Saturday, May 30, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Mamadou would take one of the limos. He glanced once again at the scrap of paper found in the Zulu’s home. Clare Drake, Jennifer Jamieson, aboard the Isadora. The ship’s arrival date in
With the limo, he’d be able to get close to the ship. No one would question his presence there, just another chauffeur holding up a sign bearing the names of his clients.
Perched on a stool at the bar in
She looked at the digital clock over the bar. Time to go. She gathered her carry-on bag and purse, double-checked to make sure the ticket was in the back pocket of her jeans. At the security check-in she placed the bag and purse on the conveyor belt and held her breath. She’d made sure to empty both the bag and purse of anything metallic. She stepped up to the metal detector. A bored security agent waved her through.
In the plane she placed the carry-on beneath her seat as the card instructed, fastened her seat belt and closed here eyes. She hated flying. When the plane took off she held on to the armrests, promised God that if she got through this, she’d never do anything bad again.
The flight went quickly. She ordered coffee twice, ate the dry-roasted peanuts, read the airline magazine. She wanted to check the carry-on, make sure all the money was still there, resisted the illogical impulse. Of course it was still there. And what if someone saw her? All those bills, fifties, twenties and tens. Three thousand four hundred and eighty two dollars. Less twenty-two for the limo ride.
When the plane began its descent into
She passed through the airport like any one of the thousands of tourists that came and left daily, a nondescript young woman in blue jeans and a
Monday, May 25, 2009
My friend B died a few days ago; the cancer in her throat spread and took her almost two years to the day after she was initially diagnosed. I had known her for a decade-and-a-half, saw her almost every Sunday at an AA step meeting, and through the more than 600 encounters there, learned about her life, her struggles, losses and victories.
Beth was a good, average woman. She'd been wedded briefly with no children, and her husband was not the man she had thought she would marry. She had hoped against hope that the one she wanted--her high school sweetheart--would return to her but he never did. She was an administrative assistant in a big firm, a job she found suitably interesting. She had sick days, took vacation, traveled out of state to see family. Most of her life, B lived with other people--housemates, her sponsor for awhile, friends. A few months before the cancer was detected, she moved into a one bedroom by herself and often spoke about what a change this was, living alone. She wasn’t used to it and sometimes the noises that came with the night frightened her and she couldn’t sleep, so she read, paced, journaled.
BC (Before Cancer) and AD (After Diagnosis) showed marked differences, but not in the way one would expect. BC, she was another face in the crowd, attractive, with snow white hair that appeared in her thirties. AD, my friend found a source of inner strength that both flustered and amazed me. She spoke of her illness calmly, as if it were a distant and fractious cousin who had come to visit and stayed. She went through chemotherapy and radiation and for a brief time the doctors thought she might be saved. The cancer in her throat seemed to go away, but months later it reappeared, bigger and more virulent.
Acceptance was far from immediate, yet she seemed to work through Kublër-Ross’ grief cycle quickly. Her shock, denial, anger and bargaining vanished in a matter of weeks. For a while she was deeply depressed, and we had a couple of conversations where, for once, I had no advice to give. The testing stage, the seeking of realistic solutions to her problem, saw her go through all the usual peregrinations of the terminally ill. She read voraciously, toyed with the idea of trying alternative therapies, joined support groups, changed her diet, and then, when she faced the inevitable, a remarkable change came over her. She became calm, spoke with radiant authority; she glowed.
Another friend, an older man I have known for about five years, is now in the same situation. D is short, round, and I have never once seen him not wrapped in a red golf sweater. His pancreatic cancer, initially thought by his physicians to be operable, is not. D always spoke of the Big Guy, his higher power whom he trusts implicitly. The Big Guy saw him through the death of a daughter and more recently, of his wife, and now D gazes upon his own future with a degree of calm curiosity. He credits his quiet acceptance to 24 years in the program.
There are no great conclusions to be found here. People live and they die, and whatever your beliefs on the afterlife or lack thereof, the good folks leave something behind. My friends have, and I’m a better person for having known them.
Here is installment 89 of Wasted Miracles.
Comfort spent two days in the efficiency apartment taking stock of his situation. The Zulu was dead, as where the two hired thugs. Obviously, the girl had not perished in the blaze. Comfort had watched the early and late news each night on his black and white set, he had purchased the Washington Post and Washington Times. Nowhere was there a report of a female body found in the burnt out house. He wondered if that had been the intent of the raid: to rescue the girl. He wondered to whom the blonde addict could have been so important. Addicts seldom were.
Obviously the man he had fought with in the yard had been a policeman. And the policeman had died. Comfort felt no responsibility for this particular death; the man had a gun, they’d struggled, shots had been fired but he, Comfort, had not pulled the trigger. His recollection of the fight was hazy, dreamlike. It had been over so quickly, not even a blink-of-the-eye moment. Death, he knew, came to many just that way.
It worried him that it had been a policeman because he knew the death would lead to a much greater investigation than would the death of almost anyone else. Policemen were the same all over the world--the murder of one brought out the fury of their brotherhood. But it had been dark, there’d been no witnesses—none, at least, who would cooperate with the authorities. And if one did, what of it? What had made Comfort the excellent acolyte was his total anonymity. He was a faceless black man in a city of faceless black men.
Still, during the two days, he’d come to one basic conclusion. It was time to leave, to go home to
There was really nothing in the apartment worth keeping save the gray pinstripe suit the Zulu had bought him in a rare fit of generosity. He’d never worn the suit, it hung in his closet in the original Hecht Company garment bag. There was also a pair of soft black leather shoes Comfort had purchased for himself for no other reason than he’d never had such shoes. A few shirts, socks, some underwear, that was it. He made a small pile of the clothes he would wear during the trip and packed the rest in a Wal-Mart suitcase. Traveling overseas without luggage might arouse suspicions.
He spent the next day going to the twelve separate banks where he had accounts and withdrew one quarters of what he had in each. He asked that two-thirds of what remained be wired to the Banque Nationale de Lausanne in
It pained him to leave the rest of the money behind but that had always been his intention. Closing out all the accounts might also arouse suspicions.
When he added up all the money, he found he’d underestimated the sum by $182. He’d forgotten to tabulate the interest earned in a month. That seemed like a good omen.
In her bright blue turban that matched the bedspread, her hands folded above the covers and a half-glass of dark red wine on the night table next to her, Aunt Mim looked a like a dark primitive painting.
She said, “A lot of people in the neighborhood are calling me that dwa-yen word. I just don’ know how that got around.” She shot the elderly George a suspicious look which George ignored. Mamadou noticed that today Aunt Mim’s paramour was reading a hardback version of Grey’s Anatomy. He pored over the words with an old-fashioned magnifying glass.
“Man refuses to wear glasses,” Aunt Mim chided. “Whatcha gonna do? I tell him, ‘Pride goeth before the fall,’ but he don’t listen to me. Never did.”
George looked up briefly, said, “Glasses, huh?” and returned to his reading.
Aunt Mim reached over, found her wineglass, took a dainty sip before returning her attention to Mamadou. “So you got that white child out? “
Mamadou poured himself a little wine, drank two swallows. “Yes. She’ll be all right--as all right as any addict can be, in any case.”
“Lotsa death, though,” Aunt Mim sipped again.
“The Zulu. Two of his men.”
“And the white policeman.”
Mamadou nodded. “And the white policeman.” There was a note of resignation in his voice.
“Bad business,” Aunt Mim intoned.
“Lucky for you, nobody saw anythin’.”
Mamadou looked up. Aunt Mim met his eyes. “Don’t worry yourself. That nice neighbor lady, she’s a friend of mine, her name’s Mrs. Thornton. Bethany Thornton. Got seventeen real nice grand-children. Imagine that, seventeen.” She paused sipped, continued. “She told me, soon as things started happenin’, she went down to her kitchen--it’s in the back of the house, on the other side--and started makin’ pancakes and bacon and eggs. All that fryin’ sound, she didn’t hear nothin’. Fire worried her, though. She was afraid her own house might burn down.”
George looked up. “She didn’t have a thing to worry about. Her house is on the east. The wind was from the northwest. She wasn’t in any danger at all.”
Aunt Mim shook her head, annoyed. “Hush up, George. Wasn’t talking to you. Why you always gotta know everythin’, anyway?”
“That’s what the weather channels said. Both of them,” George persisted.
Aunt Mim ignored him.
“One man got away,” Mamadou said. “The man who shot the white policeman.”
“That so? Does it matter?”
Mamadou took a second to think. “No. I guess it doesn’t. The Zulu’s gone. He was the one. The last one. Amelie--”
“Your sister, she can rest in peace now.”
George looked up, nodded, resumed his reading. Aunt Mim lit a Vantage cigarette, made a face. The smoke hung in the room like hazy curtains. “These things got no taste at all. None.”
George shook his head. “Doctor said for you to stop altogether. Said your lungs probably look like smoked hams.”
Aunt Mim snorted. “Doctor? I put that boy through school, look what he does to me? I don’t have that many pleasures left in life.” She stubbed the cigarette out in a crowded ashtray. “Anyhow. That’s it. It’s over, ain’t it?”
Mamadou drank the rest of his glass in one swallow. “Just about, Aunt Mim. Just about.”
Monday, May 18, 2009
The grocery cart had a gimpy wheel and kept pulling to the left. Every few steps, Colin picked up its back end and straightened it out. They were in the houseware aisle and Catherine was selecting cleaning products. She dropped a large orange box of Tide in the basket, said, “Well, I did it.”
“Went to see a lawyer two days ago, he drafted the papers. Lars wasn’t even surprised. Said he was expecting it. Got down to business right away--what did I want, how much for how long, that sort of thing.”
“That was quick.”
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. The thing with Josie, well, that was the deciding factor. The fact that Lars really didn’t care. I used to think maybe it was because he didn’t like to show emotions, kept things in, but the truth of the matter is, he didn’t--doesn’t--give a damn.”
Colin lifted the cart’s back end, set it straight. “So what now?”
“He keeps the house, which is just as well. It’s a mausoleum. He said he wants to entertain more anyway,” she raised her eyebrows, “which struck me as kind of strange for Lars, who’s not a big people person, but that’s not my problem. I’m sure he won’t have any difficulties finding hostesses.” There was only a trace of bitterness in her voice.
She selected Windex, Comet and Dove soap, flirted with a box of Brillo, returned it to its shelf. “We haven’t worked out the financial details, but I’m sure it’ll be satisfactory. I gave him a ballpark figure and he didn’t even blink. He didn’t mention Josie until I did, and his concern was future college tuition, so that’ll be taken care of too.”
Colin said, “Shared custody?”
Catherine shook her head. “Nope, All mine.”
She scooped up a carton of Light Days, said, “You know what else I did? Went to Supercrown, the bookstore in
“I didn’t know you liked books.”
She gave him a sidelong glance. “Lots of stuff you don’t know.”
They went to the fish section and Catherine picked up a salmon steak. “Here. Buy this. They’re easy to cook--I’ll show you how--and good for you.”
He accepted the fish. “Have you told her yet?”
“No. I’m not sure whether I want to wait or not. Maybe I should find a place for us first. There are a couple of buildings I like--I want to rent an apartment, a house would be too much--and I have to price them. It’s kind of exciting, actually. Two women on our own. What do you think, about telling her?”
“I don’t think it’ll surprise her much either.”
As they filled the cart, the wheel began to squeal. Catherine said, “This is silly.” She went to the checkout, selected another cart, transferred the groceries. “Yeah, that’s true. We didn’t hide much from her, me and Lars. Never tried to. She’s a smart kid in spite of everything. She’s known things haven’t been going right for years.” She stopped, moved in front of the cart, blocking its way. “Here’s a question, Colin, an important one. Your answer won’t make much of a difference, I’m going to get the divorce regardless, but I’m curious. I’m going to have a lot of free time. Am I going to see you more?”
It took him by surprise, the shift. He paused before answering and saw in her eyes that it would make a difference. He said, “Yes, yeah. You will.”
She smiled and took his arm. “I wasn’t sure. We’re still going to have to work a bunch of things out. But I’m glad. It’s a good thing.”
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
As on every other ship belonging to a major cruise line, women passengers--mostly single, widowed or divorced--outnumbered the males by an uncomfortable margin. To correct this disparity, the ship employed a dozen or so males--the Gray Panthers--ranging in age from their late 50s to early 70s. These men--always presentable, good manners, above average conversationalists capable of playing a decent hand of bridge and dancing the fox-trot, tango and rumba--traveled free of charge. They neither smoked nor drank overly much and were expected to devote their time to entertaining--quite properly, for the most part--clients of the opposite sex. If a shipboard romance thrived, so be it. It was not the Captain’s duty to enforce morals among his passengers. It was, however, his responsibility to see that the Gray Panthers behaved in a fashion befitting his ship’s good name. Dealing cocaine, even in minute amounts, was an unforgivable offense.
“Castro saw Robinson do this?”
The mistress shook her head. “Not exactly. First he saw a passenger giving Professor Robinson some bills. He thought this was odd and a couple of days later witnessed the same thing again, this time with another passenger. And yesterday evening, three men asked him whether Robinson was around. The Professor apparently spends a lot of time in Castro’s bar. Later that night, one of the men had too much to drink and spilled a drink on himself. He emptied his pockets, dumped everything on the bar and Castro thought he saw a small plastic bag with some white powder in it. Obviously, it could have been anything but he said the man snatched it back and walked away--or staggered--very quickly.”
The Captain carefully replaced the cap on his
His mistress nodded.
The Captain sighed. According to Interpol, virtually every cruise ship asail carried between 20 and 200 pounds of illegal drugs at any given moment. Even senior citizens were not above making a few thousand dollars by shepherding caches of drugs--usually not more than a pound or two--from one port to another. The smugglers were often women in their 60s who had been on cruises at least once before. They were rarely caught.
The Captain sighed again, rubbed his forehead. “Have Professor Robinson’s cabin searched. If you find anything, have one of the men bring him to me.”
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Captain Roderick Stuart’s mistress said, “I think we may be having a minor problem with one of the Gray Panthers?”
Captain Roderick Stuart’s mistress said, “I think we may be having a minor problem with one of the Gray Panthers?”
The captain’s eyebrows rose slightly. He was entering the events of the past 24 hours in the day’s log. He did this by hand at the same time every evening, shunning the computer recently installed in his cabin. At the end of this trip, he would personally deliver the log to the company archives and accompany the records officer to make sure the volume was placed where it should be, on the shelf bearing his own name engraved on a small brass plaque.
“Or maybe not so minor,” his mistress continued. “It depends.”
“On?” The captain did not turn around, continued writing in the even hand he had learned in public school and developed over years at sea.
“On whether this particular gentleman is actually doing what one of the bartender suspects, which is selling small quantities of what seems to be cocaine to some of the younger passengers.”
The Captain paused, thought for a moment. He knew the name of each member of his crew as well as the number of years spent in the service of the Royal Scottish Line. Finally, he nodded.
“Castro. Won an award two years ago, saved the life of a passenger, applied CPR.”
“That’s the one.”
“Good man. And the Panther?”
“Earl Thorogood Robinson. Seventy-one. First trip.”
The Captain once again thought for a moment. “American, from
“Former professor, Renaissance Literature. Very popular with the ladies; his dancecard his full every evening.”