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THE REALITY MASTER AND A THREAT TO THE WORLD A NOVEL BY PM PILLON VOLUME TWO OF THE REALITY MASTER SERIES Volume One: The Reality Master Volume Three: The Reality Master And Travel Beyond Volume Four: The Reality Master And Missions Through Time The Reality Master And A Threat To The World the further adventures of joey, kurt & natalie This is a work of fiction and any resemblance between the characters and persons living or dead is purely coincidental. The Reality Master And A Threat To The World Copyright Š 2009 by PM Pillon. Website: Gmail: pmpillon. All rights are reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No parts of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the written permission of the Copyright holder.


1: Revived 2: Recovering 3: Homecoming 4: Kurt Disappears PART II A Genius Finds Work 5: Hired By An Industrialist 6: CIA Investigation PART II WEST AFRICA

7: Landing in Senegal 8: Mr. Store Man 9: Climbing The Cliff 10: Return To Euro Bliss 11: Floundering In Confusion 12: Investigating Mr. Store Man 13: Jomo Is Rescued 14: The World Receives A Threat 15: Recording From The Cliff 16: Rumors About Kurt

17: Kurt, You’re Being Freed 18: A Trip To West Africa 19 Reunion And Showdown

1: KURT IS HOSPITALIZED The small stone that ten-year-old Joey Blake found in a Big Sur cliff, took home and eventually gave the name Lucky turned out to have miraculous powers. For several days after Joey acquired the stone it seemed to be nothing more than an oddly light-weight, round object, but Lucky soon showed Joey his ability to show a screen on his surface and also to project a large screen. Lucky turned out to have an unimaginable power to reverse events, culminating in the instantaneous restoration of stadium bleachers that had been collapsed by an earthquake and killed thousands is spectators during a major league baseball game. Following the reversal, the dead were no longer dead or even injured and the bleachers were completely restored to the exact condition they were in before the quake hit. Soon after, Lucky saved Joey’s best friend Kurt after he was home-invaded by a criminal as part of a conspiracy aimed at stealing Lucky and converting him to profitable use. Joey had successfully prevailed on Lucky to reverse Kurt’s grievous injury after leaping through a window during the invasion, but Kurt beseeched Joey to re-reverse the event because reversing Kurt’s injury had resulted in the death of his parents and sister. After police freed Kurt’s parents who had been tied to chairs by a home invader, a biker who went by the moniker Genghis, they protested that they wanted to see Kurt, but they police insisted on immediately evacuating them from the house through the front door because there was a high risk of fire due to gasoline spilled all over the floor by Genghis with homicidal intent that ultimately went awry.  Before they could even look out of the window to see how their son was the police firmly escorted Kurt’s parents, who were no longer injured in the slightest after the reversal of their immolation deaths by Lucky, straight to the hospital to treat and perhaps sedate Kurt’s mom, who was visibly distraught by the prospect of Kurt’s possible injury after he leaped through a window with a grenade that exploded seconds later. The police convinced them that they should anticipate Kurt’s later arrival at the hospital very soon. They were removed from the scene in a police car without being allowed an opportunity to see or speak even to Joey or his friends who had arrived just after Kurt’s injury at the side of the house where he was within minutes thereafter attended by EMTs before he was also transported to the hospital. His work evidently done, before rising and disappearing into space Lucky had showed a village scene to eight people: Joey, his thirteen-year-old sister Natalie, his seventeen-year-old brother Paul, Natalie’s sixteen-year-old friend Karen, two National Security Agency operatives Christine Dorman and Dr. Jorge Donovan and radio personality Forrest Jenkins. Dozens of other people including police and federal marshals were also present but for some reason they didn’t see Lucky in spite of his gargantuan size hovering above the house right next door, only a few meters from them. After displaying the village scene Lucky flashed a yellow streak across his screen and then lifted up into the sky and vanished. It was close to 9 PM just after Lucky’s disappearance when Jenkins, who had arrived in his pickup truck, got out of it and approached his friend, clinical psychologist Dr. Jorge Donovan, who was standing next to his NSA partner Dorman. Jenkins had indicated he was heading back to his radio station where he would have “a helluva show” for his listeners, but changed his mind and got out of his truck. He addressed questions to both his long-time friend Donovan and Joey, not knowing who might have the answers for the bizarre scene he just saw. “Jorge, what in heaven’s name was that, I never saw a digital billboard flying around before. What happened here …I mean, besides huge tv sets flying off into space? Why was that tv billboard showing you having some kind of reunion and where did it go, it sure wasn’t held up by balloons, it moved too fast for that. Hey, it’s chaotic here with all the police cars swarming around. What’s with

those fire trucks and destroyed cars, was anybody killed? Are these kids all right, it looks like they have blood or something on their faces.” Natalie said, “You’re asking too many questions to answer them all. This is my brother Paul. A guy threw a grenade into this house and his friend Kurt dove out the window with it. Paul kicked it under a car, otherwise they would both be dead, but Kurt got hurt. The medics are looking at him, but we know he’ll be okay because we just saw him reuniting with us, that was him hugging Joey on that screen.” Paul was standing next to Joey and nodded at Jenkins without saying anything. Donovan stepped forward and hugged Jenkins, greeting him with, “Forrest, thank you for coming, I knew you’d come through for me. Kurt McCarty was home-invaded. His head hit something on the ground, it looks like it was a tree root but it’s hard to see with all of the street lamps out of service because of the earthquake power outage. It looks like he was seriously injured and will be taken to the hospital. Anyway, what we saw on that big screen is apparently a glimpse of the future when Kurt will be completely recuperated, so that’s what the reunion we saw on it is about. Joey, this is Forrest Jenkins, and Forrest, this is Joey McCarty, the boy who called you and asked you to warn Kurt.” “Well, well, so you’re real.” said Jenkins. “I’m glad something today turned out to be real.” “Thank you, Mr. Jenkins, I’m sure you saved Kurt’s life tonight or his parents, that for sure was real.” “I didn’t do anything son, I got here too late to help out.” He saw Kurt lying a few meters away surrounded by EMTs and asked, “But how do you know that boy is okay just because of what you saw on that flying billboard? Are you seriously claiming we just saw something that will happen in the future? Holy Bananas, I’ll need a drink of something else that’s real strong after hearing that! Did they catch the home invaders?” Before Joey could answer, Dorman replied for him, “Mr. Jenkins, I’m Special Agent Dorman, and I’m in charge of this crime scene, the violent home invasion of Kurt’s home. The home invaders escaped and are currently at large and being sought. If what we all saw on that floating tv screen was accurate Kurt’s going to be all right, and based on what we know so far, we have no reason to doubt it. How about you kids, you have blood on your foreheads. How are you feeling, are you dizzy?” Both kids nodded in the negative, so she continued, “Come on, the ambulance is about to leave with Kurt and you can come with us to the hospital. Even if Kurt suddenly jumps up and says he’s okay, they're going to want to take him in to be examined, so we need to all go there. Mr. Jenkins, we’ll tail-gate the ambulance all the way there and use our sirens if we decide to pass it and get there first, and you can follow behind us, but I can’t depute you to break any traffic laws on the way, so you’ll have to exercise caution as you drive. And remember kids, Lucky showed you Kurt’s going to be all right. It appears that Lucky’s word is as good as gold." "Are you sure you kids are okay?” Joey and Karen really looked at each other for the first time since they arrived on the scene and saw the drying blood on each others’ foreheads, having been cut by the safety glass in Karen’s car that was shattered by the exploding grenade half a block away. They had all ducked down, but the glass hit the tops of their heads, slightly injuring Joey and Karen, and a small amount of blood had trickled down onto their foreheads. The only person who was in Karen’s car and totally unscathed was Natalie. “I think I am, how about you, Karen?” “Same here, at least I don’t feel any pain.” “We sure can’t go to the hospital in your car, it has smashed windows and it’s full of the broken glass.” said Joey. “And you guys can get us to the hospital fast, so yeah, we should go with you, is that all right guys?”

The three other youngsters Karen, Natalie and Paul nodded in agreement and Donovan spoke next, saying, “Forrest, we’re going to jump into one of our cars so we’ll be ready to follow the ambulance. If you come to the hospital I can explain more to you about what happened.” “As spectacular as all of this is, if it’s over for now, I’ll hustle back to the station, Jorge. I’m risking being spectacularly out of a job every minute I’m away, my show is still  going on with an archive broadcast in my absence. If you can get free to come over to the station we can talk during breaks, or I can meet you anywhere after 11 when my show’s over.” “Yeah Forrest, it looks like the fireworks are over for now, you can get back to your show and I’ll be calling you or you call me so we can hash this all out. It’s a long story, so I’ll need some serious time with you to fill you in. Let’s go kids, like I said, we have sirens in our cars, so we could catch up to the ambulance if it takes off before we’re ready, but I hope we can just follow it and not disrupt the whole neighborhood with multiple sirens.” “Okay, don’t forget to call me, I’ve gotta get back to my show or I’ll lose it. I’ve never walked out on my show before like this, so I could get in big trouble. Call or visit me as soon as you get a chance, I’m dying to hear the whole story … Oh my God …” With the last three words, amazement finally caught up with Jenkins. He put both of his hands on top of his cowboy hat as he shook his head, walked away, climbed back into his pickup and drove off. Dorman approached an EMT who was standing near Kurt but not involved in treating him. He told her they had been unable to resuscitate him and that he was barely breathing and had no vital signs, so they were about to put him in the ambulance and take him to the hospital. She walked over the double-parked federal car Donovan drove to the scene, having remembered putting four pistols in the trunk. She opened the trunk and retrieved two of them to take to the hospital with them, one for her and another for Donovan in case he consented to carrying one to protect the children. She knew he might not, because his NSA arms training had occurred many years earlier, and since then he had worked strictly as a professional psychologist. Before she and Donovan left San Francisco to drive to this scene, she had mixed up their cars, which were federal undercover sedans that looked identical, and as it turned out she hadn’t put any weapons in the car she wound up driving; so she was unarmed and helpless when she pulled up in front of Kurt’s home and saw an invader get out of a van and walk behind it wielding an Uzi. As the leader of the federal team, this was a serious error on her part, even though their trip south to visit this scene hadn’t indicated a need for any weapons at all. But she couldn’t cry over that spilt milk just yet, she had more urgent priorities to address. The four youngsters got into the fed car Donovan came in, with Dorman at the wheel and Donovan next to her. Joey sat between her and Donovan and the three teenagers climbed into the back seat. Dorman had to maneuver around one of the fire trucks at the scene in order to position themselves where they could fall in behind the ambulance when it took off. Two federal marshals approached Dorman’s window and she recited multiple instructions to one of them: Set up those roadblocks and stop every car within a ten-mile radius, send out an APB for one or more grenade throwers who might still be close to the neighborhood, interview neighbors who might have seen them, supervise the crime scene to make sure evidence wasn’t damaged or destroyed, ask the police chief not to give reporters any more information than was absolutely necessary and – especially – ask him not to mention the NSA involvement to anybody; and finally, take photographs and videos of the crime scene and anything else that looked pertinent to deliver to her later.  As she said all this, she quickly typed the list on a tablet computer and handed it to the marshal to return to her later; she would rely on Donovan’s handheld if she needed one at the hospital while she waited to get this one back. The marshal told her some of that was done already: He had sent out the APB and two marshals were knocking on doors looking for witnesses, but so far nobody had been located who saw the invaders and nobody even knew if they were men or women. She already knew that what looked like a male invader entered the house because she watched him do it, but

they would have to wait for more information about that if and when Kurt and his parents were interviewed.  Donovan passed her keys for the federal car she drove to the scene to the second marshal so he could drive it to the hospital behind her. On her orders, two cars with one marshal in each of them lined up right behind her car, still leaving eight marshals to manage the scene of the accident and continue to look for witnesses. The ambulance started out, with the three federal cars in tow. Dorman spoke as she drove, “Dr. Donovan, you didn’t tell your friend Jenkins not to talk anybody about all this, do you need to call him now and tell him? What did he mean when he said he has a station? Does he have a tv show? We can’t have him blabbing about all this on television.” “That’s Forrest Jenkins, he’s the host of the Moonlight radio show that’s going on right now about ghosts and visitors from space of all things, just what we’re dealing with in real life. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of him. He’s the one who got me onto Tex in Florida, who led me here to San Francisco. Right after you called me and told me Kurt had a home invader outside his house, I got through to Joey and had him call Forrest and ask him to warn Kurt on the air. Forrest said he would do it and then come to Kurt’s to help any way he can; so since he showed up, I guess that means he gave the warning. Am I right, Joey?” Joey replied, “We heard Mr. Jenkins give that warning on the radio and right after that the guys with the guns called us from Kurt’s and said we had like two minutes or something to get there and give Lucky to them or they would kill his whole family. So we jumped in Karen’s car and drove here, but we were too late, they had already set off the grenade. But they called Lucky a magic wand or something, so they didn’t really know much of anything about him, I think.”  Donovan said, “Forrest is my best friend and he has free speech on his side, so if you want to shut him up, Ms. Dorman, you’ll have to do it yourself, I can’t even conceive of trying to get him to clam up about this. He’s … I’m sorry kids, we’re talking like you’re not even in the car. Is there anything any of you wants to tell us about all this? What’s this about Lucky? Who is Lucky?” “That was Lucky that you saw fly off into space. He’s my friend, he loves us and protects us from anything and anybody. I found him on a cliff in Big Sur and he did a bunch of miracles. That Stadium Miracle was Lucky, not me, I can’t do anything, he did everything. I just asked him to fix the collapsed bleachers and he fixed them just like that.” Joey snapped his fingers to indicate the rapidity and ease of Lucky’s miracle. “No offense, but he could have done a better job of protecting your friend Kurt. I just hope what we saw on that big screen is correct and he’ll be okay.” “Lucky’s never wrong, you don’t know him like I do.” “This is something so unreal there’s no rational way to even discuss it,” said Dorman. “We haven’t received any orders to shut down media reports other than the court injunction I took to the tv stations about the Stadium Miracle, but if we’re asked why we didn’t shut your radio friend up we’ll have to invent some excuse. Anything we come up with for not warning your friend to maintain silence will have to be a damn good, because not shutting him up will certainly considered at least incompetence and maybe even complicity on my part. I need to discuss this with you seriously, Dr.  Donovan, because my career is on the line. I know my career sounds ridiculous to worry about in the middle of all this, but I have to pay bills, I have to take care of my mother. If I’m drummed out of the NSA I may not be able to get another job anywhere.” She turned her attention to Joey, telling him, “Joey, we’re on your side, not the government’s, so I hope you kids will back us up and won’t let it slip to anybody that we let Dr. Donovan’s friend drive off without telling him to hush up about what he saw. But don’t lie to anybody about anything, this is national security and lying is out of the question, it could lead to your arrest and prosecution, and mine also. I’m frankly in no mood to crack down on anybody, Dr. Donovan. Your friend can talk about it all he wants as far as I’m concerned because nobody will believe him anyway. Maybe that’s my excuse: Nobody would believe the host of a show about alien abductors. Why do you suppose so many people back there couldn’t see Lucky? When I looked back, all the other police and

the EMTs were paying no attention even though Lucky was huge and plainly visible. Do you or the kids know what’s up with that?” Joey said, “Yeah, Lucky’s like that, some people can see him and some people can’t, and even the same person who didn’t see him one time sees him another time, but I always see him. When I first saw him shining as bright as the sun up on the cliff, my friend Frank couldn’t even see him at all. And the first time I showed Lucky to Kurt, he couldn’t even see what Lucky was showing me, but later at the Bay to Breakers when Lucky put those bleachers back together and saved those people, Kurt saw all of it. It’s weird, but that’s how Lucky does it, I guess.”  Donovan asked, “On a cliff ? You found him on a cliff ?” “Yeah, I saw him most of the way up a cliff in Big Sur and I almost fell off it and busted my neck when I climbed up and took him home. I could tell he was different, he didn’t weigh anything, he could float around in the air any time he wanted to. But I didn’t find out what he could really do for a few days, he just sat there completely blank like any other stone until he thought I needed him during a spelling bee. He’s really cool!”  Donovan realized that Joey was overexcited and tried to calm him down, “Okay, take it easy Joey, you don’t need to explain all that to us right now after all you’ve been through. Just try to relax, you already know Kurt will be okay and we’ll have a happy ending. I’m dying to hear what you know about all this, but I care a lot more about your health than I do about my job and reports I’ll have to turn in about all this. If you don’t mind, it would be nice if you could give us a history of your experiences with Lucky later, when you have time.” Dorman said, “Speaking of their health and welfare, we don’t know who those guys were who invaded Kurt’s house.  They could be ordinary criminals or they could be foreign agents. If they escaped and that car they left behind is stolen, we may not be able to track them down and find their accomplices. I only saw one guy, but when I rushed around the house to where the explosion happened, other guys who were in the car could have left it and taken off on foot or changed vehicles.” Paul knew there was only one invader and none were in the van because he himself was an accomplice in the invasion and had heard Genghis pronounce, “I work alone” before leaving and driving the van to Kurt’s house armed to the teeth. But Paul said nothing about this, preferring to wait and consult with Joey and Natalie before revealing his part in the criminal plot. There was no point in implicating himself prematurely: Joey sure didn’t need another blow that Paul’s arrest would cause him to suffer and he might be need his big brother, so obviously this was not the right time to get thrown in jail. Joey was already extremely excited; there was no way to know how much more chaos Joey could take without breaking down and winding up in a mental hospital or taking handfuls of pills the rest of his life to keep him from going bonkers. Dorman asked, “Did all of you know about Lucky? What about that village scene?” When Joey didn’t answer Donovan glanced at him. Being physically and emotionally exhausted as well as confident that Kurt would recover fully from his injury, he had succumbed to weariness and nodded off. He was still  sitting upright, but his eyes were closed; finally, he keeled over onto Donovan’s shoulder. Donovan looked back and saw that Natalie and Karen also had their eyes closed. Only Paul appeared to still be fully conscious and alert. “Okay, well … we’ll just have to go through the events one at a time and try to make sense of it, and we have to talk to you at some point, Paul, and probably find out more from you that will make our hair stand on end. When you got here in Karen’s car, did any of you get a look at the criminals who threw the grenade?” “I didn’t come in Karen’s car, I came in mine, I didn’t even know they were coming to Kurt’s house. I wanted to talk to Kurt, and when I got there I got suspicious and went around to the living room window and got there just when Kurt came diving out of it. When Joey and them came

driving up I was already there, and since I didn’t see the guy who threw the grenade and I doubt that they did either, but you’ll have to ask them about that.” “What made you suspicious, did you see strangers around?” “I don’t know, it was just a feeling I had. Maybe I saw the car he came in and it looked weird or something, I can’t remember.” Dorman said, “He was in a  nondescript  van and there were other vehicles in front, so I’m surprised that van made you suspicious.” “I don’t know, maybe it was just a feeling and not the van at all.” Donovan said, “So we can’t call in a description of the perp or perps, but maybe a neighbor got a look at them, though we should have found that out by now. Given the fact that this involved a device that lots of people would want to get their hands on, my tentative assessment is that there were probably other culprits in the van – I don’t see this as a one-man operation. It seems unlikely that one guy found out about it and then he was the one guy who went to Kurt’s home alone to try to steal it. I suspect that we’ll later learn that there were four or more people in a full-fledged conspiracy." Dorman said, “Good analysis, Dr. Donovan, I concur with it at this point.” “I have to put together some kind of flow chart, Ms. Dorman. Are you any good at those?” “Why do we need one?” “For the timeline to try to rationalize this chaotic set of events and for the actual facts as we know them or can find out, rather than just assumptions and suppositions. I’ll get a space somewhere in the hospital and start putting it together, so we may have one ready to send in our first report about this incident. The hospital dining room will be closed this late, so I can get the administration to let me in there to work on my laptop or provide me office space somewhere else to do this, or I’ll do it in the car if nowhere else is available. For instance, we would maybe have the marathon race at the top of the chart. We think we saw the Joey and Kurt at the race in videos, and those videos indirectly led us to them, but we don’t have confirmation from them that they used Lucky to change that race result, unless they told you, Paul.” and Donovan turned towards Paul at the end of the sentence. Paul said, “I can confirm that they were at the race. I wasn’t there, but I know they were because I talked to my mom on the phone and she told me they had gone up to watch the Bay To Breakers. But when I talked to Joey later he didn’t tell me they anything about changing the result, in fact he didn’t seem too anxious to talk about anything that happened and just changed the subject to how my well my Chevy was running or something.” “So you weren’t at the stadium with them either? I mean, that’s obvious from what you already told me, but I need a direct and specific confirmation of it from you. If I just go along making assumptions about what people tell me I’m liable to misconstrue something and get it completely wrong.” “No, I wasn’t at the stadium either. I think it was dad, Joey and Kurt who went up to The City. They know I hate sports so they didn’t even bother to invite me.” Dorman said, “So, as far as I’m concerned that’s still a 90% probability for our flow chart of Lucky phenomena at this moment for the race finish. However, based on what Joey just told us, the reassembly of bleachers that had collapsed and crushed thousands of people would be 100% or close to it in our flow chart. Maybe our timeline flow chart should start even before the marathon race, back to when Tex discovered the Northern California time disruption, or right before that when orange lights were seen in the area, or even back to the previous evidence Tex found that a magic stone was found a few years ago in upstate New York – which was also preceded by orange lights. And we don’t even know what Lucky is, a game device gone mad, a creature from out of space or what. Nor do we know why the kids assigned the name Lucky to it and are calling Lucky

him as though it were a person, even though empirical evidence points to it being some kind of machine. Can you answer that mystery for us, Paul?” “No, I can’t. But I know that Lucky is good. I can’t really explain that to you, but I had a vision that showed me he loves Joey and probably Natalie and Kurt also, but I don’t know where he came from or why.” Donovan said, “As far as the kids calling Lucky him goes, I can tell you as a psychologist that it’s not surprising that Joey anthropomorphized a device that seems to have a capacity to think, decide, act and maybe even feel, and I would posit that if Natalie had been the one who found Lucky instead of Joey, she might have seen Lucky as female rather than a male and call it her rather than him as Joey does. What kind of vision did you have, Paul?” “Just before I got to Kurt’s house I actually saw Lucky, but in my mind, not visually, and I knew at that very moment it wasn’t the first time I had seen him. In the vision he was in the air near Joey, who was an adult wearing warrior’s clothing complete with spear and shield and all that. Kurt was there too, also an adult with spears and shield, both of them bleeding from wounds, and Natalie and Karen were there, lying on the ground with spears in their backs. Their attackers had swarmed off a mountain in the distance. The whole scene was frozen, nobody was moving. Lucky showed me at that moment that he was there to protect all of them. He destroyed the entire mountain and all of the attackers on and around it were wiped out except for me and a couple of other guys who were on a different mountain as lookouts. And when it was over all four of them – Joey, Kurt, Natalie and Karen were perfectly all right with no injuries at all visible on them.” Donovan protested, “I won’t even ask why warriors were attacking them, especially since Joey and Kurt aren’t adults yet, they’re little boys. This sounds like a dream, you aren’t saying you think it was some kind of reality, are you?” “You don’t understand. This happened a long time ago, hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago. It actually happened. I can’t explain it to you, there’s no way to do that. You just have to take it or leave it. I can only tell you I know this is really true, I know it really happened, but I realize you weren’t there so you probably can’t believe it. I was with the attackers, but now I’m their brother and I would die for them. In fact, you can see that I almost died trying to save Kurt.” “So are you telling us that Lucky visits Joey periodically over time, maybe every few hundred years, and this also means that maybe he’ll come to repeatedly visit him again in the future and will be there when Joey and Kurt have the reunion Lucky showed us?” “I don’t know about that, I never saw Lucky showing himself on a screen, but I’m as sure as I am that I’m sitting here that it was Lucky who gave me that vision when I was on my way to Kurt’s house.” This last statement by Paul seemed to light up a light bulb in Donovan’s head, and he said, “Paul, Ms. Dorman, after hearing all this I’m thinking we shouldn’t report everything exactly as we actually found it. We need to get together and maybe make some omissions and even some prevarications when we file our reports to the NSA about this in order to protect the kids. What do you think about doing that?” Paul said, “You won’t get any argument against that from me. Of course I want you to do anything at all that will protect them from the government or anybody else, anything at all. Tell lies, commit crimes, anything at all.”  Dorman asked, “I don’t know what you’re getting at. Why do you want us to falsify our reports? That would be a violation of federal statues and could get us not only fired but imprisoned. Do you understand the full import of what you’re suggesting?” “It’s too complicated for me to explain it to you now, we’ll be at the hospital before I can get halfway through it. Let’s discuss it later, and we can also confer with the kids to see if they agree. If we phoney up our reports and the kids spill the beans, you and I are cooked, so there’s no point in getting into it until we coordinate it with them. We’ll try to get everybody together somewhere at the hospital later, which will also be easier after they tell us Kurt is okay. Until that happens probably

nobody is going to even want to talk about this, it won’t seem important to them compared to their concern about Kurt’s condition.” “I hate to say this, but that may not happen. I’m sorry to inform you that what the EMT said to me just before we left for the hospital wasn’t very optimistic.” Donovan said, “Ms. Dorman, I have something to say now that may sound irrational to you, and I suppose it is, but I’m not worried about Kurt no matter what the EMT said to you. I have faith in Lucky, Kurt is going to be perfectly all right. Mark my words.” Dorman felt a warm flush in her face, but she resisted and remained rational, though not coldly so, responding to with, “I … I … don’t know. I hope you’re right.” There was a minute of reflective silence, and then Dorman collected her wits and rejoined her discussion of their NSA’s role, saying, “Dr. Donovan, we’re not at this particular moment frozen in time like Paul described – as far as I can tell – and we still have a job to do. We have to stay on this assignment for now, that’s our job until we receive orders to the contrary. I’ll take control at the hospital, but we won’t reveal much to Kurt’s parents unless the kids do it first. I’ll talk to hospital security and have them keep our NSA presence low key and especially not mention us to news reporters who show up. We have absolutely no perspective: Nobody at the accident scene except us, your radio friend and the four kids were able to even see that huge Lucky billboard, and we don’t know who sent the guys with bombs or grenades or whatever to invade Kurt’s home, or if a couple criminals went there on their own without a larger gang involved. And the bigger question is whether they were foreign agents, which I think would be the worst scenario because they’re not likely to back off the way ordinary criminals would.” Paul said, “It wasn’t grenades, it was one grenade unless others failed to go off inside the house. Kurt dove out the window with it and I gave it as hard a kick as I could, then I jumped on Kurt to cover him with my body, but I guess I wound up hurting him because I weigh almost 200 pounds. I’m glad I kicked field goals for my high school, this was my best kick of all, straight under a car and out to the street, otherwise I’d be dead now blown to bits and so would Kurt. I’m just glad that Lucky showed us Kurt is going to be okay.” Dorman continued, “I don’t mind analyzing the case in Paul’s presence because I’m confident he’ll keep what he hears us say close to the vest. Right, Paul?” “Sure, no problem. Anything I spill could hurt Joey or Kurt, so I’ll keep mum about anything I hear from either of you. I won’t even tell my parents or anybody.” “Thanks, Paul, we need to start this analysis right away, time is of the essence and we can’t really wait until no civilian ears are near us. These guys who invaded Kurt’s house could still be a threat, and they’re most likely foreign agents because civilians normally don’t have grenades. I can’t believe they got away, so they must have had another car or two or three. We may never catch up with them to find out who sent them, in fact they should have been apprehended by now so it’s likely they’re extremely well organized professionals. They might just be laying low, parked at this very moment a few blocks from here because they know there’s a chance they could be pulled over by the police if they’re driving. They might sit tight all night and not drive until early morning when there are a lot of cars on the road, probably not much later than 6:30.” Donovan interrupted her to say, “I just got a text message that the local police have set up those roadblocks you requested and are stopping every car within a ten-mile radius, and they’re getting help from the San Jose and other nearby police but there’s too many streets in a radius that large to prevent a lot of escape gaps. That’s why we hear those choppers, they’re looking for any and all moving vehicles but there’s no way to stop most of them even when they’re seen. The message doesn’t say how long they will be able to maintain the roadblocks and by the time we got more help from police in other communities it would be far too late to box in the culprits. Do you want to shrink the radius?”

“No, I was stupid to make it that big, I probably should have made it seven miles or even less, but there’s no point in crying over that spilled milk now, I made a lousy snap judgment call and that’s that. We’ll just leave it at ten miles and not confuse everybody by changing it. Let’s go on with our analysis. It’s amazing that the house was blown up and burned to ashes and yet we’re going to be able to find clues such as dirt and threads from the home invaders’ clothes and shoes because the fire was reversed and somehow never happened. I saw the house engulfed in flames and later in perfect condition, so I can confirm that the reality of what happened was changed by something or somebody unless I was hallucinating. And the grenade exploded close to Paul the third time, though I’m not sure we can rationally say this happened three times because we only rationally know about one explosion. Am I making sense, or am I just babbling? Anyway, the blast damaged cars and blackened Paul’s trousers but didn’t injure him, so nobody except Kurt got hurt, or at least that’s how it looks. Is that right Paul, are you uninjured? Have you pulled up your pants legs or checked your torso to see if there’s no sign of fragment penetration?” “Yeah, I’m completely okay, far as I can tell. I already checked my legs just now and there’s no sign of any kind of injury to them. And I don’t think I need to pull up my shirt, I’m sure the tree blocked out anything that came towards that part of my body. I don’t feel any pain or injury anywhere.” Donovan said, “We’ll have to have all of you checked out at the hospital, and Karen and Joey both have what look like minor injuries, and I hope they are. The blood looks dry already, and I think shattered safety glass pretty much bounces lightly off scalps, if that’s what caused their injuries. I think usually it don’t cause any injury at all, but this wasn’t a collision, it was an explosion, so the glass was accelerated through the air more than it would be from a vehicle collision. Anyway, they seem okay, let’s hope they are. And by the way, Paul, Joey and Kurt are still our security responsibility until we find out different. In fact, Ms. Dorman, I think we should broaden the scope of our protective shield to include Paul and the two girls. Is that all right, Paul? Do you think the kids and their parents will go along with that, or will they insist on going back to whatever they think normal life is after such an event?” “Yeah, I guess they would all go along with it, but I can’t speak for them. We sure can’t protect ourselves against a bunch of professional hit men with every kind of weapon that we already know includes grenades. You’re NSA, so you guys have weapons, right?” Dorman replied, “We do, and so do all these marshals we brought along when we came down from San Francisco with us – you should be completely safe while we’re around. We sure won’t let down our guard, we’re going to be vigilant in case these guys are thinking of striking again at the hospital. We have no idea how ruthless or crazy these criminals or terrorists may be – they might even try to overcome armed, federal security forces, so we have to make sure that we don’t underestimate them.” Donovan said, “I don’t have much confidence in my shooting ability, I’m not exactly a DeadEye Dan, so make sure you have enough sharpshooters besides me for this job. I’m a doctor, not an FBI agent. In fact, we’d probably all be better off if I had no weapon within my reach at all, even in an emergency.” “I already sent a message requesting ten more marshals to come to the hospital, but I don’t know how that will work out this late at night. Paul, we have to keep our eyes on the ball. Just because Lucky left, that doesn’t mean all danger to you and the others is over. If I understood you correctly, all four of you previously saw the valley scene and expect to be in that village scene some time in the future. Can you tell us anything more about these valley scenes? The future scene puts us in a tough spot, I don’t know if the National Security Agency can follow all four of you around for the next five years just to see if that happens.” Paul answered, “I don’t know about the village scene, I saw it for the first time tonight when you did, but I don’t see what can go wrong. If Lucky comes back he’s no threat to our national

security – in fact he rescued thousands of Americans in that baseball stadium, which nobody else could possibly do.”  Donovan said, “Frankly, Ms. Dorman, I think Paul’s right, it’s looking a lot like Lucky can take care of himself against any foreign agents or criminals, so there may be no discernible prospect for a continued national security agenda. We’ve been worried that he was a device that could be stolen, but he’s sentient or close to it, and he’s powerful enough to fix huge collapsed bleachers and reverse the death of an entire family by unexploding a grenade that had already killed them. Don’t you think it’s time we reconsidered this security paradigm? Of course, we’re more than an inch short of a foot on this entire story – Lucky could have an Achilles heel that we don’t know about that somebody could take advantage of, for all we know.” Dorman replied, “We have no idea how the higher-ups are going to react to our report of a floating tv set that reversed the death and serious injury of a bunch of people, then unreversed one of them and finally flew off into space. At best, because of the video evidence of miraculous events they might provisionally accept our story while adding a bucket of salt, but at worst we could find ourselves drummed out of our jobs and maybe even into a looney bin: A special, secret looney bin, never to be heard from again.” “Well, we have the Moonlight radio host, my friend Forrest Jenkins who can back us up, he saw Lucky floating and flying off.” “Oh great, somebody whose job is based on listening to crank calls about alien abductors. That’s a big help! No offense intended – I realize he’s your friend and I completely defer to your assessment of his good character, but I think you can see why I believe his corroboration wouldn’t do us a lot of good.”  As they arrived at the hospital, Donovan got through to their boss Vernon Preston in Washington, who ordered them to invent a cover story for their presence at the crime scene and to avoid identifying themselves as NSA agents as much as possible. Donovan avoided describing Lucky to Preston by explaining that they were transporting injured victims to the hospital and had to enter it right away. Dorman pulled into the parking lot behind the ambulance, got out and handed the car keys to the federal marshal who had followed and stopped behind her. She and her entourage entered the hospital with the children after waking them up. Dorman immediately conferred with the local police in the ER waiting room while Donovan talked to nurses about Kurt’s condition. A patient was sitting in the waiting room, so he made sure their discussion was out of his hearing range. Dorman then spoke to one of her men, saying “Marshal Mulder, I need every hospital entrance monitored to prevent intruders if possible, it’s not that big a place so it might be doable with the personnel that are available, and if it’s not, I’ll call some more in. I already called in for more help, but it won’t hurt if you do it also, maybe they’ll ignore me but listen to you. I’ll call local police chiefs and see if they can send me more officers, and I can call in marshals from the crime scene if they’re not needed there. At least two officers should be at ER and the same two outside of Kurt McCarty’s room when he’s moved out of ER. Dr.  Donovan, I know you’re not an MD, but you’re more familiar with this environment than I am, you’ve worked in hospitals a lot, so I need you to coordinate with the medical staff about Kurt’s condition. Make sure Kurt is wheeled into a room by himself as soon as possible. Putting him in a room with another patient could put that patient at risk.”  Donovan spoke to hospital staff about Kurt while Dorman went back out to her car to call their boss Preston again and the kids were taken into a room for examination and treatment of their head injuries. First, she pulled out one of the holstered pistols she had carelessly slid under her seat and strapped it on. Later she would give the other one to Donovan with the admonishment that he should only use it in an emergency in self-defense because his weapons training was so far in the past it was probably for him to even carry or brandish any weapon of any time, but she would take a chance on giving him one while she was short-handed. She then called Preston and told him the

current state of the affairs was overwhelming for her because she had to secure the hospital for children who might remain targets of the perpetrators, so she couldn’t provide him with immediate details and her detailed report would be delayed until later in another call or message. Her non-stop work on the case, the traumatic event at Kurt’s house; and its aftermath, were all catching up with her and she was feeling almost bewildered as she attempted to fed off Preston’s questions, thinking she might sound foolish and maybe suspicious to him, but she had to hold firm because she agreed with Donovan that reporting everything as they actually knew it could put the children at risk. She wasn’t totally convinced that keeping their superiors in the dark was such a good idea after she heard Donovan’s spiel about it, but at the moment she was still going along with the concept. She deliberately spoke hurriedly to Preston as though overwhelmed by events, so he was hardly able to get a word in edge-wise before she signed off and hung up. After speaking to Preston, Dorman remained in the car for a few minutes, closing her eyes and wishing she was a person who prayed like the rest of her family. She attempted to summon a prayer, but she decided it would be insincere and gave up trying. Instead, she sat there for over five minutes with her mind as blank as possible in an attempt to simulate what could be a mitigating meditation if nothing else. She saw nothing ahead of her but more non-stop work for days if not longer, as she strove to conclude this case without another major error in judgment compounding the ones she already made; such as not having a weapon with her when she first arrived at the crime scene, ordering too wide a roadblock radius and probably other errors she hadn’t even discovered yet that later might cause her to slap herself in the head.  She hoped that soon she would find the opportunity for a full night of sleep; otherwise she might totally mismanage the case if she hadn’t done so already, and maybe even fall apart from exhaustion. While Dorman was in the car, Donovan concluded his consultations with the hospital staff and police and received authorization to take Kurt’s entourage into a room that adjoined the closed cafeteria to discuss how to manage the information that they gave to those who questioned them, though that’s not how he described the plan of the meeting to the hospital director who authorized it by phone from his home. Joey’s parents had arrived by this time and took part in the meeting, which resulted in tentative agreement with his assessment that they should all clam up if questioned by anybody about anything with respect to Kurt, Joey, Paul and Karen, which covered the entirety of those who were in the know about Lucky. This would be easiest for Kurt’s parents, who at that point didn’t even know Lucky existed – the angry shouting by Genghis about a magic wand had made no sense to her at the time he was shouting and still  didn’t when they were safe from him an hour later. Dorman attended the meeting but was too tired to participate and was unable to even follow the proceedings. She tuned it out as she sat there, preferring to let Donovan handle it and expecting or at least hoping to comprehend a briefing about the plan from him later when he was alone with her. After the meeting Joey, the teens and the two sets of parents returned to the waiting room and Dorman went out to her car to rest and ignore phone calls from Preston, while Donovan remained in the cafeteria to work on his flow chart. He wasn’t sure that working on this chart was appropriate during the full throes of the security crisis, and like Dorman he was weary and inefficient, but he decided to at least get the chart started in case it might later turn out in retrospect to be of significant value sooner than they were currently anticipating.  Everything was in stasis now as they waited for word from the doctors about Kurt’s condition. 2: BEGINNING RECOVERY Unknown to the children and the NSA agents, Kurt had been thought by the EMTs to have expired because of his lack of vital signs and the stoppage of his breathing even before they got him into the ambulance. Consequently, the ambulance left Kurt’s home with its siren wailing but not at a breakneck speed. However, within two blocks, the EMT riding shotgun exclaimed that he had

seen Kurt move. He immediately clambered back to where Kurt was and found that he had resumed breathing, though with difficulty. They began to race for the hospital, calling in to ER to inform them that they may be able to revive the youngster from the bomb scene. Within minutes they were there and wheeling the gurney in with Kurt on it into the hospital’s ER. A large contingent of hospital was waiting and immediately went to work trying to revive Kurt. Very quickly Kurt's condition improved and his breathing returned to normal, though he remained unconscious. The question now was whether or how much brain injury Kurt had suffered during the minutes – as many as twenty – that he wasn’t breathing and his brain had received no oxygen. It was considered nearly impossible for a person to stop breathing more than a few minutes without sustaining serious brain damage. Both of Kurt’s parents were allowed to see him and were informed in the most diplomatic of terms about a possible unfortunate prognosis due to the extended period that he was oxygen-depleted. Kurt’s mom collapsed and was hospitalized herself and sedated after inferring – without being told expressly – that there was little hope for Kurt’s recovery. Because there were empty rooms available she was wheeled into one instead of being kept in ER with Kurt. For some reason, the tremendous grenade explosion right outside their house not only didn’t injure Paul, it didn’t even wake up Mrs. McCarty’s three-year-old daughter Teresa, who had slept through almost the entire ordeal, being only momentarily awakened by the grenade explosion less than fifty feet from her crib; she was placed at Mrs. McCarty’s side on the hospital bed; Mr. McCarty frantically shuttled back and forth between her room and Kurt’s, being extremely worried about both of them. However, eventually he took a breather by going out to the waiting room and talking to the children. Joey introduced Dorman and Donovan to Mr. McCarty as his friends Chris and Jorge. Because of their formal attire –  business suits and Donovan’s tie – they seemed to Mr. McCarty like odd friends for children to have, but he had other things to think about so he made no inquiry about this peculiarity. After the briefest of conversations he returned to his double vigil at the sides of his wife and son. Although the hospital staff had experience with significant others who worriedly fawned over two or more patients in serious condition at the same time in separate rooms, in this case they were unsure about what to do for him, primarily because his case seemed so special with police and federal marshals inundating the scene. Fortunately, the hospital wasn’t overwhelmed with patients as it had only recently been built and opened and was only slowly receiving its initial set of patients, so the staff were able to accommodate the entire army of characters who invaded it with aplomb. Donovan took Dorman aside and reminded her that they needed to discuss events before sending in reports, so after they made sure there were marshals stationed outside Kurt’s room they went out to Dorman’s car to again discuss what transpired that evening and what to report about it. They would be expected to send in a preliminary report soon, and in fact it was probably considered to be overdue already. Both of them had received text messages from their boss Vernon Preston asking what was up and they both replied that they were in the middle of a crisis and would get back to him as soon as they had a chance to communicate. Donovan laid out his case to her for deceiving their superiors, including Donovan’s good friend Preston. “Listen, Ms. Dorman, you know those polls that always show most Americans don’t trust the government? Well, I’m one of those Americans.” “What are you talking about? What kind of distrust is major enough to risk our careers and wind up being prosecuted in federal court?” “Okay, I guess you’re closer to empathizing with the POV that higher-ups may have than me so maybe I can’t convince you. In my opinion, we can’t trust them. I fear that if we do, the kids could pay a terrible price, with their freedom and maybe even with their lives.” “That’s pretty dramatic, so get down to specifics, I can’t deal with generalities. I’m exhausted and I feel like I’m close to collapsing in a faint, but explain whatever it is you have in mind and I’ll try to understand it if possible.”

“I estimate that only a handful of people know that Joey had Lucky. That would be the kids, my friend Forrest who doesn’t actually know much about him, the criminals who attacked Kurt’s house but probably won’t tell anybody what they know, and finally the parents, who may not know yet but will as soon as the kids clue them in on it. I’m not going to tell the kids to keep their own parents in the dark about Lucky, that’s up to them, it’s not my call, and they haven’t informed us of their intentions about this as yet. We haven’t reported yet that Joey was the one who had Lucky and I’m afraid that if we do, our own government may take action against Joey.” “I don’t see how we can avoid any of that. Preston’s no dummy, he’ll catch onto any run-around and send someone new in to replace us who will get the real scoop.” “Vernon’s my friend, so maybe I know him better than you do, and I don’t think that’s likely to happen. If the few who are currently in the know don’t back us up on this, we can send in a followup revealing the truth about it without directly contradicting our previous report. So far we have the tentative approval of everybody to say they didn’t tell us how the miracle actually happened, so we can send in a preliminary report that clouds the matter. What I’m proposing is to report ambiguously that we didn’t really find out how the miracles happened in order to take the heat off the kids. If they catch one or more of the invaders, he’ll spill the beans about a magic wand, so we’ll have to include a magic wand in our report, but we don’t have to confirm that anybody actually had one.” “Pardon me, like I said, I’m worn out, but what you’re saying sounds like a very weird conspiracy theory to me, I don’t really understand what you’re getting at. But I can go along with that ambiguous preliminary report if you’ll write one that you send in and another one worded differently for me to send in. Make sure that doing this isn’t reversible. I just can’t summon the mental energy to sit and type a bunch of BS at the moment.” “I’m willing to take that on if it’s okay with you. I’m a professional writer and well versed in the description of nuances of every sort.” “Okay, you’re the one with the Ph. D in psychology, so I’ll grant your astuteness in reading how government officials will view the boys and maybe anticipating that they might do something harmful to them. But as tired as I am, my experience in detective work screams out that there’s no way that half a dozen or more people are all going to maintain the same fictitious version of events. One or more of them is going to slip up and reveal what really happened. So don’t count on me sticking with that story, which looks like career suicide … at best. With that, I’m going back in the hospital. Let me know when you have my report ready to send and I’ll review it. If I later get called on it, I’ll just say my mind was befuddled by weariness and I wasn’t thinking straight. In fact, all of that is true or I wouldn’t even have listened to your whacky ideas in the first place, no offense intended.” Dorman pushed her the driver’s door open but didn’t get out immediately; she continued to sit, looking at the bottom of the steering wheel for a few seconds; she felt like she was a hundred years old. Finally, she heaved herself out of the car seat and stood up almost staggering. The day’s events weighed heavily on her but she had a job to do … promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep … she recited mentally from the great Robert Frost. After getting out of Dorman’s car, through its back door Donovan entered the car he had driven down from San Francisco that the marshals had parked next to Dorman’s in the hospital parking lot. He was also very tired but not as worn out as Dorman because he had essentially cruised earlier in the day, watching as she took on all the responsibility and made all of the crucial decisions while he more or less waited, some of that time napping in a hotel room. He pulled out his phone and called Forrest Jenkins, then waited on hold for a commercial break and when it came he quizzed him as to what he had said thus far to his listeners about the event at Kurt’s house; and received welcome news from him that Jenkins had kept Lucky out of the story, only explaining to his listeners that his on-air warning to Kurt was about the explosion that had been reported in the news only a few minutes earlier, and that it looked like his warning during

his broadcast would prove to have been effective. However, he hastened to discount any credit for himself in his explanation to his listeners, pointing out that the warning had been requested by a friend of the party who was injured in the explosion but was expected to survive. Although he had named Kurt during his warning, he mentioned no names when he returned to his station and resumed his show. Jenkins had explained to his audience that the warning had prompted action by the party who was injured that ultimately separated him from the explosion by a sufficient distance to prevent his death or serious injury, but added that this was probably all he would be able to report to them until the next show the following evening. Jenkins was immediately flooded with calls from his listeners demanding to know more, but he was coy, telling them that they would find out more in later shows and to be sure to tune in the next day. Jenkins agreed to Donovan’s request that he not divulge anything more to anyone including his wife before they had a chance to discuss the case and figure out a strategy to deal with the federal authorities that would no doubt be breathing down everybody’s necks very soon; including those of Donovan, Dorman and Jenkins. Before Jenkins could tell Donovan why he kept such important details out of his narrative, he ran out of time and had to end the conversation to go back on the air, but this was enough to inspire Donovan to feel reassured; obviously, if Jenkins had told his listeners about Lucky there would be no way that Donovan could keep Lucky out of the story that he and Dorman communicated to their NSA bosses in the reports that they were obliged to file very soon. After completing the call, Donovan decided he would try to convince Jenkins to keep Lucky’s existence under wraps for the long term when he spoke to him again later that night. He pulled down a tray that was attached to the back of the driver’s seat, started up his laptop on it and began to type the reports that he and Dorman would probably send within the hour. After finishing the reports, one for him and one for Dorman, he reentered the hospital and talked to the parents again about what happened without revealing the full story to them; Mrs. McCarty was feeling better, having been reassured by the kids, and had joined her husband in the waiting room. Donovan and Dorman, who joined them halfway through the conversation, followed their orders from Washington by inventing a cover story, so they had different cover stories for just about everybody. Since they hadn’t actually explained to the kids why they had Kurt’s address or why they went to it, they knew they needn’t worry about the kids contradicting them. They told the parents they were at the crime scene because they had received information that a band of terrorists were in Palo Alto looking for children to abduct and exchange to foreigners for weapons and had targeted Joey and Kurt; furthermore, for this reason they would keep an eye both of them and their siblings on for the time being while they searched for the terrorists, whose capture was considered imminent. Dorman and Donovan were acutely aware that their lives, which at this point were already emotionally and physically drained, had become encumberingly and absurdly complicated: They were being essentially forced to transmit a fake cover story  from  the government to interested parties while simultaneously preparing to report a fake story  to  the government in their effort to protect the children.  Dorman told Joey’s and Kurt’s parents not to worry if they saw unmarked or marked police cars outside their residences for the next few days, until the case was solved and closed. They also asked the parents if they would be willing to attend a crucial meeting some time the next day at the McCarty house to discuss the children’s security and the parents tentatively agreed, though with a muttering of uncertainty that derived from Kurt’s hospitalization without the current anticipation of a favorable outcome. Obviously, as soon as the parents thought about it, they would smell something fishy because there were many other children around, so it would make no sense for the terrorist kidnappers to continue to focus on Joey and Kurt.  But Dorman was feeling exhausted and at the moment unconcerned about what she told Kurt’s parents because she expected them to learn the truth from the children very soon anyway; and if the scheme to deceive the NSA was going to work they would

all have to be become participants in it. From her point of view, trying to extract from the children a promise to lie to their own parents would be outright immoral, and if she received a direct order to do so from D.C. she would simply refuse and in that case was ready resign the NSA if necessary. She and Donovan felt personally involved and in fact felt like they had sincerely become friends of the children. In spite of the somber assessment by doctors, Mr. and Mrs. McCarty became optimistic he would be soon back with them in good health after being emphatically reassured by Joey, his siblings and their mysterious adult friends – the police couple wearing gray business suits – that he was going to pull out of his grievous condition and make a full recovery. After the kids came into Mrs. McCarty’s room and gave her this assurance she abandoned her hospital room outright and began a vigil sitting next to Kurt’s bed, holding Teresa on her lap, still  asleep. Within an hour of arriving at the hospital, Kurt opened his eyes and saw his parents sitting next to his bed. He groggily sat up and hugged them both, shaking and weeping. He knew his parents had barely survived but he couldn’t remember how or why. They told him to relax because the doctors would want him to take it easy and had said they wanted to keep him in the hospital overnight for observation. They said that now wasn’t yet the time for him to come home, but they would be with him continuously until he was released. He would have to receive cognitive tests, but the doctors who examined him after he awoke concluded that he was completely lucid and there was no indication of brain damage. Meanwhile, now relieved that Kurt seemed headed for total recovery, it was nearly midnight when Paul’s thoughts suddenly refocused on his own peril from having been part of the criminal conspiracy to steal Lucky from Joey. Paul went out to the parking lot and called his buddy Monkey, the ringleader of the foiled plot who had disastrously brought the biker Genghis into what was supposed to be a non-violent scheme to commandeer Kurt’s magic wand – only to watch in bewildered consternation as Genghis went off on his own and blew up Kurt’s house. “Paul, why haven’t you been answering your phone, I been calling you for hours. What the hell  is going on, what did that fool Genghis do? Did they catch him? I been calling him but he doesn’t answer his phone either.” “I turned my phone off. I was worried about Kurt and not interested in talking to you about anything. I got real bad news for you, Monkey, Genghis blew up Kurt’s damn house over here. I can’t believe it, why did you get that damn psycho involved in this, we’re all headed for prison and it’s all your damn fault!” “What? Blew up his house? I saw a news report about an explosion across town, but I had no idea … What the hell, are you telling me Kurt’s dead?" “No, Kurt will be okay, nobody’s badly hurt. But we’re still in humongous trouble, this was a damned armed home invasion and attempted murder. We‘ll get like, life sentences, or at least 30 or 40 years! Jezzis, Monkey you screwed us totally, our lives are ruined! You damned fool!” “Jesus Christ, how could Genghis do something like that? That sucka’s outta his mind! Wait a minute, Spider didn’t like how it was going down and didn’t want his name in it any more so he called his van in stolen after Genghis left my place, and am I sure glad he did because it takes the heat off us. Some cops already been to Spider‘s house but they didn’t tell him why and he told them he didn’t know nothin’ about nothin’ and that somebody swiped his van. I tried to call Genghis to tell him to back off and forget the whole thing but he hasn’t answered his phone once. If they don’t bust Genghis and he doesn’t rat on us, they may never find out we were in on it.” “Genghis ran off and nobody has said they caught him. They might have nabbed him by now and I just haven’t heard about it, but it seems like they would have brought him to the hospital for Kurt’s parents to ID him if they had caught him and that hasn’t happened yet. I been here at the hospital for more than an hour, all the time Kurt and his family have been here. On the other hand, maybe they do have him and they’re just not revealing it for whatever reason, maybe because they suspect us so they don’t want us to find out about it and lam it out of town. We just have to wait and see how this plays out. But there won’t be any time when we won’t have this hanging over our heads,

unless there’s some kind of statute of limitations that expires on it. But that may not happen because they might decide to classify this as an act of terror, which means we won’t have any rights to due process or a lawyer or anything like that, they can just grab us off the street and put us into a secret prison for the rest of our lives. You really jumped the shark on this one, Monkey. I was doing okay with a girl friend and a job that I didn’t even appreciate like I should’ve and now I’m royally screwed and so probably are you. This is all gonna land on us like a ton of bricks and it’s all your fault from bringing that looney Genghis into it.” “Okay, okay I get it that you’re not satisfied with my choice of Genghis, but I never had any idea he would do anything like this, I never heard of him shooting or blowing up anybody since he was a U.S. Marine, and other Marines don’t come back from war and start one in their own neighborhoods, so I don’t really get why you’re so down on me, it was just a mistake, I had no way of knowing he would do nothin’ like that. Anyway, let’s just lie low, we don’t know that they’re going to tie us into what Genghis did. Don’t forget that CIA guy that the government knew was a spy, they even took pictures of him secretly meeting with Russian agents and they followed him around for months in an obvious way hoping he would break and admit what he did, but he never did so they finally gave up and he was never busted – he died a free man with not even an arrest record. So we just have to clam up no matter how much pressure they put on us because if any one of us breaks it’s curtains for all of us."  "I might have to tell the cops everything, but they won't believe it anyway." "Don’t tell them nothin’, tell them you don’t know nothin’ and you had nothin’ to do with it and Spidey and me will do the same thing. There’s a chance that some neighbor saw Genghis get into Spidey’s van and leave my place in it, but it was dark so I doubt it, only two houses across the street can see my driveway, not my next door neighbors because it’s a fenced-in carport – I always hated that damn carport, but now I’m sure glad it was there. And even if they catch Genghis and he spills the beans there’s a chance we can still beat the rap because it’s his words against ours. You have a clean record and you never thought about harming your own brother, so if Genghis rats on you no jury is going to believe him. And Genghis is tough as nails, he got busted once for a ton of drugs and never squealed on nobody and got off with a misdemeanor, so he knows better than to give us up. I think we got a real chance to clean all of this up and go on about our business. Cops will talk to you like they’re your friends and they sympathize and want to help you out of a jam, but they’ll be hiding a knife and as soon as you admit anything and you turn around they’ll plunge it into your back. The first thing you gotta remember is that you can’t trust the cops. Listen, this is the last time we talk about any of this on any phone. If they make us suspects they’ll start listening in on us. I gotta see you ASAP, tell me where to meet you.” “I’m at Ridgewood Hospital nowhere near my car so I can’t come to wherever you are. You should pick me up in front here, but park across the street. Don’t even come into the hospital parking lot, you might arouse suspicion, there’s feds and cops crawling all over this place. Just call me when you get over here and tell me where you’re parked.” “Feds? What do you mean feds, why would they be there?” “They’re in on this action, they were looking for Joey, they know what he was doing with his magic wand, but they got there too late, right after Genghis split the scene. He left Spidey’s van there, I don’t know why he didn’t drive it and instead took off on foot.” Paul had learned from the kids that the magic wand he had previously discussed with Monkey was a small round device, not a wand, but he wasn’t interested in any niceties, such as explaining this to Monkey, who continued, “Well, I didn’t help Genghis get away. I told you, he didn’t call me and he didn’t answer when I called him. Whaddaya think, he hopped a bus, or he called one of his buddies? Or maybe he had some kind of spare wheels that he put in the van and used to escape?” “I don’t have a clue. He couldn’t drive two cars, so he must be on foot. Or maybe like you say, he put a bike in the van and switched to it after leaving Kurt’s house.”

“Okay, so I’ll repeat myself now. Like I just said, you can’t trust the cops so don’t tell them anything, and that goes for these feds that are running around over there, but be careful you don’t contradict yourself. Don’t do what they call embellishing, by adding to what you said before because that’s a sure way to get tripped up and I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to get caught lying to a fed. Think up a simple and plausible excuse that they can’t prove is false for whatever they throw at you and stick to it, or better yet, just refuse to answer any questions at all  cuz they can’t force you to answer anything. Tell them you want to speak to your lawyer before you talk to them. If you slip up just one time, that’s all they need to nail you and maybe me and Spidey too. Anyway, I’ll  be over by Ridgewood in about fifteen minutes, just sit tight and wait for me.” “Okay, I’ll see you here, but get one thing straight, Monkey. You screwed this up, not me, and I don’t give a damn what you want me to do. The only thing I care about is protecting my family, and if I have to run both of us to do that, I will. I can’t even understand how I let you get me mixed up in something like this. I’m not no little kid, there’s no excuse for me.” “Yeah Paul, I know I screwed this up, but don’t be so hot-headed about it, you gotta keep cool if we’re gonna get through this in one piece. Don’t do anything rash and make it all even worse ciz your own family isn’t going to be tickled pink about you goin’ down for what Genghis did. Remember, Genghis was the one who did all this cockeyed crap ... not you, not me.” Paul ended the call without further comment and went back into the hospital, glumly imagining himself as he walked sitting in a cell looking at iron bars for the rest of his life. 3: HOMECOMING It was past midnight when Dorman and Donovan returned to San Francisco for a few hours of sleep and to check in at the federal building with various tasks such as returning extra firearms, and late the next morning they returned to Palo Alto. They both felt personally involved with the children at this point and not as inspired to pursue their official duties as much as doing what they could to help them, but they nevertheless continued to wear formal business attire to maintain protocol with the police who would be parked outside of Kurt’s home as well as federal marshals that may still be needed. Joey, Natalie, Paul and Karen had cleared their schedules and congregated with Kurt and Joey’s families at the McCarty house to wait for his grand arrival after being released from the hospital. As it turned out, they had to wait a few hours because Kurt was still a bit wobbly in the morning, so he wasn’t released from the hospital until late in the afternoon. Finally, he went home with his parents in their car and Dorman and Donovan in the back seat; followed by an unmarked police car that stopped and parked in front of their house as they pulled into their driveway.  On the way, Kurt and Dorman told his parents about Lucky, but they were totally dumbfounded; they had never heard of anything like this and couldn’t make sense of it. They sat silently listening and didn’t say one word or ask a single question. Several neighbors were on hand to greet Kurt, but they dispersed when he went inside with his friends and family; the McCartys didn’t invite the neighbors in because they had been told by Dorman and Donovan that they would later be hearing something that was for their ears only. The reunion in the driveway was joyful; all of them were near tears except Paul and the adults, including Forrest Jenkins, who was present on Donovan’s request. Jenkins not only didn’t reveal the full Lucky story to his listening audience when he returned to his station after seeing Lucky fly off into the blue beyond, later he didn’t even tell his wife the full details, though he didn’t really know why he was keeping so much close to the vest. He only described to his listeners a rescue of the boy that he warned on the air without mentioning any names, though of course his listeners had heard him earlier that evening addressing the warning to Kurt by name. Even when his callers badgered him for more details he withheld them for reasons he himself didn’t fully understand. He thought, Maybe I’m just teasing my audience so I can get more listeners as this sensational story goes national and even global. Or maybe

I’m holding out for a big time book contract, or maybe I’m trying to protect those kids, even though I can’t say how not talking about the floating screen would do that. I’ll just stay mum’s the word for now, I’ve got plenty of time to tell more about what I really know later … But then he thought … Maybe that floating tv dude is actually evil and he’s somehow controlling my mind and keeping me from blurting out the truth … Whatever the reason for it, the bottom line was that what Jenkins had disclosed to the public and others around him thus far hadn’t become an obstacle to actuating a disinformation campaign by Donovan against the government. Donovan listened to recordings of the Moonlight shows after the home invasion and was relieved to learn that Jenkins gave only a partial description of what he saw that night; and when he later spoke to him Jenkins agreed to withhold crucial information about Lucky for the time being; so Donovan and Dorman carried out their plan for a debriefing of sorts for the children and their families. To try to make sure everybody would be present for it they asked them if they had several hours to dedicate for the afternoon meeting, and they all said they had open schedules; everyone, including Paul and the parents of both Joey and Kurt, decided to be absent an entire day from work and school. Dorman and Donovan had decided that at this get-together they would see if they could collectively put together an infallible cover story to tell the NSA, but they didn’t want to go right into it; first would be the joyous celebration for Kurt’s return home and later they would solemnify the atmosphere with a discussion of the kids’ security vis-à-vis the U.S. government. They all gathered in the dining room and ate slices from a huge Welcome Home cake that was purchased just a half hour earlier for the occasion. Joey said, “Kurt, you can talk about everything, there’s no secrets in this group. Christine and Jorge are our friends. Don’t worry about them, they know everything already.” “You guys gotta tell me what happened. Mom and dad told me about a guy with a grenade but I don’t remember it. Christine and Jorge said he got away, that’s why cops followed us home and are watching our house. What I wanna know is, where’s Lucky, what’s he up to now? Is he in your pocket?” Joey answered, “You didn’t know he left? He went up into space. We don’t know if he’s coming back or what.” Kurt asked, “Off into space? You mean he flew up and he disappeared like he did in that valley? He’s gone?” “Yeah. He got real big and showed us that you were going to be all right, and then he just flew away and was gone. He seemed to be meeting something that was already up there, we don’t know what that was, a space ship or something. He’s gone for now, Kurt.” “So what do you think? He saved me and my family? But none of this would have happened at all if he hadn’t showed up in the first place.” Joey said, “That’s true. But all those people would have died in that stadium without Lucky.” “So you think that was your mission that you talked about, saving those people? Like Christ coming down or a purpose?” “Well, we can’t compare Lucky to Christ. We know that Lucky is good, but that’s the only comparison we can make.  We don’t know about purpose or a mission. I don’t think there’s any scripture that predicted Lucky coming – there’s a lot of differences… ” Joey stopped speaking momentarily and looked at the adults in the room uncertainly, half expecting to hear them correct him, explaining to him that there was actually some kind of Bhagavad Gita or Kama Sutra or something that did predict Lucky’s arrival, but they stood mute so he resumed his dialogue. Donovan said, “You’d have to look in science fiction books, not scriptures, to find a prediction that Lucky would show up. But there’s another thing. Natalie and Karen and I all remember us being together hundreds of years ago and being saved by Lucky then too. If you remember Lucky going up in that valley, you must remember just about everything we remember about what happened there.”

Kurt replied, “I probably do. Last night I had a dream of thunderous, world-ending noise in the distance and a mountain crashed down on our enemies when they were attacking us. Lucky did it, he showed up right after everything and everybody froze in place just like what happened at the stadium when the earthquake hit, and Joey and Natalie and Karen were there too. Joey shouted “Destroy! a buncha times but at first I couldn’t hear him but finally he shouted so loud it seemed like it shook the whole valley and that’s when the mountain crashed down. But I know it wasn’t his shout as much as it was Lucky that brought it down. It was just like the dream Karen told us about before we moved into that motel. You kids were all grown-ups and there was a guy way up on a mountain to our right who was too far away for me to see his face, but I knew it was Paul who was standing there as a lookout.” Paul said, “Yeah, I was there. It’s weird. I was an adult looking down at you and you were looking up at me, and here we are still young guys hundreds of years later, remembering it all. Jeez!” Joey continued, “That’s right, that’s exactly what happened. Lucky showed up and saved the day, and I don’t think my shouting had anything to do with it. And before Lucky left then, and again this time, he showed us all hugging each other in some village somewhere.” Kurt protested, “In a village? There’s no villages any more. I don’t remember seeing any village.” “You should have seen it, you were there with us looking right at Lucky when we were all in the valley. Maybe that bump on the head made you forget it. Anyway, there’s no real villages in the U.S. but plenty of other countries have hundreds or thousands of villages.” “So we’re all going to another country?” “I don’t know, I’m just telling you what we saw when Lucky left. And either you or me got there a lot later than the other, it looked like, because we were hugging like we hadn’t seen each other in like, twenty years.” Karen interjected, “Maybe we should all go live in a village where there’s no crazy maniacs running around throwing grenades at innocent people.” “There’s no place like that any more,” commented Natalie. “These days even villages are full of nuts throwing grenades.” “Not really,” said Donovan. “There are some peaceful ones, like in Belize, Costa Rica, Norway, Sweden ... ”  Karen interrupted, “Sweden? That wasn’t Sweden we saw. It was like, a bunch of straw huts or something.”  Kurt agreed, “No, I guess you’re right about that.” Joey asked, “So what do we do now, just go back to school and back to our boinky lives? How can we do that?”  Kurt smiled, “That’s what it looks like – but it’s better than being blown up by a grenade, right?”  Joey was puzzled. “I don’t know what’s going on. Maybe we’ve been transferred to Freddie’s nano world where nothing makes sense.” Natalie interjected, “I know what make sense right now and will improve our boinky lives – pizza and ice cream!” Kurt responded, “Joey and I can ride our bikes over to the shopping center and get that. Do you have your bike here, Joey?” Karen said, “No way, Kurt, we’ll go in my car. Your parents aren’t going to want you to run around all over the place. You just got out of the hospital so you need to take it easy. I’ll go get the ice cream, and pizza places deliver, so we don’t really have to go anywhere for that. Am I right, Mr. McCarty?” Mr. McCarty said, “You certainly are. You’re grounded for now, Kurt, no school, no bike riding, no nothing until the doctors clear you for duty.”

Donovan  cut in, “Wait a minute Karen. You’re not a material witnesses or in our custody or anything, but we are very concerned about the safety of all of you, at least for now until this all settles down a little bit, if that’s even possible. Ms. Dorman or I can go get the ice cream from the strip mall. We’ll be back in a flash.” With no objection heard, Donovan headed out the door and a few minutes later brought back five gallons of different flavors of ice cream, but Dorman didn’t join him because she didn’t want to miss any of the conversation. Joey said, “Kurt, what about we spend overnight with you. I’m not scared of anything bad happening, but I’m just thinking if we’re close together we might get a message or something from Lucky, he might show up and give us a clue about what to do next. We could go home and take care of our stuff and come back tonight.” “Yeah, that’s a cool idea. We can bring futons into my room and all of us sleep there. Is that okay, mom?” Mrs. McCarty hadn’t spoken a word since they all walked into the house, but now she smiled and said, “It sure is, almost anything you want to do is okay from now on after the doctors say you’re okay and as long as your security detail keeps you safe. You’re going to be the most spoiled boy in California after what we went through.”  About half an hour later, after the ice cream and pizza were played out, Dorman finally called the meeting in Kurt’s living room. She began with, “This isn’t official business for me, I called you all here because of my personal concern about Kurt and all of you, after consulting with Dr. Donovan, who likewise is doing this unofficially and feels the same way I do. In terms of the police outside and other authorities, we’re federal officers, but in terms of you, we think of you as our friends and we want to help and protect you any way we can, including from our own government that employs us. As you may already know, we’ve already leaned on the owner of the van that was used to attack Kurt’s home, but he claims it was stolen from him and we haven’t yet been able to connect him to the crime. Paul knows him but he says he’s unaware of any criminal proclivities this man might have other than peripheral involvement with a biker gang that has had some trouble over property crimes and drugs, and he has a minor record of misdemeanors, no felonies. A couple of his arrests were for felonies but they were plea bargained down and all he got was probation.” Kurt asked, “Really? You know him, Paul?” “Yeah, you know him too, it’s Spidey.” “Oh, Spidey, yeah we all know him, he’s actually a really nice guy. I never figured on him as a violent gangster or anything.” Donovan continued, “We have no proof that he is a gangster. He insists that he left the keys in the van and it was stolen from him just before the invasion, and we have only a suspicion that it wasn’t, so unfortunately, we’re still at square one in the investigation of who perpetrated this attempted murder of Kurt and his family. But it’s only been a few hours since it happened, so there’s still  a good chance we’ll track these guys down. We put a rush job on examining the physical evidence we gathered from the van and this house this morning, but so far it has led us nowhere, so the attackers may have skillfully covered their tracks and made an effective escape. This could indicate they’re professionals, which to us is cause for extreme concern because it would be better if they were just amateur thugs. Amateurs have a high priority of staying out of jail, so with all the police and federal involvement, they won’t try again. Pros are a different story, they’re persistent and determined even in the face of repeated failures." Mr. McCarty asked, "How else do you differentiate between the amateurs and professionals, by their equipment and training?" "Professionals  may be ideologues who will stop at nothing to reach their goal, so we’ll have to be vigilant, whereas amateurs will just move their focus elsewhere because their goal is to make a buck, and they can do that many illegal ways without tangling with federal authorities. Anyway, Ms.

Dorman and I had a long discussion on the way back down here from San Francisco this morning, and we came to a conclusion that Joey or Kurt could actually be targeted by our own government. We have no evidence that this will happen, mostly just intuition from both of us having worked with these government spooks for many years. We’re afraid that if you talk about Lucky, the government might think you can get Lucky back again, so they might want to try to capture Kurt like those criminals tried to do. What we are proposing to you now is to keep a hush on what actually happened, and to just tell the government that Joey or Kurt were at those events and you both felt some kind of psychic power but you don’t know if this was what changed the events. And that the psychic power ebbed away from you and now you don’t feel any more ability to change anything. Of course, if the government disagrees and is convinced you still have psychic powers, we might get the same result that we’re afraid of, but I don’t know any other way to go on this. Does anybody else here have a suggestion?” Nobody spoke because none of this scenario had occurred to any of them, so they had no opportunity to discuss this in advance and consequently they had nothing to contribute in response to his request, and after a moment of silence Donovan continued, “So what do you think? Do we want to go this route? We’ll all have to tell the same story, we can’t diverge in a single detail if possible. If anybody blows the whistle on Lucky, we’ll all be sunk, and that especially means Ms. Dorman and me. We’ll be in more trouble than you can imagine.” At first, the parents expressed doubt that the government would target Kurt, because he was an American citizen with Constitutional rights, Donovan disabused them of that notion, explaining that the government had a history of violating the Constitutional rights of Americans when it felt threatened by them, and that this present case was an example of something that would make them feel threatened. Finally, after much discussion, everyone including the parents, tentatively expressed a willingness to tell this psychic cover story to whoever asked, and that was the end of the meeting. Then there was a long, sober pause during which nobody said anything until Karen suddenly spoke up exuberantly. “That’s it then. I’ll call for more pizza!” Paul said, smiling “Jeez, Natalie, you ate about fifteen slices already, chill out, you’re going to explode like the guy in that Monty Python movie!” Dorman said, “Unfortunately, we can’t stay for more pizza. We need to drive back up to San Francisco to tie up some loose ends and file more rigamarole reports to our superiors. On our wait out we’ll make sure that the two officers out front will trail you to the pizza shop to make sure you’re safe. If it’s okay with you, one or both of us will come by here again tomorrow. Is that all right?”  Kurt said, “Sure, come over any time, and thanks for everything.” “You have my work and personal numbers and Ms. Dorman’s the business cards we gave you, so call us any time you want to, day or night. We’re at your bid and call as long as we’re kept on this case and afterwards as your friends if we’re removed from it.” Dorman and Donovan left the house, spoke to the officers who were sitting in a car outside the house, and drove back to San Francisco. They sat in their car until federal marshals they had called for arrived to enhance the security watch, after learning that they were only a few minutes away. After they left, Mr. McCarty asked Joey, “Are you sure we can trust them?”  Joey replied, “Well, I would ask Lucky if we should trust them if he was here, but he isn’t. But yeah, I do trust them. If their bosses told them to do something that would harm us, they would warn us and refuse to do it. Anything’s possible, but I’m not worried at all that they would doublecross us.” “What do you mean, you would ask Lucky. You can ask him questions?” “No, I don’t really mean that, I don’t exactly know what I mean. But he asks me to choose between stuff, so if he can ask me that, why can’t I ask him something? In fact I already asked him to do something for me and he did it, though he didn’t exactly say Yes, I’ll do it. I think the time may

come when I’ll have to ask him a question and he’ll answer it with that chyron he runs at the bottom of his screen.” Mr. McCarty interjected, “As a working man myself, let me tell you kids that I know what it’s like to face the possible loss of your livelihood, your reputation and all that. Those two folks are taking a big risk to their careers and lives by colluding with us to make up a fake story to tell the government. They’re laying their careers and maybe their lives on the line for us, so you should be grateful to them. We should all be grateful to them.” Karen’s parents, who hadn’t attended Kurt’s homecoming or the meeting at his home, were somewhat reluctant to give her permission to stay overnight at Kurt’s house, fearing her continued involvement could spell trouble for her in some way; and at sixteen, she seemed a bit old to them for pajama parties. Paul was even older by a year and declined to participate in a co-ed pajama party with teens and subteens, preferring to spend the night at his girl friend’s apartment instead. That night, Joey, Natalie and Karen returned to Kurt’s home; they dragged the futons that formed the living room couch into Kurt’s room, and for a while they talked about Lucky and when or if they would see him again. Finally, they started an online movie on Kurt’s large-screen monitor, deciding to play one that might uplift them rather than something like a crime story full of shootings and dead people. First they watched a couple of old time comedies such as Mr. Ed and Tool Time because the comedies being offered this tv season didn’t appeal to any of them. Then they chose a fantasy movie about dragons that had just been released for home viewing after finishing its theater run. However, when the dragon theme first appeared on the screen they all looked at each other smiling, mentally communicating the irony that a dragon was nothing compared to their Lucky.  It might have fascinated them before they met Lucky, but now it seemed pale by comparison, so they started to become bored and began checking the tv listings for other movies or tv shows that were playing at that time. While the movie was playing, it suddenly stopped and a yellow question mark appeared on the screen; Joey recognized it immediately. He told the others this was precisely what he saw when Lucky first gave him a choice. They wondered if he was giving them one now, and if so, what was it? But the question mark disappeared and the movie continued. However, after a few more minutes of the movie it stopped again and Joey recognized a series of scenes, starting with the valley scene of a mountain imploding and crushing hundreds of warriors, followed by the spelling bee conducted by Mr. Sheridan in his English class, the yo-yo contest in the school auditorium that Kurt won, the sign showing Joey’s name as the winner of a swimming race, the Bay to Breakers foot race that Joey changed after the proper winner was bumped and lost unfairly, the Stadium Miracle that saved thousands of lives, Paul kicking a hand grenade at Kurt’s house, the village scene, which was the only one that hadn’t happened yet; followed by what looked like a glitch or visual effect – a yellow streak that crossed the screen from left to right in about a second and then disappeared, and the chyron, which was the single cryptic word, Entity.  The village scene appeared for a few seconds exactly as they saw it on Lucky’s billboard the night of the home invasion, and after it disappeared they expected something new, but nothing followed except the streak and the one odd word; instead of Lucky showing more scenes, the movie recommenced at the same point of progress that it had left. At this point they no longer gave a hoot about the silly dragon movie and stopped it and discussed what they all saw, but they didn’t make any progress in figuring out the implications of any of it from the village onward. Mostly they were still wondering about the village scene but they became more curious about the yellow streak and the unusual word that Lucky used to describe it than they were the first time. They were gratified that Lucky seemed to be staying in touch with them, and although it could be a coincidence, it seemed to them reasonable to conclude that Lucky knew they were together, watching for his message. They discussed whether they should call Christine and Jorge, who were part of this too because they were in the village scene Lucky showed them. Being adults, they could think more elaborately and maybe

figure something out that they couldn’t. But it was close to midnight so they didn’t call them. Although they watched the dragon movie to the finish, they were distracted and didn’t really pay much attention to it, talking all the way through it. They played more movies just for the noise while they talked about Lucky, and they finally fell asleep late in the night.  They agreed that Lucky had summarized their history with him, but what they failed to apprehend was his message to them that they would all meet him again. 4: KURT DISAPPEARS The next day, Mr. and Mrs. McCarty took the day off from work to take Kurt to a clinic where he was expedited for cognitive tests and a brain scan if a need for one was indicated. He still didn’t remember the home invasion, but his parents decided on the way to the clinic to refuse a brain scan for the time being even if the doctor recommended one because Kurt seemed okay to them apart from the memory loss of that traumatic event, which to them seemed reasonable rather than extraordinary due to its traumatic nature. They weren’t confident that the scan wouldn’t itself cause injury to their son, who appeared to then to be in good health other than a lump on his upper forehead from striking a tree root when Paul threw himself on top of him. He was young and resilient, and they felt confident that he would recuperate completely given enough time and a relaxing atmosphere at home. They both were granted time off from work to stay at home with him, thanks to the NSA putting in a good word for them with their employers. However, after a couple of days, Mr. McCarty felt restless and began working half days. When they returned home, Kurt was quickly became bored and on the third day he asked if he could ride his bike around the block; his parents assented to this with the condition that he return within fifteen minutes. Mrs. McCarty went outside and waived at the police car parked in front of their house and pointed at Kurt on his bike, and the officers waived back, so he thought they would follow him; within seconds Kurt had ridden his bike around the corner and was out of sight. Kurt’s dad came outside then, and while Kurt’s mom went back inside he watched Kurt turn the corner half a block away and was surprised when the police car didn’t follow him.  This seemed  exceeding strange  to him because he thought their presence was exclusively intended for Kurt’s protection. However, unlike Mrs. McCarty, Kurt’s father was unconvinced that the criminals who invaded their house would continue to target them. After mulling over what the NSA agents told them, he had concluded that they were being over-dramatic and particularly cautious because their jobs and their duties for the government got the better of them. Although he could have gone to the police car and spoken to the officers to inquire as to why they stayed put, he decided not to because he didn’t see any real risk in a ride around the block – he was later to regret that decision and heard himself severely upbraided by his indignant wife who had taken the danger very seriously but had been out of earshot when Kurt’s father let him take off on his bike.  She also mentally kicked herself for going back inside prematurely. Mr. McCarty didn’t worry about Kurt until almost half an hour passed, and then rang Kurt’s phone, but Kurt didn’t answer it. He called Kurt’s mother, who was working in their shared office upstairs and informed her about what happened, and she hurried out and asked the officers if they had any way to contact Kurt; for instance if they had a second car that was with Kurt or if a federal car had followed him. They said they had no way to contact Kurt and hadn’t even noticed that he left the house in spite of having waived back Mrs. McCarty; nor had they noticed that that the federal car had left the scene. In sum, they were unaccountably oblivious of everything to which they should have been paying serious attention. Mrs. McCarty asked them to cruise around the block and find him because he might have fainted somewhere and may need to come home in their car. Meanwhile, her husband got into his car and immediately started off and turned the corner where Kurt and the police did earlier. Kurt’s mother decided to stay home for the time being, but a few

minutes later after her husband returned without having found Kurt, they put a note on the door for him telling him to just stay home because they would be back very soon; then they jumped into their car and went driving around the neighborhood, occasionally calling out Kurt’s name as they went, in case he had collapsed behind bushes or trees and could hear them. Numerous trips around the block in a swing that took them further and further out to the fringes of their neighborhood were to no avail, as they found neither hide nor hair of their son. When they finally returned home, the police car was back in front of their residence and the officers told them they had called in about Kurt not returning after his bike ride. The day progressed with still no appearance by Kurt or an explanation of why he hadn’t come home or turned up anywhere else. They called Joey and every one of Kurt’s friends, but they were all in school with their cell phones turned off, so there was no effective way to contact them. They finally asked the marshals and the police to at least notify Joey’s marshal guardians so they would tell Joey what was going on as soon as he left school. Because Joey lived a short bike ride from his school, he sometimes went home for lunch, and on this day he decided not to eat in the cafeteria because he still had plenty of pizza left over from the huge orgy his sister ordered after Kurt was released from the hospital. As he walked out of a classroom to head home a federal  who was assigned to guard him greeted him with the disconcerting news about Kurt.  The  marshal  told Joey the police had heard that Kurt was missing, but he had no details he could provide him about it, and that they would call him or knock on his door of his home as soon as they received more information. Meanwhile, he could take the rest of the day off from school if he wanted to and they could drive him to Kurt’s house. Joey was disinclined to ride around with marshals and figured Kurt would be found soon safe and sound, so he rode straight home followed by his protectors in two cars; a third car with a local policeman in it was already in front of his home when he arrived there. He went inside and immediately received a call from Mr. McCarty about Kurt’s disappearance.  Joey and Natalie were the only two people in the house; their parents and their brother Paul had resumed their work schedules, so they weren’t home. After receiving the call from Mr. McCarty, Joey burst into Natalie’s room. “Natalie, Kurt is missing, Mrs. McCarty just called me. He went out for a bike ride and didn’t come back. His parents say he’s more than way overdue coming home from a ride that was supposed to be just around the block.” “I know, I talked to her. I tried to call mom and dad and Paul and Karen, but so far I reached only Paul, and he says he doesn’t know what we should do besides just wait. What good is having a phone with you 24/7 if you don’t answer it? This is frustrating. I also called you but I guess you had your phone turned off in class. Where could Kurt be? Maybe his head injury made him dizzy and he fell into a ravine somewhere.” “No, there’s no ravine or any other wild place like that around his house. There’s tall shrubbery next to the tracks of that Caltrain tunnel a few blocks from his house, but they said they already checked around there.” “Maybe they just missed him, he could still be there. Remember that woman in Central Park whose bones were found a year after hundreds of people searched the same place with a fine toothed comb? I don’t mean to say that Kurt will turn up as dead or bones, I’m just saying that even the most professional searchers can mess up. Karen will drive us over there, we can’t just wait around and hope the police will find him, she’s already on her way over here. The cops out front might take us there but I’d rather go with Karen. I thought the police were supposed to be watching Kurt, did they stop doing that?” “No, they were there right in front of the house, but they must have been napping because they told Mrs. McCarty they didn’t even see him leave.” “Wow, they always say,  where are the police when you need them, but in this case they were actually there but were asleep at the wheel and didn’t do anything.”

“Anyway, call Karen again, isn’t she still in school?” “No, she’s in summer break, you should know that already since you see her, like, every day almost.”  Meanwhile, Joey called Dorman, who said she already knew about Kurt’s disappearance and had called Donovan; they were going to leave San Francisco for Kurt’s house within the hour, and advised that when Joey left his house in Karen’s car he should make sure he has his security escort behind them. About fifteen minutes later, Karen arrived and walked into the house without knocking. “Natalie, what’s this about Kurt being missing? Did they find him yet?” “He’s been missing over an hour. He went out for a short bike ride but he never came home.”  Natalie finally reached her parents on the way to Kurt’s house, where they were informed that Kurt was still missing, so they headed over to the Caltrain tracks. There they found police had yellow-taped much of the area and were scouring the brush looking for any sign that Kurt had been there. Dorman and Donovan arrived with the news that a witness had reported seeing a boy pulled with his bike into a van by three men near the tracks and got a partial on the license plate. A van with a matching color and the same partial license plate number was located in a shopping center parking lot two miles from Kurt’s home, but it had only a woman in it and no sign of Kurt or his bike. For some reason, the identity of the woman and van registration information was unavailable. Dorman repeatedly inquired and each time was given the same negative response about the ID of the woman and the van, which Dorman found suspicious. Later that day, she called another meeting of the friends and family in Kurt’s house. Donovan and Forrest Jenkins were present, the latter invited by Donovan. She began it with a brief soliloquy. “I asked you to attend this meeting because information I have received thus far gives rise to my suspicion that it was our own government that abducted Kurt. Dr. Donovan and I had nothing to do with it and would have stopped it if we could have. We both flamed our boss in D.C. about the government’s possible involvement in this but he has ignored our messages, which strikes me as further cause for suspicion. Dr. Donovan is a good friend of our boss and knows him very well from having worked and socialized with him in the past, and says that this non-denial from him seems as suspicious to him as it does to me. I wish I could express confidence that this means Kurt is safe, and I do think he’s safer than if criminals had done this, but I just don’t know for sure, we really need to pray for Kurt’s safety and hope for the best because it’s unlikely we can influence events. According to Lucky himself, Kurt will be okay and will meet you in the near future, so we can obtain solace from that."  Natalie asked, "But what will  you do for him?" “Whatever I can do to gain his release, of course I will do it regardless of my duties as an employee of the United States government. In fact, I won’t hesitate to violate orders and go against my government. I have no duty to a government that does this to our friend and your loved one. I repeat: No duty whatsoever to such a government! Mr. Jenkins, I would appreciate your public reticence about the matters we’re discussing here today. I reviewed your broadcasts on your Moonlight show and concluded that it’s possible your description of the village scene caused the spate of rumors that are floating around my agency the last few days that the reunion with Kurt will occur in Big Sur, England or West Africa. I have been unable to track down the source of the rumors, so I have nothing to offer that’s new about that. Before I go on, are there any questions?”  Nobody said anything in response so he continued with, “Dr. Donovan and I will fly tomorrow to D.C. and confront our boss, but we’re doing it without any real prospect of receiving cooperation or new information; rather, it’s a moral imperative for us. We’ll be calling and visiting you when we return, which we may do as newly fired, unemployed civilians. We don’t really care about that at this point, we only care about Kurt. I’m sorry that’s all I have to say, I wish I could tell you that we have some news that is more hopeful. Thank you for meeting us.”

Days stretched into weeks and weeks into months with no word from Kurt McCarty or news about his fate. PART II A GENIUS FINDS WORK

5: HIRED BY AN INDUSTRIALIST Twelve-year-old German Radder’s parents, whom he lived with in Dusseldorf, were both combative and had become alienated from their families, so they had no contact with them except for the father’s two uncles in Detroit, whom they visited as part of their trip to vacation and attend an exposition. They weren’t on particularly friendly towards one uncle’s family, which dubiously claimed they had too small a house to accommodate them while they were in town. Fortunately, the other uncle helped defray the cost of their travels by letting them stay in his extra bedroom. However, they found they didn’t get along with the uncle who accepted them either, so they soon moved out of his house and into the hotel, which turned out to be a fatal decision because a fire in the dead of night overcame them with smoke and only Klaus survived. Klaus was already a disturbed child when he tipped over the edge due to the death of his parents. He had exhibited significant instability before that and after losing his parents he became distraught and inconsolable. After the fire, a Detroit court temporarily turned Klaus over to one of his two Detroit uncles who was an American citizen after learning that he had no family in Germany to go back to. Klaus had no choice but to settle down and apply himself to school studies, and eventually preferred to remain in the U.S. rather than return to Germany where he would encounter reminders of his former life before he was orphaned. The uncle eventually adopted Klaus, who had quickly improved his fluency in English, excelled in his studies and became an immigrated American. However, throughout his school years he was always withdrawn, embittered by the loss of his parents; and suffered numerous breakdowns and seizures, even having to be medicated at times to protect him from himself and others. His life apart from his personal travails consisted of nothing but dedication to academia, and he graduated from high school as the valedictorian and went on to university studies. Later, while doing physics research he claimed to have made theoretical discoveries about atomic fusion that were coldly received by his colleagues, mostly due to his abrasive and erratic demeanor. Thus began his disillusionment with his life in the United States and the intensification of his antipathy towards Americans that he already held and had started with him irrationally blaming the entire nation for what happened to his parents. He subsequently moved around to various university campuses and finally returned to Europe where he again roiled his fellow scientists with his bizarre ideation and particle effects theories that they were unable to confirm. One day, he simply failed to show up at work at his research job in Heidelberg, and his employer contacted the police, fearing he might have encountered foul play or a sudden illness, but the investigation failed to settle on an explanation for his disappearance. When his apartment was searched it appeared completely normal, including a full set of empty luggage, clothes and furnishings, and his car was found nearby, parked, locked and devoid of personal possessions except for a cheap still camera in the glove box. Because his theoretical work was deemed to be suspect and regarded as being of minor significance or applicability, the initial furor about his disappearance quickly died down and he was eventually forgotten.  The police report concluded that, given his bouts with depression and instability, it appeared likely that he had committed suicide in a way or place that obfuscated his body and may have rendered his death a permanent mystery. In reality, being fed up with his fruitless theoretical research, Radder had gone off to Berlin and assumed the name Knut Reffner for renting an

apartment, where he lived anonymously off his considerable savings for months virtually free of social contact, and during that period of his life he allowed his hair to grow on his previously shaved head and sprouted a mustache and beard as well. Within a couple of months he became largely unrecognizable from his previous persona under his real name. During this period of his life he kept his mind active by regularly visiting the science library of a local university and with his own computer at home. After several months in the solitary pursuit of his own studies cloistered in his Berlin apartment he began to have daily seizures lasting him at least an hour each time and causing him several minor physical injuries as he flailed about, so he was forced to hire a live-in attendant. This increased his living expenses, so he began to explore the idea of returning to some kind of work, but he was dubious about physics or math research after the dead ends he encountered due to skeptical colleagues. He began to read job listings to see if he found anything that might appeal to him and augment his depleting savings, and even considered a night watchman job if it allowed him to use his laptop for his various studies, bearing in mind that William Faulkner held that job before becoming one of the most celebrated fiction authors in American history. To make sure he could afford new expenses into the future and being uninterested in generating controversy that he would undoubtedly find himself again in if he returned to physics, he finally took a job as an accountant for a technology export business in Berlin after mastering the skill through only a few weeks of online study and then concocting a fake résumé under his false name; he figured that the worst that could happen was that his prospective employer might check his résumé claims and not hire him. Fortunately for him, his first interview for an accountant job went so well, as his prospective employer evidently didn’t check out his background which would have turned up nothing but discrepancies. After he had worked in this job for a year the company was bought by Anstedt Technologies, an advanced propulsion firm, all the while continuing his physics research with a standard computer at home. Anstedt was very rigorous about checking on backgrounds for its own hires, but not so strict about employees already working for a company they acquired, so Radder’s work status wasn’t threatened by this new development as he initially feared might occur. His work continued without any noticeable change, and an audit of the company and specifically of his work by Anstedt’s accountants not only found no defects or discrepancies, it was highly complimentary, describing his work as meticulous and disciplined, two words that are considered virtually magic in German society. He happened to meet his next door neighbor, an old Jewish woman who took to him when he helped her with shopping and other errands; he mentioned to her that he was unable to cash any pay checks because his ID had been destroyed in a fire, and she generously offered to cash them for him at her bank. He was careful to sign his fake name on pay checks with a script that was different from his signature of his real name in case his last Radder employer sued him for breach of contract and some investigator found some reason to obtain copies of the two signatures; however, he was aware that if a suspicion arose that Radder and Reffner were the same person, by the time they checked signatures there would have already been a match made from appearances and other similarities. But he gradually became dissatisfied with the rigmarole of his accounting assignments and happened to mention his propulsion theories during a meeting he personally had with the Anstedt CEO Rudolf Kaufmann, who was astute enough to immediately recognize his high intelligence. Kaufmann had asked for an interview with him as a way to familiarize himself with his new set of employees from the purchased company. A framed motto on Kaufmann’s displayed the trite motto, He who hesitates is lost. This was a peculiar credo for someone in a business in which a mistake could be disastrous –  such as blowing up a powerful missile – but it was his credo nonetheless. Kaufmann was avowedly determined not to allow an opportunity to pass him by, and accordingly, the day after this conversation with Radder, Kaufmann called him back into his office, asked him about his theories, and then made him an offer on the spot.

“Knut, please call me Rudolf from now on, I don’t consider myself your boss any more but rather your partner in scientific inquiry. I have no doubt that your sophistication and intellect are a match for anyone I have ever met in the past, so I consider us to be on an equal footing. I brought the matters you and I discussed yesterday with our Anstedt board, and I’m pleased to inform you that it has entrepreneurs who are interested in seeing what you can do if you have access to supercomputers. They’ll help back us financially if you’re interested in re-entering the research field of astrophysics. We have a contract with Russia to produce propulsion systems, and we’re willing to fund your research for nano black holes or whatever you call them if you think could come up with something that would produce a powerful energy we could use to propel vehicles more efficiently than what is available on the market now."  "What degree of freedom will I have to pursue my theories?" "You said you felt stymied by the constraints of your colleagues before you went into accounting, so we’re willing to fund you to work independently with assistants of your choosing should you need them. In order to keep your work discrete, you would have no written contract and receive lucrative cash payments from us every week for the first 180 days. At that point we would need to see some results before we could get continued financing because this can’t become an open-ended initiative. And you will have your own budget and complete latitude about how you run your research lab. But at some point fairly soon we’ll need to see results,” “I’ve been working on my home computer, but it’s not powerful enough to really go beyond a certain rudimentary level. If you can get me a supercomputer, or better yet, several of them, I’m confident I could produce something of significant value to your firm within weeks, not years or even months. Are you really serious about this? When could I start?” “We have a facility at a subsidiary Neuendorf Aerosopace in Lucerne where you can find brilliant university interns to assist you, or you can hire some from elsewhere with a six-month contract, and in fact we’ll provide any personnel you need from Anstedt where we have eminent research scientists here in their own right. It’s just a matter of converting and renovating the Lucerne location, which I’m told can be done in several weeks if we rush it. The building has ten stories and has entire floors that are currently vacant, each one nine hundred square meters. You can take a whole floor if you need it. Your contract will include a ten percent share in the profits from the commercial application of the project. That could easily amount to over a million euros, but I realize that money probably isn’t so much a factor for you, or less so than actualizing your work. Are you game for this?” “Yes, any time, just let me know. I’m ready now.” Radder’s boss sent him home with a cash payment and a new high-end computer and told him he was free to stay home at full pay receiving his new salary for the next two weeks because another accountant had already been assigned to take over his duties. At home, Radder worked online and with books while he waited for the move to Lucerne. He felt enthusiasm for something he was involved with for the first time in many years; he had been long aware that he had gone as far as he could with his nano black hole theory unless he could gain access to a supercomputer. After learning about the parameters of the Lucerne facility and photos of it, he made an appointment with Kaufmann and took him a list of equipment he expected to need just to get started, with a secondary list for subsequent progress. One morning two weeks later, Kaufmann gave him an airline ticket to Lucerne for the same afternoon, where he was to go to supervise the final configuration of his research lab. Radder set up the lab, and less than a month after his initial conversation with his boss he was ready to hire lab assistants and settled into a small Lucerne house that Kaufmann’s staff bought for him, where he also housed a new nurse, as the one in Berlin balked at moving to Lucerne. Instead of accepting personnel from Anstedt, he chose to start with fresh blood, first by advertising online for a lab manager, which he found very quickly and hired with the same laxity in

terms of background checks with which he had been hired himself; however, due to this being a proprietary project, the company checked the backgrounds of all his hires without informing or consulting him about it. He then advertised for interns and found two that were physics Ph. D candidates and impressed him as adequate. However, he was unsure about his hirings because he had never before done any and he knew that interviewing was a high-aptitude skill. Radder hired just one guard because the facility had security cameras and panoply of safety features that included full lockdown and other standard precautions. His new security specialist was Heinrich Oestmann, the first person to respond to Radder’s help wanted ad. Oestmann was actually a plant assigned by Radder’s boss Kaufmann; when Radder recruited for a security guard, his ad had been intercepted by company hackers assigned to monitor everything he did on his computers; and Oestmann was ordered to apply for the job by the secretive transnational group headed by Kaufmann. Oestmann’s real job was to keep an eye on Radder, and if necessary – if worst came to worst – to summarily terminate him with extreme prejudice. Unknown to Radder, Oestmann wasn’t the poorly educated brawny Austrian that Radder took him for, but rather had an advanced degree in military science; in fact, it was at a symposium on military history that Kaufmann had met Oestmann. Kaufmann was ruthless and saw Radder as merely a means to an end who would be permanently disposed of without a moment of reflection if Kaufmann merely deemed it somewhat advisable. Kaufmann’s goal was simply power – raw, maximum power. Unknown to Kaufmann and in spite of his strenuous efforts to keep his projects and crimes a secret, the German government was suspicious of him and was quietly investigating the mysterious disappearance of two of his associates and several lower level employees during the previous decade. Kaufmann had contracted Oestmann to put together a team that would abduct Kurt, who they mistakenly thought – as did the U.S. government – was the person who performed the Stadium Miracle in San Francisco; all this was based on rumors, since Joey, Kurt and their families pleaded ignorance about the entire matter. Not knowing how the miracle was accomplished, they simply designated it with the code name The Power when they spoke about it or wrote about it in reports. They had quickly caught onto the possibilities of the vast raw energy that could be responsible for such an accomplishment. They knew about Joey also, in fact they had a full report on his family and friends, but they were unaware that the report was riddled with inaccuracies. For instance, Joey’s brother Paul was listed as his uncle and Joey was described a peripheral figure, with the security guarding his home described as likely a ruse to distract interested parties from Kurt. They had in fact honed in on Kurt just a couple of days too late while they were planning his abduction only to learn that they had been beaten to the punch; they had devised a way to distract the police in front of his house so they could grab Kurt and were almost ready to put their kidnap plot into action when they learned someone else got to him first. Soon after that failure they saw signs that the feds were onto them, so they melted away, crossed the border individually into Mexico en route back to Germany. The only good news was that only one of them was arrested who was observed casing Kurt’s home, but he was a low-level operative who was paid cash for his work and knew nothing about the men who hired him. Although Kaufmann was infuriated by the dismal failure of the abduction operation and shouted and banged on his desk, actually he knew that things could have turned out a lot worse than they did. The trail could have led the feds all the way to his door. Kaufmann, still unwilling to resign himself to missing out on seizing Kurt, while sitting at his office desk began reading the report from his kidnap team about Joey and Kurt for the fifth time. It was 77 pages and seemed thorough, but he was unconvinced about its efficacy. He was aware that renowned German efficiency was better attributed to the Swiss; and anyway, much of the information in the report may have been obtained by unreliable Americans such as the one who was arrested for shadowing Kurt’s home and eventually released for lack of evidence. Kaufmann’s grandfather was in the Nazi SS, which was what inspired the young Rudolf to become a student of military history because he was favorably impressed by synchronized German assaults his

grandfather described to him; compared to the hapless allies, especially the French, whose vaunted Maginot Line turned out to be barely an inconvenience for the German invaders; as well as other unprepared nations such as the Poles who absurdly relied on mounted horsemen against devastating mechanized warfare. In those days, it seemed that Hitler and his generals could do no wrong, but eventually it was Hitler and his generals who blundered repeatedly and ultimately doomed themselves to despair and defeat. For instance, Kaufmann became aware that the German commander defending against the anticipated Normandy invasion flew to Berlin and was still there when the invasion started; by the time he got back the allies had established themselves at all of their five landing sites. Everything went downhill from there, culminating in Hitler irrationally sending his troops deep into Russia without winter gear because he was determined that they would conquer the Soviet Union before temperatures plummeted to a deadly level; with the result that they became debilitated and many froze to death. Far from a Triumph of the Will, the war – in Kaufmann’s opinion – became a Debacle of the Stupid. Kaufmann knew that the same applied to Japanese generals; for instance they were proud that they could have every sailor on an aircraft carrier in full battle position within five minutes of a warning being sounded.  It was only after the war that the Japanese learned the Americans were able to organize everyone on an aircraft carrier into full battle position in … also five minutes. Kaufmann’s comprehension of military history inspired him to always look for signs of inefficiency not only among his crack German crews, but even in himself. Although he was an egotist who considered himself to be extraordinarily competent, Kaufmann read and re-read the report repeatedly because he thought he might be failing to spot errors in it that could eventually squelch his best-laid plans. Rather than discuss anything on a phone, he called in his local point man for the American operation Helmut Adenburg into his office to discuss The Power – he would have called Oestmann in, but he was still out of the country. Kaufmann felt confident about the security of conversations in his office because he regularly had it scanned for listening devices, but he often spoke somewhat obliquely just in case someone had gotten their ears into it undetected. But in this case he chose to speak bluntly. “Helmut, I’ve read and re-read your report, but I don’t like your conclusion. You don’t recommend any action whatsoever.” “Herr Kaufmann, there is none I can recommend. The boy who had The Power has already been sequestered by his own government.” “I didn’t know this, why wasn’t I informed?” “I just learned about it a few minutes ago myself.” “How do you know it was his own government, did they announce it? And what about the other boy, his closest friend? How do you know he doesn’t have The Power?” “As the report says, Herr Kaufmann, nobody has it. We’ve been informed that The Power is gone. We believe his own government has the boy in its custody pending the return of The Power.” “Pshaw, that’s just a cover story promulgated by the CIA.” “Kaufmann, our contacts confirm that The Power is no longer available.” “Yes, yes, I read all that in the report, but I don’t believe it. Why not grab that other kid … ” Kaufmann momentarily stopped speaking and looked down at the report, then turned over the first page to continue. “ … Joey McCarty, or Blake or whatever, you know … the friend of the missing boy Kurt that you claim was abducted by the CIA or somebody over there.” “In the first place, it would be difficult to take the other boy because he is being carefully monitored and is constantly accompanied by police. And it is very likely he has an implanted GPS on him, which would lead to almost immediate capture of whoever grabbed him. And nobody is going to want to risk … anyway, as the criminal penalties for such an offense are significantly more severe in the U.S. than here in Europe .. ”

“So there’s nothing to be done, that’s what you’re telling me. Maybe we’ll have to forget about it and focus on the dubious cold fusion and the crazy guy Klaus Radder. We need a breakthrough, I need you to get us a breakthrough!” Kaufmann slammed his fist on the desk, something Helmut had seen him do before, but never as violently and never showing this great a degree of frustration. “I’m only in charge of security affairs, Herr Kaufmann, I have no expertise for providing you with scientific achievements, I’m sorry.” Helmut turned and walked out of Kaufmann’s office. Kaufmann clicked Klaus Radder’s face on his computer screen and Radder answered immediately. “Dr. Radder … I mean, Klaus, how are you today?” “I’m doing fine, Rudolf, how are you? But I don’t suppose you called just to exchange pleasantries.” “No, I was just interested in how you are doing setting up your lab? I haven’t heard from you for a couple of days and I was thinking you might need so materiel or something from me.” “Yes, Rudolf, I do need something, but I already ordered it. I’m set up and I’m in full swing here, but I need a satellite dish on the roof for my next stage of experiments.” “Really, are you sure there isn’t one there already? This is an edifice dedicated to aerospace ventures, so it should have one for online backup if nothing else.” “Yes, it has one, but it’s vastly under-powered. I need one that can transmit something besides radio frequencies. I’ve requisitioned a special design for a dish that can perform the experiments I have in mind. It will be expensive, but I can’t do without it.” “Fine, Klaus, I’m not calling to question your expenses, I see … I have your dish order on my computer screen, and it is indeed expensive. But we’re counting on you, and although I can’t say money is no object, you’re not even at thirty percent of our projected budget for your project. Not a problem.” “Good, Rudolf. Now I have to get back to my work, but call me any time.” “Fine, Klaus, see you soon, I might be in town and be able to drop by your lab later this week. I’m curious to see what it looks like.” “Well, it’s fully set up, so come by any time.” “Thanks, see you.” said Kaufmann as they both clicked to end their conversation. Radder had gone beyond the theoretical creation of a nano black hole and created what he called an accretion anomaly. He was sure he could actually direct its creation to any point on earth via satellite, but he still hadn’t worked out how to harness its energy. He knew that apart from its propulsion value, this was an invention that could have catastrophic military applications. This didn’t bother him: his attitude was altogether about the science and the accomplishment, and damn the rest. Of course, a black hole was known to suck in energy rather than emit it, but he was on the cusp of formulating an event that could draw in dark energy, previously unknown to exist within the earth’s atmosphere, and convert it into a kinetic force which he as yet couldn’t define or understand. He realized he could be months away from actually experimenting with the dish, but he wanted it available as soon as possible in case he made a breakthrough. For all he knew, one of his sharp students might stumble on a solution that he hadn’t thought of while examining his mathematical approach. This is why he made sure to bring in students who thought outside the box and weren’t committed to physics orthodoxy. He himself had gone his own way, and though he suffered resistance and rejection along the way, he had never flagged in his determination or his belief in the verity of his work. However, his work was soon to experience a daunting interruption. 6: INVESTIGATION

President Robert Thurmond met with his CIA Director Arnold Mitchell to discuss Kurt's abduction and German foreign agents who were monitored in California and elsewhere and began his conversation with him by asking, “Arnold, I have to read you the riot act for grabbing this boy, it’s totally unconstitutional and could cause my impeachment if it gets out, and news reporters are already trafficking in rumors about our involvement in it. Your claim that the boy’s abduction was done without your authorization doesn’t take either of us off the hook.  I’m not in the slightest satisfied with your report about how and why it was done. You’d better come straight with me, and I mean right now!” “Mr. President, we were able to penetrate this German group to some extent and we came to suspect they were planning to abduct the boy hero Kurt McCarty in Palo Alto. We either had to immediately barge into his neighborhood with armored personnel carriers and block all the streets in his neighborhood to protect him or do something more discreet to secure his safety. There was no time for our agents in the field to get my authorization, so they acted on an emergency basis. And we have reason to suspect that one or both of our operatives who were at the scene of the McCarty home invasion are being obfuscatory about what really happened with the Stadium Miracle. We have a request from intelligence to … ahem … apply certain techniques to convince them to reveal what they really know about this.” “Apply certain techniques? You want to do so-called enhanced interrogation on them? Well, you won’t do it on my watch because it’s torture and prohibited by our Constitution and the Geneva Convention. The days when our government could get away with this are over and we can no longer use 9/11 as an excuse to violate our fundamental principles as a nation. You’ve already illegally sequestered a minor who is a citizen of the United States, and now you want to detain and torture our own agents! Where does this end? I’m not going to put up with any more of this. You could have moved the boy to a safe location without this illegal kidnapping. Unless you convince me within fifteen days that the McCarty boy is legitimately held because of a genuine threat to him, I’ll  order his release and then I’ll go before the nation to announce we were responsible for his disappearance regardless of the political implications for my political career. I’m in my second term anyway, so I can probably ride this out, but I wouldn’t be re-elected after such an announcement, that’s for damn sure. His family must be going crazy, not knowing what happened to him. I can see that I picked the wrong damn time to run for President!” “But Mr. President, we are still developing our intelligence implicating these foreign agents in a real plot against the McCarty boy, and for all we know, they are the same operatives who previously tried to murder him. We’re not fishing around without any genuine danger, we are actively investigating this group. Almost all of them have escaped capture, but we believe we’re tracking their associates in Europe – their calls out of the U.S. are going through the Bahamas but we have reason to believe they’re all or mostly Germans. The one we captured is a German-American, but he either lacks useful information or he's tight-lipped, we don’t know which yet."  "That all sounds very good, but I have a feeling your boys aren't really on a fast track on this. It should be priority number one for you." "You must give us more time, Mr. President, we’re conferring now about moving in on them before they can strike again, but there are also indications that they may have left the country. Meanwhile, we have stepped up the Blake boy’s security. We’ve commandeered houses on either side of him, we have GPS on his clothes and his bicycle, we’re doing everything humanly possible to protect him, and if those foreigners that we’re looking for are the same ones who blundered into the McCarty home, they’re not likely to be smart enough to stay a step ahead of us indefinitely. The bottom line is that I can assure you we expect to arrest the whole crew within days, not weeks. And by the way, permit me to asseverate that ever since our constitutional rights were damaged after the 9/11 attack there has never been a good time to be President, except that you can away with a lot of illegal acts by citing national security.”

“Assurances, assurances. Arnold, I’ve received more assurances from you than Bayer has aspirins. You’d better not be wrong about these so-called foreign agents. I’ve known you a long time, but if you blow this I’ll have no choice other than to retire you and maybe even fire you. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is.” “Mr. President, neither I nor the entire Pentagon nor you is infallible, something could go wrong, but I believe we’re on the right track on this. We’re in touch with the German Foreign Minister, who has identified an aerospace outfit in Berlin as the likely source of this foreign agent operation. There’s some kind of neo-Nazis running technology industries in Berlin. The Foreign Minister informed me today that his BfV is close to raiding these businesses for their records to find out what they’re up to there and here in the U.S., which he’s sure already from the information he has already received, is no good.” “All right, keep me informed. I mean it, I want no more surprises. One more from you and you’re out. I mean it, Arnold, sometimes I get the notion you don’t really take my words seriously. Don’t blow this.”  Three days later, the German government moved in. They sent a lightning force of two hundred federal officers into Kaufmann’s international headquarters and subsidiary offices, confiscating all records and following up with several days searching the premises. They subsequently obtained all of the company’s and Kaufmann’s phone records, but this would turn out be futile for discovering his covert operations because he kept his operatives and his own conversations off the company communications ledgers and devices. Kaufmann refused to cooperate but avoided arrest because all the government had on him was extreme suspicion. There was a debate within the justice ministry about whether he should be detained and even charged with something even if they knew it wouldn’t hold up in court, in case they could force his hand or gain his cooperation, but ultimately the decision came down form the Chancellor to arrest him only with firm evidence. It appeared that his considerable efforts to avoid his schemes being uncovered had been successful, but he was unable to find out how the feds got onto him, if they had a mole or spy in his operation or just a rumor that was perhaps coincidentally or serendipitously accurate. He ordered his own internal investigation to try to find and plug any leak that had led to the government raids, but this came up as empty as the raids themselves. So he wound up simultaneously relieved that he seemed to have dodged a bullet after the raids but frustrated that he couldn’t pinpoint what went wrong. The basis of the police investigation had all along been nothing more than intercepted conversations by private parties between Germany and the U.S., one of them a German with vague ties to Kaufmann. The conversations clearly pointed to a San Francisco crew that was shadowing someone they repeatedly and cryptically called The Power, which authorities were sure meant Kurt in Palo Alto, but this was something they weren’t yet able to prove. They likewise were unable to determine if this was the same group that had tried to blow up Kurt’s home, and kept that open as a possibility in spite of the strong suspicion that it was perpetrated by Palo Alto biker criminals rather than foreign agents. For that matter, they didn’t even know that the Germans who appeared to be planning an abduction attempt on Kurt were foreign agents, since criminal gangs were global and both the Kurt home invasion and the later plot on him could be criminally inspired and by different groups. Radder received a worried call from Kaufmann, who greeted him and then said, “Klaus, we’ve been raided by the government. They took all our computers, we can’t do any business. We’re going to have to move your lab to a more secure location. If they come and take your computers it could set your entire project back for years and maybe destroy it altogether.” “Raided? Why would the government want to raid you? Aren’t you paying your taxes?” “No, Klaus, it’s not about taxes, it’s about our competitors. They have been smearing us with claims that we’re undertaking espionage. We do no espionage, we only do straight research and

legitimate, above board development of our own. You know that, you saw that I didn’t ask you to use any foolish stolen technology from some other company or industry.” “So what good would it do to move my lab? They’ll find it and raid it anyway.” “That’s why we’re looking at a remote location where you can work without worrying about being disrupted. We’re looking at Africa.” “Africa? I don’t want to do this in Africa. I want to do my work here in Europe. Forget about Africa.” “I don’t like to say this, Klaus, but you give me no choice. It’s not my decision, this was decreed by our board of directors this morning. I don’t have the authority to countermand this order. Either we move your lab to a remote location or we have to shut it down. I’m sorry.” “I can’t believe this. You suddenly spring this entire scenario on me right in the middle of my most crucial work! Give me a few hours to think about it, I can’t tell you right now what I’m willing to do or not do.” “That’s okay, I know this is a major surprise for you, but it was also a major surprise when the government came barging into our headquarters, so you and I are in the same boat. I’ll call you tomorrow.”  Kaufmann clicked Radder’s image to disconnect. The next morning, trucks drove up to the Lucerne building where Radder’s office was located. There was no plan yet for which remote location to move his equipment to, so it was all temporarily packed into a warehouse on the other side of town. This was all done with cash payments and hirings that were off the books and with assumed names. Several days later, Kaufmann gave Radder fifty thousand euros cash to find his way to West Africa with all his equipment on a freighter that had been already commissioned for the voyage. Kaufmann also provided his security chief Oestmann with cash to line up the freighter along with hush money to keep snoopy officials in West Africa from sticking their noses into Kaufmann’s affairs when Radder set up shop there. Several nations and locations were considered before Oestmann hastily settled on a cliff at a Senegal beach. The freighter set off nine days after the German raid and anchored off the Senegalese coast. From there, the equipment was secreted onto land by boat at night and some of it loaded into a helicopter, the rest remaining in storage containers on the freighter until the new lab was up and running. The next morning, Radder and the helicopter landed on a Senegal cliff top, the first of several chopper deliveries until Radder had gathered all of his tools and provisions for his peculiar trade. There were no buildings on the cliff top, so a crew was landed to dig out basements, on top of which they hastily threw together two large shacks. While he waited for this work to be completed Radder moved into a cramped tent on the cliff top and resumed his work without skipping a beat, powering a computer and a lamp with a portable generator and ignoring the loud construction noise. Later, he squeezed his lab into the newly constructed basement below one of the buildings, a far cry from the plush modern facility to which he had become accustomed in Lucerne. But he didn’t really care much about that in spite of his protestations when Kaufmann had informed him he had to leave Europe. He resisted the move because it would disrupt his research. In reality, he was Spartan by nature and only cared about completing his work. What he didn’t count on was an unexpected visit to his cliff top shack by an American. PART III WEST AFRICA

7: AN AMERICAN IN SENEGAL John Dayton peered through the railing as he sat on the deck chair of the freighter that was transporting him to the African coast, to see if he could get a glimpse of the dolphins he saw earlier.

Freighter passenging could be a bit lonely, but it was cheaper and less mundane, compared to the conspicuous comforts of standard tourist ships. Frequent visitors to Africa who had work to do there rather than just visiting it to ride around looking at the sights often preferred to go there by freighter. Spotting no dolphins, Dayton propped his feet up on a bulging lower part of the railing next to those of the Welchman sitting next to him whose name was Nick. Although Nick had told Dayton his first and last names, like a lot of people Dayton had trouble catching surnames –even this one, which was similar to his own – Layton, or Lawton, something like that. The five-day trip from Belgium had been relatively uneventful. After boarding and watching the shore slip away, Dayton had retired to his cabin to relax; then after hours of study and writing he had come up to finally read War And Peace while he watched the sea the rest of the day until dinner time; and that had become his pattern every day since. Like most people, Dayton was a creature of habit, but perhaps more so than almost everybody he knew. He spent the last hour of the last day of this voyage sharing the view with Nick, who after drinking too much into the wee hours of the morning had slept straight through the day until coming up an hour earlier, a few minutes before Dayton did the same. They placidly admired the sunset, which was in its final throes, shimmering its expiration across the dark waters with white streaks marking its surrender to the night.  Though this was a diesel-powered ship, they could hear creaking reminiscent of a sailing mast being cajoled by the sea wind. It was a pleasant sound, harmonizing with the baying gulls, whipping winds and waves bashing the side of the ship. Bob Marley’s words, There’s a natural mystic blowing through the air came to Dayton at this moment. Though perhaps rhetorically going overboard, it was at times and places like these that the true spirit of the planet seemed most poignant to him. The two men’s clothes were a study in contrasts. Dayton was wearing rugged beige Levi’s and a safari shirt and hat on his thinning blonde, whereas Nick wore dark slacks and his head was bare, though amply topped with dark brown hair. Like Dayton, Nick was casually but in toto much more urbanely garmented. Normally, Dayton preferred to wear various shades of blue clothing which he attributed to his being an Aquarius, but when he traveled to places where mosquitoes carried malaria or dengue fever he always packed only light-colored clothes; white and beige. Where he was planning to ruckus during the next few weeks he expected to encounter plenty of mosquitoes. He was wearing cumbersome boots, which weren’t ideal for city streets but a must for trekking in bush country, as he expected to do later in the week; whereas Nick’s footwear were shiny American Florsheims. If Dayton were wearing street shoes, he thought, they would have to be from Italy: That’s where all five pairs he owned were made, one of them back home in Connecticut and four in Paris where fashionable shoes were a higher priority. Looking at Nick’s shoes brought to mind for him the beautiful Italian girl he met in Mexico several years back. One day they happened to stop outside a shoe shop and she expressed her displeasure at seeing a pair that closed with a short zipper on the side, so he was thankful that his were covered by his pants. And after that he was careful not to expose them in her presence and not wear them at all thereafter when they met. Apart from their apparel the two men were a fairly close match, the same age and similar backgrounds of family and education even though they were from different countries. And Dayton didn’t doubt that Nick had done some safari fashion and trekking of his own on other occasions. Dayton previously visited Senegal during its dry season, but now it was September, so it should still be fairly lush; however, continued humidity would also muster an increase in flying bugs; he was already taking doxycycline as a prophylaxis anti-malarial medication and would continue to do so throughout this trip. The evening was hot, so neither of them sported a jacket; and even the sea breeze blew warm. Both passengers had been unwinding from busy days leading to their embarkment on this voyage. Dayton had to tie up loose ends for making this a funded expedition and Nick told him about his hectic last day with his wife, who left the Belgian port in a different direction, planning to eventually reconnoiter with him in a town in Denmark two weeks hence.  As

Nick explained the machinations he went through before boarding the freighter, Dayton pondered the closeness that he was himself to marriage just a short time back. Had he married, he would also be rejoining his wife after this trip, or maybe not taking it at all. He smiled inwardly as he thought, by now he should have at least one ex-wife, but he had no wife and no ex-wife. Another way to look at it was that he was so unmarried to his feminist Parisian girl friend that he imagined she could qualify in his mind as a preemptive ex-wife. He missed her at the moment, but he usually kept her out of his mind; there was no point in pining for someone who at the very moment could be enjoying with another man, or maybe ten men for all he knew. He wished he could convince her to give up her bacherolette ways and consider settling down with one man – as long as that one man was him. His thoughts were fortuitously interrupted by Nick before he could melt into a morose mood. “So, what about you, John, where are you off to, if you don’t mind telling me? Just to Senegal, or to other places beyond? I’ve been talking about me and my wife the last half hour without giving you a chance to inform me of your own vagaries and vicissitudes.” Dayton continued to stare languidly into the distance, then barely more than muttered a reply, “Well, I don’t really know. I’m just doing some research and photography, hoping to put together a book on West African culture, I guess. I’ll have to come up with something saleable or the whole trip will wind up being on my own dime. I have a pretty good track record, on most occasions I’ve had success one way or another converting stories and images into publication – especially Kenya and northeast Africa. I just really love this continent, so I keep coming back. I’ve been all over it the last ten years, more than my own country or Europe during that time.” Nick salubriously commented, “I say, that’s good enough, if you can manage it. I’ve spent a good deal of time in Africa myself and I enjoy it immensely. I’m like you: There’s something about Africa that really grabs me. You probably already know what I mean without me trying to explain it. For me it’s the hugeness, the darkness, the grittiness, the ancientness, the cultures, the natural and human music and wilderness.” Dayton smiled in agreement. “I know it’s a stereotype, but Africans have great soul. Even the most primitive and ramshackle places are vibrating with dance and song. It’s unfortunate that its astounding beauty fails to translate into human justice, but that’s the same story as just about anywhere, I guess.” Momentarily stirred, Dayton felt himself reverting to a pensive mood. He had indeed seen in Africa, Asia and the Americas, beautiful locales that looked pristine and bucolically utopian and yet were paradoxically and incomprehensibly fraught with war or other suffering, including the most unspeakable atrocities. He knew that if he visited Oradour-sur-Glane in France, which was preserved as a bombed-out village after its inhabitants were massacred during World War II, or some towns in Bosnia, he would have the same experience there of splendor unaccountably defiled, but he hadn’t visited those places yet; although he had spent a lot of time in Europe, he hadn’t traveled around it very much, sticking mostly to the major cities.  Both men fell silent, preferring to digest what they already said and contemplate their last bit of seadom before they made port in less than an hour. After awhile, a bearded shipmate came along and stood near them with his elbows on the railing, watching the sun sinking in the distance, and said, “You never get tired of these sunsets, they’re always as gorgeous as the first one you ever saw. We’re almost there, you can see land from starboard.” The three of them walked around the freighter to where they could see the dim outline of land far in the distance, partially hidden by a low haze of clouds. The ship pulled into the Dakar harbor, one that Dayton and Nick were both familiar with from previous visits. This was the Western-most point in Africa and a popular destination for tourists from all over the world. The ship moved inexorably inward as though being dragged slowly with a rope, finally docking just after 7 PM. This didn’t leave a lot of time for Dayton to get through customs and arrange his affairs before darkness set in, but it didn’t worry him because he had been here before and knew the

ropes; and besides that he already had a place to stay with a good friend. And if all else failed, he was familiar enough with the scene in Dakar to find a place to hole up for the night with few complications or unpleasant surprises. The plank went down, and after he, the captain and Nick exchanged pleasantries and promises to look each other up in the future that they all knew would never happen, Dayton found himself walking on the downward slope onto dry land once again. Fortunately, the customs agent only opened and cursorily peeked into Dayton’s duffle bag, so he didn’t have to explain the many items he had brought as gifts, especially the ten small digital cameras that could have been suspected to be items for sale while illegally evading import duty. If they were found he might have to pay a hefty fine, but he wasn’t risking incarceration and he had plenty of money for him for just about any contingency that might arise during this trip. The first matter of business after clearing customs was to look up Jomo Aliko, who previously put him up and who had twice stayed with Dayton at his home in Vermont; one thing about frequently traveling to the same place was the possibility of meeting locals to stay with, obviating the impersonality and expense of hotels. Jomo was a fully tenured Humanities professor at Cheikh Anta Diop University and always seemed to Dayton to be indefatigably immersed in human rights activism, including his recent submission of an update to Amnesty International about political arrests by security forces and another one about the plight of Casamance women in the south. Jomo was well-respected, prominent beyond his borders, and had a high profile, so he didn’t feel personally at risk, but he had a couple of obscure acquaintances who had mysteriously disappeared, so Dayton and Jomo’s family always worried about him. Dayton exited the port and walked past a throng of taxis towards a navette without so much as a glance towards them, but then purposefully made a hard turn toward the taxi directly in front of it. He opened the door and threw the duffel bag into the back seat of the taxi as he quickly piled into it. The driver spoke French, which was a relief to Dayton. He had learned a bit of the native Wolof, but was far from fluent with it. He was more comfortable with French, albeit with a pronounced American accent. On the other hand, Dayton could have simply handed the driver Jomo’s address and avoided language barriers altogether. The driver turned to Dayton smiling and asked in French, “Where to, Mr. Snow?” Dayton smiled and replied also in French, “My name’s not Snow, it’s Dayton but nice try. 4118 Sarraut-Hassan, please.” Though he was well aware that technically speaking, there was no “SarrautHassan” he used this shortcut to denote the double names that many Dakar streets had as they evolved away from their colonial nomenclature. “Oh, that’s a rough place around there,” the driver said with a broad and pleasant grin. “I might have to charge you a little extra, eight thousand.” Dayton, countered, “I always pay about five.” “The cost of petrol has risen substantially since your last time here, but since you’re the famous Mr. Snow, I’ll do that fare. But only for you, don’t tell your friends you got such a deal.”  Dayton liked this driver and replied, “Thanks, that’s big of you. What do you call yourself, by the way?” (Comment vous appelez-vous?) “I was born as Moussa, and currently I still go by Moussa,” said the driver as he pulled away from the curb and briskly negotiated their way towards “Sarraut-Hassan”.  Dayton was glad he hadn’t rented a car and attempted to drive in this rapid-fire environment. He could easily afford to rent a car wherever he went, but that wasn’t a way to mix with the population as he always preferred to do. He used public transportation whenever possible, but on his arrival he needed a reliable ride to Jomo’s house. There would be plenty of time during the coming days to ride buses or trains in and out of the city and feel more immersed in the public life of ordinary Dakar folk. Dayton was pleased by Moussa’s banter, being always appreciative of lighthearted Senegalese humor. He was glad and peculiarly comfortable to see a winning African smile for the first time in months. In a way, he felt like he was coming home, though he had previously

spent only a few days in this particular country. Eventually he would begin to miss Connecticut and the States, but not yet and probably not during the rest of this year, which was close to wrapping up. Moussa pulled onto Dakar’s clunky streets and maneuvered through bustling intersections that formed circles, with traffic moving at high speed and horns bewailing delays. He checked his watch as they pulled away from the airport terminal, and barely over twenty minutes later they turned a familiar corner that heralded their present arrival at Jomo’s residence. The drive normally took less than thirty minutes, and this time was no exception. There was only one other car parked on Jomo’s block and it was across the street, so Moussa was able to pull up in front of Jomo’s house, which looked like the only front yard with a lawn in the neighborhood. However, the grass in the lawn was in poor condition, having been trampled by Jomo’s two children as well as many others and insufficiently watered. Dayton thanked Moussa and gave him 7,000 CFA while accepting his business card for future reference. Moussa surprised Dayton by departing with the words, “Say hi to the professor for me.” as he drove away. Dayton traipsed across the yard without regard for the nearly obliterated walkway next to it and the toys strewn all over it, to get to Jomo’s front door. He knocked on it and Jomo’s eight-year-old daughter Amaturai answered and immediately hugged him, exclaiming, “Oncle Jean!” Then she turned around and excitedly called out towards the back of the house, “Papa, Oncle Jean est à la porte!”  Dayton expected his conversation with Jomo’s offspring would be in French unless they had gained some confidence in their English since he last saw them, which evidently hadn’t occurred yet. Jomo, being a professor who appreciated the value of education, had encouraged his children to learn foreign languages. He emerged from a back hallway with a puzzled expression that turned into a happy one as soon as he saw who was at the door – à la porte. Speaking perfect English with an African accent that sounded typically beautiful to Dayton, Jomo said, “John, how nice it is to see you. I thought you were coming tomorrow but I’m glad to see you tonight.” “Fortunately, I was able to avoid a delay that could have stretched into a week. I buggered out of Paris the minute I found out I could.” “Hi, Uncle John, do you have your video camera?” asked Jomo’s twelve-year-old son Moustapha, who had just appeared from the back of the house. Unlike his sister, Moustapha was ready to try out his steadily improving English with an American visitor, not just his Senegalese classmates. “Yes, I always have it, Moustapha. We can go out together and do some shooting in a couple of days, would you like that? Do you still have the camera I gave you?” “I sure do. I want to show you the editing I did of the clips from the last time you were here.” “Great, let’s look at those before dinner if we have time. I also brought some video and graphics software you might find interesting.” “Cool!” Dayton noted that Moustapha said the word cool instead of chouette. This was the trend in France also.  Chouette  differed from the word for physically cool to the touch, which was  frais, but Dayton thought young French people were eschewing both and instead gravitating towards the English word. Jomo said, as he removed Dayton’s duffel bag from his possession, “Here, Moustapha, take John’s bag into your room, he’s going to stay with us for a few days,” and the boy wrapped his arms around the huge bag, lifting it so that it protruded upward higher than his face; and he laughed as he staggered with it down the hallway towards his room in the back of the house, unable to see above or around it as he lunged along. “Come in, come in, I’ve got beer and other beverages in the refrigerator, I’m glad I thought to shop early preparing for your arrival.” “Really, Jomo, you don’t have to go to any extra trouble for me, you know I like to rough it.” “Well, you’ll have plenty of roughing opportunities, if I know you. You may as well relax before you climb Kilimanjaro or whatever you have on tap for this trip.”

They both entered the living room and sat down – Dayton on a clean green, modern Danish couch and Jomo on an adjacent Ikea chair. The living room was sparse but pleasant, the walls painted beige and one large painting of a tropical beach scene adorning the space above and behind the sofa, which faced the large living room window. Jomo’s furnishings were appropriately low-rent modern and utilitarian. “Tell me how things are in Europe, I haven’t been over there in more than a year.” Dayton smiled and said, “I don’t know what to tell you. Thatcher isn’t PM of England any more and neither is Tony Blair as far as I know. And I’m pretty sure Charles de Gaulle retired and isn’t the PM of France any more either, but I don’t keep up with politics all that much. Is that current enough for you?” “Yes, Thatcher and Tony Blair, a pair of war horses we could always do without. But they’re ancient history. How is the economic outlook for the Eurozone? I saw in the Economist last week that Germany is full-out on all cylinders as usual, but France is lagging, also as usual. I enjoyed my sabbatical to France two years ago, but I plan to stay put for several years here before I consider anything like that again. I’ve been working on human rights projects here that need my scrupulous attention.” “Yes, I fear Senegal might find its justice stymied if you were to go off again. Although my comments about European leaders were in jest, that’s not the case when I speak of your contribution to justice in Senegal. I’m sure you have a lot to tell me about how that is going, there’s never a dull moment when you get involved with anything related to human rights.” “Oh, I don’t know about that, my colleagues would keep the fire burning if I went away for a while again. I have confidence in them, we’ve been developing some good brains in our law school over the years. I’ve had some very idealistic and dedicated students recently. You’d be impressed by them if you met them. Usually it’s been women who took up the cudgel to fight for rights in this country but recently I’d say it’s about a fifty-fifty mix, which greatly heartens me because women can’t shoulder all of the work and be our only brave citizens.” “Well, you have a record of stability and civility here that’s clearly superior to many others on this continent, including your close neighbors like Guinea-Bissau.” “At least Guinea-Bissau doesn’t lock up half its population like the U.S. does. We have legislation pending in Parliament to strengthen individual rights like freedom of speech and the protection of whistle blowers. Some of it we modeled after laws from your country. In particular, Radio Futur-Média has been very critical of the government without suffering any reprisals up to now.” “You’ll hear guys like me complain about the U.S. a lot, but we do have a good and stable government with many personal protections. But you need to tailor your laws within your parliamentary system, so you can’t really just carbon copy U.S. rights and paste them into Senegal, can you?” “You’re right, but we’re heading in the right direction, at least it looks that way.” “Jomo, you’re the eternal optimist, I like that about you,” said Dayton, smiling. “And you always encourage me, that’s what I like about you,” said Jomo, returning the sanguine smile. “So what’s on your agenda for this trip? How long are you staying this time?” “I don’t really know yet, but offhand I’m figuring on a couple of weeks. First north of here to photograph your version of the Red Sea, do some bicycling around there and then head further north and maybe culminate with a couple of days in Mauritania. I want to go up the coast a couple of hundred kilometers and traipse through baobab fields along the way.” “I’ve been to Lac Rose several times, it’s less than an hour from here by car on a bad day. There’s no good road going close to the coast north of there, but you can manage it by taxi-brousse or take my SUV. You loaned me a car when I visited you in Connecticut, so it’s the least I can do for you.”

“I’ll borrow your car if I go south when I return, but not for this first trip. I think there’s a bus to Lac Rose and then I can brousse my way north, right?” “Sure, I suppose. The government needs to improve the road all the way up the coast to Saint Louis to accommodate tourists and our own travelers. Not everybody is up to bouncing around on pot-holed roads for hours like you young whippersnappers.” “Thanks for the compliment, but I’m not so young any more, I just had my 30th birthday, so now I can’t even trust myself any more, if the sixties hippies were right.” “You’ll have to tell me about the sixties hippies another time, I’m afraid, unless you want to accompany me downtown. I have a class to teach at eight o’clock. You can come and go as you please. Here’s keys to this place and my SUV, I hardly ever drive it. Marième still refuses to learn how to drive, so it mostly just sits there. It’s in the alley next to the house.” Jomo handed Dayton a ring with two keys on it and Dayton said, “I think I’ll get settled a bit and then bus downtown. I’ll be here for supper if that’s on your family’s schedule. By the way, how is Marième? It’s already obvious that Amaturai and Moustapha are okay.” “She’s fine. Marième and I are home schooling both of our kids this semester because they needed a little extra attention from us. Marième is still on the faculty and will be here soon. She’ll sup around eight o’clock, so I hope you’ll be here, and I hope I can also get back by that time.” “In that case, maybe I won’t even go downtown. I’m starting to get hit by weariness after my hectic traveling the last couple of weeks. I always feel relaxed when I’m here, so maybe I’ll just kick around, show Moustapha the software I brought, read a book and wait for you.” “Great, see you late tonight or tomorrow.” Jomo exited the house, got in his sedan parked near the front of his house and drove away. Moustapha came into the living room. “Uncle John, can I show you the video clips now?” Together they watched Mustapha’s videos and then Dayton installed dvd software into Moustapha’s computer and showed him how to use it with instruction books he transferred to it from his handheld device – Dayton didn’t carry a laptop when he traveled as a way of protesting universal addiction to information technology. Moustapha used his new software late into the night in the living room while Dayton retired to the bedroom and slept straight through the next morning’s breakfast. When he woke up after 9 AM the whole family was gone, so he scribbled a note apologizing for missing supper, then prepared to head out for downtown. He decided to just head on up to Lac Rose; he could visit with Marième when he got back. He set out with a knapsack fully stuffed with his medications, two types of currency, a large bag of granola, items for gifts, a plastic travel water filter that also served as a water bottle, a mirror, a flashlight, a mosquito net, two bottles of repellent bug spray and a paperback book. He grabbed a bus a couple of blocks from Jomo’s house, the driver accepting his overpayment of one American dollar and was soon strolling on the Café du Rome downtown. He felt bad about not buying Senegalese cuisine, but he was dying for coffee and a croissant, so he headed for his favorite French café. Along the way he encountered various local men who attempted to engage him in conversation, but he merely grunted towards them and continued walking, not wanting to be rude but knowing that if he wasn’t, he could find himself surreptitiously relieved of his wallet, which he had a bad habit of keeping in his back pocket. After his late Western-style breakfast, he walked around, talking to street vendors and grabbing still images of various scenes that interested him. When lunch time came, he enjoyed a Senegalese fish-rice ceebu jën with a delicious yassa onion sauce over it, and while in the restaurant he called Moussa to find out if he had access to a travel taxi or could recommend someone who did. If Moussa couldn’t come up with something Dayton knew he could walk over to the sept-place station where he would definitely find one. He then returned to his favorite café and ordered another cup of coffee to consume while he read his paperback book, which was in French. He actually wasn’t in the mood to read French and wished he had brought the

other one he had at Jomo’s house that was in English. Half an hour passed before Moussa called him and said,  “Hello, Mr. Snow, I have good news for you. I found a Peugeot station wagon. It will have only three other passengers besides you, which is very good because these usually squeeze seven people into them, but I told him that wasn’t acceptable and that you would pay him a little bit more, 20,000 CFA if he didn’t fill it up. Is that okay?” “Sure, I don’t feel too keen to be crammed in with that many people for that much time, I’m a spoiled American tourist. I’m just getting adjusted to the different way of life here, and that might be a little much for me. When can this Peugeot leave for Lac Rose?” “It’s supposed to depart at 1:45, but it will run late, we don’t run on Swiss time here. You can be half an hour late and I’m sure it will just be arriving there.” “Yeah, but I’m still living by Swiss time, so I’ll get there at 1:45. I wouldn’t be comfortable arriving late anywhere, and I don’t have much to do this afternoon anyway.” “Okay, I’ll let him know you’re coming.” “Thanks, Moussa, you’re a big help for a tourist that’s unfamiliar with your country.” “No problem boss, I’ll see you when you get back.” It turned out that the driver really did have only three other passengers besides Dayton as promised, and later that afternoon Dayton found himself efficiently transported with them to Lac Rose. Upon arriving he found a stall where bikes were rented, but most of the bikes were clunkers. He settled on one that he thought might hold up for at least a couple of miles and paid the vendor enough to own it outright, informing him that he would be traveling for a couple of days but wouldn’t demand a pro-rated refund even if he brought it back an hour later. By 3 PM, Dayton was biking for his first time ever amongst sand dunes, but he quickly felt the urge to head further north and grabbed the first brousse he could find that would take him up along the Atlantic coast to visit other locales he had in mind. The trip north would turn out to be a bigger adventure than he had ever imagined having in his entire life. 8: MR. STORE MAN After a couple of hours they arrived at a spot that the brousse driver estimated was about thirty minutes by foot from the village Dayton planned to visit, though neither of them knew its name and might be discussing different villages.  If it had been morning he would have ridden his bike the entire distance, but it was late in the day and he wanted to get to his goal before dark. He dispatched the driver with a generous tip and rode his bike on a dirt path that was oriented westward, judging from the position of the sun. The entire drive and bike rides had been in hot, barren and dusty conditions even though the dry season had barely started; there had been some rain shortly before Dayton’s arrival, but overall less than normal for September. He hoped that along the way he might find someone who would put him up for the night rather than having to camp out, and indeed he did in short order. A couple of children he met and talked to ran home, and as he continued slowly along the path they greeted him again with the news that their folks were willing to accept an overnight lodger. After visiting the home and being assigned a cot in the same room with the two youths he made a beeline for the ocean nearby because he wanted to take a dip; he expected his bike and gear to be fairly secure if he found an uninhabited area next to the beach. He settled on a spot that had some fairly dense and extensive brush just ten feet from the ocean where nobody was within his view in any direction and he would be able to see anybody who was approaching. He stashed his bike in one area of the brush and his knapsack in another, stripped off his clothes and ran out into the surf; as he expected, the ocean felt cool and refreshing to him after biking in hot weather for several miles. After a few minutes of flailing about and very little actual swimming he came out of the ocean, retrieved his belongings and headed north on his bike along the beach, within minutes spying what looked like a collection of huts in the distance that hopefully was the

one that was his destination; behind and beyond it were the tell-tale cliffs his friend Pierre had described to him, bordering the north end of the village. Of course, being unfamiliar with this particular coast line, he was aware that there could be multiple such cliff-bordered villages along it, but this was probably the right place based on the advance distance estimates that seemed to fit its location. As Dayton arrived at its outskirts he wondered if his decision to visit it was going to be a flop because he might not find the man he heard about and the cliffs may essentially be one big ugly rock with no vegetation on them or anything else of interest; but at any rate, he could stand on one of them and take photographs that would garner him a Pulitzer Prize. The negative prospect for the culmination of this village trip was actually okay for him because he knew about a fairly lush river to the east that had a waterfall he wanted to photograph; he had already seen previous photos of it and could go there the next day and after that decide whether to continue north or head back to Dakar. He had failed to take into account the grueling heat and therefore was having second thoughts about pursuing long bike rides until he was better acclimated; the decision probably depended on how he felt when he arose in the morning – there was no way to know at this point if he would arise half dead the next day or more energized than a bunny loaded with brand new batteries.  Right outside of the village he saw small sign hammered into the ground that had painted on it the name Bayonne, which Pierre had failed to note. The sign was probably there when the American who described it to Dayton visited it but he failed to make note of it, which Dayton did, especially because he bemusedly recognized it as the namesake of a beautiful town on the French coast next to the English Channel. He was always – perhaps inordinately – impressed when he found a place that was a shadow of one with the same name that he knew of elsewhere, such as when he encountered the small and sleepy South American town San Francisco. Bayonne was of interest to Dayton because it was his impression that reasonably tall cliffs, though they may actually proliferate along this coast line were more likely to be found along rivers further inland than on the coast.  His American acquaintance who visited the village had related to him that he met a white man running a shop in it whose accent seemed American, in a general store that mainly featured fishing gear and groceries. He described the man as loquacious, willing to engage him in a discussion of seemingly any subject from politics to geography, but there was something furtive about him that struck him, though he couldn’t pinpoint a gesture or unusual eye contact or anything else specific that gave rise to his impression. At this point weeks had passed since Dayton talked to him and at the time he wasn’t to the slightest extent contemplating a visit to that scene, so he couldn’t remember anything specific that the American said about the man. Just outside the village Dayton encountered a couple of dozen goats wandering around free and had to maneuver his bike through them. Then he was approached by several children who looked like they were between about ten and fourteen, so he stopped his bike as he struck up a conversation with them. He was always quite taken by Senegalese youngsters – they were intensely curious and quick to appreciate humor. They spoke Wolof, so his conversation with them was limited by his minuscule vocabulary in that language. He took their photos, gave them candy and moved along the cobblestone pathway that served as Bayonne’s Main Street. He saw that a hut on the furthest end was larger than the others, so he thought maybe it might have a commercial purpose; he passed by several shops that sold sundry goods and entered the largest hut. The front door was open, so he walked his bike into it, whereupon small bells on strings hanging across the doorway that he had to push past to get into the store announced his entrance. He saw that the shop had a packed dirt floor and various types of provisions on two rows of long shelves in addition to a counter near the back that had what looked like fishing tackles sitting on it inside shallow cardboard containers. Nobody was visible in the place, so walked to the counter and stood there expecting somebody to show up. A swarthy white, middle-aged man entered the shop through the back door and greeted him in a friendly fashion. He seemed to fit the description that Dayton received from his American

acquaintance and barraged Dayton with a stream of verbiage before Dayton could get a word in edgewise. “Hello, my good man, can I help you with something, maybe an inner tube for that bike? This doesn’t really look like a store but it is, except that I mostly give stuff away, folks around here don’t have a lotta moolah to cough up. I have a few tools as well. I get deliveries a couple of times a month from Saint Louis to keep the natives happy with goodies. I hope you’re not looking for a wide screen tv because I’m fresh out of those.” Dayton responded with a smile, amused by being greeted with so much rapid fire information; then it occurred to him that the man probably had few opportunities to speak English in this region where Wolof was for most people the only language they knew. Dayton didn’t bother to joke about transporting a wide screen tv on his bike, that would be too trite. He noted the man’s inflections and verbiage that seemed American, but his accent was German; this was probably the fellow he had heard about. “Come to think of it, I failed to secure an extra tube or tools when I bought this bike. What kind of gear are you selling for bicycles?” The man continued, “Frankly, I don’t have an awful lot, but I have wrenches, pliers, stuff like that which should be good enough for most minor repairs. I don’t currently have a supply of parts, just junk like a handle bars that probably wouldn’t even fit most bikes. Many folks around here depend on bikes for their main transportation but there’s a bike specialist a couple of doors down who handles most of that business. You can try him out, but he was closed a few minutes ago when I walked past his door. Finding him there is pretty much hit or miss because like most people around here he doesn’t work set hours or days.” The man walked to his right towards a wall, reached into a couple of cardboard boxes that were next to it and pulled out several tools that he brought back and laid on the counter, after which  Dayton said, “I also need a small bag of rice and two bags of peanuts, maybe a pound of each, and maybe ten square yards of mosquito netting, or square meters or whatever.” “I think I can help you with all of that.” The man reached into another box and pulled out two small burlap rice bags, explaining that each of them weighed half a kilogram, and into a third box to summon a roll of netting. Dayton would buy all of this now to give to his lodgers when he saw them later, in case he passed through the village later the same day and found the shop closed; but he would keep one of the bags of peanuts for his own consumption. He didn’t want to be encumbered by large, bulky items in case he decided to climb the nearby cliffs, so he would stash the netting somewhere. And he would return to buy larger bags of rice and peanuts the next day and drop them off to his lodgers on his way east to the river country. “This is eight square meters of net. You can have everything you’re looking at for seven thousand CFA or a ten-dollar bill if you’ve got one.” “Okay, that sounds good, you got a deal.” said Dayton as he pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, yanked out a ten-spot and forked it over to the shopkeeper without further ado. “So, where you headin’, are you traveling up the coast? You can’t make Saint Louis today even with a headlight, which it looks like you don’t have, and I don’t have one to sell anyway.” “No, actually I’m just interested in climbing the cliffs over yonder facing the ocean and taking some videos and photos. If I don’t see anything else that interests me, tomorrow I’ll be heading either east to the river country or maybe back to Dakar.” The man furrowed his brow, frowned and admonished Dayton that “Those cliffs aren’t as easy to climb as they look from here. They’re not all that tall, but it’s straight up from the beach and two sides and from the other back it’s nothing but massive, jagged rubble that would take all day to climb over just to look down at the ocean. Besides, there are some folks living on top of the cliffs that might not take kindly to uninvited visitors.”

Dayton had done little more than perfunctorily glanced toward the cliffs, so he had no reason to doubt what he was hearing, but asked, “Really, if it’s so hard to get up there, how are they able to live there?” “I don’t know, sometimes I hear noise over there like a chopper or something from my home south of here at night, but I don’t know why anybody would use such expensive transport just to bring in groceries and water. I never go that way and I don’t really know anything about it, but folks around here say it’s Senegalese military.”  Dayton could imagine that this man never went to a place that was so close to him even though he didn’t seem to have much to fill his day in this sleepy village; he might just not be the peripatetic type. Up to this point, all Dayton had noticed about him was that he used American colloquialisms while speaking with a German accent – neither remarkable nor suspicious. He thanked the man without asking his name, loaded the tools into his knapsack and headed out the door. He negotiated his way past kids waiting for him to emerge from the store and turned right towards the cliffs because his interest in the village was pretty much sated. He rode his bike to the base of the cliffs and saw that there was a wall of them running about sixty yards along the beach with two breaks separating one cliff on both sides from the rest of the wall. This loner was only about forty feet high, like the others. He saw that the cliffs were only about ten feet from the ocean and the sand in front of them was dark and seaweedy from the ingress of the current at high tide; not really a pretty picture for a postcard. There wasn’t any vegetation on the cliff faces or on the beach, nothing picturesque about any of it; but Dayton was curious about the view from top of the cliffs, and about the so-called residents on one of them. However, when he rode his bike around to the back of the loner cliff, he did indeed find along the back sides and directly behind it, the huge, gray, daunting rubble that the man in the store told him about. The other cliffs were similarly filled in between them with this jagged boulder terrain. He had seen places like this before; the Andes Mountains, eastern Washington and Northern Mexico immediately came to mind. A compendium of barren, jagged, massive rubble always amazed him because from his perspective it looked no different than photos he had seen of the moon. Wherever he had seen this, it was invariably a no-man’s land with nobody around, nothing growing on or out of it, no spot flat enough to even sit on. It looked like some giant hand had smashed a million-ton boulder to pieces and then piled the pieces up. He reconsidered whether climbing up on a cliff was worth his while. It was obvious at first glance that negotiating this rubble today was beyond his ken, as dusk was approaching. He decided to bike around the village behind the cliffs to the east and circle around, back to the trail that would take him to his arranged lodgings. He had left his mosquito net at the hut where he was supposed to stay the night, so he needed to get indoors or he might be forced to use up all his mosquito spray by morning; not an advisable plan considering he might be braving the next couple of nights outside. Although he had the new roll of net that he bought in the village, he wanted to deliver it brand new to his lodgers. Having found nothing compelling, either about the man in the village or the scenery, he had concluded that he should forget about climbing to the top of those obviously boring cliffs when he spotted someone about twenty yards away from him at the south side of the cliff that was separated from the rest of the range, which he mentally dubbed the Lonesome Stranger; the man seemed to disappear into the side of the cliff. Dayton didn’t get a good look at him, but it sure looked like the same hat and flowered green shirt that the man in the store wore. He walked over to where he thought the man had disappeared and found what looked like a small cave entry. The man in the store looked spry enough to get to that spot that quickly after speaking to Dayton, so that wasn’t really problematic, but if it was the same man, why did he say he never got over that way? Dayton’s curiosity was mildly piqued, so he decided to explore this mini cave the next day, while maintaining caution because if this man was some kind of seaside smuggler he might be willing to shoot someone who stumbled into his racket.

It would be risky to return there, but Dayton was an unrelenting risk-taker if nothing else, which he always excused with the fact that he had no wife to turn into a widow or children to turn into orphans. He thought about the time he walked too close to a lion in Kenya in spite of being warned not to; the lion thereupon turned his head toward Dayton and growled with a nasty roar that sent shivers up his spine. There was also the time Dayton recklessly hitchhiked through a war zone and other such memories; overall, this cave exploration should be a piece of cake compared to various chilling experiences he had in the past. He examined the area outside the cave for a minute and found a place behind a large boulder where he could stash his bike and nobody was likely to find it, especially if he was in and out of the cave quickly. Then he rode east over a hill and behind the cliffs and village, finding a goat trail that pointed south, and eventually cut back toward the beach on a narrow trail to get on the path towards his home for the night. For a while he felt lost and began to have doubts about finding his lodgers before darkness made it impossible, but eventually he recognized the landmark he had committed to memory, a large boulder with something that looked like the letter Q painted on it in whitewash. From there he was able to find the hut that was the home of lodgers, without further complication. He didn’t know it yet, but the next day was to become the most harrowing one of his life. 9: CLIMBING THE CLIFF Dayton rose just before daylight the next morning and bypassed the village again by riding his bike behind the cliffs; it was barely past 7 AM when he arrived at the small cave entrance at the side of the cliff he had whimsically dubbed the Lonesome Stranger. He had tested his flashlight and hadn’t used at all since he put new batteries in it; nor did he expect to even come close to exhausting their charge during what he was sure would be a brief cave exploration. Even if tempted, he wouldn’t penetrate it enough to put himself at unnecessary risk and would only delve deeper in the future if he was personally accompanied by Mr. Store Man; which was a higher possibility than it might seem because the entire cave matter may ultimately prove less sinister than it seemed to Dayton at the moment. He wouldn’t be foolhardy enough to enter more than ten or so meters even if it looked safe to proceed further, knowing that his flashlight could suddenly fail and he could be forced to grope his way back to the exit. He had to calculate even the remotest possibility because his life might depend on it. He hadn’t done much cave meandering in the past because he wasn’t exactly fond of enclosed places. Although he wasn’t claustrophobic, he fare poorly on airplanes and other venues from which he was unable to make a quick and comfortable exit at his convenience. The only time he walked more than half an hour into a cave was with a group of fifteen archeologists and college students when their sheer numbers made him feel relatively safe. The thought of getting lost in a cave was less than appealing to him, and he knew it could spell his doom. He had never had a failure with his heavy duty Maglite, but just to be safe he would take an occasional glance backward to make sure the daylight entering the cave opening was still visible. No matter what the endeavor, Dayton never failed to factor in Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong  will  go wrong. On that thought, he opened his Victorinox Swiss soldier knife, unfolded its eight-inch blade and shoved it into a side knapsack pocket with the blade pointed down: If he feared his life was about to end it would be better to defend himself even though he knew that killing someone while being attacked may well be designated by Senegalese authorities as murder; or an attempt thereof if his stabbing victim survived. Looking around after he hid his bike behind a massive boulder, he was pretty sure nobody was spying on him; he walked forward to the beach and looked both north and south and saw nobody approaching from either direction.  He hesitated one last time, pondering for a moment whether this risk was worth his life, or if it was worth anything at all – objectively it seemed to be of absolutely no value, and he philosophized, Like most of my life, this plan may result in major pain for little if any gain. He wondered if

the era of the pirates of yore occur before metal cables were invented or if that invention occurred later during the incipient industrial age? For that matter he asked himself, Did the pirates of yore ever exist at all or was that all a myth or a fantastic exaggeration?  Then again, maybe when Dayton saw the man enter the cave it was first time he ever did so and he could have entered for some purpose that had nothing to do with the cable, for instance to take a leak. One of Dayton’s credos was that when all the circumstantial evidence pointed to one conclusion, it was usually wrong; personally witnessing events should be a slam dunk as veridical, but in fact it was notoriously unreliable. Dayton remembered when he thought something occurred and insisted even after his version was disputed that he was right about it, but when another direct witness explained to him that he hadn’t seen what he thought he saw, he suddenly remembered it differently and fully discovered that the alternative version disputing his was the one that was correct. Dayton had seen the cable extend upwards to a height of at least fifteen feet; and maybe it ended there, but maybe it ended at a huge stash of cocaine or some other drug, which wasn’t of any interest to Dayton – if it ended at a trunk full of gold doubloons centuries in the past they were surely long gone. As far as he was concerned, people could buy and sell cocaine or anything else except weapons to their heart’s delight and he couldn’t care less.  He drew the line at weapons because African seashores were notorious transit points for them and he knew they wound up slaughtering many innocent people. But was it really his duty to expose a gang of armed gun runners, or should he simply return to Dakar and try to inform someone there about what he had discovered and leave it at that? If nobody did anything about it, that was up to them and not his personal responsibility. But it was highly unlikely that Mr. Store Man or anyone else was stashing significant weaponry that high up in a cave. They might, if the cable led to a large storage shelf; but the walls looked vertical, so a shelf would probably have been artificially carved or blown out – another pair of unlikely prospects, especially because setting off a charge would probably have collapsed the opening to the cave floor. It occurred to Dayton that the cable might extend all the way to the top of the cliff, which might have a large flat surface if it had full time residents living on it; so it was possible that there was an exit at the top of the cable that was shut snugly – since he saw no daylight when he looked up there. He wished he had asked somebody such as his lodgers what or who was on top of the cliffs and about the choppers Mr. Store Man said he had heard now and again. Could those choppers be landing on top of the cliff and hauling up goods using the cave cable? Forget it, said Dayton’s sanity, whatever is up there has nothing to do with you and could maybe get you killed. But his irrational and adventurous side replied,  No way, I’m gonna clamber over that rubble and have a look at  the top of that cliff.  He realized that thinking  the words have a look  meant he was becoming Europeanized; Americans always said check it out, not have a look. This change was bound to happen to him sooner or later because he spent so much more time in England and Europe the last few years than he was spending back in the States. It amazed him how much his mind wandered around irrelevant minutia as he stood there for only a couple of minutes before making his final decision. This was really no time for all this speculation and trivial pursuits, he knew, and realized he was just procrastinating. His initial fear of being confronted by violence suddenly diminished as a result of no particularly rational calculation, but regardless of what caused it, he concluded that he should just go for it; he decided to try a friendly approach if he met someone up there and explain to whomever he bumped into on the top of the cliff that he was just looking for a spot for taking videos and photos; which theoretically might work because after all, it was the whole truth before today.  Maybe his lovely American charm would succeed in weaseling him out of a tight spot in the end. Or maybe not? He probably wouldn’t encounter any No trespassers signs along the way as he climbed up to it, so he could be excused for stumbling upon a residential scene, unless of course the residents were vicious characters or had received a tip by phone from Mr. Store Man. Dayton retrieved his bike and rode it about thirty meters to the back perimeter of the cliff rubble. Fortunately, the pile of rocks behind

the cliff formed a fairly defined rear border, though even if it continued sporadically much further he could maneuver between boulders until he got to the actual cliff pile. It looked like an easy climb except for the sun heating up the borders, which was bound to happen. He had been in the area for half an hour or so and hadn’t seen a soul; perhaps there was someone on the beach, but he had only a narrow view of it between the cliffs and hadn’t seen anybody go by on it. This surprised him somewhat because it looked like the village had a few dozen people living in or around it, so someone among them should be venturing to the beach cliff area fairly often. Again he looked around, and seeing nobody, lifted the bike and stashed it behind the closest large boulder in the pile.  From past experience he knew that village people were generally honest and even if someone saw him do this his bike would probably still be there when he came back to it. Once he left his luggage on the sidewalk of a Mexican village and when he returned to it fifteen minutes later nobody had taken it. Without further ado, he began climbing from boulder to boulder upward towards the cliff top; the climbing was every bit as arduous as he had anticipated it would be. He checked his watch early on and after ten minutes he reckoned he still had at least another ten to go. The sun was starting to beat down on him intensely though it was still fairly early in the morning, but this didn’t worry him because he was confident that he had ample water to complete the round trip without suffering from dehydration. Finally, he got to a place where he could peek over the last boulder and see the surprisingly flat top of the cliff, a good three thousand square feet in size, with the flatness reaching the very edge of the cliff on all sides. It looked to him like it was flattened artificially, but he was no expert on the subject and knew it could have occurred that way naturally. Two small shacks with porches were prominent along with lots of shrubbery around them and all over the top of the cliff. Both of them were close to him and near the center, so they could only be seen from the top of the adjacent cliffs, which were likewise sheer on each side and even more massive piles of rubble shielding them from all but the most determined and hardiest visitors.  Dayton could see that there were no buildings or other signs of human presence on the other cliffs, so he had picked the right cliff to ascend for satisfying his curiosity about a cliff top dwellers; on the other hand, it was also the only one in which he had discovered a cave and cable, so he couldn’t claim to be a genius or serendipitous in his choice. There was one tree about six feet high between the shacks next to a satellite dish and several small trees that may be recently planted and young; again, in spite of his extensive history of exposure to nature, he was no horticulturist so he couldn’t distinguish a young tree from an old one. Also next to the tallest tree were two small picnic tables with several lawn chairs around them. It seemed to him that he should have been able to see the top of the shacks and the tree from the land below; on the other hand, he had never been known for his observational perspicacity and may have simply failed to spot them due to his chronic inattentional blindness, for which he was more or less infamous among his more sardonic friends and acquaintances.  Scattered around were barrels, wooden wagons, the usual paraphernalia that might populate the area around a ramshackle residence anywhere; and a few small recessions in the ground pockmarking the landscape along with what looked like lots of natural scrub. Dayton saw nobody walking around, but he couldn’t see in the windows of the shack nearest him because they had blinds on them that were at least partly closed. So now what? The shacks didn’t look abandoned but they might be for all he knew; if he got closer, somebody could come out of one or both of them and shoot him dead. Undecided about what to do, he just stayed put for about fifteen minutes, waiting to see or hear something or someone. He thought of The Clash song, Should I stay or should I go? and then decided to rashly walk close to the shack closest to him and have a quick look, which he recognized was a risky proposition but an irresistible one. It was only a walk of about eight seconds from his hiding place, so he hurriedly approached it and stepped onto the porch without initially approaching the door or any of the windows. Loudly, he called out, “Hello, anybody home?” but after waiting half a minute and hearing no reply, he approached a window and looked into it, without moving right up

to it and peeking between the blinds because this would be a clear invasion of privacy. He saw movement through the window, so he repeated, “Hello, anybody in there?” Again he heard no reply, so he got close enough to look into the shack. What he saw startled him: It was Mr. Store Man! He was sitting facing the window about six feet from it on an overstuffed chair with his upper body restrained in a blue straight jacket, or something like it. This was instantly too much for Dayton; he decided to beat an immediate retreat. But he turned and moved too quickly, accidentally kicking a round wooden barrel that was on its side with his left foot, causing it to roll off the porch; he tried to grab it, but he couldn’t quite get to it in time and it slipped his grasp. Fortunately, it landed on thick shrubbery with minimal sound, but after that it continued rolling down a slope towards a depression just five feet away, picking up speed along the way. Next to the depression was a pump or generator with metal stands that would sound a loud noise if the barrel struck it. Dayton could see that there was also a large metal plate at the bottom of the depression, so his heart was in his mouth as he watched the barrel continue rolling until it was about to crash onto the metal plate with an earsplitting, heart-breaking clang. At the last second, the barrel bounced over a rock, which caused it to reach the edge of the depression at an angle, and it twirled around like a ballet dancer. Dayton heard a screen door slam shut at the other shack, and peeking around the side of the shack right next to him while remaining on the porch he saw that a man had emerged from it carrying what looked like an automatic rifle; but the man was mostly obscured by the shack next to Dayton, so he only saw his left arm clutching the carbine and his left leg. Dayton immediately ducked out of sight behind the shack he had looked into and stepped off the porch; but then noted that the large refrigerator on the porch was the only object around that was as large as a man, so heand stepped back on the porch and planted himself on one side of the refrigerator. While he hid there, he watched the barrel in consternation as it continued its slowing but thoroughly disconcerting and absurd spin.  Please God, he prayed,  don’t let that barrel fall into that hole or hit anything that’s made of metal. If you don’t, I’ll always be good and I’ll always praise your name everywhere, I’ll get married and settle down and I’ll raise wonderful Christian children and I’ll never again do anything rash or crazy if you’ll just let me survive this! It didn’t occur to him at that particular moment of his extreme distress that this was almost verbatim the same prayer he had made as a preteen, but having received a positive result on the first occasion, he had forgotten all about his prayerful promise. But even if he had remembered that factoid he would have made the same prayer out of sheer desperation – and anyway, maybe God had developed Almighty Alzheimer’s and had forgotten Dayton reneging on his other prayer.  He could only hope that Mr. Store Man hadn’t seen him peering in at him and that even if he did that he wouldn’t blow his cover by screaming for help; thus far, Dayton had heard not a peep from the man strapped to the chair. Finally, the barrel stopped spinning and stayed put, obviously having decided not to fall onto the metal plate after all. Now it was a question of whether the man with the rifle had seen it spinning, and if he did, what he would do about it. Dayton wasn’t sure if the shack closest to him obscured the man’s view of the barrel and could only hope that he hadn’t heard it, because if he had he would surely investigate and momentarily come charging around the side to find Dayton cowering on the porch. Dayton pulled his Swiss knife out of the knapsack and crept to the corner of the shack so he could have a chance of taking the man by surprise if he came around it. But he wasn’t really sure what he would do if this happened; in fact, such an aggressive posture would be even more likely to provoke the man to shoot him than if he stood with his hands up; and if he stabbed the man, as a trespasser he would have trouble justifying it to authorities. On the other hand, it would be better to have to explain stabbing somebody than to be shot dead. And maybe if he had to stab him, he could just vamoose out of Senegal on the first plane to Europe and forget about Africa for the rest of his life. If the man came around the corner, should Dayton simply surrender and try to explain to him that his presence is only a matter of curiosity? – killed the cat! He decided he shouldn’t resort to what was arguably a criminal act of violence even to save his

life, so he put his knife away while standing at the corner of the shack waiting for the worst to happen. Dayton gave up on hiding behind the refrigerator, deciding to remain in plain sight and take his chances with explaining his innocent intent for being there.  He  stood in one place for what seemed like forever, prepared to make his Plan A surrender; but nothing happened, so he utilized this tense time to calculate a Plan B, which was to try to see if he could spot the armed man reflected on a mirror he had in his pack. The porch ran the length of the shack, so he stayed on it as he crept over to the opposite end of the porch, in case the man had spotted movement at the corner where Dayton was when he emerged with the gun. As he crept along, he pulled his round mirror out of his knapsack. He protruded the mirror beyond the corner of the shack but couldn’t even see the porch the armed man was standing on, so he reached out further, but still saw nothing. Finally, when he changed the angle of the mirror he saw the upper body of the man, who had turned his back toward Dayton; he saw the man re-enter the shack and heard the screen door slam shut again. Dayton instantly recognized his opportunity to escape: The man had just walked in and was likely facing inward, so for at least the next few seconds he might be facing away from Dayton and not see him scampering toward the pile of boulders just a few meters away from where he stood on the porch. They would have been even closer to him if he had peeked with the mirror from the other end of the porch, but that was water under the bridge and he had to make do with what he had. Dayton didn’t hesitate –  he rushed towards the boulders for an immediate getaway.  Within seconds, he reached the closest boulder and clambered over it. After about thirty seconds he peeked over it with his mirror but saw nobody at either shack, so he began to think his escape was successful. He resumed his retreat, and only after climbing over five more meters of boulders did he stop momentarily to listen for any noise of pursuit behind him; if he heard any, his only option may be to try to hide because if he kept climbing over the pile of rocks he would be a sitting duck from such a short distance unless the fellow with the rifle had eyes like Mr. Magoo. Hearing nothing, he nearly collapsed, exhausted from struggling over rocks and because of the feeling of relief from the realization that he would probably live to see another day. After a few minutes he again peeked toward the shacks, again employing the mirror, though this time having to raise it high to get enough angle to be able to see them; he knew nobody would see the sun’s reflection on the mirror because he was looking west and the sun was still shining from the east; it would be another hour or more before the sun was overhead, and the view of the mirror from the shacks would perpetually be from the west even if Dayton stayed where he was all day. Dayton saw no signs of movement around the shacks and concluded that he hadn’t been detected, so he decided to work his way back in again to have another look at the cliff top scene, this time without actually stepping onto it.  When he once again reached the last boulder, he peeked with the mirror to see if anyone was looking his way. The shacks once again looked dead to the world, but this time he knew better. Sitting with his back to the cliff top, he pulled out his video camera and discreetly recorded for about a minute, scanning back and forth without looking, raising the camera above the boulder he was hiding behind without showing his face. He couldn’t be sure how accurate his video would be but he figured it would be better than nothing and far safer for him than if he showed his face by looking at what he was recording – he had taken too many chances already and even this recording was risky. After completing a minute of filming he resumed working his way back down to ground level; getting back down to flat land seemed to take all day, and arriving on it felt like a great boon to his life. Dayton jumped on his bike and raced not only out of the vicinity of the cliffs, but past the village and past the family of his overnight lodgers all the way out, eastward to the main road. Just when he arrived at it he saw a brousse fortuitously driving south and flagged it down, though he would have jumped on it even if it was headed north. It was a typical brousse, a 4 x 4 with seats in the back oriented sideways with a canvas for a roof above the passengers. He knew he was in for a

bumpy ride, but that was of little consequence at the moment compared to his need to make like a hockey stick and get the puck out of here. It really shouldn’t have stopped because it was already maxed out, but Dayton didn’t wait for another one that was less full because if Mr. Store Man caught a glimpse of him his life might depend on a prompt vanishing act. He slung his bike onto the canvas top while trying to avoid tearing it, chained it to both front metal posts, squeezed in and sat excruciatingly on the metal floor all the way to Dakar – the longest hour he had ever experienced. He burst into Jomo’s house without knocking, fearing that he would find no one home and would have to leave the country without a decent good-bye to Jomo and his family and without even having seen Marième; but if necessary he would do this, as he was panicked and anxious to complete his escape. Fortunately, Jomo was home working at his living room desk and looked up at him with intense curiosity, noting Dayton’s dramatic, hurried entrance and troubled visage; neither Marième nor their kids were home, so it looked like Dayton wouldn’t be seeing her again any time soon – maybe in Connecticut? “Jomo, sorry about this, but I have to leave the country tout de suite. I’m not even going to call to find out when I can get a flight out of here, I’ll take anything that gets me out.” “What’s wrong, what happened?” "If you want to know you can accompany me to the airport or I can call or email you about it later. I may have stumbled onto something that could be very hazardous to my health and happiness, so I need to leave yesterday if not sooner.” “Okay, don’t worry, I’ll drive you, obviously we have to head out without delay, so I’m ready now. I’ll pack these papers I’m working on in my briefcase and bring it with us.” “Great, let’s go. This might later turn out to be nothing, but it was pretty creepy so I’m not taking any changes. I just have to stuff my duffel bag and then we’re off. That gives you plenty of time to get your briefcase ready. But please don’t call anybody or answer the phone because we don’t have time for that.” Dayton entered the children’s room and hurriedly packed his duffel bag. Both men exited the house, hopped into Jomo’s Toyota, and seconds later were on the main street headed downtown. “Jomo, do you remember I said an American guy told me about a curious European fellow he met in a village up the coast?” “Ah … well, only vaguely. What happened, did you find him?” “I did. I found nothing particularly curious about him when I first met him but later I saw him enter a cave in the side of a cliff, and when I climbed it the next day, get this: He was in a shack on top of that cliff and some other guy came out of another shack with a rifle, but he didn’t see me. But what really scared me was that the Euro guy was restrained in some kind of straight jacket or something, and there’s a good chance he saw me. If this is some kind of deadly government game, I might be at risk at the airport because they could get a composite picture of me from the Euro guy quicker than we might expect.” “If he was inside a shack maybe he didn’t really see you very well.” “He got a plenty good look at me when I spent about fifteen minutes talking to him in a store he runs in the village, but I’m not sure he saw me at all when he was bundled up. I don’t see an alternative to taking the first flight out of here because driving to the nearest border would take so long it would increase the possibility of an image of me proliferating to every border crossing in the country by the time I got to the nearest one. What do you think? Am I hallucinating, am I just paranoid? What do you think?” “Sorry John, I’m bewildered by all this, so it’s hard for me to give you any advice. I’ve never heard of anything like this, so I have nothing to go on. But if you think after what you saw that you may be in mortal danger, you should rely on your instincts. Even if later you wind up laughing about this and thinking you got too worked up about it, you know the saying that it’s better to be safe than

sorry. There are plenty of brutal thugs in this government who are in league with criminals of all sorts, so I can’t reassure you by telling you it can’t happen here.” “Yeah, my instincts are screaming at me to get lost pronto. Look, even in my country a boy was kidnapped in broad daylight last year because he knew something about that Stadium Miracle, and they say it was the U.S. government that did it, what to speak of the power the government here has over any one guy nobody has even heard about, namely me. You know I like your country, Jomo, but I like living to old age even more. I may never come here again, but come and see me and especially bring your whole family. You’re always welcome in my house, even when I’m not there. I’m really sorry I screwed up and can’t see your wife on this trip.” “Don’t worry about that, she’ll understand. She didn’t see you this morning at breakfast?” “No, I slept straight through last night’s supper and she and the kids were gone when I woke up, so I haven’t exchanged a single word with her. I’m really sorry about that, I have to make it up with her. Tell you what, I’ll give your entire family an all-expense-paid tour of Connecticut for two weeks. Sound good to you?” “You don’t have to do anything like that, John, but I know you can afford it so don’t be surprised if I take you up on the offer one of these days. Marième and I and the kids are your friends for life no matter what you do, so don’t feel like you have to make anything up that you failed to do.” “Really Jomo, I need you to assure me that you will come over to spend three weeks with me next month. I know you haven’t had a vacation in like, years, so you’re due and so is Marième. You guys work like there’s no tomorrow, and a break will make you more efficient when you get back here anyway.” “Okay, you got a deal. I’m sold and we’ll be coming to Connecticut next month. You can put that in your pipe and smoke it.” “I think the expression you want is that I can take it to the bank, but whatever, I’ll put it in the bank and smoke it as long as it gets you to Connecticut next month.” Soon they were pulling into the airport parking lot. In spite of Dayton’s concern that Jomo might also be in danger if he were seen with him, Jomo insisted on entering the terminal with him. Dayton first inquired about a direct flight to Europe. The next flight out went to Algeria and then bounced on to Paris on Afriqiyah Airways in an hour but it didn’t have a seat available. They had no choice other than to have dinner in the airport restaurant and discuss the implications of what had transpired up north. As they dined they made their preliminary plans for visiting New York City together the following month, including attending ballets, Broadway shows, rock concerts, museums and Times Square.  All of this discussion served to momentarily distract them from Dayton’s dire predicament, about which they were at the moment helpless to do anything until they got word about the next plane that left Senegal for points anywhere. Fortunately for him, half an hour before the Paris Afriqiyah flight landed he was informed that a seat had opened up on it if he wanted it, so he paid cash for the ticket. However, he and Jomo remained nervous because they knew anything could still happen.  For instance, a top official may want to board it at the last minute and cause Dayton to be bumped from the flight. He had noticed a black man glaring at him while he was at the ticket counter when he happened to turn in the man’s direction; twenty minutes later he boarded the Algeria flight and was back in Europe that night. Unfortunately for Dayton, it was not to be the last time he would see the man who glared at him. 10: RETURN TO EURO BLISS The airline provided cellular communications for its passengers, but Dayton feared his call being intercepted by Senegalese authorities, so he waited until he touched down in Paris before

calling anyone. As soon as he cleared customs he called his long-time girl friend Caroline David, who he expected to be waiting to hear from him around this time long distance from West Africa; he knew he may be experiencing paranoia to some extent but he wasn’t so paranoid he had to maintain cellular silence even in France. The likelihood that this cliff top shack was some kind of Bilderberg project that would land on him like a ton of bricks even in Europe was too far-fetched to inhibit him from calling her, though the idea did occur to him. He loved Caroline, but she was a typical Simone de Beauvoir feminist who despite their intense intimacy seemed more interested in remaining single and careerist than in committing to a life with him. He wanted something more –  perhaps marriage – but he wasn’t really sure he was ready for marriage either. At any rate, she was his closest confidant going on a year now, and she had social involvements with some government people – which made him intensely jealous  – so considering both their relationship and her connections, it was a no-brainer to dial her first after landing in Paris. He also knew government people including a ministry official, but only on a level of bare acquaintanceship; he might try to contact that fellow if he came up empty with Caroline. He felt fairly at ease now, so when Caroline didn’t answer right away he didn’t feel more concerned than usual. After three rings he heard her glorious voice, “Jean, où êtes-vous, mon chéri?” – she always translated his first name to French, unlike some of his French friends who simply called him John. He had never been sure if her use of  vous  when she spoke to him meant she didn’t feel close enough to him to call him the more familiar tu, but he had never asked her about it. He was fluent in Spanish and knew that lovers speaking that language would definitely use the familiar  tu, but he didn’t know the custom in French, or maybe it was a special Paris or northern France thing for all he knew … or a special Caroline thing … He read French with some fluency but wasn’t fluent speaking it, so he never spoke it to her even when she spoke it to him, which was often. However, she seemed to take that in stride because of her own great English fluency. His French wasn’t really up to par either speaking or reading, but he understood it quite well when he heard it, and had happily found that contrary to what he had heard from his father about the French sternly proclaiming that the only way to speak French is correctly wasn’t true in most cases; he found the French to be surprisingly accommodating when they recognized that he was a foreigner trying to speak their language. Not that there was a total absence of the heralded French arrogance that he also heard about from his father, there was plenty of that around – more than any other country and more even than his own. He realized that his impression of France was rather weak, since he had spent altogether maybe three months in the country, and even his dozens of days and nights with Caroline were mostly in Switzerland and the UK. He answered, “I’m here at the De Gaulle Airport. Are you home? Can I come over right now and tell you about something that happened to me in Senegal? I can be there in half an hour, maybe a bit more.”  She switched to English saying, “Of course, you can spend any night with me. Spend dozens of nights with me, I’m not always running around with a bunch of other guys like you always think. Use your key to come in when you get here whether I’m home or not, but I am home at the moment.” John wasn’t actually pleased that this multiple-night invitation had to even be made, he preferred that it went without saying, but he had to roll with it because that was the reality of their relationship; he strove to prevent her feeling impinged by hypersensitivity on his part. He often thought about their initial meeting on a train that was about to leave Madrid for Switzerland. After he sat down, she glanced at him as she passed him to sit in her assigned seat. She looked back at him a couple of times, obviously wishing there was some excuse she could make to sit with him, and the exact same thought was flashing through his mind. Then, a deus ex machina occurred when woman came along and claimed the girl’s seat as having being hers, so she immediately got up without protesting and joined Dayton for the ride to Berne. He marveled at his ability to ruminate about so

many memories in little more than a second; he set aside all of it and replied cogently that he was on his way. And he remembered when only Americans said guy as she had just done. He didn’t know if Caroline started to use it due to British influence or his. Most likely it was from watching or hearing BBC  broadcasts, because she never watched any American tv or radio programming – nor did Dayton, for that matter, even when he was home in Connecticut. BBC hosts not only picked up this word from the Americans, it seemed to him they oddly reveled in saying it. But he never criticized, either openly or mentally, any Brit language customs including this relatively new one because he adored British English – anything they said was perfectly all right with him. This could be a bias similar to his mental labeling of many Asian women as beautiful even when he objectively knew some of them weren’t even pretty: he had a self-admitted bias for Asian women. Likewise, he had a special place in his heart for the Brits. “Okay love,” she said, wrapping up their phone call. “See you soon.”  Dayton retrieved Caroline’s building and apartment keys from where he stashed them near the airport when he last flew out of Paris; he was pretty confident they would still be there, and they were. He had decided the building key was too bulky to carry around with him – it was one of those weird keys he previously only saw in Berlin; almost comically large because it was the type that once you entered and turned it to open the door of the apartment complex, it could then be removed only from the inside, not from the street side, so it couldn’t be inadvertently left outside for burglars to grab. He didn’t really know what there was about its shape or mechanism that prevented it from being removed from the outside, but that’s how it worked nevertheless.  He grabbed a taxi to Caroline’s home, entered her apartment and found her lying in bed watching the Gerard Depardieu classic Le Retour de Martin Guerre, also well known in the U.S. with the English title, but unfortunately less appreciated there. It had just started, so after kissing her he lay down and watched it with her. By the time it ended he was so primed to make love to her he had completely forgotten what he was going to tell her about Senegal. His rustic condition without a change of clothes or a shower for a couple of days if anything enhanced their experience rather than detracting from it, and after their long coupling they both fell asleep almost immediately. When he woke up the next morning Caroline wasn’t in the bedroom, so he thought she must have gone to work. He was dying for a shower and went straight into the bathroom without checking around the apartment to see if she was in one of the other four rooms. First he opened the bedroom closet just to see if his two shirts and one pair of shoes were still there from his visit with her several weeks back, and was pleased to see both that they were and by the fact that they were unaccompanied by unfamiliar men’s clothes. Her repeated assurances about the exclusivity of their relationship had never quite convinced him, perhaps due to his slightly paranoid tendency.  After showering and dressing with just a change of the same – but from dirty to clean – wrinkled safari fashion that he had rolled up in his duffel bag, he entered the living room and saw that she was sitting beyond it on the balcony with her plate and porcelain containers for food on the small table in front of her, as well as two small pitchers for water and coffee. He already knew from past experience that there would be bacon, eggs and croissants in the porcelain bowl; after he kissed her he opened it, served himself breakfast and poured a cup of coffee. He could see across the courtyard beautiful, large potted plants and another couple likewise consuming a repast. Dayton loved the Mediterranean lifestyle with its rooftop gardens and balconies for enjoying outside meals even in ordinary, middle class apartment buildings. But here he was, still in the same type clothing that was the first change from the sweaty rags he was wearing since he arrived in Dakar – an outfit that was unsightly by her urbane Parisian standards. Fashion was a bit more of an issue all over Europe than it was in the U.S. But Americans living in Europe were notoriously iconoclastic in that regard and were generally accepted for it. But more importantly, Caroline accepted it, judging by her reticence, never even hinting that he should upgrade his wardrobe. He was unconcerned about her reaction to him disregarding his street clothes that were in her closet and donning clothes for desert

trekking; after all, there were plenty of French people who likewise dressed safari-style sometimes and upon returning to France after roughing it in Africa they could continue to do so for a spell without raising eyebrows. “You wanted to tell me something about Senegal?” asked Caroline. Ah, her beautiful accent! For some peculiar reason, he always forgot her French accent when he was away from her and instead remembered her as speaking to him just like any American. “Jeez, where do I start. This is totally weird but I don’t even know if it means anything. I traveled up the coast of Senegal and climbed up on a cliff and on top I found a couple of shacks with one of them having a guy in it that I had previously seen in a nearby village, but this time he was wrapped up it looked like, in a straitjacket, and the other shack had a guy in it who came out with a rifle. I panicked when I saw him – or the trussed-up guy, I don’t even remember which – and accidentally knocked over a barrel that almost fell onto a chunk of metal with a huge clang that would have got me shot, but it didn’t hit the metal and I was able to get out of there. Good golly, I had to lam it out of the country right away in case some seriously bad guys were behind this operation and they might have me picked up by the authorities and disappeared, even tortured to death or something. My friend Jomo rushed me to the airport and I didn’t get to see his wife even though I spent overnight because she wasn’t home when I got there and I overslept and she was gone in the morning when I left to go up north. I know it sounds silly to talk about her after what I went through but she’s as good a friend as I have in the world so it’s a major disappointment for me not to see her. I invited Jomo and her to visit me next month in the U.S.” “You’re going too fast for me. Did you see this guy in the village wearing a strait jacket?” “No, in the village he was a normal guy running a small shop. I bought some stuff from him and I was going to buy more the next day but I had to scram outta there without making the second purchase. And I’m not really sure it’s the same guy, he might have a twin brother or a double or something.” “How did you see him, was he walking around like that?” “No, he was sitting down inside one of the shacks in an overstuffed chair, and he was looking right at me when I saw him through the window. But there were half-closed blinds, so I don’t know if he saw me or if he recognized me even if he did see me, from selling me stuff in the village.” “And where did you see the guy with the gun?” “He came out of the other shack and I ducked behind the shack where the bundled-up guy was, and obviously the guy with the gun didn’t find out I was there because he went back inside and that’s when I got away. I saw him go back in so I took the opportunity to skedaddle outta there.” “I’ve never known much about your cliff-climbing propensity. How did you climb the cliff, with spikes and ropes and all that?” “No, the cliff was sheer in the front and sides and I didn’t feel motivated enough to climb it from those vertical angles. I went over a bunch of rubble behind it to get to the top. It took twentyfive minutes or so to go only about thirty yards – or meters, as you Euros call it. I climbed back down the same way.” “Okay, so why not just stay out of Senegal and forget all this happened. You could move in with me for a few months if you can find something to do around here. Rent free, anything I have is yours, sweetheart, move in with me and I’ll serve you hand and foot.” “That’s wonderful, honey, I might take you up on that.” He rose and kissed her again and spent the next few minutes reading Paris Match while she read Le Monde. He would have preferred to read the New York Times, but she didn’t keep any English language publications around her apartment. It was a quaint, old fashioned scenario because they both normally read all their news on laptops; but this was a gentle, quiet, domestic scene, an opportunity for them to enjoy reading news on actual, old fashioned paper journalism as they breakfasted together. Caroline told him she had already called her office to inform it she would be in

late or perhaps not at all. After breakfast they returned to the bedroom for more lovemaking, and later went shopping and lunched together. Dayton’s meals with Caroline were so much fun for him that they were memories that for him were superior even to their passionate pastimes; she said she felt the same about them: They always enjoyed discussing literature, food and pop culture. Although she was an active member of a political party and they both had pasts that included intense involvement in human rights campaigns, they seldom discussed politics. Neither of them was sure why this was, but they thought it might be because they didn’t start out together on that basis, or perhaps because they thought some disagreement between them might crop up that could imperil their relationship; they were aware that politically she was more of a leftist and he was more of a centrist. Senegal and the fear he had felt there quickly diminished into a strangely distant memory to Dayton as he enjoyed his day with his loved one. He let the entire day go by without calling Jomo because he wanted matters to settle down a bit in Dakar before contacting him; Jomo could have emailed or texted Dayton any time if anything had come up that was significant, and thus far he hadn’t done this. While the happy couple were in a café on the Champs-Élysée late in the afternoon, Dayton finally decided to call Jomo using his internet device; and unsurprisingly, Jomo informed him that he hadn’t heard anything that would give rise to further concern about the cliff top incident, but neither had he heard anything that would erase concern, so he advised him to stay out of Senegal unless he specifically learned that it was safe for him to return, which was unlikely to ever occur – bad news was a rapid and frequent traveler but good news often failed to arrive at all even when diligently prepared and sent. Jomo told Dayton his family was disappointed that he could only stay with them such a brief time but if he couldn’t ever come back to Dakar they looked forward to visiting him in Connecticut when he was there because even though he had given them an invitation to stay there in his absence, they wanted to wait and time their visit when he was also present to show them around and enjoy his company. And of course he hoped Dayton could return safely to Dakar another time. He added that his son was ready to email Dayton several video clips that he had edited with the software Dayton brought him so he could receive his advice about how to improve them. Dayton finished that conversation and then called his family in Connecticut and several friends around the world. To each of them he broached the matter of his incident in Senegal in case any of them might have a suggestion for what if anything he should do about it. Later, Caroline surfed the Net with her tablet device while Dayton carried on long distance conversations as they sat in a museum café. After this, they returned to her apartment and made love again, and then spent the rest of the afternoon listening to rock and roll music, which was a passion for both of them. In the evening they went out for dinner at a local restaurant before finishing their day with another bout in bed. At that moment, life was grand for both of them, and they felt like a married couple. But it wouldn’t stay grand for long. PLEASE PURCHASE BOOK FOR CHAPTERS 11-19

The Reality Master And A Threat To The World