obstinate and lose her; in one brief second, Simon had made the biggest U-turn in his entire stubborn-minded life.

Smiling hugely at the white sheet before her, Fiona felt a new-found surge of energy run through her body.

“He made it!” Simon exclaimed tearfully. “Your boyfriend escaped!”

Heartened by hearing the word “boyfriend” come from her father’s mouth, Fiona smiled. “My boyfriend made it,” she softly repeated.

“What do we do?” he asked. “Where would he be? In the guest house?”

“No,” Fiona said, springing herself into action. “The cliff,” she said. “I’ve to meet him on the cliff.”

“I’ll take you,” Simon said, now totally on board. “Let me take you; you’ll never make it by yourself.”

“Okay,” Fiona agreed, knowing that she would not make it alone. “We must hurry.”

Driving hastily towards the park, Simon drove well over the speed limit. “Please, Goddess, be there,” Fiona said, clutching tightly the sheet to her chest. Seeing the blood on the sheet for the first time, she got a terrible fright. “Hurry,” she said urgently. “Please hurry, daddy!”

“Don’t worry, kiddo, we’ll find him,” Simon said.

Yes, but in what condition, Fiona thought to herself.

“Which way?” Simon asked as he parked as close to the hiking trail as he could.

“Towards the cliffs,” Fiona said, jumping out of the car. Feeling dizzy once her feet hit the ground, she steadied herself by holding the car door.

“You’re not going to make it walking,” Simon said. “Stay here and I’ll go,” he suggested.

“No,” Fiona said firmly. “I will make it!” she said with clenched teeth. Stepping away from the car, her feet buckled. She fell to the ground.

“Get on my back,” he said as he scooped his daughter up. “I’ll carry you.”

“A piggyback?” Fiona asked as her father stooped down for her to jump on.

“Yeah, it’ll just be like old times,” he said lovingly.

“Okay,” she said, hopping up on his back.

“See?” he said, straightening up. “You’re as light as a feather.”

“That way,” she said pointing. “Just follow the path.”

Running through the woods with Fiona bouncing up and down on his back, Simon smiled. There was no one else in the entire wide world that he would rather be with. There was no other place he would rather be than running through the woods with his daughter on his back. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so close to his little girl.

“There he is!” Fiona yelled and slid down off her father’s back. Lying face down on the dirt, Andrew looked like he was no longer of this world. “Andrew!” Fiona cried as her legs went from beneath her. She fell on top of him. “Andrew! Wake up!” she said as she shook him.

Kneeling down, Simon placed his fingers on Andrew’s neck to check for a pulse.

“Oh, Andrew,” Fiona cried, “I’m here now. We’re together!”

Trying hard to concentrate, Simon pressed his fingers harder.

“He’s not gone,” Fiona sobbed, “he can’t be! Andrew!” she yelled in his face. “Come back! Come back, do you hear me?”

“I think I felt something!” Simon said, adjusting his position.

“Andrew, I love you,” Fiona pleaded. “Don’t leave me here alone, do you hear? Don’t you dare leave me all alone,” she said, looking around to see if his spirit had already left his body. “I can’t live without you,” she continued. “You know I can’t live without you. I will come to you, I swear it, my love.”

Simon gasped in shock and horror to realize that she meant it. “I think he has a pulse,” he said frantically and pressed on Andrew’s chest while trying to remember basic CPR.

“Stop messing around, Andrew,” Fiona demanded. “I know you can hear me!”

“Yes!” Simon yelled, when Andrew’s body shuddered. “He’s alive! Bloody hell, he’s alive!” he said ecstatically.

When Andrew opened his eyes, he saw a familiar face. Staring directly at him with tears in her eyes, Fiona looked like she had been sitting waiting for quite some time. “Hello handsome,” she said with a smile. “Decided to join us, after all? I’m so glad.”

“Where am I?” he asked, realizing he was in a bed in a strange room that looked familiar.

“You’re back in the guest house,” Fiona said. She had a bit color in her cheeks now, had gained a few pounds, and was now looking more like her old self.

“You look beautiful,” Andrew said. “Have I told you lately how beautiful you look?”

“You’ve been asleep for a long time,” Fiona said, so delighted to have him back.

As his eyesight became clearer, Andrew could now see Simon chatting to Dr. Weiss in the background. “Your father?” Andrew asked like it was a question.

“It’s all different now,” Fiona said, “he supports us.”

“He does?” Andrew asked.

“He called you my boyfriend, I couldn’t believe it,” Fiona said happily. “More importantly, how are you feeling?”

“Like I just got run over by a truck,” Andrew answered drily.

“That sounds about right,” Simon said as he approached. “Glad to have you back, Andrew,” he said, as if he meant it.

“Thank you, sir,” Andrew said.

Pulling up a chair, Simon sat down facing Andrew. “I’ve spoken with the doc and he thinks that you would get better care in a hospital, obviously,” he said. “However, the good doctor is a friend of mine and he has agreed to treat you here. He’ll do the best he can but I have agreed that if you relapse, or if your condition gets worse, we’ll move you.”

“It won’t,” Fiona interrupted, feeling giddy with excitement.

“Don’t worry,” Simon continued, seeing a worried look appear on Andrew’s face. “If your condition does get worse, there are other avenues we can explore without including the authorities.”

“Oh, good,” Andrew said, as if remembering the whole sorry mess he had landed himself in.

“As for your legal concerns, I don’t want you to worry,” Simon continued.

“Daddy knows people,” Fiona said, unable to stop smiling.

“I have access to the best legal representation,” Simon said casually. “Talking to them briefly about your case, they assure me that they can find all kinds of angles and defenses to make it all go away.”

Andrew held Fiona’s hand while looking at her beautiful face. For a brief moment he considered that he might have died and gone to heaven. Listening to her father tell him that he was going to make all his troubles go away helped only to strengthen his uncertainty.

“Worst case scenario, some community service but nothing to concern yourself with. You concentrate on getting well,” Simon said and stood up. “You’re very welcome to our family,” he said and extended his hand for a handshake.

As Andrew took Simon’s hand, the young man couldn’t prevent a tear from falling down his cheek. Simon was surprised to feel himself emotionally moved. He shook the boy’s hand, then quickly dropped it.

“Thank you, sir, so much,” Andrew said softly.

“Simon. Call me Simon.”

“Yes, sir,” Andrew replied as Simon smiled, patted his daughter on the head and left the room. “I feel like I’ve just died and gone to heaven,” Andrew admitted.

“How do you know you haven’t?” Fiona asked sweetly. She then gave him a wink along with that mischievous smile of hers that Andrew adored so very, very much.

###

Check out the sequel to Simpatico: SYNERGY: We Are Stronger Together

Escaping from one prison only to end up in a different kind of prison, Andrew finds himself in a dilemma that doesn’t seem to have any easy answers. In order to share a happy life with Fiona, he must break free from the clutches of the secret society and the unwanted attentions of Fiona’s father, Simon.

For her part, Fiona finds herself growing up fast. In order to transition from a girl to a woman, she must commit to her own power and stand firmly in her own truth. Forced to decide between her father and her lover, she must face up to the truth about her father and make the one decision that may actually destroy her: stand by Andrew’s side, no matter what. It’s a decision whose outcome may destroy them both.

[]Author Bio

Dermot Davis is an award-winning playwright, having had plays performed in Dublin, Boston and Los Angeles. His creative work encompasses varied genres and styles — drama, comedy, and, more recently, sci-fi, with a special focus on human themes and characters transformed by life experience. A sometimes actor, he was formerly a child actor in Dublin, Ireland and the co-founder of the Laughing Gravy Theatre (which performed Irish Vaudeville and excerpts of Irish literary works as well as drama, including the original stage plays of Mr. Davis) where he and other members of the troupe were artists-in-residence at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. Visit his Author Page at http://www.dermotdavis.com.

[]Copyright Information

Simpatico Copyright © 2015 by Dermot Davis

http://dermotdavis.com

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical without the express written permission of the author. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without publisher permission is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized editions of creative works, and do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials. The publisher has no control over and assumes no responsibility for the author or third-party websites or their content. This book is not intended as psychological advice or treatment for any issues described within. Readers should consult an appropriate practitioner for mental health matters and psychological needs. This eBook is a work of fiction and the names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Similarity to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Davis, Dermot (2015-06-11). Simpatico. Kindle Edition.  

[] Other Books by Dermot Davis:

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Fatal Eclipse – Suspense/ Literary Fiction

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Zen and Sex – Humor/ Romance

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p<>{color:#000;}. The Younger Man – Contemporary Fiction/ Romance

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Brain: The Man Who Wrote the Book That Changed the World – Humor/Literary

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Stormy Weather: A Novel – Literary Fiction

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Mr. Psychic (with H. Raven Rose) – Contemporary Fiction/ Romance

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Encounter (with H. Raven Rose) – Humor/ Sci-Fi


Simpatico

Nothing prepared Fiona for the powerful feelings that overwhelmed her upon meeting the brooding and mysterious Andrew. When they decide to run away to escape her father's influence the stakes get higher and potentially fatal for both of them. As a member of The Order of The Wise Serpents, Fiona's father has connections and influence that extend across all levels and social strata of society. The lovers soon find themselves balanced precipitously between danger and desire. Intensely romantic and extremely suspenseful, Simpatico captures the struggle between defying the dictates of what others want for us and following the innate urgings of our own hearts and souls. This is a love story that takes no prisoners.

  • ISBN: 9781310353338
  • Author: Dermot Davis
  • Published: 2016-02-04 01:05:15
  • Words: 71500
Simpatico Simpatico