I woke up with an angry hangover. On top of the splitting headache, I had sore spots all over my head where Merilee had poked me with the pool stick. I took a quick shower and decided to get something into my stomach so I wouldn’t get sick. My keynote address was later that evening, and I hadn’t even begun to organize my thoughts. I promised myself I would sit out on the balcony and do it after breakfast.
The hotel café was painted in a soothing light blue and white color scheme. The booths and tables had a complementary light orange and white scheme. The café was about half empty, which was good because I needed the quiet. I seated myself at a table at the back of the room. Normally, I liked to sit in the middle of the action where I could observe things. The waitress was a big, black lady named Naomi. She brought me glass of water and a menu.
“Honey, you look like you need some water. I’m brewing up a pot of fresh coffee and soon as it’s done I’ll bring you a cup of that too.” I smiled the best that I could and thanked her and told her to bring me a plate of ham with eggs over easy, hash browns, and no toast.
When she left to place the order, I drained the water in one gulp, dragged my sleeve across my mouth, and burped quietly. I looked around and there was nobody to which I needed to apologize.
Naomi returned a few minutes later bringing my plate, a cup of hot coffee, and a local newspaper. She sat them down before me and asked what I done the night before to look so rough.
“ I can’t rightly remember, I do know it involved a lot of drinking, two or three dwarves, a couple of cigars and a mule.”
She walked away laughing.
I fixed up my coffee the way I liked it with a couple of small containers of hazelnut creamer and stirred it in with my spoon. I blew on the cup and then took a sip to check the taste. It was like ambrosia. Then I opened the paper. What I saw there on the front page made my jaw drop to the table.
“What the hell?”
On the bottom of the page was a picture of the angel with the leopard skin panties. The caption below the picture said her name was Sylvia Nerval and that she would be the featured speaker at gathering hosted that afternoon by the Homeland Security Department. Her talk was to be entitled “Intelligence Gathering in the Digital Age.” My angel worked in Intelligence!
This bothered me. The more I tried to put it out of my mind, the more I couldn’t. I knew our chance meeting the day after Jennie left was a bit out of the ordinary. I had filed it away under divine intervention. Could there be more to it?
The speech was taking place at a hotel not far from where I was. I figured she might be staying at the same hotel. I decided to go do some intelligence gathering of my own. I wolfed down the rest of the food and finished off the coffee. I paid the bill and left Naomi a ten-dollar tip for that life saving glass of water.
When I arrived at the hotel where the Sylvia Nerval was speaking, I went straight to the café, surmising that she might be having breakfast. Fortune smiled on me, I could see her red head reading the paper in a back booth. I don’t know how, but I knew that she would be there.
She was rummaging through her purse when I approached her table. I threw her purloined panties on the table. “Looking for these?”
I don’t which shocked her worse, the panties on the table or me standing in front of her. After a moment she spoke, “Danny? What brings you here?”
“Confusion brings me here. A need for answers brings me here. You got a moment?”
“I have a engagement this afternoon that I need to prepare for,” she started to go in that direction but seeing the determination in my eyes, she softened. “Sit down. Let’s talk.”
“All, I want to know what it was that brought you into contact with me that night in the casino. I knew even then that something was odd about it, but I was a mental and emotional wreck because of my wife leaving.”
“ I am not going to lie to you. Your name happened to come up on our radar, and I was the one sent out to check you out. The fact that your wife had just left was a coincidence”
“The organization I work for.”
“Why me?” I was confused, “I have never done anything worthy of being noticed. My wife left me because I she said I was so boring.”
“There were four checkpoints on which your name surfaced. Usually they have to become a cluster like that before we start noticing things. What you were reading was one. Do you know that you probably are the only person in Concord who knows who Noam Chomsky is?”
“I read everything. I’m curious. I have also read F. A. Hayek and Ayn Rand.
“I know, you read a lot, but it’s reading certain authors in conjunction with the other things that caused us to take notice. You had two friends on our persons of interest list. You remember Ezekiel Stephanopoulos?”
“Zeke the Greek? Everybody in Concord knew him. He owned the only deli in town.”
“You played poker with him once a week for five years. During the war, he fought with a resistance group known to have communist affiliations. We have kept an eye on him ever since he came to the United States.”
“Damn. Zeke loved this country. I never heard him ever said a word against it.”
“The might be so, but he once had communist affiliations. Then there was your friend and mentor Ebb Mendes.”
‘Ebb! You can’t tell me Ebb Mendes worked against this country.”
“ Actually, Ebb was one of ours. He worked for us up until the middle of the Vietnam War then broke it off with us. He was the best interrogators we had. Like you undoubtedly found out, he knew how people were put together. We had strong suspicions that his son was murdered as retaliation for some work that Ebb did for us back in San Francisco during the Summer of Love.”
“His son died in an accident. He drowned at a lake.”
“His son was a world class swimmer. He was on track to be in the Olympics the following year. Did you know that?”
I was stunned. Ebb had never mentioned that his son was such a strong swimmer. In fact, he hardly never talked about him at all. “What else caused you to be suspicious?”
“Most of all, your writing. We scan most of the newspapers in this country everyday and run them through a special program designed to pick up certain words, patterns, and any anomalies. Your obituaries pop up a lot more than they really should. For example one that you wrote was, ‘Jacob Smith was a notorious rebel in this life. Let us all hope that the social rules in the afterlife are more conducive to his personality.’ I ask you honestly, Danny, who writes that kind of shit in an obituary?”
That hurt me. “I do. I just feel that people deserve something more that a few meaningless words cut and pasted to mark their passage here on earth.”
She was compassionate, “I’m sorry, Danny. I was just doing a job.”
“You said there were four things that popped up. What else was there?”
This time she hesitated a moment, “Your therapy records, especially in regards to the death of your friend, Sara.”
“My friend Sara who died when I was ten years old?”
“Your therapy records that say that you felt that you indirectly caused her death, Danny. You went to weekly therapy for four years.”
“A neighborhood bully named Mark Mueller came screaming around our corner and ran Sara over. I was gathering eggs when it happened.”
“You had poured a sack full of dog shit on his driver’s side car seat and called him up where he worked to let him know you had done it. Those eggs that you were gathering were for the ambush that you and Sara had planned for him. He arrived much sooner than you expected as Sara was running across the street with a basket for the eggs.”
“Mueller killed my dog the week before. He laughed about doing it and pushed Sara down when she tried to kick him. He used to call me Danny Dumbshit,” my words came out automatically, robotic and without life.
“Mark Mueller did two years in prison for running over Sara, Danny. He never recovered from the ordeal. He became an alcoholic and hung himself in a fleabag hotel in Sacramento after his second wife left him.”
There was long moment of silence before she spoke again, “ Like I said, this stuff all combined to make you a person of interest in the eyes of our agency. The obituary you had written for a person of known communist proclivities, Zeke the Greek as you called him, prompted the need to check you out more thoroughly. I went back afterwards and filed a report that said you were something of a poet, and a harmless gentle soul. You don’t have to worry about it; your file has been closed.”
“You made love to me.”
She smiled sadly and spoke in almost a whisper, “I told you, I have a thing for poets.”
Later, I sat alone in my room drinking scotch. I had about five hours before my address, but all I could do was sit and drink. I kept thinking about the irony of the situation. Jenny thought I was totally boring, but to an American intelligence agency I was a person of high interest. It was like I existed in some kind of surreal dream.
Truth be told, I had felt this way a lot. It had all began on the day that Sara died. It had happened just like Sylvia outlined except for one little detail that I had never told another living soul. Sara had not wanted to go get the basket. I had made her do it. My last words to my precious friend had been, “Go get the Goddamn basket, Sara!”
From the moment I heard the squeal of tires and the crash, I have existed with that knowledge. I buried it in the deepest, darkest part of my subconscious where it couldn’t get at me. Yet, it always came back to haunt me.
What do I do? How was I ever supposed to make Sara’s words go away? “I don’t want to go home, Danny. My dad’s home, and he’s already drunk.”
I sat there and stared at the roof of the hotel room. Suddenly out of nowhere, I heard the voice of my dad. I know it sounds stupid and unbelievable, but it was so real that I got up and looked in the bathroom to make sure someone wasn’t in the room with me.
“Danny,” it was the voice of my dad the mechanic, the voice he spoke with before the dementia had robbed him of his senses. “You did not intend for Sara die. Live your life, Son.”
“How? How can I ever forgive myself?” I stared at the image of me crying in the mirror. Tears rolled down my face and an aching pain ripped though my body. I dropped the scotch glass, and it shattered on the tile of the bathroom floor.
I know that no one will ever believe me, but the next words came out so clearly, it was like my dad was kneeling down there beside me, “How you react to the pain is as important as the experience itself.”
That was it. After a moment, I quit crying and walked out of the bathroom. I resolved that from that point on I was going to to my best to quit feeling guilty about the past and to live the best life that I could.
I went the bedroom and got a legal pad and pen from my suitcase and began to write. As I wrote, I started thinking of what I needed to do. I was going to write a speech, and it had to be the best speech I had ever written. It was the only way I could ever prove to Jennie that I wasn’t a loser.
The encounter with Geri had given me an idea, and that was all that I needed, well that and a white tuxedo jacket.