76 to 90
Morals are a slippery business, Potter thought as he left Elderage’s office. He knew exactly what Elderage meant. He did everything but say: Find Harshaw and kill him, the obvious solution to the problem, a solution similar to what Harshaw used to fix problems. If Harshaw’s crime was this, then how could I do as Harshaw did and be right?
He punched the keys at his terminal, loading the latest information into the program he designed. Makaila’s name popped up all over the map. “Texas? Chicago?” Potter sat back in his chair and scratched his chin. He brought up the map of the United States. “It’s unlikely she’d head out to a place she didn’t know anyone. Here.” He placed a finger on Ohio. “Or here.” He moved his finger to New Jersey. “The only reason to head west is misdirection.” She’s good, but she’s not that good. He drew a line on the map from Ohio to New Jersey. “She’s here somewhere.”
Potter reconfigured his software, found a cup of coffee and waited for a flag to pop up. His mind wandered to Larry and Arianna, mostly Arianna.
Jordan Aristotle Harshaw was a creature of some habits, but few. He believed in altering his schedule everyday, with the intent of being random. Repeated patterns allowed him to do what he did. Within the patterns of other people’s lives, he could detect where they would be in the future and at what time and place they’d be vulnerable, if it were vulnerability he needed.
Looking at patterns of someone’s life, movements and spending habits, he could glean what they hid from others, for whatever reason they had. All levels of power in society: people on the bench, public officials and law enforcement could be turned to climb on his payroll. Everyone got paid for his labors. Everyone deserved to get paid.
Harshaw bought justice from a system too often unable to deliver.
He knelt on the cool ground and pulled stray grass from around a grave marker. “You never could take care of yourself.” He placed a single white carnation across the grave.
He could almost hear her voice: You know I’ve been busy.
“I’ve been busy, too.”
It won’t always be this way. College will end, you’ll leave the Service and we’ll raise a family.
It would not be that way.
“God, I miss you.” A tear inched down his cheek.
His wife of three months was murdered by the random act of a lunatic, his third victim and last. Harshaw saw to it personally. The courts were convinced, after the first two murders, if he stayed on his medications and continued treatment, he wasn’t a danger to himself or society.
They were wrong.
Society is like a child that needs an adult to take care of it.
Standing, he took his present-day wife’s hand and looked across the cemetery to watch his two children playing on a bench. “I will make this world a much safer place for them before I’m gone.”
“I know you will.”
Sally leaned in the door. “Phone, boss.”
Elderage stared out the window, almost in a trace. “I told you not to bother me. Handle it.”
“It’s Makaila Carle –”
Elderage had the receiver to his ear. “Hey, kid. How’s the underground?”
“Hey, Moses. How’d you know?”
“Joseph called. Are you okay?”
“Scared to death deep down, but keeping a level head.”
“You’re going to have to change location as soon as we hang up. I’m sure my incomings are traced.”
“I wasn’t born yesterday. This is a very expensive phone call.” She giggled. “It’s bounced like all over the world. Coming from where?” A laugh and muffled voice sounded in the background. “Vilnius. That’s the capital of Lithuania. I’m told it’s got my name all over the wire, too, so if they’re looking, they’ll see me.
“I just love a good geek. It’s what I want to be when I grow up. If I grow up.” She giggled again. “The voice is like completely scrambled, too, so we can talk. Here’s what I got.
“There’s this clown after me –”
“Jordan Aristotle Harshaw.”
“Okay – Pops says he’s a spook or something. I didn’t hang around long enough to find out what that meant.”
“Government agent who acts in secret.”
“Boy, I spent my childhood whining that no one wanted me, now the whole world does!”
“Just this guy. He’s acting on his own. He’s a private guy. There’s another, but I’m not sure who she is. Let me find the notes.”
“That would be Jo McCarthy. Nice lady, doesn’t take a good bullet.”
Elderage blinked hard, twice. “You sound more and more like someone else I know every time we talk.”
“Buy a clue, Mr. Elderage. I’m nothing like Cat, not one bit.” Makaila finally understood why Cat talked like she did. It was fun.
Elderage laughed. “Okay. I’m with you. You sure no one can understand our conversation?”
“Sure as I can be.”
Potter rushed through the doorway without knocking. “I found her, Mr. Elderage. You won’t believe this. She’s in Poland!”
“Actually, northeast of Poland. You’d better adjust that software of yours.”
Potter looked toward the ceiling. “Of course. The phone exchange on the cable generated an error. Lithuania?”
Elderage held his finger up. “Where are you, really?”
“A little burg called Library or south of it. That’s in Pennsylvania for you non map-heads.”
Potter inspected the ceiling again. “Right on my line, south of Pittsburgh.”
“What are your plans?”
“Call you so you can call Pops and tell him to tell everyone I’m okay. Lie. Tell him everything’s dandy. They don’t deserve to have to worry about me all the time.”
“Don’t know. I can’t get my mind much past the next meal, you know. I think we’ll go to church later on if I can find one that’s not locked up.”
Potter unfroze. “Tell her I’m on my way.”
Elderage nodded. “I’m sending a guy to you. He’ll help keep you out of trouble.”
“No! No one’s safe around me. It’d just give me another person to worry about.”
“No one’s safe anywhere, Makaila. Not really. Cat told me that and you should know it. Having George Potter with you will give you more options.”
“Now you sound like her. Okay, I’m at the carny. Tell him I’ll watch for him. He won’t know me. Who’s this McCarthy?”
“Look for a bike and leather. I thought you knew.”
“Close encounter of the third kind. Is she friend or foe? That’s cool. I’ve never been on a motorcycle before. Tops my list of stuff to do before I die.”
Elderage shuffled through his notes. “Let me see what Powers said. Ah, yes. A detective from New Jersey. She was running down leads on missing children. Seems your name got in her file.”
“I see. So she’s after me ‘cause she thinks I’m missing, not like this other clown.”
“Seems this other clown is after her.”
“Got it, yeah. He’s the reason I went missing. She must of figured it out. She knows too much. Not bad work for a detective from New Jersey. I guess I won’t kill her if she shows up again.” Makaila laughed darkly. “How’s Larry?”
“Not your concern.”
“Well, that says a lot. Is he dead, yet?”
“I believe he’ll be okay.”
“That’s the first lie you ever told me. I’m disappointed, but I understand.”
She’s too much like Cat. “He’s grouped together with other teenagers in a club that’s drawing a lot of attention.”
“Must be bad attention. What kinda club?”
“Don’t you have enough problems of your own?”
“It’s a slow problem day, Mr. Elderage. What kinda club?”
“They’re calling it a cult.”
“What do you call it?”
“A cult. The guy I’m sending you has been on the inside.”
“You asked for information, and that was the only way I could see to get it.”
“I follow. Are they like over the edge? Like what’s their focus?”
Elderage hesitated. “I’m not going to try to lie to you because I know I can’t. They’ve set themselves up as good versus evil and are waiting for their god to return from the dead to lead their fight.”
“Wait a minute. Larry is less religious than I am.”
“Maybe you don’t follow. The god they wait for is you. You are their Jesus.”
After a long pause: “I’m not dead.”
“They think you are.”
“I don’t get it. How’s the Christmas guy fit it?”
“The Christmas guy?”
“Yeah – Jesus – the Christmas guy. How’s he fit in?”
“You don’t know the story?”
“I’m really religion retarded, Mr. Elderage.”
“I don’t think I’m the one to explain it to you.”
“Everyone talks about it, but everyone says they’re not the one to explain it. Okay. That actually makes some sense now. I’m dead and coming back to life to do what?”
“Save the world. That’s the basics. The rest is details.”
“Larry’s gotta be doing some weird drugs or something.”
“Actually not. They’re about as straight as you can get.”
“I’ll ask my bud what she thinks about this. He’s slipped his rational mooring. He’s not nuts like me, so there’s gotta be a reason. Send your guy. I’ll pump him for information, so tell him to give it up. Okay?”
Elderage understood what Cat meant when she said Makaila didn’t need protecting. “I’ll tell him no secrets.” The only reason he held back information from Makaila was to protect her. He realized just how stupid that reasoning was.
“You overheard. Any questions?” he asked Potter.
Potter held his hand out and took the telephone. “Hello, Makaila. I need something from you.”
“Hi. Who’s this?”
“Call me George.”
“What do you need, George?”
“I need a message from you to your brother and proof that it’s from you.”
Makaila’s mind worked on the combinations and permutations. “A message from God. They need to go underground?”
“Got your pen and paper ready?”
He didn’t, but didn’t need it. “Yes.”
“Times of great danger are coming fast. You must get your heads down and keep your mouths shut. You must not attract attention in any way. You must act as normal as you can and hide in plain sight. That which I gave you in the darkness, look within and you will find one with seven. Quote that exactly and it should do it.”
“What’s that mean – one with seven?”
“He’ll know and you don’t have to. We gods have to be mysterious.”
Bixby hung up and went directly into Harshaw’s office. “Marks can’t get access. The police have the building closed off and are evacuating.”
Harshaw stared. “Could she have made a call? Did you pull the phone records?”
Bixby turned on his heels and returned quickly with a printout. Harshaw scanned it, punching numbers on the telephone.
“Damn, how can this be?” Harshaw was back from Ohio and in his office in just over three hours. “She made two calls. Look at the times.” He passed the sheet forward.
“Oh, she was dead.”
“Okay, she called in a bomb scare. Why? To lock up the building. Why? To give someone time to get her research records. She must have guessed we’d go for them.”
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” Harshaw closed his eyes. “Something my grandmother used to say.” He grimaced at his desk. “Clean it up, all of it.”
Bixby narrowed his eyes.
“Send the fed bomb team in and take over from the locals. Clear and secure and set an explosive device in the apartment.” Harshaw put his head in his hands. “Do that, give the all clear. Wait, then blow the device.”
Bixby looked toward the ceiling. “Event Horizon’s too vast. Too many casualties.”
Still talking through his hands: “You’re right. Lock the building down with the fed team. Clean the apartment. Make sure you get everything. We have to clean this web up, not make it bigger.” He looked up with tired eyes. “And, let’s find this child. She’s the most dangerous person I’ve ever come up against. Draw a map of every Event Horizon we have so far. I want to see the diagram on my desk first thing in the morning. We have to tie this all up.”
Bixby nodded and left the room. He knew their charter and he knew their mission. He knew their every action, every Event Horizon carefully thought out, was meant to protect national security. He never questioned his instructions because he knew he didn’t have all the information. He didn’t see the big picture. Bixby trusted his instructions came from someone who did see the big picture.
However, setting off an explosive device in an apartment building full of people made his skin crawl. Purging information was important, but this had nothing to do with the original Event Horizon, which was to remove a danger from society – a psychopathic child who murders at will. Bixby was relieved Harshaw changed his mind. He may have questioned his instructions for the first time in his career.
Bixby hadn’t been sure who the cop was. He knew, when Marks fired his gun into her chest, she was an immediate threat to the Event Horizon. After glancing over her file, he realized she was just an innocent victim who got herself in crosshairs of national security. There are many casualties in war. No one person was more important than the greater safety of a nation. An apartment building full of people? That was a different story.
He had his team together, was on location and had the information secured in less than forty minutes. The team disappeared as quickly as they appeared, leaving the locals to scratch their collective heads.
George McCarthy with his secretary stood in his niece’s apartment and said aloud: “What have you gotten yourself into, Jo?”
George Potter had his first argument with Larry Elderage. Elderage told him to head straight out to Makaila. “I have to try to do some damage control first.”
“Don’t waste a lot of time.”
“I don’t consider saving lives a waste of time.”
“Have you considered that just maybe the ship’s sinking and all you’re doing is rearranging the deck chairs?”
“Of course, I have. If that’s all I can do, that’s what I’m going to do. Besides, who knows? Shifting the chairs around just might shift the weight and the ship won’t sink.”
Elderage stood, turning to the window. “You don’t really know what’s at stake here. I don’t even know. Nevertheless, I’ve learned to trust who I get my marching orders from.”
“Maybe in time I’ll have that trust for your instructions.”
“Maybe.” If you live that long – if any of us do.
“Keep your head up and watch your back, George.”
The kneeling group of praying candleholders grew to twenty-three. George shook his head, wondering how so many people could get the wrong idea. Do I have the right idea? He pushed the doubt from his mind. Doubt, he knew, was healthy and called for reflection. He also knew doubt could be a hobgoblin of the mind and bring death as quickly as anything.
“With the protesters out there, you’d think this was an abortion clinic or something.” George greeted Arianna at the door.
“They’re just misled.” She smiled nervously. “They know not what they do.”
“That could be said for any of us. Get Larry and meet me in the office.”
The room Arianna used as her office had a door affording privacy.
“I have news.” George wrestled with how to handle the situation. From his own way of thinking, he thought to be candid with full disclosure of everything. When he saw Arianna’s hungry eyes, he knew any rational argument wouldn’t do.
Behind the closed door and with wide eyes, he spread his arms. “I have had a vision of her.”
Arianna lit up, Larry grimacing skeptically with narrow eyes.
George leered hard back at Larry. “I don’t blame you for not believing me. I don’t believe it, either!”
Larry returned the glare. “Tell us of your vision, then.”
“She told me to say: Times of great danger are coming fast. You must get your heads down and keep your mouths shut. You must not attract attention in any way. You must act as normal as you can and hide in plain sight. That which I gave you in the darkness, look within and you will find one with seven.”
“What’s one with seven?” Arianna asked Larry with a tug on his arm.
“It’s a test, something only her and I know. A secret.”
“Then the vision is real?” she asked, her eyes begging.
“Don’t know.” Larry left the room, returning quickly with a teddy bear. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, he took open the seam with a ballpoint pen. His mind worked backwards, recalling stitching up the bear, crying. He fished out a small purse and unzipped it. Stuffed inside, he found a bloodstained envelope.
“I’m not sure I’m to know what’s inside. I was told not to look.”
“That which I gave you in the darkness, look within and you will find one with seven,” George repeated.
Larry, hands shaking, opened the flap and counted seven photographs. He couldn’t help himself. He looked. His cheeks flared red, his eyes tear-filled. He forced the envelope in the purse and purse back into the teddy bear. Raising his fists to the ceiling, he screamed from unimaginable pain.
Arianna fell, wrapping him up in her arms. He slapped her hard in the face, pushing her to the floor, Arianna bouncing off the desk along the way. On his feet, he screamed again, flipping the desk over. George tried to get his arms around Larry, finding the wooden chair smashed across his shoulder. George staggered to keep his feet but couldn’t.
Larry threw himself against the wall, pounding his fists until blood ran down his arms. He slid to the floor, rolled into the fetal position and cried.
George took Arianna’s face in his hands and forced her head back, pushing her eye open. “You’ve got a burst blood vessel,” he said matter-of-factly. “I have to get you to the hospital.”
In all the time with the group, he made his first mistake. He dropped his act.
Arianna blinked hard into his face. “Who are you?” Fear washed over her. She tried to pull away. “Larry!”
Somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind, Larry found an ounce of sanity and gathered himself. He worked to his feet and pulled George by the underarm off Arianna. Cold, deeply, he said: “You’d better go. You’re not welcome here any longer.”
Arianna hung onto Larry, crying in his shoulder.
George tilted against the pressure on his arm. He thought to drop Larry with one punch, again. He was caught and knew it. Calculating their mental state, he knew he was now cast out. They wouldn’t believe anything he said. He realized something else he missed with this group. He was focused on playing his role. He hadn’t noticed he fell in love with Arianna, a woman ten years his junior.
He pulled his arm from Larry’s control. He didn’t bother continuing the act. “I am not your enemy, but you have many out there. I’m telling you, you have to take a low profile.” He looked at Arianna. “Your life depends on it.”
Larry sneered. “First you claim to speak for her, now it’s you telling us?”
“Come on, Larry. You’re a smart person. Makaila’s not dead and never was.”
“Blasphemy.” Arianna muttered into Larry’s shoulder.
“You and all your people cannot stop what’s to come,” Larry said through his teeth. “Go.”
“Arianna.” George pleaded. “Come with me.”
“Go to hell. You just go right to hell!” She found her anger, fueled by disappointment. She undid herself from Larry and pushed George, her good eye flashed with an inner fire. “Get out!” She pushed again. “Get out!”
George thought to kidnap her, quickly changing his mind. He did the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life: he left, hearing the front door slam behind him. Instead of rearranging deck chairs, he poked a hole in the side of the ship. Before he mounted his motorcycle, he did one last thing. He found Pastor Stevens among the protesters and dragged him to his feet, going nose-to-nose.
“If you instigate anything bringing about harm to any these children, I will hunt you down and send you right to your god!”
I guess Elderage has his answer. He twisted the throttle, filling the air with a roar.
“How can the face of evil come looking so good?” Arianna asked Larry, not expecting an answer.
“There was always something about him I didn’t like. I just didn’t know what it was.”
“You’re right. I understood that and swallowed it.”
“What do you think of the message?”
He looked to the floor. “I don’t know how he knew about the envelope, but I think we can guess they want us to disappear.”
“What’s in it?”
“The most profane desecration of God.”
She gulped hard. “And she-who-is-like-God gave it to you?”
“It’s her vindication.”
She nodded tentatively. “What do we do now?”
“We do exactly what her message said.”
“No. He tricked me into looking at what she told me not to look at. He tricked me into not talking about she-who-is-like-God when the newspaperwoman came. They got to attack us with no response. Now, he says to keep our mouths shut. Their plan is clear.” He opened the front door, looking carefully across the people peppering the sidewalk and half the street. “Now, we preach to those who do not know. We preach to those who do not believe.”
“I will do it. I see now.” She moved her hand in front of her face. “I can’t see out of my eye. Where they have robbed me of my vision, I will give them vision.” She stepped onto the porch.
Larry followed. “You need a doctor.”
She turned to Larry, First Apostle and Brother of she-who-is-like-God, her right eye bright red, almost glowing as if from an inner light. “I need no doctor nor anything of this world in darkness. I have the light. I see the way. Nothing matters but the Word and it is the Word I will give freely until they kill me.”
Larry opened his mouth to object. Arianna put a hand to his lips. “You know I will die. I leave this world willingly. It is so very clear to me.”
Arianna stepped to the front of the porch, raising her arms to the sky. In a voice touched by God, in a song, she said loud and clear: “All you people on the cold, hard street hear my words and accept my invitation. I know the law told you that you may not violate this property. Please, all of you come forward. I invite you into my circle. Sit on the comfortable grass, close to me, at my feet. I will speak to you. I will sooth your fear and discomfort. I will take your pain.”
To Larry’s surprise, about a quarter of the group came forward, mesmerized.
Pastor Stevens called out: “Don’t be tricked, my friends!” He couldn’t take his eyes from the young woman, Arianna glowing with her own light. As he came forward to hear better, so did everyone else.
Arianna smiled as only an angel could. Softly, she said to Larry over her shoulder: “Get me the biggest, sharpest knife we have.”
They sat, looking up at the child, candles in hand, mouths moving in silent prayer.
Arianna let loose her hair and shook her head. “I am Saint Arianna, sent to you by Makaila, she-who-is-like-God. You have hated her and you have hated me, but that doesn’t matter because you know not what you do.” She looked carefully at the male eyes and saw what she wanted. “The evil is so deep inside you that you cannot see it. It’s plain on your faces and always has been! Deny it! Go ahead!”
She pointed to each man with a swan-like sweep of her arm. “You and you and you and you have desecrated the innocent child and you and you and you –” She pointed to the women. “– have stood by and watched. You rape this world as you now rape me with your eyes!”
She smiled warmly at the pastor. “You raped me with your lies.” Again, her arms swept the air like a ballerina. “You all rape and call it love. None of you are without this vile crime. I, Saint Arianna tell you this. I, who speak for Makaila, she-who-is-like God, coming back soon, raised from the death you put her in.”
“Lies!” Someone called from the back of the crowd. A rock appeared out of nowhere, creasing the side of Arianna’s head.
She flinched away and then straightened, smiling in the direction of the attack, reaching to Larry, taking the knife. “Brother of she-who-is-like-God, I love you always. Now, do as I tell you. Stand away from me.”
“Look in your heart. You know you must.”
He nodded, retreating toward the door.
She met the eyes of rock-thrower, removed her sweatshirt in one sweeping motion to reveal her naked chest and called in a song-like voice. “You want my blood? I give you my blood.” She swept the glistening blade long and quick over her arm. Her soft flesh caught bright red. “How easily my life flows from my body. All you had to do was ask.”
Another rock followed and missed. The next rock caught her in the stomach. She doubled over, immediately standing straight, smiling like a child’s love for her mother. Shouts, curses rose. Rocks flew.
Pastor Stevens jumped on the steps between Arianna and the crowd much too late.
“Stop! This is not our way!”
The people moved like a plague, pushing him aside. He staggered, falling into the boxwoods Arianna planted next to the steps. Hands dragged the half-naked child to the lawn and surrounded her with smashing fists.
“Free at last.” She sang pleadingly. “I’m going to be free at last.” She lost consciousness.
Larry stood and watched, tears filling his eyes against his hardened face. He had to evoke every ounce of will not to act. He trusted Arianna’s choice. He knew Arianna was better able to understand his sister’s plan than he. In that moment, he felt alone as if his soul was ripped from his chest.
Three men in dark suits and sunglasses appeared in the yard, pushing people back from Arianna. Skilled, any resistance was met swiftly and thoroughly. A fourth man in a white lab coat knelt to the fallen child and bloodied his gloved hands on her neck and then her chest. He nodded and yet another man unwrapped an IV.
The three men in suits stood alert in a circle above Arianna. Sirens sounded in the distance, a van skidded to a stop and Arianna was whisked away.
“Murderers!” Larry called from the porch. “Look at your hands! Look at your hands! You are not God’s people! Can you see this now?” Eyes fell to the ground, some staying with Larry. “Can you now see what’s in all your hearts? What our Saint Arianna has warned you of?
“I am Larry, Brother of she-who-is-like-God. I speak for her until her return. If you wish to be clean, come to me. I will tell you how.”
“Tell us!” someone called, wiping blood on her shirt.
He told them.
Josephine McCarthy, her mother often said, had more faith in the goodness of the world and people than the world and people deserved. “If you look for the bad in all people, you will surely find it,” her father would retort. Josephine wanted to believe the world and the people in it were good. She wanted to look for the good in all people.
She chose her career because she wanted to be one of those good people. As the years stacked one on another, she watched the eyes of the people she graduated the academy with. Once youthful, honest eyes slowly turned dull, tainted with the reality some people, many people, are not good.
Josephine knew, by her choice of careers, day in and day out, she was exposed to a disproportionate amount of the bad people. After running down a dozen incorrigible juvenile delinquents in half as many days, she easily fell into the trap of thinking all children were juvenile delinquents.
“I certainly appreciate the gift,” she told her father’s brother, Uncle George. “But, I don’t want to believe anyone would shoot me. I don’t want to believe that of the society we live in.”
“You wear your seatbelt, yet don’t believe an accident is inevitable?”
She saw where the argument was going and couldn’t dispute the logic. In all the years on the force, no one had taken a shot at her, yet in all her years of driving, she didn’t have so much as a fender-bender. She snapped the seatbelt religiously.
The discomfort in her chest with every deep breath was a reminder of her mortality. On her way back west, she thought about what the too-full-of-life woman, Cathy, said about recovering her range of motion before taking her next step. As much as she wanted to jump forward, she knew she had to find a corner and recover.
Her first thought was to sign into a hospital and get her ribs wrapped. Statutes required reporting gunshot injuries. She didn’t think they’d buy she shot herself in the chest twice while cleaning her gun. She found a small, quiet, rundown motel with cable and a small coffee shop. There, she holed-up and let her body do what the body does best: repair itself.
Somewhere in the depths of her mind, the idea bubbled up she could relax and recover faster if she had a bottle. In a zombie-like state, she heard herself ask the desk clerk: “Is there a liquor store nearby?” She didn’t hear the answer. She argued with the voice inside her head. The voice often rose up from the darkness calling her back to the numbing habit.
Her senses were slowed a step or maybe two. Her mental vision was narrow, like tunnel vision. In just a handful of days of sobriety, she saw how stupid it was to attack the kid driving the ice-cream truck. If she were thinking clearly, it was logical to assume a vendor was selling wares than to assume a child molester was driving up and down the street ringing bells and offering ice cream. She knew she should have checked it out. She knew she overreacted.
In the residual dullness of years of daily alcohol abuse, death came to her door and almost took her away. She ran the event over in her mind. The shift on the man’s face told her what was going to happen. She knew. She was a step too slow. In retrospect, she knew she should have had her gun out, leveled at the door.
When the voice from the darkness within her mind called her back to the bottle, she retorted: “I will not be a step too slow, ever again.” She looked herself in the eyes, in the mirror and put her gun to her temple. “Drinking means your certain death. You might as well pull the trigger now and save time and effort.”
She didn’t pull the trigger.
“Let me ask your opinion on this one, Reverend,” the host of the local cable access program Christians Stars Shining Bright, asked her guest. Josephine grew up in the church but as an adult, couldn’t find time to attend. She often tuned in religious programming to fulfill her obligation. The host was a much-too-loud and flamboyant middle-aged woman in a gray sharkskin pants suit. Her white-yellow hair was pulled back so tight, Josephine thought her face must hurt. Her makeup looked as if applied with a trowel.
Josephine realized, two minutes into the program, the host wasn’t a host. She played straight man for the reverend.
The host laughed like a crow calling to her brood, narrowing her eyes to the papers in front of her. “There was this girl who claimed she was God, wait, no, a saint speaking for God.”
The reverend chuckled. “We know in these troubled times many false prophets will appear with the intent to misguide us. They twist the Word and offer easy solutions to what we know are much more difficult spiritual problems.”
“What would you do if confronted by such a person, Reverend?”
“What I have done is this: I share the Word and when a person like this sees the truth, they give up their misguided ways and ask the Lord’s forgiveness. Many of these people have been brought over to work in our ministry. We win soldiers for the Lord everyday, through our good work.”
A telephone number and address appeared at the bottom of the screen.
The host’s face filled the screen. “You can help in the Lord’s work by calling the number you see and sacrificing to the Lord what you can. You will be rewarded.”
The camera pulled back. The host went on. “Let me tell you what these Christians did.” She looked at her papers again and then off to her left, away from the Reverend. “Can we get this up?”
A black and white picture filled the screen. A crowd pulled on a teenage girl, half naked with her arms raised. Covered in blood, her exposed breasts were pixelated. An out-of-focus face in the background caught Josephine’s eye, her mind raced.
“It says here that this child’s words were so corrupt, the crowd attacked her. Imagine that? Seems she was the leader of a silly little cult who believed God is a woman – wait.” She read closer. “A girl who died and is coming back.”
The reverend’s smiling face filled the screen. “The Lord calls us all differently to do His work. For myself, I would never violently attack the speakers of evil. That is not my calling. But, we can’t second-guess the Lord’s choices when He directs His servants.”
The camera pulled back again to show the host and the reverend. The host smiled. “Then, you’re saying they did the right thing?”
The reverend chuckled. “I’m saying we cannot question when the Lord directs us to do what must be done to win the world for Him.” His face filled the screen again. “If you don’t have the courage to do what must be done like these people, then you can support us who do. Call the number on your screen –”
“Good Lord, save us from your followers.” Josephine changed the station. She worked over what Larry Carleton had said in his last interview, wishing she had her notes.
George Potter owed no loyalty to Larry Elderage. It was a job, the most recent in a long series of jobs. However, Potter liked Elderage and he liked what Elderage did. He hadn’t figured out how Elderage made his money or how he managed to accumulate his resources, but for the most part, everything seemed legal if not moral and Elderage was in the people-helping business.
He knew Elderage wasn’t the last chair back, not odd for a lawyer. Lawyers worked for other people and their instructions came to them, not from them. With all the injustice in the world, Potter wondered why Makaila Marie Carleton was so important and further, who the client was.
He knew Makaila committed a murder. Potter didn’t take the account from Arianna and Makaila’s brother. They were kids glorifying events, twisting the meaning to meet their needs. He knew, from the reports he wrote on many subjects, he couldn’t believe the newspaper archive accounts, either, the stories twisted to create interest and sell papers.
I should have kept my mouth shut, quit Elderage and joined the group for real. He pulled hard on the throttle, rolling the highway under his tires as he headed west on the turnpike. The psyche of the group and the dynamics were so fragile, after what he said, he knew his only choice was to ride away. He considered taking up surveillance outside the house, finally deciding against it.
The best choice, and maybe the only choice, was to get out of town and let things cool off. Arianna, and his irrational feelings for her, gnawed at him. He loved before, but given the way he felt, he realized he was never in love before. He knew the feelings clouded his judgments and forced him to make a mistake. He had to pull back and out, let time get under his feet and return thinking more clearly.
As the mile markers flashed by, he wondered about his motives. I have an assignment from the person I work for. The assignment was to protect Makaila. He had to befriend the child and gain her trust. And, Arianna thought Makaila to be God. He knew if he got in good with Makaila, he’d be in good with Arianna.
He hoped the hours on the highway would clear his thinking and judgment. Mistakes in judgment were costly. Since the first time he mounted a motorcycle at age seventeen, Potter found freedom with the roar beneath him and the blur of rushing landscape. He crested a ridge at eighty miles per hour and the cars behind him disappeared. The road ahead showed no vehicles, he climbed to ninety miles per hour, feeling like an eagle soaring on the updrafts of a blue sky.
Lost in the vision of his imagination, he didn’t see the dark sedan come up from behind more quickly than a factory-equipped vehicle could. When he fell from his thoughts, instinct triggered his foot and hand to tromp hard on both brakes much too late. A shotgun blast, which he did not hear, sent his motorcycle with him attached off the highway, sailing into the air where the real eagles dance on currents of air.
“Yeah, no doubt about it,” Marks said into the cell phone.
“That’s what we thought about that cop.” Bixby looked down into the ravine. “I can’t see anything.”
Ignoring his partner’s concern, Marks continued. “Looks like Ohio. She never left. We’ll continue on and wait for more information.”
Harshaw thought aloud. “She heads west and buys some tickets but Elderage’s man heads out on a motorcycle. Agreed. She’s not far off.” He wasn’t fooled by the Poland telephone call. “I don’t think Ohio.”
Marks disagreed. “I do. She has relatives there. She’s just a kid. She needs help.”
“You call her just a kid one more time and you’re fired or you’ll find yourself dead. I do agree she’ll look for help. Hang on, let me do a comparison cross-reference.” Heavy fingers clicked keys. Harshaw watched the hourglass icon tick grains of sand. When the list of possible matches, over sixty, scrolled on his screen, he added the human element, his judgment.
He flipped open an older hard file and looked carefully at a newspaper clipping, a child with butterflies circling her head. “Do you like carnivals?”
“Not since I was a kid,” Marks answered.
“You’ll like this one.”
“You know we don’t need a babysitter,” Makaila told Megan as they climbed from Judy’s car.
“You think that’s why I’m along?”
“Isn’t it?” Judy asked.
“I always like to take a few hours out and see the sights.” Megan held her head high. “Besides, I like your company.”
Makaila giggled. “I still can’t read your body, but I can tell when you’re lying anyway. It’s okay as long as we’re not taking you from anything important.”
Right now, nothing is more important than you. Megan did make a point to get away from the carny at least once every place they stopped.
“I could of guessed you were an antique kinda person,” Makaila pointed out as Megan gravitated toward a small shop.
“I find it sad, in myself, that I often find a closer connection to people through the things they made than I do with the people themselves.”
“I still don’t got my mind around that connection thing. I don’t think I’ll ever really get people.”
“You get people more than you know,” Judy said.
“Okay. I just don’t get what I’m getting.”
“I want to get a lunch I don’t have to cook.” Judy rolled her eyes.
“After we get done looking at this junk, I want to find a church and check it out.” Makaila nodded toward the door.
“Oh, it’s not junk, young lady.” An elderly man approached from the far side of the shop. “Everything here used to be important to someone.”
Makaila’s face reddened. She squared to the stranger. “I’m terribly sorry, sir. I didn’t mean it was like junk as in bad stuff. Junk’s like a word I use in talking, like stuff and things and do-dads.”
Her eyes went wide.
“I know. I was having a little fun. Understanding is something youngsters have to grow into. You aren’t born with it.” He bent and wiggled his finger, calling her forward. “Come have a look back here while your friends have a look around.”
Reading his subtle body, she perceived no threat, nodding back to a tense Megan and Judy. At the rear of the store, the shopkeeper held a curtain aside, revealing what looked like an electronic storeroom. “Roger. Come entertain a new friend of ours.”
Roger stood tall and lanky, reminding Makaila of Timmy. He had dark, short and poorly cut hair. Looking to the floor, he made a sound like a donkey, his nervous laugh. “Hi.”
“Roger, this is –”
“Ma – eh – Cathy.” She leaned over to look in his face, extending a hand. “Cathy Madison.”
“Pleased to meet you!” His shout came inappropriately loud as he yanked her arm up and down. “I got some cool games back here!”
Roger fumbled with a controller. Makaila looked over shelf after shelf of electronics. “Forget the games. Tell me about this stuff.”
“That’s just junk I fool with. I like the boxes.” He glanced at her and looked away, removed his large-framed glasses, cleaning the lenses on his shirttail.
Makaila smiled. “You like these boxes better than people, don’t you?”
He placed his glasses back on his face. “Well – uh – people don’t really like me. I put all sorts of different stuff in a box and it’ll do all sorts of cool stuff.”
“So you come here.” She eyed a transmitter and a cathode ray tube. “And, here you can go places. Here you can do what no one else can do.”
His hands shook. He nodded. “Yeah.”
“I do the same thing, but in my head.”
“You do?” His eyes went wide, looking at her fully for the first time.
“I do.” She gave two hard nods. She wasn’t sure exactly what the equipment was. She made a guess. “You’re what we could call a hacker, aren’t you?” She raised an eyebrow.
His whole body quivered. “No – well – yeah, we could say that.”
“My name’s not Cathy Madison. It’s Makaila Carleton.” She looked toward the curtain and lowered her voice, leaning toward him. “I’m like in big danger and some really bad people are after me. I’m in hiding.”
He swallowed hard.
“These people got like resources like the government. I really gotta make a phone call and I really, really need it not to be able to be traced. I’ll give you four hundred dollars – cash money – if you can make that happen.”
He nodded through the request, eating hungrily on every word. Going to a back desk, he pulled a sheet aside and let the cloth fall to the floor. Sitting at the desk, which was covered with open electronic chassis, Roger threw a switch located under the table. “You want picture with that?”
“Scramble the voice recognition so only the person you call can understand you?”
“Yeah. That’d be great.”
“Sure, if you can do it.”
He turned from his makeshift keyboard and looked over his glasses. “You want fries with that?” He made his donkey sound.
He blinked at her. “It was a joke. You go into the burger places and give your order and they ask: Do you want fries with that?”
Makaila took a turn looking at the floor. “I haven’t gotten out much.”
He turned back to his work. “I understand.” He yanked opened a drawer and shuffled through some circuit boards. He found what he wanted and dropped the component into the pins in one of the chassis. With the tap of some keys, a whirl and two beeps, the cathode ray tube came alive.
“The call’s gotta come from somewhere. Just the way the system’s set up. Give me a couple of hours, I can make it come from nowhere or even the moon. How about Vilnius? It’s in Lithuania.”
“Other side of the world.”
“Cool! Can you make me show up in the system, like if someone’s got their gear looking for me?”
“Great idea!” He quickly switched two more circuit boards. “Depending what they’re using, it’ll light up like a Christmas tree.”
He stood, waving Makaila onto the chair. “Tap out the number on the pad, and just speak normal.”
She called Larry Elderage.
“How do you hang this thing up?”
Roger reached around and pushed a key.
He gently pulled her from the chair, taking her place. “I thought you were making it up. You want a picture of this guy? Maybe see what his staff looks like?”
“I doubt you’re going to find anything on the Internet.”
He looked up at her dismissively. “Internet’s for kids.” He pulled another chassis from under the desk, set it on top of the others and quickly connected a dozen alligator-clipped leads. His fingers raced over the keys, the cathode ray tube lit up in big block letter with: All hope abandon, ye who enter here!
Leaning for a better look, Makaila said: “Wow.”
He snickered. “That’s my graphic.”
“Uh – yeah. How’d you know that?”
“I don’t buy lots of burgers, but I read a lot.”
Excited, he turned to her face, only six inches from his. “I thought it was too cool that this guy could go to Hell and like come back and all! It got me thinking about what is Hell and what it’s not. Like this could be Hell we like traveled to and we forgot.”
“If Hell is a place of suffering and torment to the max, I’ve like been there.”
He stared into her crystal blue eyes, shivered, adjusted his glasses and went back to the keyboard. “What was that name?”
“Jordan Aristotle Harshaw.”
“Confused parents.” Roger snickered. “Let’s see if that’s his real name.” The screen came alive with a scrolling list. “Busy boy. Let’s get the meat.” With more taps, the list cut in half. “See these?” He pointed to hits next to purple stars. “Domestic files. Full disclosure means highly edited and cleaned up. He’s been looked at in the old Eastern Block, but look at these.” He pointed again. “Asia’s been a playground. Looks like he won’t be taking any vacations in China this lifetime.”
Makaila pointed. “Let’s look at this one.”
Roger read: “Death notice? That’s a domestic file and not to be believed. See the dates here?” He indicated files dated after his death.
“I want to see this one.” After five minutes: “That’s so sad. Imagine having your wife die like that.”
“This is a domestic file, too. You’d have to look up the archives in a good library or a newspaper morgue to confirm it.”
“Okay. What’s he up to now?”
“Here’s where it gets tricky. You see there’s like nothing domestic so we have to look at the overseas stuff. But, you gotta keep in mind that nothing here’s objective.”
“They want us to believe certain things in certain ways.”
“Yeah. Like we got spies and say they’re good, but countries who think we’re enemies are going to write them up as bad.”
“Everyone does that. That’s why you’re squirreled up back here all the time.”
“Yeah, kinda.” His fingers raced over the keys. “Let’s see.”
The records on the overseas terminals were sketchy, Harshaw’s current activities being domestic. However, given his history in foreign lands, they still kept an eye on him.
“Well, he’s in law enforcement.” Roger squinted. “No, was in law enforcement.” He scanned file after file more quickly than Makaila could focus her eyes. “If I had to hang a name on him, I’d call him a vigilante. What’s this?” He opened a file titled F-36. “He owns it, but there’s nothing here.”
He took a deep breath and typed some commands. “I didn’t really want to live much longer.” He laughed his donkey laugh.
“What do you mean?” Makaila asked as an animated man with a shovel dug at a pile of dirt on the screen.
“That’s my graphic, too. Like it?”
“I’m going into his system. If he’s chasing you all over electronically, it means he’s connected. If he’s connected, I can backtrack into the system. When this guy gets done digging, it’ll be as if we’re sitting at his terminal with his codes and passwords.” He pointed across the room to a refrigerator-size cabinet. “His whole system gets analyzed in there and kinda like duplicated – everything.
The digging man disappeared and a list scrolled down the screen. “Ah, here it is. F-36. Facility 36.” He opened the file.
Makaila shivered, reached over and hit the return key. “It’s Hell. Look at something else.”
“You were there?” The color left his face. He had read enough.
“Yeah, for a while.”
Roger turned back to his work. “Oh, here’s you. Want to look?”
“Thanks for asking. Yeah, let’s look.”
The file was inverted, starting with the most recent information.
Roger laughed. “You got them chasing their tails.” He took in the current information with one gulp. “If they’re one-tenth as smart as me, you can expect them to find you in the next three days, not today though.” He did his donkey laugh. “If they were as smart as me, they’d be coming through the door now.”
She looked toward the curtain and asked what she didn’t need to. “Are you sure?”
He scrolled, reading. “I’d bet the farm on it. Your choices are too narrow and the connections are too tight.” He quickly scanned a couple of other files start to finish and returned to Makaila’s. Cross-spooling his printer software, he continued to read. “You got lucky in Ohio.” He didn’t wait for a response. “They got this thing they call an Event Horizon. You are an Event Horizon, the high point of the action. They got this formula worked out to handle all this. This is the actions concerning the Event Horizon, you.”
“He didn’t follow the script?”
“Right. He came after you alone. That’s where you lucked out. Don’t be counting on getting lucky again. You can count on two guys showing up. I took a guess from the Event Horizon as it stands now, and I’ll print their pictures for you.”
“Cool. Does it say why I’m so interesting to these people, other than being too cute for my socks?”
He did his donkey laugh and blushed. “You are that!” His fingers danced on the keys. “We just gotta see where this all started.”
Makaila tried to intervene, much too slow. A dozen pictures of a mutilated man tied to a chair appeared on the cathode ray tube.
The tube went black and a loud snap reported from a circuit board, sending a ball of smoke toward the ceiling. “Damn!” he said again, quickly spraying his boards with CO. He reached to the wall and pulled a large switch, disconnecting all power to his system. “That’s a serious virus!” He looked at her sideways. “Not to worry. I have auto burnout and shutdown along with redundancy on top of redundancy.”
He pigtailed power to the printer. “Did you really do that?”
The paper jumped forward.
She looked to the floor. “Yes.”
Roger twisted his face, staring into space. “Are you like crazy or did you have a good reason?”
“They think I’m crazy.”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know.”
He looked to the ceiling. “How old are you? Really. I know you’re trying to look older.”
Pain rippled around his eyes. “I can’t imagine.” He passed the printouts of Marks and Bixby. “These guys will be coming for you.” Roger looked over his burned circuit board. “Maybe me, too.”
He laughed his donkey laugh, fishing in the drawer. “I’m going back up and going to see if I can’t get back in and download his entire system to the major news networks.” He gave her a shy smile. “This is the most excitement I’ve ever had!”
Makaila fished for her money. Roger waved her off. “You need it more than me. This has been fun.” He rolled the chair over to the large cabinet and opened the panel. “If I can decipher his redundancies, I got a cascading program that’ll toast his system and send him back to the Stone Age. If I can do it quick enough, he’ll have to find you by beating the bushes with a stick instead of electronic searches.” He rolled back to the desk, produced a soldering gun, quickly removed components from a circuit board and looked over his glasses. “But, don’t count on it. I have a long way to go.”
“You kids look like you’re having fun,” Judy observed from the doorway. “We’re ready to go, if you are.”
Roger nodded, not looking up from his work.
“I’ll be back when all this is over and we’ll go out or something – get a hamburger with fries.” She put a hand on his shoulder.
He looked up. “No, you won’t.”
She closed her eyes. “I’ll try.”
“Fair enough. I’ll be watching for you.”
“How can you stand the way they do that all the time,” Judy asked Megan.
“Who? What?” Makaila asked, still trying to sort her thoughts out.
Megan looked over her menu. “I am unique in appearance, not unlike a blazing sunrise. People, most people anyway, are going to want to look, some even stare.”
“More like an auto accident than a sunrise,” Makaila said reading the subtle body in the restaurant.
“I’m afraid true.” Megan returned to her menu. “Nevertheless, how they choose to see it and how I see it does not have to be the same.”
Judy peered into her coffee. “The difference being how your attitude toward them is affected?”
“Exactly. I choose to harbor no ill will toward anyone. That would only make me feel poorly and I’ve had enough years of that this lifetime.”
“I’m not so sure that’s all that healthy, either. Do you really accept or is it a buried denial?”
“She accepts it fully as true.” Makaila jumped in. “I can see it in her face. I do get your point. That’s what I learned with Jill.”
“It’s not that I don’t believe you. However, it’s my understanding that we just can’t turn our emotions off.”
“I can.” Makaila shrugged. “Turn people’s emotions off. That’s what I did with Jill. I turned a switch in her head. But, that’s not what Megan’s saying.”
“It’s as if I look, over time, very deeply within my spirit and I decide what is important and what is not. I do agree that affirmations fall short of fixing anything.”
Makaila watched the ceiling. “Affirmations might get you through the day, but just saying something doesn’t make it so. It’s like them habits I was talking about. Affirmations deny the habit you got. Megan’s saying she changes the habit.”
“Now that’s exactly what I’m saying,” Judy clarified. “I don’t understand what we’re arguing about.”
“Just the details,” Megan offered.
“Kill a cow, grind it up, show it to the fire and put it on a bun,” Makaila said to the waitress. “And, yeah. I want fries with that!”
Megan and Judy agreed, hamburgers around.
“Now, I gotta ask Dr. Judy head-shrink extraordinaire about something important.”
“I’ve been doubting what I know lately, but go ahead.”
“My bro’s slipped and fallen out of the rational tree and landed on his head.” Makaila gathered her thoughts. “He’s like fallen in with a cult or something. I don’t know, he might have started it. It’s like – what did Mr. Elderage say? He thinks I’m like the Jesus guy and dead and coming back to save the day or something. Way, like way over the edge.”
Megan smiled lightly as Judy rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “We can slip a rational gear if we experience too much stress or a trauma. It’s as if our brain wants a way out and we accept a belief that offers relief.”
“I should have known that! You’re basic operant conditioning – the Pavlov guy.”
Judy shook her head. “It astounds me that you know about Pavlov and not Jesus. Anyway, no. This is different from operant conditioning.”
“Well, yeah and no,” Makaila argued. “It’s the flood deal where he got the idea to push past the programming and get that learned helpless thing going.”
“Now you’re into Skinner.”
“Right, but it’s the same deal. Stress and trauma. Like an external force we’re helpless against so we slip the rational mooring and our mind drifts away.”
“That’s what I believe your dream is.”
“It’s you.” Megan nodded slowly. “Your brother couldn’t accept losing you. It created a spiritual wanting in his soul and he’s manifesting you back to life.”
Makaila bit her lip. “That’s what Mr. Elderage said, kinda. Don’t you guys notice: I’m not dead?”
“Death comes in many clines and many colors.”
Makaila thought into Megan’s words, turning to Judy. “So Skinner believed the mind could be pushed past a point and then like do a flip-flop and accept irrational stuff?”
“Pretty much. Nevertheless, it’s not learned helplessness, which is not proactive at all. Your brother sounds like he’s doing something, even if it’s holding onto a fantasy to get him through the day.”
Megan snickered. “Pretending you don’t hear won’t make it go away. To your brother, you are the Christ.”
“Here we go with that again!” Makaila showed her palms, rolling her eyes to the ceiling. “When I get between you guys, I get in like this crossfire. For once, can I like have one conversation at a time? Let’s get the tech stuff out of the way, and then we’ll take a walk on the dark side.”
Megan smiled. “Very Christ-like request, my young god.”
“Whatever! Okay, okay, okay. Larry, that’s my brother, you think popped his cork over the trauma of losing me?”
“Were you close?” Judy asked.
“He was really the only friend I had, though he had lots of buds. He kinda looked out for me.” She leaned on the table and rolled her eyes again. “Lots of kids gave him problems ‘cause of me. Boy, did I hate that.”
“So, we can guess, along with the loss, Larry has some guilt attached. He watched out for you. He protected you. He failed. How do you think your parents reacted? Do you think they were there for him?”
Makaila looked at the table. “They signed my guardianship away on a blank sheet of paper. I don’t think they’d have given Larry the time of day, if they had a clue what time it was.”
“Emotional pain, loss, trauma and isolation.” Judy raised her eyebrow.
“Duh. I get it. So Larry’s going to throw in with the first group that comes along and says: Larry, you’re all right.”
Judy nodded as three plates arrived. Makaila stood with her hands out. “Wait. Let me do this.” She closed her eyes. “Let’s thank that which has died for us so we can live another day. Amen.”
Megan laughed. “You’re more witch than you know.”
“I thought I was being farmer. But, that reminds me: I need to talk to you about that witchy stuff.”
Megan nodded. “I’ve been waiting for you to ask.”
“Back the broom up, witch. I’m just asking, not enlisting. Seems I’m not getting any straight answers about God, I might as well ask about witchcraft.”
“The two are not mutually exclusive.” Megan smiled softly.
“If you lack wisdom, then ask of God,” Judy said.
“Huh?” Makaila squinted.
Judy laughed. “I have no idea where that came from, actually. Something I remember from somewhere.”
“Book of James,” Megan pointed out. Her eyes narrowed as if reading something in the air. “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” She looked from Judy to Makaila. “However, you must ask in faith, we were told, else doubt will toss you about.”
Makaila giggled. “You’re a strange witch.”
“Whatever. Who’s this James guy?”
“One of the books in the New Testament,” Judy said. “The Bible.”
“I’m getting tired of feeling so stupid.”
“Is everything all right?” The waitress stood over the table. “Are you really a witch?” Wide eyes watched Megan.
“I’m a gypsy.”
The waitress nodded to the side. “That’s like really good considering what they’re doing to witches nowadays.”
“What?” Judy asked.
“You like didn’t see the noon news? I thought like everyone watched the noon news.”
“We missed it today.” Makaila smiled.
“Well! Let me tell you then. They killed a witch this morning in New Jersey. Yep. Beat her to death.”
Makaila blinked twice. “New Jersey, where?”
“Some place near Philadelphia, New Jersey.”
Makaila turned toward Judy. “I’m not feeling so dumb anymore.”
“So it’s good you’re not witches ‘cause you could get beat to death, too.”
“Close to home?” Judy asked, watching the back of the waitress.
“Throw a stone twice and spit once.” She took a deep breath. “As Aunt Marcy told me, all things in their order. Let’s finish lunch and then find a library. I want to check the wire if they got enough hamsters in the cage to fire up Internet access in this burg.”
“How much is act and how much is real?” Judy asked Megan.
“Mike said it’s all magic,” Makaila answered.
“That statement’s smoke and mirrors and explains nothing. Megan?”
“It is all in how you see it, Judy. To the marks, of course it’s all real. That’s what they pay for.” Megan lowered her voice. “She’s right.” Megan nodded toward where the waitress stood. “If the energies of a moment turn dark, people just thinking you are a witch could get you mugged or worse.” She leaned forward, whispering. “My mother was a witch.”
Makaila giggled. “You think that makes you one?”
“It is my birthright and my destiny, which cannot be denied.”
Judy sat with her mouth open. Makaila wanted to challenge the foundation of the assumption, but went the other way. “What’s that do for you?”
“I’m not sure I understand the question.”
Makaila narrowed her eyes. “Judy’s like got this college thing going. She’s got like these papers to show people. People nod and say: Cool, you’re a head-shrink. This does something for her.
“I’m like almost fourteen and got my naturally blond hair, but Judy colored my head and showed me the makeup tricks. I look different and got the hide-out thing going.” She nodded hard twice. “What’s it do for you?”
Makaila showed Megan a palm. “Wait. When I asked you what a gypsy looked like, you told me: What people think a gypsy looks like, remember? Is this like the same deal? Like, what’s a witch act like? Answer: What Megan thinks a witch acts like.” Makaila gave her the wide eyes. “Megan acts like a witch because Megan is a witch because she acts like a witch.”
“It’s much deeper than what you say. This lays deep in the soul and fiber of my being.”
“I don’t think Makaila said it didn’t. I think she’s pointing to the why, not the nature of the what.”
“I am a sunrise, ablaze in the beauty of nature’s own birth to be awed and loved. I am a tragic freak of nature, to be gawked at and pitied. Which?” Megan’s black eyes searched Makaila’s face.
Makaila felt Judy squeeze her leg. She wanted to turn from the eyes and read Judy’s subtle body. “If those are the only two choices, life, the universe and all creation is lots simpler than I ever imagined.” Makaila leaned her elbows on the table and tilted her head, giving Megan a coy smile. “You’re just citing two different opinions and asking me which opinion is right.” She sat back and put her hand on Judy’s. “My answer would be: it depends on where you’re standing and what carpetbag you’re dragging behind you.”
“I think you broke out of your dualistic thinking.” Judy nodded.
“Only ‘cause I had my head up and was thinking about it.” She gave Judy a sideways glance. “My first thought was beautiful sunrise but that’s ‘cause I know Megan pretty good. But then.” She smiled shyly at Megan. “I thought that the second I saw you, but that could mean my carpetbags, too.”
Megan squinted. “I think I understand. Carpetbags?”
“Socialization: the prejudgments we carry with us,” Judy explained.
Megan closed her eyes. “I understand what you say. I do not agree. There is much more to our being than just our thoughts and experiences.”
“Back to God and the soul deal.” Makaila sighed.
Judy, carefully: “We don’t have any real proof of either, which doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Makaila laughed. “Invert the dualistic trap. We’re talking about the same thing. It’s just the details are different.”
“Not even the details. It’s the viewpoint, the place we’re looking from.”
“The carpetbags,” Megan repeated.
Makaila’s eyes got wide and she laughed yet again. “If you don’t have a clue, ask God and He will provide the answer.” She winked. “But, you’d better come in faith ‘cause if you got your carpetbag of doubt, you’re going to be flapping in the wind.”
Makaila closed her eyes, smiling like an angel, head held high. “So you like go to God – what did Cat say? Who’s not a person – so we get the wisdom and what we see, if we got the faith thing going, we’re going to believe.”
Makaila opened her eyes and put both palms to the table, pain obvious on her face. “Let me see if I can bring it on home. God’s like this thing out there. Wisdom’s like what we don’t know or don’t have. We want for something, God’s going to give it to us, if we got the faith thing going on!”
“There’s more to it.” Megan insisted.
“Well, duh. There’s one thing I know for sure. There’s lots more out there than I can ever get into this pea brain of mine.” She nodded twice, long and hard. “But, I got an understanding of Larry now, and you too, Megan the witch.” She turned toward Judy and gave a wink. “And, you too, my love.”
Megan shivered, shaking her head hard. “What are you going to do?”
Makaila’s eyes flashed with an inner light, looking almost sinister. “Only what I must.”
Judy tried to pull her hand off Makaila’s leg, but Makaila’s caught her. “No, it’s okay.”
Watching Megan’s back fade down the street, Judy told Makaila: “I’m worried about her walking around by herself.”
Makaila dismissed Megan, politely but dismissed just the same, for the rest of the day.
“I merely relieved her of her self-proclaimed obligation to watch over me. One of her greatest joys is to walk, alone, among these mere mortals.”
Judy giggled and then realized Makaila wasn’t kidding. “Mere mortals?”
“She is not like you.”
“But you just said –”
“I know what I said.” She stared after Megan. “That doesn’t mean I believe it.”
“You’re scaring me. What’s going on?”
Makaila came out of her dark brood and giggled. “I got like this gift for you.” She took Judy’s hand and kissed her on the cheek. “You know like when you’re out playing in the afternoon and taken up completely in what you’re doing and you never notice the sun’s going down?”
Judy sighed. “Yes, I get the idea.”
“The sun’s going down. But, we got a little time. That’s my gift to you.”
“Mere mortals?” Judy’s eye oozed a tear.
Makaila wiped the tear with her index finger and stood close, putting her finger in her mouth. “Put everything out of your mind and just live in the moment while the moment is still ours to live. Okay? I want to be as close to you as I can possibly be, while we still can.”
“What’s going on?”
Makaila put her finger to Judy’s mouth. “Later.”
As somber as a priest performing the rite of Communion, Makaila lifted Judy’s sweatshirt over her head and undid the buttons of her shirt one at a time. She giggled. “Like a life-size Barbie doll.” She looked up into Judy’s eyes. “You told me I had a beautiful body. I thought I’d let you see it one last time. If I’m going to show you mine, you’re going to show me yours.”
Judy didn’t ask what she meant by one last time. She didn’t think of the yesterdays or tomorrows. Judy planted both feet in the moment and the moment only, as Makaila asked her. Once Makaila had Judy’s clothes removed, Judy returned the favor.
Over the din of the rushing hot water, Judy asked: “Did you ever wash anyone else before?” She lathered the washcloth and caressed Makaila with the soapy rag. “I used to sponge bathe my grandmother the last year of her life when she couldn’t get out of bed.”
As Judy worked the cloth on Makaila’s chest, Makaila squirted shampoo in her hand and went at Judy’s hair. “I got lots of sponge baths. I really like your hair. Not ‘cause it was a hygiene thing. They were covering up the evidence.” Makaila’s eyes sparkled as she built Judy’s hair into a cone.
“Evidence of what?”
“They’d lube me up, I guess to reduce bruising, more evidence. Some used condoms and other didn’t. Some’d just stand over me and masturbate. When the party was over, a couple of the guys would give me like this max sponge bath and douche me out a couple of times.”
Judy sobbed while Makaila pushed her back into the streaming water. “How can anyone have so much evil inside?”
“Evil’s not inside them. I know. I looked.” Makaila took Judy’s cheeks in her palms and ran her thumbs over her eyelids. She pulled Judy’s face to hers and kissed the sobs away. “You wash my hair now. I haven’t had someone wash my hair since I was about five.”
As Judy faced Makaila and washed her hair, Makaila lathered the soap in her hands and ran over Judy’s body. “I just don’t get that: wanting to touch someone else so bad you’re like willing to do horrible things to do it. Like this feels real good touching you like this, but I don’t know if I’d want to run out and touch people I don’t know.”
Makaila’s face sank. “How can someone want to like marry a stranger, have like sex with them and kill them?”
“Was that in a movie? Sounds like Alfred Hitchcock.”
“No.” Her eyes pleaded for an answer. “Do you think it’s about the killing, the sex or the marrying?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Let’s say there’s this guy. He like kidnaps a kid and marries her. Then, he like has a honeymoon and kills her. Like why? It’s all really weird.”
“I’d say that’s a psychopath or just plain evil, depending on how you want to define it.”
“Is that any different than the guys in the institution, other than they didn’t kill me?”
The water ran cold and Judy shut the valve off, handing a towel to Makaila, reaching for another. “Oh, no you don’t! No habits.” She toweled Judy and then accepted the same attention.
“Now, what I desire deep down in my heart, what Megan the witch calls my soul. I’d like to snuggle under the covers and just hold each other and sleep until we wake up.”
In the dimness of pulled curtains, the real world pushed far away, Judy sounded like a child. “I don’t have the recall Megan has, but may I say something?”
“Sure. This is your time.”
“A woman came to Him and opened the jar of much too expensive oil. She poured it on His head, anointing and soothing Him. Many objected but He said, Care for me while you can; I will not be with you much longer.”
“That’s cool – what’s it mean?”
“The oil prepared his body for burial. That’s what they did back then. Nowadays, we wash the body.”
Makaila snuggled close. “It’s nap time.”