1995 Janice Engelhart pulled up into the driveway of her little two-bedroom rambler on the outskirts of Hillsboro, Oregon. It was a nice, quiet neighborhood, and she was far enough out that most of the homeowners had at least a half-acre of property. She never could have handled living in one of those housing areas where you could spit from one house to the next, let alone live in an apartment. Best of all, it was hers.
At least it said that on a line somewhere on the title. In reality it belonged to some bank that had obtained the mortgage from another bank, which had obtained the mortgage from the bank that Janice had originally obtained the loan from. It never ceased to amaze her how corporate America consumed itself, somehow spitting out a new profit from a merger that in reality had done nothing productive except creating new profits for it's stockholders, and bonuses for it's top executives. The only things left in the wake were a few forms with obsolete letterheads and a couple of hundred jobs lost.
She had been one of the laid off, but hadn't been bitter about it. She did what most people did in that situation. She had gone out and found another job, and like many times happens when you're forced to leave you're own comfortable little parking spot on the road of life, you find a better one. She realized it would only be a matter of time before it happened again, just like with her mortgage. But for now, life was good, at least as good as it had ever been.
She turned the key of her brown Nissan Sentra to accessory, shutting down the little economical four-cylinder engine, but leaving the stereo blasting away with a tune by Melissa Etheridge. It was a hard driving rock song entitled 'All American Girl', which Janice had adopted as a sort of personal anthem upon first hearing it. The CD 'Yes I Am’, which contained that song, was already loaded in her home stereo, and would probably be the first thing she played once she went in. But having it come on the FM station on her way home from work, after smoking a bowl of green bud, was just too good to be true.
The combination of the two had brought her spirits up, after the boredom of working the graveyard shift at the new Boeing Portland plant and driving home in the rain. The digital clock showed 10:02AM, which she knew was an hour and five minutes fast. The hour being fast was due to her not bothering to change it when daylight savings time had ended. The five minutes fast part had saved her from being a few minutes late for work on numerous occasions, and she surely wasn't going to change that. The only thing that could get you fired from Boeing was hitting a supervisor, or being late.
It really pissed her off that a corporation their size could waste a thousand man-hours and millions of dollars every month over boneheaded, schedule driven, management screwups. Yet if a worker was two minutes late in a snowstorm, or because a school bus was jackknifed in the middle of the freeway, it was an infraction. Two or more infractions resulted in a letter, and two letters resulted in being terminated. Just the word termination should have given her a clue to their mentality, but what the hell, the bucks were good, and she knew better than most that nothing ever lasted forever.
As the music faded and the announcer's voice broke in, she switched the key to the off position. The peacefulness of the countryside forced her to change mental gears. It was time to relax, forget about the 'corporate pigs', and enjoy the rest of her buzz. Janice took a deep breath, exhaling it out through her nose as her yoga instructor had taught her. She was suddenly aware of the steady thump of her German shepherd's tail against the thin sides of her car door, and she rolled down her window to pet him.
"Hi ya, Granite. How's my big ol' stud of a watch dog doin' today?" She continued to pat his side as the lean young dog rubbed so hard against the door his hair wedged up behind the vinyl molding, adding to the collection already there from the previous few days. He turned and jumped up with his front paws landing on her shoulder, and reached in to lick her face and ear. He backed down again as she gently opened the door and got out, heading for the mailbox at the end of the short gravel driveway. It was then that it hit her.
"Eddie . . ." she cursed, as she fell to her knees and clutched her stomach. She began to dry heave uncontrollably as her dog ran around her in circles, occasionally barking and nudging her with his cold wet nose. After a few convulsions, the urge to vomit began to subside, but the migraine headache that always followed seemed to be threatening to kick through her skull from the inside out. Beads of sweat had formed across her forehead and in the pockets around her eyes, yet she felt so cold that she thought she would never approach the normal of ninety-eight point six Fahrenheit again in this lifetime. It had been by far the worst attack she had ever went through, and there had been several over the last few years.
"Fuck you, Eddie," she spat out, as she reached out with one hand to push herself up onto one knee.
"Fuck you and the nightmare you rode in on," she repeated, looking at one of her palms that had begun to bleed from the sudden impact with the ground. There was still some embedded gravel sticking out of her purpling skin.
Granite began whining as he forced himself up under her other arm. She gave him a hug, and then stood up, slowly turning back towards the house. She forgot about checking the mail, little things like paying bills were hardly of much importance to her right now. She looked up into the windblown gray stratus that continued to drizzle down on her face, as if searching for something or someone.
"Triple E, you skinny little mother fucking bastard asshole prick," she yelled out, never once wondering what the neighbors might think. "Enough is a fucking enough! I can't take any more of this shit."
Janice began walking to the front of her house, sorting through her key ring as she went, her stride getting longer with each step. Granite was at a full trot by the time she reached the door. She shoved the proper key into the lock, turning the dead bolt with one hand and the doorknob with the other, almost stumbling into the front room from her forward momentum. She went into the kitchen and opened the old Kelvinator refrigerator, grabbed an opened half a bottle of Libefraumilch from the top rack, and setting it on the counter. She wished that she had something stronger, but she had polished off the last of the Jose' Cuervo Gold tequila yesterday morning.
She was a living example that alcoholism was very definitely a case of predisposition, living in some gene that hid in your chromosomes like a snake in the grass until you had your first drink, then exploded into your blood and demanded a new way of life. It could be fought, or sometimes kept under some kind of control that allowed a normal sense of being to those looking in from the outside. But in the end it was an all-powerful master, demanding its payment in full, when you least needed to be under the influence. She could drink most of her friends under the table, male and female, and had done so on various occasions.
She poured the wine into a sixteen-ounce Batman collector's glass, something she had picked up at a fast food restaurant, emptying the bottle. She walked into the front room and plopped down on the couch, with Granite in tow. She patted his head and drank half of the glass in one swallow, while closing her eyes and leaning her head back on the top of the sofa.
She wondered what gene had gone rampant in Eddie's blood, assuming a long time ago that he was suffering from some sort of chromosome damage. God, she hated that little puke, and she had her reasons to, that was a given. But things were getting out of control, and if there was one thing that a practicing alcoholic demanded, it was control.
Many sober people would question that statement, seeing most alcoholics’ behavior as being 'out of control'. But control was the name of the game. Some alcoholics, needed to control those around them, whether it be their loved ones or their co-workers. Others needed to control the emotions they didn't want to face, or didn't have the internal fortitude to face. An alcoholic needed to control the hurt, the pain, and the guilt to make it through another day without going crazy. That was what an alcoholic went through every day, and having Eddie for a brother only made it worse. Some would say that having Eddie for a brother was all the reason a person would need to drive them to drink. Janice agreed with those people, and finished off the rest of the wine in her glass.
If people only knew what she had been through. But she couldn't tell them, could she? No, they wouldn't understand, let alone believe her. It was a fitting way to spend the rest of her life, she reminisced, sort of a punishment for letting Dad go through it on his own back when they were younger. Poor Dad. He would always be the Lone Ranger to her, only he had given away so many of his silver bullets that he didn't have any left to fight back with himself. And all of his Tontos had split the scene, never to return.
She got back up from the couch and walked into the small dining room, where she knew she always had a few bottles of white wine stashed away in a cabinet. Technically, they were to go with dinner if the occasion arose, but deep inside she knew they were just her last defense against reality, in case she ever ran out of pot and tequila. She found another bottle of Libfraumilch, same winery and year, and pulled it out, softly laughing. It was never good to mix and match your booze, she reminded herself.
She couldn't find her corkscrew, so she unraveled the plastic wrapper and picked off the lead seal over the top of the bottle. Then she took the handle end of a butter knife and pushed the cork down as far as the neck would allow. She pushed the cork down the rest of the way with her finger, until it popped into the wine, shooting a spray of the fermented grape juice up her arm. She then took a long pull, watching the cork float up to the bottom of the brown upturned bottle, and decided that it tasted just fine at room temperature. She refilled her Batman glass and plopped back down on the couch.
The attack she had just went through out in the driveway was a byproduct of whatever it was that Eddie was doing with his gift. She would have liked to call it the curse. Being a women, she knew that term had already been assigned to something else almost as annoying, and certainly more predictable. She had known about the gift for quite some time now, even before finding out that she had it too. She wasn't sure if hers was exactly like Eddie's, but she had a pretty good idea that the magnitude of her attacks was probably directly proportional to Eddie's use of the gift. And if that were to be true, Eddie was using it a lot more, and getting a lot more powerful at it.
It shouldn't have come as any big surprise to her, so much had happened that just wasn't explainable over the years. But she had blocked most of that out, as was quite common to do under the circumstances, according to her shrink. She had gone through some therapy a few years ago when she kept having these awful reoccurring nightmares, followed by periods of insomnia and deep depression. All of her self-medicating hadn't done the trick, and one of the girls at work had recommended a professional to her. In an act of desperation she had finally given him a call.
The first appointment had gone well enough, and he seemed easy to talk to. On the second one, after requiring her to have a complete physical, he prescribed some pills that helped her sleep, although she refused the prescription for Prozac. She worked with enough people on those to make her a firm believer in their ability to wig a person out into next year. She'd stick to mushrooms for that if she were in the mood, thank you very much.
She went once a week for a couple of months, and had actually gotten a lot of shit off of her shoulders and into the open. There had been her long running relationship with Randy; her Dad had called Long Hair, and their days in the commune. It had been fun at first, but the drugs got old and the mental abuse was becoming too much to handle. When Randy had given her the clap for the second time in six months, she finally had run away.
There had been another relationship after that, and he had been a nice enough guy in the beginning, giving her a place to stay and helping her get a job at the bank were he worked. But in the end he had become too demanding, and she wasn't willing to get married, so they had split up. It had been uncomfortable at work, but a layoff notice soon took care of that problem. She had been on her own ever since, getting a new job, eventually her own home, and Granite for what little companionship she needed.
It didn't take her doctor long to realize that there was something in her past that was really at the heart of her problems, but continued probing always dead-ended at about age sixteen. Anything before that time and she only remembered bits and pieces. Mostly holidays and birthdays, a few things at school, but all very vague and non-threatening. Finally, he had suggested trying hypnosis. Janice had joked that 'she wasn't crazy about the idea', but she agreed to try it anyway.
The doctor had scheduled it for the following week, bringing in a fellow psychiatrist who specialized in the field, and had promised to tape record the entire session for her to listen to afterward. 'If anything even happens', she had chided him, believing like most that she couldn't be hypnotized. When it was over, she wished she had never let them open Pandora's box, and the doctor wished he had left well enough alone himself.
Joe watched out the window of his Chevy Impala as Edward Engelhart and some fine looking babe got out of the cab. He noticed that the driver, obviously of Middle Eastern descent by the looks of his beard and turban, seemed to be yelling something at him. Mr. E had probably ignored to pay the customary tip he thought, watching him give the driver the international one finger salute, which was instantly returned.
The driver spun out of the wet parking lot, spraying both of them and their bags with gravel and mud as he headed back out to the main road. Joe watched as Mr. E stared after him for the longest time, too long of a time it seemed, for someone who was supposedly on a tight time schedule and standing in the rain. His leggy lady friend was saying something to him, but he was obviously ignoring her at first. Then he turned around to her, with a smile on his face that Joe would never forget, and opened an umbrella to cover them both. Joe honked his horn twice to get their attention, and they picked up their luggage and began walking towards his car.
It was then that Joe noticed that off in the distance, the taxi had failed to negotiate the first turn in the road. It almost seemed like the left front end of the refurbished Plymouth Fury III had buckled under as it started into the turn, which threw the ex-police car out of control and into the deep drainage ditch, sending a wall of water six feet into the air. By the time he saw the taxi driver roll down his window and start to climb out of the cab, now tipped at a forty-five degree angle that exposed most of the undercarriage, his clients had almost walked up to the passenger side of his Impala.
Mostly out of professional habit, but never being one to pass up a view of good looking female, he quickly inspected Mr. E's lady friend. She was smartly dressed in a tan trench coat that reached down to her knees, but with the waist belt pulled tight, it did little to hide her seemingly perfect body proportions. He hoped her personality was as sweet as her physical attributes, otherwise it was going to be a long flight, even though probably less than an hour long. His tolerance for Mr. E's arrogance was marginal at best, and up until now he had only had to deal with him in small conversations, usually over the phone.
It made Joe sick to think of them as an item, and he really hoped they weren't. That would put a nasty dent in his perception of Mr. Engelhart as the pervert type, and he prided himself in making accurate first impressions. For some reason, he had always imagined Mr. E as the kind of puke you might find hanging around an elementary school with a bag of candy or a box of puppies. He chased the thought from his head, and reminded himself that this was strictly business, and he was going to make quite a little bonus today. Enough to go ahead and order those custom graphite shaft Ping irons he had been drooling over down at the pro shop. With those babies, he would hopefully shave a few strokes off his game, and make even more money on side bets during his weekend rounds at the country club.
"Hop in," Joe said after rolling down the electric window, "I'll drive us over to the plane."
"Good man," Eddie replied, as he opened the back door for Sara, and slid in next to her after folding up the umbrella and throwing their bags up front.
"She's a good one," Joe continued, "I've flown her before. Tanks are topped off and the flight plan's filed."
"Very good," stated Eddie, "Sara, this is Joe Mangione. Joe, Sara Brooks, secretary extraordinaire."
"Nice to meet you ma'am," he said over his shoulder as he drove his car out onto the tarmac and down between two rows of various types of small planes.
"I noticed that your cabby took a little spill into the ditch after he left," Joe added, looking into the rear view mirror for Mr. E's response.
"Serves him right, the ungrateful little camel jockey," replied Eddie, shooting a look back that said 'drop it, shithead'.
"Maybe we should go back," said Sara, "what if he's hurt?"
"I saw him climb out of his car, he looked alright ma'am, just a little miffed."
"Call me Sara, please. Eddie, you should have tipped the driver." She reprimanded.
Joe was beginning to like Sara. Anyone that stood up to Mr. E was all right in his book.
"For what he charged, we could have taken a limo," said Eddie, but he changed his tact and poured on some syrup.
"Perhaps you're right. We all gotta make a living."
Joe thought he could almost hear a direct command from Mr. E to change the subject in his head, and he did so.
"You like flying, Sara?"
"Never been in anything smaller than a 737," she said, looking out the window into the gray skies and drizzle. It was impossible to see the actual bottom of the clouds in the mist, but she could sense that they were low.
"You can fly a little plane in this mess?" she asked, "I mean, is it safe?"
She also noticed that nothing else seemed to be taking off at the moment.
"I'll have to admit, it's not the nicest of days to be out and about, but we'll be spending most of our time above it. I've flown in a lot worse. And it's a hell of a lot safer than hydroplaning down I-5, that's for sure, pardon my language ma'am, I mean Sara."
Eddie gave Sara a quick pat on the top of her gloved hand, meant as a reassuring gesture, but sending a chill down her spine just the same. She hated it when Eddie touched her.
"Joe was a pilot in Viet Nam. Two tours wasn't it Joe?" "That's right, Mr. Engelhart." He didn't really like to talk about it. Especially not with some snot nosed punk that hired other people to do his dirty work for him.
"I'm sure Joe's more than qualified for a little jaunt over to Long Beach and back," Eddie said, giving Sara a smile she rightly took as condescending.
"I wasn't questioning Joe's ability as a pilot, Eddie."
Joe could see the look she gave Eddie in the rearview mirror, and decided he liked Sara even more. It was becoming obvious to him that her general feelings towards Mr. E weren't much different than his own, and he doubted that she got paid half as much to put up with his shit.
"It's alright Sara," Joe said. "No offense taken here. Most people are apprehensive their first time up in a small job, even with clear blue skies. And I'll be the first to admit, the inflight service won't be much to write home about. But with any luck, you'll be one of the few people in the State of Washington to see the sun today."
Joe pulled to a stop in front of a white Cessna Skylane RG with red trim running down the fuselage. He had chosen this particular plane for it's extra horsepower and retractable landing gear, which would translate into more speed. It was also equipped with a fine array of instruments that would be needed for navigating in this kind of weather.
"Here we are. I'll help you get loaded in, then I'll park the car and we'll be off. Would you like to sit up front, Sara? Even let you take the controls for a bit once we're on top."
Eddie had envisioned them sitting together nice and cozy in back, and was about to say something to insure his version of the seating arrangement, but Sara beat him to the punch.
"I'd love to, Joe. Thanks," she said, glad to avoid having to spend the flight in what would have obviously been tight quarters next to 'Fast Eddie'.
"But I think I'll leave the flying to the professionals, just the same," she added. "I don't know the first thing about airplanes."
"Not a problem, piece of cake really. Just like driving a car once you get the hang of it. But suit yourself. I'd like you to sit behind Sara, Mr. Engelhart, and strap the bags into the seat behind me. That way the weight should be about evenly distributed."
Eddie did as he was instructed, but inside he was ready to explode. Who in the hell did Mangione think he was, ordering him into the back of the bus like some kind of kid, while keeping Sara up front and all to himself? If he only knew who he was fucking with, he'd figure out a way to fly the goddamned plane from the back seat and keep his ugly pie hole out of my plans!
Eddie had been toying with the idea of terminating his arrangement with Joe Mangione for some time now, and this turn of events only made him all the more positive that the sooner he did so, the better. While Joe parked his car, Eddie started formulating the exact way he would go about it, as he watched him out of the side window. A wicked smile formed on his mouth, as his eyes narrowed into a spiteful glare. One he would have surely tried to hide had he seen that Sara had turned around to say something to him at that moment. But he was unaware of her watching him over the back of the co-pilot's seat, and she quickly turned back around to face the instrument panel, suddenly feeling sick with fear.
She had never seen that look on anyone's face before, not in real life anyway; maybe in some movie, like one of the Nightmare On Elm Street series. Maybe on Freddie Kruger's horribly wicked and scarred face, in the scene where he reached down with his bladed fingers to pick one of the screaming little children's heads out of that squirming pizza from hell. She shuddered from the thought. But she knew the look to be evil. It was so evil as to appear even… even murderous?
Joe soon returned to the aircraft, and climbed inside, soaking wet from his walk back from parking the car. The plane rocked a little on it's three legged landing struts as it took his weight, making Sara feel all the more uncomfortable about her present situation. She watched as Joe strapped himself in, put on his headset, and reached down to snug up her own seat belt. Eddie had been making small talk in the short period that Joe had been away, and it had taken all she had inside her to answer back without sounding totally shaken, or so she hoped anyway. If Eddie had noticed, he hadn't said anything, and had stopped talking once Joe had returned.
Joe flipped some switches and soon the propeller started to turn, the engine catching almost immediately, sending vibrations through the body of the plane and filling the air with more noise than Sara had expected. After talking with the tower, Joe turned on the windshield wipers and started taxing the plane towards the main runway, checking his instruments as he went. Sara reached down with both hands and gripped the seat belt holding her so tightly that she could hardly breath without some discomfort.
Joe looked down, noticed the whitening of her knuckles, and leaned over to talk in her ear.
"Relax Sara, enjoy the take off. It's the best part. Nothing beats the rush of getting airborne. Done it a thousand times and I still enjoy it as much as the first time I did it." He had mistaken the ashen look on her face to be one composed of only the fears of flying.
"Let's just get this show on the road, shall we, and skip the play by play? I'm not paying you to give a flight lesson," Eddie shouted from the back seat.
"You're the boss, Mr. Engelhart," said Joe, as he winked at a frowning Sara and turned onto the main runway. He stopped and asked clearance from the tower, and then pushed the throttle up to take off speed.
The aircraft really began to shake, then he let off the brake pedals and the Cessna surged forward, gaining speed at a rate that took Sara by surprise. Joe had intended on performing the gentlest takeoff he could, for Sara's benefit, but instead he pushed the plane to its limits and lifted off in near record distance, as his 'boss' had ordered. Asshole could take the flak for this one, thought Mangione, as the 'G' forces changed, pressing them into the back of their seats and letting everyone onboard know they were definitely airborne. He wasted no time in retracting the landing gear and gained altitude as fast he could without stalling out the aircraft.
"God, I think I'm gonna be sick," shouted Sara, turning towards Eddie. "Are you happy now, Eddie?"
Eddie ignored her, and looked out the window as the beads of windswept water rolled across the Plexiglas. I'm gonna fuck Mangione over so bad, he's gonna wish he'd have been shot down over Viet Nam, thought Eddie. I just might have to slap the bitch around a little bit too, when the time comes. But right now, I absolutely need to get in touch with my renegade brother, and find out just what the fuck he’s up to.
Suddenly the ground disappeared from view, and was replaced by the gray cotton-candy cloud cover as the Cessna continued to climb. Eddie closed his eyes, and gathered his mental powers, somewhat taxed as they were from early events. He had almost felt totally recharged until that fucking sand-nigger of a cab driver had pissed him off, and melting down his front axle that quickly had burnt up a lot of energy. Not to mention the added distraction of having to plan Mangione's fate sooner than he had intended. He mentally slapped his own hands for deviating from the plan, and felt the sting across his knuckles from it as soon as he did. When he looked down at his hands, a red welt was already beginning to form.
Damn, he thought to himself, I've got to be careful. I'm getting too good at this. Let's not hurt the one we love, okay He-Man?
Just as suddenly as they had lifted into the clouds, the Cessna broke into blinding sunlight, and the beads of water on the windows stopped adding to themselves.
"You were right," exclaimed Sara, looking out over the tops of the clouds.
"Yeah, third time this year already," returned Joe, turning off the windshield wipers and pulling out his sunglasses. He leveled the plane out somewhat and brought the throttle down to cruising speed as he banked towards the southwest. They could see the volcanic top of Mt. St. Helens and the majestic peak of Mt. Adams rising above the clouds.
"It's beautiful," said Sara, forgetting her fears in the awe of the moment. "You can see forever."
Yeah, just beautiful, thought Eddie, as he closed his eyes again. Let's just see if it helps my reception. Okay Jonathan, I got my feelers out, and I want to reach out and touch someone, namely you, asshole. Where are you? Come out, come out, where ever you are…
Jonathan figured he was maybe forty minutes way from the tavern that his father seemed so found of. He remembered Eddie telling him all of the details, but refusing to say where he had gotten the information. Jonathan had brought the subject of looking up the ol' man to Eddie a couple of times in passing, and the next thing he knew, Eddie had done the research. Just like Eddie to take care of the details, Jonathan had though at the time. He had taken Eddie's advice to leave well enough alone, which was easy enough for him to accept since he had so much guilt deep down inside him. Fucking Eddie.
He had been winding his way along the east side of Willipa Bay for some time now, in and out of the clear cuts that the Weyerhaeuser Company was so infamous for. It was depressing, and one of the things that Jonathan had hoped to change, if he ever got the chance.
Over the years, he had watched this state of majestic forests be systematically raped by the timber industry. They came in with their bulldozers and logging trucks to mow down the giant Western Red Cedars, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines. What they left behind was a wasteland of stumps, erosion, and sun baked streams that could no longer be used as spawning grounds for the numerous species of trout and salmon that used to be so abundant.
In decades past, they had come to realize that at their present rate of consumption, Mother Nature wouldn't be able to replenish herself. So they had developed a hybrid, disease resistant form of the fast growing Douglas Fir and began replanting the harvested areas with the seedlings. These quickly grew into ugly dark patches of regimented trees so closely planted together that the sun could no longer penetrate them enough to support any other form of wildlife. This made the rapid re-harvesting of these areas all the more cost effective, since there were no longer any birches, maples or alders to pick through.
Unfortunately, these spindly fast growing Weyerhaeuser Firs, a mere shadow of their old growth ancestors that grew to heights of over two hundred feet, weren't good for much more than two by fours, telephone poles, chipboard and beauty bark. There was still a high demand and premium price to be paid for the little remaining old growth trees, and Weyerhaeuser and friends would not be happy until they had they had dropped every last one of them. They used their political lobbying powers to befriend the Republican Party, who never had any problem with destroying or polluting the environment, as long as corporate America got their fair share. Whenever the political mood swing of the country went towards the right, and stayed there long enough for new laws to be passed, the timber industry would be allowed into even more of the unscathed National Forests.
Although Jonathan belonged to the Republican Party, something he was beginning to be more ashamed of than proud, part of his dream was to change this present course of environmental disaster. He had the idea to force the logging companies to replace what they took, roughly where they took it. Sort of a twist on the 'eye for an eye' theory, only it being a 'cedar for a cedar, spruce for a spruce, et cetera.' He was soon to realize that big business wasn't only more powerful than politics, it was politics in the Nineties. In all probability, we were doomed to destroy ourselves in the next few hundred years. At best, he could only hope to slow the growth of the cancer. Remission was too much to hope for, and a cure was but a dream for bright-eyed philosophers and Sierra Club members.
He wondered if his father felt somewhat like these forests. Raped, pillaged, burned, betrayed, and then formed into something that he was never intended to be. Forced to fit into a mold that was someone else's perception of reality, having little to do with the truth as God knew it. Or maybe he was more like the lone remaining Western Red Cedar perched high above a clear cut, two hundred feet tall and over two hundred years old. So far out of reach that he was no longer in anyone's interest to cut him down, where he would stand until old age and disease finally rotted him away from the inside out.
Jonathan pulled himself out of the daydream, realizing that he had been traveling for quite some time without paying much attention to the road. He saw that he was quickly coming up on a semi-truck, and had started to reach for the brake pedal when a voice broke into his ear.
"Jonathan, my little chicken shit, son of a whore brother. This is little Eddie Weyerhaeuser, broadcasting to you from somewhere high in the sky. Just calling to see if you caught the local news yet."
The voice sounded so real, Jonathan actually looked in the rear view mirror to see if perhaps Eddie had hitched a ride somehow without him realizing it. There was nothing there but the rear window, and the spray from the wet road rising up to meet the gray sky and the uniform rows of replanted firs.
"No Jonathan, I'm not in the back seat, I'm in the driver's seat, so to speak. I'm so far into your pea brain that the vacuum I'm finding here is making it hard for me to breathe." His voice was calm and clear, but somehow a little strained.
"You better pull over before you get us both killed bro'."
Jonathan refocused on the front windscreen just in time to hit the brakes and avoid running up the ass end of the semi-trailer in front of him. The tires lost traction and he was thrown into a 360-degree slide and across the highway, coming to a stop on the narrow gravel emergency lane.
He quickly looked in both directions for any more traffic, and then brought the Ford Taurus back onto the right side of the road and pulled off onto a wide turnout by a guardrail over looking a small cove. He placed the transmission in Park.
"Jesus H. Christ," he said out loud. The adrenaline of the near miss was still coursing through his body as he took his sweaty hands off of the steering wheel. He bean to shake and feel weak, not knowing whether the urge to urinate or regurgitate was the strongest, but realizing that both would require him to get out of the car. He opened the door and climbed out. He took a deep breath of the cool moist air, noticing the smell of the sea for the first time since leaving Olympia, and then walked around the front bumper and over to the guard rail. He bent over, placing his hands on his knees, and began to vomit, but nothing came up but spittle. It only now dawned on him that he hadn't eaten anything yet today, and he was glad for that fact. The last thing he needed right now was a nose full of hash browns and the remains of his usual 'Grand Slam' breakfast from Denny’s.
"Denny’s, or is it Lenny’s?" It was Eddie, back again, caustic as ever, but still sounding calm and strained.
"Look asswipe, if you can't drive any better than that, we're going to have to send you back to Nebraska, where you can drive your tractor around in circles for miles and never hit anything more valuable that a scarecrow."
Jonathan tried to throw up again, but couldn't retrieve anything more than a little stomach bile mixed with rancid coffee. His stomach hurt, and his head began to pound. His kidneys sent him a not so gentle message that they were ready and willing to function as planned, and would do so on their own within the next ten seconds if he failed to get his fly unzipped. He took a few steps, more like staggers, to his right where some bushes blocked his view of the road. He fumbled open his pants and began to piss all over his shoes as the onshore wind played havoc with his aim.
"Shit!" he yelled to no one in particular.
He turned around with his back to the bay, still spraying his urine as if he was a fireman who didn't know which part of a burning building to wet down first. A full minute later he was finished, feeling much better considering he had almost killed himself and was having a long distance conversation without the use of anything that Alexander Graham Bell might have inspired. Maybe shock was settling in, he thought to himself, as he began to zip up his pants. The voice returned.
"If you're through wetting yourself bro', we need to talk. Just remember, if you shake it more that twice, you're playing with yourself."
"Fuck you, Eddie!" Jonathan muttered, amazed that he was now answering the voice in his head. He was shocked into a frozen stance when a reply came back again.
"In your dreams, little brother."
There was a silent pause, but it seemed like an eternity. Jonathan's mind tried to race through the last few minutes of events, but it was too much for him to fathom. Was he going crazy? Maybe someone had slipped something into the Mr. Coffee at the office, or maybe…
"Maybe you're just finally waking up and smelling the fucking coffee for a change, bro'. We could've been having these little chats a long time ago, and saved a fortune in phone bills I might add. You've just never been ready, not that you are now. I'm afraid I've had to speed up your training program a bit, now that you've decided to freelance on me, Johnny Boy."
"Okay Eddie, you've finally come out from underneath your rock and showed your true colors. While I'm amazed, I can't say I'm surprised."
Jonathan was talking out loud, kind of turning his head back and forth, not knowing if he actually had to project himself in any one direction, or even talk out loud at all.
"It's not me that's come out Johnny Boy, it's you. Well, at least you've pulled your head part ways out. Out of your ass, that is. And it's about time. I've got great things planned for us Jonathan and it's going to take both of us working together from now on. I can't be dragging your dead weight around any more!"
"What kind of great things, Eddie?" he replied, angry but seeking any kind of insight into this new reality that he could.
"All in good time, Jonathan, all in good time. I don't think you are quite ready for the big picture yet, but just let me say it goes beyond your wildest dreams. Maybe even mine."
Somehow, beyond Eddie's wildest dreams was not a place that Jonathan wanted to go, or be a part of, but he flushed the thought out of his mind as quickly as possible, not knowing just what Eddie could feel or see or know inside his own mind at the moment. He changed his tact just to be safe, and to try and gain a little more insight into his dilemma.
"So Eddie, I guess I owe you a thanks for saving my ass back there on the highway." He tried to sound sincere, wondering if emotions were something that Eddie could intercept also.
"That's quite alright, Jonathan. Just remember, we're in this together. Just you and me, and great things to come."
"Okay, so what do you, I mean we, need to talk about Eddie?"
Jonathan put his hands over his ears and pressed tightly, blocking out most of the outside noise, leaving only his own heartbeat coursing through his ears in the silence.
"Where were you going off to in such a huff, for one thing?"
The voice came through just as clear as ever, proving to Jonathan that it was all coming through his mind. This was no great revelation, but at least it was a start. He needed to expand his envelope of knowledge quickly though, or he was surely to be left at Eddie's mercy. He thrust his hand out towards the sky, and flipped Eddie the finger. Then he thought about picking his nose with the same hand.
"So Eddie, what am I doing now, Mr. Wizard?" he said quickly, before any other thoughts could come into his head.
"Quit pickin' your snout and listen up, Jonathan. I don't have time for your little games right now, although I'm sure you're filled with wonderment like a little baby that's just found out he's got a hard on.
I know where you are going bro', but I thought that we decided to leave well enough alone. Your father has been out of the picture for over twenty years, and that's a good place for him. We don't need a nut case like him messing up your chances for congress, and who knows how much further you may go. You know as well as I do that they play hardball in the big leagues Jonathan, and they dig as deep as they have to go. Any association with Dad could ruin things for both of us. Do you understand?"
Yeah, he understood all right.
"Okay Eddie, I guess you're right," he kept on talking while trying to formulate a plan. He didn't know if Eddie could keep track of both at the same time, but if he could, then it didn't really matter much what he said.
"So you want me not to see Dad, and catch the local news. What else?"
"I'll spare you flipping through the radio channels, bro'. Chris Connors and Bob Perryman are out of the race. Permanently. Now, we've got a lot of work to do, make some hay while the sun shines so to speak. I'm in route to a little airfield on the peninsula right now; you can't miss it. It’s the only one north of Ilwaco. I want you to meet me there. We'll be in a red and white Cessna, probably the only plane you'll even see. And don't go near your father. He's strictly taboo, understand?"
"Okay Eddie. You sure you don't want me just to turn around and head back to the office?"
"No. It's faster this way. Straight to the airfield Jonathan, and no where else."
"You got it Eddie. I'm dying to know more, what…" he was cut off.
"Later bro'. I've gotta run." He sounded tired to Jonathan, even more strained than when they had started their conversation.
"But Eddie," he pressed on, "What about Perryman and Connors? I don't understand…"
"Later damn it! Just be at the airfield."
He was gone. Jonathan could sense it. But he counted backwards from a hundred just to be sure, just to see if Eddie was still eavesdropping. He looked up into the rain, where his hand was still outstretched, giving the finger to the trees and the birds, and God for all he knew. But not to Eddie.
He can read my thoughts, but maybe not my mind. And, he can't see me.
But how do you explain him knowing about the semi, his subconscious asked? Jonathan thought back through the turn of events, and remembered that he had seen the semi coming just before Eddie came on line, and had thought about hitting the brakes even then.
Fuck! What a mess. He wasn't sure what to do now, but he was soaked from head to toe. Back to the car would be good for a start, he thought to himself. Once inside, he turned the heater up to maximum, and began searching the radio stations for some news. It was ten after one. He had probably missed the hourly report. Shit! He had a gut feeling that he knew what Eddie had meant by 'permanently out of the race'.
There really wasn't much he could do, and he still needed to talk to his father, now more than ever. He dropped the gearshift lever into Drive and peeled out onto the highway, not even looking to see if there was any traffic coming. It was going to be close, if Eddie was already in the air, and every minute would count from now on. As he entered a short straightaway, he pushed the Ford up to seventy.
Luke sat enthralled, barely having moved during the whole time Thomas had told his story about Louise. Both of their glasses were empty, and had been for a while.
"So what happened next?" said Luke, as he began the brandy refill ritual one more time. "I mean did they ever find out what exactly had caused Louise's death?"
"No," replied an obviously worn down Thomas. Re-telling the story was almost to re-live it, and it was taking its toll.
"Why do I get this feeling that you're not quite telling me everything about your son?" said Luke, placing the filled glasses back up on the bar.
"He'd be the one."
"Well, it's not that I've left anything out so far really, as it is there wasn't much to be known back then. Hell, there isn't much to be known as we speak. But you're right in a way, there's definitely a lot more to Edward than I've told you."
"The way I see it, your son Jonathan's gonna be here in another hour or so, if he's the timely sort. So you best get it out in front of you where you can see it, Thomas. I don't mean to pry, but I've known you for a long time. You never even gave an inkling that you had a family or a past.
“Still waters run deep my friend, and you need to come to terms with some of this shit right now, cause the rapids are approaching."
Neither man said anything for about a minute, but both lit up another cigarette. Finally Thomas spoke.
"Let me take a leak, and then I'll try to wrap up this nightmare. Then you can pinch me on the ass, and we'll both wake up in our own beds, and this day will have never had happened. No phone calls, no gallon of brandy instead of breakfast, nothin'. Just peace and quiet and an old man trying to live his last days in peace."
"Speaking of breakfast, are you hungry yet?" asked Luke.
"Never even crossed my mind," said Thomas as he got up and headed for the bathroom.
"Me either, just thought I'd ask."
When Thomas returned, he looked to Luke as if he had aged ten years. "You all right?" asked Luke.
"Oh, not really, I suppose. But then, I haven't been alright for a long, long time Luke."
"So I gathered," replied Luke, trying to make light of an obviously dark situation.
"You were right though, it's all coming to a head, I can feel it now."
"What do you mean?" asked Luke.
"When I was in the can, I had this weird sensation that Edward was looking for me. Actually trying to get me to answer him."
"You sure you don't want something to eat?" asked Luke, but he had a feeling that Thomas wasn't succumbing to the affects of the alcohol.
"No. I couldn't get food down right now, let alone keep it down."
"So talk to me, Thomas."
"Well, let's see. We were talking about Louise, weren't we?"
Thomas seemed almost in a trance, yet somehow very coherent. Luke could tell he was ready to talk again, but it was different somehow this time. He looked defeated. Luke wondered what war it was inside him that Thomas felt he had just lost.
"Right, you were in the car with the kids and that Taylor fellow," Luke reminded him.
"Yeah, okay. We pulled up to the station, and Taylor had us sit in a room outside of his office as he proceeded to talk to each one of us separately. Janice went first, then Jonathan, Edward, and then myself."