Once, Beneath the Stars

Once, Beneath the Stars

By

David K. Aycock


One (Daniel: July 28, 2010)

He shook his head sharply, breaking the fugue. It had happened again. Daniel glanced around the room, seeing his co-workers apparently intent on their tasks, oblivious of what had just occurred.

“Daniel?”

He jumped, startled. His supervisor, Anita, was standing a few feet away behind him. Daniel quickly spun around in his chair, one hand smoothly sweeping across his left ear, dislodging the tiny earbud secured there. Music blared out of the little speaker drawing the attention of the other bibliographic records searchers seated at terminals around the central table. He fumbled for the volume control of his Walkman.

“Hey, Anita. What's up?”

“Were you sitting here just a minute ago? I walked past on the way to the restroom and didn't notice you there.” She seemed bemused.

Daniel quickly looked again at David, Jen, and Brad, seated at their terminals and taking in the exchange between he and Anita.

“Uh, yeah. Yeah, I was right here. I saw you go by,” Daniel offered, hoping his voice didn't betray his uncertainty.

“Oh,” Anita said, blinking and tucking in her chin the way she did when surprised or dubious. “Well, I guess I must have been off in my own little world. Sorry about that!”

She raised her eyebrows and made a quirky half smile as she turned and continued on to her office.

Daniel and his co-workers exchanged “what-was-that-all-about” looks and shrugs, then returned their attentions to what they had been doing before.

He fixed his eyes on the terminal screen and rested his fingers lightly on the keyboard, his heart still racing a little. He'd begun having these little spells more frequently over the last three months. Before that they'd occurred at odd moments, no discernible pattern to suggest a reason. When they happened, it felt like he was suddenly somewhere else. Actually, it was more like somewhen else. For a few, brief beats of time he seemed to find himself in places and situations from his past, specifically his high school years and shortly thereafter. It was like memories, but so much stronger. When it happened, it felt like it was all happening right now. He would come out of it confused for a few minutes, and often very sad.

So far he had been lucky. He may have snapped back to see someone looking strangely at him, with concern or annoyance or apprehension, but nothing more than that. It had happened to him several times while he was driving as well, and when it did he was sure he was once again behind the wheel of his old '64 Chevy Impala, the broad red hood gleaming in front of him, reflecting back an inverted, moving pavement, bendy lamp posts, and distorted trees and structures. And then he'd suddenly be back in his '99 Corrola, sitting at a stop sign or green light, someone behind him honking, or he would be jolted into awareness by blaring horns from someone he'd nearly sideswiped or plowed into.

Sighing deeply he refocused his attention on the volume laying open beside the keyboard on the table and flipped over the title page to find the CIP information for the book. With his other hand he sought and found the dangling earbud and moved to reinsert it into his ear, but paused. Something had just clicked. It was the music.

In the episode he had just experienced he had believed he had been climbing the central staircase of his high school, heading for the second floor, going to his algebra class with Sister Magdalene. He didn't know why, but it was an action he associated with The Guess Who's song 'No Sugar Tonight', the very song he had been listening to on his CD player.

Daniel tried to think, to remember, trying to recall other spells he had had, and whether any music had been involved. And there had been. In every case he could call to mind there had been some song connected to the event, one that had been current on the rock and pop radio stations of the mid 1970s.

Unsettled but somehow also excited by this realization, Daniel reached up and removed the second earbud, then went to stow the Walkman in his backpack at his desk. Whatever the connection was between the music and his trips into his past, there was something scary about it and he sensed it needed to be considered very carefully.



Two (Daniel: July 28, 2010)

Daniel stopped by the Wheatsville Co-op on his way home from work, wanting to pick up some fresh pasta and sprouts for supper this evening, and secured his bike to the rack in front of the store. The old building had high ceilings and seriously worn black and white floor tiles. An abundance of slowly revolving suspended fans stirred the damp air. Compared to the newly built Whole Foods Market downtown, this store felt like a meager mom and pop operation in some forgotten small Texas town. But the place was always busy enough to keep it afloat with a clientele that ran more to old school and nuvo-hippies than the upscale, green-conscious consumers Whole Foods attracted.

He picked up the things he had come for and added a big bag of Sea Salt & Vinegar Kettle Chips. Most of the other shoppers in the store this afternoon were very much like him, mid-to-late forties, cleanly but not fashionably dressed, probably employed as he was at jobs that weren’t too demanding, lives in holding patterns for one reason or another. You could see it in their eyes and faces if you were familiar with it in your own. It was subtle, some expression of loss, helplessness, and growing desperation tensing the lips and corners of the eyes, furrowing foreheads.

He thought of the words from the Beatles song, wondering about the fate of all the lonely people in the world. Where indeed did they all belong? Where did he belong, and what was his loss, his desperation? Daniel sighed and went to check out.

Slinging his pack into place he unlocked his bike, stepped onto the left pedal and swung into the saddle. His apartment was only a few blocks away, across Guadalupe Street in the neighborhood known locally as West Campus. The Warwick Apartments were in pretty good shape considering their age and the itinerant nature of the college student population indigenous to the area. Parties were frequent, if not ongoing, often spilling out of the sponsoring tenant’s apartment and into the pool and common areas of the gated complex. Daniel nodded to a couple of young guys heading out as he was coming in. He knew many of the kids referred to him as “the old fart.” He didn’t mind, even took a sort of pride in the moniker as a mark of status in the complex.

He unlocked the door to his apartment and wheeled his bike inside, parking it in its space behind the futon. He put the sprouts in the fridge and snagged a bottle of Shiner Bock beer while he was at it, then took a saucepan from the dish drainer and filled it half full of water before setting it on one of the burners of the stove. He set the dial at eight, twisted the cap off the beer and pitched it into a recycling tub next to the pantry. Once the water was steaming he would dump in the pasta.

Meanwhile, he wandered back into the living area and crouched down to survey his collection of music. It was semi-eclectic, having a smattering of country, classical, jazz, world and new-age stuff, but mostly CDs and LPs of artists more popular thirty or even forty years ago.

“I guess I am an old fart,” he muttered to himself.

He began picking out different albums and stacking them on the coffee table in front of the futon. He was looking for music to which he knew he attached some special significance, music that always elicited an emotional response from him. The collection grew quickly, and satisfied that it would be enough, Daniel went back to the kitchen to finish making supper.

While the pasta cooked he got out another pan and opened a can of tomato sauce, which he poured into the second pan and placed on another burner. Then he got out the spouts he had bought, along with a couple of Roma tomatoes, a clove of garlic and some fresh cilantro. He chopped up the tomatoes, garlic and cilantro and added it to the now bubbling tomato sauce, then tossed in a handful of spouts. He returned the remaining spouts to the fridge and opened another beer.

Soon the tomato sauce mixture was ready and Daniel turned off both burners. He drained and rinsed the pasta, then dumped it into a glass bowl. To it he added the sauce mixture then stirred everything together. He rinsed out the pans and left them in the sink to be washed later, then took his bowl of pasta and his beer back into the living area. Settling on the edge of the futon he slurped down a few bites of his meal then set the bowl aside as he sorted through the albums he had selected.

There was the Guess Who CD featuring the tune that had affected him at work this afternoon. He had also chosen Diamond’s “Hot August Night” 2-LP set that had versions of 'And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind' and 'Play Me' that he especially liked, a Harry Chapin collection that included 'Taxi', 'Sequel' and 'Story of a Life', cuts that always got to him, and about twelve other CDs and LPs he associated with his high school years.

Daniel sat back on the futon and finished his pasta and beer, thinking about what he was about to do, and why.

Something seemed to be pulling him back to another time in his life. It was somehow connected to the music, and to his emotions about both the music and that other time. The music, the time, the emotion. The emotion, the music, the time. The emotion, the time, the… The emotion and the time. The emotion and the time.

Daniel got up, picked up the Neil Diamond album, and slipped out the first of the two LPs from its sleeve. He placed it on the turntable, side two up, powered up the system and lifted the tone arm, moving it to the beginning of the fifth track, gently settling the stylus onto the vinyl.


He woke up momentarily disoriented, his neck knotted from having slumped forward when he dozed off sitting on the futon. The apartment was nearly silent, only the steady tock from the wall clock in the kitchen ticking off the seconds. He rubbed his eyes, leaned forward and lifted himself from the futon. The empty pasta bowl, the empty beer bottle, and the scattered LPs and CDs still littered the coffee table. He went to the turntable, now powered down, the Diamond LP still on the rubber.

Nothing had happened, other than that he had fallen asleep on the futon while listening to the stereo, something he did all the time. He was disappointed, but then again, wasn’t sure what he had expected. He turned a knob on the receiver, tuned in a radio station he listened to a lot, removed the LP from the turntable and returned it to its sleeve, leaving the album on the table with the others. He picked up the bowl and the bottle and went into the kitchen to wash the dishes.

As he scoured the pans he had used to cook his meal he thought some more about the connection he had made between the music, his past, and his emotional response to each. It was not a comfortable rumination, leading, as it must, to an examination of his life in general. It was impossible for him not to contrast the vitality of his feelings for what he had been with the tepid, tired and tamed creature he had become. It wasn’t that there was anything really wrong with his life now, only that it lacked the righteous certainty of his youth.

On the stereo the radio station was playing an old Yes tune, 'Long Distance Runaround'. Daniel reached up to grasp the sprayer hanging over the stainless steel counter of the dishwashing station. He stood very still. The clatter of dishes and tableware rattling in a hard rubber bus tub grew louder and suddenly his friend and co-worker, Randy Burns, bustled up to the counter and slid a tub filled with dirty dishes onto the surface. Randy bent down and reached under the counter, tugging out an empty tub before turning and heading back the way he had come. On one of the steel shelves behind and to Daniel’s right the small radio blared out a rock tune, 'Long Distance Runaround'.

Daniel looked up at his hand poised in empty mid-air above the sink, then down at the half-washed pasta bowl in the sudsy water. The clock on the wall behind him tocked.

He turned his head, looking across the breakfast bar into the living area, eyes seeking a small, blue-framed piece of needlework hanging on the wall above the stereo, Walt Whitman’s words roughly rendered in black thread on a patch of cream-colored muslin, decorated with a flower and leaves embroidered in shades of blue and green. It had been a gift and was one of the few things in his life that he now truly cherished. It, like the music that so affected him, were relics from his days of youth and power, days he had come to believe were now long gone and lost to him. But something was changing. Daniel stood at the kitchen sink, listening as 'Runaround' faded down and Gary Wright’s 'Dreamweaver' cued up, feeling something he hadn’t felt for such a long, long time. He felt hope and the stirring of a desperate, crazy idea.



Three (Daniel: August 13, 2010)

It got scary weird when he used the video camera. The actual tripping had gotten easier to control, but still remained on the frustrating edge of lucidity. Despite the immediacy of the experiences, they still had a spectator quality about them, vivid, vibrant and visceral, but somehow just out of reach. He had pretty much quit any casual listening because it had become too easy to slip into the fugue, and too risky as well. Outside of his apartment he had no control over who might witness his little time trips, or what he might do under the influence of the music.

He had bought an inexpensive video camera, one he could hook up to his television, and set it up in his living area. Curious and concerned about what an observer might see, he had decided to conduct an experiment. The first time he tried it he almost came unglued watching the playback. He had expected to see himself seated on the futon, probably with his eyes closed, jerking spasmodically, maybe babbling or talking out loud, like someone in a dream.

As he watched the recording he did indeed see himself seated on the futon, and his eyes did flutter closed, but then a startling transformation took place. His face, his entire person, subtly changed, relaxed, shifted, dropping the lines and weight of middle age. He looked like he was seventeen again.

But that was only the weird part. The scary part came when his eyes sprang open, clear, focused and completely aware of someplace not his living room in 2010. His body became a ghostly, translucent figure that left the futon and began to act out its part in an equally ephemeral tableau. He watched himself glide through a dappled darkness, leaning into and out of graceful turns and curves. Phantom houses and trees, street lights and cars rippled around him as he sliced through the night on a white ten-speed.

The vision faded abruptly as the music ended and he saw himself seated once more on the futon, eyes open but unfocused, a look of abject loss on his face.

“Holy shit!” he whispered.

From that point on it ceased to be a matter of curiosity or titillation. It became an ongoing experiment, and later, a quest for the resolution of a theory, the fulfillment of an impossible postulation.

Daniel started keeping meticulously detailed records and video documentation of his efforts. The apartment, once a reflection of his controlled and well-ordered personality, began to reflect instead the cluttered garret of an imbalanced recluse. Shifting stacks of LPs, CDs, cassettes and notebooks morphed, reshaped and regrouped as he worked first through his current collection of music, and then additional borrowed or bought materials.

It didn’t take long for the people at work to notice the changes in him. His usual aura of melancholy was replaced by a thrum of barely suppressed energy. Over the years Daniel had steadily slipped into the mode of minimal effort endemic in the cataloging units of the library. Unless materials were flagged with priority tags, most of the bibliographic records searchers tended to shop the carts of incoming monographs awaiting processing, cherry-picking those subjects or items that either seemed most interesting, or easiest to work with. But now he seemed possessed, driven, whipping through hundreds of volumes a week, whereas before he had barely cleared twelve dozen. His supervisor was mystified but didn’t object. His co-workers were irked.

“Hey! Daniel!” David rapped the table next to Daniel’s terminal. “You’re making us look bad, man.”

“Huh?”

“You’re cranking out all this stuff like crazy. What’s up with that?”

Daniel frowned, bemused by the question. David had always been the least productive member of the unit, a fact that had once annoyed Daniel. As an accepted level of lethargy had worn Daniel down, that annoyance had faded. Now he realized again how ponderously David worked, and how skillful David was at filling his work hours with as little work as possible. Daniel had no idea how to communicate the mania that was surging just beneath the surface of his life at the library, how he needed to stay as busy as possible in order to mask a dangerous edge that was cutting through him.

“It’s the Lord, David. He’s talking to me all the time, telling me to get it done. How about you? Have you met the Lord yet?”

David raised his eyebrows, not knowing what to say to that.

“Maybe we could read some scripture together sometime,” Daniel continued, watching David struggle with this unexpected response.

“No shit?” David finally asked, unbelievingly.

“Anytime you want,” Daniel said.

David nodded, coming to his own conclusion about Daniel.

“I’ll get back to you on that,” he said. “Seriously.”

He backed off, pointing a finger at Daniel as he retreated.

Daniel gave him a toothy, insane grin.



Four (Daniel: April 1, 2011)

Sherri was looking right at him, an expression of uncertainly in her eyes. Then a wave of vertigo washed through him. A voice was calling to her, someone off to her right. The dizziness increased. She turned toward the voice and he followed her gaze.

“There you are,” she said. “I thought you were on the stairs, but I couldn’t see anybody there. Hey, are you o.k.?”

Daniel saw himself coming down the hall toward Sherri, a textbook and binder under his left arm, a confused look on his face. He looked so young, like a kid! This was the first time Daniel had encountered himself during one of his musical fugues. Bob Dylan was singing 'Lay Lady Lay'.

“Yeah, just a little dizzy all of a sudden. Why’d you think I was over there?” he asked.

“I thought I heard your voice. You were saying something about algebra class, but I couldn’t quite understand you. And there was music, too.”

“Really, what kind of music?”

“I dunno. It was kinda vague. Maybe it was coming from upstairs.” She glanced toward the flight of steps that led to the second floor, and right at where Daniel was standing. She frowned.

“What’s wrong?”

“I dunno. I almost think I see something on the steps, but not quite. It’s weird.”

“You do any reefer at lunch?” Daniel asked.

Sherri looked back at him, grinning.

“Now that you mention it,” she said.

“Better watch that stuff, Sherri, and you might try being a little more discrete while you’re at it. If I could see you in Doug’s car from the window by Mrs. Stark’s office, then anyone could. You could get so busted.”

She grinned, nodding.

“Oops!”

Daniel returned her grin and shook his head.

“Gotta go. Sister Monica’s German class.”

“See ya,” she said.

Daniel continued down the hall and Sherri turned and trotted up the steps, passing right through Daniel. She paused for a moment on the landing as a flash of dizziness came over her, one hand clutching the banister. She glanced back down the stairs. The dizzy spell passed. She frowned again, then slowly resumed her climb to the second floor.

She faded from sight as the song ended and Daniel found himself once again back in his apartment.

This had become the pattern. Even after seven months of experimenting he still remained frustratingly shy of some threshold. From his perspective he felt himself to be all but in the other times as long as the music was playing. But when a tune ended, his fleeting and tenuous contact faded away. There were times, like the one he had just experienced, when he could tell others were somehow aware of his presence.

He had never considered the possibility of running into himself, assuming that when he time-tripped he was somehow only tapping into whatever had happened to him at that time in the past. Apparently not.

His head ached.



Five (Daniel: May 11, 2011)

“Is there something you need, Mr. Acuff?”

“Huh?”

“I don’t know what ‘huh’ is, and don’t you mean, ‘Huh, Father’?”

Daniel had been sitting in the chair at the back of the room. It was Father West’s second period, eighth-grade writing class. Daniel’s attention had been focused almost exclusively on a girl seated in the second desk of the row near the windows. He was still amazed at how young she, and everyone else in the school, looked.

As the students had come in most of them had glanced, some lingeringly, in his direction. It was something he’d gotten used to, people somehow sensing, but not quite seeing him. Daniel took it as evidence of how close he was to crossing some temporal boundary. Diane Burns, the girl he had been watching, had turned in her seat a couple of times, a puzzled look on her face, staring right at him.

The period had passed and the class had gathered their books and bags and made their way out of the room, again casting perplexed glances his way. Diane had been the last one to leave and her scrutiny had seemed even more pronounced. She had sighed, shaken her head slightly, and gone on to her next class.

Daniel had sighed too, and just stayed sitting in the desk, thinking.

“You’ve been sitting there the whole period, that goofy, lost-puppy-dog look on your face, staring at the Burns girl. You didn’t seem to be bothering anyone so I just let you stay. But it is a little creepy. So, I’ll ask you again. Is there something you need?”

A huge grin had spread across Daniel’s face.

“No. No thanks, Father. I’m just fine. And thanks for letting me sit in. I guess I’d better move on now.” He left the desk and headed toward the door. He stopped for a moment and looked back at Father West.

“You were the best, you know. Teacher, I mean. You inspired me, anyway. Just wanted you to know, since I doubt I ever said anything before. So, thanks!”

Father West stared for a few moments out the suddenly empty doorway.


“Yes!” Daniel bounded up from the futon and punched the air, still grinning. He’d finally done it! Now he just had to figure out how.

Was it the particular series of tunes he’d recorded on the cassette? Had there been one song that acted as a trigger? What had Father West said, that he’d been sitting there the whole period? Daniel had already been there when the priest had come into the room, glancing briefly in his direction. Then the kids had started arriving. That meant he’d have to have made the trip early in the series, close to the beginning of the hour-long side of the tape.

Daniel snatched up a clipboard that had a stack of playlists clamped to it. He checked the number on the cassette in the player and found the corresponding list. He thumbed the rewind button on the player, zipping back to the beginning of the tape as he scanned the list. The first four tunes had been 'From The Beginning' by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, 'For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her' by Simon and Garfunkel, 'Vincent' by Don McLean, and 'Baby Blue' by Badfinger. The rewind finished and the player clicked off.

He sat on the edge of the futon, took a deep breath, and pushed the play button. The music played and Daniel waited to find himself transported. But nothing happened. The first four songs played through, and then the fifth and sixth. He pushed the stop button, disappointed and tired. He’d been at it for over six hours, listening to one cassette after another, trying to induce the fugue. He’d thought he’d finally succeeded, but no. Close, but not enough.

It was so frustrating. He knew it could be done now, but didn’t know how to control or sustain it. It was like trying to tune into some stray and inconsistent radio frequency. Just when you’d think you had it locked in, it slips away again, an ephemeral wavelength. If it was going to take hours to trigger only such random successes, then how was he going to be able to achieve his ultimate aim? He had to be able to get back to a particular place in time, otherwise the whole thing was pointless. He had to be able to go back and undo the damage he had done.

Daniel removed the earphones and laid them across the cassette player on the coffee table. He turned and went into the kitchen, rubbing his weary eyes. Maybe a little caffeine would help. He took the carafe from the coffee maker and half filled it with water and poured it into the reservoir. He spooned a measure of coffee into a filter and dropped it into the basket, slid it into place along with the carafe, and switched the unit on. It quickly started gurgling and hissing, pumping heated water over and through the grounds. He watched it brewing and tried to think of what to do next.

The coffee finished brewing and Daniel poured a cup. He took it back to the living area and sat back with it on the futon. As he sipped the hot drink he thought back over what he had done to get to this point. He’d come to realize that the musically induced fugues didn’t just figuratively take him back in time, but did so literally. At least to a point. He’d figured out a connection between the music, the time to which it took him, and his emotional responses to both. He’d also come to realize the strength of the emotion had its source in who he had been more than three decades ago, in what he had believed was possible in his life, and most importantly, in the love he had shared with a young girl.

He looked again at the embroidered words of Walt Whitman hanging in a blue frame on the wall, a gift from that young girl, the stitching her handiwork, words he knew by heart.

“I think I could turn and live with animals,

they are so placid and self-contained.

I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition.

They do not lay awake in the dark and weep for their sins.

They do not make me sick discussing their duty to god.

Not one is dissatisfied,

not one is demented with the mania of owning things.

Not one kneels to another,

nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago.

Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.”



Six (Daniel: July 7, 2011)

Austin traffic had been getting worse each year as the metro area expanded north and south along I-35, and west into the hill country. Daniel was glad he wasn’t among the unfortunate commuters who had to fight it every day. Folks who lived in Round Rock and points north, or anywhere out 183 to the west and north, usually spent at least an hour coming into town for work each morning, and another one trying to get home in the evening. He should have known better than to get on Lamar this time of day. The bumper-to-bumper traffic lurched along inconsistently as the crush of vehicles trickled through the ill-timed traffic lights. And it was hot. Good old summer in south Texas. Daniel had been meaning to get the A/C on the Corolla fixed for two years now, but somehow he just never got around to it. Instead, a flaccid and steamy stir of air crept through his open windows.

Something must have gone wrong with the lights at 34th Street, because there had been no movement in the northbound lanes for a good five minutes, except for the cars in the right lane. Daniel guessed at least some drivers were turning right at the intersection, allowing the vehicles in that lane to slowly advance. He glanced in his passenger-side mirror and saw an unbroken line of cars edging along. Not much chance of cutting into that line without incurring the ire of someone.

A top-down convertible came alongside Daniel’s car, the radio cranked. Getty Lee was belting out lyrics from 'The Spirit of Radio', celebrating the power of invisible wavelengths of energy to carry the emotion of life across all time and space.

Daniel felt his skin chill. He cut his wheel sharply to the left and made a quick u-turn, lucking into a break in the lighter southbound lanes. Within a few minutes he was back at the Warwick and racing up the stairs to his apartment. He rummaged briefly among the bookcases and tugged out a battered copy of the Austin phone directory, several years out of date.

In the vastness of a predominately conservative state, Austin was a haven for left-leaning types, and the spirit of community and alternative radio was alive and well there. Daniel hastily jotted down the addresses of three of them. In another moment he was back out the door, headed for his car, then making his way to the first station on his list. The ingredients of a half-baked plan were beginning to simmer in his mind, the vague notion of the pitch he would use to get a foot in the door, and hopefully, the answer to the limitations he had encountered in his quest.



Seven (Diane: January 17, 2013)

Diane sighs, putting what's left of her heart into it. It's an exhausted sigh, weary beyond the burden of this moment. It is her life now, this sigh.

"Well I'm sorry if that doesn't suit you Ms. Burns, but it's all we have available today." The caseworker is snippy, vexed.

"No, no, it's not that," she tries to sound conciliatory. "I appreciate your trying. Really. I guess I'm just…" She shakes her head slowly, unable to finish. "Just, thanks."

She rises, gathering up her coat, leaves quietly. Others waiting their turn eye her, calculating, evaluating, or indifferent.

It has gotten colder outside, grayer. It feels like it could snow. She pulls her coat tighter around herself, plodding to the bus stop. Someone else is there, a skinny black man smoking dispiritedly, nodding. Not to include, just acknowledge.

A bus hisses, squeals, shudders to a stop, door rattles open, spilling out hot air. She takes a seat halfway back behind the driver, huddles against the window. She has a small notebook in her coat pocket, and a pen. She tugs them out, uncaps the pen. The bus sways and she sways with it, musing.

'What happened to my hope?' she writes.

Something niggles, teasing her attention. A tinny sound, distant, small, familiar, insistent. She raises her head a little, eyes searching, trying to follow the sound. Across the aisle she sees a girl, maybe a young woman. Her head is half turned to the window. A thin, black line snakes up from the pocket of her gray-green overcoat, disappearing under her light brown hair.

'Headphones,' Diane thinks. 'It's music from the headphones I'm hearing.' It suddenly seems very important to know what the young woman is listening to. There is a familiarity ghosting at the edge of awareness.

Just then the young woman reaches up and tugs the bell cord, signaling the driver. The bus begins to decelerate, coasting to the next stop. The young woman grasps the handhold on the back of the seat ahead of her and pulls herself to her feet, swinging into the aisle and turning toward the exit door. For just a moment Diane catches sight of her face, longish with a wide forehead over violet-blue eyes, eyes welling with emotion. A snatch of lyrics escapes the headphones and then the young woman is gone, pushing through the exit doors.

"promise that we made," was all Diane had caught.



Eight (Diane: January 17, 2013)

Diane gave her inoperative Ford Festiva a rueful look and affectionate pat on her way to her apartment. It had konked out on her about three weeks ago, just when it would have been most helpful in finding a better or second job. All it needed was a new transmission! She was glad Colorado Springs had a decent public transportation system, but having your own wheels meant freedom, being able to do not only things you needed to do, but also and more importantly, the things you wanted to do. For her that meant heading into the mountains on a regular basis. It was the only place she could really clear her head and renew her spirit. Right now her head was feeling pretty gunked up and her spirit totally ragged out. Once in a while she would tag along with friends who were taking daytrips or weekend outings, but for her there was nothing that so soothed her soul as being completely alone in the wild.

As she entered her apartment she realized she was humming something, and had been for the four-block walk from the bus stop. She paused and listened to the tune, recognizing it as the scrap of music she had heard on the bus. Why was it so familiar? “promise that we made …”

She turned to regard her collection of CDs, wondering if the words came from an album she owned. For her, the lyrics of a song were the most important part. Even a tune with lousy rhythm or a marginal vocalist could still pack a wallop if the words rang true, if they said something worth saying. Scanning her CDs she considered those by Eliza Gilkyson, Enya, Natalie Merchant, Jackson Browne, Melissa Etheridge, Sara McLachlan, James Taylor and Seal. The words sounded like lyrics they would write, but she couldn’t connect them with any of those artists. Then she looked at a smaller cluster of CDs tucked away on a low shelf. These were CDs she didn’t listen to very often, but somehow couldn’t bear to part with. For the most part they were by artists she associated with what she called her “past life experience.” These included some John Denver, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell and The Moody Blues. That’s where she found it. The words were from a tune on The Moody Blues’ “Say It With Love” album, the song called 'I Know You’re Out There Somewhere'. She pulled out the CD and slipped it into her player, skipping through the tracks until she found the one she wanted. As the music played she listened, transfixed and chilled. Suddenly she knew the answer to the question he had asked herself earlier. “What happened to my hope?” she murmured. “Nothing,” the answer came. The hope was still there, right where she’d left it, unused, waiting for her to return. She had done nothing with it. God, that seemed so harsh. It made her sound so cold.

She thought of herself as a good person, a compassionate person. Hadn’t she gone into healthcare because she cared about people? Wasn’t she always ready to help anyone who needed it, to be a friend, companion, lover? Even as she thought about it she wondered what her hopes had to do with any of those things. It was true she was concerned about others, others’ needs, others’ dreams, others’ hopes. But not hers. Her deepest hopes and dreams had long since been packed away, given up on, abandoned as unattainable, too painful to pursue. She suddenly found herself looking back at empty years, a flurry of furious action and activity, but without any sense of joy. Contentment, yes, and satisfaction in her work. Not unhappy, but not giddy with a sense of efficacy and grace. Not the life for which she had once hoped.  The lyrics from another track of the CD caught her attention, singing about a time when all things had seemed possible, a time filled with hope and love.

It had indeed been a long time since she had felt that way. She began to wonder ‘What if I could go back?’ then shook her head in irritation. Why wonder about the impossible? And why not simply try to work on the whole hope thing from where she was now? Did she have the energy for the effort? Way back then she had had the advantage of thinking she had her whole life ahead of her. Now she only had what was left of her life.

‘Oh, that’s a positive approach,’ she chided herself. ‘Very helpful.’

So, other than time, what did she have then, which she didn’t have now, that had given her so much hope?

Leaving the CD to play, she made a quick pit stop in the bathroom, and then went to a corner of the apartment where the windows in adjacent walls allowed more natural light to enter. There she had set up her easel and had a painting in progress on it. Other canvases, finished, in progress and unused, were leaning against walls, chairs and anything else that didn’t move too much. The one she was working on was a view of Mosca Peak, southeast of Albuquerque, during late fall. There was a delicate balance of golden hues she wanted to achieve. She picked up a palate and squeezed a small glob of yellow ochre acrylic paint onto it, toning it down with some white before adding a tiny, tiny bit of cadmium red.

She listened to the music, and tried to listen to her heart. But it was so hard. How could she trust it? It was such a huge obstacle to overcome. She had been so disappointed by those to whom she had opened her heart over the years, had been so betrayed. Could she trust her intuition? She had certainly beaten herself up enough times for ignoring it! Each time she had ignored it she had ended up in a bad place and she was disgusted that she had allowed that to happen over and over again. Then she smiled to herself, recalling a clever definition of insanity she had heard.



Nine (Diane: January 17, 2013)

Diane was looking at a little piece of her heart labeled “Don’t Go There.” But she had searched everywhere else she could think of and had yet to find her abandoned hope. Now that she was facing it she realized she had known all along that this is where it would be. The essence of hope is love, just as the essence of love is hope.

But love was also a lot of other things as well, things like hurt and disappointment.

Her life so far had been difficult, plagued with doubt, long periods of depression, feelings of hopelessness and exclusion. It seemed that everything conspired to cheat her out of happiness. And she had tried so very, very hard. She had striven to be a helpful person, doing volunteer work with AIDS patients in hospice, or simply being there for friends. But there was so much to overcome. She’d felt herself a sham, and was afraid someone would discover her dirty, secret self, dismissing her as phony and evil. She had found herself simply trying to fade into the background and not be noticed. 

She lived in terror, constantly on the verge of tears. Repression was her only answer, until she could escape to the safety of her apartment, there to huddle under the stinging warmth of the shower, to release in trembling, almost silent moans and hiccups the pain in her heart.

She’d been there, done that, didn’t want to go there again.

The CD had ended quite some time ago, leaving a warm silence in her apartment. She had been working steadily at her easel, caught up in the artistic flow she so relished, but which was all too elusive much of the time.

Did she need or even want hope that badly? She’d had these little emotional flare-ups before. They always passed and then she got on with her life. The nagging sense of incompletion faded, became part of the background noise. Everything evened out, no highs, no lows, just minor fluctuations, slight undulations. Compared to what she had put herself through as a child, her life now was almost mellow. She didn’t often allow herself to think about that particular horror show.

But there it was, one of her dirty little secrets by which she had come to define herself.

Late at night, when her two brothers with whom she’d had to share a room were finally asleep, she would enact a private ritual. She’d light a small votive candle with matches pilfered from the kitchen and set it in a glass ashtray. Then she’d pull out the pretty, enameled jewelry box that had been a gift from her neighbor, Kitty. Inside, the compartments were lined with pink velvet, and the innocent figure of a ballerina would pop up and dance to the music that played when the box was opened, graceful and radiant against the inside of the mirrored lid. So pretty in her tiny white dress, so pure.

There were two open compartments in the jewelry box and a center one for keeping rings. And then, toward the back of the box, behind the dancing ballerina, she had found a secret compartment. This was where she hid the razor blades and needles.

She would hold the edges of the razor blades or the tips of the pins in the flickering flame of the candle to sterilize them, something she had seen done on television. Then she would carefully slice and prick her skin until her blood oozed out, pooling around the wound. She would watch in fascination with a sense of relief. If she bled, it meant she was alive. And as the blood was released from her body, it took with it a tiny bit of the pain she carried

As an adult, facing her demons while in therapy, she had recalled these rituals. She had been astonished to learn that her actions were not as bizarre as she had thought they were, that there was a large group of women for whom such cutting sessions served exactly the same purposes: confirmation of existence, release of pain, and some sense of control. In her “magical mind,” she believed her ritual had made her stronger and more invisible, and therefore safer. From the age of seven or eight and well into her teens, it had been a part of her strategy for coping with the ugliness of her life, of herself.

Dirty little secrets, still hiding, still hurting.

The binging and purging had begun when she was about eighteen. Eating seemed to push down the pain, numbing the unidentified sadness and depression. Then came the disgust, as she forced herself to throw it all back up. Cycle completed, the guilt of being a glutton now validated her sense of shame. But the relief was short-lived. Within a couple of years it no longer did the trick. Then the purging stopped.

But not the binging. The weight began to creep up, just a little. She didn’t see herself as huge or obese, just a little heavy. And the added weight made her feel safer, somehow protected, not so appealing to men. It matched her ‘don’t even try to get close’ frame of mind. She refused the few offers of dates that still came her way. Labels of dyke and lesbian came, and she did little to refute them. It seemed easier and less painful to simply let people think whatever they wanted.

After all that, to even consider trusting herself now was ludicrous. There was just too much wrong with her. Wasn’t there? Just look at the evidence. Even when she did finally regain some control of her weight and did let someone through her defenses, things hadn’t turned out well at all. Eventually, the man she had married had chosen booze over her. What did that say about her? Nothing good!

Not consciously, just as the cutting hadn’t been, she began to run, finding it helped to release some of the pain and anger. Then she found herself adding in a weight lifting regimen. Before she knew it, she had transformed herself into a slender, strong woman. Not skinny, her bones were too big to allow that, but no longer the hideous, bloated creature she had believed herself to be. It had been difficult, forcing her self to stand naked before the mirror and really see. The person looking back surprised her. She looked ‘real’.

She changed her wardrobe, abandoning the preponderance of black in favor of brighter colors and styles that complimented her new body. It was exciting. It felt so good. At least at first. But then she saw the ugly side of beauty.

It didn’t take long, only a handful of dates. Men who would not have given her the time of day before, were suddenly very interested. But not in ‘her’, only her new packaging. As far as they were concerned, the person inside was irrelevant. The rage she had felt frightened her. She had begun putting on a little more weight again, just enough to restore that tenuous boundary, to let her feel safer.

Still, she wouldn’t blame it all on the men. After all, she had chosen to date them, and she did crave the positive attention. She had been so astounded that anyone would be interested in her. She simply should have made better choices.

But the pattern persisted. Years later she ignored every warning bell going off in her being and married again. It cost her years of increasing confusion, self-doubt and recrimination before she finally found the courage to get divorced.

If only there was some way she could return to her youth, with the knowledge and experience of so many years. There would be so many things she would change. Even if she could change just small parts of her past, she knew, she absolutely knew, that her life would have turned out much better than it had. She might have even been happy. Just thinking about a life without guilt or depression made her smile. She could have a normal life, with real accomplishments and dreams that could come true. She could have friends who understood her, instead of being surrounded by strangers who could just glance at her and see that something wasn’t right.

She stopped. Something wasn’t right. In the painting, something wasn’t right. She stepped back, eyes scanning her work, trying to find the flaw that had drawn her attention.

Although she didn’t consider herself an artist by profession, she still had enough experience and background to call herself serious. Both her mother and her grandfather had been artists and she believed much of her talent derived from their influence. For many of her high school years she had worked in her grandfather’s gallery, stretching and framing canvases, displaying works, working shows, helping customers find what they were looking for, and helping the artists feel at home with High Plains Gallery. Her informal training served her well when she began to put paint to her own canvases. She was able to understand with an uncommon clarity the subtleties of composition, color and texture. She studied the masters and sought the wisdom of those she admired. In particular, she had taken to heart Richard Schmid’s injunction to never knowingly leave anything wrong on your canvas.

She finally found it, some inexactness in the way she had expressed an adjoining ridgeline and promontory, some quality of line and edge that had diminished the grandeur they shared with Mosca Peak itself. She studied the photograph from which she was working more closely, trying to discover the dynamic behind what she was seeing. Without any clear idea of why she did so or how she thought it might help, she began rummaging through a jumble of rolled and rubber-banded topographic maps, looking for the one that included the mountain. She found it and rolled it out on the floor near her easel. Maybe there was some spatial relationship that was lost in the photographic translation.

She found Mosca Peak and traced the contours as they wound their way southwestward. Her hand stilled as she located the ridge and outcrop depicted and labeled there on the map, a tingle of frisson dancing across her skin.

Corazon Ridge. Esperanza Point.

Heart Ridge. Hope Point.

She suddenly knew, as she had know such things throughout her life, yet hadn’t always know what to do about it at the time, that this was no accident. This was one of the Cosmic nudges she received from time to time. She never told anyone about them. They would have thought she was crazy (or even crazier). But she often experienced simple observations when she needed some kind of hint in her life to tell her what to do, a gentle suggestion at the least. Not that she always paid attention. Perhaps her inner artist perceived nuances, subtleties that could be easily overlooked by others. She even wondered if perhaps, sometimes, the answers were already there in her heart and the Cosmic nudge was just to validate her emotions or thought process. There were so many things she did not understand, so may things she wanted to understand about her life, her purpose. But she had felt so lost for most of her life while she had gone through the motions of living. It would be nice not to be so lost.



Ten (Diane: January 17, 2013)

Diane was still a little surprised. Not at finding what she had been looking for in the last place she looked, but in finding it at all. It didn’t spring up to greet her though, maybe waved feebly, a wan smile perhaps. Cramped and crowded amid the debris of sorrow and loss, it looked a mess, a lesser thing than she had remembered it, shrunken, underfed and weak. But there it was, her hope. It looked pretty hopeless.

Words from an old John Denver song drifted into her mind, words about forgotten dreams and lost hopes. She sighed. There had been so many. It had been much easier to ‘forget’.

When she had been a child, before the abuse had begun when she was five, she knew she had been a happy, impish little pixie of a girl. She had pictures of herself to prove it, and dim, dim memories. Then the darkness had taken her. Fear and pain had overwhelmed her sense of joy. She had become ugliness. And there had been no one to save her. Not her mother, who had suffered a string of nervous breakdowns and had been hospitalized for much of the time. After all the shock treatments, someone not her mother anymore had come home instead. Her father’s answer to his wife’s breakdown and his own misery was to withdraw into an alcoholic haze. She and her older brothers had been left to fend for themselves, she taking on the role of mother to her two younger brothers. There had been no time for tears, unless they were shed silently in the privacy of the shower. For ten long years she had had no defender, no champion, no hope.

And then Daniel had come into her life. For a few brief years she had felt so loved. It had almost been enough to overcome the sense of shame and fear. Almost. But fear won, fear that once he found out about the sexual abuse, about her rape when she was nine, about the self-mutilation, that then he would see her for the ugly, dirtied person she believed herself to be. She had pushed him away. Better to reject than to be rejected. For more than thirty-eight years she had lived with an empty ache in her soul.

She felt the tears running down her face and shook her head, first angrily, then sadly. This was why she had shut these memories away. She didn’t want to feel this anguish again. How could it feel so fresh, so strong after all this time? It wasn’t like losing Daniel had been the only misery in her life. She’d made it through the death of her granddaddy when she was still in high school, a man who had been such a hero in her eyes.  She’d lost her father, then an uncle to whom she’d been particularly close, within a few years of each other, and then her mother a couple years after that. Plus she’d survived two divorces, one from a husband who’d decided he’d rather drink and knock her around, the other from one who hadn’t outgrown mommy’s apron strings or daddy’s authority, and who thought it was alright to sleep around on his wife. No, the last thirty-eight years of her life hadn’t been very happy ones, and on more than a couple of occasions she had made serious attempts to put an end to it. After all that there shouldn’t be any hope left at all. But there it was.

She sat silently on the floor of her apartment, bathed in a cascade of westering sunlight slanting through the window of her ‘studio’ and pooling around her. In its warmth she sensed a delicate caress, an easing of her lifelong ache. An uncertain smiled tugged tentatively at her soft lips. She looked down at the map on the floor, slowly began to re-roll it. She lifted herself, stretched, gazing out the window, eyes and mind considering some middle distance. She regarded the painting on the easel, seeing both the beauty and the flaw, a work in progress, her work in progress, herself a work in progress. 

“Never knowingly leave anything wrong on your canvas,” she whispered to herself. Right now she had a couple of canvases that needed some attention.

So, where did she go from here? How to change the pattern? She yearned to feel complete, in and of herself. The sense of fragmentation that her early abuse had engendered was pervasive. Months and months of counseling as an adult had helped her to realize that this broken state had been part of a defense mechanism that had kicked in automatically. It had allowed her to survive the pain and horror. And hope? That was a scary thought. What power did it really have over nagging issues of worthiness and the fear of loss?

Safe worked. It was lonely, but it worked. And yet, there had been so many times she had ached, wishing for someone to share with, someone to be at her side, to work with, to laugh with, to touch and be touched by. What chance did she have of ever having these things in her life if she didn’t hope?

Movement outside her window drew her attention, the mail carrier on his rounds. A few moments later she heard the squeak and clank of mail being deposited in the box just outside the front door. She crossed the room, stepped out onto the porch and retrieved the mail, and quickly hopped back inside, shutting out the chilly air. She was shuffling through the envelopes and ads on her way back to her easel, and stopped. She stared, transfixed at one of the envelopes, then sagged to her knees, heart pounding.



Eleven (James: April 1, 2013)

The air pressure in the pharmacy always changed slightly when someone entered the vestibule, causing the tiles in the suspended ceiling to lift a little and resettle with a gentle huff. A moment later a soft gong would chime when the door between the vestibule and the sales floor was opened.

James Harmon felt the change and glanced up to see who was entering his business. His right hand, long, slender, and well-manicured held a narrow metal counting spatula over a spill of green and white capsules.

'Fifteen,' he mentally marked his count. He saw a well-dressed, middle-aged women aggressively jerk open the inner door and stalk through. His brown eyes, chronically sad and tired, now registered anguish as well. It was his soon-to-be ex-wife. He set aside the spatula and stepped from behind the pharmacist's counter, moving to meet her, thankful there is no one else in the store just now.

"Marla," he says, a name that once danced in his heart, now an expression of grief.

"James," she returns, her voice terse with anger. "Next Tuesday, ten o'clock. Can you make it?"

He sighs, nodding. A court date. He holds his breath for a moment and looks away, not letting himself cry. He swallows, sighs again, keeping control. "O.K." he says.

"O.K." she echoes, nodding. "Well, I'll see you then." She turns to leave.

"Marla." She stops, looking back at him. "I'm so sorry."

She sighs, her eyes tearing. "Yeah," she says, softening a little. "Me too. But we can't bring her back, and we can't go on without her. Or at least I can't."

They look at each other for a long moment, trapped in sadness. She turns away and hurries from the store. He stands alone, pulling a white handkerchief from his back pocket. He holds it to his eyes and sobs, shambling back toward the pharmacy to resume filling the prescription on the counter there. The radio is on, playing low, and the tune stops him in his tracks. It's Elton John's 'Funeral For a Friend'. He remembers the first time he heard the song, so many years ago, and the depth of ache it evoked in him then. Hearing it now, it seems to have been a harbinger of this very moment, and he feels no better able to handle the sadness today than he had more than thirty-eight years ago. And, not for the first time, he feels a desperate awareness of the locked narcotics cabinet underneath the counter in front of him.



Twelve (Vincent: April 1, 2013)

'Shuck and jive, shuck and jive, pushing tin to stay alive.' It's a little self-made jingle that rattles around inside Vincent's head most of the day. He's standing, scanning the orderly lines of gleaming vehicles arrayed beyond the twelve-foot-tall walls of plate glass that case in three sides of the sales floor. He's jingling the keys and loose change in the pockets of his slacks, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet. He breathes in deeply, smiling to himself, loving that new car smell.

It occurs to him that he is a happy man and his smile becomes a grin. He feels this way all the time.

There are more than 200 auto dealerships in Amarillo, new and used, and fully half of them are clustered within a mile of each other, Vincent's among them.

Something catches his attention and stills his habitual change jingling. He sees a car he does not recognize lined up amid his familiar rows of vehicles. It’s lines and deep maroon color  strongly at variance with the softer, more subdued colors and rounded shapes common to the models produced in the last several years. Crouched there among them it looks especially powerful and predatory. Then a brighter, quick-moving shape flashes by on the street in front of his dealership, slows suddenly, and veers into the lot. It’s a dull-orange Plymouth Duster, ’74 by the look of it, and in primo condition. A moment later it pulls up in front of the showroom and the driver, whom Vincent almost doesn’t recognize, springs out. Vincent hurries out to meet him.

“Hey, Bob! Where’d you score the ride?”

Bob Bingham, tall, lean and agile is grinning maniacally as he closes with Vincent, his hand outstretched to catch Vincent’s.

“Yo, buddy! How’s it hangin’? Yeah, sweet wheels, eh?”

Vincent feels a tug of unease. Bob, typically taciturn or sardonic, and very much the image of a well-established surgeon, seems anything but today. Even the clothes he’s wearing don’t jibe with Vincent’s picture of the dapper Dr. Bingham. And what was with the hair?

“Dude, you been hitting the Rogaine or what?” Vincent quips, eyeing the unruly mop Bob keeps flipping out of his face with a shake of his head. The last time he’d seen him, Bob’s hair had thinned and receded so much it made his long face appear almost skeletal. That had been less than two months ago.

“What? Oh, no, nothing like that!” He still has that loopy grin on his face. “But something is definitely going down,” he says.

“Yeah, and it looks like a major mid-life meltdown to me,” Vincent says. Bob throws back his head, laughing.

“Mid-life? No way, dude! And there’s no meltdown happening either.”

“Bob, you’re not acting like yourself, man. Is it Angie? You know you’ve been kind of out of it since she split. Don’t you think maybe this could all be about that? I mean, the car, the clothes, the hair? What’s going on, man?”

“The car? Look at the car, Vince. Doesn’t it look familiar?

Vincent glances at it, nodding.

“Well, yeah. It does remind of the car you had back in high school. So what?”

Bob hands Vincent a slip of paper. There’s a number scrawled on it, a number Vincent immediately recognizes as a Vehicle Identification Number.

“Check it out,” Bob invites him, pointing to the embossed plate behind the base of the windshield on the driver’s side.

Vincent eyes him questioningly and moves to see the VIN plate, comparing it to the numbers on the paper.

“O.K.,” he says. “It’s the same number. So?”

“So check it out, Vince. Call it in or check it out on Carfax or whatever.”

“Why?”

“’Cause it’s the same car, Vincent. This is my old car.”

“No way, man! You totaled your car in ’77. We saw it towed away and scrapped, Bob. This can’t be the same car.”

Vincent looks at the car again, more closely, circling it, looking for the telltale signs of bodywork and paint jobs. But he can’t find any.

“Dude,” he says, “this looks like it just rolled out of the factory.” He opens the driver’s door and leans in, inhaling the fresh upholstery aroma of a new car, glances at the odometer. He stands up, turning to Bob, then drops to his knees, crouching to gaze under the car. The undercarriage is clean, no rust, no scrapes, practically no road grime or oil film. Standing up again he stares into some middle distance, trying to make sense of something impossible.

“C’mon, Bob,” he says. “Let’s check out this VIN.”



Thirrteen (Vincent: April 1, 2013)

“This has to be a mistake. It has to be.”

The CarFax data displayed on Vincent’s laptop confirmed his recollection of Bob’s ’74 Duster. It had been wrecked in ’77, totaled, and in a rather spectacular fashion at that. Bob had been going too fast to make the ramp from the Canyon Expressway onto eastbound I-40 and the car had gone sailing over the embankment, coming down on the driver’s side, then rolling at least four times before wrapping the chassis around a concrete pillar. Bob had been ejected during the first roll and was found unconscious on the grassy slope, a broken shoulder his only apparent injury.

Bob shrugged his shoulders now.

“What can I tell you? There’s the car.”

“Pull it around to the shop,” Vincent said. “We’ll get some serial numbers off some of the parts, check those out.”

“Whatever,” Bob said. “You know it’s the same car, Vince.”

“Humor me. There’s something screwy going on and I gotta figure it out. Just pull it around. I’ll get Jack to watch the floor.”

Bob went back to his car while Vince looked for Jack.

Most of the time Vincent really got into a little car sleuthing. He liked using the databases and tools of his trade to ferret out the histories of the used cars that ended up on his lot. Somehow people’s memories about blown engines, dropped trannies and ‘minor’ fender benders got a little vague at trade-in time. But this one was getting spooky.

Vincent picked up the phone and punched the shop manger’s extension.

“O.J., this is Vince. Not bad for a Monday. Hey, I got a friend in an orange Duster coming your way. Yeah, a ’74. No, nothing’s wrong with it. In fact, it’s in too good a shape. I’d like you to check out some of the part numbers, see if they’ve been replaced. He’s there? Great. So just take a quick look and shoot me back some SNs to look up, o.k.? Thanks, O.J.”

Bob lounged on the small couch in Vincent’s office, thumbing through back issues of Motor Trend and Easy Rider. Vincent had been at it for over an hour, accessing every database he could think of, punching in strings of numbers and letters, determined to unravel the mystery of Bob’s reincarnated Duster. It wasn’t happening. Every serial number he chased down led him to the same conclusion. All of it, from block to tranny, from starter to cassette player, from radiator to rubber, all of it was original equipment. He tossed his ballpoint on the desk in defeat. Bob shifted his gaze above the top of the magazine in his hands, catching Vincent’s bewildered expression.

“Told ya.”

Vincent just shook his head slowly.

“How?” he asked the room.

Bob shrugged.

“I dunno. It’s like some science fiction story.”

“And you say the car was just there, in your driveway, next to your Lexus?”

“I swear. I walk out, going to work like any other Monday, and there it is. I couldn’t believe it at first myself. I figured it must be you jacking with me, trying to freak me out by putting a look-alike car in my driveway. Like you said, I’ve taken Angie pretty hard. I figured you were trying to snap me out of it.”

Vincent gave a humorless laugh.

“Looks like it worked.”

Bob nodded.

“Yeah, I guess it did. Sort of.”

“What’ya mean?”

“There’s more.”

“More what?”

“More than the car, Vince.”

“Like what?”

Bob pointed to his head.

“Like the hair, for one. It ain’t Rogaine, Vince. It’s the real deal. It’s mine, and it just grew back all by itself. I think it started the day the car showed up. But the hair’s nothing, dude. You been out to the school lately?”

“W.T.?”

“Alamo.”

“Alamo? That’s gone, man. It was torn…” Vincent stopped mid-sentence. “No way,” he finished in a stunned whisper.

“Way,” Bob said.

“No fucking way, man. That’s impossible! That’s insane! You are so full of shit, Bingham. O.K.? You got me. I don’t know how you did the car thing, but you really got me with it, o.k.? It’s cool. I’m the fool. Hey, wait a minute!” He looked down at the calendar on his desk.

“Oh, man! April first! Dude, I so bought it!” Vincent was grinning hugely now. “I can’t believe I totally fell for it! Man, you are ice!”

Bob smiled back at him, but somehow it didn’t strike Vincent as a ‘gotcha!’ smile.

“Can you take off for a while?” Bob asked, still with that weird half-smile hanging on his lips, but not registering in his eyes.

“What? You mean right now?”

“Yeah. Call it a late lunch.”

Vincent could tell there was something behind Bob’s suggestion, something that gave Vincent an uneasy feeling. Bob was acting just so out of character, at least for the man he had become. There had been a time, years and years ago, when he might blindside friends with occasional bizarre ideas or behaviors, things not defined in the stereotypical image of the son of a prominent, successful doctor. It had been a hoot at the time, and to tell the truth, Vincent often missed those wild and crazy days. Anything had seemed possible. They had all felt so totally fearless and confident, filled with youth and power.

He blinked, suddenly aware he had drifted into some altered, reminiscent state of mind, and that Bob was looking at him with a peculiar intensity.

“What?”

“I said I’d buy,” Bob said.

“What?”

“Lunch!”

“Oh, yeah. Lunch.” Vincent blinked again, shook his head. “Blood sugar,” he muttered, mostly to himself. “Lunch is good. Let’s do it!”

“Mind if I drive?” Bob asked.

“You gonna get us killed?” Vincent shot back.

“Dude! My feelings!”

“Need a hug?”

They headed for the Duster, jostling each other down the hallway to the shop area.



Fourteen (Vincent: April 1, 2013?)

As Bob whipped the Duster out of the car lot Vincent caught another glimpse of the dark maroon car that had drawn his attention earlier, but only for an instant. Bob punched the pedal and his car squealed into the early afternoon traffic coursing up the northbound access road of the Canyon Expressway, radio cranked.

“Haven’t heard that one in a while,” Vincent shouted over Janis Joplin wailing out 'Piece of My Heart'. “Mind if I turn it down a little?”

“Huh?” Bob shouted back. “Oh! Sure, man, go ahead!”

Vincent twisted down the volume knob as Bob hung a left onto Western Avenue, magically managing to make the lights on both sides of the overpass, something Vincent never seemed to be able to pull off.

“Where we going?”

“Burgers. O.K.?”

“Works for me,” Vincent said, slightly distracted as an empty field on his right flashed by. Something didn’t look right.

“Whataburger, then,” Bob said. “Good and greasy.”

“Roger that,” Vincent said vacantly.

Bob barely slowed when the got to 45th, gliding around the corner then cutting into the parking lot of the Whataburger half a block later. The place was still pretty crowded even though the noontime rush was over.

“What the hell?” Vincent said, looking beyond the end of the parking lot at a building next door.

“What?” Bob asked.

“There,” Vincent pointed. “It’s Adolph’s!”

“Yeah? You want to grab a beer instead?” Bob grinned.

“No, man! That can’t be there! Adolph’s hasn’t been there for more than thirty years! What’s going on?” He turned to look at Bob, confused.

Bob twisted his lips, thinking about how to answer the question.

“Tell you what. How about we get it to go? We can eat while we drive. I’ll give you the tour.”

“What tour?”

“Humor me.”

Vincent gave him a dubious look, but nodded.

“Cool,” Bob said, and backed out of the parking space, heading for the drive-through.


They pulled out of the Whataburger, heading east on 45th. On the radio Cat Stevens was being chased by a moon shadow.

“Where are the condos?” Vincent asked, looking at a field of corn stubble zoom by on their right.

“Duly note it,” Bob said.

“What?”

“Keep track,” Bob said. “You’re going to see some weird shit today, my friend. Keep track of it all. It’ll all add up later. You’ll see.”

“So, what am I keeping track of so far?”

“The missing condos, Adolph’s, this car, things like that.”

Vincent took a hit of his jumbo Coke, but didn’t touch the bag containing his burger and fries. His appetite was missing, too.

Bob intersected the Canyon Expressway again and took it north. When he got to I-40 he was flying, and for a moment Vincent was gripped by a fear of re-enacting Bob’s nearly fatal rollover of ’77. But Bob slowed a little and took the eastbound ramp at 60 instead. A few minutes later he was getting off at Grand Boulevard.

“Where are we going?”

“Hang in there, buddy,” Bob said.

“I’m hanging just fine, but you’re starting to freak me out.”

“Gotta trust me, Vince.”

“Dude, something’s not right here. Are we heading out to where Alamo used to be?”

“10-4. Seeing is believing.”

Vincent stared at the side of Bob’s face, a deep sense of unreality settling over him. They made good time going up Grand and soon crossed Amarillo Boulevard. After several blocks Bob took a right on 18th Street, and moments later Vincent saw the old red brick building come into sight.

“Oh, shit,” he said. “Oh, shit.”

Bob threw back his head, laughing hard.

“This is impossible!” Vincent insisted.

Bob slung the Duster into a hard left and zipped into the half-circle drive at the east end of the building, pulling up smoothly behind a purple Nova. He gave the engine a quick rev then keyed off the ignition.

“It’s only impossible ‘til it happens,” Bob said over his shoulder as he hopped out of the car. He reached back in and grabbed a textbook and binder from the back seat. “Better hoof it man, or we’ll be late for class.”

“Late? Class? What class?” Vincent pushed open the car door and clambered out.

“Chem,” Bob called back as he began heading toward the building. Vincent trotted after him.

“Bob! Bob!” he pleaded. “What the hell is going on?” His voice was taking on a tone of panic.

“Yo! Vince! Bingham! Wait up!”

The two turned to see one of their friends, Stanley Hubbard, hustling up behind them. Vincent’s jaw dropped.

“What?” Stanley asked. “Did I grow another eye or something?”

Vincent’s mouth struggled to say something and finally blurted, “You’re not dead!”

“Ah!” Stanley nodded his understanding and looked to Bob, grinning. “This should be fun.”

“Don’t worry, buddy,” Bob said, resting a hand on Vincent’s shoulder. “We’ll be gentle.”

“In the stairwell?” Stanley asked.

“Perfect. We’ll give you two minutes, then we’ll come in. Keep his back to the door, o.k.?”

“Got it,” Stanley said, and hurried ahead of the other two, disappearing into the school.

“Bob!” Vincent was very close to losing it completely.

“Stay cool, Vince. I know this is weird.”

“No shit!”

“Well, hang with me for a minute and you’ll be alright. Just follow my lead, o.k.? You trust me, don’t you?”

“Yeah, right up to the point where you asked me if I trust you.”

“Look, man, all I can tell you is something really freaky is happening. I don’t know how or why, but it’s like time is replaying itself. Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s impossible. But if it’s impossible, what’s all this?” Bob spread his arms, palms up. “So here’s the deal. We’re going to go inside. Stanley will be talking to someone whose back will be toward us. Before that guy has a chance to turn around, you need to reach out and touch him, head, shoulder, whatever. O.K.?

“Who is it?”

Bob glanced at his watch.

“C’mon, Vince. You just gotta trust me. It’s cool. You’ll see. We gotta go in right now or we’ll miss this chance. Are you with me?”

Vincent glanced toward the door, then back to Bob. Without another word he quickly stepped to the door, jerked it open, and went inside.

“Shit!” Bob muttered and hurried in after him.

It took a moment for Vincent’s eyes to adjust to the dimly lit stairwell. Ahead of him and up a half-flight of stairs he could see the hallway in front of Mrs. Stark’s office, crowded now by students moving between classes. Others were making their way up and down the stairs. He looked to his left and saw Stanley and a student on the landing two steps down. The door behind Vincent opened suddenly and Bob rushed in.

“Vince!” he said tersely in a half-whisper.

The guy talking to Stanley turned.

“What?” he said and saw Vincent standing in front of Bob.

Vincent saw himself standing in front of Stanley.

Both Vincents felt a vertiginous tilt and the lurch of nausea, as well as the impact of hands shoving them roughly toward each other. Vincent stumbled down the steps and collided with himself. Sort of. He was suddenly experiencing the event from two different perspectives and the collision felt more like two bodies of air flowing together, impact cancelling out. And then there was just he and Stanley and Bob standing on the landing, a thinning stream of students coursing by, just ahead of the bell signaling the beginning of the next class period. Bob and Stanley flanked Vincent and walked him down to the bottom floor and on to chemistry class.



FIfteen (James: April 1, 2013)

The long day finally came to an end. James turned the key in the lock on the front door, closing the drugstore. It hadn’t begun very well, but somehow he wasn’t feeling too bad just now. He still had the court date with Marla looming ahead. He didn’t expect the divorce proceedings to be at all acrimonious, but the utter sadness of it was inescapable for him. They had started out so full of hope, so full of love for each other. And then Grace had been born. He couldn’t find an expression to match the wonder he felt. She had her mother’s sparkle and vivacity, along with James’ thoughtful and kind nature. As a family they had experienced nothing but joy together, and as Grace had grown and blossomed into a radiant little girl, Marla and James had blossomed as well, as though an infinite wellspring of love had been opened up within them.

She had been eight when she died.

James had taken her fishing with him, something they loved to do together. She had her own little rod and reel and tackle box. She knew how to rig her own lures and bait her own hooks. She had listened carefully to everything her daddy had to teach her about trout and bass and catfish, about the effects of sunlight and wind on water, about the wisdom of old wide-mouths lurking in the shadows of roots and rocks.

It had happened so quickly. In the moment he had taken his eyes from the cork float bobbing on the water thirty feet from the boat to see the small perch Grace had hooked and pulled aboard, flopping in the bottom of the boat, in that moment something big had hit his lure. It jerked him sideways across the gunwale, dragging him halfway over and into the water. The sudden motion had rocked the boat violently, pitching Grace up and into the air. She had come back down, hitting her head on the stern rail, and then disappeared into the dark, cold water.

James had frantically hauled himself back into the boat and seen she was gone. In a panic he had clambered the length of the boat, shouting for her, not seeing her in the water. He had dove in anyway, again and again, futilely searching for her. Heart and lungs breaking he had finally clung helplessly to the edge of the boat and cried hysterically.

Police divers recovered her body late that day.

James had never recovered. Now, five years later, the effects of the tragedy were claiming the marriage between he and Marla. Something had been irreparably torn and, despite long bouts of counseling, both the assumed guilt and the unspoken blame had killed their love.

This morning, as he and Marla had faced each other, for that one moment of softness between them in the midst of all their anger, sorrow and guilt, the feeble ember of their old flame had illuminated their loss. When she had gone, and he had abandoned himself to the pain in his heart, a song had reached into him and taken him back to a watershed moment in his life. The dismay of anguish he had felt then had seemed insurmountable, and yet he had gone on to experience the deepest joy he could imagine. As this day had gone on, other songs had played on the little radio in the pharmacy, and each one seemed to be speaking directly to him, telling him about the hope he had once believed in. Tonight he wished with all his heart to feel that hope again.

He got into his car and fiddled with the radio, trying to find the station he had been listening to all day. He found it and sat listening for a few minutes in the warm afternoon light. It was a pretty time of day during a pretty time of year in Weatherford, Oklahoma. Sitting there, hearing tunes he hadn’t really listened to for years, it felt just like summer evenings back in Amarillo, cruising around in his Vega, radio on, a soundtrack to the times. Just then a Neil Diamond song came on, 'If You Know What I Mean'. He listened, feeling through the words and music the emotions he had felt so long ago, and how hard it was to hold onto those emotions, and yet how difficult to release them.

A few minutes later Weatherford was receding in James’ rearview mirror, ahead of him the radiant glow of the westering sun.



Sixteen (James: April 1, 2013?)

Amarillo glittered ahead of him, spread out north and south in the blackness of the moonless night. Every time James came upon it like this he thought the same thing, that it looked like some far-flung galaxy seen edge-on, the brighter cluster of starry brilliance in the compact center petering out to lonely, lost suns on the distant fringes of nothingness. It always evoked an ache in his heart. It had been his home for a good part of his life, and yet he had always felt himself to be a lonely, lost son. He felt that way more than ever tonight.

He wanted to feel some affinity for this place, but really didn’t. It was simply the city to which his family had moved when they left Chickasha, Oklahoma. James had been four or five at the time so memories and attachments to his birthplace were vague at best. He didn’t leave Amarillo until he was in his mid-thirties, and still that sense of home had never materialized. Home for him didn’t happen until Marla and Grace brought a sense of completion to his life. Now he was homeless again.

James still had a younger brother, Burton, living here, and both their parents had been laid to rest in the Llano Estacado Cemetery. Their sister, Mary, older than them by six and eight years respectively, had high-tailed it out of Amarillo as soon as she legally could, never looking back. Two kids and three husbands later she had made her way to San Francisco. As far as he knew that was where she was now. Closeness had not been part of the Harmon family dynamic, although he had always been protective of his kid brother. He knew Burton would always welcome him, always eager to include James in his own family. Now, with Grace gone and Marla leaving, he knew that inclusion would be too painful for him to endure, the completeness and happiness of his brother’s life and family contrasting too sharply with his own emptiness and sadness.

So what had impelled him to come to a place to which he felt no connection?

He got off the Interstate at T-Anchor Boulevard and pulled into the Howard Johnson there, found a space near the coffee shop and nosed his Accord between two much larger, older-model pickups. He unfolded his lanky frame and stood stretching for a moment beside his car. There was a rhythmic roar of truck traffic hurtling by on the highway, a haze and fume of diesel exhaust, and underlying it the faint scent of green sage.

‘Good ‘ol Amarillo,’ he half-smiled to himself as he ambled into the restaurant. He was about to take a seat at the counter, then realized the two men flanking the seat, hunched over their cups of coffee, were both smoking, well-filled ashtrays in front of each evidence of how long they’d been there. James turned aside, finding an empty booth against the front windows in the “No Smoking” section. It was a nearly meaningless distinction, but at least not completely shrouded in nicotine smog. Like many former smokers, he now found himself hypersensitive to smoky environments. He had broken his own lifelong addiction, cold turkey, shortly after meeting Marla. If it had been difficult he really hadn’t taken any notice of it. As far as he was concerned, quitting hadn’t been a choice. There simply hadn’t been a place for the habit in the purity of what he felt for Marla.

A waitress breezed up to his table, presenting James with a menu and taking his order for coffee. She came back a few minutes later and he ordered a BLT. She pointed out the restroom in response to his query and as she went to turn in his order he made his way to the men’s room.

He was rubbing his tired eyes as he entered the restroom, passing the lavatory on the way to the urinal, glancing slightly at his reflection in the mirror as he did so.

He stopped, hand stilled on the bridge of his nose. He took a step back, turning his head slowly to stare at the stranger looking back at him. Gone were the carefully groomed beard and moustache, along with the hollow, haunted eyes and burdened posture with which he had become so familiar. Instead there was a stubble of sparse growth on a tucked chin, a slightly rumpled mop of longish brown hair, startled brown eyes and a thin, hollow-chested youth peering at him in disbelief. James reached up to touch his face and the kid in the mirror did the same. Each reached out to the other and their fingers met at the glass.

The door to the restroom suddenly swung open and James snatched back his hand, combing it through his hair. The man who had entered glanced at James and they exchanged nods in the mirror, then the man headed for the single stall. James quickly stepped up to the urinal and took care of business as grunts and sighs began to issue from the stall, then he gave his hands a quick wash before hurrying back to his table.

His heart was racing and hands trembling slightly as he held the coffee cup to his lips, rattling it a little when he returned it to its saucer. He caught the ghosted reflection of his actions in the window beside him. He studied the translucent image with utter incomprehension. He looked like some high school kid, like he looked more than thirty years ago. He ran a hand over his cheeks and chin, then gazed at the hands, slender, smooth-skinned, devoid of the liver spots that had begun to appear over the last few years.

“Sir, is something wrong?”

James jumped. The waitress was standing beside him, his sandwich on a plate in one hand, the bulbous coffee pot in the other.

“Whoa! A little jumpy are we? You’re not running from the cops, are you?” she teased.

“Huh? Oh, no,” he gave her a lopsided grin. “Just a little road buzz, I guess.”

“Well, here’s your BLT. I’ll just top off your coffee. You want a glass of water, Sugar?”

“Ah, sure! That’d be great. Thanks.”

“Be right back,” she smiled.

He picked up and started nibbling at the sandwich distractedly, not really hungry now.

A movement outside the window drew his attention, a large man wearing a ratty straw cowboy hat going by. The man slipped into the battered grey Dodge pickup and flicked on the headlights, momentarily blinding James with their glare, before backing out of the parking space. James blinked, refocusing his vision as he returned his attention to his coffee and sandwich. Then his head whipped back around. He stared out the window. The pickup had been one of the two behemoths that had flanked his smaller Honda. The other truck was still there, but his own car had been replaced by a deep green Chevy Vega. It gleamed cleanly under parking lot lights, obviously recently waxed and painstakingly detailed. It could have been fresh off the showroom floor. If it were 1970.

James scrambled from the booth, hurrying toward the front door.

“Sir!” the waitress called out.

“Just a minute,” James waved her off with one hand. “I’ll be right back. Gotta check on something real fast.” He pushed through the door and moved quickly to the car.

He slowed as he approached it, walking carefully around it, a look of incredulous disbelief on his face. He looked at the license plate and his hands flew to his head, fingers pushing back through his hair as he staggered through a drunken pirouette. He went to the driver’s door and stooped to see inside. A rubber troll was dangling from the rearview mirror, its garish green, synthetic hair flowing from the top of its head. James fumbled in his pocket for his keys, managed to tug them out. There seemed to be fewer of them than he expected, none of them matching his memory of the keys to his Accord, or to his house or business back in Weatherford. But there was one that looked like the key to the car right in front of him. He singled it out and, with trembling fingers, slid it into the lock on the door and turned it. The knob inside the window popped up.

He turned the key the other way and the knob dropped back down. He pulled the key from the lock and stared at it, and at the other keys on the split ring. One of them looked like the key to his parent’s old house, another like a key to a padlock. He didn’t recognize the third one right away. Dazed, he made his way back to the booth in the restaurant, sat staring dumbly at the sandwich on its plate for several minutes.

The waitress approached warily, coffee pot in hand. A number of the other customers had turned their attention to the drama unfolding in their midst.

“Need a warm-up?” she offered.

James responded slowly as his awareness of where he was gradually returned.

“Sure, sure,” he said, blinking his eyes and shaking his head slightly. He picked up the sandwich and bit into it. Suddenly he felt ravenous and the BLT seemed the most delicious thing he had ever tasted.

The waitress flashed him a quick smile as she laid the check on the table and moved on to the next one.

James glanced at the ticket the waitress had left, mildly surprised at the low total. It was hard to understand her scrawl, though. Then his eyes locked on the date scribbled into one corner. He picked up the slip of paper and examined it closely.

“Something wrong, honey?” The waitress had drifted over to his table again.

“Uh, no. I don’t think so,” he answered. “I just can’t quite make out what this says right here.” James pointed to the date.

“That’s just the date,” she said.

“Oh. Well, what does it say?”

“The date? Four, one, seventy-five.” She looked at him warily again.

“Ah! O.K., now I see it,” James said, nodding. “Thanks!”

“Uh-huh,” she said. “You need anything else?”

“No, I’m fine.”

She nodded and went back to her counter customers.

He sat, considering the impossibility of what she had told him, of his altered appearance, and of his old car sitting in a parking space just outside the window. Another thought came to him and he reached for his wallet. He tugged out an almost unfamiliar brown, leather billfold, unfamiliar because he hadn’t seen it for thirty-eight years. He opened it and saw, on the driver’s license tucked behind a clear, plastic window, the same face he had seen in the bathroom mirror earlier. The address on it was that of his parent’s old house on Bonham Street, there in Amarillo. The license showed an expiration date in 1978. James looked, now with some trepidation, into the bill compartment, worried about what might not be there. Nineteen-seventy-five hadn’t been a lucrative year for him as he recalled. He was relieved to find a couple of tens and several singles, thumbed through them, checking their dates. None were any newer than 1972.

He also found a folded piece of paper. He pulled it out and opened it, seeing a list of names and phone numbers of friends of his from the seventies.

“Cool,” he said to himself, reaching for a spot on his right hip, only to pat an empty space on his belt where he usually carried his cell phone. A slight moment of panic quickly yielded to a rueful grin.

‘No signal,’ he thought. He dropped a dollar on the table and went to pay the bill.



Seventeen (James: April 1, 1975)

The lights were on in the front room and the drapes remained open, which was unusual. His mother had always been so obsessive about things like how the plates and glasses were arranged in the dishwasher, which sets of towels were used in which bathrooms, and making sure the drapes were closed tightly right at dusk so no one passing on the street could see into the house.

From where he was parked, across the street and a little bit around the corner, next to St. Joseph Catholic Church, he had a pretty good view of the house, and of the car parked out on the curb in front of it. It was the presence of that car that had caused him to drive on by rather than pulling into the driveway. It was a deep green Chevy Vega, just like the one he was sitting in now. Exactly like it, right down to the rubber troll hanging from the rearview mirror and license tags that read RKG 776.

James had circled the block and taken up his surveillance position almost an hour ago. In that time he had watched the familiar figures of his parents, his brother and himself pass back and forth behind the big, plate glass window of the living room. Weird had gone to a whole new level.

Suddenly the front door was flung open, the screen door slammed against the wall of the porch, and he saw himself storm across the shallow lawn and throw himself into the driver’s seat of the Vega. A moment later the car was gunned to life and accelerated in an angry squeal of rubber away from the curb and down the street. James’ father, a short, stocky man with an ex-Marine bearing and buzz cut, stalked across the yard and stood at the edge of the street, fists on hips, staring at the receding car. He appeared to make a harrumping motion, then executed a sharp right turn and stalked back into the house. Once he had disappeared back inside, James keyed the ignition of his own car and quietly pulled around the corner onto Bonham Street, intending to catch up with and follow himself.

If this was the night he was thinking of, James remembered that it didn’t turn out well. The argument that had precipitated his angry departure had, like most of the arguments that had sent him into such rages in those days, devolved to a contest of wills between his adolescent self and his drill sergeant father. The substance and specifics might vary but were essentially irrelevant.

He turned onto the service road that flanked the Canyon Expressway, headed north. If his other self had taken the on-ramp there was no way James would catch up. But he knew himself to be a person of strong habits, even in his youth. And he had the added advantage of having lived this day once before. He knew he would be taking a right at Parker, heading back south, so he hung a right at the next street, paralleling Parker. He was zipping through the neighborhood faster than he knew he should be, but did manage to get to the intersection at 45th just as he passed in front of himself. James rounded the corner and fell in behind.

He pulled up beside himself when they stopped at the light at Georgia. He looked at himself in the other Vega and saw the angry set of his jaw and the glisten of tears on his face.

The challenging revving of the engine of the car beside him at the light at 45th and Georgia was enough to distract James from his angry glower. He glanced once, dismissively, toward the car to his right. Then he looked again. The driver in the car beside him, who was looking directly at him, was him.

The two James’ regarded each other, one with incredulity and hope, the other with consternation and hostility.

His other self had gestured, inviting him to follow. He had, and now two identical Chevy Vegas were parked next to each other at Southeast Park. The two James’ were seated across from each other at a nearby picnic table.

“What the hell is this?” the angry one demanded. 

“I’m not sure,” the other replied, “but here we are.”

“So we’re twins then?” How come our folks never said anything about you?”

‘This is impossible,’ James thought. ‘He’s not going to believe me. I wouldn’t.’

“No, not twins. Not exactly,” he began. “Something very weird has happened, and there’s no way I should expect you to believe me. I mean, if I suddenly showed up and told myself I was me, but somehow my young self again, and somehow I’d gone back in time thirty-eight years, and knew all kinds of things that were going to happen to me in the future, some of it wonderful, but some of it really bad, do you think I’d believe me?”

James looked at him deadpan, snorted, then glanced away dismissively. Then he looked back at James, considering.

“Like what?”

“Like what, what?”

“Like what’s going to happen to me in the future?” James prodded, as though talking to an exasperatingly obtuse person.

James drew a deep breath. Where to begin?

“Well, you’ll become a pharmacist, you’ll get married, then divorced, then married again and,” he paused, emotion welling up within him, “and one day you’ll have a little girl named Grace, and you’ll love her so much you’ll think there’s no way your heart can hold it all. And then one day there’ll be an accident, a totally freak accident.” He was starting to sob. “And she’ll die, and you’ll cry so hard you won’t think you’ll ever be able to stop, and you’ll feel so guilty, but you’ll know you couldn’t have done anything differently….” he ranted on, shaking with a palsy of grief that wouldn’t be quelled.

James felt his animosity falter, then evaporate in the face of James’ despair. He reached out to touch James’ hand, to comfort him, and he felt his pain. His pain. His loss. Suddenly he was sitting alone at the picnic table, eyes and face moist, chest heaving, mind numbed.



Eighteen (Daniel: May 7, 2013?)

Daniel leans into the mike as the last notes and words of the song fade down. The studio is in darkness but for the low-intensity tensor lamp hovering above the control board, and the scattered red, yellow, blue and green LEDs glittering in the faceplates of the audio and transmission equipment banked around him. His voice, too, is pitched low, earnest and intimate without being pandering.

“Can you hear my voice?” he echoes the fading lyrics. “Find your way back,” he murmurs, cuing up the next tune, one from Jefferson Starship. Keying off the mike he picks up the clipboard from the console on his right to double-check the play list clamped to it. The next set would be an uninterrupted, pre-recorded block about three hours in length.

Most of the broadcasting was like that, extended, pre-recorded programming, all of it produced by Daniel over the previous two years, all of it developed with the intention of allowing him to operate the radio station single-handedly. There were no technicians, other DJs, office staff, or sales people. There was only Daniel, the music, and his purpose. Or so he thinks. But Daniel’s action is having an unexpected effect, a twist of which he is not yet aware.

The basic setup, the building, equipment, and frequency had belonged to a now defunct FM community radio effort. It was the sort of opportunity he’d become aware of during his stints at the community radio outfits he had done back in Austin, and when this one had come along, he’d been ready for it. He’d cashed out the savings he’d had, bought the license and facility, made a few upgrades and had gotten on the air four months ago.

Like any other radio station there were permits, call letters and other documentation, all of which resided in a two-drawer file cabinet in an adjacent room. That cabinet, a folding table and chair were all the furniture in the room. On the table was a single-line phone, a notebook, and a wire basket, currently empty. The room had a large window that looked out on the open plains north of Amarillo. The other half-dozen rooms in the building included a six-by-six restroom, a similarly sized storage room, and four offices. Three of the four offices were empty and unused, the fourth serving as Daniel’s bedroom.

The call letters, KXYZ, and the radio frequency, 89.7, were never mentioned on air. Listeners seemed simply to happen upon the station quite by accident, often at times in their lives when they most needed to hear the words or message of a particular song. The music arrives as they are struggling through their daily lives, coming to terms with loss, and at times, joy. They find unexpected strength, not so much from the music, but through the music, within themselves. Their experiences are deeply personal and they seldom share them with others because the effect of the songs on their lives seems too profound to be simple coincidence. Others might question their sanity.

Often, when their insight has been reached and their personal crisis passes, they find that when they try to tune in the station again, they cannot find it. It is as if the songs were intended to be heard only by them, as wake up calls, or the ray of hope they needed in their darkness.

It is as if the radio broadcast exists parallel to the emotions of their lives, invisible, ghostly emanations arriving as waves of sound sent out though the air, the frequency only available to those who need the insights the music reveals within them, and who are receptive to it. The listeners receive the message only when they are ready to hear it, when they are ready to surrender to an emotional insight. Daniel has no idea that his actions are having such an impact on others, rippling out as invisible waves of intention, buoying up others in the midst of their own struggles toward growth, healing and hope.

Daniel stood in the near darkness of the control booth, ticking off in his mind one last time the details of this final evening. Everything he’d been working toward over the past two years would either come to fruition in the next few hours, or would fizzle and fail.

He had sent out the music, and by its power had pushed back time itself. When he left the station tonight he would be stepping out into an evening in May of 1975. This last step was nothing but a desperate gamble.

Satisfied that everything was in place to keep the programming on the air for the last twelve hours, he reached over and clicked off the tensor lamp. Now there were only LEDs glowing in the black.

Outside he paused for a moment and gazed at the spread of lights that was Amarillo splayed out on the plains below him. He breathed in the scent of newly green sage blooming in the darkness around him.

He knew exactly where the Daniel Acuff of 1975 would be at this moment, and what he would be doing between now and dawn. This is when the changes would have to happen. He slipped behind the wheel of his red Impala and started the engine, heading into town.



Nineteen (Daniel: May 7, 1975)

Daniel stripped off the food and grease stained, burnt-orange uniform smock he wore during his shift at Denny’s and tossed it into the back seat of his red Impala. He stood outside the open door for a moment and breathed in the scent of newly green sage wafting in from the darkness beyond the city lights. It was just one of the things he had come to love about Amarillo. There was also the sense of boundless space of the high plains, horizons and zenith suggesting freedom, inviting eyes to see, to look beyond the immediate. He had never felt this kind of pull on his spirit back in San Antonio.

And there was Diane. He heart raced and skipped whenever he thought of her.

On many nights of the week he would just be getting home to his little garage apartment after spending the evening with her at her parent’s house, or just getting to work at Denny’s for the graveyard shift. Today he had been scheduled for the three-to-eleven swing shift and was looking forward to hitting the showers, washing off the patina of grease and the odor of things fried. He slipped behind the wheel, keyed the ignition, and slipped a Moody Blues cassette into the player. It would be a quick trip up Wolflin Avenue to the neighborhood where he lived. Within minutes he was turning off Harrison onto 21st, then into the concrete driveway in front of his apartment. He could see there were still a few lights on in Robert and Kathy MacGuire’s house. They were his landlords. Their house faced onto Tyler Street. Silly Creep, their Heinz 57 mutt, snuffled through the backyard fence and huffed at him as he got out of his car. He went over and reached across the chain-link fence to giver her some rubbing just where she liked it best, under her chin. Then he unlocked his apartment door and headed for the bathroom.

In the alley across the street an engine started. Silly Creep looked that direction, ears perked up, then whined a little as a car began to emerge from the darkness there. A red, 1964 Chevy Impala, just like the one parked in front of Daniel’s apartment, eased across 21st Street, lights off. It slowly approached the parked car, pulling up directly behind it. Silly Creep growled. The car kept coming, now only a few inches from Daniel’s, then a few less. Then, just when the jolt of metal bumpers impacting should have happened, it didn’t.

The car that had pulled up behind Daniel’s began to merge into the parked car, a soundless collision. Very soon the nose of the moving car had passed through the trunk and into the back seat of Daniel’s car, and kept moving until, from headlights to taillights, the two had become one. The driver turned off the engine and sat for a moment, looking around, before opening the door and getting out. Silly Creep snuffled through the backyard fence and huffed at him. He went over and reached across the chain-link fence to giver her some rubbing just where she liked it best, under her chin. Then he turned and went into Daniel’s apartment.

Daniel was in the shower when Daniel entered, softly pushing the door closed behind himself. He recognized and remembered the arrangement of square, orange burlap covered cushions from his parent’s old couch that he had used as a bed, and the kaleidoscopic effect of the irregularly shaped carpet fragments he had scrounged from the dumpster behind a carpet company then tacked down on the plywood sheets he had laid on the bare concrete. He saw the red EXIT globe covering the single bulb in the ceiling fixture, a trophy scored the time he and Randy Burns had snuck into a building under renovation downtown. He saw the little gas space heater, the flames of which he had enjoyed watching as he fell asleep on cold winter nights. He saw the curtains he had fashioned from and old bedspread, squares of blue, red, green and orange crisscrossing into tartan-like designs. He saw the simple Emerson stereo he had bought when he moved in. There was an LP spinning on the turntable, 'Nights In White Satin' filling the small room.

And in his memory’s eye he saw Diane there, laying in his arms in their lovemaking on secret afternoons, patterns of color falling across them as sunlight streamed through the bedspread curtains.

He heard Daniel turn off the shower and pull open the vinyl curtain. He stepped into the bathroom and Daniel, looking up from toweling himself, saw himself standing there. In that stunned moment Daniel covered the small space between them and stepped into Daniel. For that weird instant Daniel could feel Daniel’s still wet body inside his clothes, and then there was only Daniel.

He picked up the dirty clothes from the bathroom floor and walked them to the closet off the kitchen hallway. He was moving back into the main room when the knock came at the door.

Earlier in the week a couple of Diane’s friends, Ginger McFadden and Karla Woodrow had stopped by after getting off work at McDonald’s. Flirtatious and coy they had hung around for about an hour, teasingly slipping off their McDonald’s work smocks and into fresh blouses they had brought along, testing and tempting Daniel. And he had been tempted.

Tonight, when Daniel answered the door, he already knew who would be standing there.

“Hey! What’s going on?” Karla said, standing there in her McDonald’s uniform.

“Hi, Karla,” Daniel said. “Not much. Just got home from work myself. Looks like you just got off, huh?”

“Yepper. Done with the burger-flipping career for another day. O.K. if I come in?” she asked, obviously expecting to.

In the air between them the hormonal teenage electricity sparked. Kate arched her eyebrows and drew a sharp intake of breath. Daniel was breathing pretty heavily himself, half-nodding at her.

“Well,” he began, deliberating with himself, “you see, here’s the thing.” He swallowed once. “No.”

“What?”

“You can’t come in,” Daniel said, shaking his head slowly, trying to keep his eyes off her breasts.

“I can’t? Why not? Is Ginger already here? Are you guys already doing it?” she demanded.

Caught off guard by the question Daniel pondered for a moment the idea of having both girls at the same time and swallowed again, taking a deep breath to focus himself.

“Ah, no, she’s not here,” he managed to say. “Were you expecting her to be?”

“Maybe,” Karla said, implying more.

Daniel raised his eyes and looked out into the darkness beyond Kate, out and up at the stars. He thought about other starry nights, nights he hadn’t had to rush off to work the night shift, weekend nights he hadn’t had to worry about getting up the next morning for school, nights sitting on the curb with Diane in front of her parent’s house, leaning into each other, feeling each other, hoping in each other. He felt his eyes tear up.

“Go away, Karla,” he choked out. “Go home. It isn’t going to end this way. Not this time.” He closed the door on her, leaning his back against it, trembling.

That’s not the way it had happened thirty-eight years ago. That night he had invited Karla in. Hanky led to panky. ‘Somehow’ Diane had found out, and Daniel’s mistake had mortally wounded their love. It was this one mistake that all of Daniel’s planning and preparation and power of will had been intended to correct tonight.

He straightened from where he had been leaning against the door and went to the stereo. The LP had ended and Daniel turned a knob to tune in the radio, finding a station low on the dial. The music that came through the speakers this night filled his heart and head, just as it had the first time he’d been here, just as it had for all the long years since this night, years that had become increasingly bleak and pointless and empty.

Daniel lay down on the orange cushions, letting the music take him, closing his eyes against the tears of hope, finally falling asleep.



Twenty (Randy: May 8, 2013)

Amarillo by morning, but why? He didn't have any idea, but something had impelled Randy Burns to leave Denver and drive all night to get there. It certainly wasn't a place he had ever intended to return. He had only, and unwillingly, ever been back twice in thirty-eight years; once for his father's funeral and later for his mother's.

Today was Tuesday or Wednesday. He thought. Probably. Anyway, he was pretty sure it had been five days, maybe six. Still a little hard to say.

He was sure about the radio weirdness, though. That had happened for sure.

He had been dimly aware of the music for a long, long time. Seemed like hours. Years?

He knew he must have been "stonered" than usual. Than usual? Usual? Maybe that's why the weirdness seemed so normal. Was it really unusual for broken, unplugged clock radios to fix themselves?

As he had floated vaguely toward consciousness the music had seamlessly insinuated itself, drawing him from his stupor. There had been the uncomfortable straining, tearing of muck encrusted eyelids struggling to squint open, fighting to remain sealed. Fuzzy red squiggles looking something like numerals phased in and out of focus, but somehow wrong. Inside out? Is this what numbers looked like from the inside, an altered state only perceivable to persons themselves in an altered state? Not too impressive, really. They looked a lot like upside down numbers. So did the radio for that matter. And the cluttered little table it sat on. And why was the floor on the ceiling? And his head?

He tried turning his head from side to side and realized how heavy it felt. There was something behind his neck causing his head to be tilted way back until his face was looking almost straight up. At the floor. On the ceiling.

Randy turned his body to the right and it felt like he was rolling across a springy, yielding surface. The surface abruptly disappeared and he felt himself fall a short distance to land face down on the ceiling. Or floor.

Whatever it was, the numbers on the clock were right side up again. 5:37 red dot. That meant p.m.

He had crawled over to the clock radio and pulled himself to his feet. He picked up the radio and stared at the digits as the seven clicked over to eight. He looked down to see the electric plug dangling loosely from the back of the unit. He turned it over to find the battery compartment. It was open and empty, the plastic cover missing.

Lyrics were telling him something, something familiar and yet almost forgotten. Then he remembered. It was from high school, when he had been involved in a local production of The Who’s “Tommy.”  He had played the part of the doctor in the rock opera, intoning the ruminations of how sickness may transport a mind to place not ordinarily reachable, about what such an amazing journey might reveal to a person.

That had been five or six days ago, back in Denver. He had set the radio back on its table, then sat himself on the edge of his ratty mattress and watched it for over an hour. Tune after tune had played as the numerals changed. No ads came on, no DJ or announcer, just the tunes, oldies by 2013 standards, from his high school days over thirty-eight years ago. He looked at the tuner to find the frequency. It was somewhere around 90 on the FM band. He had turned the knob and rambled through other stations along the display, encountering the normal hodgepodge of country, rock, rap and news, as well as the overwhelming glut of ads for cars, bars and lawyers. He came back to 89.7 to find a Santana piece playing.

He had stood in the middle of his shabby apartment, looking around at the debris of his life. There were piles of dirty clothes and wadded up fast food containers. There were broken bottles and crushed beer cans, tumbling stacks of yellowing newspapers and sci-fi paperbacks, cigarette stubs and drug paraphernalia. And it stank.

He had gone into the bathroom and began cleaning out the shower stall using some bleach he had kept under the sink. Then he had shucked his clothes and stepped into the shower himself, taking the bleach with him. The water, never more than tepid as a rule, quickly ran to cold, so he didn’t waste any time. He came out smelling like an over chlorinated swimming pool and padded himself dry with a threadbare towel that didn’t smell too funky.

Then he had started in on the rest of the bathroom, but careful not to disturb the huge “pet” spider in its web near the toilet. Randy worked with a steady intensity and not a stitch of clothing on. He had finished there and moved out into the rest of the apartment and finally the grungy kitchen. By the time he was finished he had accumulated a small mountain of trash and a sizeable hill of laundry. He had set aside a t-shirt and a pair of cut-offs that didn’t seem too gross and these he put on. He hauled the trash to the dumpster out in the alley, then began ferrying the dirty clothes to the laundry room upstairs, pumping quarters into the detergent dispenser, washing machines and dryers for four solid hours.

Once done and back in his apartment, he had stripped down again and taken another shower, washing away the funk of his marathon cleaning spree. He picked out some fresh clothes and dressed.

The little clock radio was still playing, still tuned to 89.7.

Randy had spent the next several days finishing up jewelry orders that had languished in his workroom, delivering them to his clients around Denver, collecting payments and taking care of some debts. It had been during Tuesday afternoon that he had begun to feel at loose ends, like there was something else he needed to do but couldn’t quite figure out what it was. He had been cruising Denver most of the day, listening to the radio in his car now, still not having heard a single commercial on the oldies station. He had heard a DJ’s voice twice in the last few days, but only to segue into another tune. Both times it had only been a few words, not even complete sentences, but enough to communicate some emotional connection between the music, himself and his listeners. And the voice had been so familiar.

A Moody Blues track had begun playing then, something from their “On The Threshold Of A Dream” album. Suddenly Randy had felt himself almost viscerally lurched back to the memory of one of the first times he had listened to this album, back in his closet of a room in the studio behind his parent’s house, hanging out with some friend from school. What had his name been? Daryl? David? Something with a D… Doug? No, wait, it was Daniel, Daniel A-something. Acuff. Daniel Acuff. Weird guy. He had been in love with Randy’s sister. Weird guy. Back in Amarillo.

Randy had glanced at the gas gauge. There had been enough to get started and he had made his way to the Interstate, heading south, to Amarillo, radio tuned to 89.7.



Twenty-One (Randy: May 8, 2013?)

Randy hadn’t gotten into Amarillo quite when he expected to, because Amarillo seemed not to be quite where he remembered it being. The last time he’d been there the city had sprawled westward across what once had been vast tracts of grazing land or mega-farms fielding hundred-plus acre plantings of sorghum, corn, wheat or soybeans. Today he hadn’t encountered that new development, just the endless-seeming miles of agriculture. It had been so long since he’d been to Amarillo the miles and miles of subdivisions and strip malls he remembered should have expanded even further, bulging Amarillo ever closer to Vega. When he did finally pass the city limit marker the next sign he saw was for Bell Street. When he’d left Amarillo in the late ‘70s, Bell Street was pretty much on the western edge of the city, nothing much beyond it but a couple of subdivisions barely out of the planning stages and the recently opened hospital a little north of the Interstate. Just like it was today.

He got off I-40 and pulled into a gas station. He remembered when this station had opened, a lonely outpost of lights on the edge of the plains at night. Randy eased up to the pumps and killed his engine. The place wasn’t too busy, only a couple of other cars getting gas, another parked near the door to the small convenience store under the blue-edged canopy that also extended over the pump islands. He dug in the pockets of his cut-offs as he got out of the car, thumbing through his cash, wanting to be sure he had enough for a fill-up. So far this weird little trip had cost him a bundle of zort, gas prices ranging between $3.89 and $4.79 a gallon between here and Denver. Of course it didn’t help that he was still driving an old piece-of-shit battle cruiser of a Ford.

He walked around the car to go into the store to pre-pay for forty bucks worth of fuel. As he did so he noticed that the other cars gassing up weren’t too much newer than his, although they looked to be in much better condition, but gas-guzzlers as well. He glanced up to check the posted prices on the sign topped by the revolving Exxon emblem. He stopped in his tracks.

“No fucking way,” he muttered, figuring the wind must have blown off one of the digits and the clerk in the store hadn’t noticed or been told about it yet. He shook his head and continued on in, a sardonic smile curling his right lip up a little. Once in the store he saw a Coors beer display offering an absurdly low sale price for a six-pack, a price too attractive to pass up, so he snagged a pack from the cooler and then went to stand behind the customer ahead of him at the checkout. The clerk finished that sale and turned to Randy.

“Forty on pump six and this beer,” Randy said, setting the six-pack on the counter.

“I gotta see your I.D.,” the clerk said.

“You’re shitting me. Do I look seventeen to you?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Funny. Ha-ha.”

“Seriously, man. No I.D., no beer,” the clerk said.

“C’mon, kid,” Randy said, getting a little irked. “I’m old enough to be your grandpa.”

“Right, and that would mean my mom was only a fetus herself when she had me. I gotta stick to the rules, man. I don’t want to lose my job, it’s not worth it. I got car payments to make.”

“Fine, asshole. Keep the beer, but I want that gas at the price you have posted up on the sign,” Randy pointed angrily.

The clerk leaned back to see the sign through the store window.

“No problem,” he said. “Forty bucks on six.”

Randy tossed the two twenties on the counter and stalked out.

When he got back to the pump he jerked the nozzle out of its cradle and jammed it into the fill-hole of his car, then looked at the price-per-gallon on the pump display. It matched the price on the sign, 59 cents a gallon. He stood still for a moment, then slowly squeezed the trigger on the handle of the nozzle and watched the numbers slowly roll over on the pump display, white numbers on black backgrounds, black cylinders, turning lazily from one digit to the next, the ones registering dollars moving a lot slower than the ones registering the gallons. A lot slower.

Finally the nozzle clicked off, the tank now full. Just $14.75 showed on the display. Randy squeezed the trigger a few more times, managing to get to an even $15.00 before he couldn’t get any more into the tank without overflowing it. Dazed and not quite believing it, he slowly withdrew the nozzle from his car and returned it to its cradle on the pump, slowly screwing his gas cap back into place. He turned and looked again at the sign, then the pump, then at the clerk looking back at him through the window of the little store. The other cars that had been gassing up were gone, leaving empty spaces at the pump islands, islands in a clean concrete expanse devoid of oily stains and debris, like it hadn’t been too long since it had been poured. He got into his car and started it, slowly pulling away.

Inside the store the clerk raised his eyebrows in surprise, then rang in the $15.00, pocketing the remaining twenty-five.

“Sweet,” he said.

Randy drove along the side road of the Interstate, not going very fast. After a few minutes he reached up and twisted the rearview mirror so he could see himself reflected there. He almost didn’t recognize the person looking back. The skin, slightly tanned, with one or two acne blemishes on one cheek, was unlined. There were no dark pockets of sagging flesh under the clear brown eyes. The hair, parted evenly in the middle, flowed full without a trace of grey, down either side of a young face. His face, the way it had looked more than thirty-eight years ago.



Twenty-Two (Randy: May 8, 1975)

Randy cruised the streets of Amarillo, seemingly aimlessly, but actually following a fractured path through his own mind. To him it all made sense now, at least as much sense his life to this point had ever made. Maybe more. It was obvious to him now that some larger power had intervened, taken some interest in the mess of his wretched existence, and was now directing him toward some purpose. And he was becoming increasingly certain of what that purpose was.

After seeing his changed face in the rearview mirror, and rethinking what had just happened at the gas station, an idea had began to take shape. Only a week ago he would have assumed he was tripping, and probably would have been right. No one who knew him would have believed the words ‘straight’ or ‘sober’ could possibly apply to him! But he hadn’t toked, poked or popped since waking to the radio weirdness back in Denver.

He stopped at the next convenience store he came to. Just like the Exxon station back on Bell, here too the gas was priced absurdly low compared to what he was used to. Randy picked up a copy of the Globe-News, Amarillo’s daily newspaper. It was dated May 8,1975, a significant date in his life. He felt the chill of fate touch him. It was the date the molestation charges had been filed against Father Peter Delmonico, alleging the sexual abuse both he and his younger sister, Diane, had suffered back in 1969.

Not that it had done any good. The accusations leveled by the Burns family, although ably drafted and served by the county attorney assigned to the case, seemed to have no effect. The Catholic hierarchy backing the accused priest closed ranks, defending the good name of Father Delmonico, citing litanies of unassailable, selfless service not only in the Catholic educational community, but in the secular world as well. An unfortunate correlation was suggested involving the desperate socio-economic plight of families like the Burns, one that anticipated the fabrication of such horrific claims as a means to coerce financial relief. There was dismay expressed about people who somehow ‘forget’ the generous accommodations made by the private schools that allowed low-income students to receive the benefits of a loving, Catholic school environment. 

It had been difficult to get Randy and Diane to provide coherent answers to the defense’s questions, some deeply rooted fear paralyzing them. And didn’t Mr. Burns suffer from alcoholism? Hadn’t Mrs. Burns undergone psychiatric treatment?

The innuendo had been enough to derail the case. No guilt was ever admitted by the church or school, no compensation ever discussed, no scandal allowed to gain a foothold.

Father Delmonico, traumatized by the ordeal, retired, returned to his ancestral home in Pomona, hoping to nurse his wounded spirit back to health, seeking the solace of God’s love, forgiving the Burns for what they had put him through.

Now every ‘should-have-done’ that had festered in Randy’s heart for the last thirty-eight years seemed very doable. If some insane power in the universe had seen fit to set up this second chance for him, he wasn’t about to let it pass. The sweetest part of justice was vengeance.

His feeling today was a giddy sense of imbalance tilting toward insanity. But the real clincher had come when he had driven out to Alamo High School.

 Twelve years ago, when he was in town for his mother’s funeral, he had visited the battered red brick edifice, surmounted by cream-colored sandstone crenellations and crosses. It had stood as it had twenty-six years ago, surrounded by the ever-unkempt shrubberies and parched lawn. 

Randy had heard that the building had been razed in 2011, no longer capable of being maintained and too expensive to renovate. He had gone to the library in Denver and looked it up online. He found the article from the Globe-News and pictures of the before and after. All that was left was the empty acreage where the dilapidated old building had once stood. He had felt an unexpected pang of loss.

But today, there it stood once again, just as it had thirty-eight years ago. If ever there were an incontrovertible confirmation of fate and destiny, this had to be it. A fittingly maniacal grin spread across Randy’s face.

He drove away from Alamo, now knowing exactly where he had to go and what he had to do. Randy made his way south down Grand Boulevard until he got to I-40. He headed west, back toward the center of town. When he got to Canyon Expressway he cut southwest, then got off at Washington Street. He took a left, making his way to his old neighborhood.

He didn’t feel any joyous sense of homecoming. The place he was going was home only in the sense that it was where he had spent his childhood. The truth of that childhood had, for the most part, been desperate and impoverished. His old man had imagined himself a world-class photographer, and artiste. It was bullshit to Randy, and even as a child he had seen his father’s efforts as pathetic attempts to outshine his wife and her father. Not that Randy thought his mother’s and grandfather’s paintings were all that great themselves, which made his dad’s pictures appear even more ridiculous to him.

Just as Randy slowed to make the turn onto 43rd Street, a kid on a white ten-speed zipped across Washington right in front of him. Randy braked sharply, ready to cuss the biker, then stopped, stunned, as he glimpsed the half-turned face of the cyclist. A moment later a car behind him sat on the horn, jarring Randy from his shock. He quickly made the left, then slowed and pulled to the curb. Although he had only caught sight of the cyclist’s face for the flash of an instant as he had streaked by, it had been enough for Randy to recognize the rider. It had been himself.



Twenty-Three (Randy: May 8, 1975)

It took several minutes parked against the curb for Randy’s nerves to settle down.

“What the fuck? What the fuck?” he kept repeating, hands clutched on the steering wheel. ‘How much more crazy shit can happen?’ he wondered. “Crazy shit,” he said out loud.

Finally he put the car back in gear and continued, easing up to the corner when he got to Filmore Street. He could see the house from there, the old, brown Galaxy in the driveway. He could see grime-blackened jeans and oily work boots encasing the legs and feet of someone slithered halfway under the car.

‘Tim,’ he thought. His older brother was always tinkering with the damn car.

Seeing no other activity going on Randy nipped across the street and turned down the next alley, crunching along on the gravel and broken glass, coming to a stop behind the ‘studio’. It was really a ratty garage that had been remodeled, added-on to, and made into a warren of smaller rooms. He and his two older brothers had each had tiny bedrooms in it, and there was a single larger room where his brother, Mike, and his band practiced. There was also a darkroom his dad had set up for his photography thing. Randy had used it himself when he had been in high school, shooting pics for the yearbook.

Randy slipped out of his car and eased the door shut, cast quick glances up and down the alley. He didn’t see anyone.

‘Gotta be cool. Gotta be cool.’ he kept telling himself, but was so tightly wound up and jittery he was surprised he could even walk.

He slid along the back wall of the studio, snuck a quick look around the corner and over the gate of the cyclone fence. The coast looked clear and he gingerly raised the metal latch, entering the yard. Everything was overgrown and junked-up, just the way he remembered it. There were four windows and one door ranged across the back of the house, but only the bathroom window would provide anyone inside a clear view of the back gate and the narrow concrete walkway that ran along the south side of the studio. Once he got closer to the front of the studio, though, anyone looking out any of the windows would be able to see him.

‘It’s cool,’ he told himself. ‘It’s just me coming in from the alley.’

He sauntered up the walk. There was a bank of mullioned windows two-thirds of the way along the side of the studio. As he came abreast of these he glanced through the dirty glass and could make out a white bicycle leaning against a hodge-podge of debris. A flash of movement inside the screen door on the back of the house drew his attention. One of his younger brothers, Tracy, was passing by, but not looking in Randy’s direction. Randy wondered vaguely why Tracy was at home this time of morning in the middle of the week.

Randy rounded the corner of the studio and reached for the handle of the door.

“Hey, Randy!”

He jumped like he’d been shocked and whirled around. Tim was standing on the other side of the chain link gate spanning the narrow driveway that squeezed between the house and the neighbor’s fence.

“You seen my three-eighths crescent?”

“What?”

“My three-eighths. Did you use it to work on your bike?”

“My bike? No. No, I don’t know where your damn wrench is. It’s probably in your back pocket, moron.”

“Jeez, what’s your problem? Sorry I bothered you, asshole!” Tim turned and started to walk away, but stopped when he reached back and felt the shape of a metal wrench in his jeans pocket. He looked back to see Randy disappearing into the darkness of the studio.

“Freak,” he muttered to himself, tugging out the wrench and heading back to the Ford.

Randy wound his way through a maze of boxes, sound equipment, leaning stacks of stretched canvases, tools, pots, partially disassembled appliances and God knows what other junk. His room was in the right rear corner, the door of which he could see was closed. A weak bar of light leaked from beneath it, along with the sound of music.

For a few minutes he stood in the gloom, transfixed by the thought of who was on the other side of that door. Somehow it was him, the him he used to be.

‘Stupid fuck,’ part of him thought, but another part of him ached to be that stupid fuck again.

‘What would happen if I went in there right now?’ he wondered. He put a hand on the doorknob, thinking about how fucked-up he was now, about how fucked-up he had already been then. There was nothing he could say or do for the kid on the other side of that door, nothing that could undo the damage he had already suffered. His hand fell away from the knob. He turned away in the half-darkness, going instead to his brother, Mike’s, room, a sense of fate returning.

Mike had always thought himself so cool, so above the rest of the family. ‘So full of shit,’ Randy thought. ‘Always acting like he knew so much more than anyone else, always sneaking around, working his bogus deals. Even way back then, when Mike would rather hang out with their loser cousin, Jake, than his own brothers.

Then Jake had suddenly been shipped off somewhere and Mike had been pretty shaken up about it. Tim said Jake had been sent to reform school because of something he did, something pretty bad. But Mike wouldn’t talk about it. You could tell he knew something, but he wouldn’t talk. He just clammed-up, withdrew, and then got into the music scene. He disappeared in it, like behind a smokescreen. He became untouchable.

‘Became even more fucked-up,’ Randy thought, easing open the door to Mike’s room. ‘Well, bro, you weren’t as cool and secret as you thought you were. Me and Tim knew a few things you didn’t know we knew, like where you kept your stash, your cash, and your sweet little .45 auto.’



Twenty-Four (Randy: May 8, 1975)

Apparently he had lost the radio station, or for some reason its transmission had been interrupted. He kept fiddling with the dial but couldn’t seem to find it. In its place a scratchy static rasped. Randy snapped off the radio in frustration

He’d been parked here since before ten o'clock, a little more than a block from the courthouse, and was becoming increasingly antsy. It was probably only a matter of time until someone noticed him lurking there and decided to check him out or call the cops. He could pretend to be reading the day’s newspaper for only so long. He knew it had to be approaching noon. His parents should be showing up any time now to file the charges against Father Delmonico, and Delmonico would be there to hear them. It was going to be tricky. Randy knew he’d never get into the building carrying the gun, so he was going to have to get Delmonico before the priest made it to the door. What happened after that he really didn’t give a shit about, as long as the little bastard was dead.

But he had to see it coming. He had to know who was blowing him away and he had to know why. He had to know he wasn’t going to walk away from what he had done. He wasn’t going to get away with it this time.

Randy glanced down to the side-view mirror as a movement there caught his attention. It was his parent’s ratty old Ford, his dad at the wheel. Randy slumped further down in the seat as the car passed. He saw his mother in the passenger seat, eyes fixed straight ahead, a look of utter weariness on her face. He felt his anger blaze up, a rage against everything his family had had to endure; their stinking poverty, the impotence of their existence, and now this violation on top of it all. He fought to control the tears of frustration threatening to overwhelm him, the blinding hate crackling in his brain. His chest was heaving with the effort, white-knuckled fists gripping the steering wheel, teeth clenched as though he was suffering a seizure.

Slowly he regained some sense of composure, relaxed his hands, closed his eyes, slowed his breathing.

It was time.

Randy reached under the driver’s seat and fished out his brother’s gun, folding it into the newspaper. He eased open the door and stepped out, stretching cramped muscles. He pushed the door shut and walked around the car to the sidewalk, trying to appear nonchalant as he headed toward the courthouse.

He had gotten to the corner. The courthouse was just across the street and he could see his parents on the walkway in front of the building, making their way heavily toward the flight of steps leading to the entrance.

A dark blue sedan passed in front of Randy and turned into the parking lot next to the courthouse, pulling into the space next to his parent’s car. Three men got out of the sedan, two of them wearing clerical collars, the third carrying a boxy attaché.

Randy sighed once deeply, then started across the street, timing his approach to match that of the priests and their lawyer. He kept his eyes on Delmonico. The lawyer glanced in Randy’s direction. Something in Randy’s body language must have triggered a realization in the lawyer that something wasn’t right, because he pulled up short and threw out his unencumbered arm, blocking the priests’ progress. Then he recognized Randy.

“Hey!” he shouted. “What are you doing here?”

His cry caused the Burns, who had just reached the top of the steps to turn.

“Randy?” his father called out. “What’s going on?”

Randy dropped the newspaper and racked a round into the chamber of the gun, then swung it up, sighting in on Father Delmonico.

The priest froze, his face suddenly ashen. Randy stepped forward quickly, closing the small distance that still separated them, locking eyes with Delmonico. In that moment Randy saw flashes of disbelief, guilt and fear ripple across the man’s face. It was exactly what he wanted to see in this moment. The knowing. His finger tightened, squeezing the trigger, and the big gun bucked in his hand.

Then everything stopped, dimmed, and seemed to fade.



Twenty-Five (Daniel: May 8, 2013)

He awoke with a start, confused and fearful. His face felt puffy and moist, his eyes swollen. Slowly he realized where he was, back in his apartment in Austin, back in his life in 2013.

‘It hadn’t worked,’ he thought, ‘the idea, the plan, the work and preparation, finding the radio station, going to Amarillo. But it hadn’t worked. Nothing had changed.’ A pall of despair settled over his heart.

A soft gong sounded, drawing his attention to the Mac perched on the small desk in one corner. It meant an email had just been received. That was different. He didn’t remember having a Mac. He wondered dimly what had happened to his old dinosaur of an HP. The gong sounded again.

Daniel sat up, then lifted himself heavily from the edge of the futon and went over to the darkened screen. He nudged the mouse next to the keyboard and the screen came to life, the familiar Yahoo! homepage displayed. He shifted the mouse and clicked the pointer on the mail tab. A list of inbox messages popped up, messages from his sister, from work, from Amazon, and from Diane. He felt his heart thud.

“Dear Daniel,” the message began. “it’s been so wonderful to be able to talk to you again after all this time. I’m so glad you looked me up. The emails we have exchanged over the last four months have really brightened my life. I hadn’t realized how much I missed you. I think it’s time for me to talk about the things in my life that affected our relationship back then, things I didn’t know how to tell you about at the time. And I want you to know how much your love helped me survive those things.”

Stunned, Daniel sagged into the chair in front of the desk, reading through the rest of the letter. In it, Diane told him about the time before they had met, when she had been a little girl, about the older cousin who had started molesting her when she was five, about the rape when she was nine.

He sat there dazed, feeling now an anguish beyond having someone he loved so much missing from his life for so many years. Even in the wonder of their time together, in the freshness of their young love, even as he had gazed into her eyes and reveled in the beautiful soul he saw there, even then he had seen the pain as well, but had never known the source.

Though the words she had written sought to soften their impact, and spoke of the intimacy they had shared with tenderness, Daniel still felt a deep pang of guilt. It was the guilt of association, of simply being a member of the sex that had used and abused her, and of the times he had been more concerned with his own satisfaction than hers. Perhaps their intimacy had been an expression of their love for each other, but there was no denying the reality of his hormone-driven adolescent body and its capacity for pleasure. There had been many times when his lust for her had been at least as strong as his love.

Daniel scrolled down the list of file folders on the left side of the webpage, finding one labeled DIANE. He clicked on it and opened the file. It was the first of twelve screens listing the emails he had received from her. The oldest was dated the week he had left for Amarillo. He moved the pointer to the SENT file and clicked it open. The vast majority of the messages listed there had been sent to Diane and corresponded to the dates of the emails he had received from her. So why didn’t he remember anything about them?

He found the earliest message and opened the file. It seemed to be written in response to some communication from her. He switched back to the received file and opened the first email, confirming that impression. Then Daniel moved the mouse to the documents icon on the dashboard and clicked on it. An array of icons popped up and as he scanned them he found one labeled simply, ‘To Diane’. He opened it and read his words. It was only a few lines, a query really, tentative but hopeful, trying to re-connect with her after a long period of separation.


‘So I figure, at worst I’ll be told to get lost. Perhaps emphatically. But what I hope is to be able to re-connect with someone I’ve missed for such a long time. I don’t want her to feel threatened, hounded, hemmed in, or stalked. I’d like to be able to talk freely with her about life and love, hopes, dreams, disappointments and joys, God, art, music, you name it. I’d like her to understand how much I treasure her, and always have. I hope she is happy.

I guess I’ll start with,

Dear Diane,’


He checked the paper supply in the printer, printed out this letter, then clicked back to his opening email, and proceeded to open each file in succession, printing out each as he clicked through them. Then he switched over to the DIANE folder and did the same thing, collating the two groups as they came off the printer. Three hours later he had burned through more than a ream of paper. He took the stack back to the futon and began reading.

He was quiet. When finally he sighed the sound seemed vast and deep, an echo of emptiness and loss.

In his lap he held the stack of printouts of his and Diane’s email exchanges. His eyes were puffy and reddened, glistening and sad.

The mistake he had sought to redress hadn’t precipitated his separation from Diane after all. He had no doubt his actions in 1975 had hurt her, and that hurt had wounded himself as well. He had believed that his loss of Diane had occurred because of his transgression. It certainly hadn’t helped their relationship, but now he knew that the fate of their love had been compromised long before he had even met her.

Ultimately it had been the psychological effects of her earlier sexual abuse that had driven her from him. She had so come to believe the myth of her own uncleanness, unworthiness and undesirability that she had pushed him away. The ache of that loss had torn at his heart for more than thirty-eight years. But he had not known the truth. Now the bitterness of that knowledge had gouged open anew the unhealed wound in his soul. That he had endured the long years separated from someone he loved so deeply was reason enough for his grief, yet was not the cause of the sobs and shudders that had racked him as he read. His deep agony was for Diane and the love she had so richly deserved, desperately needed, and had lived without, but for the brief flash of time they had shared.

He drew another sigh, thinking back, looking for those chances he might have missed, chances to have done right by Diane, to have better loved her, defended her. But he was confused by what his memory showed him.

They had met about a year after his family had moved to Amarillo from San Antonio. At first she had simply been the sister of his friend, Randy, someone who would hang around with them at times. She had been quiet for the most part, tossing in a nervous or corny joke or pun every once in a while. And then he had looked into her eyes. They, more than anything else, told her story, holding in them hurts and hopes. When he had seen her again, many years after their separation, it had been those eyes he had recognized, a little sadder, still asking why. 

He remembered three times since their parting that he had seen her, four if he counted that first crazy, desperate and futile trip to Del Norte shortly after she had moved there from Amarillo. 

He thought now about that fateful ride. It had been a flight into a retreating dusk, fighting against fatigue and inexperience, pummeled by rain and chilled to the bone. He had only had his motorcycle for three days at that time, the first he’d ever even ridden. He’d gotten his license the day before and was determined to leave after work on Friday and ride the 370 miles to Del Norte, Colorado. He had made it as far as Raton Pass in New Mexico before succumbing to his weariness. Wrapped in an old blanket and still wearing his motorcycle helmet, he’d crept beneath the dampness of a bush in a roadside park. There in that strange, high night he had slept, a rite passed in uneasy slumber, an untried traveler, his life just beginning to take on the quality of solitude of those who have lost, or not yet found, a home, of those seeking some completion.

That journey had been to clarify perception, to hold up the fabric of his memory to the crisper images of waking life. Already he suspected things could never really go back to the way they had been. He was beginning to realize that if we do nothing else in our brief span of years, we certainly leave our lives behind us, irretrievable, irrevocable, unchangeable. We can never go back, but we constantly retrace our steps. Perhaps it is to forestall the inevitable fading of our visions of our former selves, perhaps to hold fast to some fondness, or sadness. Both may serve us well in our moments of profundity. Time changes many things, but we hope that something we love will remain.

The days he had lived would come upon him in vibrant, passionate instances, series of moments etched indelibly upon his soul. Time had rendered them memories, yet their sting was ever fresh, and an elixir, or a poison, boldly pinioning his heart and sending his adrenaline on a mad rush. In the space of an emotion his life could be lived over and over again.

At times he thought perhaps he took his own life too seriously, so intense were the heart-stopping intrusions of memory for him. He feared his own mind and imagined it to be like a solidly forged blade, beautifully and intricately wrought. It could catch some distant and reflected glimmer, a stray pinpoint of recollection, and splinter it into a thousand searing fragments on a fearsome edge. How could he face so audacious an adversary? The recognition of the shattered whole is what brought him to his knees.

He had come down from the mountain pass in the glory of the morning. Life felt close at hand, magically lit by new light. There was no tuft of grass, no spire of rock and trees, no wave of chilled air rising from some secret watercourse that did not touch him. The road wound down through Trinidad then straightened across the flats. He responded to that mesmerizing invitation.

Although he did not know it at the time, his destination had changed. Diane, the girl he was traveling so far to find, would not be there at the end of his ride. Change had already come and gone.

In the captivity of their adolescence they had lamented the limitations upon their love. Now he knew how many perfect visions suffer at the hands of youth, love most of all. Rarely does it escape unscathed the brutality of that outrageous time. The sense of truth we feel in our youth is seldom enough to overcome our inexperience. Our emerging emotions and convictions are tender and easily crushed. We learn doubt. We leave our innocent selves behind, scarred. 

He had shared a dream with a special person. It was good to be able to say that. Though time had changed both the dream and the dreamers, the dream itself was wondrous. Had they survived their youth perhaps the dream would have survived as well.

Off to the left the Culebra Range had staggered, electric green and gold in the frosted morning light. Vaporous grey ghosts had swirled among the peaks, strongholds of mystery and silence. At Walsenburg he would turn, heading west into that fastness, climbing up and over La Veta Pass. On the other side, the San Luis valley flowed broadly to the feet of the San Juan Mountains.

At last he had ridden into Del Norte. She was working there in a tourist trap called The Old West Hotel. It featured drafty rooms, steam heat when it worked, and communal bathrooms at the ends of the halls. He was worn out and had the shakes from the brutal ride, but when he saw her all that fell away, leaving only an overflowing heart.

He had learned about love and futility with Diane. He had seen in her eyes the heart of goodness, and so he simply loved her. He had come to Del Norte chasing their troubled dream. At the time he had thought he had merely come too late. Now he saw he could never have been early enough.

He had ridden back to Texas carrying a dark heaviness in his soul. He’d topped Raton Pass as the sun was setting, melting the shadows of the mountains into the shadows of night. Something had moved through his hair and a distant scent permeated the air. It seemed the tender caress and intimate scent of a lover. In an ache and a gasp he realized that the dream was still within him.

The few other times he had seen her since then had been brief visits, many years apart, emotional yet restrained. She’d been glad enough to see him, but not welcoming. She’d built walls and was careful not to venture beyond them, or let anyone inside. And each time he had left her he carried away that same ache and heaviness.

But there was something about these memories that seemed off. They seemed to float in his consciousness, insufficiently tethered to time or place. He felt sure these things had happened, but at the same time wasn’t sure they ever had. There seemed to be other memories that vied for prominence or position, yet vague or translucent, overlays not quite masking shapes of other times, other places. And he found chronological conflicts he couldn’t resolve, temporal impasses.

He remembered living in Colorado Springs and working at the Denny’s there during the spring and summer of 1980. But he remembered working as an aide in a Fort Worth nursing home during the same time period. He remembered a construction job, but had a hard time remembering where. Had it been in Portland, Texas, or San Jose, California? There had been a trip to Yosemite he couldn’t account for, or at least he thought there had been.

Daniel leafed back through the printouts, looking for something Diane had mentioned, something about their meeting in Albuquerque thirteen years ago. Try as he might he couldn’t get a fix on that meeting. It danced in a shimmer, like heat waves in a desert, not quite seen. Why couldn’t he remember? Thirteen years wasn’t that long ago. It would have been 2000 then, the year he’d bought his little Mazda pickup. No, wait. He didn’t have a pickup, did he? He thought he drove an old Corolla.

He raised a hand to his forehead, cupping it in his palm. What was true? How could he have two sets of memories? He drew his hand down across his face as he raised his head until it rested across his mouth. His eyes began to register understanding.

He began to reach further back, to memories before the spring of 1975. He felt his confusion lift. He could remember clearly his high school days in Amarillo, how he had met and come to love Diane. He could remember his life as a child before Amarillo, back in San Antonio and Jourdanton. If there was any vagueness it was only the fading wrought by distance in time. But they stood unchallenged, unchanged. It was only after 1975 that things became tangled, knotted. Now he thought he knew why, and now the mystery of his missing memory of the last four months was answered as well. He hadn’t lived them. At least not the him who was sitting in his apartment right now. In his effort to redeem one instant of his past he had re-written his life from that moment forward. He had changed one thing and changed everything. But it hadn’t turned out the way he had hoped or expected.

If only there was a way.....



Twenty-Six (Daniel: October 3,1963)

Julia Acuff held the cool, damp cloth to Daniel’s forehead, swabbing at the perspiration there, then moving to his fevered cheeks and neck. Ice cubes wrapped in kitchen towels were packed around his small body, desperate efforts to bring down his soaring temperature. She drew a sleeve of her housedress across her red, tear-swollen eyes. Her husband, Bruce, came into the room.

“Dr. Eliott is on the way,” he told her, placing a strong hand on her shoulder, trying to reassure her.

Daniel’s illness was one of the hardest things they had had to deal with in their young marriage. Even becoming parents in the first place had been such a struggle. Try as they might she simply had not been able to get pregnant. The stress and sadness of their efforts had worn upon them, but they had not given up their dream of a family. In the coming years four lucky children would come to clamor again and again to hear the story of their adoption, how the love Bruce and Julia shared with each other they also came to share with Daniel, Aaron, Miriam and Joseph.

Tonight Bruce and Julia were frantic at Daniel’s bedside. He had contracted measles, a supposedly short-lived and mild strain that was going around at the time. Daniel might feel a little under weather for a week or so, they had been told, but would be fine. Now in it’s third week the disease didn’t seem so benign. They were frightened for the life of their little boy.

“Unh,” he moaned, his face pinched as though in pain.

“It’s alright, sweetheart,” his mom choked out. “Your father and I are right here. Dr. Eliott’s coming.” She flipped the damp cloth over to a fresh side and was alarmed at how warm it had become while resting against his flushed skin.

“Mom,” he croaked, his eyes flaring open, rolling wildly for a moment and then fixing upon her with a glazed and intent focus. “Mom, don’t let Jake hurt her,” he pleaded.

“It’s alright, Danny,” his father leaned over him, touching Daniel’s hot face. “It’s alright,” he repeated, exchanging worried looks with his wife. This sounded like the fever-induced delirium they had feared if they couldn’t get his temperature under control. No one had wanted to talk about the possible brain damage this extended fever could cause, but it had lurked behind every word Dr. Eliott had spoken.

“Dad!” Daniel turned his attention to his father. “Help her! Stop Jake, Dad! Don’t let him hurt Diane!” Daniel was practically in tears.

The doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it,” Bruce said, hurrying from the room, hoping it was the doctor. It was, and they quickly returned to Daniel’s room.

“He’s starting to hallucinate,” Julia whimpered.

“Get some more cold water, ice and towels, you two,” Dr.Eliott instructed them while reaching into his bag for a vial and syringe. “This will help fight the virus.”

Daniel’s parents scurried to get the things the doctor had asked for. Dr. Eliott felt Daniel’s pulse and slipped a thermometer into his mouth. He looked with an opthalmoscope into Daniel’s eyes and his worried expression deepened. He drew the medicine into the syringe and dabbed an alcohol swab on Daniel’s upper arm. The aggressive nature of this measles attack had surprised him and he hoped he had found a treatment that would work against it. He would know by morning. Bruce and Julia came back and they worked together to reapply the cold packs.

As the serum began to take effect Daniel’s agitation began to subside, his sobbing lessened, the woeful pleading to help Diane winding down to whimpered gasps.

Dr. Eliott left the house near midnight, satisfied that they were succeeding in breaking Daniel’s fever, hoping that the danger to the young boy was passing.


“Mom?” Daniel’s small voice roused Julia from her uncomfortable dozing in the flowery blue armchair she had dragged to his bedside.

“Daniel? Daniel honey, can you hear me?” she soothed him, stroking his forehead, now noticeably cooler to the touch.

“Hi, Mom.” He sounded weak, but his eyes seemed clear.

“Oh, Daniel, we were so worried about you. Thank God you’re awake.”

“I’m o.k.,” Daniel told her. “But what about Diane?” he asked earnestly.

Anxiety touched Julia’s mind.

“It’s alright,” she told him. “You were just very sick and your fever made you say funny things. But you’re alright now, sweetheart.”

Daniel pulled himself into a sitting position against the head of the bed.

“No, Mom. You really have to help her,” he insisted. “Jake is going to do bad things to her. We have to stop him.” Daniel spoke with a seriousness and sincerity Julia had never heard in him before.

“Let’s talk about this in a little bit, o.k.? Let’s make sure Dad hears about it too. He went to get some more Seven-Up for you at the store. He’ll be back soon. You just rest now. Come on.” Julia gently resettled Daniel under a light sheet. She looked down at him, smiling a worried smile, before going to the kitchen.



Twenty-Seven (Daniel: October 13, 1963)

“Mom, what’s wrong with Daniel?” Aaron asked Mrs. Acuff. “He looks mean.”

She was busy in the kitchen, getting supper together. Bruce would be home from the office in the next twenty minutes or so and she liked to have everything ready so the family could sit down and enjoy it.

“Don’t mind your brother, sweetheart. He’s just a little upset right now. He’ll be better soon. Here, go put these napkins by everyone’s plate, ok?”

“Ok, Mommy,” he said, clutching the blue cloths with both hands. She knew they’d arrive at least in the vicinity of the plates and certainly a bit rumpled, but Aaron really liked being her little helper.

Daniel’s sickness had been particularly difficult for Aaron to grasp, especially since Daniel was no longer confined to his bed. To Aaron it appeared his big brother was already better. He didn’t understand the changes in Daniel’s behavior. The two other children were feeling it as well.

Although Dr. Eliott was certain Daniel’s illness was over, the school still wanted to wait another week before allowing him back. Given the severity of Daniel’s experience it had no desire to risk exposing the other kids to the disease. His teacher, Mrs. Vandercek, had been sending schoolwork home to Daniel with his classmate, Jimmy Morse, who lived down the street. So at least he wasn’t’ falling behind. In fact, he had been displaying a focus on his schoolwork that was very much out of character for him. It was usually such a chore to get him to do his homework. Since his illness he had turned into a homework zealot, driven by some previously absent urgency.

Mrs. Acuff had been hoping a quick return to school might distract Daniel from his Diane obsession, but she was beginning to have some doubts. His fixation was becoming more manic. She and her husband had decided to seek some professional help and had made appointments to consult both their parish priest and a therapist Dr. Eliott had recommended. She stepped into the hallway to check on Daniel. She could see him hunched over on the floor next to his bed, apparently intent on the schoolwork spread out around him.

Daniel, crouched over his Big Chief tablet, was indeed intent on what he was doing, but it wasn’t homework. At the far end of the kitchen there was a little built-in office alcove where his parents kept the family paperwork, bills, files, and rolls of pennies saved for the Pagan Babies program at church. In one drawer there were envelopes and stamps. Daniel had helped himself to some of these.

Frustrated at his parents’ lack of response to his escalating entreaties on Diane’s behalf he had decided to take matters into his own hands. So far he had finished two of the three letters he intended to slip into the mailbox down the street when no one was watching. He was sending one to the chief of police in Amarillo, Texas, one to the Catholic Bishop there, and one to Diane’s mother. It never occurred to him to wonder how he knew the addresses he carefully lettered on the envelopes, or to consider any effect his letters might have, other than to save Diane.



Twenty-Eight (Daniel: October 20, 1963)

In the soft darkness of his room Daniel could hear his parent’s voices coming from their room across the hall, pitched low, furtive. He couldn’t make out their words, but there was no mistaking their worried tone. It had been two weeks since his fever had broken, his fight against the measles apparently won. But something was still wrong. Something about Daniel had changed and it had Bruce and Julia scared.

Daniel’s fever-induced Diane fixation had not abated. In fact, his obsession had taken on an urgency approaching alarm. And as disturbing as that was, the level of detail he used and desperation he expressed was even more unnerving. The fantasy his fevered brain had conjured included images and words there was no way their seven-year-old son should have known. Add to that the oracular nature of Daniel’s ravings. He talked as though he was seeing the future. Desperate for guidance they had taken him today to see Father Holt, their pastor at St. Matthew Catholic Church. Daniel had not been the shy little boy the priest was used to.

Father Holt had greeted and ushered the Acuffs into his office, seating them in the three comfortable armchairs in front of his desk before relaxing into his own plush, swiveling office chair on the other side. The Acuffs had already talked to him about Daniel, so he knew about the illness, the severe fever, and the distressing events that had brought the family to see him. He knew that tomorrow they would be taking Daniel to see the therapist.

“Daniel,” Father Holt began gently, his slight Irish brogue lilting, “do you know why your mom and dad want you to talk with me today?”

Daniel’s agitation was apparent, his body tense, hands fidgeting, eyes darting.

“Yeah,” he said curtly. “’Cause they think I’m crazy.”

“Daniel!” his father cut in forcefully.

“That’s alright, Bruce,” Father Holt waved him off. “Crazy, you say?” speaking to Daniel again. “And why would they be thinking such a thing, then?”

Daniel’s eyes stopped roving, fixed on Father Holt’s, locking gazes with him. The priest could see the boy was weighing the situation, trying to decide what to say.

“It’s alright, son,” his mother said, leaning toward him. Daniels’s eyes didn’t waver from Father Holt’s.

“Don’t worry about your folks, Danny. You know they’re only here because they love you and are worried about you. But let’s pretend they aren’t here at all. It’s just you and me, just two friends, and you can say anything you want. Spill your guts.”

“They think I’m crazy,” Daniel began, voice low, even, controlled, “because they don’t believe I’m telling the truth about Diane. They think the fever gave me brain damage.”

Father Holt nodded as he considered Daniel and his words. Bruce and Julia looked at each other.

“And Diane is the little girl that’s being hurt by her cousin, Jake?”

“Not yet,” Daniel corrected him, “but soon, after she turns five.”

The priest nodded some more, frowning.

“That’s a very serious thing, Danny, and I think you’re doing the right thing, trying to help her, like a real hero would. But I think the trouble your parents are having makes some sense. They don’t understand how you could even know about such things. Will you help us to understand?”

Daniel nodded.

“Ok, then.” Father Holt leaned forward picking up a pen from his desk and pulling a yellow tablet in front of him. “You’ve said her name is Diane?”

“Diane Burns,” Daniel said, spelling it out. The priest jotted the name on his pad.

“And you’ve said she lives in Amarillo, right?”

“Right, at 4307 Filmore Street.” Daniel watched Father Holt write it down.

“What does molest mean, Danny?” The priest looked into Daniel’s eyes.

Daniel took a deep breath and glanced at his parents. His mother had closed her eyes, face turned slightly away. His father was leaning forward in the chair, elbows on his knees, hands clasped, listening intently. Daniel turned back to the priest.

“It means bothering someone,” he said. “And sometimes, like with Diane, it means bothering her sexually.”

“Sexually,” Father Holt repeated the word. “Now that’s not a word I hear from seven-year-olds very often. Where did you learn that word, Danny?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I just know it. It’s in my head, along with all the other stuff I’ve been trying to tell everyone about.”

Father Holt set the pen down and rubbed his forehead absently.

“Before you got sick, Danny,” he mused aloud, “I wonder if you remember having any of this stuff in your head?”

Daniel shook his head, no.

“So it came to you while you were sick, while you had the fever?”

Daniel gave an exasperated sigh.

“What does ‘sexually’ mean, Danny?”

“It means something about sex,” Danny said, a little surprised at the question.

“What about sex?”

“You know,” Daniel said. “About things down there.” He gestured toward his crotch. “About penises and vaginas. And about breasts, too.”

“Ah, yes,” Father Holt said. “Those, too.”

Bruce glanced at his wife who still had her head turned, her neck and face now flushed a deep red.

“Do ever talk to your friends about sex stuff?” the priest asked, picking up the pen again. “Maybe at school?”

“No,” Daniel said. “I haven’t been back to school since I got sick, and I didn’t know about any of this stuff before then.”

“Right, right,” Father Holt said. “ That makes sense. Bruce,” he addressed Mr. Acuff, “have you checked out Danny’s story?”

“What?”

“Have you looked into it, maybe called the Burns’?”

Now it was Mr. Acuff’s turn to look surprised. He and Julia looked at each other.

“No,” he said. “I can’t say that we have.”

“Let’s do that now, shall we?” the priest said, reaching for the phone on his desk.

Bruce and Julia sat back in their chairs.

“Danny,” Father Holt said. “do you know Diane’s father’s name?”

“Wilson,” Daniel answered without hesitation. “The number is 806-453-6809.”

Father Holt stared at Daniel for a moment, then dialed the operator for directory assistance, inquired after a number for Burns on Filmore Street in Amarillo, Texas. In a few moments he was jotting down a number on his pad, thanking the operator, hanging up. He sat silently behind his desk, looking at what he had written, then at Daniel again.

“Well?” Daniel asked. “Aren’t you going to call?”

“I’m thinking about it, Danny. I’m thinking about it. I’m wondering what Mr. Burns will say, what he’ll think.” He looked very hard at Daniel. “It’s a serious matter, Danny. What if Mr. Burns thinks I’m crazy?”

“He can’t think you’re crazy. You’re a priest!”

Father Holt’s grim face cracked into a wide smile.

“Well, what if he thinks I’m a crazy guy pretending to be a priest? He can’t see my collar over the telephone you know. Anyone could be calling him and telling him these terrible things, maybe someone who doesn’t like him, who wants to hurt the Burns family somehow. Somebody could just as easily make such a call to your parents, Danny. How do think they would react?”

Daniel sat quietly, thinking about what the priest had said. Father Holt exchanged looks with the Acuffs.

“Tell him to call Bishop DeFalco,” Daniel said at last. “You can call Bishop DeFalco and tell him what I told you. Bishop DeFalco can call Bishop Lucey in San Antonio to make sure you’re really a priest in Jourdanton. You can call Bishop Lucey as well, tell him what’s going on so he’ll know what Bishop DeFalco is talking about. Then Bishop DeFalco can call Mr. Burns and then they can protect Diane!”

Father Holt raised his eyebrows and looked again at Daniel’s parents. As he reached down and opened one of the desk draws and lugged out a thick book he said, “Sounds like you’ve go this all planned out, Danny. I’ll look up Bishop DeFalco’s number.” He started thumbing through the book.

“Well, I had to do something,” Daniel said. “She was just a little girl then.”

“Then? Let’s see, Daley, Dalton, Dean, ah!, DeFalco. Then when, Danny?”

“When it all happened,” Daniel said.

“When she was five?” Father Holt asked.

“Right!” Daniel said. “That’s when it started.”

“But Diane isn’t five yet, is she?”

“Not until November 29th, less than a month away. Now do you see why I’m so worried?”

“I sure do! Any why is this little girl so important to you?”

“I love her,” Daniel said.

“But you don’t even know her, Danny. Do you?”

“Not yet, but I will.”

“When?”

“When we move to Amarillo.”

“I didn’t know you were moving! When is that happening?”

“In 1970.”

“Oh! Then we’ll still have the Acuffs around for seven years yet! That’s good, because the parish sure would miss all of you!”

A troubled look came into Daniel’s face.

“Actually, we’ll be moving to San Antonio next summer. Sorry.” Then he brightened. “But you’ll be moving there too, in a year, to Holy Name parish, where we’ll be going, and later you’ll start a whole new parish on the other side of town and sometimes we’ll go there. But mostly we’ll be going to St. Gregory’s. That’s where I’ll be going to school until we move to Amarillo.”

Daniel had just been rattling along, but stopped abruptly when he realized the priest and his parents were staring at him strangely. Father Holt gave Bruce and Julia a slight shrug. Mrs. Acuff sighed.

“Danny, how do you know all these things? How can you know what’s going to happen in the future? No one knows such things but God.”

“Then ask Him!” Daniel said curtly.

“Who?”

“Ask God about Diane.”

“Daniel!” Mrs. Acuff interjected.

“I don’t know how I know all this stuff! I just do! Maybe God told me and now I’m telling you!” he said, getting more and more upset.

“That’s enough, son,” his father said, laying a hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Father.”

The priest sighed heavily.

“Well, let me know how it goes tomorrow with Doctor Pfeiffer, he said and began to return the book to the drawer. Daniel looked at him in disbelief.

“You’re not going to call anyone, are you?”

“Daniel,” he said, “you go with your parents now. Tomorrow they’ll take you to see a special doctor who will try to help you. I’ll say extra prayers for you, o.k?”

“You son of a bitch!” Daniel managed to spit out before his father grabbed him roughly by one arm and spun him around. Anger contorted Mr. Acuff’s face.

“Mister, you will apologize to Father Holt right this instant or so help me I’ll wale on your behind ‘til you can’t sit down for a year! Do you hear me?”

As he held Daniels arm in a vise-like grip his eyes looked into his son’s. He watched as something inside Daniel withdrew, leaving only a look of vacant betrayal. In his own heart he felt something wither. His grip weakened, fell away, and he turned and left the office, shoulders sagging. Julia, confused, gathered Daniel, shrugged at the priest, and hurried after her husband.

Father Holt’s secretary, Mrs. Menendez, appeared in the doorway, looking after the departing Acuffs, and then at the priest, anxiety puckering her face. He was sitting stunned, a look of doubt haunting his eyes.

“Mrs. Menendez, would you mind checking on something for me, please?”

“Of course, Father.”

“I think I read somewhere that Amarillo is getting a new Bishop soon. Could you look into that for me, please?”

“I don’t need to, Father. I remember the memo. It came last Thursday. Bishop Lucey mailed the announcement to all the parishes in the Archdiocese. It was a special mailing. Bishop Gerken finally passed, God rest his soul. Monsignor DeFalco, who has been his assistant these last seven years, is taking over the office. I believe Biship Lucey is flying to Amarillo tomorrow to see to it. There will be a formal ceremony, of course, but not until January of next year. Should I find the memo for you, Father?”

“Yes, yes, that would be fine, Mrs. Menendez. Thank you.” His look of doubt had been replaced by one of apprehension. As she turned to go he looked at the information he had written on the yellow pad. After a moment he reached for the Roladex on his desk and flipped through it until he found the number he wanted. He picked up the telephone and began to dial the Chancery Office number in Amarillo.


Deacon Hoelscher knocked deferentially against the half-opened office door in the Chancery. It was still early in the afternoon, but it had already been a long and full day for their Eminences Lucey and DeFalco. The Deacon really didn’t want to disturb the two Bishops. Bishop DeFalco was stepping in mid-stride, as it were, to fill the shoes of the recently deceased Biship Gerken. It was no small task. The Texas panhandle was considered missionary territory. Changes in leadership needed to be swift and efficient. It was fortunate that the then Monsignor DeFalco had served as an adjunct to Bishop Gerken for the last seven years. It was easing the assumption of the miter and staff, ensuring a smooth transition of office. Still, Deacon Hoelscher doubted his interruption of the two Bishops’ day would be welcome.

“Come,” Bishop Lucey acknowledged the knock at the door. The Deacon pushed the door open wider and entered.

“Please forgive me, your Eminences, but there is a Father Holt on the telephone. He’s calling from a Jourdanton, Texas, and says it’s urgent he speak with both your Eminences. He wouldn’t discuss the matter with me.”

Deacon Hoelscher’s closing comment was apologetic for not having been able to spare them this inconvenience.

“Father Holt?” Bishop Lucey said, surprised, exchanging looks with Bishop DeFalco. The two men couldn’t help glancing down at a sheaf of blue-lined newsprint pages torn from a child’s school tablet that lay on the table between them.

“We’ll take it in here, Walter,” Bishop DeFalco said, lifting a phone from a nearby side table and placing it next to the papers. “Which line?”

“Three, your Eminence.”

“Thank you, Walter. Please close the door as you go out, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course, your Eminence,” he said, backing out of the room and pulling the door shut.

“Well,” Bishop Lucey said, “this should be interesting.”

“Quite,” Bishop DeFalco agreed.



Twenty-Nine (Amarillo: October 20, 1963)

Chief Metzger smiled to himself as he picked up the envelope addressed to him in a childish, blocky print. He often got such thank-you letters after visiting elementary classrooms around the city. Already, and happily, a grandpa himself, he always felt that same grandfatherly surge of affection toward all the little children he met.

Then he noticed the unfamiliar name of the town in the return address. Curiosity piqued he used his small pocketknife to slit the envelope open. He tugged out the familiar pages torn from a Big Chief tablet. But as he began to read his smile quickly faded. In its place expressions of revulsion and anger vied for prominence, revulsion at what the letter said, and anger at the sick bastard who would think up such a prank. And it had to be a prank. The little-kid printing had to be faked, whoever really wrote it using language and ideas no seven-year-old child would know. Then a dreadful thought crossed his mind. What if this was some kind of confessional taunt? What if the pervert who had sent this letter was actually the child molester it described? He looked through the pages again, feeling ill, thinking about his own six-year-old granddaughter, Bonnie. He hoped this was all a joke after all, just a sick, sick joke. But in any case he intended to check into the details in the off chance there was any truth to it, or that he could somehow nail the creep that wrote the letter. He stabbed angrily at the intercom.

“Twitty! Get in here!”

A moment later Officer Ron Lewinsky, doing his desk duty this month, stepped into the Chief’s office. The reason for his nickname was immediately obvious. He looked the spitting image of the country singer Conway Twitty, a resemblance the young officer consciously maintained.

“Yes, sir!” he said.

“I need you to check out some stuff. Pronto! Write this down.”

The officer whipped out a small pad and pencil, ready.

“Find out if there is an address for Acuff, A-C-U-F-F, in a town called Jourdanton, Texas. That’s J-O-U-R-D-A-N-T-O-N. And get a phone number if there is. Also check out a family named Burns, B-U-R-N-S, on Filmore Street here in Amarillo. See if they have a little girl named Diane. If they check out, find out who their neighbors are, what relatives they have. Get it done PDQ.” He returned his attention to the pages.

“Burns? They’re my next door neighbors,” Officer Lewinsky blurted out.

The Chief’s head snapped up. He regarded the young officer carefully. The improbability of this coincidence was glaring. He didn’t want to think what he was thinking, but he was hard bitten and realistic enough to know how easy it was for a perp to hide in plain sight.

“Your neighbors?”

“Yes, sir. They live at 4307. Kitty and me live at 4309.”

Chief Metzger remembered the Lewinsky’s wedding two years ago, remembered the awkward uncertainty with which the rookie cop had proffered an invitation to him, not sure of the propriety or protocol appropriate to their relationship. He had impressed the Chief as well intentioned, sincere and idealistic. It was a good beginning, but difficult to maintain in the world of law enforcement. It took a lot of work to keep the shine on a badge.

“Come on in, Ron, and close the door. Have a seat and tell me about your neighbors.”

The officer did as he was told, a wary look in his eyes.

“It’s Mike, isn’t it?” he said. “He’s in trouble, isn’t he?”

“Which one’s Mike?”

“The oldest one, about twelve I think.”

“What makes you think Mike’s in trouble?”

Office Lewinsky took a deep breath.

“I dunno. Just a feelin’ I get when I see him sometimes. Like he’s up to somethin’. But why’re you askin’ about Diane? She’s just a little girl.”

“What’s he doing when you get this feeling?” the Chief pursued, avoiding answering the officer’s question.

“Not anythin’ I can put my finger on, but he looks kinda sneaky, watchful like. He’s seen me lookin’ at him over the fence a couple of times, and then they hurry off.”

“They? Who’s with him?”

“His cousins.” Officer Lewinsky’s eyes went flat, registering hardness.

“There a problem with these cousins?”

“Yeah,” he nodded, considering. “I think there is.”

“Like what?”

Lewinsky pursed his lips, quiet for a moment.

“Over on East 10th there’s this pawnshop, Manny’s.”

“I know the place.”

“Sometimes, when we’re drivin’ by on patrol, I see some Spanish or Negro guys hangin’ around out front. They’re not doin’ anythin’, just standin’ there, smokin’, shootin’ the breeze. They don’t even look our way when we’re cruisin’ by, but you know they know you’re there. You know?”

Chief Metzger nodded.

“Well, there’s somethin’ about ‘em, or a least a couple of ‘em, that always gives me a bad feelin’. There’s just somethin’ slimy about ‘em. Mike’s cousins gives me the same feelin’.”

“What are their names?”

“Jake and Jason Walsh.”

“Jake, huh?” Chief Metzger’s response was measured. The officer saw the Chief’s eyes dart to the papers in front of him on the desk, and then quickly back to him.

“I knew it!” Officer Lewinsky said. “I knew that kid was trouble. He’s gotten Mike mixed up with somethin’ bad, hasn’t he?”

“What about the parents?”

This time Officer Lewinsky noticed his own question had been sidestepped. He sat back in the chair and gave the Chief a hard stare.

“What’s goin’ on?” he demanded. “You pulled me in here, askin’ me to run down a name and address, and then you start askin’ me about my neighbors, an in particular about their little girl. Then you go off on a tangent about Mike and Jake, but don’t answer my questions, stonewallin’ me. We’re talkin’ around somethin’ here, and I want to know what it is.”

“Take it easy, cowboy. Last I checked I was still your boss. If I’m asking questions you’d better bet I have a damn good reason. And if you don’t like the questions I’m asking, it might occur to me to wonder why.”

Metzger watched the young cop rein it in.

“Sorry, sir. I guess I just don’t understand the situation,” Lewinsky said, trying to keep his cool. “And I guess I feel kinda protective. I…” he paused, a frown drawing his eyebrows into a single, thick line.

“Well?”

“Permissions to speak freely, sir.” A look of angry hurt had come into his eyes.

Chief Metzger knew what he was seeing happen and moved to head it off.

“Ron, I need you to work with me here. You want to understand the situation? Then work with me, o.k.?”

Officer Lewinsky nodded.

“Think back to last summer, Ron. Remember the Dumont girl?”

“Yeah.” Searchers had finally found her body in a shallow grave in a ravine not far form her abandoned car.

“Do you remember who we arrested for the murder?”

“Duane Boehm.”

“Right. And who did he turn out to be?

“One of the searchers.”

“One of the searchers. Hiding right in plain sight, mocking us, daring us to see him. Now I’ve got a situation here,” he touched the papers on his desk, “that involves the Burns family. It’s ugly, but I gotta look at it, and I gotta look at anything and anyone connected to that family, even a cop I trust and respect, especially if that cop happens to be their neighbor. I’m a cop, Ron, just like you, and right now you and me are doing the hard stuff cops do. That’s the situation.”

Officer Lewinsky nodded his understanding.

“So, what’s the story, Ron? Why do you fee so protective?”

“Well, I guess it’s because they’ve got it so tough, the Burns. Wilson, the dad, is a photographer. I guess he’s o.k., but it looks like a hard way to make a livin’. And they’ve got so many kids. I know they’re on stamps. The kids pretty much run wild when they’re not in school, all over the neighborhood, even the little girl, Diane. She’s the only girl, with all those brothers. I feel kinda sorry for her. Heck, I feel sorry for her mom, Jeane, poppin’ out all those kids, one after the other. They don’t need police trouble on top of everythin’ else.”

Chief Metzger remained silent for a few moments, taking in the information, thinking it over. He reached a decision.

“I think you’re right, Officer Lewinsky. I think Jake is bad news. I don’t feel at liberty to disclose any particulars, but I think anything that would keep Jake away from that family would be a good thing, especially for the little girl.”

The Chief emphasized the last bit and Ron suddenly felt a chasm of alarm and fear open inside himself.

“Aw, Christ,” he moaned faintly. “Aw, Christ, Chief,” he stood up abruptly, began pacing in front of the Chief’s desk. His hand moved to his holstered weapon. “I’ll kill the little fuck! I’ll kill him!” Anger trembled his voice.

“Officer Lewinsky! Officer!” the Chief got his attention. “That may not be necessary. As far as I know nothing had happened yet, and I think you and I have a chance to make sure it never does.”

Ron returned to the chair, perched on the edge of the seat.

“Anythin’, Chief. Anythin’. You name it, I’ll do it.”

Chief Metzger nodded grimly, an understanding between the two men locking their gazes.



Thirty (Daniel: October 22, 1963)

It had been such a relief to send Daniel back to school today. Life almost seemed normal again. Julia had gratefully resumed her usual routines. Laundry was in the machines, the kids’ bathroom halfway cleaned, Aaron and Miriam glued to Captain Kangaroo, Joseph near them playing contentedly in his playpen.

She had felt more hopeful. Daniel’s outburst with Father Holt last week had left her and Bruce shaken, and they had expected the same or worse with Dr. Pfeiffer the next day. But that had gone surprisingly well. Daniel seemed to have shifted some behavioral gear. He had been polite, respectful, and hadn’t displayed any of the manic agitation that had begun to characterize his interactions with others. All of which had made his earnest and unsettlingly graphic recitation of the poor little Burns girl’s abuse even more difficult to hear.

Suddenly she had caught herself, realizing she had been thinking of the girl not as the illusory product of her son’s fever maimed mind, but as an actual person. A shadowy apprehension had ghosted through her.

She turned to go back to the kids’ bathroom when the first call came, about 9:30. It was from the Chief of Police in Amarillo, Texas. She had barely gotten off the phone with him when it rang again. This time it was Bishop Lucey, also calling from Amarillo. Dazed from those calls she frantically dialed Bruce at work, only to have the secretary tell her he had just left the office, heading home.

As Bruce drove up the street toward their home he could see Julia standing in the driveway, and could tell by the set of her shoulders that something was wrong. He pulled in quickly and hurried to her, hugging her closely. Her reddened and watery eyes told him she had only recently been in tears.

Just then the postman rattled up and slid a handful of envelopes into the mailbox at the curb. He tossed a brief wave in the direction of the Acuffs as he moved on to the next house. Bruce and Julia returned the gesture weakly.

“What happened, sweetheart?” Bruce held his wife’s shoulders and looked into her troubled eyes.

Julia’s lips still trembled a little as she answered.

“We got two phone calls this morning, one right after the other,” she said, “from Amarillo.”

“Amarillo! But how did they know, I mean, why, or who called?” Bruce fumbled.

“The police and Bishop Lucey!”

“What? What did they want? Why did they call the house?”

“Daniel sent them some letters,” she moaned.

“He what?”

“He sent them some letters. He told them about Diane.”

Bruce fell silent, absorbing the news.

“Why did you come home early?” Julia asked. “I called your office and Sherry said you’d just left for home. Why? Did something happen at work?”

Bruce glanced up and down the block as he wrapped an arm around Julia’s thin shoulders.

“Let’s go inside and we can talk about it,” he said, guiding her toward the front door. Julia nodded.

“Oh! Just a minute,” she said, slipping from Bruce’s embrace. “Let me grab the mail.”

She retrieved it, hurried back, and they went inside.

“So tell me,” Bruce said, taking a seat on one of the chairs at the dining room table. “What did the Amarillo police want?” 

Julia slipped onto a chair adjacent to him on one corner. She told her husband about the letter Chief Metzger had received from Daniel, written on pages from his Big Chief tablet. The Chief had read Daniel’s letter to her over the phone, stumbling and begging pardon for having to relate some of the words and images it contained. Julia had tried to explain to him the circumstances and effects of Daniel’s illness, to apologize for her son’s actions. But Chief Metzger had put off her apologizing, thanking her instead for her son’s efforts. He had said, without divulging any particulars, but based on Daniel’s warning, they had indeed discovered a threat to the little Burns girl and were taking action to counter it. He had said the phone call was just to let us know that the letter had been received, had been taken seriously, and that Daniel didn’t need to worry about it anymore.

“And he believed Daniel’s story? Just like that?” Bruce was incredulous.

“He said he’d seen some strange things in his life, as a police officer, and Daniel’s warnings, while unusual, weren’t unheard of. He asked us not to be too hard on Daniel for going behind our backs to send the letter, that it was the right thing to do. And then he said to let you know you could call off your man. What man? What’s happening, Bruce? How can Daniel know these things? I don’t understand.”

She tossed the mail she had been holding onto the table and it fanned out across the surface.

“I don’t know, sweetheart. I don’t know what’s going on. I came home early because I got a call from Amarillo, too.”

“Who called you?”

“A man named Bernard Sykes, probably the guy Chief Metzger called ‘my man’.”

“Who is Bernard Sykes?”

“A private investigator.”

Bruce told her how he had gone back to Father Holt and gotten the address and phone number for the Burns that the priest had noted on his yellow pad during Daniel’s interview.  Bruce had called a colleague in a law office in Amarillo, asking him to recommend an investigator up there. He had given Bruce Syke’s name and number, and Bruce had contacted him, hired him to check on the Burns.

“And what did he find out?” Julia asked her husband. Bruce shook his head in consternation.

“They’re real. The Burns exist, just the way Daniel’s been describing them, the house, their kids. Mr. Burns is a photographer, just like Danny said. They’re struggling pretty hard to get by. There really is a cousin named Jake. He’s thirteen. Mrs. Burns’ father really is an artist and used to be a newspaperman, a writer. His name really is John Lawton Morris.”

Bruce fell silent, considering.

“There’s something else, isn’t there?” Julia prodded. Bruce nodded.

“The next door neighbor,” he said. “Mr. Sykes said the guy noticed him snooping, came down the street to where he was parked and watching. Sykes said he started to pull away, but he neighbor stepped out right in front of the car, forcing him to stop. The neighbor came around to Sykes’ window, reached in and grabbed him by the front of the shirt, demanding identification. Sykes told the guy to get lost and tried to shove him away. But he neighbor hauled Sykes out through the window of the car and slammed him down on the pavement, then pulled a gun and jammed it into his face.”

“Oh my God!” Julia exclaimed.

“It turned out the neighbor was an off-duty Amarillo police officer. He arrested Mr. Sykes.”

“Oh my God, Bruce! What’s going on?”

“Sykes said he was grilled pretty thoroughly by Metzger, but eventually the Chief was satisfied that he was who he said he was, but only after telling Metzger who had hired him and why.”

Now it was Julia’s turn to look incredulous.

Bruce just shook his head slowly.

“I guess Daniel sent the same letter to Bishop Lucey?” he asked.

Julia’s face registered a deeper distress.

“Not exactly,” she replied faintly.

“What did Danny tell him”

“Actually, Danny sent the letter to the Bishop up there, in Amarillo. His name is De Falco. He showed it to Bishop Lucey. But Bruce, the letter he sent to Bishop De Falco didn’t just talk about Diane and her cousin.”

Now there was a look of dread in her eyes.

“What else did it say?”

“Danny told him,” she hesitated, then pushed on. “He told him that in 1969 a priest at the school up there was going to molest both Diane and her brother, Randy.”

Bruce’s jaw dropped open. He stared out the patio door where he could see Aaron and Miriam playing on the backyard swing set.

“How bad is this going to get?” he murmured half to himself.

“Bruce?”

He looked back at his wife, saw her gaze fixed on the mail scattered on the table, spotted the envelope that had caught Julia’s attention. It was addressed to Daniel. Bruce reached over and nudged it aside from the other envelopes that partially covered it, revealing a return address matching the Amarillo postmark. It was from someone named Jeane Burns.



Thirty-One (Daniel: October 22, 1963)

Daniel rounded the end of the fence that enclosed his backyard and stopped. His dad’s car was in the driveway, and it was barely three-thirty. His dad seldom got home from work before six. Then he noticed the ominous absence of Aaron and Miriam who usually greeted and shouted at him through the fence when he came home from school. He sighed once then resumed his trek to the front door.

“We’re in here, Danny,” his father called from the living room. Daniel pushed the front door closed and turned to face the music. A brief grimace of a smile quirked his lips, a response to an irony he didn’t fully grasp.

His mother and father were sitting together on the blue-floral sofa. There were partially filled glasses of tea placed on paper napkins on the coffee table in front of them. Another glass, full, was sitting on its own napkin near one end of the table.

“Come on in,” his father beckoned. “Have a seat,” gesturing to an empty armchair near the full glass.

“Where are Aaron and Miriam?” Daniel asked.

“Olivia is taking care of them,” his mother answered. He could tell from her reddened eyes and puffy face that she had been crying recently.

Olivia was the Negro woman who came in a couple of times a week to help Mrs. Acuff with the housework. She also babysat the children occasionally. She was a cranky person who frequently offered to pull out all the kid’s ears by the roots for leaving messes or not putting toys away. That his parents had seen fit to leave his brothers and sister in her care this afternoon seemed a seal of doom to Daniel.

Daniel went to the chair and started to pull himself up onto it, then noticed the envelope lying on the table beside the glass of tea. It looked old and yellowed, tattered. It was addressed to him. He looked up at his parents.

“Go ahead,” his father said. “Open it. Apparently you’ve been quite the little letter writer lately. At least that’s what we’ve heard from the Chief of Police in Amarillo, and from Bishop Lucey as well. I’m guessing you sent one to Mrs. Burns as well. Anyone else?

“I only sent the three,” Daniel said.

“Your mother received phone calls from the Chief and the Bishop this morning. I think you can see how much it upset her.”

Daniel nodded, feeling bad for having caused his mother any grief.

“What did they say?” he asked.

“We’ll talk about that in a few minutes,” his father said. “Let’s see what’s in this letter first.”

Daniel nodded again and picked up the envelope. The addressing was done in a scratchy handwriting. He sighed deeply and carefully opened it, pulling out some folded pages. Something slipped from the pages and a small photograph fell to the table. His parents leaned over to look at it, and Daniel stared down at it, completely stunned. He knew her. He knew her face, her smile, her eyes. He felt his own eyes well up with tears. He began to sob.

“Daniel?” his mother moved to touch his shoulder, exchanging baffled looks with her husband. She gently pulled her son against herself and held him as he cried into her dress. His father eased the pages from his son’s hands, unfolded them, and began to read the letter aloud.

'Dear Daniel,

At first I didn’t know how to take your letter. You said some terrible things. I thought maybe someone very ugly was trying to play a very mean joke on me. But I have a little voice in me that kept telling me I should take you seriously.

I can’t say I completely believe everything you wrote. I don’t know how a little boy can know what is going to happen before it actually does. And I don’t know why a stranger to me, who lives so far away, is so worried about my children, unless the impossible things he is telling me are really true. My heart tells me I should listen.

I don’t want to come off sounding like some kind of weirdo or nut, but I do believe that there are people who are tuned into things most people are completely unaware of. I am one of those tuned-in people and I get the feeling you are, too, even at such a young age. I hope it doesn’t cause you too much trouble in your life, because I know from my own experience how difficult being different can be. All I can say is, believe what you believe, and know what you know.

Thank you for being brave enough to send me your letter. I must say I have had some bad feelings about Jake before. Now I really believe he is trouble. But thanks to you I won’t be letting him get anywhere near my family anymore.

As far as the things you said about Father Delmonico, I just don’t know. I will have to pray about that. It’s not the kind of thing I want to believe can happen, but I know that it does. At least now I will be on guard against it happening to my children.

The things you believe are going to happen in the future may or may not happen. I have been surprised, sometimes sadly, at how things turn out differently than I had hoped for. You’re probably not old enough to really understand this yet, but don’t let worries about the future, or the past, ruin the day you have right now.

I am going to save your letter, and later, when I think they’re old enough to understand, I will share it with both Randy and Diane. I have sent you a picture of Diane so you can see for yourself the wonderful little girl you have helped. Who knows? Maybe someday you will get to meet her, like you think you will. Time will tell.

Thank you again, Daniel. I will keep you in my prayers.

Sincerely,

Judy Jeane Burns'



Thirty-Two (San Antonio: December 14, 1969)

Sister Assumpta gazed sadly at the empty desk two back in the third row. Last week it had been where Daniel Acuff had sat. He had been absent on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday she had been told that he wouldn’t be coming back.

The details she could glean were few, but it seemed Daniel had had some kind of relapse, something to do with the severe case of measles he had had when he was seven.

The reality was that Daniel had tried to run away.

As the year had dwindled down and 1970 approached, he had begun to become more and more restive. He had begun asking about the move, when they were going to begin packing, when his father was going to go up to Amarillo, when he and his mother were going to fly up there to help look for a new home. At last his parents had had to tell him that there would be no move.  Rather than pursuing the City Attorney job being recruited in Amarillo, Bruce had decided to stick with San Antonio, accepting the offer of the top slot there. Daniel had gone ballistic.

Three times in the next two weeks he had slipped away, first trying to hitchhike out of town, and then twice attempting to board buses. When caught and returned to his home, it had gotten ugly.

By the first of December it was really getting out of hand. Medications had been prescribed to help control his violent outbursts, and then the decision had been made to admit him to a juvenile psychiatric facility, at least temporarily. It was hoped that this episode would pass eventually and that he would regain control of himself.

Little had changed a year later. He had proven to be a difficult patient to deal with, sensitive to what the doctors wanted to see happen, and sly enough to fool them into thinking they were seeing it. But time and time again he managed to subvert routines and protocols, to slip away before anyone could notice. And time and again he was apprehended and returned to the hospital. Eventually he had to be put in a secure section, isolation and even be restrained and medicated.

Dr. Sylvia Martinez found him one morning in August of 1974 sitting quietly in his room. He was gazing up at the high, barred window where motes of dust were dancing in the streaming sunshine, a small smile on his face.

“I’m sorry I’ve been such an asshole,” he said. “I think I’m done now. I think it’s too late.”

It took two more years before the psychologists and psychiatrists agreed that he was in fact done, that his maniac obsession had ended and that it would be safe to release him. There were still medications prescribed to deal with the apparent depression that had developed, but it was believed that it was manageable.

And so it seemed. Daniel returned to school and earned his GED, then enrolled in San Antonio College. Eventually he earned an Associate’s Degree in English, then took a job in one of the libraries at The University of Texas at Austin. He did well there, a steady employee, living a quiet life.



Thirty-Three (James: April 27, 2013)

“Is this right, Daddy?”

James turned to take the colorful lure from his daughter’s fingers.

“Wow, Grace. That is so realistic! And I love the wings!”

The fly Grace had tied looked exactly like it’s natural counterpart, right down to the gossamer, iridescent wings folded against its body.

“I used some mylar from a balloon for the wings,” she said.

“Impressive, Green One,” James proclaimed. Grace giggled as her father handed the lure back to her.

She took the lure and began to attach it to the leader of her fly line. The two of them stood thigh- and knee-deep, respectively, near the middle of a swiftly flowing Colorado stream, the icy water surging around their waders.

James watched with a lump in his throat and moist eyes as Grace finished the task, then adroitly whipped the fly rod to and fro, expertly dropping the fly exactly where two flows of current merged thirty yards upstream from them. Almost immediately the lure was hit. Grace played the fish gingerly before setting the hook, then steadily worked it back towards them where she slipped a net beneath the struggling trout.

She held it up against the marks etched into the side of her rod.

“Thirteen inches!” she declared. “Let’s see you beat that!”

“You’re on!” James replied.



Thirty-Four (Vincent: May 15, 2013)

“Shuck and jive, shuck and jive, pushing tin to stay alive,” Vincent chanted softly to himself, bouncing happily on his feet, jingling the keys and change in his pockets, smiling at the array of vehicles in the lot of his business, ‘Vince’s Vintage ‘Vettes’.

A flash of orange on the service road of the Canyon Freeway in front of the car lot caught his attention and his grin widened. It was Bob Bingham’s ’74 Duster. Bob whipped the car into the lot and zoomed up to stop in front of the showroom as Vincent moved out to meet him there.

Bob had the windows down, grooving on the fine spring afternoon and what he termed the National Anthem of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Zeppelin’s 'Stairway To Heaven'. Vincent had to agree.

“Lunch?” Bob shouted.

“You buying?” Vincent challenged.

“Life is good,” Bob stated. “Just found a home for a six-thousand dollar Green Lantern collection! Yeah, I’m buying!”

Vincent jumped in and they burned rubber.



Thirty-Five (Daniel: May 27, 2013)

“Daniel?”

He glanced up from the bib record he was editing, a habitual expression of expectant helpfulness on his face. The woman standing at the entrance of his cubicle appeared to be about fifty, with silvery auburn shoulder length hair. She was wearing rust-colored jeans and a blouse with a paisley pattern in a riot of hues. She had a brown fabric purse slung from one shoulder and a grey windbreaker folded over that arm. In the other hand she gripped the handle of a briar cane, upon which she was leaning slightly. She held a cardboard shoebox under one arm.

Daniel met her gaze and felt his heart jolt and breath catch.

“Diane,” he whispered. A rush of joy swept through him, something he had only felt once before, in a dream, in another life. He collapsed back in his chair, eyes brimming.

Diane looked at him in surprise.

“You recognize me?”

Daniel nodded as he drew his sleeve across his eyes, then braced shaking arms against the edge of his desk.

“Wow” he gasped. “I never expected this.!”

“Are you ok?” She looked skeptical;

“Oh, yeah. Just kind of shaken. Hey, I’m sorry!” he said, bustling to clear a stack of books from the other chair in the cubicle. “Please, come on in, have a seat. Wow! It’s so amazing to see you!”

Daniel shoved two more stacks of books aside on his desk, knocking over a small bi-fold picture frame. He picked it up and looked at it smiling, then handed it to Diane.

“Hey, it’s my horse!” she exclaimed, looking at the photograph in the right hand frame.

'Old Blue', Daniel said. “I found a website that showed all the horses. He’s beautiful.”

'Old Blue' was one of over fifty life-sized fiberglass horses that had been painted by area artists and put on display around Amarillo. They were part of a project of Center City of Amarillo, sponsored by The American Quarter Horse Association, as a celebration of the history and impact of quarter horses in Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle, entitled “Hoof Prints of the American Quarter Horse – America’s Horse.” Artists had been given ‘free rein’ to express the spirit of the event in whatever way they saw fit, and had painted and decorated the horses in styles ranging from realistic to fantastic, practical to patriotic, and serious to silly. As far as Daniel was concerned, there were very few other horses that came anywhere near capturing the heart of the celebration as well as Diane’s did. 'Old Blue' was by far and away the most beautiful expression of them all.

Diane glanced at the photo in the adjoining frame, then looked again more closely.

“And this is me!”

“It’s a copy of the picture your mom sent me when I was seven.”

Diane looked at it again, shaking her head. She handed the picture back to Daniel and lifted her purse onto her lap, reached into it and pulled out a very old, yellowed and scuffed envelope. Daniel met Diane’s gaze again.

“My letter,” he said.

“It was in her papers,” Diane said. “I found all of them when I was settling her estate eleven years ago.” She touched the shoebox.

Daniel was silent for a few moments. He had seen her mother’s obituary when he had done some Internet searching while looking for information about Diane several years ago.

“Found?” he asked.

She nodded. Daniel felt a stab of apprehension.

“She never told you about any of it? You never got any of the letters?”

Diane shook her head slowly.

“Mother had a nervous breakdown in the spring of ’64. She was in and out of the hospital eight times during the next several years and wound up undergoing shock therapy. By the time it was all over, and she came back home, she didn’t even know who any of her kids were.”

Looking into her eyes he saw the answer to the question he didn’t want to ask.

“The things I wrote in that letter,” he began.

“Happened almost exactly the way you said,” she finished.

Daniel rocked forward in his chair, burying his face in his hands, sobs racking his body. For a moment Diane was at a loss as to what to do. Then she scooted her chair closer to Daniel’s, laid an arm across his shoulders, and held him.



















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© David K. Aycock 2013