I didn’t remember whether any mention had been made by Richard about the Chevy having positraction. I learned that it did when Mary took off to head for the store. I watched the back end of the car disappear up Lobos Marinos until she took the corner heading north on South Ola Vista. She’d turned on the full-throated quality stereo in the rig and Herb Alpert and Tijuana Brass blasted out through her open windows. I looked down at the two short marks her chirping rear tires made on the concrete. Although she hadn’t wound the engine up to anything close to its maximum rpm she also hadn’t held much back. I was creating a new monster in the household without having had any warning. Bozo stared back at me from the thin green strip of grass that ran between the curb and the sidewalk as if his mind was thinking the same thing mine was.

The Tijuana Brass had been played at every morning gathering of my Basic Class at Quantico by Major Kramer, our battalion commander, and an enemy to me. I’d loved the Brass every morning but hated him, not having an understanding at the time that many of the military commanders I’d serve under were more like him than I’d have ever believed before serving. Before my wife had driven away I’d have never believed that the Herb Alpert stuff would always remind me of Kramer whenever I heard it played.

I wanted to get back inside to review the rest of the tape, as well as get out to the library to find out more about Dorothy Kilgallen. Aside from that, or in addition to it, I wanted to pull the artifact down and test it some more. The garage was filled with stuff like old cans of acetone, hydrogen peroxide (the twenty percent stuff not the two percent sold commercially), and more. The object looked like it had scuff marks and scrapes all over its surface, so did that mean it was something that could be pieced out or have small parts cut, sawed, or even torched off to test and examine further?

I walked back into the house and slowly made my way upstairs, the last two steps taking almost fifteen seconds to negotiate. I looked over at the bed Mary and I slept in. There were only the angled stairs attached to the side of a wall that extended up to four feet above the edge of the open-air bedroom, as the movie actor’s agent had described it. I noted that Mary had left my running outfit laid out and ready on the bedspread. I almost laughed at her optimism but knew inside myself that I wasn’t going anywhere except back to bed. Even Mary running around South Coast Shopping Center up in Santa Ana with Nancy, Mike Manning’s girlfriend, and Alice, my new secretary, sounded like it was well beyond my capability.

I couldn’t even remember lying back on the bed when I awoke, staring at the beautiful wooden ceiling. I checked my Seiko and was surprised to see that I’d been down for four hours. There were no sounds in the house so I presumed my wife and her collection of friends and Julie weren’t back from South Coast yet. It was one in the afternoon. There was no way I was going out for a run and I’d already thought to pull myself off the beach patrol. I went downstairs to reheat the half-filled pot of coffee Mary had brewed in the early hours after getting up. I wasn’t in pain, despite the fifty, or so, small bruises all over my back, arms, and legs. The bush I’d landed in had provided a life-saving cushion for my landing but that assistance hadn’t been provided without a cost. The main problem I was having, and Doctor Forsch let me know in no uncertain terms, was lassitude. I was tired even after taking a four-hour nap.

Forsch knew that I was a go-getter, always on the move. Unfortunately, that enthusiasm also came at a cost, a cost my lungs couldn’t yet bear. I was tired because not enough oxygen was being processed through my lungs to provide sufficient energy to do much of anything but sit or lie around.
I drank down a full cup of coffee, having heated it only to a tepid state so I could down the whole thing. Even though I believed the doctor about why I was sleepy all the time, I couldn’t help taking an age-old fix for that, not that it could work in my condition.

Kilgallen loomed up in my thoughts as I reflected for the first time since the fire that once again I was still here on the planet and healthy, or reasonably so. The rest of the tape I didn’t want to listen to held what? Kilgallen had been assassinated. I presumed that the rest of the tape was nothing more or less than a detailed list of who else had paid the ultimate political price for some violation or other. I just could not summon up the energy to take any more negative information into a damaged system that was already flooded with negative stuff. The CIA offer, agreed upon and concluded by the cash, seemed to be the only beacon of positive sunlight up ahead. I felt like I had to almost literally be pulled from the entire combination of circumstances I was involved with. The new police chief was a symbol of life’s strange new direction and, as with the first encounter I’d had with actual combat, I wanted to simply run away from him, the department, and most of the rest of my life in San Clemente.

Maybe I’d have the time and isolation to haul the artifact down from the hollowed-out heater in the garage and perform some experiments. I pushed the thought away. It was dangerous to do much of anything with that piece of some other dimension, or wherever. No tape, no artifact, no beach patrol, or much of anything else. I could still drive, however, and the pain medication Forsch had given me was a good reason to see Paul once again, if not for continued therapy then at least for trying to come to terms with the fact that I wanted to take some of the pills but had no pain. I knew the danger of such thinking and I also knew that if I was going to handle that kind of thinking myself, I would already have done so. The pills would already have been flushed down the drain instead of being buttoned into the pocket of the shirt I was wearing. Since Forsch handed me the full bottle there’d been no necessity in telling Mary I had them. I knew that was another indicator that I needed to talk to someone and I had only Paul for such a conversation, at least the way I saw it.

I drank a second full cup of the strong coffee, the first one having had no effect at all. I was still sleepy but not too sleepy to hear the strange melodious ringing sound of the doorbell. The old apartment had no doorbell, at least not one that ever worked. People coming by either knocked or simply came right in. Lobos Marinos was a whole lot more upscale in making me feel that such informality was a thing of the past.

I opened the door. A tall man stood before me, a big smile on his face and his right hand extended.

“Tony Herbert here,” he said and then walked right past me. I’d been so shocked I hadn’t extended my hand to shake his, not that he’d given me time.

Two other men moved around me and entered the living room. Both were technicians I noted, both wearing belts and carrying electronic equipment of some type or other.

“Go to work,” Herbert instructed them before turning back to me.

“They’re installing the listening devices required by the service. From now on all telephone calls coming into or going out of this place will be received and recorded at a distant location.”

“What the hell,” I breathed out. I was supposed to meet Herbert, my control officer, later on, according to Richard, but here he was.

“My wife’s not going to like this,” I said, wondering if my being so tired was causing me to offer almost no resistance to the man or this intrusion whatsoever.

“Your wife’s not going to know,” Herbert replied the same genuine but still strange smile playing across his facial features. “At least she won’t know unless she says something she shouldn’t.”

“My wife hasn’t signed aboard with the CIA or any other intelligence agency that I know of,” I replied, rather forcefully, not liking the direction things were taking right from the get-go.

“Hell, you haven’t signed aboard either, for that matter, but you’re aboard nevertheless,” Herbert said. “The paperwork will follow. Just the way it is.”

“Do I get to hear whatever’s said?” I asked, wanting to sit down but deciding that I wouldn’t let the big healthy guy in front of me see any weakness.

“Sure, they’ll leave a portal and show you how to use it any time you want.” Herbert laughed out loud when he said the words. “You can plug that cheap tape recorder you bought into the system and listen away but, having a bit more experience than you I’ll assure you that the listening will be boring as hell, or at least we all hope it will be.”

“You don’t trust me or my family?” I asked, in shock, not that the agency was going to listen to whatever was said but that Herbert knew all about the tape deck.

How could he or anyone in the agency have any idea about the existence of that machine, or, and the thought was a bit scary, about the tapes and what was on them?

“Welcome to the CIA, not that that’s important right now. I’m here about the plan.”

“What plan?” I asked, knowing I was sounding a bit dull and stupid.

“You just moved in,” Herbert replied, looking all around him. “You rent here and signed a lease, I presume before we could get together?”

I nodded, again dumbly.

“We’ll buy that out when your move is imminent, but we’ll get into that later. There’s also Charm School in New Jersey to schedule in, things whether you want to take your wife and daughter or have them precede you to your new place of residence.”

“New place of residence,” I murmured, still in shock. I’d been contemplating change and relieving myself of some of the problems I was shouldering but I was beginning to wonder about just how many new problems I would be replacing the old ones with. “Why can’t we just stay here?”

“No airport,” Herbert said, moving me toward the couch.

I knew I probably was as pale as a corpse. I wasn’t lightheaded but I also wasn’t myself.

“Airport?” I asked, sitting down and looking up at the elegant tall man standing in front of me.

“We’ve got to have you right close to a joint-use airport where civilian and military planes can land and take off without much incidence of observation and with plenty of runway. That’s not here.”

“Incidence,” I repeated, continuing to try to catch up with what the man was saying.

“You’ll need to get in and out from time to time,” Herbert replied, even though I hadn’t asked a question.

“The runway? That’s long because if you need to go someplace really fast then the kind of aircraft you’ll be in might need a considerable distance to take off or onto.”

My thoughts unavoidably turned to the kinds of planes that might fit into the classification Herbert was talking about but I couldn’t come up with a single model. It would have to take research since I wasn’t going to reveal anything to the man in front of me who’d taken over my new house and likely almost the entirety of my life for a twenty-thousand-dollar deposit.

“How do you feel, and how did it go with the cowboy up at the department?”

“I’m tired but okay, ”I replied, ignoring the part of his questioning that dealt with Gary Brown and the police department.

Without realizing it, I patted the pocket that held the bottle of pills Forsch had given me.

“Get rid of those, when you need something like them they’ll be provided and by a real doctor, not some small town backwoods hick.”

I jerked my hand down, embarrassed, and shocked. How could he know about the pills and how could he assume that I was thinking about taking some of them when I didn’t need to be taking them?

“Where?” I asked, trying to get away from any attention being paid to my consuming the pills.

“Where what?” Herbert replied, not meeting my eyes, instead continuing to examine everything he could see piled up in our living room

“Where are we moving to?” I said, becoming a little irritated that the man in front of me could know so much he shouldn’t have been able to know but at the same time act like a country bumpkin when it came to filling me in on what was going on.

“Albuquerque,” he finally replied, lowering his voice, as if there was anyone except his technicians to overhear us. “Ever heard of the place?”

“New Mexico,” I answered, again not understanding the direction of our conversation as Herbert had to know full well that I was likely well-schooled in geography and the culture I was living in.

The two men who had accompanied Herbert through the front door came out of the dining area they’d disappeared into earlier.

“Done here,” the leading man said, heading for the front door.

“Com check?” Herbert asked.

“Five by five,” the man replied, then went outside, followed by the second man.

“Okay,” Herbert said, turning to look at me, leaning back on the couch, and trying to breathe normally despite the growing anxiety I was feeling about having committed myself and my family to an outfit that seemed more like it was closer to being a part of the artifact’s existence rather than that of my species. “I’ll meet you at zero seven hundred on Saturday at Galloways, your favorite hangout and we’ll go over the paperwork and the other stuff, like the timing of all this.”

“The restaurant isn’t soundproof, or any of that,” I replied.

How in hell were we supposed to talk about such stuff inside a public restaurant I couldn’t fathom.

“Limo,” he said. “I’ll bring one of those leftover limos from the estate,” Herbert went on, his voice having grown softer. “All a bit much for you in your current condition but you’ll be back up to speed in no time. You’ll still be here to get your medal, not that you need any more of those. There are no medals in working with the agency, by the way, so you don’t have to be concerned about that kind of stuff anymore.”

I looked up at him and remembered hearing about him when he’d appeared on a television talk show. He had four Silver Stars, and then some. His expression and the look in his eyes told me that he knew all about the combined gift and curse of having such decorations.

“Saturday,” he said, before turning and going through the door without closing it behind him.

I got up and followed him out, stopping before I got to the car, now parked in my driveway, that they’d come in. I noted that, unlike service vehicles or even the police, they didn’t park at the curb to avoid being on private property. The CIA was different, and I’d have to get used to it.

“What about the first and last rent I’ve paid on this place?” I asked, more to put Herbert on the defensive rather than to seek compensation.

Herbert turned before getting into the back seat of the Chevy, which I recognized as being a four-door Impala, not unlike the two-door Caprice my wife was now driving but a whole lot cheaper and less plush.

“The agency will make you whole, as it will always do, but you may be both surprised and disappointed in how it goes about doing that.”

He got inside the Chevy and the car pulled out onto Lobos Marinos. There was no waving by anyone or any of that. Herbert had been social but the surprise meeting had been anything but. I turned to re-enter the house, the fact that everything was now being recorded changing the homey feel the place had had up until Herbert and the agency showed up. Bozo snaked around me as I closed the door, and took up his place atop the couch side table as if the new house was just like the old apartment, different but his to occupy and command.

“You should be the one in the CIA,” I said to the cat, making no move to pet him. Both of us knew that our close relationship had nothing to do with cuddles and cooing. It was a relationship not unlike what I hoped to build with the agency. Herbert had said nothing about what I could or could not tell my wife, other than it might be best not to tell her about the recording devices or how they worked, not that I knew myself.

I went upstairs and pulled out a pair of trousers and a long-sleeved shirt from a nearby packing box. The weather outside was warm, sunny, and inviting but I remained cold to the core. I knew it was my lung’s circulation of air but it didn’t feel that way.

The drive to Dana Point was without incident, although I knew along the way that I was going to have a hard time accommodating the fact that Mary was driving around in the Caprice while I was left to play second fiddle with the Volks.

I had to smile at the temerity she had in taking the car over, and doing so when I was at my weakest.

Paul’s car was parked right out in front of Straight Ahead. I pulled into the back side lot and went into the south side entrance, as always, but stopped once I got inside. I pulled the pill bottle out and held it clutched in my right hand as I went toward his office. I heard him talking on the phone as I stopped at his open door. He hung up the phone in mid-sentence, his eyes staring into my own as he sat back in his chair.

I leaned over his desk and set the pill bottle on the open area on the top of the desk in front of him before sitting down.

“What are those?” he asked, his whole presence remaining like it was when and after I’d confronted him about his meeting with my wife. Everything had changed between us and our patient/therapist relationship as well.

“50 one hundred milligram Demerol tablets,” I said, taking a deep breath.

“I was in the San Clemente fire and just got out of the hospital. They gave me those pills for the pain since I burned the lining of my esophagus and lungs, but I’ve had no pain.”

“You were in the fire and got hurt?” Paul asked, with a relaxing smile, realizing I wasn’t there to reprise the incident with my wife. “Why am I not surprised?” He leaned forward and picked up the bottle to examine it more closely.

“They’re all there,” I assured him. “I wanted to take some for a variety of reasons but haven’t.”

“Haven’t,” Paul said, looking back at me seriously, revolving the pill bottle in his hand. “That would pre-suppose you might be intending to take one or more of them in the future.”

“That’s why you have them,” I replied. “I’m here because I don’t understand why I want to take them. I’m not that weak. I’m not in pain, or any of that.”

“You want to escape from wherever you are,” he replied, putting the bottle down and leaning back again. “It’s why fully half the people who come here for substance abuse are here for that very reason.”

“What do I do?” I asked, feeling a bit like I did when I was in front of Herbert.

I didn’t want to admit that I hadn’t told my wife and I hadn’t followed up when Herbert revealed what he knew, or part of what he knew.

“You just did it,” Paul said, with a laugh. “You quit without starting, which is amazing. Now the job becomes how you remain that way since the option of this kind of temporary escape is just now occurring to you. You were in the hospital with these injuries?

“Yes,” I replied, wondering where Paul was going with the conversation.

“They gave you Demerol for the pain then?”

I nodded, beginning to understand.

“It took you back to the hospitals after you were shot. You escaped back then and that’s what’s triggered your ending up in front of me.”

I realized that I wasn’t done with Paul, not because he was anything near perfect but because he was all I had for such things. I knew my wife, the great counselor and loving woman that she was, would just be angry with me for even considering taking hard drugs to escape anything in my life. I needed to get what I could from Paul because it wasn’t likely I was going to find anybody like him in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

We were leaving a life we’d come to know to go to another we knew nothing about and I had to prepare us for the significant changes ahead. Much more important than escaping from anything I had to plunge myself into the coming change and get my wife’s support in doing so.

I got up and walked to the door. “I’ll be back on Tuesday, just like before,” I said, and then pointing at the pill bottle. “Do whatever it is with stuff like that patients give you.”

Paul laughed out loud, grabbing the bottle. “You’re the first patient to ever give me a supply like this, but I’m not really surprised about that.”

Don's Miss any Updates or New Chapters

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This