I walked to the front door of the modernistic throwback of some ranch-style, but not, home, noting that it had a screen door. The sweep of central air conditioning being installed around the country had just about put an end to such doors, at least as part of the initial construction of homes, particularly in California. I pushed it open, as there was no latch, the rickety form holding the rather tattered screen to its frame, squeaking even louder than the two badly lubricated hinges on one side.

Julie played with Mrs. Beasley, getting the doll ‘used to the new house,’ according to her, while I could hear Mary working in the kitchen. As I turned the corner to view the single corridor that comprised the kitchen, running the complete width of the home along the western wall, Bozo lay atop the long counter set into that side, just under the edge of one of the many windows running up and down that side of the room. It was an uncharacteristic pose in the new home as well as a setting he’d never have sought out or even tolerated in the old apartment.

The cat looked at me as I stopped to wait for Mary to back away from the stove and take notice of me. He turned his head to first look toward where she worked and then back at me. He blinked slowly. I blinked back. Blinking was some sort of cat language thing but I didn’t understand it. Once more he looked slowly over at her and then back at me, before jumping down and disappearing into the living room.

“Fix it,” I whispered to myself, getting a bit of his cat message.

Finally, Mary stopped what she was doing.

She turned to face me, her hands on her hips. I got myself mentally prepared to lie as effectively as possible when she broached the question she had waited very patiently to ask.

I looked down at the floor in front of the stove, then up at the stove to see where the water under her feet was possibly coming from. There was nothing atop the stove that might contain water.

Mary looked down to see what had drawn my eyes.

“Oh my God,” she said, looking down for a second before looking into my eyes, her own big and round. “My water broke, the baby’s coming. We have to get to the hospital.”

She stood frozen in place, looking down at the pool of water under her. I turned to grab Julie who came easily but clutching Mrs. Beasley to her chest. I wondered how the doll would go over with its single recorded refrain being played time after time in some waiting room.

“Let’s go, I yelled back at my wife and then headed for the Chevy. I grabbed a paperback book from the top of an opened packing box as I moved to the front door. Julie pulled her own small blanket from the couch as we passed.


“You need help?” I yelled over my shoulder, heading out through the door and toward the waiting Caprice. It took only a few moments to get Julie situated inside the back seat of the big coupe. I knew it had seat belts, unlike the Volks, but I wasn’t going to take the time to belt her in as Mary hadn’t followed me out of the house. I went back inside.

I ran to the kitchen, but she wasn’t there. I looked down and followed the water trail she’d left behind, knowing immediately that she’d amazingly gone upstairs toward the bedrooms. Before I could get to the bottom of the stairs, however, she was headed back down, her arms full of towels.

“Julies in the car waiting,” I said, “Bozo will be fine on his own and I’ll check in on him later. What are the towels for?”

“I’m not getting my car all messed up with this stuff,” she replied, heading out the door.

She walked around the car, opened the door and spread the half a dozen towels across the bench seat, and then climbed in.

“Should we have called them to tell them we’re coming?” she asked.

“Hell, we’ll be there in under ten minutes,” I replied, knowing speed was of the essence since only hours of the exact same thing happening with the coming of Julie at Fort Sill, the delivery took place almost immediately.

I took off in the Chevy, but kept the speed down, as I knew any driving recklessly, or really fast, in the car would cause Mary to go off, and Jules was in the back seat without a belt on. For that matter, none of us were wearing them.

Julie and I sat in the waiting room until they assigned Mary a room, which we were allowed to move into. Julie entertained herself playing with Mrs. Beasley while I read Sackett, the paperback I’d brought with me. Mary was as before when Julie was being birthed. No pain or complaints as we waited. The doctor came and went with nurses to check her condition. It took only a couple of hours for the doctor to decide that the delivery was imminent.

Without much of any hubbub  they wheeled her off to the operating or delivery room.

Michael was born two chapters of the Louis L’amour novel later. When Julie, me, and Mrs. Beasley, were introduced to the newest member of the family it was without much fanfare. Mary was exhausted and under mild sedation but still in command of the situation. Julie and I were sent home to wait, as they would keep her and our new baby overnight.

When Jules and I got home she went inside to take a nap after asking me whether the new member of the family would be treated more like her or Bozo.

The question caught me off guard. I wanted to laugh but Julie was standing in front of me as stoic and serious as a marble statue, Mrs. Beasley hung from her left hand appearing to be standing on her own next to her right leg.

“Well, he’s a boy, like Bozo, but he’s also your brother now, more like you.”

I replied, immediately feeling like I could have done a better job dealing with the issue.

“Okay,” Julie said, with a big smile. “That means he’ll have his own bowl. I hope. Bozo thinks that’s okay.” At that she ran up the stairs to get ready for her nap.

Once Julie was tucked in I went back downstairs to consider my life and that of my family. I realized, that I hadn’t been at all prepared for a brand new baby, sibling rivalry starting from scratch, and then the coming move at some future date, as likely to be sprung upon me from almost nowhere like the arrival of little Michael. Mary had been so easygoing and normal through the pregnancy that her growing size had been almost all that was noticeable and giving warning of the coming event.

I tried to get my mind off Michael’s arrival and back on track to deal with all the complexities I had going on regardless of family issues. The artifact felt like it was calling to me. At least occupying myself with examining it further would keep me from spending most of the day worrying about Mary’s recovery and preparations to meet with the Dwarfs to talk about things I hadn’t yet prepared myself for. I checked on Julie but didn’t need to. When she went down for her naps mid-day, she went down fast and hard. Mrs. Beasley stood guard, not standing at all, but tucked in close to Julie’s side. Her very peaceful appearance and, in fact, the entire scene in the bedroom, made me feel like it was a portrayal of the famous ‘calm before the storm,’ expression. I left the house and went out to the garage.

Pulling the heater down took almost no time at all. Putting the artifact’s box back inside the hollowed-out structure, and attaching the ropes and other stuff would take longer but not more than a few minutes. Of vital importance was hiding the line and pullies so someone as bright as Mary wouldn’t figure out the association and then discover the object’s hiding place. The object itself was dangerous and I was glad that as amateurish as the box lock seemed, at least it was some protection if the case for the artifact was ever found by someone who didn’t know enough to keep it at a distance. The impressions on my left hand were a very useful reminder about the potential danger the thing might be to anyone unfamiliar with its properties, or at least the properties I’d so far discovered.

Mary’s water breaking had kept me from having to create some sort of not believable lie to cover the object’s existence and presence in our life but hiding the thing would become more problematic the longer I had it, not to mention the difficulty in getting it to New Mexico undiscovered unless the thing was repossessed by unknown interested parties before that move took place. I couldn’t picture such an event in my mind because Vietnam kept calling me back whenever I thought about any kind of potential threat to either myself or my growing family members.

Once I had the case down, I went to work getting the thing open and then removing the artifact so I could control it sufficiently without touching it. I had plenty of time, unlike before and there’d be no interruptions I was almost certain. The side door to the garage was open, and the windows on the facing side of the kitchen wall so I could hear the phone in case the hospital needed to reach me. I wasn’t worried. From the life insurance business, I’d learned that the maternal mortality in the U.S. was very low at only 21 new mothers lost for every 100,000 deliveries, but still, it wasn’t Norway that averaged only 2.

The object sat as it had before, seemingly so normal and innocent, the parallel striations across its surface, ten of which imprinted indelibly into the skin of my left hand, giving no indication that they were anything other than mere markings of some abuse and light wear. I held the ball out from me with a set of old-fashioned fire tongs I’d converted from the throwback home’s equally throwback brick fireplace. I moved the object from the surface of the table and held its surface close to the surface of my left hand, the hand it had marked in some permanent fashion.

I felt something inside that palm and immediately pulled the artifact away. It hadn’t been a tingle or a feeling of pressure. It had been more like some mild solution had been poured across my skin, but there was nothing there to find when I put the object down and then the tongs in order to examine my skin closely. Exercising the hand gave me nothing back as everything felt the same as it’d been before experimenting.

Until I looked closely again. The impressions across my palm, from the base of my thumb toward the center, were about half as deep as they’d been. I held my hand up to the light. Nothing. I wished I’d taken a photo of the hand before experimenting, but I hadn’t thought of it. I wondered if the thing also had an effect on my mind, as normally I had a pretty methodically organized idea of what I was doing, but here I was inside a big garage with not a soul anywhere around, trying stuff with an object that I knew without out a doubt was the most powerful element I’d ever been close to in my life.

Equipment, I thought to myself, staring at the innocent-looking but oh-so-mysterious piece of matter, if matter was the right word to describe it. I needed an X-ray machine, although I knew that wasn’t going to be within the range of acquisition. Special thermometers might help, although I was afraid of heating the thing. The object hadn’t experienced the heat of re-entry in the Apollo as it’d been inside the capsule. But everything in that capsule had been affected by its effects.

I tried to imagine an unknown, yet-to-be-discovered element on the periodic chart but my imagination wasn’t great enough to contain the potential element’s capabilities. If inertia was all wrong in man’s interpretation, then gravity was wrong, as well, since the two were interlinked with the mass of substance of everything. If it could leave impressions of itself, which it most definitely had on my palm, then what other things could it do to humans so very fragile compared to most other bits of flotsam in this universe?

What about electricity? I laughed to myself. I wasn’t about to plug the thing in to see what might happen but I was going to use my Dremel Moto Tool. I decided to attempt the slightest bit of burring on the artifact’s surface. The marks or lines already existent on the surface of the object seemed to indicate that it might be soft enough for a diamond-encrusted bit to take a tiny bit out of, or, and I almost laughed out loud at the thought, put some lines along its surface to get even with the lines, albeit not as deep now that it had put on me.

I moved to the drawer that was on the side of the table where I kept my Dremel stuff, including too many little bits, brushes, and abrasives that I had paid too much money for but never used. I plugged the tube-like motor in, carefully pulled out an unused little bit shaped like a tiny artillery shell, and fastened it tight with the special little wrench used for such a purpose.

The machine came alive as I slid the switch toward the back of the device. I continued to move it until it stopped. The motor was now racing at top speed with the bit revolving at an advertised speed of twenty-thousand revolutions per minute. The whine from the thing was hard to take without a set of earmuffs but I wasn’t stopping to get more properly equipped.

I eased the tip of the spinning bit to the surface of the object, securing its round mass firmly with the fire tongs. I hadn’t purchased a set of safety glasses so I was wearing one of my skin-diving googles I’d purchased for a hoped-for vacation visit to Hawaii, set to occur sometime in the future when the CIA allowed such things and Michael was old enough to travel that great a distance.

The bit touched the object and then was gone. I jerked the handheld cylindrical Moto Tool backward, switched it off, and pulled the goggles from my face. I stared first at the object and then down at the tip of the tool.

I blinked my eyes quickly a few times and looked back at the surface of the artifact, releasing it gently from the grasp of the tongs which I set down and leaned back. The bit was gone. It had disappeared in front of my eyes. It hadn’t been some mistake of light hitting it the wrong way or a shadow obscuring my vision of it. The bit was gone.

I set the Moto Tool down and got up. I walked to the garage door, looked around carefully, and then went into the house. It took only moments to find the packing box that held my desk supplies. The giant magnifying glass I’d bought because I’d loved the huge, weird nature of it, not because I had anything I might want to magnify, was there at the bottom. I pulled it out and cleaned the dust from both sides of its viewing surfaces with the bottom material of my shirt. I went back into the garage and sat down as before.

I studied the tip of the Moto Tool where the bit had been held, expecting to see nothing there, thinking that it was quite likely the bit had not been secured tight enough and, at such high speed had flown out and was somewhere in the garage. The ‘invisible’ event wouldn’t have been that at all, just one that occurred too fast for me to see it happen. I stared, unbelieving, at what I saw. The shaft of the bit was still secured by the three nodes that secured it. They were as tight as I’d first secured them. The shaft, hardened steel that it was, had been sheared off cleanly, as if by a tiny hacksaw. I turned to the object, braced the big heavy magnifier on the tabletop, and studied its surface. Releasing the tongs had been a gentle process so the artifact was in the same place it’d been when I started my examination.

There was a black dot on the surface of the round object that hadn’t been there before, and it was slightly depressed, making half a hole about the size of BB, but that was it. I pulled back. The object had ‘eaten’ my drill bit. The bit wasn’t somewhere missing in the mess of a garage. It was inside the object.
I sat back, having once more gained more knowledge than I was capable of dealing with. How could a solid object seemingly ‘absorb’ another object that wasn’t pressured to penetrate it? What force on the inside of the artifact could pull another piece of matter into its interior, and what happened to anything like that bit that was so pulled in?

After giving the incident as much thought as I could, which wasn’t much, I packed the Moto Tool away and went to work putting the artifact back into its case and the case into the heater exterior. Once back inside the house I carefully washed my hands and examined the now not nearly so distinctive striation lines on my left palm. Although my curiosity was a long way from being slaked concerning the object, I knew that the thing deserved a whole lot more advanced study and experimentation than I was capable of applying. What was I to do? Call Bell Labs, or some organization like that? What about the confidence that had been placed in me to not do such a thing, and why had not doing such a thing been imprinted on my mind by Mardian? The object was likely much more politically dangerous than physically so, I had guessed, without him saying so, even though the potential physical danger was very real and likely much more extensive than I was giving it credit for.

I went inside to make phone calls. I hadn’t alerted our friends to Michael’s unexpectedly surprising arrival. Steve Bro agreed to babysit Julie while I was at the Dwarfs meeting. Steve was not given to being interested in unsolved mysteries so the Dwarf meeting to him was about as useless and meaningless as church services for which he held the same lack of respect.

The phone calls had been endless, one after another, as everyone wanted all the most minute of details about the birth. Alice Ray, my new secretary was aghast that I’d read a paperback novel while Mary ‘suffered’ through labor. I realized from talking to her that there were some things about what had occurred that I might want to keep to myself.

I wore my usual shorts and “T” shirt to the Dwarfs meeting, as I had cleared myself from the beach patrol schedule to be available for whatever my wife, Julie and now Michael might need.

Gularte picked me up in the Bronco and drove us to the end of the pier. The Dwarfs were assembled, and, as I took my place as Snow White I thought about just these people for a few seconds. I had gathered so many people so close to me whom I had not earned, but seemingly been gifted, in my return to what was rapidly becoming home once more. Not the home I’d left for Vietnam but a differently constructed reality where I was welcome, accepted, and even honored by so many people…not to mention trusted, as I was by the collection of wonderful humans before me.

Instead of giving the group my ‘swan song,’ and letting them know that I would be leaving the area, I decided to delay all of that and bring them in on the results of some of the things I’d discovered that gave more credence to what had happened to the dead Marines, the mystery that had brought us all together in the first place. Without going into where the information came from I detailed the assassinations of Kilgallen and Onassis. There were more names but I wasn’t meeting with the Dwarfs about the remainder of those, at least not yet. Cliff Murray had disappeared nearly instantly into retirement as head of the police department in San Clemente. His name had been on the tape but not as having been killed. Instead, Nixon mentioned that he had to be silenced for things he knew that could never be released. When I’d heard his name mentioned I’d gone out to his home immediately and discovered that he was alive and well so I didn’t know what to make of that. What the Chief knew had to be important information for all of us, however, if we were ever to get to the very bottom of the Marine deaths.

The meeting broke up and I went home, the major subject of the meeting had been taken over by the announcement that Mary had delivered, and I was getting fatigued about telling that story, as well as the leftover physical toll the fire was still taking on me if I stayed on my feet for too long.

When I got home, thanks to Gularte once again, Bro met me at the door.

“Your friends stopped by,” he said, pointing across the living room as he said the words.

He laughed as I stared, and then went out through the door.

A bassinet stood in front of the television set. I walked over. There was an envelope taped to the mattress on the inside. I unsealed it and took out a single piece of white stationery and read the short, hand-written message, glad that the envelope had been sealed from Bro’s otherwise prying eyes.
“You might have mentioned the baby,” the note read. “Please, no more surprises until you’re fully accepted and established into becoming what you must become.”

The note was signed with a single “H,” so there was little doubt where it, and the unlikely gift of the bassinet, had come from. That Mary and I had already purchased one that was still unpacked in its original sealed box was as unknown to my handlers as was the fact that finding out a new agent, trained or not, had a very pregnant wife set to deliver shocked me. What else did this highly vaunted intelligence agency not know? They’d likely only found out about Michael’s delivery from my phone calls, all recorded, that I’d made earlier.

My transition in life, once again, had begun in earnest, with managing ‘officers’ and players, apparently, about as badly informed as had been the superiors in charge of my commands down in the valley.

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