Chapter 32 – An Opening Gate
Jonathan had purchased a widescreen television. He had also subscribed to the HD service offered by the local cable provider. He and Adam were talking while he fidgeted with the controls on the remote.
“Do you think it was worth it? I might have just assassinated my brain.”
“If you don’t like it, you can always cancel,” Adam suggested.
“Well, let’s at least go through the ritual of seeing if anything’s on.”
His thumb depressed the button for the channel changer on the remote.
“So this is channel surfing,” he announced with resignation. “I’ve joined the rhythm of the hive.”
“Wait,” Adam implored. “Can you go back?”
“Certainly. I’m holding the royal scepter of authority, and I wield ultimate power. What did you want to see?”
“That game – just for a few minutes.”
“I didn’t know you liked sports.”
“I don’t,” he grimaced, “but I’m curious.”
It was Sunday afternoon and one of the multiple NFL games was in progress. They both watched in silence. Neither of them was accustomed to what they were doing. Adam squinted and frowned as he made his mental observations. Presently, he rendered his judgment.
“I could do that. They make a lot of money, don’t they?”
“More than most – more than I did,” the physicist answered, “although their careers don’t last all that long.”
“Compared to what I’m making at Walmart, it’d have to be an improvement. Thanks. I think I’ll go read.”
Adam was chuckling to himself when Eve came into the little library upstairs. She was carrying an open laptop. The soft chair in which he was sitting was almost hidden by his bulk. In observation of etiquette, he stood when he saw her enter the room.
“Hey,” she smiled. “I thought I’d find you here. I want to show you something. She didn’t stop there.”
Although he was glad to see her, he looked down at her with a perturbed, quizzical expression on his face.
“Who and where?”
“The woman we helped in Joplin.”
It had been over a year since that particular assignment.
“What about her? Those guys were convicted, weren’t they?”
“Sure. You knew about that and about the other college women coming forward. The rapists weren’t students.”
“Anger-retaliation types from in town,” he mused. “At least that’s my guess – gender and class warfare.”
“But that’s not what I wanted to show you. Look.”
She showed him what was on the screen. It was an on-line article from the Joplin Globe.
“She’s gone public with her story. Recognize the picture?”
The woman featured in the article was a Missouri Southern student majoring in social work. The interview covered her ordeal, how she had stood her ground against the defense, and her ongoing recovery. She explained her plans to earn a master’s degree and work for an advocacy organization on behalf of victims of sexual assault. Their efforts included offering support services to victims and lobbying for better laws and improved police procedures.
“I do. That’s her, and it looks like she’s doing what you suggested.”
“And then some. I thought you’d be interested.”
“Does it help?”
“A little. She’ll make waves.”
“You know,” he began.
“We’ve caught more perpetrators than…”
“Don’t worry about saying it, Adam. We’ve caught more perpetrators than I’ve killed.”
“Even if you add mine to the list,” he confessed in an effort to take any pressure off of her. It was far from necessary, but she appreciated the gesture.
“Okay. Enough serious stuff. Let’s talk about something fun. What are you reading?”
“Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck.”
“Why were you laughing?”
“Parts of it are funny.”
“I read that, but it was a long time ago – high school, I think. Maybe I wasn’t in a frame of mind back then to notice the humor.”
“It’s hidden in there, but I wouldn’t necessarily call this a funny story. There’s something about this piece that impresses me more. I’m far enough in that I’ve noticed how the incidents he describes paint a portrait of the community’s social structure. It’s ingenious, as usual. Sociology students should read this.”
“Yeah. That might beat reading a textbook for that subject. I didn’t find mine in college particularly riveting.”
She turned her laptop off and folded it up. Setting it on top of the bookcase, she faced him. She was standing even closer now.
“Know what? This feels good. Do you remember me falling asleep on you that last night I was attacked?”
A tear came to his eye, and he gulped silently and nodded.
“You said we should be in a coffeehouse somewhere, discussing great books.”
The tear slowly trickled down his cheek. His voice was a little unsteady as he reminisced and spoke.
“The next night, you asked where this was going.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Do you think we can still make it into paradise?”
Her reply was upbeat.
“Maybe we can.”
“So,” Evelyn inquired back, “where do we find that coffeehouse?”
Adam’s face was an un-posed question of a different kind. He filled a substantial amount of the available space in the library, yet he was as timid as a small child. Cautiously, he reached his right hand out a little and lightly touched her left arm. Even with her enhanced sensitivity, she could barely feel the pressure of his fingertips. Her pupils dilated, and she smiled with genuine surprise.
“Oh my,” she whispered. “I had no idea you could be so gentle.”
She watched him expectantly, waiting for him to say something, but words failed him. In a relationship which consisted almost exclusively of conversation, this presented something of a problem. The silence grew awkward in its duration.
“Talk to me, silly. I just left the gate wide open. Don’t you have anything to say?”
He looked utterly helpless.
Their laughter descended the stairs, and then the upstairs grew very quiet. Jonathan turned off the television and listened for a few seconds. Turning to Janice as she sat next to him on the couch, he spoke in a tone of satisfaction mixed with regret.
“I don’t think they’ll be staying here much longer,” he predicted.
Chapter 33 – Conviction
It was a sports bar in Kansas City. If a so-called typical male had been plopped into the middle of it by means of quantum teleportation without knowing in advance where he was being sent, he would have known what it was on sight. It was much like other sports bars in its sights and sounds. Huge, wide-screen television monitors dominated the walls. On this particular night, they were all tuned to the same program: a Thursday night NFL broadcast.
One among many, a man with ulterior motives watched the game. He smiled confidently at his date, and she smiled back. There was an ideal activity he had planned to conclude the evening. Maybe this time it would feel right. He had the place all picked out – nice and secluded. She might go for it, but he hoped she would struggle at least a little. It would heighten the sense of conquest.
If she said no or resisted, there would be no witnesses, her word against his. It was a matter of approach and timing. Too much time had elapsed since his last expedition. He had taken employment in a strange city, and tonight was the result of almost six months of preparation, six months of scouting, spending, and witty banter. He went back to watching the game.
“Wow,” she exclaimed as she squeezed his arm. “They’re so strong and athletic – and fast.”
He nursed his drink and ordered her another. She wasn’t keeping track. This was perfect. One way or another, she would give in. He drew a vicarious masculinity from the players on the screen. It was a close game. The Kansas City Chiefs were ahead by three points with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and the Denver Broncos were driving. The contest was taking place at Mile High Stadium.
The bar suddenly erupted. A huge linebacker for the visiting team quickly closed the gap on an apparently open receiver in the flat and intercepted a pass at the Chiefs 35 yard line. He hurdled a smaller player who was trying to tackle him by his legs and then allowed himself to be run out of bounds near the 50 yard line. The man with the date felt his heart rate increase. The Broncos had only one time-out remaining. The Chiefs offense could run out the clock, and the game would be over soon. It was about time to top off the evening. The woman he was with was getting suitably tipsy.
He froze as a sideline camera zoomed in on the face of the linebacker resting on a bench. One brown eye and one blue eye glared out from the space between the faceguard and the brow of the man’s helmet. His mind went back to a frightening night outside of Springfield. Studying for the M. B. A. that landed him his current job, he had been a graduate student at Missouri State back then.
“You were caught tonight, and it could easily happen again.”
His hand was unsteady, and he set his drink on the bar after an unsuccessful attempt at taking a sip from it. He didn’t want to spill alcohol on himself. An involuntary shudder went down his spine, and he remembered two unyielding hands clamped on the sides of his head.
“No matter where you go, no matter what you do, remember what I tell you next. There is someone who knows the thoughts that squirm in your brain.”
Stealing a sidelong glance at his date, he quickly closed his eyes. His guilty thoughts were screaming so loudly that he looked around the crowded room to make sure he wasn’t being overheard.
“… you will be found out. You will pay.”
His date drained her glass and set it down a little clumsily.
“That was exciting. What was it you wanted to show me after the game?”
His mind was racing irrationally. This had to be a trap. Someone was watching. He nervously swept the room with his eyes. Maybe they were outside. Maybe he was being followed. Was the football player currently in Denver the masked man who had warned him in Springfield? Who else had eyes like that? Would that man know? Would he be hunted down when the Chiefs returned to Kansas City?
“We live a long way away, and we had no trouble finding you tonight.”
What if they no longer lived far away from him? Some fingers snapped carelessly in his face, and this annoyed and startled him. They sounded like guns going off.
“You still here? I asked you a question.”
“Awww,” he prevaricated, “I had something in mind, but it’s getting late. We both have to go to work in the morning. Let me drop you off at your place.”
He was not his usual, clever self during the drive back to her apartment building. In high spirits and full of expectation, he had been chatty and humorous on the way to the sports bar. Now he was non-communicative. His passenger was getting a little sleepy. Normally, this would have been to his liking, but now he felt paranoid. He kept checking his rearview mirror. He could not give up on the notion that he was being tailed until he turned onto a side street and noted that no headlights were behind him. He found her apartment building and stopped in front of the main entrance.
After his car had driven abruptly away, the attractive, somewhat inebriated woman listed to her right as she stood on the sidewalk and looked for her keys. What had come over this guy? He was almost completely shut off after the telecast. Where were those keys hiding? Her erratic train of thought returned to the confusing outcome of her evening out. What was it with him, anyway? Why did he spend money on her only to deposit her on the street? What made him lose interest? He had not kissed her goodbye or held the door open for her like he usually did. He had not even demonstrated the politeness of getting out of the car and walking with her to the door of her building. Unaware of how close she had come, she found and dropped her keys.
Jonathan and Janice Andrews were sitting in their living room. He read to her aloud from David Copperfield as she crocheted. This was one of their favorite routines, and they practiced it with great regularity. As it was well into December, some burning logs were crackling in the fireplace. The sound mixed pleasantly with that of the antique clock on the wall. It was a good day to read. Jonathan stopped for a moment. This was okay, because they mutually recognized reading together as a good conversation starter.
“I like some of these descriptions of friendships and families.”
Janice looked up from her work and watched him. She could tell from his tone of voice that more was coming.
“It reminds me of when the kids were here. I know this is for the best, but I still miss them.”
“They’ll be back,” she answered softly. “At our age, time passes quickly.”
“Is it okay if I stop reading? My voice is getting tired.”
“Certainly. You’ve been at it for over an hour.”
Jonathan closed the book and returned it to its place on one of the inset shelves in their living room. Sitting back down on the sofa, he thumbed through a scrapbook which was always kept on the coffee table. He and Janice now subscribed to the Kansas City Star in hard copy just so he could make that scrapbook. The clippings which he perused fell into three categories.
Some mentioned a particular linebacker, uncommonly large and mobile for that position, who played for the Kansas City Chiefs. His story was unusual in that he had tried out successfully at a rookie mini-camp one spring after never having played in a game. He could run the 40 yard dash in 4.4 seconds, and his vertical leap was 36 inches. Jonathan chuckled. He knew that this individual had held back to avoid drawing too much attention to himself.
That the talented athlete had initially been unfamiliar with the playbook never mattered, for he was quick on the uptake. On the field, he reacted quickly and showed an innate ability to shed blocks and to defend against the run and the short pass. Those who attempted to block him and those he successfully tackled were quoted as saying that he did not hit especially hard. In fact, they offered little recollection of the physical contact except to say that they invariably ended up on the ground. Remarkably, he had never injured an opposing player and had never been injured himself.
There was also a featured series about a uniquely effective home for abused children. The woman who served as its publicist and fundraiser was noted for her compassion and her uncanny perception, and she had a habit of quoting classic works of literature. Also the founder of this organization, it was she who had contacted the right professionals and persuaded them to work with the children, she who had engaged businessmen and civic leaders in the project. In one interview, she emphasized the effectiveness of addressing problems early before they could grow to larger proportions. She also acknowledged the aforementioned football player for supporting the home with sizeable contributions from his salary.
A few additional reports covered the occasional and clandestine exploits of two masked vigilantes, clad in black, who had a knack for catching sex offenders in their attempts and preventing them from completing their crimes. Both of the anonymous heroes were adept at disarming criminals who were carrying weapons. One was huge and amazingly quick. The other, a woman of slight build, allegedly had the ability to render opponents unconscious at the mere touch of a hand, but the only evidence of this came from accounts by people who had been rescued. Such tales were considered grateful exaggerations. The most recent of the reports on these unusual crime fighters was about five years old. As mysteriously as their activities had begun, they had just as mysteriously ceased.
There exist in the scientific literature various articles concerning the generation of chimeric mice by means of embryo fusion experiments. Such experiments were done by the micromanipulation of embryos which had not yet reached the blastocyst stage. The embryos used were composed of as few as eight, four, or two cells. For example, two mouse embryos, one destined to become albino and the other black, were fused to form a chimeric embryo which developed into a normal mouse after being implanted into a surrogate mother. Different segments of black and white fur could be observed in the offspring. Even the eyes were of different colors.
In another case, a chimeric female mouse was produced from the fusion of three embryos that would have developed separately into a black, a brown, and a white mouse. The result was a calico mouse. When mated to an albino male, this female gave birth to a litter of black, brown, and white offspring – meaning that her ovaries were composed of cells that were derived from all three of the embryos that had been fused to form her. There was no reason to believe that this phenomenon was limited by the sex of the chimera. In principle, a similarly chimeric male could have produced the same kinds of results in a reciprocal cross.
On the mantle above Janice and Jonathan’s fireplace stood a lone photograph in a frame. It was a family portrait in which Adam and Evelyn Smith – formerly known as Tommy and Angel – smiled with their arms around two young children: a boy and a girl. The son was blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and entirely Caucasian while his sister was biracial in appearance. Between the clippings in the scrapbook and that photograph on the mantle stood a great paradox, the theme of an ongoing story about two entangled souls. In the midst of combating monstrous evil, Adam and Eve had found their way into paradise.