The steamy tent was a welcome relief to the bone dry heat of the desert. No one was about unless you absolutely had to be out of doors and that was very few now that the army had taken Mosul and was fully deployed throughout the city. With less than a week to go in-country Paul Shastin’s duties became lighter. He no longer had to stand guard at the weapons depot and even at a distance, no longer had to wear the Chemsuit that was the equivalent of a one man crock pot in this god forsaken country. People stewed in their own juices in those things. Like everyone else in the 101st Paul had trained in quickly donning the suits designed to protect the occupant from biological or chemical agents. They were even supposed to protect against nuclear threats, such as a dirty bomb. No one quite believed that anything was going to protect you for more than a nanosecond where nuclear weapons were concerned but like everyone around him Paul accepted what he was told with healthy skepticism. Sometimes, he thought wishful thinking could be the difference between life and death. When it came to nukes Paul knew – the quicker the better. Over his enlistment the suits had gotten better and though never comfortable were no longer god awful. Like everyone else in the 101st Paul had made a parachute jump while wearing one. The longest he had ever worn one before deploying to Operation Iraqi Freedom was 13 hours. Here, inside of Mosul his current record was 67 hours starting when the Division overran this unidentified base. The one where they found the chemical weapons.
The biologic alarms never went off when the first teams explored the basement and subbasement of Building D but it was clear from the gear strewn about above ground that there was something pretty nasty nearby. Just what it was and in what shape no one knew for certain – but it was clearly there. The 101st called in the 52d Ordinance Group to contain Building D. Above ground it was all the 101st and one corperal Paul Shastin. For 30 months, give or take a couple of leaves, Paul and the rest of the 101st has be guarding the stockpile of Sarin mortar shells left over from the Iran Iraq conflict of the 1980’s in what they now affectionately called Camp Scrambled Eggs. It was hot enough during the day to fry an egg on the sidewalk so they said, and the Sarin gas would scramble your brain sure as shit if it ever got out. After 30 years the shells were in a probable state of decay and no one was going to risk their lives to find out just where on the lethal spectrum these mortars were. Word had filtered down from HQ that during the invasion the Red Brigade had lobbed a few Sarin shells at a convoy which failed to explode. Nonetheless it sent two rangers to the hospital after they showed signs of exposure. So while waiting for the International Community to decide how to dispose of these things there was little else to do but stand guard over these 1200 little darlings wearing your chemsuit, sleep or play poker. Paul was fast becoming the company card shark, and the man to beat.
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the subdued light inside the Crash Tent. The Crash Tent was really the company mess, but it was also the lounge and entertainment center of the 101st.There was a mixed aroma of sweat, cigars and mildew that had become more welcoming than rose petals to Paul. It was home. The poker game had been running for 11 days. Men rotated in and out as needed and it always seemed that before too long a chair became available. Right now all six seats were occupied. One private from the 52nd looked about to crash out if his luck didn’t change. Two men, one from Artillery and the other from Quartermasters looked fresh as daisies. There was only one player at the table that really interested Paul and that was sergeant Rick Davidson. An angry black guy from somewhere outside of Dayton Ohio who everybody called Detroit Dick – just to piss him off. It looked like Dick was up 2 or 3 hundred. “Who’s up next?” Paul asked as he dropped his gear against the near wall. There always seemed to be a waiting line of players. It was 14:30 so most of the company was at their post so only one name was on the waiting list and that guy was slumped over fast asleep in front of the X-Box. Grand Theft Auto paused on the big screen showing a pretty pathetic score in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Pathetic at least in the eyes of some of the guys who claimed that once they mustered out they could win big bucks on the pro gaming circuit.
Dick motioned over to the sleeping gamer, “Dude over there is next up. Full boat gentleman, queens high”. Everyone else around the table groaned as Davidson unfolded his hand. After a pause to see if his full house was challenged, Davidson swept in the pot. As Paul predicted that sent one of losers to the showers opening up the chair. Paul walked over and gave the x-box player a shove asking if he still wanted in. That sent the sleeping player burrowing deeper into the couch he was hunkered in. It also had the unfortunate effect of starting the game in demo mode and Paul could hear screeching tires and gunfire leaking out from the ear phones all the gamers were forced to wear. This did nothing to wake the guy up so Paul assumed the open chair. Directly across from Detroit Dick.
Along with Detroit Dick Paul had the private from Artillery nick named Starbuck because of his love of coffee. He looked 17 and right out of Junior High. Between Paul and Starbuck was a sergeant from quartermasters. Paul sensed that the sergeant was all bluff and no skill. Paul thought all sergeants were like that. They all had a habit of relying on their ability to intimidate you more than their ability to think. He was a non-factor in the game. The kid from Artillery was an up and comer. He was here because he had done well and cleaned out Artillery and now he was here – expanding his horizons. Paul looked him up and down a bit and suspected he was as good as the kid thought he was. The other two players Bukowski and Sullivan were from the same platoon as Detroit Dick and they sat on Pauls left. There were bored, with nothing to lose really. They were in just for the lark of saying they played poker with Detroit Dick. Dollar stakes, Jacks or better to open. The deal went to Bukowski. A lifer from Arkansas who liked to tell the same tired old jokes repeatedly until one of the guys followed through with a warning that if he didn’t shut up with the same old crap everyone had heard a thousand times, Bukowski would find his mouth superglued shut. When that happened the stories stopped and it cost the perpetrator a stripe and 6 months in the brig. Everyone, including Paul knew it was worth the cost. Easiest duty in Iraq.
Paul usually played the first few hands conservatively, watching how his opponents approached the game. Over the past few weeks that didn’t seem to be as necessary as it once was. He had a hunch the sandy haired private from Artillery was going to flex his muscles first. Detroit Dick had enough cash on hand to drive the game his way. He could afford to lose a few hands, gamble with the odds without hurting his bottom line. The real game was between Detroit Dick, Starbuck and Paul. Paul didn’t have the cushion that Dick had but it was starting to grow. In fact, Paul stopped showing all his money up front because he wanted to lull the other players into a sense of security before he went for the jugular. The first three hands resulted in a new deal since no one had any jacks. On the fourth hand Paul pulled a diamond flush and bet 10 dollars. Starbuck raised 5 dollars and Detroit Dick called at 15. Bukowski folded and Sullivan called. Paul raised 5 dollars which took out the Sargent and Sullivan. He knew Starbuck was going to call. Looking across the table to Detroit Dick he could sense the big man had the weakest hand of the remaining three players. He knew he could goad the man to stay in. “What’s the matter Dick, afraid to let some of those greenbacks may be on a transport heading for home in a week?” The storm cloud over Detroit Dick’s head seemed to grow a bit darker and angrier.
“I worked hard for this money. I don’t want to lose it to no short timer. I might never get it back.”
That’s right 10 days and a wake up and I’m outa here. 4 more days in this hell hole, 6 back eating 3 squares at Campbell then air-tran to San Diego where I start my new life telling people what to do instead of the other way around.” Paul shot the sergeant a quick look but he knew the comment went over his head without even looking. There was over a hundred dollars in the pot and Paul knew Detroit Dick had forgotten all about Starbuck and was concentrating on him. Dick called. Three Kings. Starbuck had two pair, tens and sevens. Paul scooped up the pot. For the next 90 minutes both Paul and Starbuck whittled away at Detroit Dicks nest egg. There was never much doubt when Detroit Dick though he had a good hand, he would cross his legs under the table and begin to shake his foot in excitement. Starbuck was craftier and very quiet at the table. It was only during one of the piss breaks that he made eye contact or said anything at all. When there was money on the table his was all business.
It was never easy when both Hernando and her father were working different shifts. This happened one week out of five it seemed. Since neither of them knew how to boil water it was up to Nina to prepare at least one good meal a day for her family otherwise they’d starve. Tear down an engine or build a house was no problem but her brother and her father could never master the skill necessary to boil water. Since Nina’s mom died 5 Easters ago Nina assumed the role of the family matron, nurse, interpreter, house keeper, book keeper and even bee keeper.
She was becoming weary of her role in the family. Her family responsibilities and two jobs left her little time to herself. When her mom died she dropped out of school to help her dad get back on his feet, but that never really happened. The old man still grieved for his beloved Hazeline whenever her name came up yet he soldiered on doing what he did best – eking out a living at the nursery. Miguel Crespo was a proud man whose family came to Reno 30’s in hopes of escaping the great depression. The youngest of three brothers he was now the sole survivor of that generation of proud, strong men who felt like they built this country yet received no recognition for their efforts. A cultural slight that kept the senior Crespo suspicious of anything Anglo. He refused to speak English unless it was absolutely necessary and followed Mexican politics more closely than American despite the fact he had only been south of the Rio Grande once when he visited his grandparents when he was twelve.
Most days Nina worked two jobs. During the day she was a house keeper at the Grand Sierra Resort and worked the overnight shift in the lounges at the Nugget resort in Sparks till 4am and then help get the kitchens ready for the morning breakfast crowd. It was a grueling schedule but it was mostly worth it if it helped keep a roof over her father’s head. Her older brother Hernando was entirely another matter. Nina would get home from her shift at the Grand Sierra around 4 in the afternoon, whip up a quick meal that would be ready when her dad would return from the nursery. She was never sure when Hernando would be home, so as far as she was concerned he could eat leftovers whenever. She didn’t have enough energy to worry about him.
She was lost in thought in front of the stove when she felt a gentle kiss on her shoulder, “Mi Corazón, that’s smells maravilloso, wonderful. Pollo Rostizado again?”
“I know it’s one of your favorites Papá. How can I refuse you?” Nina gave her father a gentle kiss on his cheek and went back to cooking. Even though it was Wednesday and she didn’t have to work until morning she was dead on her feet and wanted to crawl into bed as soon as possible. Nina asked how things were going at the Nursery.
“We hear rumors of layoffs again. But we hear that every election year. No one wants to pay for anything these days. If the voters don’t want to pay for teaching their young, why would they pay for trees and bushes? Let the homeowner associations pay for plant cultivation, not the state. Not in my backyard!” Nina could tell his blood was up as this talk didn’t usually get him so exasperated. Miguel Crespo was the de facto expert on high Sierra fruit trees for the state of Nevada. He had been working at the Washoe State Tree Nursery since 1971 after returning from Viet Nam. For over 40 years he had never missed a day of work except to bury his beloved Hazeline. In the last few years whether because of cutbacks or an actual effort to get Miguel to resign his work had become more physically demanding. “Pinche idiotas, those fuckin’ idiots don’t know what’s right. They can’t see beyond the next election or their next paycheck.”
“Calm down Papá. Here taste this” Nina slid a fork of savory chicken into her father’s mouth. It had the desired effect, Nina could see the old man relax as if the weight of the world slid to the floor in an invisible lump. She flashed him a sweet smile and asked him to get ready for supper. She slipped into one of the chairs around the kitchen table waiting for the timer to chime and dozed off.
She awoke with a jolt when the back door slammed and Hernando strutting through the room like the bull he thought he was. “Hey Nin, Pollo again?” Hernando popped open the refrigerator and pulled out a beer without looking inside. “You look tired.”
“That’s because I was asleep. Thanks for being quiet when you came in.”
“Anything for you, Nina. You know that.” The irony Nina though was she knew Hernando was sincere whereas she knew better. As far as Hernando was concerned He came first. Always. Hernando was 3 years younger than Nina, broad shoulders, close cropped black hair and piercing black eyes. Intimidating unless you knew him well. If you got inside his protective shell, you’d find the quintessential lost boy. Unsure of his place today and unsure of where he was going. Fear of failure kept him from trying anything new so he bounced around as an odd job mechanic or day laborer when he needed money. Otherwise it was just as well that you didn’t ask.
Hernando finished off the beer and reached for a second. “what’s up with you Nina, anything happening? How’s Papá?” Hernando sat down in the fourth chair. The chair that had been Mamás’.
“Don’t let Papá catch you sitting there. You know how he gets.” Nina was thinking back on the day of Mamás’ funeral. Hazeline Crespo had died at this very kitchen table and in the chair that Hernando now sat in. Papá had come home from work and found her slumped over with a lit cigarette still smoldering between her fingers. It took about a year before he could face the kitchen and about another year before he was able to sit across from her empty chair. One night at dinner Hernando had brought over one of his construction buddies for dinner. The buddy sat in Hernando’s seat and he took Mamás. Miguel sat there for what seemed like 10 minutes then threw a bowl of gazpacho at Hernando while hurling more insults until his fit morphed into a crying jag curled up in the corner.
“Relax Mamacita, He’s taking a nap with his head buried in the newspaper. Come dinner time, I’ll respect his wishes, but we both know it’s just a chair.” Nina frowned. She didn’t like it whenever Hernando challenged Papá’s authority. “You didn’t answer my question, anything new?”
Nina shrugged. “The usual. Retirees from Milwaukee want more butter, more towels. Quarter stakes blackjack players who are up 10 bucks think their entitled to grab my ass.”
“Anything for a tip, right Nina?” he smirked.
“Careful Pequeño hermano, little brother. You just might find yourself wearing gazpacho again.” Nina wearily got up from the table and checked on the chicken. “Tell Papá that dinner is ready. GENTLY wake him up, not your usual banging around.” Hernando put up his hands in surrender and quietly went into the family room to tell his father that dinner was ready.
“Fuck this shit!” the big man from Ohio said as he threw his cards across the table at Paul. “I don’t know what you got up your sleeve, but this just ain’t natural.” Detroit Dick stood up so fast his chair slid back 3 feet.
Paul had just won the last 4 hands and had relieved Detroit Dick of 700 dollars. Two truck drivers from the 52d had withdrawn their names from the waiting list and it looked like the game was about to come to an end with Paul the big winner. He shrugged his shoulders at the big man as if to say he was completely innocent and as baffled as the big man was. “I tell ya, sometimes the mojo works and sometimes it doesn’t.” A very unsatisfying answer to be sure.
“Fuck that. I ain’t losing any more of my money to any crazy Russian.” Paul knew enough to let Detroit Dick vent his frustrations. The last hand had been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Detroit Dick had a full house, queens over tens. Paul drew his fourth six on the final discard, pulling in about 450 dollars. The supper meal had come and gone and the game played on. The kid from Artillery pulled out after losing 500 and realizing that Detroit Dick and Paul were locked in some kind of death struggle. Sometimes you got to know when you’re in over your head.
“I learned to go with the flow and drink like a local. Something you should do.” Paul knew he could make the big man lose all control by saying the exact phrase that came to his mind. If he did, Paul was sure Detroit Dick would beat the crap out of him and they’d both spend time in the brig. Paul had a rendezvous with a convoy in 3 days to take him to Camp Victory and then a flight out of Baghdad International to Fort Campbell via Wiesbaden Germany. He wasn’t about to delay that with a fight over poker.
“I got to catch some shut eye. But you know where to find me if you want to win your money back.” As discretely as possible, Paul collected his winnings and headed out to his barracks. The sun had been down for a couple of hours now, but it was still blast oven hot. After stowing his gear and stripping out of his fatigues Paul headed for the showers. The cool water felt invigorating but he was unable to shake the sense that something was wrong. Not wrong per se but odd. Unusual. Why was it so easy to read Detroit Dick at the table? He and played with Dick for months and never had as much success against him has he had these past few days. Even the kid from Artillery was only an enigma for a few hands. Paul was always a good poker player, more cerebral than most, but at this afternoon’s game he played more on intuition then skill. He rose when his hand said fold and tossed in his cards when the hand was a good one. The old adage that you play against the man and not the cards always seemed like a foolish statement to him, but today that’s exactly what he did. There’s $1,375 in his locker that said he did it right.
The match play had ended 2 hours earlier, but there were a dozen or two players hanging out in the tournament lounge along with their entourage of sponsors, girlfriends or whomever the players deemed important. The main ballroom on the second floor of the Nugget had been converted into a tournament room. Six felt lined tables where 6 players could comfortably sit, along with a dealer. The ceiling had been configured with close circuit cameras and the tables had special keyhole cameras. During the week when the chaff was separated from the wheat only the overhead cameras were in operation by the surveillance teams. Come Friday for the semi-finals and Saturday for the quarter million finals everything would be recorded for broadcast. Tonight however over 200 hopefuls were all licking their wounds. The lucky 36 still had their game faces on, as inscrutable as Buddha and as generous as Scrooge. Nina’s last night off was a week ago Saturday. When the big players were in town you never missed an opportunity to work so she gladly penciled her name in to work the poker tournament. The catch phrase among the cocktail waitresses was, when the players win, everybody cashes in which meant a surplus or wait staff on Tourney weekends. Nina was average height with a slim build. Her light olive skin and dark hair gave her more of an Asian look then Hispanic. With tips on the line Nina, like all the others greeted her guests with a ready smile. The casino was strict about uniform codes otherwise half the waitress would work with an unbuttoned blouse.
Nina leaned over the bar and asked David the one remaining bus boy if her Burgers and fries had arrived.
“Not yet Nina, the show just let out and there’s been a rush in the main dining room. I’d give it another 10 minutes,“ looking at her frown he added that he’d check in 5.
“I hate working loser night, “One of the other waitress Francine said. “It reminds me of working an orphanage on Christmas day. All the excitement has evaporated and they know their boring lives await them when they get home.”
“All the more reason to make this night a happy night, eh?” Nina populated her tray with a pitcher of Michelob Ultra and the rest of her order for tables 1 and 7 and deftly weaved her way through the thinning crowd. After this round she was going to take 5 and give her weary feet a rest. She delivered the drinks with a practiced grace and energy that belied her weary bones, then retreated behind the acoustic accordion panels that separated the inner workings of the hotel from the public areas.
Nina sat down on in the open chair across from one of the bartenders. They nodded to each other as they knew each other on sight, but not really by name. She called David, the bus boy over.
“My burger?” she asked.
“The kitchen promised me it would be on the next food cart they sent up.” That made Nina smile.
“So how are things going over at UNR?”
“Not bad. The quarter exams are coming up. I’m doing good in most all my classes?” Nina raised an eyebrow at the word most. “Well, I suck at trig, so my power output estimates from the solar cells I built aren’t off by 15 percent. I need to figure that out before the quarter ends. If I don’t, hello history major.”
Nina felt the pit of her stomach drop out. She desperately wanted to be in school and not here with throbbing feet waiting on dejected gamblers with cigar and beer breath. She let out a sigh. “Well, maybe you needed to use a blue wire with red stripes instead of the red wire with blue stripes.” She thought it a clever response but it was obvious David was in no mood for jokes about his major project.
“Ya know, now that you mention it I should check the impede…” Their conversation was interrupted by one of Nina’s patrons coming behind the partition.
“Hey, I’ve been waiting for like a half hour for my goddamn cheeseburger. Any idea if I’ll get it this century?” Nina instantly recognized him as the single from table 21. Bourbon neat. She slipped her shoes back on and motioned for him to follow her back into the public area. She gave David a nod to check with the kitchen about the burger.
“My apologies sir, We’ll get your cheeseburger over to you as soon as the kitchen brings it up.” She could sense this guy as the type you didn’t mess with so she offered him a drink on the house for his trouble. He looked her up and down and something seemed to click inside and he settled down and accepted the drink saying he’d just wait here by the bar for the food. Luckily the burger appeared before the free drink so another crisis was averted.
Nina’s lounge shift ended at 2am. She cashed out and turned over her one and only remaining table to Alice, who was flirting the line between aging MILF and randy grandmother. She liked working overnight and whenever anyone started to hassle her, she would offer to show anyone the photo of her husband dressed in full SWAT gear. Alice’s husband was a 20-year veteran of the Reno police force, a crack shot with rifle and pistol as well as taught Alice a few self-defense tricks not found in any manual.
It was laughable Paul thought as he tore through the first two rounds of the poker tournament. The hardest part he thought was in keeping a straight face when anyone at his table make a serious error. This was not, certainly in the early rounds the caliber of opponents he was used to facing. Granddads from Michigan who thought because they were the best in their VFW hall that they had a change of winning here in Reno. Sure, this wasn’t Vegas with the million dollar pots, but it was the final step in Paul Shasta’s conversation from misanthrope to professional poker player.
After his discharge from the army he landed in San Diego and worked for his brother in one of the three FedEx Kinko’s store his brother Ray owned. It was mind numbing boring. More so than standing guard over 30-year-old mortar shells. At least there as a hint of danger there. Here the only danger was creasing a tri-fold brochure wrong. Ray was running his stores all wrong, and Paul told him so. The staff at the store in Hill Crest were lazy and the customers moronic. After the fourth complaint Ray let Paul go.
Through a loose network of veterans in the area, Paul began to resume his poker playing. The stakes were smaller here as most of his opponents were working stiffs playing with their lunch money or the next car payment. It was close to guaranteed income as he never walked away from a table without a little something extra in his pocket. It was also in San Diego that he met Franklin Turner. A former boson’s mate in the Navy. If Franklin knew one thing from his years in the Navy, it was to recognize when he was outclassed. Usually when that happened he also found a way to turn that into an advantage. It didn’t take long for the two of them to form a loose affiliation. Franklin would bird-dog games and act loosely as Paul’s manager.
The two of them worked the coast from San Diego up to San Francisco. Los Angeles was a tough nut to crack. The pair had no inside connections and that apparently was what it took to gain entrée to the back room poker tables they were seeking. Too many Hollywood types liked to keep their doors closed and the gambling debts between them and their accountant.
They traveled up and down the coast in Franklins Ford F-150 crew cab pickup. Inside there was enough room for the two of them and their gear. In back, beneath the bed cover was enough room to ‘haul a battleship, and I ain’t talking about your wife’. Half of everything that came out of Franklin’s mouth ended with a disclaimer. Pauls’ favorite was “Even God himself would be baffled by that.”
Over a six-month period of time the pair had been up and down the coast 3 times and had made enough money, and Paul enough experience to attempt taking the game to the next level – Open field Vegas stakes. They set their sights on Reno first. After that Vegas itself.
Below here there be CRAAAAAAP!
Nina had worked with David before and whenever he spoke about the college or what he was studying Nina felt a hole in her stomach where her own education had been. Nina had 5 tables to serve with about 17 orders to juggle in all. Normally she could keep 17 orders in her head, but she learned the hard way that gambles tended to forget what they ordered as the night wore on. The foursome at table one were licking their wounds. Pitchers of Michelob Ultra. All four were from a poker club in New Jersey and only one of them survived into the second round. She did not expect them to be great tippers. Table 7 looked like an unmarried couple. He was in his late forties and she looked like she just celebrated her 21st birthday that morning. Scotch on the rocks and a chocolate martini. His tipping would be adequate since Nina assumed he wanted to impress the young lady with his largess. Table 16 looked like a sponsored table by Jim Beam. They were all serious and dour looking as the conversation sounded like a strategy session leading into the semi-finals.
Table 21 was a solo. He looked to be about as much fun as a cactus needle in your eye. He just ordered Bourbon neat. One right after the other.
The room in the corner was the only one Paul felt comfortable sitting at. It was removed from the feeling of despair that permeated the players who weren’t on their way homes yet. Some of them thought they might be able to recoup their entrance fee by playing at one of the open tables, or even video poker. Inside he sneered at that kind of thinking. He handily won his first round match. No one at the table really had any skills at the game so Paul felt he could have beaten them with his eyes closed. Even during that opening round Paul kept scanning the room looking for the real challengers, the real players in the room. They simply were being drowned out by the sea of riff raff.
Here in the lounge Paul watched with amusement as some of the players with promise were being coached by their sponsors. It was laughable to see a big shot beer executive giving tips to a poker pro. Inept or not, the poker player had a better sense on the game than any pencil pushier. The first time Franklin tried that stuff on him, Paul put the car in the ditch and took out the muffler. “Don’t you think for one moment that I’m going to listen to any advice from you. I won’t tell you ex about your unreported income. Don’t tell me how to play the game. Got it?” Paul waited until Franklin put up his hands in surrender before putting the ford back in gear. He pulled back into traffic without looking, threading the traffic as deftly as an Indy car driver coming out of the pits.
They had gone almost 40 miles when Franklin asked in a soft voice how Paul knew he was scamming his ex-wife. “Easy,” was the answer, “Everybody does it. I just knew you’re no different.” But it was the steely glare Franklin got not the words that stopped the comments. Ever since that episode it mattered not if Paul won or lost. Poker was never discussed.
Right now Franklin was god knows where. Playing slots or watching the unwashed masses parade by with a bucket of quarters. Paul was nursing a bourbon and water waiting for his meal order to arrive when a very attractive woman sat down beside him. Uninvited.
“I watched your play this evening. Paul Shastin isn’t it?”
“If you watched me play you must also know my name.”. Paul was leery from the moment he was aware of her presence. She had a disarming smile and used it.
“Yes, I obviously do know who you are. “ Looking down the row of tables she nodded to the waitress to come on over to take her order. “You have an unusual style of play. It’s not so much reliance on the strength of your own hand, or the odds of winning. You seem to know what the others are holding and play accordingly. That’s a rare style.” When the waitress arrived she nodded to Paul to order first, but he waved her off. “Middleton, on the rocks.” She held up two fingers and the waitress went away.
“What can I do for you, Miss…?”
“Brewster. Phyllis Brewster. Just call me Bruce. It’s preferred actually. Only my mother calls me Phyllis.” Paul got a second view of that practiced smile. Phyllis Brewster grew up on the poor side of Philadelphia. She was the middle child of 5 and the only girl. In high school she threw a softball as hard as the boys were throwing baseballs, and her curve had a 5-inch break. She had fended off every pick up artist in college and before she turned 25 traveled more of the world on her own than most people did in a life time. Nothing got past her. She knew that in the gambling industry you could get crushed in an instant so it was important to develop a hook, or a ploy to reel the big fish in. Paul Shastin had all the early signs of a fish. Just how big, maybe this tournament would tell.
“Not interested.” Was his reply before the question was even asked.
“I was pretty sure that was going to be your answer no matter what I asked, Paul. All I’m asking for is to get my name out there early. You know, just in case you change your mind. You’re going to make a lot of money Paul, some this weekend, if you make it to the semi’s. When you do that, there’s going to be a parade of people trying to cut into you for a piece.” The drinks arrived and Bruce slid the glass in front of Paul.
“You’re smart enough to check out anybody and every contract before you sign anything. You’re nobody’s fool. You know the drill, if it’s not in the contract it doesn’t exist. I know you’re going to check me out as soon as I get up from the table.” She deftly pulled the purse hanging from her right shoulder around and placed it on her lap. She pulled out her card and placed on the untouched glass of Irish whiskey. “I’ll save you some of the trouble. ‘Ticonderoga is new. We just opened for business 6 months ago and we’re looking for talent. New, up and coming talent. Do you know the story of Ticonderoga Paul?” She had reached out again and touched him lightly on the arm. Bruce was an attractive woman, bordering on down right beautiful. Her clothes and make up looked professionally done. Not a hair was misplaced. Not a fingernail was chipped and her lipstick complemented her clothes and vice-versa. It’s as if she had just stepped out of Vogue magazine. This girl new how to sell it.
“Ticonderoga was a French fort during the French and Indian war. During that war 4000 Frenchman staved off 16,000 British troops. 4 to 1 Paul, and the British were the bad asses of the day. Crackerjack troops. That’s us, we’re holding our own against the big guys, the global internet gambling concerns with bank vaults stuffed with money in the Camen islands. We’re going to hold them off, and by doing so make a boat load of money for your talent and ourselves. Some of these guys out there will bleed you dry. You’ll see when you do your research. Our philosophy is when one of us does well, we all do well. No dog and pony show for you. Jesus, you haven’t cracked a smile once Paul, imagine how much fun an interview or convention would be. No, you’re clearly not into that. “ She took a sip of her drink and then gulped the reminder in one gulp. “Like I said, I just want to get my name out there first. “ she pointed to the card, and then said, “That number is good anytime, and I mean anytime. “ she gave Paull two gentle pats on the wrist, and was up from the table and was gone. Paul watched her leave and her head didn’t turn once as she left the lounge. The only person she was interested in was Paul.
The Morning sun glistened off Slide Mountain south west of the city. Nina had Tuesday mornings free and she loved having the house to herself. Hernando was never home. That only happened when he was hungry or hiding out from this month’s current girlfriend.
Late May in the mountains was her favorite time of the year. Schools were still in session and the tourist season had yet to ramp into full gear. The house was warm, quiet and peaceful. Today she thought she’d pack a lunch for her father and drive it down to the nursery. The two of them could take a short drive across the high way and enjoy a picnic in Davis Creek Park. Her father looked bone weary the last few weeks. For Nina spring was a lull period of time, but for the nursery who supplied most of the trees and shrubs used by the state each year, Spring was the most hectic time of the entire year.
She turned on the radio and began to putter around the kitchen getting her picnic ready. The song on the radio was one she first heard on High school. She and Consuelo Nunez and a friend of Consuelo’s whose name Nina had forgotten had driven to LA to do a little sightseeing and star gazing. It has been a fantastic week long trip that began closed off and guarded to sharing every bawdy anecdote and story they each knew. Nina never dreamed that she’d share the experience of accidentally discovering Hernando and his first girlfriend having sex in the garage one summer evening. By the time the trio of girlfriends returned home. Nina shared where every freckle Hernando had on his then skinny body. Today she was mortified to remember what she saw in the bed of Papá’s pickup truck. It was the song that brought the memory back of the youthful Nina who lived a bit wild and vicariously through the antics of her brother a bit of a randy existence.
She ladled the lemon tortilla soup into two thermoses’ and several skewers of steak marinated in a cherry glaze sauce into tinfoil and placed all of it into an old freezer back Mama had gotten at a flea market and headed out the door. The house backed up onto Orr Ditch, the main agricultural water source in the area. Beyond that the Pyramid highway kept the urban sound track going all day and all night. It was such a fixture that the only time Nina noticed that it was there was when she could smell the exhaust or when an accident stopped all traffic. The silence was almost unnerving.
The housing boom of the a few years ago placed encroaching mansions on either side of the family’s modest ranch. Where she and her family were tight, but not crowded in the 3-bedroom ranch the massive mansions certainly had 5 or 6 bedrooms yet as far as she knew only couples lived on either side of her and she rarely saw anyone. Today was different. There was someone waving from across the street holding a cell phone to his ear.
“I’m looking for the Donners, 1750 Milroy Lane, is that their house?” He was maybe 19 or 20, and obviously a college kid. Nina got them in the lounge every so often and had to deal with their indignation when they got carded. All the signs said ‘we card to 35’, so they never had a leg to stand on.
“I never heard of any Donners,” she shot back, “but this is 1742 Milroy, so the house you’re looking for should be at the end of the block.” Nina gave the kid a nice smile and began to dig out her keys.
“1742? Right, so that would make you Nina A. Crespo, right?”
Absently Nina began to say yes, but stopped mid-syllable. Nina stopped what she was doing and turned to face the kid who no longer looked 20. He sort of rolled his shoulders back and looked to be 25 now and more self-assured.
“Nina Alameda Crespo, consider yourself served”. He handed her a large envelope, spun on his heels and got in his car. It was then that Nina noticed that there was a second man in the car. The two drove off without a seeming care In the world. Nina put the freezer back on top of her car and looked in the envelope. It was a subpoena to appear as a witness in the case between Alice Trainor – defendant and Paul Shastan – defendant. Francine was her coworker at the nugget but she had no idea who Paul Shastan was. She had seen Francine just a few hours ago and all seemed fine. The documentation strongly admonished her from speaking to anyone about the case and that meant Alice. Maybe her husband Gary would talk with her.
Nina abandoned the idea of having lunch with her father and headed into Reno and over to the police academy.
It took about 45 minutes for Gary to come to the lobby to see Her. He was dressed in a crisp blue uniform just like any other cop which took Nina by surprised. She had seen Alice’s photograph of her husband half a hundred times so she recognized his face, but she never imagined him in anything other than full battle gear. She was slightly disappointed in his appearance. Gary Tranor was actually shorter than her brother and seemed of slighter build. It was hard to really tell since Gary like most other cops always wore a bulletproof jacket under his uniform which added to his bulk.
She introduced herself and handed him the order to appear. He never looked at them. “I can’t talk to you about this Nina. I would if I could, but that hurt my wife’s case. “ He pulled out his wallet that was stuffed full of cards and letters. It reminded Nina of a deli sandwich, filled with 3 pounds of roast beef that no earthly man could ever hope to put it in his mouth. The wallet should have been impossible to sit on, but that seemed to be a non-issue with most men. Gary pulled out a snow white business card with the Alice’s lawyer’s information on it and handed it to Nina.” Best you talk to Knox about this. Like I said, I can’t even be seen talking with you. Or Alice for that matter. You shouldn’t talk to her either.”
“Don’t do it Nina. Just don’t show up.” This was Hernando’s advice on the day of the trial.
“You know, one day the IRS is going to come knocking on your door, looking for the Donners and the next thing you know you’ll be wearing hand cuffs. You know I have to go. If I’m in contempt of court I could lose both my jobs and then Papá and I will be dependent on you to support the family. So maybe I will stay home today. Whatcha think Papá?” Nina had eventually talked with Alice’s lawyer and knew it was a sexual assault case. Nina was being deposed as a material witness to place both Alice and Paul Shastin in the hotel at the same time. Alice’s work records and Paul’s participation in the poker tournament already did that, but Nina’s testimony would put faces to names and paint a portrait better than any computer printout.
Miguel Crespo gingerly walked across the family room and gave his daughter a warm hug and whispered, “Tell them nothing Nina, and get out of there as fast as you can.” She assured him that she would.
An hour later she was sitting in what could have been a doctors waiting room inside the Sparks Nevada courthouse. There were a dozen chairs lining three walls and a glass partition that separated the waiting room from the courtrooms. The only thing that gave it away was the sheriff’s uniforms of the staff behind the glass. Nina suspected it was also bulletproof glass to boot. That was not a comfort because it protected them and not her.
She was given a rough idea when she’d be called, but also told that anything could influence that time line. Unless she was the first person to testify all bets were off as to when she’d take the stand.
Finally, a bailiff called her name and asked her to follow. Nina was taken down a long corridor and asked to wait in the lone chair outside courtroom 6. 5 minutes later she was taken inside and sworn in. Her heart was pounding in her chest even though she had a walk through with Alice’s lawyers before the trial started.
The courtroom was your typical mashup of modern chrome and steel furniture and the old world deep rich oak paneling that evoked the old west. There were about 40 people in the room. The jurors were to her right. Alice and her attorney were on her far left. Between Alice and the jury were the defendant and his attorney.
Ethan Knox was a grandfatherly looking man with thick snow white hair. He was very casual about his approach with Nina. He needed her to be relaxed and comfortable with her answers. He was somewhat more animated than necessary but that was simply to keep Nina’s attention exclusively on him and no one else.
How long have you lived in the area? Extended family? Do you attend mass Nina? How long have you worked at the Nugget? How long in the player’s lounges? Were you working last year’s Open Poker tournament? What about Alice, was she working the same shift as you? Do you remember seeing Paul Shastin at the Tournament? On the night of the quarter finals? Was there anything remarkable about that evening? There were a dozen more questions, all of which Nina had no problem answering.
Finally, the questions began to focus on the heart of the matter. Did you wait on Paul Shastin that night? Yes. Nina remembered him ordering a cheese burger and the long wait for that to arrive. She bought him a drink.
Knox asked if anything unusual happened that night and Nina relayed how Shastin had come back behind the partition looking for his food. No, she didn’t remember if Alice were there with her, but she distinctly remembered Paul. She was finally asked if she would look at Paul and verify that he was indeed the man who ordered the cheeseburger and came into the staff only section of the hotel looking for his food.
Nina looked at Paul and for a moment it was as if his mind became clear to her. Everyone in the room faded to a deep grey except for Paul. He appeared to be outlined in a think black outline. More defined, saturated, like a TV where all the settings have been pushed to their highest limits. Overpowering even. Even the sound in the room faded to thick cotton, yet she could hear her own heart beat loud enough for her to ever so slightly flinch with each beat. The moment snapped when Paul broke eye contact and whispered in his lawyer’s ear.
Nina was back in reality as colors poured back into the room, but the experience left her feeling off centered and unsettled.
That’s when it hit her and the memory came flooding back to her. Yes, she knew Paul Shastin because of the night of the cheeseburger but she now realized that he was the one who accosted her a year earlier.
Before Nina worked in the lounges at night at the Nugget, she was a housemaid cleaning guest rooms at the Sands Regency. She was changing the bed linin in a single when the occupant came in. At first he was sheepish about interrupting her work and she was ever so slightly annoyed because when this happens it usually led to a special request. Extra pillows please, or can you change the temperature of the AC?
It all came flooding back in a single heartbeat. She had watched the guest step into the bathroom so she returned to her duties. Without her realizing it he had emerged and closed and secured the door behind him, leaving the two of them alone.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt but I wanted to know something, do you have a moment?” He said as he stood in the middle of the room. Nina understood perfectly and for a second thought about feigning only speaking Spanish as a way to quickly end the conversation. Instead she smiled and nodded.
“Are there any other services that you offer? I mean like turn down service, or special room service requests?” All the while speaking he moved toward Nina and at the time she didn’t feel trapped that’s exactly what was happening.
Nina, put the pillow down and smoothed out the ends before covering it up with the sheet and blanket. The only task remaining was tucking in the edges tight and then she was out of this room with only a dozen more to go before she was done. Nina was standing between the bed and the wall of the room. She needed to climb over the bed to get around the guest or she’d have to wait him out. He took a step closer and reached out a hand and touched her shoulder. Nina was now beginning to panic and feeling very claustrophobic considering where she was standing. “Pardon me sir, we’re not allowed to…”
Nina wasn’t able to finish her sentence. Faster the she thought possible the guest had her pinned against the wall. He held he by the elbows as he pushed her back. Nina’s head banged against the wall as a jolt of adrenalin shot through her body. She could smell the hotel’s lavender shampoo waifing from his hair and before she was able to take a gulp of air his mouth was pressed down against hers. She could feel his tongue challenge her lips fighting for entrance. All she could see were his intense green eyes like angry emeralds boring holes into her own. Nina felt his hand grab her jaw pulling her chin down. With her right arm now free she slapped and hit the man against the right side of his face.
As fast as it happened it was over. He backed away though he still held that glare of utter contempt. Nina vaulted over the bed and made a beeline for the door only to find it blocked by the much quicker man. Nina was still trapped but she had the presence of mind to begin to look for a weapon, all she could think of using was a table lamp but it would take more time than she had to get it ready.
Paul had no idea what came over him. He knew he had a forceful nature to him, and that typically meant he took what he wanted and damn the consequences. He never had a good reputation, certainly not with women. Some woman he picked up in a bar while between tours in Iraq accused him of being a misogynist. At the time he didn’t know what it meant so that was more insulting than the word itself. He laughed when he eventually did read up on the definition saying He didn’t hate women, he was completely indifferent to what they said, wanted or did. He simply didn’t give a fuck. Never before had he been so bold with a woman. At least before getting initial consent. What came over him he couldn’t rightly say. Opportunity certainly, and an impulse beyond rational thought, so basic, so primal that the best description he could come up with was that the action was rooted in some Neanderthal DNA he was still carrying. He mumbled a few words that he thought passed as an apology and pulled out 100 dollars from his wallet and tried to hand it to the maid. She wanted no part of him and wouldn’t reach out to take the money. He let it flitter to the floor. Without saying another word, he unlocked the door, walked out of the room, and out of the hotel and never returned.
It took Nina 10 minutes before she moved from the spot. All that time she stared at the money on the floor. She had heard of things like this happening, all hotel maids have, but she never expected it to happen to her. Whenever stories like this were shared around the break room, the typical refrain was ‘That’s Vegas Baby.’ In mock Elvis voices. Even in Spanish, eso es vegas bebé was all anyone said. No one advised talking to the manager, or god forbid the police. That would simply bring down a world of trouble for whomever rocked the boat. Nina picked up the money, folded in thirds, stuffed it in her bra and went about her business. It was a near miss she told herself, no real harm, just a little spittle from a horny guest. She worked hard to forget about the incident, and when she left the Sands she closed the door on this memory.
Sitting at the defendant’s table, with those still emerald eyes was the man who assaulted her now eighteen months earlier. She snapped back in the witness box and tried to gain her composure. She hadn’t said anything incriminating on the stand, only to place Alice and Paul Shastin in the same place at the same night. She heard a question from the judge but didn’t understand it. She wanted to point at Paul and tell him what a disgusting animal he was, then and now. But that didn’t happen. All of a sudden Paul stood up and pointed at Nina and began to shout.
At first he didn’t recognize Nina at all. He had a vague recollection of a late arriving cheeseburger but would have been unable to remember and of the waitress from that night. He had forgotten the 10 players he had defeated to make it to the quarter finals. He remembered the conversation with Phyllis Brewster and he most certainly remembered what she stirred up inside of him, his Neanderthal as he had named that primitive urge. He also knew full well that Alice took the full brunt of the Neanderthal later that night in one of the service elevators. He had thought her receptive though and he had yet to figure out how he had gotten it all wrong.
He had no recognition of Nina when she took the stand. When they first met Nina wore her hair in a long pony tail and was 30 pound heavier then she was now. Her shorter hair was an acknowledgement that every minute mattered with her crazy work schedule so getting ready for work was almost cut in half with her ‘ready to go’ hair style. The extra weight she put on after her mama died. In some small measure the assault she suffered was somewhat responsible for her losing it. It took some months for her appetite to come back after the attack. He was barely paying her any attention because he knew, felt actually, that this witness had no information whatsoever to help or hinder the case. Throughout the trial he was passing notes to his lawyer reminding him of this, or sharing an impression about a witness. When Alice’s husband Garry took the stand Paul knew in his bones that Garry was a dirty cop. That he had been and still was on the payroll of one of the casinos as a security expert in clear violation of the Reno Police Department’s code of ethics. Those consulting fees had paid for a vacation in Cancun and that shiny new Harley in the driveway He and Alice would ride to Lake Tahoe for long weekends. Paul’s lawyer kept reminding him that what they know to be true and what they can prove to be true are not necessarily the same thing. How the sense about Garry Trainor could help get an innocent verdict was yet to be discovered.
Paul had a sense about everyone in the courtroom. He could just tell that the judge had already found him guilty and that alone infuriated him. He just knew Ethan Knox had a mistress 20 years his junior and that Alice Trainor had given up a baby for adoption before she and Gary got serious. And Nina? She had the weight of the world on her shoulders. One parent gone, everyone relying on her to be the sensible one to be the main breadwinner. She was bone weary of that responsibility but was also trapped by love and responsibility. Something funny also began to happen. He began to see Nina in a new light. Where he had this uncanny ability to read someone, she had that ability to read him. In her presence he felt naked physically and emotionally as if someone were inside his head poking into misty recesses and awakening the sleeping dragons of memory that he had locked so carefully away. Metaphorically she knew where all the bodies were buried and she was capable of inflecting real pain with a few choice words. As these thoughts began to coalesce he sensed that she also was becoming aware of the same thoughts. He had seen videos of 20 pendulums of different weights swinging in a row. Most of the time there were no sense to the motion, each pendulum following its own course, its own frequency. Amazingly every so often the pendulums would be in perfect synchronicity and swing in exactly the same arc. Point to point, from one end to the other they were in phase. That’s exactly what he was feeling now with Nina. Perfect. Synchronous. One. It scared the crap out of him that someone he had never truly met not only understood him but also knew how to destroy him, and then he snapped.
Paul stood up and leaned over the defendant’s table and began to shout, “ You bitch! I’m going to kill you! Kill! You!” and he lunged. The courtroom went mad. Sherriff’s deputies appeared from now where and began to wrestle Paul to the ground. The judge was shouting and banging on his gavel while another deputy began to pull him off of his chair and into safety. The jury sat there in stunned silence until one of the interior jurors made a beeline to the jury room. that started a 5 man, 7 woman stampede. Nina saw several drawn firearms, one of which belonged to Gary Trainor even though he had passed through he had to surrender his weapon before testifying. It was a mad house. As Nina was being escorted back to the hall way she could see that it took 3 deputies to subdue and restrain Paul.
Her heart was beating fast and Paul’s outburst brought her back to that guest room at the Sands and she again could taste his saliva on her lips. Worst of all, she knew Paul meant every word he said. Her life was forfeit if he had his way.
Paul’s outburst had put the whole facility in lock down. There were police offices at every intersection wearing bullet proof vests. Some had drawn side arms, a few had assault rifles slung over their shoulders. Nina had an escort back to the witness waiting room where she was told to wait for further instruction. She took note of the word instruction. Not information mind you but instructions. Meaning she was to do nothing without being told what that may be. She, and three other witnesses testifying that day sat there in a near panic.
After 2 hours she was escorted back to courtroom 7 and into the Judge’s chambers. The judge spoke first. “Our main concern Ms. Crespo is for your safety. Are you alright? Were you hurt in the incident?” Nina didn’t think so, but she admitted that she was frightened. Everyone understood.
“I declared a mistrial. It’s important you know that. Depending on any insight you may have on the incident we may take one of several courses of action. “ the judge loosened his tie and sat back behind his rather messy desk. The two lawyers looked a bit ruffled but non-the-less hurt by Paul’s outburst. Paul’s attorney was thrown to the ground by one of the charging deputies. He would later be seen wearing a cast on his left arm, but the pain wouldn’t become unbearable until later this evening.
“Any idea why the defendant would have such a visceral reaction to you?” Paul’s lawyer asked.
“I didn’t know it at the time. I mean, I didn’t realize it was him,” she started. I remember serving him at the Nugget, as I said, er, I mean testified. And then it dawned on me when I made eye contact with him.” She asked for a Kleenex as she could feel the tears and sinus buildup beginning to flow. The three men exchanged knowing glances with each other. “A year and a half ago I was grabbed at by a hotel patron as I was making the bed. I didn’t know it at until I was sitting there that it was Paul Shastin who, you know, was the one that did it.”
The judge stood up and came around the front of his desk and leaned back against it. Everyone watched him as he flipped through the pages of a folder that must have been related to the case. After a few moments he set it back on the pile it came from. “Ms. Crespo, I’m going to enter an order of protection for you. Even though the case is going to be retried, I have ordered a full psychological evaluation for him so that’ll keep him off the streets for the next 30 days. I am unable to increase his bail or hold him beyond that until trial. There’s just no other mechanism. Unless he registers as a complete psychopath he’ll be out on the streets in 30 days.”
*****Make Paul’s lawyer a woman******
Sharon Pryla, Paul’s lawyer cleared her throat. She looked like she had been hit by a bus, her tight bun of a hairdo had fallen during the melee and it looked like she had pinned it all back wearing oven mitts, it gave her a misshapen appearance, almost a homeless elegance. “I’m not breaking any confidence by saying something about you Ms. Crespo triggered my client. What exactly that is, I’ll do my best to find out.” Responding to the look of shock on Nina’s face, Sharon softened a bit. “Oh, don’t misunderstand, none of here are saying you did anything wrong, or were the cause of Paul’s outburst. I’m simply saying that in order to represent him properly I need to understand what happened and how that may nor may not fit into a defense. That’s all.”
The momentary pause was followed by the Judge (HE NEEDS A NAME) opening the door to his chambers and motioned to Nina that it was time to go. She stood up, still clutching the Kleenex that she had been given and in fog made her way out to her car and then home.
The sunshine felt wonderful on his skin. Paul Shastin was glowing in the morning sun as he walked out of the Reno Northern Nevada medical center. There to meet him was Franklin Turner. “Whatcha got?” he asked.
“Well, first off, let me say that I think you ARE nuts, despite what I just heard in there. Who in their right mind violates a restraining order within an hour of being released for psychological evaluation?” Paul reached over and pulled out the pack of cigarettes Franklin seemingly always carried in his shirt pocket. He tapped out a smoke and lit it without ever breaking eye contact and blew a puff of blue haze into Franklin’s face. Franklin sighed, “She lives with her dad who for the state’s department of natural resources raising bushes or trees or tulips I guess. Her Brother is kind of a scalawag doing odd jobs or leeching off of this girl or that, and the girl…”
Paul stopped him right there. “Scalawag? Really? Scalawag? And how long have you been out of her majesty’s navy? 1602?” See any good yard arms recently?” Franklin ignored him as they got into his beat up pickup.
“Nina Crespo, the young lady you tried to kill in open court, is a nobody. Just a working stiff trying to put food on the table for her ailing father and ner-do-well brother. Better? I can’t find anything remarkable about her in any way, though, the bake sale lady at St. Peter Canisus confided that Nina Crespo makes one hell of a Cilantro Tomato and corn salad. “
“You’re wrong about that.”
“The salad? When did you ever taste her salad?”
“God! You absolute pathetic moron! Not her salad, though I have no doubt it’s delicious. She is not a nobody. She saw things about me in that court room. Things I’m sure she has yet to fully comprehend. Things about me that I find very disturbing that she knows. That’s why I tried to kill her and that’s why I have to kill her. Don’t you understand?” Paul knew that Franklin would never understand no matter how simply it was laid out before him. It was like trying to explain quantum theory to a dog. You got his full attention, but there wasn’t enough electricity to power the light bulb of understanding. Take me to her is all he said.
“Dude, no. That’s a bad idea. You’re probably being followed now. You come knowingly within 100 feet of her and you’ll revoke your bail and you’ll be in jail until your trial.”
“Franklin, take me to her. I need to do this now, or very soon because I will be convicted of sexual assault. I could read the guilty verdict in everyone’s eyes during the first trial. I only have so much time before she slips out of my grasp. My new trial starts in two weeks, so we have to hurry. “
The pair drove around town till dark until Franklin was convinced no one was following them, then he drove towards Nina’s home. Instead of driving up Milroy lane, the two drove up the parallel road and hopped out near the home behind the Crespo’s. The high desert landscaping provided little cover as the two men skulked around in the dark. Like many communities, most homes had their drapes drawn so it was a pretty easy task to sneak through yard after yard until they were on the Crespo’s property.
Miguel Crespo had lived on the property for close to 50 years and it looked like very possession he ever acquired was still here. The man never sold or threw away anything. Behind the garage were 4 cars, one looked like a ‘57 Chrysler Imperial with the seats removed. Two of the others were pickup trucks, one of which had the driver’s side all caved in. The forth car was unrecognizable in the dark. The rusting hulks provided excellent coverage of their approach, though the chance of stepping on something sharp and contracting tetanus was a real risk.
With Miguel Crespo the only one home, most of the house was dark. Paul and Franklin found Miguel was asleep in the family room. His back was to the window, and the two interlopers could hear the loud TV through the closed window. The other windows, presumably bedrooms were dark. After a few minutes of watching Miguel Franklin became bored. He though it true insanity to be here, doing this but Paul was so convicted in his mission, certain of its righteousness that Franklin was near powerless to oppose it. Even when Paul spoke about killing Nina, he scares believed that he heard it right, all the while tiny warning bells were ringing in his unconsciousness. Paul tapped Franklin on the shoulder and hissed into his ear to stay put. Without making a sound, Paul crept to the nearest bedroom window, sliced the screen from its frame then slid the inner window it out of the way. In less than a breath he then perched in the opening and disappeared inside.
“You’re missing the point Dean; the data doesn’t prove any theory. The data disproves the generally held precept that ESP does not exist.”
The office of the dean of medicine was the largest room in the building. Even though an elevator was installed in the 1960’s Dean Reynolds continued to walk up the 5 flights of stairs to his office. His disdain for contraptions was so strong that no one on his staff used them either for fear of the old man glaring at them from across the floor. Adjunct profession Marla Gillette had been received a three-word memo from Dean Reynolds only an hour ago. Most of the inter office memorandum was sent via email, but like the elevator Dean Reynolds hand wrote all of his messages to his staff and each was hand delivered by intern. 15 years earlier Marla had been such a runner and had delivered only two other terse memos. The recipient of those memos were dismissed before the day was out.
“I know, because that specific point is repeated ad nasaum in this document Dr. Gillette. Actually you make that point 17 times in this 36 and a half page paper. One would think once would be sufficient in a scholarly paper, wouldn’t you say Doctor?” Dean Reynolds dropped the sheaf of papers on his desk as if it were infected.
“Certainly I can reduce that number in the editing process. What I wanted to impress upon everyone is the in the data. 77 subjects tested and in 76 cases the results were consistent within accepted norms of random chance. We constructed the experiment in such a way to reduce unconscious facial tells or give always by using actors from the drama school. We told them half of the students that what we were studying was facial expressions and each of them was filmed and that film was reviewed by police interrogators and they were unable to see any difference. What stood out was subject 38 who got a perfect score on each of the three sessions of the study. That sir, is unheard of. That is the crux of the paper. “
“Your methods were certainly flawed, Doctor. There is no other explanation.”
“Sir, we followed all the protocols. We even send the subject to Yale and had him tested there and the results were the same when they duplicated our test.” She took a deep breath and continued. “When the tester and subject were separated in different rooms using video cameras, the results were admittedly different. “
“Doctor you have just proved my point. The results are not reproducible.”
“With all due respect Dean, what I think the data proves is that there are limitations to the ability and that further study is needed. “
“Indeed, one could make such an argument, and I suspect that is the argument you are about to make.” Marla nodded.
“May I remind you that we are a college of scientists pursuing cures for cancer, Alzheimer disease, even a cure for death itself. Alas none of those things will happen in my lifetime, but they will come. There is little room chasing the alchemist’s dream. Do you understand?” Marla nodded a second time.
“Your paper did one thing Dr. Gillette, It piqued my interest in your subject 38. What can you tell me about him?”
“Unremarkable in many ways. A native of Nebraska. Some college. Joined the Army after 9/11. Served in operation desert freedom as a truck driver. Received the Purple Heart for injuries suffered in a mortar attack on his convoy. Spend 6 months recovering, first in Germany and finally at Walter Reed. That’s the most remarkable thing. Perhaps the most puzzling is he said the mortar attach shook him up a great deal, he was air lifted to Wiesbaden with a severe fever and flu. Since his discharge he finished college with a MA in criminology and is now working for the justice department in DC.”
“Interesting. But not interesting enough to stake your career and this department’s reputation on. May I suggest that you dismantle your ESP lab and focus on something … more tangible? Perhaps pheromone reception across the autism spectrum?”
It was only at this moment that Dr. Marla Gillette understood that she was going to continue at the college. “We can’t have one of my Interns working for Yale, now can we?” He picked up the dog eared paper and handed it back to her. She avoided the elevator like everyone else, but she floated down the stairs and across the school of medicine and into her office. Like the dean she couldn’t quite put a finger on this feeling that there was something more to subject 38 then his profile suggested. What she did know for certain that grant money was to be had studying autism, whereas ESP was an orphan at every school across the globe. She had to call in a personal favor to have her former lover at Yale duplicate her study. All it cost her was a dinner and a sweaty night. She locked the study away in her filing cabinet and began the transition from college pariah to bonafide medical researcher.
The second trial of Paul Shastin went off without a hitch. Nina testified a second time and there was no repeat of the outburst that marred the first proceedings. In the audience was Hernando, and Nina focused on his calming presence in the courtroom. This second time facing Paul Shastin was even worse than the first. It felt like he had invaded her mind and was shouting at her from the deepest recesses of her brain. Random memories came flooding back overpowering her thought processes and interrupting her testify. Outwardly it appeared as if she were struggling to find the right words to answer the questions put to her. Inwardly she was battling to retain control of her conscious self.
From early childhood came the memory of her parents fighting late one night when she was 6 or 7. She was startled awake by the sound of shouting and hid under her bed thinking they were monsters. Baby Hernando was wailing in his crib desperately waiting for someone to hold him and tell him it was alright. It slowly dawned on her that it was her parent’s voices she was hearing. Nina crawled down the hall to her parents’ bedroom and slowly pushed open the door. She was just in time to see a young and vigorous Miguel strike her Mamá with a belt driving her to floor. Nina remembers screaming and running into the kitchen to hide in the pantry. They didn’t find her until noon the following day. The body blow of shock she felt as a 6-year-old returned with the same vengenence as it had that night knocking her testimony right out of her. Worst of all Paul Shastin was there under the bed and in Hernando’s crib and even in her parent’s room. His was omnipresent in her mind manipulating her every experience.
Nina forced close the memory and locked it tight behind her. Paul was locked out as well, but still have free reign in the other parts of her mind. A new memory washed over Nina. She was in LA as an adolescent with her Consuelo and her friend Jose. That’s what she had forgotten, that the third traveler was Consuelo’s boyfriend Jose. For the sake of everyone’s family they pretended it was three girls taking the trip when in actuality Nina was the third wheel. Memories of Nina driving and the other two under a blanket in the back seat. Nina was not a prude but the blatant disregard of decorum felt like an assault. The memories of them writhing and moaning made it hard to concentrate on driving. Here in the witness stand Nina could feel the same teenage hormones at work. Envy and desire, longings long ago suppressed began to topple her intellect making her squirm in her seat as her body responded to commands that were not hers. Paul was in command.
She fought him a second time. Quieting her pleasure centers and gently sealing off her selfish desires. Somehow he had managed to replace Jose with himself yet she pushed him off of Consuelo and out of the back seat. Everywhere she found Paul she forcibly removed him and closed off that distinct memory. Even the smell of LA and car exhaust and bad coffee had an element of Paul Shastin in it. She purged him from these as well until he was no longer in her memories, but he was still in her mind, still in some recess waiting to spring another trap, another assault.
Nina took in a sharp breath and took the battle to Paul. She reached across the court room elongating her mind and entered his existence. She was lost. There was no sense of direction or which way time was flowing, not even one landmark to anchor herself. She shot through leaving only a wake of her presence. In that same short breath, she was back within herself with Paul nowhere to be seen. With another breath she knew he was gone for good.
She asked for a glass of water. Taking a gulp of two to let her racing heart slow down she risked a glance at Paul and he looked like he had been hit by a Mac Truck. No, she thought, this wasn’t stress or nerves playing a cruel trick on her fears of him jumping across the table again. This was real, as real as any flash of lightning. His eyes told the story. He also knew what had happened. Nina sat the glass down and reached out again. This time she tried the Judge. He was unaware of her presence and felt his concern for her. He had just watched her struggle to maintain her composure and answer the simple questions put to her. The sooner these proceedings were brought to an end the sooner they could convict this bastard he thought.
Nina retreated and reached out to Hernando, sitting there in the back row of the courtroom. His concern was very much like the judges, only his was tender and loving. He didn’t want to see his big sister hurt up there beyond his reach. There was something else there. Black and hot and looming. Nina wasn’t able to go where she wanted in anyone’s mind and it was exhausting. She retreated back into herself and everything around her softened out of sharp contract into a gauzy haze. The next thing she knew she was flat on her back staring up at a paramedic with a smelling salt under her nose.
Across from the paramedic knelt Hernando holding her right hand. He shouted at her that she fainted. That thought had already occurred to her. They were on the floor at the base of the witness stand. When Nina stepped down from the witness stand she crumpled to the ground. This time around the bailiff hit a button on his desk which notified the paramedics. The judge cleared the court and another bailiff escorted the jury to the jury room. It was all fairly orderly as a fainting witness was a rare but not uncommon thing. Now back on her feet Nina’s only concern was would this cause another mistrial. The judge assured her that it would not. A few more days of testimony from the defense, closing arguments the fate of Paul Shastin would be in the hands of the jury.
Nina was still a bit unsteady so she got a ride home with Hernando. He had some tex-mex radio station blaring through the car stereo and half way home He turned it off with a snap.
“What happened up there Nina?” he asked in a soft voice. “You scared the crap out of me, and I’m not talking about when you fainted, I’m talking before that. It looked like you were having a stroke.”
She thought about what did happen, only half believing it herself and the half she did believe was to fantastic to truly believe. “You tell me, is everything alright with you?” Hernando let out a hearty laugh.
“Christ Nina, I couldn’t be better. You’re the one who’s been through the ringer yet you’re concerned about me? When you die, I’ll nominate you for sainthood.” She shot him a look that said don’t kid your big sister and he shrugged. ‘It looks like Lena may be pregnant. I’ll know when she stops being angry with me and tells me. Papá isn’t feeling too well and I want him to go to the clinic. Other than that everything is peachy. I bet you’re sure glad this trial business is over.”
She was glad. You have no idea how glad she said. She asked Hernando about Papá’s health.
“You know; he won’t talk to us about his health. It’s that machismo BS. You, least of all. I got a call from one of the guys at the nursery. He saw Papá coughing up blood so he gave me a call. When I asked Papá about it he said he bit his tongue so there was a little blood. Knowing Papá he’d have to be passing a kidney stone before he’d go see a doctor but I’m going to try.
The incident on the witness stand had taken a toll on Nina more than she anticipated. She had to take all her personal days with the Grand to attend the deposition, pre-trial meetings and to testify not once but twice. She was exhausted yet at the same time agitated to an almost frenzied state. She did not know who to confide in or even what words to use to describe her experiences. Sitting in Hernando’s car she tried again and stretched out her mind to touch his. It did not work this time, and its failure was actually a relief. Nina slept the rest of the way home.
Sparks Nevada never really sleeps, but the neighborhood north of town near the irrigation ditch was quiet and desolate at 3:00am. A week earlier the pair had found a home made foot bridge across the irrigation ditch. Franklin parked the creaking Hyundai 100 yards east of the foot bridge. They had mentally walked through the plan a dozen times. They had even done a trial run a week before just to insure there were no surprises.
“You have 2 hours. I’ll drive west bound and pass the foot bridge at exactly 5:00am If you there, great, if not, well, you know what HE said. ‘There is no coming back from this’. 5 sharp. We don’t talk, we don’t make eye contact, and we don’t breathe the same air. You got me?” Franklin took a huge bite from the drive through burger they picked up along the way.
Sitting next to Franklin was a skinny kid approaching 30. Since getting hooked on meth he dropped nearly 40 pounds. Dangling in front of him, or at least the image of it was dangled in front of him was the mother lode of methamphetamine. That was compensation for the job. 10 days ago, Franklin was visiting Paul in jail and he pointed out the meth head and told him that he was the one to do the job. Paul had scripted the conversation for Franklin, down to the skinny kid’s responses. Paul, never spoke to the guy, never acknowledged his existence when they were in the jail common room. But to Franklin, it seemed that Paul knew everything there was to know about the kid, accept his real name. Everyone inside called him Shakes because of his mannerisms. Franklin met up with Shakes the day after he was released and looking for a place to crash and score and not necessarily in that order. Franklin stuck 200 dollars in his hand and told Shakes to meet him here in exactly 48 hours. There was more where that 200 dollars came from. It didn’t take more than a few hours to burn through Franklin’s 200 bucks which meant he was back and begging for more.
It was very simple Franklin said, though never giving his real name. You’re going on the payroll. You do odd jobs for me, you get paid. You forget to do the job I get to beat you with this hunk of rebar. Franklin pulled out of his trunk three 4 foot lengths of rebar which had been welded together. Don’t mind that crap sticking to the end of the bar, Franklin said, it was just a little gray matter left over from Shakes predecessor.
Shakes got out of the car and casually walked toward the foot bridge and in a few moments he dropped down into the canal and was across. The scrub brush lining the canal made it impossible to watch more than a portion of his trip. In Shakes pocket was a crude map of the neighborhood that Franklin forced him to make. Seven houses on the left, between the mailbox marked 327 and the garage take a right to the back yard, over the fence and into the adjoining back yard. Look for the old Chrysler Imperial and wait 5 minutes. On the reverse side of the map was a layout of the Crespo’s home. The window with the 3 bricks underneath has a broken lock. Slip in, the room is empty. Go into the hall, on your left is a bathroom. Close the door to block the light from the porch light. Second door on the right is her room.
The actual command had never been spoken, but there was no doubt in Franklin’s mind what Paul wanted done. He had seen the agitation, the rage filled tantrum that Paul had during the first trial and somewhere somehow the words formed themselves in Franklins mind. He fought it for days. The worst he had ever done was beat up his little sister’s boyfriend when he got her pregnant. That’s what got him into the Navy actually. The choice between jail time and entering the service. An easy choice. He had taken part of some hazing in the Navy that gave him the cold sweats now that he was out. But that was a different Franklin in a different time. He fought the words that formed in his mind. She was a nobody. All she knew was what he had ordered for dinner. She knew nothing. Yet the words still came, wearing Franklin down the way water wears down granite. All the words needed was time. Eventually, reluctantly Franklin accepted the command, and a question formed. No the words said, not you. A patsy named Shakes. Find him, entice him just get him to do it. Never touch anything. Be a ghost, the voice suggested.
Shakes crouched besides the Chrysler and in the darkness he could make out the bricks beneath the window and the black rectangle that he would soon enter. Inside was safety. The blackness would swallow him up and he’d no longer be exposed out here in this junk yard of a backyard. He tripped over a plastic bucket on his way over to the window and the sound was so loud he almost called it off and took off like a rabbit. Instead he made for the window, slid the glass to the right and with the grace of a sack of potatoes he fell over the window sill and was in.
Shakes waited 10 minutes listening for voices but all he heard was the irregular snoring of Miguel. Hernando was shacked up with his girlfriend, so the only other sound he could possible hear was that of Nina’s. Second door on the right.
Whoever had cased the joint had been absolutely correct about the layout. Even the furniture in Nina’s room. Nina’s bedroom door was open so Shakes slipped in. The bed was small, as if for a little girl. The bed linin was all bunched up in the center where Nina lay sleeping. Shakes had 4 plastic bags from the local market, one inside of the other. All he needed to do was hold tight and press down quick and hard. Quick and hard, and each week a courier would deliver an envelope with 700 dollars. 3 minutes of work, quick and hard and he could walk out the front door and never look back. He stepped forward, grabbed the bags and lunged down with all his might only to find an empty pillow. At the same instant a shadow had crossed the open door. There standing was Nina in silhouette. She screamed and ran. Shakes dropped the bags and ran out into the hall, banging this way and that totally disoriented. He ran into the bathroom and it was his own reflection that scared the piss out of him. Nina was still shrieking somewhere in the house. Shakes ran back into the hall and towards the front of the house. He could see the driveway through a large picture window and jumped through the window landing in shower or razor sharp class. Before anyone had the foresight to dial 911 he was back in the irrigation ditch not sure what direction he was heading in. That’s where the police dogs found him 3 hours later. Incoherent, bloody and guilty as sin.
“We got the junkie who broke in, Sir.” Hernando was standing in the living room pacing like a caged animal. He translated everything the cops were saying for Miguel. He spoke English fairly well, but under these stressful few hours it was comforting to hear what was happening in his native tongue. “We found him floundering in the canal about a half mile west of here. Like a drowned rat he was.”
“Qué?” was all he would ask.
“Junkie’s do weird shit all the time. He was probably looking for money or something he could sell, is all.” Came the common answer.
“Right, casue the two rusting cars out front just scream money, whereas, the rest of the street looks like a Lexus dealership. No money there I suppose.” Hernando shot back. Nina sat on the couch with a thick down comforter wrapped around her to keep out the chilly morning air.
“I want to see him” she said in a mousy voice and had to shout it over Hernando who was about to get into it with the cop about neighborhood surveillance and not protecting poor Hispanic families.
That’s not a good idea Nina, Hernando advised. ‘I want to see him, face to face before we press charges, if we press charges.”
“Like hell if we’re not pressing charges. This scumbag is going down.” Hernando shouted through the opening where the window once was.
“Is he still in the area, or have you taken him to the station yet?” she asked. Shakes was beginning to show signs of hyperthermia, so after the paramedics treated him, he was taken down to the station. He’ll be held while the investigation continues, but in all likelihood he’ll be charged with breaking and entering and various other charges. Nina quietly went down the hall to get dressed, it was then she saw the plastic bags on her bed. She called for the cop to come see. It wasn’t obvious what he was doing with the bags, presumably using them to carry his stash away after the burglary. Nina replayed his motions when she found him over her bed. She had her suspicions but kept them to herself for the time being.
Her insistence with the cops finally paid off and she was allowed to observe Shakes through a one-way mirror. They didn’t want her to talk directly to him for fear she’d take pity on the guy and not press charges. Nina sat in a chair with Hernando next to her, talking incessantly about how he’d like to get his hands on Shakes and mete out justice Hernando style. Nina asked him to shut up for a minute so she could concentrate.
Once she settled her mind, she stretched out to find his. Eventually she was calm enough to feel his presence and once there she gently gained entrance. The juxtaposition of events was not lost on her, but she continued nonetheless. Like her earlier attempts from the witness stand, his mind was chaotic. Unlike last time she was able to discern that the chaos was Shakes natural condition and not a result of her presence or inability to understand. She probed memories and found a wife and 2 children who walked away from addiction. She found depraved acts, means to an end to feed a habit that was never satisfied. She pivoted around, changed plains of existence and found memories of this evening. She found a floor plan drawing of her home which focused on her bedroom and she found exactly what the four plastic bags, one inside the other to give them strength was really meant for. Her adrenalin spiked and she lost her connection. Nina willed herself calm and went back inside and began to look for Paul Shastin. He was nowhere to be found. She looked for other connections to Paul and was unable to find a single link. There were no memories, no images, no faces to put Shakes and Paul Shastin in the same room. She was relieved by that thought. Maybe Shakes was simply a junkie looking to pick up some quick pawn money. No matter how convinced she wanted to be, there was always a nagging loose end that told her otherwise. She let go of his mind and asked Hernando to take her home to pick up a few things. Despite the reassurances from the police and from Hernando who would stay home and stand guard, Nina simply wasn’t feeling safe enough to stay there tonight. She was going to get a room at the Nugget and lock herself in for a quiet night.
It was as she was falling asleep that evening and shards of Shakes memories kept her wide awake that the connection hit her. Shakes was in a car with someone. Cheeseburgers and onion aroma filled the car. That someone was also in the courtroom the day Shastin lunged at her. She had her link. Nina wouldn’t fall asleep for another 3 days and 2500 miles.
Morons, I am surrounded by morons with nightsticks and pepper spray, Paul Shastin thought as he was being transferred from the local lock up to the secure cells in the county. With the verdict finally being read, everyone now knew what Paul had known from day one. He was going to be found guilty. This meant he’d be going deeper into the Nevada prison system than ever before. The deeper you go, he thought the dumber everyone appears to be. It wasn’t that the guards and other inmates were morons, it was a simple matter of them not caring. One minute was no different than the previous 6 billion minutes that preceded it. Doing time sucked. It was a crime against nature and as cruel as any punishment ever devised. With only a single lifetime to live, to fritter years of it away was a travesty. To do that time surrounded with the least intelligent people on planet Earth was cruel and inhuman punishment. Someone get me to Pope on the phone.
It took most of that first day to be processed into the Northern Nevada prison. The prison was built in 1964 and probably hadn’t been updated since. The steel was thick, and painted so many times that the diameter of the bars grew by a quarter of an inch. Some of that paint had peeled off in thick heavy shards that could choke a small child. The whole place smelled of neglect and piss. There were 4 others in the transitional wing of the prison. The all looked scared out of their mind. To pass the time Paul probed into each one just to see what was going on. The gang banger looking guy with the neck tattoo was here before. Second time around it seems. Got nabbed as a drug mule out near Carson City as a second offence. His trial lasted 2 days with no one appearing as a witness for the defense. There was uncertainty also within this guy coupled with a hair trigger fuse. Paul knew he was a volcano waiting to erupt. The second guy, a short balding accountant type had walked into a car repair shop he thought had ripped him off and shot out every piece of glass he could find before the SWAT team gassed him out. Everyone had escaped the repair shop except for the receptionist who was in the bathroom at the time the trouble started. She locked the door and climbed up on the back of the toilet and huddled there above the porcelain for 4 hours. The gun play episode cost him 18 months. The kidnapping charge was an additional 20 years. The sad part was the guy was right, he was getting ripped off and this seemed like his only option because all the consumer protection mechanisms had failed this poor slob.
Paul never got to the final two inductees. After processing each was escorted to a separate cell where they would spend their first night. Inside Paul Shastin was a raging mass of anger. He was seething at everyone and everything. If he hadn’t spent the better part of the day in handcuffs he would have strangled the nearest throat. To hell with the batons and pepper spray. He was beyond deterrents. He wanted action. He needed retribution against all women, Alice Trainor for one but most of all for Nina Crespo. He was incensed that Franklin and that moron Shakes had botched her killing. He should have done it himself in court. He was too timid then being somewhat surprised by her awareness.
How did she come by that level of intuition? For that matter how did he? Was there any commonality between the two of them? Paul couldn’t really be certain what connected them. One thing was certain as night follows day, He despised what she was capable of doing. The thought of someone being able to reach into his mind and poke around made him physically ill. The fact that she had already been inside and found god knows what couldn’t be tolerated. That’s way she had to go.
Paul sat bold upright in bed. All around him was a sea of men to do his bidding. For every man that walked into this prison, another man walked out. He’d send them one at a time, until the job was done. As soon as he could he’d be running this prison and that was better than winning any poker tournament. He’d become a ruler of men.
Nina found a spare set of keys to Hernando’s Buick hanging by the back door in the kitchen. Hernando was sleeping on the couch in the living room underneath the plywood sheathing where the picture window used to be. She went back to her room and packed a small bag of personal items. Best to travel light she thought. The small rectangular case was resting on her bed and it made a good writing table. She wrote a quick note for Papá. He wouldn’t understand no matter what she said. The words did not come easy. She found Hernando standing in the doorway as she sealed the envelop. Going somewhere he asked.
“Yes. Don’t ask me where, ‘nando. I really don’t know myself. I only know that if I stay here this is going to happen again. “
“Nonsense, that junkie ain’t ever coming back here. Did you see him? He’s not going to last a year in jail.”
“You don’t understand little brother; it’ll be someone else next time. There WILL be a next time, I…” she thought for a second about what to say. She opted for the easy way out. “I feel it in my bones. If you knew where I was going, he, er, I mean, it’ll happen there too. Sorta like a bad penny showing up again? You know what I mean?”
“Not a chance Nina. You’re just going to leave after a bit of trouble? Really?” Nina shrugged. She wished he had stayed asleep so she could have been around the corner before anyone knew. Hernando reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills.
“Here, Nina, should be 250, maybe 300 here. It won’t get you far, but I hope it helps. “ he handed over the money and gave his big sister a kiss on the top of her head. “Is that for Papá?” She nodded again.
“When are you leaving?” Nina stood up, gave her little brother a long tight hug, kissed him on the cheek and walked out. She tossed her bag in the trunk and her jacket and purse in the passenger side of the front seat and backed out of the driveway. The old Buick was louder than she would have liked but not enough to draw attention from anyone on the highway. She put the car in drive and began to roll out until she almost hit her father standing in the middle of the street.
Leaving the engine running Nina stepped out of the car and threw her arms around her father. “I’m sorry “ was all she could say as their teas mingled against pressed cheeks.
“You do what you need to do, my little one. That is all your Mamá and I ever wanted for you. Not to take care of me. You go. You be free. I’ll be here when you come home again. “ Miguel reached down on the ground and handed Nina a burled rosewood box. She had seen it throughout her life sitting on Mamá’s dressing table where she kept her grandmother’s keepsakes from Honduras. “Inside you will find things your mother loved, things she wanted you to have and love as she loved. This is from me.” Miguel reached into his shirt and pulled out a gold braided chain and on it was a pendant of the lady of Guadalupe. “She’ll protect you until you return to us. “ On one face of the pendant was an enameled portrait of the lady – The virgin mother, protector of the Americas. The pendant was so old that the image was beginning to wear off revealing the gold beneath. On the obverse side of the medallion were these words “She banishes those who devour us.”
Nina knew better than to argue with her father. Hernando had come out of the house as well and handed Nina a small bag. “Don’t say I never made you a meal.” The three hugged one final time. Nina got back into the car and slowly rolled down the street keeping one eye on the rear view mirror, not knowing when she’d see her family again.
Her plan only went so far as the corner. Turning left or right was a coin flip as was her destination. 300 dollars wasn’t going to get her very far, and she needed to get as far away from Paul Shastin as she could. But where? There was family in Mexico and Honduras, old high school friends in California. In the back of her mind she knew seeking out these people would be a mistake so they were crossed off the list first.
Maybe it was the stress or maybe the lack of sleep or the sheer absurdity of what she was doing but she thought about a scene from one of her favorite movies, The Princess Bride. The villain Vizzini trying to guess which goblet had the poison over thinks and over thinks himself into a frenzy to the same mortal conclusion. Nina was beginning to do that as well and it was making her just as crazy as Vizzini. For 300 dollars she’d be a leaf on the wind and end up wherever the wind would take her.
Nina avoided the interstates, toll booths and any place that might have a video camera. She had no idea how deep a reach into the void Paul Shastin had but if he was able to manipulate a meth head junkie to break into her home to kill her, it had to be extensive.
She headed north and west out of Reno where Nina crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains heading for Sacramento California. She had never been there and should be able to find a place to pull over for a few hours to rest. The Golden Chain highway was a real nail biter at night. The Buick’s headlight glass had become milky white over the years so they weren’t as bright as she would have liked. The forest was desolate and lonely which suited her just fine. She was alone for the first time in her life and it hurt beyond understanding.
Paul waited his turn in the breakfast line. Due to overcrowding each meal had 2 shifts and his was to appear in the first shift or not at all. Everything about this place smelled of piss, semen and blood. He wasn’t afraid of his surroundings, nor really of the other inmates. He avoided the places where he could be alone. The way he thought of it was like being cut from the herd. When that happened your life was in mortal danger. Another step closer to reconstituted scramble eggs. He quieted his mind and reached out to see who was there. There were ten or 15 minds that he found. A few were in silent distress, or abject panic. One was an incomprehensible mess of drug suppressed psychosis that Paul pulled out as quickly as he was able. One mind interested him, so he probed deeper. Looking around did no good as it was impossible to orient himself to the mind of the other. There was a calmness like resembled steel before the slag is machined away. Here was a mind that could be partnered with and become an ally against the insanity that was prison life. But who, where?
Paul tried an experiment, he tried to insert a thought into the mind of the other. A biting fly on the back of the head. Maybe if he can get the other to slap himself that would give him away and thus identify himself. Paul envisioned the deer fly, big and angry looking landing on the back of his neck, just above his shirt collar. Then the fly leans forward as it reaches out with its mouth and takes a big chunk of skin into its mouth. The image made the hair on Paul’s head stand on edge, but no one in the room slapped the imaginary fly away.
He tried another image. This time he landed the fly just as before, but this time he turned the fly around 180 degrees and sink an ova depositor in the open wound. With a spasm of the abdomen hundreds of larva eggs are deposited just under the skin. This time he got a slap from the guard standing between the end of the food line and the first trash can. This surprised him immensely. He never thought about the guards before. What excited him the most was being able to implant a thought. Now, he thought, what else could he get the guard to do.
That same morning when Paul was implanting imaginary deer fly eggs in prison guards, Nina was working her way to Mexicali Mexico. Her plan was to cross into Mexico on her passport, head east and maybe leave Nina Crespo in Mexico and cross over as the Rio Grande an illegal. In theory it was a plan. Just how good she had her doubts, epically about leaving all her identification behind.
Nina was hit with a sudden wave of panic. How did she get into this situation? Her mind went back to the small hotel room she was cleaning when Paul pinned her against the wall. Neither of them realized it at the time that they had encountered each other at the poker tournament. It was only chance that Alice’s lawyers picked Nina as a witness. It could have easily have been the other cocktail waitress, or one of the bus boys.
She went back to her testimony and what she felt while on the stand. She was nervous as hell as she spoke. Her mistake was to make eye contact with Paul and the jolt of electricity she felt as she realized that Paul was the guy that had assaulted her the year before. She was on the verge of fainting away when she felt him in her mind. It was as violent an assault as when he held her against the wall and pressed his face against hers. At first he had free reign in her mind. She was accessing memories from all over her history and Paul was an observer in them all. Leering over her like a dirty old man with his stink and sweaty paws getting off on her experiences. The thought made her nauseous as she drove Hernandos Buick south toward the border.
That’s when something remarkable happened. Nina fought back. Not really knowing how she shut down the memories by bringing herself back to reality. To the here and now of the moment. Shastin was everywhere in her mind and it took some effort to box him into a space that gradually got smaller and smaller. As she did that her confidence grew as well to the point that once Paul was out of her mind, she crossed over into his. It was a combination of adrenalin and rage that gave her the energy to eject Shastin from her mind and to take the leap to enter his. What she found her was unlike any experience anyone had ever had.
It was a jumbled mess. Memories flying every which way and that. And the thoughts were a confusing mess of anger, resentment, pure rage and unrelenting desire to murder. Not to just murder or to snuff out a life, but to inflict such horrific pain and suffering as part of that act as to give barbarism a bad name. This was cruelty on a scale never really seen by anyone who lived to tell the tale. Paul Shastin had a physical hatred for Nina that was so severe it overwhelmed and suppressed his higher thought processes. It was blood lust , unprecedented. That alone gave Nina the strength to fight back, for to fail was to die. She didn’t know it at the time but Nina was in a death struggle with Paul. To lose focus or to let him back into her mind would have killed her. To observers it would have looked like a stroke, or heart attack, but for Nina it would have felt like Paul Shastin was ripping out handfuls of her brain and ripping them to shreds before her very eyes. Fighting Paul to a standstill was a greater victory than she realized.
With her struggle with Paul it had been a matter of life and death, with Shakes it has been a question of survival. Deep down she knew Paul Shastin was responsible for the attack but she didn’t know how to prove it, or who might listen to such a farfetched story. So she probed, and prodded looking for a connection. She didn’t so much as feel one was there, she just knew. Shakes was driven to the house by a guy who was also in the courtroom. That was the only connection she need. So she ran, and was running now, away from her family, from her Papá that relied on her. The only home she ever knew.
Here she was south of Bakersfield with less than 200 dollars to her name. She’d get into Mexico but getting out was going to be another matter. Nina pulled off of the highway and into the parking lot of a Safeway. She felt so deflated, 200 dollars was going to evaporate, probably even before she got to Mexicali. What the hell was she going to do? She rifled through the Buick’s glove compartment and found nothing of help there. All it contained was a few road maps, two parking tickets and a pair of women’s panties. Obviously Hernando used this car for more than just getting from point A to point B.
She looked through the trunk as well. What she did find was there was no spare in the wheel well. This might cause a problem on the road. A spare tire was going to cost her more than 200 dollars. Nina took out her mother’s rosewood box from inside her suitcase and brought it up front where she could take a better look at it. Inside she found her mamma’s favorite scarf. She found a rosary, and small glass jar of teeth. Nina was repelled by the teeth until she realized that they were probably the baby teeth that she and Hernando had lost as children. Why her mother kept such things was a mystery that would never be solved. Underneath it all was a newspaper article with her parents wedding announcement. As she read the article she was surprised to read that her Father was an architect student when they got married. Nina never knew. The interior of the box was lined in padded blue velvet which gave the box the old world feeling to it. She turned it over and examined it for any information as to its origin. If the bottom had been written on, any words were worn off long ago. There was nothing about the box that looked like it was worth anything. The only thing she had that might be of value was the pendant necklaces her father had given her. She would rather die than to sell it off for gas money. She began to softly cry. A shopping center security jeep drove by with its yellow caution beacon flashing. That was as close to a cop as Nina wanted to get. Nina parked the car close to the grocery store and went inside to purchase a can of soup for dinner. She didn’t know what to do, but whatever it was going to be she’d face it on a full stomach.
Paul Shastin sat on the bench eating his merger dinner and scanned the room for his security guard. Since breakfast he had learned the guards name was Dominic Whitehall. He’s been a guard for 14 years, 10 down at Steward Conservation camp and the last 4 here at Northern Nevada. He also has a reputation for being a ball buster and a first class hard ass. There was absolutely nothing for Paul to lose by trying to crack this guard. If he failed, all it would do is add a little time to his sentence. If he succeeded, well, the world would be his oyster.
Jeff Tamura still kept in touch with the medical staff in Wiesbaden. The bond between care givers and care takers was stronger than words could describe. Jeff was tall and thin for a Japanese American, the height he got from his mother, who’s family traced their roots to Iowa farmers before Iowa was a state. His parents met in college at Northwestern in the sixties. To hear his mother tell the story, Jeff was the youngest student in English department in 1969. The mortar attach had left him with a mild case of PTSD that got progressively more pronounced once he was back in the real world. His support structure was gone for the most part. Email and the occasional lunch wasn’t enough to keep the demons locked away. Eschewing any drug therapy, he began to see a somatic psychotherapist who used a variety of body movement and exercises to help relieve the stress. The Therapist also used an odd technique called EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensation and Reprocessing literally rewired Jeff’s brain not to react the same way it did before. Wacky stuff Jeff thought, but anything short of popping a pill was something he was game for.
Jeff also found he had an uncanny ability to understand people in a way that escaped others. Jeff assumed it was a pleasant side effect of the EMDR training he had, but because that was something he experienced in a therapist office, he kept that to himself.
His service record and top honors in criminology got him a low level investigator job with the Justice Department working out of the Battle Creek Michigan office. Life was good. He loved his job, he loved not reacting to stress the way he did right after the war yet there was something still missing in his life. It wasn’t a nesting instinct or anything quite that obvious, but all of his relationships, even the very serious ones left him lacking. He wanted to be in love with these women but it was never anything that he felt. Jeff knew it was himself that was unable to get to that place. Simply finding that place was the hard part. As he approached his birthday he assumed he was simply incapable of being truly in love. He blamed the mortar for that. Taken all as a whole, this one missing part paled to everything that was going well.
***** Now in East Lansing, Michigan *****
As a new employee Nina worked the shifts no one else wanted. This usually meant Thursdays through Monday nights. That suited her just fine. There were fewer staff to contend with and the residents were usually asleep except for the wanders and the bed wetters.
This particular Sunday morning Nina, who now went by the name Christina was helping give sponge baths to the male residents in the advanced ward. There were 7 men and 4 women in this ward. Most were ambulatory which made it easier to get them in and out of the showers. the wheel chair bound residents were lifted by a sling and almost hung in the shower room to be cleaned up. It was humiliating work. the first time she helped out she cried. the depressing state of these once vibrant people was the worst part. Added to that was the sterile, almost assembly line treatment these people received was shocking. It was impossible to feel good about herself, as she went through the motions of stripping off bedclothes, oft times soiled bedclothes, prod or cajole naked bodies into the water spray. Because of the heightened risk of falls, everyone had to wear a harness that would lessen the chance of injury but it wouldn’t prevent it.
To pass the time away she would reach out to these minds to discover if she could find the vibrant people they once were. Nina had learned that a woman everyone called Mary B had been in the army as a gunnery instructor teaching recruits the fine art of howitzer attacks. Here she was a frail shell of herself, unable to remember what she did 5 minutes ago but could still plot out an azimuth angle in her head.
One night Nina found Mary B wandering the corridors of the home looking for the bus station.
“There’s no bus coming Mary. Can I help you get back into bed?” Nina gently took Mary by the arm and tried to pivot her back toward her bed room.
“I’m late to report. I need to be back in the morning.” She muttered under her breath. Nina and Mary slowly shuffled away from the exits. The home wasn’t so much a locked fortress, as fire regulations prohibited locked doors, but the home was set up in such a way that many alarms would sound if a resident were able to figure out how to get through the door system.
Mary B was a delight to work with. She called everyone ‘my darling’, and gently patted everyone on the arm when they talked. As far as Nina was concerned, dealing with Mary B was the high point of her day. At the pace Mary walked it would take about 10 minutes for the two of them to reach her room. Nina took advantage of this time and reached across to Mary’s mind. Recent memories were like shards of glass, brilliant and jagged interspersed with vast areas of black void. Most memories repeated themselves or were disjointed in much the same way a jigsaw puzzle comes out of the box. Nothing made sense. Earlier memories were more even and calm. Nina saw 4 children and 2 husbands. She found memories of childbirth and birthday parties. Of courtship and sex. these memories surprised Nina in their earthiness and vigor. It touched a small pang of loneliness in her own soul, but there was nothing she could do about that new.
Nina found the shattered memory of the bus and the need to report. Instead of looking at each shard, which made no sense she pulled back a little to examine a larger section of the memory. From this perspective Nina could feel a bit more organization to the memory. She found that she could organized the shards in sections and by doing so, this memory began to make a little more sense, or perhaps just a little bit less chaotic.
Since discovering her ability her embarrassment to use it lessened over time. She knew it was an invasion of privacy. perhaps the greatest violation imaginable but it was also a matter of self-preservation. Nina had suffered two types of attack, one from Paul Shastin directly. Battling over her own memories, and the second an attack on her very life. She needed to know who was out there, and what their agenda was. The residents of the Grand Haven were no threat, but her curiosity was stronger than her ability to keep to herself.
The only other resident of note was a surly man named Dan. His response to anything he didn’t like was to threaten to get his lawyer on the phone and sue. He as disliked by all of the staff. Dan and his wife Joan had been living there for about 4 years before Nina got her job there. Joan was a prim and proper lady who looked like you could knock her over with a feather. the story was that Dan was so demanding that Joan waited on him hand and foot to the exclusion of her own health. Where Dan came in overweight to the point of being obese, Joan came in malnourished. She focused so much on feeding him, that she forgot to feed herself. Had the family not interceded, she would have perished. Her Alzheimer’s was more advanced than Dan’s so she was in a different section of the home, where greater care was provided.
Dan was the last male in line for the Sunday morning shower and he was in in his typical surely mood. His yelling could always be heard throughout the complex. “Where’s Joanie! Who are you? Don’t touch me you Spanish whore!” That last one was Nina’s favorite. In fact, it was everyone’s favorite. The staff would refer to each other as Spanish Whores or Spanish sluts. Even Robert, the big black man who moved slowly through the complex, but was lightning quick and strong when needed was called the Black Spanish whore. by adopting Dan’s epithets, it took all the sting out of it and surprisingly it almost became a term of endearment between the staff. Nina was too shy to use it, but she thought it plenty of times and maybe someday, she’d try it out on Robert.
After traveling through Mexico Nina made her way up the Mississippi valley until Hernando’s car gave up the ghost on her way to northern Michigan. She had no choice but to stay awhile until she earned enough money to get the car fixed and get back on the road. She hadn’t quite perfected the art of being on the run, but she instinctively knew that staying in one place too long was dangerous. East Lansing was as good a place as any to hold out for a few weeks. It hadn’t dawned on her that with it’s large student population that unskilled labor was cheap and abundant in town. The Grand Haven home was just outside the reach of most students. Finding a place to stay was the hard part. Luckily there were a few all night lounges on campus she was able to crash and get a few hours of sleep and the facilities at the Grand Haven afforded her showers and laundry services. And left overs. All she needed was a car that could travel the highway and anonymity.
Dan was standing there dripping wet and waiting to be dried off. Nina had compassion for him, as she did for everyone at the Grand Haven. She was still too new on the job to have developed the cynical shell that was necessary to work there for long, otherwise everyone would lose their humanity. Robert had Dan in the harness and Nina slowly and gently dried him off. He stared into her eyes and shouted out about his lawyer again. From behind, Robert asked Dan what the phone number was cause he’d dial it for him. That just made him angrier and more agitated. before anyone knew it, the three of them were sprawled on the wet tile floor. The Naked Dan flailing around hitting Nina with as much violence as an 85-year-old man can muster. If he kept this up Robert would have to put Dan in restraint, and no one wanted that. On a whim, Nina reached out to Dan’s mind. She needed to quiet herself first, so she disassociated her body from her mind. The blows still fell but they were more muffled as if she were covered in down pillows. Like Mary B, Dan was a distorted mass of shards and chaos. She sensed physical pain which she assumed as due to the fall to the floor. There were other sensations that she couldn’t quite put labels on. Emotional pain perhaps. The recent memories were the most fragmented and difficult to understand. The earlier memories were more intact. Nina felt the energy and vitality of a robust young man playing collegiate football. She experienced the terror and exhilaration of parachute training at Fort Bragg with the 82nd airborne. She found the root of the anger inside of Dan. All his life he had been at the top of the pyramid. The fastest, strongest, most virile, most sought after, highest paid. This lead to a sky high ego everywhere except at home. There he was the distant husband and absent father. Loved and resented in equal measure and ill equipped to cope. Everywhere else he had the answer. People listened to him and did what they were told. Not so 4 year olds and a woman who felt betrayed by the façade of her husband. The man behind the curtain was scorned and ridiculed. Coming home at the end of the day was like slowly waking headlong into a dagger.
Nina began to understand this man and she felt compassion for him. Before the fall in the shower she felt sorry for him. Now, naked and wet on the floor, stripped of dignity and faculty Nina was aware of what he had lost. The current memories that she felt held a shade of awareness of all that was lost. it made her sad.
She pushed toward Dan’s mind a calmness that she didn’t entirely feel herself. Together she though, we’ll become calm and avoid the restraint. At first she tried to slow down his flailing arms and to draw them inward upon himself. At the same time, she tried to settle his voice, to soften the yelling that Dan was known for. Whether her influence or not, he did settle down and Robert backed off on restraining Dan. they got him cleaned up, dressed and ready for breakfast.
Nina enjoyed her brief forays into Mary B’s and Dan’s mind. She couldn’t shake the knowledge that she was violating their privacy and for that she felt extremely guilty. Guilty or not she couldn’t not help herself. There was a compulsion she could not stave off that led her into these minds.
Paul had been able to wangle his way into the printing press shop. The work was dreary but non stressful.
“we print all the pamphlets that the state used in all their agencies. If you, well not you cause you’re here, but if you were outside and needed a copy of the rules of the road in Spanish, it came from here. Or English. We have had a request for a copy in Russian and Polish, but fuck them. Learn English like the rest of us, right?” The head printer was serving year 15 of a mandatory 20-year sentence for second degree murder. He blamed cocaine. The state blamed him. Drug related charges lead to this mandatory stretch. After he turned 70 the state sent him down here to finish out his sentence.
Some other inmate from behind the stack of stock paper yelled out “Hey, why don’t we print rules of the road in Ute, or Navajo? Cause..,’ he answered himself, “cause they don’t live in ‘merica, on those damn nations of theirs. ” but they take our gambling money without question.” Shastin simply ignored this moron. Paul had already probed his mind and this guy was of no value to Paul. Just a lifer without any visitors or outside contact. He’d die in this god forsaken place and planted in an unmarked grave along with all the other trash of humanity.
The guards rotated every 2 weeks to a new assignment within the prison, that cut down on fraternization with inmates. This meant that Paul had to take advantage of every moment he could get with the guard and it also meant that he needed to be patient. If he blew it with the guard, it might set him back years cultivating another outside contact.
It took 6 weeks before the guard was assigned to the printing press shop. Paul knew better than to engage the guard directly so it was a matter of being subtle and indirect. his attempt to influence physical response from his cell mate had been a complete bust.
Walter White was a convicted drug dealer. Stone cold and brutal in his dealings with the world. He wanted noting from Shastin, and Shastin was willing to leave Walter along.
The name tag on his uniform said D Whitehall. From Paul’s perspective Whitehall was in his mid-forties, bald with a blonde turned whitish mustache. There was no mistake that underneath his uniform officer Whitehall spent a great deal of time in the weight room. What Paul didn’t want to find out, certainly not the hard way was just how quick he was.
Today Paul was working a folding machine. Taking about 10 thousand double sided pages and folding them in a tri-fold. The machine looked like it had been last serviced during the Eisenhower administration and all the rubber wheels had dried out and had no grip to it. The pages had to be fed in one after another. an experienced operator could fold around 1000 an hour, Paul would be lucky if he could fold half that. It was mind numbing work. Shastin stretched out and found Whitehall. instead of a suggesting a biting fly, Paul tried to get Whitehall to say something odd. He remembered seeing a hypnotist once who had gotten an audience member to quack like a duck every time someone said the word cheeseburger. Paul wondered if he could do something along the same lines. A common request among inmates was to go to the can, use the bathroom. it was as common a request as there was in prison. Usually the guard just nodded his approval. No guard wanted an inmate to piss himself, so the answer was usually yes. Instead of a nod, Shastin wanted Whitehall to say ‘Give it a shake for me, will ya’. 8 hours in the print shop. 10,000 pages. chunk, ker-chunk, over and over and over against. Paul focused on the other 7 inmates, each of them walking up to officer Whitehall asking the same question, Whitehall giving the same answer. ‘give it a shake for me will ya?” during that first day three of his fellow inmates asked to use the john, Whitehall nodded each time as usual. Paul knew this was a very complicated implant so he didn’t think it would take root in a day.
It took six months.
Shastin wasn’t anywhere around with it happened but he heard about it.
“I tell ya, I just about shit my pants.” he head from the table behind him. “I was in the wood shop as usual, running the planer. Dayton goes up to that dick guard Whitehall and asks to go to the can. Whitehall says ‘give it a shake, or let it wiggle. Something fucking crazy like that. The whole place went nuts. We were all laughing at the two of them. It looked like he was caught with his Johnson stuck in a knothole.”
Shastin slammed down his tray and began laughing uncontrollably. He knew exactly what Whitehall had said even if the baboon behind him didn’t. So it worked. I can plant thoughts as easily as I can think them myself. The next few years were going to be pretty interesting here. What Paul wanted to do was begin working with the parole board and get them to think that Paul Shastin was a sympathetic character and no threat to society and should be released at the first opportunity. That’s assuming he knew who was on the board when his first hearing was scheduled 6 or 7 years hence.
For now, he wanted to move out of the print shop and into the computer lab or library or better yet, become a trustee and work in the warden’s office. That he could focus on.
Between the last breakfast and the first lunch the prison used the lunch room as the visitor’s center. Surprisingly, Franklin Turner was on the list. Paul sat at table 17 while he waited for Franklin to appear. Each table had its own morality play going on. Table 3 had a father visiting his son. Table 6 had two sons visiting their father. Table 19 was Paul’s favorite. An inmate sitting all alone watching the seconds tick off the clock as no one showed. Hope springs eternal, Shastin thought as he stretched out to encompass the mind of the waiting inmate. Paul ignored the recent memories, day after day of this mind numbing repetition. The only interesting thing Paul noted was the other was the prison chess champion, having won the last 5 inmate tournaments. In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king, Shastin thought. In any college town, no. in any High school chess club this guy would be a laughing stock.
Shastin was so focused on the chess player that he was caught off guard when Franklin sat down across from him.
“How you doing man?” Franklin began. Shastin hit him with an icy stare and said nothing. Franklin frowned and continued. “I got the info you wanted about that girl. I don’t know why you’re so obsessed with, you, know. She bolted after Shakes showed up. “ That got Paul’s attention.
“I didn’t ask you where she isn’t. I asked you to tell me where she is, remember? so where is she?”
“As far as I can tell, she’s in Mexico. I called in some makers with the Shore Patrol, who make some subtle inquires with the FBI and Homeland Security. The border patrol has a record of her crossing into Mexico at Mexicali on October the 5th of last year. There’s no record of her re-entering the US, so she must be hanging out with family on their tortilla farm or something.”
“Why do I even bother with you?”
“Cause I’m the only one who’ll put up with your bullshit is my guess.” Franklin smiled and then said, “That business with Shakes was really messed up dude. We got lucky not being linked to that.”
“Shame he OD’d while in police custody.” Shastin smiled. He had an inkling something like that might happen.
“Just so long as it didn’t get back to me. Now, let the girl go, she’s not worth a life sentence, you know what I mean?” Franklin was imploring Shastin to move on with things and focus on how to get though his sentence with as little trouble as possible.
“I cannot let it go, Franklin. It’s a matter of life or death as far as I’m concerned. As long as she’s… around, my life is in jeopardy. You’re worried about ‘it,’” Shastin has to be cautious who was over hearing. Guards were patrolling the room and he wouldn’t put it past the State of Nevada to have boom microphones planted in all the common rooms. “in 100 years it wouldn’t matter one iota. Dead is dead. What’s a few years? Everyone celebrates the adopted dog from a no-kill shelter, but no one morns the thousand strays killed every day by teenage drivers who were texting ‘sup?’ when they should have been paying attention. It doesn’t matter. In 10 thousand years there will be such an accumulation of cat videos and selfies that it’ll bury Homer and Shakespeare and Ray Charles. Agent Smith had it right when he told Neo that humanity is a disease. We are a parasitic organism on this earth and we will kill our host before we do anything about it. One life? Don’t make me laugh. Just walk into Yucca mountain and open up a few barrels of plutonium waste and let’s be done with it. All that matters is now. This moment and to hell with all the rest.
She threatens my ‘now.’ Because she understands all too well what I’m capable of doing. That’s all you need to understand.”
Life at the Grand Haven had settled into a routine. Nina was no longer the low man on the totem pole and was able to move onto the day shift. Life in East Lansing was so very different from what she was accustom to in Reno. There, the sensibilities of the old west mingled with the free-for-all attitude of gambling. There was an independence through isolation mentality that came down through the pioneers. We don’t need the federal government telling us what to do and interfering with our lives was a common cry that Nina herself adopted as her credo. Keep to yourself she learned. Even though the Crespo’s were among the newer residents, Nina had many friends who could trace their ancestry back to the Spaniards who first laid claim to this land. They were now treated as second class citizens by some who had been in Nevada less than a generation.
In comparison East Lansing was an alien environment. People were friendly even smiling at each other as they passed by. Nina was out shopping once for a much needed pair of shoes. She followed Roberts’s recommendation to skip the chain stored and visit a landmark store in the area, situated across from the university on Grand River Avenue. Unlike a chain store, there were sales staff helping customers out. At first this was a bit disconcerting for Nina. To actually tell even the friendliest and helpful of a stranger what she needed in footwear simply lead to an awkward exchange. The sales clerk was probably a student from the university and was bubbly and enthusiastic in her attempts to help Nina find the right pair of shoes. Nina thought the clerk was even more disappointed than she was when the right pair of shoes was nowhere to be found. 20 minutes later and 2 floors above the shoe department, Nina was approached by the shoe clerk. She had eventually found the shoes Nina was looking for and then searched the store hoping she’d find Nina and tell her the good news.
This would never happen in Reno she thought. The more liberal attitude of taking care of each other, it takes a village sort of Midwest sensibilities took Nina a long time to come to terms with and despite how long she stayed in the area, she longed for the aloofness of home. Nina had been reluctant to sink any kind of roots in the area, always assuming she was only here to earn enough to get Hernando’s car fixed and head up into Northern Michigan, perhaps the Upper Peninsula. The more Nina heard about U.P. and the Youpers, as they were called it seemed more alien to her than Mars. The oil leak in Hernando’s car had been fixed for a few weeks now, but she lingered. As reluctant as she was to admit it, she had grown fond of Mary B, Dan and Robert.
Robert lived in a small apartment within walking distance of the Grand Haven and every Friday night he seemed to have some sort of get-together with the Grand Haven staff. Nina’s lack of participation began to be felt as a condescending attitude. Reluctantly she accepted an invitation.
Robert’s apartment surprised Nina in its spaciousness and furniture. She half expected second hand dorm furniture, black lights and Reggie music all night long.
“Thanks for coming Nina. It’s nice to see you out of the Men’s shower room and wet clothes.” Franklin handed Nina a cold beer and she took a long sip from the bottle.
“How do you handle it? The assembly line approach to taking care of these people? I cried for weeks after I saw how we were treating them.”
Robert shrugged those huge shoulders of his. “It gets to us all, I think. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to think of some other way to do it, but I’ve come up short every time. Do you see Martha over there?” Martha Evans was a tall thin supervisor at the Grand Haven. Nina found her even handed when dealing with staff and residents. As much as Nina allowed herself to like anyone here, she liked Martha. “a few years ago, we had a cafeteria and shuffled 120 residents into it 3 times a day. It took about an extra hour a meal getting residents into and out of the dining hall. Martha came up with the idea of putting a small kitchen in each of the wards. Most of the cooking would be prepared in the big kitchen, but the food would be served family style in each of the resident halls. Some of the resident’s even help out, you know, setting the table, ladling soup and stuff. Now It takes 10 minutes of effort to get residents around a table. It fundamentally changed everyone’s quality of life. All I need to do is find something like that about the showers.”
“You’ll think of something.” She said. Nina hadn’t had a beer in what felt like a year, so the glow from this first beer was settling in fast. “I have to say Robert, I didn’t expect your apartment to look like this, it is sparse almost to the point of being barren, but homey at the same time too. You sorta surprised me.”
Robert bellowed out a bear sized laugh that got every head in the place turned in his direction. This also embarrassed Nina. “Look at me Nina, I haven’t seen 300 pounds since my sophomore year. A blown out knee, lost scholarship and not enough bus fare to go home again. There’s not much room for me and more than a couch that can fit in one room.”
“Necessity is the Mother of Invention, right?”
“Something like that. Plus, a little less is more thrown in for good measure doesn’t hurt either.” Off in the distance a chime from the kitchen dinged and Robert excused himself to take care of the food. The music was an eclectic blend of avant-garde Jazz and Chicago blues. Chet Baker and Miles Davis mingled with Son Seals and Willie Dixon. To Nina’s ears segregated to Tejano and other Tex-Mex radio stations it was dangerous music with a cattle prod jolt that hit her in the chest with every back beat. She could barely concentrate on anything else while the music was playing. She grabbed another beer and stepped out the kitchen door to the adjoining parking lot where the party had spilled out.
The music was less loud out here and the cooler air was refreshing. Summer in East Lansing also took some time to get accustom to. She was used to 90 degree temps during the day. At home the night time temps would drop into the 50’s. She never expected that it could be in the 80’s night after sleepless sweaty night. Martha was outside chatting with someone from the administration office and the hair dresser how volunteered one afternoon a week to provide hair and nail care to the elderly women who desired such services. They were talking about perms, when Martha broke away and came over to Nina.
Martha said, “I heard something very peculiar this week Christina, about you.” When they were out of ear shot of the others.
“I’m sorry” Nina choked out.
“Actually 2 things.” She paused to take a long sip from her beer. “All your references and paper work came back fine, but the descriptions that came back from Mexico and Texas just didn’t seem to fit. So we asked if they could fax over a picture. Which they did.” Nina could tell that Martha was astute enough to only say so much. Nina just nodded, knowing her reaction might change everything.
“A lot has changed since then.” Nina said.
“Indeed. That’s what we all said. Now the other thing that’s peculiar is Mary B. She’s more engaged at meal time, more aware of where she is and want’s going on, it’s as if she’s 15 years younger. At first we thought it was a response to new drug therapy or dosing, but those things haven’t changed in months.” Nina just shrugged in much the same way Robert shrugged at her just a few minutes ago.
“The only thing the chart indicated was you were spending more time in her section than you had been. That’s the only variable that we can see.”
Nina laughed, she assumed the second thing Martha was going to say was that she had contacted the INS to pick her up for deportation. Tucked in the lining of her suitcase was here passport and driver’s license. She was confident she could prove who she was and an American citizen, the documents she traded in Mexico were sufficient to get across the border and to get this job, but they weren’t foolproof. Talking about Mary B was such a pleasant surprise that all the tension Nina had been feeling popped like soap bubble.
“There must be some other reason.” Nina said.
“None that we can tell. See, Mary B moved to care level VI a year ago,” Level VI was for Alzheimer’s patients who were showing advanced signs of the disease which included awareness and control over bodily functions. “If we were to reassess her today we’d move her back to level V maybe even level IV.” Nina shrugged again, “You don’t get it yet Christina, No one, ever, has moved back. Not like this. Once, when I was working in a home for the mentally disabled we changed the meds on a patient and she began to talk for the first time in like 6 years, but that’s rare and due to over-sedation. Damn! Sometimes I hate this job. Anyway, whatever it is, you’re making a difference with the residents and it’s a shame you’re stuck doing laundry and ADL stuff. How would you like to come on my staff and work the wards with the rest of the therapeutic staff?”
To say no would have been insane, who would pass up an opportunity like that? But to say yes would be to sink a root into this community that Nina never anticipated. She nodded her head yes, to dumbstruck to speak.
After the party had broken up, Nina drove to one of her favorite overnight library study hall locations where she usually grabbed a few hours of sleep. Nina was feeling the effects of the beer she had drunk and flabbergasted by Martha who seemed to see right through her masquerade of a displaced uneducated Hispanic looking for a menial job more under the table than over it. The genuine affection the staff felt for each other, despite the drudgery and overwhelming heaviness of what they did made Nina ache for that contact. It made her miss her family all the more. She reached into her purse and pulled out the burner phone she bought at a Walmart in Tennessee. Nina dialed her brother and waited for the call to ring through. Home was 2 hours behind, so it was only 10:30 when she dialed. The call clicked through and she heard Hernando’s voice say holá.
“’Nando? It’s me Nina.”
“Jesu Christo! Nina! Where are you? Where have you been? We’ve been worried sick about you. Papá’s convinced your lying in some ditch somewhere with the coyotes feasting on your bones!”
“I’m… out east right now.” Keep it simple she thought, no need to complicate things.
“Have you talked to Papá yet?” Her baby brother asked.
“No. I miss you all so much it hurts. I’m sure Papá is angry with me and I can’t face that, even though I know every day that goes by its worse than the day before. I was afraid to call him first ‘Nando.”
“I’m glad you called me first. He’d never tell you this Nina, but it’s bad. It’s his pancreas. Stage IV. Inoperable. It took him 3 weeks to tell me that. Aunt Margarite is planning a big family picnic over Labor Day weekend in Carson City. You need to come Nina.” It wasn’t a request from her baby brother. She knew the implication.
The conversation with Paul Shastin did not leave Franklin with the warm fuzzes. No matter which way he tried to spin the conversation or excuse the things he heard, Franklin was always left with the same conclusion – Paul Shastin was a psychopath. There was no way he was going to remain a tool for that man on the outside. He was done. He now had one of only two choices open to him. Keep his mouth shut and get on with his life, or talk to the authorities and tell them what Shastin is up to. Franklin chose the latter.
The following morning, he contacted Gary Trainor of the Reno Police. Alice’s husband.
“you understand, I’m not an investigator. I don’t know why you’d be coming to me with this information.”
“I get that, but at the moment you’re the only contact I have with the police, so for better or worse, you’re it.” Franklin sat down in the big steel chair. It was a tight squeeze and he had to pop one hip through the armrest to sit even the slightest bit comfortably. Gary was in dark blue fatigues with his sergeant stripes and other markings. The black on blue coloring reminded Franklin of the Navy fatigues he was so comfortable wearing.
“So tell me what’s going on,“ Gary began. Two hours later Franklin had shared every antidote he had about Paul Shastin. Especially about his threats against Nina Crespo.
When they parted Gary assured Franklin that for now, he’d be an anonymous source during the investigation. Franklin left the Reno police station feeling a whole lot better about the whole thing also believing that he was closing the chapter on Paulo Shastin once and for all.
**** REWRITE replace son and wife to brother and sister. Brother is Jeff Tamura the Justice department savant who was also the test subject at Harvard ****
Moving to the day shift was exciting for Nina. There were residents up and about that she had never talked to since they usually slept through the night. Something she did not expect to discover was just how loud the place was during the day. In the main common room, the volume of the big screen TV was as high as it could go. The station most usually on was a basic cable station that specialized in movies from the 40s. Mostly black and white things with a melancholy sound track. Other residents had TV’s in their rooms also turned up as loud as possible. The noise was horrific at first. Over time though, it began to fade into the background.
To her great joy she was able to spend an hour a day with her two favorite residents – Mary B and Dan. As Martha had explained Mary B was improved enough to move back to her old friends in the other ward.
Nina enjoyed reaching out to Mary B and helping sort through the memory shards. There was one particular memory that kept nagging at Nina. It had something to do with a car accident. There was pain and sadness all around it that for many weeks Nina avoided looking at it. It was the most jagged memory Mary B had.
One particular Sunday Mary B had family visit. A son and his wife. Tagging along was ‘little Jake’, Mary B’s grandson. As they were leaving, Nina asked casually about the accident, as if Mary B had mentioned it once or twice. The son turned white as a ghost, picked up ‘little Jake’ and just about ran out of there. The daughter in law lingered behind for a moment.
“You have to understand. We were married 7 years before Jake ever told me about his brother David.”
“David? I thought Mary only had one son, and a daughter.”
The daughter in law, Peggy, said, “David died in the accident. Mary was driving this big boat of a station wagon. In those days the back seat faced backward, before the days of seat belts and air conditioning. All the windows were open. David and Jack were goofing around and David shifted around to climb into the middle seat when Jack pulled him back. Unfortunately, David lost his balance and tumbled out the back window. “
Nina just stood there slack jawed, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to pry. Really.” Peggy responded with a weak smile.
“It happened, you can’t change that. I don’t think either of them have had one day of happiness since. Survivor’s guilt my therapist says. I don’t think they survived at all. Parts of them died along with David.” Off in the distance a plaintive car horn could be heard. “I have to go. You’ve been sweet and so kind to Mary. She thinks of you as family.” And with that Peggy was out the door.
All the while Paul was talking with Franklin he was also in his mind, taking the big man’s temperature. He had to be sure about Franklin. He had not exactly come through with Shakes. Nina Crespo was still out there and Franklin thought it was no big deal. ‘Let her go, Paul’ he would say. ‘She skipped town, probably never to return.’ But Paul knew better. He knew deep down in his core that she would return and then they’d have it out once and for all. In the mean time he’d get stronger at bending others to his will. Franklin was useless and therefor needed to be dealt with.
The test was to get officer Whitehall to demonstrate that Paul could implant a thought or action into the man’s mind. That test almost worked too well, as Whitehall needed to take 3 weeks off for stress melt down after that unconscious blurting out of the test phrase.
The next test was to see of Whitehall would ignore a beat down. +++Inmate name+++ has been a pain in Paul’s ass ever since he got to the print shop. It was time he learned a lesson who was in charge – whether that person had been here for under a year or not. During the monotonous hours of watching your life tick away, Paul was stretched out and into Whitehalls mind. He found memories of +++Inmate name+++ and worked to overlay an image from the officer’s gym. Sifting through memories Paul had found the image of the gym, down to the sweat stains left in damp impressions on every piece of equipment. Shastin took the image of the speed bag and laid it over any image of +++Inmate Name+++.
The hope was with Paul took a swing at +++Inmate Name+++ Whitehall wouldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. If Paul was wrong, he’d spend 3 weeks in the hole. If he was correct, he’d be able to exert himself over the entire prison population. That, was quite a bargain he thought.
It’s one thing to end your shift giving showers to this group. It’s another to do it at the beginning of your shift. That thought alone shifted Nina’s perspective on the duty, but not with the men. She loved these guys. There was Dan of course, but also Steve who was wheelchair bound and was an avid Detroit Tigers fan. Every time the Tigers scored a run he’d honk a bulb horn attached to his wheel chair. When they one, he’d toot that horn for a good five minutes. It was a blessing in disguise when the Tigers were on a west coast road trip. The games were on TV well past the residents sleep time. There was Calvin, who the long time staff said was a retired professor of history at the university. Calvin came over in the 1950’s as a grad student and never went back to Edinburgh. He was a bit of a rogue and liked to give the women staffers what for. Rumors swirled around Calvin that he and his sweetheart came to America against her father’s permission. She died of some form of cancer before Calvin graduated and the shame of luring her away or the sadness of her death kept him away all these years. Robert asked him once why he stayed so long. ‘The food’ he was want to say. ‘Have you ever had the haggis Robert? Taste it then you’ll know.”
This particular Sunday morning, Nina was drying off the men and she took the opportunity to reach across into Dan’s mind. His memories were pretty well compartmentalized with very little overlap. There were memory shards of bitterness and anger at decades of waning prowess. Anger at teenagers who wouldn’t listen and a wife who was suspicious of his long work hours and frequent business trips. Nina didn’t look for a mistress in those memories and she was relieved when one didn’t appear, at least overtly appear.
There were health issues there too and haunting memories of World War II. Nina couldn’t be certain but some of the memories suggest he was at or near Dachau at the time of its liberation. Although she couldn’t be certain, she glimpsed the sour smell of death and depravity that was welded to these memories. These memories Nina tried to hide under more pleasant ones. There seemed to be so many triggers, so many threads that led elsewhere that the reality of what she was trying to do was insurmountable. Pease was at stake and that made the effort close to a sacred duty as far as Nina was concerned.
There was a second memory that haunted Dan that involved Marianne. Nina surmised that Marianne was Dan’s first wife, since she shows up in many more family memories than Joanie. The memory oozed guilt, grief and responsibility when Marianne died. For weeks, whenever Nina encountered this memory she simply assumed Dan was carrying the pain and loss of losing his wife. There was something off, disjointed about this memory that prevented it from lying flat. It was similar to the Dachau memories. Unreconciled after all these years and still haunting Dan in his unguarded moment’s
At first she refused to believe the inevitable truth of this memory. Dan wasn’t remorseful because Marianne had died. He was remorseful because he killed her. Once that thought hit Nina, she recoiled back and refused to look at him or at her own thoughts for days.
On the way back to Battle Creek Jeff would drop his sister home in Charlotte. It was a sleep little town made sleepier when the interstate was extended and bypassed the center of town. Charlotte survived and probably better off for the lack of traffic and endless fast food restaurants to blot out the horizon.
“I don’t believe it Nan, Mom hasn’t mentioned David for 20 years. We’ve never talked about it, and now she just so happens to casually mention it to that care taker? I don’t believe it!” Nan knew how hard it hit Jeff. She was in-between Jeff and David in age. She was also sitting in the middle seat of the station wagon when David fell out and into traffic. She was there to feel the horror of it all and then just like that the whole incident got bottled up, covered up with an obscure label and shelved in the cellar with the rest of David’s things. Never to be touched again.
“Mom’s been crazy wacky these past few months. Who’s to say what’s going on in there. We’ll never know, you can’t hold a rational conversation with someone who’s beyond that, or past or below that kind of thought process. Remember, she’s the one who joked that she’d probably forget who we are before she forgets what she was doing when Kennedy was assassinated.”
“It’s just not right Nan. It’s like she fell out of the car too. I lost a brother and a mother that day.” Nan nodded. She had a different relationship with her mother than Jeff did. A bond of gender and of an odd sisterhood that simply didn’t exist between the two of them.
“Jeff dear, she did her best, and I know you did too. I watched you reach out to her, and to dad, before he left.” Nan wasn’t sure bringing up Dad was damping the fire or pouring gasoline on it.” Walt Timura left one Saturday morning to golf with friends and never returned. He showed up 18 years later dying of lung cancer with nowhere else to go. Mary took him in, no questions asked and stayed by his side till the end. The compassion she showed for her near-do-well husband was not lost on her son who desperately needed her. Today with her slipping away in the grips of Alzheimer’s meant that no matter how hard Jeff tried, now good he was as a man, how willing he was to face David’s death with his mom, it was never going to happen.
There was nothing Hernando could do to please his father. With Nina gone to who knows where the two men were left to their own devices. To any outsider it was obvious that Nina’s Father was feeling the loss of his daughter. All Hernando could see was an intractable old man who simply could not be pleased.
“Papa, you remember Eveline, don’t you? I brought her around to meet you a few months ago. She’s going to make us some dinner. Whatcha think of that? Home cooking again!”
Miguel Crespo nodded to Eveline and Hernando as he entered the kitchen after a full day’s work at the nursery. Whispering to Eveline to go on and get started while he talks to Miguel. He left the slightly confused Eveline in the unfamiliar kitchen to fend for herself.
“Hey Pops, how about that? Eveline wanted to make you a meal. “ Hernando plopped down on the sofa as if here were still 6 years old. “How was work?” one of Hernando’s favorite memories of his father was the dark green shirt he wore with pride and the earthy smell of rich soil and fertilizer the came home with him. It was the aroma of the earth – of life itself. That’s what the living room smelled of tonight. Miguel look liked he lost another 5 pounds since Hernando saw his father.
“Work is work Hernando. There’s talk again of shutting down and importing everything from Canada. “ Miguel absently paged through the newspaper. Waifing from the kitchen was the local radio station playing Tejano music and the occasional expletive as Eveline worked in the kitchen. Miguel just wrinkled his nose and shook his head ever so slightly.
“Haven’t they been saying that for years, and usually just before an election? ‘Don’t spend my taxes on a damn plant that’s already growing in my back year!’ Isn’t that just talk?”
“This time it feels different. There are fewer seedlings being planted this season than ever before and Ferguson, my manager isn’t on everyone’s case the way he used to be. It’s like someone let the air out of him.”
Hernando laughed, ‘From what you used to say letting a little air out of that gas bag should be a good thing.” He grabbed the sports section away from Miguel which got the older Crespo a little annoyed.
“What is that girl doing in your mother’s kitchen?” Miguel got up and walked into the kitchen to see Eveline, a little worse for wear, yet she had managed to put a hearty meal on the table.
“I was just about to tell you supper was ready. Please, Mr. Crespo, if you would be so kind…” Eveline pulled out the chair at the head of the table and held it for Miguel. As far as Hernando was concerned Eveline was performing better than he expected. Before they came over Hernando had given her the top five do’s and don’ts. Do treat my father with respect. Don’t call him by his first name. Say grace. Don’t mention Nina unless he brings it up first. Don’t say she skipped town. And whatever you do don’t sit in my mother’s chair.
To Hernando, the food smelled fabulous and he said so. Eveline told him to sit, and pointed first at his mother’s chair, but quickly changed to the chair Nina usually sat in. Eveline came back to the table with a pan still sizzling off of the stove. “I hope you like it, it’s one of my father’s favorites. He sends his regards Mr. Crespo. “
Eveline served up a big serving of marinated meats sautéed with peppers onions and tomatoes with shredded cheese over which began to melt into the steaming food. Miguel wanted to dislike it, but it was the closest thing to his wife’s cooking he had eaten in 5 years. Hernando was about to wolf his food when Eveline stopped him in order to say a prayer. After a single bite, Miguel knew he was going to ask for seconds.
“’nando, did you show him the thing?” Eveline said as the food disappeared.
“What thing?” he said absently.
“You know, we left it out in the garage.”
We got something for you Papa. It was actually Eveline’s idea, but I got it. It’s outside. Do you want me to get it?” Miguel waved him along and sat reminiscing about this meal. At first he did not care for Eveline. She seemed like one of those mindless young kids he kept reading about. He softened up about her as she was respectful and could cook like her grandmother. He’ll make a fine wife someday, maybe even Hernando if he is smart about it.
Hernando came back into the kitchen and under his arm he carried a small bundle of golden hair. Golden fur to be exact. “Here Papa. A guard dog.” You could have knocked Miguel down with a soft breeze. There, standing in the middle of the kitchen table was a powder puff of a dog. A Pomeranian puppy. All excited and scared. Hyper vigilant and clueless at the same time with two black brown marbles for eyes, a gum pink tongue and an attitude of a pit bull.
“I’ll name him Andrés, or Andy for short. The puppy gave his consent by piddling in the middle of the table which sent everyone scrambling for paper towel.
“What do you do if you think one of the residents has committed a crime?” Nina asked one afternoon while making beds in one of the residence halls.
Robert shrugged. “You mean like steal an extra apple sauce cup or topple over Latin American governments?”
“I’m serious, what if you learn one of the residents did something really wrong before they got here. What would you do?” Robert stopped tugging on the sheet and looked at Nina.
“I’d let it go. These people ain’t what or who they were 5 years ago, much less 20 years ago. How can you make someone who can’t wipe their own butt stand trial for something they can’t remember?” Nina dropped it for a moment with Robert, but she couldn’t let it go. The image of Dan and Marianne was so vivid in her mind that it felt like she observed it happening only this morning.
Later that afternoon she approached Martha in her office and asked the same question. Martha got up and made sure the door was closed leaving the two of them alone.
“Dan?” is all she said. Martha nodded.
“The family told us of their suspicions when Dan was admitted. They even said they tried to warn Joanie before the two of them married after their first spouses past away. From what I hear, Dan was a real SOB of a father, so I couldn’t be sure if what his daughter was saying was fact or simply suspicion. Can you imagine?” Nina was downcast and still very much rattled by what she saw and felt in Dan’s mind.
“Besides,” Martha continued, even if he, god forbid, bludgeoned Robert with a walker he’d never stand trial, for that, he’d have to understand the charges and be able to help with his own defense. Those are two things no one here is capable of doing. “
“So we do nothing?”
“Oh no, we do plenty. We treat this man with the same kindness and respect as we treat the others. The Dan of whom you speak no longer exists. There’s no good that’ll come from walking through that door. It’ll only hurt others.” Nina was not convinced, and Martha could see it, “I’ll tell you what we can do. I’ll speak to Dr. K, the psychotherapist when he comes back next week. If he charts it, it becomes a legal record. Private of course, but legal non-the-less.” For the moment, that would have to do.
The print shop was full of activity. There were the Back to School flyers that would soon be stapled to every telephone pole, school crossing site and, eventually every parakeet cage in North America.
Homer Cummings, the trustee who though his shit didn’t stink was wording the big cutter. Paper would come in 500 pound rolls which had to be cut to length to make reams of usable paper. Everything had to lined up just so, with the right amount of tension otherwise the roll of paper would rip or worse split leading to numerous steamers that would fan through the air the way heat lightning lit up a thundercloud before the deluge. When that happened there was always hell to pay.
Paul had worked on Whitehall for 6 months now and this was as good a time as any to see if he were able to insert this blind spot. Whitehall was standing on the raised platform at the front of the shop watching everyone come and go. Paul was holding about 200 sheets of red on white warning signs about kids walking to school. He casually waked up behind Cummings and waited for Whitehall to scan the room in his direction. When it was clear that Whitehall was looking right at him, Paul pivoted the 11 x 14 paper and smacked Cummings across the side of his head. He was out cold by the time he hit the floor. The cutter machine went out of square and started to launch ribbons of paper into the room. Paul simply dropped his flyers and hit the emergency stop button on the cutter.
By this time everyone was gathered around Paul and the prone Cummings. At least 2 other inmates saw the whole incident. This was also what Paul wanted. Without witnesses exclaiming your control of a guard, you weren’t anybody. Whitehall came late, charging into the inner circle with baton drawn demanding to know happened.
“I dropped my papers” was all Paul said in an even tone. Everyone there knew Paul had taken out Cummings.
No one could have doubted it. Whitehall looked at the flyers strewn over the still prone Cummings. He looked at everyone gathered there and simply said, ‘clean this mess up.” And went back up on the platform to wait out the afternoon. Then for the first time in anyone’s memory an inmate walked out of the print shop without permission and simply did not return.
19 – Traveling Companions
Damn kids! Franklin thought as he reset his car alarm. This neighborhood has all gone to seed in the last few years. This was the third time he’d gone to his apartment window and reset the car alarm with his remote. After about 30 minutes he called it a night and crawled into bed. He was just about to fall asleep when he heard a crash of broken glass and his alarm go off at the same time. Franklin grabbed the baseball bat that he kept under his bed, hurriedly put on his slippers and bolted out the door into the parking lot. He was ready to brain whoever the punks were that were messing with his car.
Franklin found the passenger window was missing and a halo of broken glass strewn all over the asphalt. Other than the sound of crickets returning to the search for mates there was no one about. He reached into his pocket to retrieve his cell phone to call the cops when he heard a voice tell him to keep the phone in his pocket.
Franklin turned to see a tall thin man with shaved head approach from the shadow of the closest oak tree. “You can call the cops in a minute, Franklin. I’ve a message for you from Paul Shastin.”
Franklin’s jaw dropped. He hadn’t been back at this apartment for 3 months. He and Shastin left San Diego almost 2 years ago on their quest to conquer the poker world. How the hell did Shastin know he’d come back?
“Shastin has a sense that your commitment is beginning to fade. Don’t ask me how, but some little birdie tweeted to him that you’ve gotten chummy with the cops? Is that true Franklin?” Franklin just shook his head.
“Now, you don’t need to convenience me. You need to convenience Paul. He has a job for you this weekend. Be right here Thursday morning at 8 sharp. Understand? Franklin nodded. “Good,” the man said, “You can call your insurance company now, or the cops if you’d like. See you Thursday.”
The thin man stepped back into the shadows and over the berm that separated one apartment parking lot from another and climbed into a Mercedes. Behind the wheel was Paul Shastin.
The bus from downtown East Lansing to the Detroit airport was going to take about 2 hours. The bus itself was only 2 thirds full and mostly filled with college students heading out for their first weekend away since classes started a week or so ago. Nina was sitting next to a window on the left side and unless a lot more passengers got on in Ann Arbor she’d have an empty seat beside her all the way to the airport. The prospect of going home, perhaps even to stay was so tantalizing she could almost taste her aunts cooking. It was bitter sweet however, knowing how ill her Papá was. Seeing him after all these months and only seeing the shell of the man she left behind would be hard. Inside she knew her father had the heart of a lion and would face this challenge with the same vigor he faced every challenge. As the bus rolled down the highway Nina was mesmerized by the lush green of Michigan. The high desert of home had none of this deep greens and pastoral landscapes. The endless parade of open green space capped by deep blue sky’s without a hint of cloud eased Nina’s mind and she allowed her thoughts to drift as if clouds.
Without exerting any effort or thought she began to sense the presence of everyone else on the bus. Plenty of college kids full of promise and confidence. Just as many if not more were scared and uncertain of themselves heading home to family to get a dose of self-confidence. Nina closed her eyes hoping that would make it harder for the others to reach her. It didn’t work. Nina discovered that once she relaxed and opened her mind she was receptive to everyone around her. Perhaps it was working with Mary B or Dan or any one of the other Alzheimer’s residents that helped hone her skills. All she knew is there wasn’t anything about the others on the bus that she didn’t intuitively know about.
This was not what she wanted. She did not want insight into anyone, much less strangers on a bus. At first it was reflexive when Paul Shastin invaded her mind. That thought alone gave her the shivers. That evil, evil man Nina thought. The devil made flesh. Thank god he was in prison where he belonged. Did she have this ability dormant inside her only to be triggered by his psychic attack? Did he somehow pass it to her when he forcibly kissed her in the hotel room? Is it something everyone has, yet no one talks about – like sex ed in public schools? Frustrating questions all and no answers to a single one.
Nina stared out the window trying to distract her mind from those inside the bus. She tried to reach out to a small herd of cows that the bus passed. Alas, nothing. Nina resigned herself that this was her new reality. Unless she was quite distracted she’d be able to see the full person, warts, secrets and all.
Franklin filled out a police report the following morning then called his insurance agent. The window was the least of his worries. He dug out Gary Trainor’s phone number and dialed. He had less than 24 hours before he needed to show up in the parking lot. Franklin was approaching panic. What did it say that Paul Shastin who was in prison in Nevada could send someone to San Diego on the off chance that he’d be home? For all he let on, he left Paul with the impression that he’d stay in Nevada for the foreseeable future. Yet here was one of his cronies. Franklin called 3 times and all three times got Gary Trainor’s voice mail. He left a message each time, each one more frantic than the previous message.
Thursday morning Franklin was pacing in front of his apartment with the silver Mercedes pulled up and the rear door popped open. Franklin did as he was told and was shocked to discover Paul Shastin sitting behind the driver. He was to dumbstruck to say anything.
“Yes Franklin, it’s me.” Paul said with a sneery smile.
“It’s good to see you Paul,” Franklin lied, “I don’t know how to ask this, but shouldn’t you be in jail right now?”
“It’s a funny thing Franklin, seems I was able to just walk right out. The main gate even, and no one tried to stop me. In fact, a few of the guards even held a couple of doors open for me. Whatcha think about that?” Franklin was terrified and did his best to hide that terror.
“I think that’s, um, amazing actually” he managed to say.
“No, Franklin you think that’s horrible in fact. “ Shastin held up his hand to stop Franklin’s protest. “You see; you can’t lie to me. You can say the words but I’ll know it’s a lie. Pure and simple. You’re scared shitless I know that.
Franklin was beat and he knew it. He only hoped that the conversation did not turn to any phone calls to the cops.
“Kyle here is going to drive us to Carson City for a little rendezvous on Saturday with an old friend. That’ll give us plenty of time to reminisce about the good old days and to talk about your next phone call to the cops.” Again Franklin began to protest and Paul stopped him in mid-sentence. “I assure you Franklin, by Sunday morning you’ll have forgotten all about our little expedition and all about me as well. So sit back, enjoy the view, but don’t fall asleep on me, understand?” Franklin simply nodded. The trip to Carson City was some of the most beautiful scenic country in north America. It was a shame, Paul thought, that Franklin wasn’t able to enjoy it.
It was good to be back home again, Nina thought. Carson City might not be home – home, but it was close enough. Even the air smelled familiar. She had grown fond of Mid-Michigan but there was still something off about the place and the people that keep her feeling like an outside. She truly was an outsider. Christina Alverez was an identity she picked up in Mexico. She left her driver’s license behind when she swapped ID’s in Juarez. I wonder where my ID is now, and who has it? She would think from time to time.
Hernando was waiting for Nina’s plane when it landed in Reno. Standing beside him was Eveline. Nina had met her once before, but never really put a face to the name. So often Hernando’s girlfriends never lasted more than a month or two. Eveline seemed different. She and Hernando had transcended the 3 month curse. There was a grace and confidence about her that she had never seen in any of Hernando’s girlfriends. Nina didn’t need to reach into her mind to sense her apprehension. She embraces Eveline with a reassuring sisterly hug. Nina sensed that Hernando was head over hears about this woman and come hell or high water, he was preparing to take things to he next level. Only when it came to Eveline he didn’t quite know where he was, what level he was on or where he was going. A typical man, Nina thought. Papa absence was palatable and she asked Hernando where he was?
“He’s with Aunt Margarite,” Hernando laughed. “It’s like she’s his big sister again. She wasn’t quite yelling at him, but she was as stern as anyone can get with Papa. She as talking about Stanford Medical Center, and pills and, I swear to god, sacrificing goats too. Papa just sat there taking it all in. I had to leave the room otherwise I’d have burst out laughing at him. You know how that would have helped the situation.” Nina was sitting up front with Hernando. Eveline was in back with the dog who was flat on his back having his belly rubbed. Nina leaned over and gave her brother a quick hug.
“It’s so good to be back. I can’t believe I’ve been gone so long, and for what? It seems so stupid now.”
From the back seat Eveline said, “Nando won’t ask but I will. Are you staying Nina?” She desperately wanted to say yes, and almost said so without hesitation. But back in Michigan were tiny shoots of a new life that were beginning to take root. The pull wasn’t as strong as Home, but it was a pull nonetheless. She wanted to continue to work with Mary B, to help her regain the person that she was, Every day this vibrant wonderful woman emerged a bit more. It was such a delight. And then there was Dan. He was carrying such a burden of guilt and shame that Nina couldn’t help but be sympathetic. She was also repulsed by what he had done. She knew not all justice is served, not all lose ends get tied in a pretty bow, but she didn’t want to leave things as they are with him.
“I’m hoping to stay, or at the very least to come back very soon to stay. I’ve got some things that I need to tie up before I come back for good.” She turned around to look at Eveline and the two women smiled at each other. It was then Nina knew.
She gave Eveline a wide eyed knowing look, and then glanced down to her tummy, then back up to look Eveline in the eye. For a brief second Eveline didn’t understand, but after a second time she caught on and gave Nina a huge grin. Eveline was pregnant. Nina reached back and pulled Eveline’s hand up and kissed it. Nina knew that Hernando had no clue as he blissfully drove Nina home.
“Tell me again what you are going to do.” Paul asked Franklin. He already knew but hearing the sequence of events from the big man was more reassuring than seeing the plan in his, and Franklin’s mind.
“Saturday at noon Kyle and I…” Paul frowned, “er, there is no one else, just me. On Saturday at noon, I will be in the stands watching a soccer game. that’s all I’m going to be doing. That’s all I want to be going. I have no other plans that day.” Paul grinned. Good he thought.
“Franklin, take a good look at me, who am I?” he asked. Franklin turned and gazed at Shastin, the man he traveled up and down the California coast for 2 years and just like that the spark of recognition sputtered out and died.
“I, I don’t know. I don’t know who you are.” he said. Paul could sense Franklin searching for connection, for memories that he could link together and follow like a trail of bread crumbs to a name and the experiences that came with that name. Significant progress had been made but there was still some work to be done,
“I am no one of consequence. “Paul said, my name is unimportant. So unimportant I do not register in your mind.”
The plan was simple really. Paul had sat outside Crespo’s home and learned that the family was having a reunion come barbeque in Carson City on Saturday. Nina was expected to be in attendance. He might not have known where she was, but he knew what would draw her back. Pancreatic cancer was nasty and fast. If Nina wanted to see her father she needed to do it soon. Paul could have implanted any illness into Miguel or Hernando, and they in turn would find a way to communicate that back to Nina. Paul was actually proud of himself for thinking that one up.
If the ultimate power is knowledge, the sublime cherry on top is secrets. Paul felt like he won the lottery. There wasn’t a back account number, ATM PIN code, sexual peccadillo or corporate secret that could be kept from him. In prison he knew every crime that had been committed, every betrayal of trust. He knew who the stoolies were and the stone cold killers were.
What he learned from working with Whitehall was he could make himself invisible which allowed him to go anywhere and to do anything. If he could make eye contact with you, he was able to reach into you and blot out any recognition of his existence. What was it Morpheus said in The Matrix? What is reality except for electrical impulses in the brain? Disrupt those impulses and your disrupt memory. Discovering he could control those impulses was an aphrodisiac for Paul. He needed more of it every waking moment. What satisfied him yesterday was mere prelude today. An outsider looking in would call it an obsessive impulse. Paul called it his life.
With Whitehall, he made Homer appear to be nothing more than a gym bag. it wasn’t much of a stretch to make Whitehall believe that Paul was less than an apparition. A ghost in the machine for a time being. Long enough to allow him to walk through the prison gates unmolested and unnoticed. Certainly there was video and other electronic records of his comings and goings, but thus far he was able to wield the ultimate personal power.
He wasn’t quite sure what would happen Saturday, but he knew that when it was over Nina Crespo would be dead. Franklin would be the murderer and have no memory of how he got to Carson City and most importantly who Paul Shastin was.
The house looked exactly as Nina remembered it. Her Mothers rose bushes were looking a little neglected. That was the only outward sign that time had passed since the night she drove away in Hernando’s car.
Her mother’s rosewood box was back in Michigan, she thought. That was worth going back for. Strange, Nina thought that she’d think about that box when reuniting with her father was seconds away.
Miguel came out onto the porch and by the time Nina ran up to him and threw her arms around him, aunt Marguite was by his side, “bienvenido a casa, amada hija” he said. Welcome home, beloved daughter. She had never heard anything as wonderful in all her life.
“Tia Margrite,” Nina screamed, ‘You look so fat!” and the two women laughed. It was a joke between aunt and neice. It was a private joke the two shared sicne Nina was big enough to walk. Where her mother was too circumspect to be critical of Nina’s appearance, Aunt Margrite could always be counted on for telling the truth. ‘Your appearance means nothing Nina,” she would say. “it’s what’s inside of here that matters.” Margrite would place her hand over the youngsters heart, “Everything else is window dressing.”. The one thing that amazed Nina the most about her homecoming was the little dog who spun in tight circles until Miguel picked him up and carried him inside.
Just before going in, Eveline held Nina back and whispered, “How did you know?”
Nina shrugged and stammered for a moment before answering. “I don’t know, you just… Had this glow about you.” The real answer was one Nina wasn’t sure of herself. She simply knew. Much like she knew aunt Margarita and Uncle Pablo haven’t slept in the same room for years. The information was there for the taking, like picking out notes from a song playing on the radio. Nina almost needed to find a way to block them out. When she was last here she found a way to let them in. How times have changed.
The real joy of being home was working in her Mama’s kitchen again, with her Aunt and Eveline, who was well on her way to becoming every bit as important to Nina as Hernando and Papa were.
The evening she returned home she was struck by how tired her papa seemed. It was as if the weight of thin mountain air had been replaced with leaden weights. For the first time ever Nina saw him beginning to hunch over as he walked. Miguel Crespo always had a lean taut face, almost mask like. Now he was displaying bags under his eyes. It was all she could do not to shed a tear for the lost months she had been away. She took responsibility for her father’s state. It was not the cancer that had the harshest impact on Miguel, she told herself, it was her leaving, her not cooking, looking after him that hurt him the most.
All she felt coming from Miguel was pure joy of having Nina home, the abject fear of cancer was pushed out for a while. It wasn’t the fear of dying that gripped Miguel for he truly believed in gods undying mercy and that in the afterlife he would be reunited with his beloved Hazeline. What kept him awake most nights is the changes in his body and the eventual pain and suffering that would literally consume him in his final days. Miguel wasn’t worried about Nina, his passing would release her to live her own life, and that he would be happy. In fact, Nina discovered that her father was actually proud of her for leaving home. He had thought many a time that her dedication to him was holding her back. That added to his sadness.
Hernando was another story altogether. The younger Crespo crossed back and forth over the line between adolescent and adult faster than he could change channels on the TV. One moment Hernando didn’t know how to match his own socks and the other moment he was bringing home a woman, not simply a girlfriend, but a mature woman to meet the family. Miguel never knew which Hernando was in the room with him. He really liked Eveline and wanted to tell his son to settle down with her, but Hernando’s dating track record was usually so short that it actually hurt to get close to any of them for fear some other hussy would take their place.
Nina, looked at her brother and Eveline and knew her father’s fears were unjustified. Eveline was here for the duration. Nando didn’t quite know it yet, but she was The One. Her concentration was broken when Aunt Margeret asked what Nina was doing in Michigan all these months.
“Well, to start with, I got spooked by the guy I testified against a few months back. Did you know he tried to strangle me right there in court?” Everyone in the room nodded that they knew. “Then we had that break in here, and I just knew the two incidents were related, so I ran. “
“No, Nina, you were faster than running. You flew! I think you were over the state line before the screen door shut behind you.” Hernando looked at Nina and then at Eveline for approval. She just smiled.
Margarete kept things serious, “When Miguel told me what happened child, I told him I would have done the same. Any one of us would. Isn’t that true Eveline?” The question caught the young woman off guard. She did not expect to be included in a family conversation. Margarete may not have my talents Nina thought, but she has some skills of her own.
“Why, I don’t know. I don’t know what I would have done in that situation. I’d like to think I’d do the right thing. I hope I never have to find out.” She entwined her arm with Hernando’s arm and pulled in close for protection.
Margarete turned to Nina again, and asked about Michigan. Nina told them where she ended up and how she worked with the elderly Alzheimer’s patients. Of Mary B and her coming out from behind the veil of the disease. She did not tell them about Dan and what she learned about him. It was simply too complicated a tale to tell. As she told the story she knew she had to return and help right that wrong. Somehow she’d find a way.
There was a feeling of contentment and warmth that permeated the home and Nina never wanted it to end. There were mouths to feed and a family reunion to prepare for. After dinner Nina, Margrete and Eveline made guacamole, pots of gazpacho and all sorts of other dishes that were family favorites. The three women chatted as if they last saw each other just a short week ago.
Margerete mentioned that Pedro’s hours at the hardware store had been cut again. Between that and occasional jobs on a landscaping crew the family was barely scraping by. Margerete was working as an accountant for the Eldorado casino in Reno. If it weren’t for her job, and the health insurance she wouldn’t know what to do. Pedro, she said was a proud man and to become dependent on his wife for things he should be providing was a bitter pill to swallow.
Eveline said little during this conversation. Nina was aware that she grew up with an abusive father. He would be distant to Eveline and her older brother and sister, but on Friday night, he’d drink with other’s at a bar frequented by bikers types. Eveline’s father occasionally had to prove himself in that bar coming home battered, bruised and drunk. When he’d come home just drunk he’d pull Eveline’s brother out of bed and start in on him for any infraction the man could find. Eveline and her sister would huddle in a closet and pray to the Virgin Mary to keep her brother safe. The night before his 18 Nina knew there was a hole in her soul that she was hoping Hernando was going to fill. There was also an acceptance that no matter what was to come, she was happy, perhaps for the first time in decades.
Nina wandered out of the kitchen and took place alongside her father on the faded leather couch that was as familiar to her as her father was. She was a little surprised to find little Andres on his lap, staring up at Nina with his little pink tongue framing his smiling face. Miguel was gently stroking his chin and watching TV. “I missed you so much Papa.” there was more Nina wanted to say, but at the very least this was a start. She knew her father’s mind perhaps better than he did. Her leaving was hard, but Miguel supported her decision. That didn’t dissipate her guilt. “Margrete took you to see a doctor the other day, what did they have to say?” Nina sensed confusion in her father’s mind. No one seemed to know for certain or those who did know weren’t talking. Miguel never trusted doctors to begin with and these recent interactions were doing nothing to build any sort of trust.
Miguel put the dog on the floor and little Andy ran around in a couple of tight circles trying to entice Miguel to pick him up again. When that didn’t work, the dog trotted into the kitchen to see who might take pity on him. “Daughter, no one seems to know what’s going on with me. At first one doctor says it’s simply fatigue or anemia. The next time I see him he says its cancer. Hernando insists I go see another doctor, and all this means taking time off from work.”
“You could use time away from that place Papa. A day off won’t…Hurt you.” He brushed her comment aside as if shooing a fly.
“Back and forth I go and I never get a straight answer. I bet if I drove up in a Lexus, like one of our neighbors, I’d get a straight answer.”
“Papa, you have as good insurance as any of our neighbors. Perhaps the difference is they get checkups and actually talk to their doctors. I bet, that Margarete spoke more to the doctor the other day then you did.” It was then Nina felt another presence. Not in the house per say, but very close. It made the hair on the back of her head stand up. She called out for Hernando. He came in from the kitchen where he was beginning to sample tomorrow’s deserts.
“Can you take a look around outside and let me know if you see anything unusual?” she asked. Hernando disappeared for a few seconds and came back with Miguel’s baseball bat and slipped outside without making a sound.
“Child, you are still skittish here, after all these months.” Miguel stood and quietly went to the big window that looked out over the front year and peeked out through the curtains. After a few minutes Hernando returned through the kitchen door.
“Nina, all’s quiet on the street. There was a pizza delivery car up the road a few houses, but other than that there’s not a jack rabbit out tonight.“
Hernando’s words reassured her, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that that was no ordinary pizza delivery going on up the street.
The Domino’s Pizza light was not hard to come by. Kyle waited outside the motel room and simply waited for the kid to pull up. When Shastin and Franklin were inside getting the money together for tie tip, Kyle simply snipped the wires and pried the suction cups off the roof of the Trail Blazer. If they were going to be stopped, it might be hard to explain why there were two deliverymen outside of Crespo’s home, but Paul was confident that wasn’t going to happen.
Paul knew Nina was in the home before they even drove past. Her presence was undeniable. Paul wasn’t sure if he would be able to hide his presence or his thoughts so as not to tip her off but it was worth the gamble. He needed to be there. Franklin was now programmed by this time. Paul Shastin was nothing more than a ghost as far as Franklin was concerned. Interacting with the big man was now excruciatingly painful. Paul would ask him a direct question and 20 seconds later the thought would enter Franklin’s mind as if it were a unique thought. Paul didn’t need to be anywhere near the reunion on Saturday, he only need move Franklin and Kyle into position and let nature do the rest. It was kind of exciting really.
Around noon on Saturday the Crespo clan began to descend on the eastern shore of Washoe Lake. It was a breezy day, but the winds were nowhere as fierce as they sometimes can get as they race down the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the west. The small lake was dotted here and there with a few sailboarders. This late in the summer the lake had dried up a bit so the shore along the eastern edge was mostly a muddy landscape with occasional large rocks and boulders. The state part was also a good resting place for skateboarders who took advantage of the sloping hills coming down out of the mountians. The trails lead into Carson City where most of the skate and sailboarders lived. It wasn’t uncommon to find the craziest of skateboarders zooming down out of the mountains after midnight with only a flashlight or two strapped to their board.
Pedro Marquez, Aunt Margrete’s husband was the first to arrive with their 4 boys. Every time Nina was around these four boys she was amazed at just how manic they could be. These 4 boys had more bruises and healing scabs then anyone she had ever known. It was truly a marvel she suspected that no serious harm had ever befallen any of them. Pedro set up the three 55 gallon drum cookers that were going to be used for the barbeque. Junior, everyone called him that, was bringing the pig. It would take about an hour to carve the carcass up properly and divide the meat between the three cookers. Pedro and Junior had done this enough times that it was now a science between the two brothers.
Nina, and Papa arrived next. Nina introduced Eveline around to everyone. Hernando would have to do it about 3 more times before the adults all remembered who she was and who she was with. The younger set simply didn’t care. It seems all they wanted to do was kick a soccer ball around and try and steel beer from the coolers they were expressly forbidden from touching. Within an hours’ time the whole Crespo clan was in attendance. About 45 adults and children all told. Junior’s son Miguel and his wife Pilar had just had a baby daughter so the infant was making the rounds getting kissed on the forehead and receiving blessings from everyone over the age of 21.
Nina was content here surrounded by family and on familiar ground. She and the rest of her family used to come here for barbeques when Hernando was still in diapers. It was on this very beach she was first kissed by a boy. Cousin Freddy she thought it was. The truck Freddy was driving flipped over a guard rail 3 years ago on some moonless night. Nina never liked moonless nights before his accident, but she loathed them now.
All around her was family, of all stripes, of all levels of needs, desires and strife. Among them were monogamous parents and cheating ones two. Devout Catholics and non-believers. Bullies and victims. Haters and lovers. Saints and sinners all. They were her family, and that said it all.
One disturbing image came to her while she was getting a second helping of carnitas with a side helping of elote picoso. An image of being locked in a closet for days and of being beaten with a switch for not bringing home good grades. The images was so powerful and sickening Nina couldn’t touch her food.
Nina closed her eyes and tried to focus on whose memories she was receiving. The driving bass line from two trucks at opposite ends of the park made any casual conversations impossible and it almost drowned out Nina’s own thoughts. She opened her eyes and looked at the faces of those around her. With each face their thoughts came to prominence the way a soloist is highlighted in a choral performance. None of the faces turned to her seemed to belong to this particular memory. Nina slowly began to turn in a circle as she scanned the crowd for the abuse victim. She found her in aunt Margarete. Nina was both relieved and terribly saddened at the same time. Her dilemma was how to let Margarete know that she knew without opening up old wounds. For that she’d need the Wisdom of Solomon. Nina simply went up to her aunt and gave her a big hug and a loving kiss on the cheek. Margarete gave Nina a puzzled look. Nina’s only response was a shrug and ‘just because’.
Eventually the food was consumed and most of the beer as twilight began to descend on the reunion. Miguel and Nina were among the first wave to head the 45 minute drive back to Reno. They enjoyed a quite drive with the windows down in the cool night air.
Shortly after getting on the highway Nina and Miguel were struck from the rear by a tail gating car. If she were alone she’d have known better than to pull over to talk. Having her father in the car made that decision unnecessary. She always felt protected by him. Nina rolled the car onto the shoulder as did the car behind her. It was late twilight so she couldn’t see directly into the interior of the car, but the headlights from passing vehicle revealed only one occupant. Nina rolled her father’s car onto the shoulder and walked around to the back to inspect the damage. By this time the other car, a big black Mercedes pulled up behind her and illuminated the rear bumper. The driver of the car got out to also look at the damage. Nina sensed no malice so she knew she was in no danger.
“Oh, Christ. I’m sorry lady. I wasn’t paying particular attention. Are you ok?” There was a whiff of alcohol on his breath, but otherwise she saw no outward signs that he had been drinking. “I can’t afford to have the cops see this and issue me a ticket. I only live up there, if you follow me, I’ll pay you cash for the damages. Is that ok?”, the guy reached into his coat and produced a business card. Darrell Sage, Attorney at law. The address was less than 5 minutes from here.
Miguel had joined Nina and Darrell near the rear bumper. He heard Darrells offer and considering how often Miguel had skirted the law, he saw the advantage of keeping the police out of this. “How Much? How much is it worth to you to keep the cops out?” he asked the lawyer.
“500. Does that seem fair?”
“One thousand, or my neck is getting stiff and I may have to call an ambulance.” Miguel shot back.
“You drive a hard bargain old man, but it’s a deal. It’ll take me a few minutes to get the petty cash tougher. Follow me to my home and I’ll get it for you straight away. Miguel nodded and motioned to Nina to follow the big black Mercedes. The cars exited the highway at the next exchange and weaved their way through the small village and past several large estates. A minute or two past the last estate the Mercedes came to a halt, blocking the road in front, while a second car a pickup suddenly came up from behind blocking Nina’s ability to back up and out of there. The hair on the back of her neck began to stand up. She and Miguel were trapped and the sense that she was in mortal danger flooded her senses. She recognized the driver of the second car, Franklin Turner.
“Get out of the car Miss.” Franklin said as he tugged on the door handle. “You must come with me. It is ordained.” The driver of the Mercedes was tugging on the passenger door with Miguel hurling insults, taunts and threats at the bald attorney. There was a crash of glass as Nina’s window exploded. Franklin had picked up a nearby rock and had smashed in the window. He reached in and pulled up on the door lock. Nina balled her fists and slammed them down on his hand. Franklin pulled away quickly after cutting himself on the broken shards of glass sticking out of the frame. Behind her, Nina heard Miguel’s glass explode too.
“Quick papa! Jump in back!” Nina shouted. She felt her clothes catch on something as she began to move. Franklin had a handful of her top and was trying to pull her though the open window. She saw her scrawny father climb into the back. She was being pulled out the front door which had opened despite her best intentions. The last image she saw of the interior of her father’s car was the attorney leaning in from the passenger side with a gun pointed at Miguel in the back seat. Neither of them in a hurry to challenge the other. Franklin had her by the scruff of her neck and lifted her to a standing position.
“Alright miss, time to start walking. Please this way.” Franklin tugged her to into the scrub brush and away from the cars.
The first 100 years Nina was in too much of a panic to think about much of anything other than not stumbling in the dark. Franklin had her top bunched up tight in one hand and half lifted and half carried her forward. In the other hand he held a pistol. Nina opened her mind and found Franklin’s. There were few memories to be found, as if someone had erased the tape of Franklin’s life. His entire existence has been wiped clean and reshaped for a singular purpose. That purpose was to put a bullet in the back of Nina’s skull. She couldn’t find a trace of Paul Shastin in there but undoubtedly he was the catalyst behind this action. Nina found a religious fervor in Franklin, the kind of absolutism that transcended reason. She would be unable to reason or bargain with Franklin. From his new and altered reality. Nina was satin incarnate. His salvation, and the salvation of mankind hung in the balance and it all hinged on his actions over the next few minutes.
Shastin’s skills had taken a different path than her own. He focused on manipulation of memories, and implanting false ones. Changing someone’s realities. Nina focused on bringing memories out into the open, for people to reclaim their true selves. The sad truth was there wasn’t enough of Franklin there for her to work with. She knew her fate was sealed.
From behind them, they heard two muffled pops coming from the direction of the cars. Franklin and Nina instinctually turned toward the sound and as they did, the pair stumbled to the ground and franklin let loose his grasp as he reached out to soften his hard landing. Nina ran.
Shots rang out behind her and the third shot was close enough to hit a rock just off to her left. As she ran, she peeled off the light colored top she was wearing leaving the navy blue top underneath. She channeled her inner jackrabbit, keeping low and sprinting in a zig zigging pattern away from the bellowing Franklin. She tumbled into a dry stream bed and tumbled into the stony bottom. She lay there for a few moments her senses all attuned for Franklin’s presence. She could feel him out there, but at a distance. Still searching for her. Still calling her Miss. It must have been the fatigue but the thought of a polite executioner was the height of absurdity. Then her thought turned to her father. The first two shots had certainly been the bald man killing Miguel. She began to cry. Nina did her best to muffle her sobs by rolling into the fetal positon and covering her head with her arms. Pour Miguel, who only knew happiness when her mother was alive. These past 5 years have been the hardest on him. Nina felt the guilt of her abandoning him, and then she thought that he died without knowing he was going to be a grandfather. Would be a grandfather. Nina’s sorrow began to steel and with each breath her sadness was being replaced with anger and determination. She was also cold. All the running she did was sweaty business and now the cold air was beginning to chill her. She could not stay.
She had no idea where she was or in what direction she should walk. In this part of Nevada it could be 10 miles before she crossed a road, and perhaps hours before anyone drove on that road. For all she knew Franklin was gaining ground behind her and the bald man was ahead, waiting to snare her. She reached out scanning for anyone and everyone within range and there was nobody. Nina headed north. At least she thought it was north. She thought back on the sequence of the night. Papa and here were heading north on the highway when they got bumped into, heading west into the trap. From there it was all a blur. She ran in all kinds of directions trying to keep away from Franklin. There was too much dust in the air blowing off the mountains to let the light from stars through. No little dipper, no north star. THE Winds! It came to her, they are always blowing off of the mountains west to east. Nina climbed out the far bank of the gully and tried to gauge the direction of the wind. It took about 5 minutes of silent observation but Nina finally deduced west, and that gave her the other compass points. Home was to the north, or left along the dry stream bed. That’s the direction she headed in.
Every 20 yards or so, she stopped and listened. She scanned as far as her mind would stretch for any sign of Franklin, or the bald man, and came up empty. They were nowhere to be found. The streambed weaved in all directions but mostly it headed north. After about 4 hours she began to see building lights and other signs of civilization. From inside the streambed the area looked like light industrial or abandoned shops and small animal pens. She was just as frightened of banging on these doors as she was of Franklin behind her. Nina passed on the first couple of streets that crossed over the stream. There were too exposed and every moment she stood up to get her bearings she feared that another bullet would be coming her way.
Eventually Nina had no choice. The stream entered a corrugated tin tunnel or tube about 4 feet in diameter. She balked at going it, it just felt too confined and the feeling of being trapped was stronger than her feeling of being stalked. The houses here reminded her of her own neighborhood. Big 20,000 square foot monstrosities, with surveillance cameras and Lexus’s. They were fortresses certainly, meant to keep out burglars and her alike. At the end of the street she came upon a home that was older than the others and more familiar.
There was a hint of the approaching dawn in the east which meant that she would lose the cover of darkness. It was now or never. If franklin was near he’d have to act quickly. Nina sprinted up to the corner house and banged loudly on the metal screen door. She screamed for someone to call the police. From inside she heard a dog barking but nothing else. No one came to the door. Behind her she heard a car drive by. She caught a glimpse of a black car out of the corner of her eye. She did not know if it was the Mercedes. Nina ran across the lawn to a fortress she passed a moment before and banged loudly on that door too. Her presence set off the motion sensitive lights which gave Nina an eerie feeling of being in a fish bowl.
“Go away!” came a male voice from inside.
“I need help. Call the police!” Nina shouted back.
“They’re on their way. Now leave us be”. Came a woman’s voice from behind the heavy wooden door. “You can’t come in! Now go!” More shrill, almost as panicked as Nina. She turned and began to run across the street to the next door when the flashing lights of a squad car rolled toward her. She rushed toward it euphoric that her ordeal was over. The squad came to a screeching halt and two officers jumped out, the driver had his service pistol out and the second cop was carrying a shotgun. Both were yelling something that Nina didn’t hear or understand. She kept running toward them until she realized that they were ready to shoot her. She dropped to her knees and then prone on the ground. Everything that happened next was a blur.
“Tell me the story again.” Nina had been stopped by a private security patrol car. They turned her over to the county sheriff’s department who in turn released her into the custody of the Reno police. For the third time she recounted the story. The Reno cop who asked for the third telling hadn’t believed her the first two times. Nina knew that a third telling would have no effect as well. Behind the glass she knew others were listening. One of them was Alice’s husband, Gary. Nina asked to speak with him. “What makes you think he’s there?” the cop asked.
Nina couldn’t simply say that she sensed his presence or that she could read his or anyone’s mind. They’d lock her up for sure. No, she said she simply assumed he’d be there since her assailant and Alice’s trial were connected. Before the cop could respond the door to the integration room opened and in stepped Gary Trainer, all decked out in his SWAT finest.
“I heard you were out east somewhere, Nina.”
“It’s a magical place.” Nina responded. It was a glib and deflecting answer but other than vending machine coffee, she hadn’t eaten anything since the picnic.
“Here’s what we know. Your father’s safe. For an old guy he’s pretty spry and knows his way through the scrub better than most. Not the most talkative though, he doesn’t like cops. He’s down in Carson City talking to the police there. He tells the same tale as you Nina. We found the car and the broken glass and enough car and foot tracks to cohobate your story. You say it was Franklin Turner who chased you into the wilderness?”
“Not chased, dragged me at first, then chased after I got away.”
“That’s right,” Gary snapped his fingers remembering. Nina didn’t understand what the show was for or why. She knew Gary believed every word she said. She cut to the quick.
“I know Franklin was calling you and telling you that Paul Shastin was evil incarnate, and he’s the one tries to off me and my father. It’s Shastin who’s behind the whole thing.
Nina could tell that her comment caught him off guard, with a little warning bell going off somewhere in the back of his mind. She was too tired to care.
“We have APB’s out on Shastin here and in California and Arizona. We’re still trying to figure out how he got out of prison. No one there seems to remember him at all, but as soon as they see the paperwork, with their signature on it, it comes back to them. It’s very weird. All you have to do is review some of the camera footage and you can see him walking straight out. For Christ’s sake one of the guards even held the door open for the guy. That’s some strange voodoo.”
Nina wanted to spill her guts to tell Gary what Shastin was capable off, but to do that was to also reveal what she was capable off. That would probably trigger observations and studies and some sort of confinement while the authorities determined what kind of a threat she posed. She wanted none of that. She wanted Paul Shastin neutralized so she could fade into the woodwork and never been seen from again. “He’s a svengoolie, hypnotist maybe. He can make you think and see things that aren’t there. Worst of all he wants to kill me. You were there Gary; you saw him try to attach me while I was on the stand. Yesterday he sends two guys out to ambush my dad and I. I’m freaking out. You gotta stop him.”
“Here’s what we’re going to do Nina. We’re going to put you and your father on a plane and send you back to Michigan, I’ve got a contact there who will keep an eye on you. Shastin won’t be able to board a plane or a bus without us knowing about it. He won’t be able to rent a car or hitchhike. If he so much as bums a stick of gum, we’ll come down on him like a ton of bricks. Your father is on his way up now. I’ll have an officer drive you home, you can pick up a few things and be on your way back to Wisconsin,”
“Michigan,” Nina corrected,
“Right, Michigan. You’ll be on your way in less than 2 hours. Even if Shastin evades us, you have a good 2 days’ head start. Collect your stuff in Michigan and follow the instructions of my contact there. It’s not as safe as Witness Protection, but it’s better than waiting for this nut job to buy you dinner.” He nodded to the observation window and a few seconds later the door opened and was replaced by a woman cop named Shelia who helped Nina collect her things and took her into an office that didn’t look like it was being used. A half hour later Miguel walked in looking almost as ratty as Nina felt.
Office Shelia drove the two of them home in an unmarked squad. Most of the drive the two just huddled in the back seat. “Papa, how did you get away? I thought the bald guy shot you.”
“That guy was loco, but not too smart in the head.” Miguel began,
Kyle followed Miguel into the front seat of the car and had the old man trapped in the back seat. The Crespo’s car was a two door coupe. Kyle was kneeling on the front seat with his back leaning up against the dash. After a few moments the broken glass that was strewn all over the seats began to dig their way into Kyle’s knees. Miguel could see him twisting this way and that trying to get comfortable. With his free hand he tried to brush the glass off the seat and off of his knees. About 5 minutes when by before Kyle moved the gun to his left hand so he could get rid of the glass that was digging into his right knee. That’s when Miguel pushed the seat up against Kyle. He popped the passenger door and rolled out and underneath the car as Kyle got off two errant shots. . In the dark, Kyle didn’t know where he had gone. Miguel guessed that after a few minutes searching he panicked as the black Mercedes drove off. Miguel stayed under the car for another half hour or so, then walked out to the highway where he flagged down a trucker who called the cops.
Officer Shelia came into the home with Miguel and Nina. She wrote a quick note for Hernando without revealing where they were heading. He’d guess soon enough she thought. The whole plan didn’t feel very secure. Shastin was a shrewd operator. If he could spoof his way out of a state prison and brain wash 2 men to do his bidding, there’s no telling what he was capable of doing.
Shelia waited in the living room while Miguel packed a few things. To Nina’s recollection he hadn’t been on a trip since Hernando was 7 and the whole family visited Crater Lake. 30 minutes later they were on their way to the airport. Shelia said, “I’m to put you on a plane, not drop you off or see you to the security check point but to physically put you on an airplane. If you have a problem with that, then, well, we have a problem.” Neither Miguel nor Nina had a problem with that at all. It was a good thing actually because the closest thing Miguel had to identification was his union card. He had no idea where his drivers license had gotten to. Officer Shelia was a woman of her word. The three went straight to airport security where Gary Trainor had called ahead and made all the arrangements. They picked up a TSA agent who helped get them through security and to the Delta gate. At the gate Shelia hands Nina an envelope. “I was told to give this to you as your board. Don’t read it until you’re in mid-air. Got it?” Nina nodded. She clutched it until the plane was over Nebraska. Then she took a look inside.
The night of the hit Paul Shastin moved across town to a Motel 6 just west of downtown. Kyle had simple instructions if everything went according to plan Kyle would drive past the motel with his horn on. The signal would be unmistakable. The horn would also be a trigger to shatter the memory of the last 96 hours. That was his promise to Kyle and Franklin, they’d remember nothing. They could claim alien abduction and no one could prove otherwise. If Kyle or Franklin were caught in the act or apprehended at any time, the memory bomb would have already gone off and all trace of Paul Shastin would be wiped clean. Rosemary Woods clean.
Paul sat on the edge of the bed with the only window open to the street below. There was a couple next door having sex and even the voyeuristic opportunity of being in their minds didn’t distract him from listening for the signal. The room looked clean but it stank of cigarettes. There was the faint odor of Lysol in the air which made for a sickening aroma. He much preferred the familiar smell of car exhaust. When sun came without a signal. Paul made the guests next door leave their car keys in the ignition. Paul grabbed his gear hopped in the Toyota Camry and traced the route the two men should have taken. Paul got close enough to the scene to see it swarming with cops. Casting out to them he knew Nina survived and Franklin was in custody but incoherent and not revealing anything. Kyle’s whereabouts were unknown. He then drove past the Crespo’s home and there was no activity.
Paul drove around the block and parked in the driveway of the home that backed up onto the Crespo property. He recognized the place from the first night he was here. Casting forward there was no one home and no one that was going to disturb him for some time. He waited. Two hours passed by without a change. Behind him a baby sitter was getting frustrated by a toddler who wouldn’t take a nap. Over on his left a retired man was tinkering in his garage and wondering what would happen if he sliced is finger off with a circular saw. It bored him. Suburban angst. They were all pathetic excuses for living organisms hiding in their human sized adobe terrariums. He had half a mind to cut his losses and head to Europe and start over when he sensed activity at the Crespos. He began to get out of the car and barge in and just strangle Nina with his bare hands when he sensed a cop was in the house. They were heading to the airport. Michigan. East Lansing. Paul put the car in reverse. Pulled out and began looking for the on ramp to Interstate 80.
Over Lincoln Nebraska Nina slid her finger between the flap and envelope. It was one of those self-sealing envelope with heavy adhesive. Inside the envelope was a post card. The card read, ‘get off at Battle Creek. Call Jeff Tamura at 814.555.1733. He’s been briefed.’ She turned to her father and simply told him there was a slight change in plans.
25 – Desplazandor de la forma
Paul Shastin was bored driving cross country. In fact, he actually despised being down on the ground with the common folk. RV’s too big and slow to be anything other than a health hazard dotted the interstate. Every time he came up on one he threw lightning bolts of anger and disgust at the owner. How in the world anyone could sink 100’s of thousands of dollars on a piece of crap like a Winnebago he couldn’t imagine. Then his curiosity got the better of him and he began to play games. He’d swerve in and out of the blinds zone to get the drivers attention, then he’d tailgate just to what the Winnebago would do. When he got bored with this game he’d find another Winnebago and implant false memories into the drivers’ mind. Elvis sightings, alien abductions, invasion by Canadian paratroopers, cattle stampedes. His favorite was inserting the idea of being a clone when he found a drive who was a twin. It passed the time away and it helped him feel superior to all the lesser beings on the highway.
Around the Nevada Utah border this big 3/4 ton pickup truck came barreling up behind him and tail gated him for about 5 minutes. Paul stayed astride a semi and boxed the pickup in. then he reached out and set the driver to drowsy. He was very amused as the pickup drifted out of his lane and into the median where it flipped over a couple of times before Paul lost sight of it.
Paul was frustrated about money. He absent-mindedly filled up the tank of the Camry before he remembered he did not have a way to pay for it. It only took about 2 minutes to implant the suggestion into one driver of leaving the wallet on the counter after he paid. He as a nice looking kid from Texas who bought 18 gallons of gas, a package of slim Jim’s and a six pack of Mountain Dew. It’s kind of expected that kids like that would forget their wallet somewhere.
On the east side of Salt Lake City, he stopped for the night at a very nice hotel. If vowed that from here on out, all the stops were out, he was going to do as he pleased. He checked in with the college kids ID’s. It was child’s play he thought to make the hotel clerk believe he was in his early twenties. He ordered up room service and watched cable TV for a while. Boredom once again took root and he cast about looking to see who was in the nearby rooms. There was a couple staying a few rooms down. It felt like they were celebrating their 5 year, or tenth wedding anniversary. Like a marionette master, Paul manipulated each of them against each other. Pulling a string here and the inflection becomes accessory. A question became a statement. It took an hour but by the end there were hurt feelings and resentments all around. Then he made the room claustrophobic compelling the woman to leave and head down the bar. Paul waited until she was almost in front of his room when he opened the door.
If he could make Franklin forget who he was and prison guards not even see him, Paul could make a woman attracted to him. Her husband might not have reason to celebrate tonight, but Paul and the woman could. Without saying a word Paul held the door open for the woman. She paused for a brief second then walked right past Paul into his room.
Nina and Miguel deplaned without incident in Battle Creek and were met at the gate by Jeff Tamura. Jeff was about 5’ 4” and about 150 pounds. Short, stocky and all muscle by the looks of him. Nina at first thought he had Indian blood in him due to his mostly horizontal eyes. She thought it indelicate to ask. Miguel on the other hand had no problem asking the question, which made the short man laugh.
“Third generation Japanese American. My great grand parents came over in the twenties. They all got relocated during the war. My grandfather served in Italy with the 442 nd. After the war he and nana had my father who in turn popped me and my sister out here in corn flake central. Anything else you’d like to know?” The question wasn’t a rebuke. It was an invitation. Jeff knew that by telling the Crespo’s the truth the more they’d trust him which meant they had a great chance of living. Before Nina could ask it, Jeff told her that in the few hours it took to get to Battle Creek, Paul Shastin’s whereabouts were still unknown.
“They did apprehend Franklin and his accomplish” he told them. As far as he heard, the two men had scrambled eggs for brains. Neither one could recount their whereabouts the other night. Which is funny ‘cause Franklin left enough footprints a posse of hunting dogs would convict. I’m also pretty sure that once the take the glass fragments out of, “ Jeff looked into a small notebook he was carrying, “Kyle Stripwell, I’m sure it’ll match the window of your car Mr. Crespo. What no one can figure out is how this Shastin guy is able to move around, seemingly at free will.”
“desplazador de la forma,” said Miguel.
Both Nina and Jeff gave him a puzzled look, so he slowly repeated the phrase. “He’s a shape shifter,” Miguel finally said in English. Nina didn’t need to see Jeff’s reaction to know he thought that was utter rubbish, but her father was right. Knowing what he knows and based on what he saw, that was the best explanation anyone could come up with.
The plan was to swing by Lansing and pick up Nina’s stuff. Jeff would talk to Martha and smooth things over with her. Then the three of them would head to the Irish Hills.
Sometime before 3am the smoke alarm went off. Paul woke to the flashing strobe light that was high on the wall of the hotel room. The unrelenting drone of the alarm could have easily risen the dead 3 counties’ over. He was completely disoriented. He vaguely remembered a hotel room and Salt Lake City. What surprised Paul more than the fire alarm was the naked brunette lying next to him in bed. “Get out.” Was all he said to her as she stirred. The strobe light played havoc with his perception. He didn’t quite remember if she was 27 or 57. Now that it was over and he had his little fun, she was of no value to him whatsoever. “get out now” he said as he pushed her bottom half out of bed.
“I’m going!” she shouted back. “For god sakes the hotel is on fire. Where the hell is my underwear?”
Paul had his pants on as well as his right shoe. He found her dress and threw it at her, then he stumbled toward the door. Barefoot, she sprinted up behind him and pushed past him into the hallway. Waiting for them was her husband. With one mightily jab he hit Paul Shastin square on the chin and knocked him out cold.
When he came too he was in an empty hotel ball room surrounded by police and fire squads. The woman was at the far end of the room, sitting between a paramedic and cop. Next to her was a man in handcuffs, presumably the husband. Paul began to reach out to him with his mind. He was in a foul mood and all he wanted to do is make this bozo suffer. Something unique like a fear of orgasms or his own erection. Something that would take the shrinks decades to unravel.
“So you’re Brad Pitt, are ya?” came a voice behind him. Paul turned around to see a face that was vaguely familiar. He wore a Reno Nevada police uniform. Gary Trainor. If Trainor was here, he knew exactly who Paul was and what he was. It was then he discovered that he was handcuffed to the Nevada cop.
Shastin said slowly, “I’d like to think I’m better looking than Pitt, more experienced, more signs of road wear perhaps.” There were a lot of cops in the room, and it would take time to affect the changes in each of their minds to render himself a non-threat. First Gary, then the others.
“That lady over there, the one with the jealous husband insists that you are Brad Pitt. Now why would that be? You look more like a Steve Buscemi to me. “
“She obviously sees what’s beneath the surface. After all beauty is only skin deep, wouldn’t you agree Officer Trainor?” Shastin was in Gary’s mind and beginning to play around. It was only going to be a matter of time before even he was convinced Shastin was Brad Pitt. A case of mistaken identity.
“Beauty is in ones’ deed, Paul, and based on what went down in the desert outside of Carson City, there’s no beauty to be found here.” Outwardly Paul could see Gary struggle with his thoughts as what he thought and what he perceived began to diverge.
“It goes without saying that you’ve got the wrong man, Officer”, Shastin said watching Gary’s eyes change from accusation to astonishment. It took little over 4 minutes to change Gary’s reality from an armed and dangerous escaped prisoner to famed film actor Brad Pitt. He searched for Nina Crespo in Gary’s mind. She was there in a fresh memory. Battle Creek Michigan and the name Jeff Tamura were in the same memory. ”Now, if you don’t mind, I’m meeting Clooney for tennis in 20 minutes. “ He held up his wrists for Gary to see. It took half a heartbeat for Gary to realize what he was being asked. He quickly located the keys and uncuffed Shastin. “Now officer, if you stay here a while, I’ll ask my agent to come over and have you sign a contract for technical advisor on my next movie. “ Shastin got up, stretched his tired muscles and waked over to the other side of the room. As he waked he implanted the erection phobia in the husbands’ mind. The brunette, still thinking she was romanced by Brad Pitt stood to greet Shastin. Shastin took her in his arms and gave her a deep tongue kiss, grabbed her ass so her husband could have it seared into his mind then dropped her like a hot potato.
He was back on the interstate for a good half an hour before he found the house arrest ankle bracelet.
***** Jeff Tamora is not related to Mary B *****
***** Dan is now Theodore ******
***** The Grand Haven is now known as River Bend ****
Nina insisted that the trio stopped by River Bend for one final visit. She had some unfinished business to take care of with Theodore and she wanted to see Mary B one last time. It took a little convincing to get Jeff comfortable with the idea of visit. There hadn’t been any news for the west since the plane landed. Jeff didn’t like that one bit. The west was in man hunt mode. Like the FBI Nevada had a most wanted list and Paul Shastin was now at the top of that list. Every state police and investigation unit was on the hunt for Paul. If he were able to slip past that would be a bad sign, a very bad sign.
River Bend was in typical week day mode, there was a sing along going on in the common lounge area. A girl scout troupe had learned some standards from the 40’s and 50’s and were encouraging residents to join them. Nina found Mary B in the courtyard sitting on a bench and soaking up the late summer warmth.
“Christina! My dear, it’s good to see you again. I heard you skipped town. Come, sit down and keep me company a while.” Nina was so pleased to see Mary B, she seemed in great spirits and she told her so. “I was trying to listen to the birds, it’s been so long since my hearing was good enough to really hear them Nina. Did I tell you that Eric and used to raise finches? One of the kids brought one home from kindergarten. They hatched eggs in class, and at the end of the school year all the birds needed homes. I just loved the sound of them tweeting all day long. It was lovely background music. But they’re gone now, same as Eric and the kids have all moved on, save Andrea who visits every Sunday.“
The two women sat on the bench letting the warm breeze bring the scent of newly cut grass and the aroma of late summer lilacs into the courtyard. Nina stretched out into Mary B’s mind. The new memories were not entirely intact, but in better shape than some of the older memories. Martha was right, some of the effects of Alzheimer’s had been halted and others had been reversed. Nina leaned over and kissed the older woman on the cheek.
“It is so good to see you Mary. I wish I could stay but there’s some things I have to take care of. I don’t know how long that’s going to take or where I’ll be when it’s all said and done.” She wrapped her arms around Mary B in a warm embrace.
“I don’t know what you do Nina, but you always make me feel better after a visit. So go take care of what you need to take care of. We’ll be here when you return,” and then with a twinkle in her eye Mary said, ‘Well, they’ll be here. I’m planning of becoming the belle of Broadway. It’s never too late for a late bloomer like me isn’t there?”
Shastin got off the interstate at the first exit that he passed. This part of Wyoming is dotted with one horse towns where the nearest hardware store could be in Montana or Idaho. Miles and miles of desolate cattle county needed to be covered before he had a chance to take this ankle bracelet off. Frustrated, he pulled off on to a dirt road and started looking for a rock or something equally heavy to smash the transmitter. He came upon some road construction with a small crew patching asphalt over a culvert in the road. Shastin didn’t have time to play mind games with the 3 construction workers. He walked up to the small steam roller, grabbed a shovel from the side of the big machine and brained the first man he came up to. The driver of the steam roller jumped down and charged Shastin. Paul rolled to his right and took out the man’s knee with a wide swinging blow. The shovel had a wide blade and that created a lot of wind resistance so the blow wasn’t nearly as severe as Shastin would have liked. The steam roller driver hobbled off into the nearby field. He was no longer a threat. The remaining construction worker had been positioned to direct traffic. He was holding a large sign. Stop on one side, proceed with caution on the other. He just stood there paralyzed. Shastin stared him down with a steely look and shouted at him to get lost. The guy dropped the sign and took off after the steam roller driver.
Paul rummaged through the equipment left behind by the construction crew and found a few hammers, a crow bar and nasty looking pick. Paul’s plan was to cut if off and then plant it on some unsuspecting car heading east. Let the police track some hayseed he thought. Barring that, he’d smash the thing if he had to. His only lucky break was in this part of Wyoming there were more steers than police. That was his only blessing. Paul managed to force the crowbar in between the bracelet band and his leg. He gave it a mighty twist in hopes that he could pop the clasp. All he accomplished was bruising his ankle and drawing a little blood. The clasp would not pop.
Paul looked around for something to act as an anvil or some other service he could hold the ankle bracelet against and smash it with a hammer. The best candidate was the culvert itself. Paul stepped down off the road way an into the gully that ran alongside the road. The culvert was concrete and accessible. This was going to work he thought. He pulled up his pants leg and held it against the cool concrete. Even though his ankle was swelling up, he was able to twist the bracelet around so the position the electronic module against the angled surface. In order to strike the blow Paul needed to stand off balance and twisted. If the bracelet were on his left ankle he’d probably have to swing with his left hand. What an awkward thing that must be Paul thought, to go through life left handed. No one understands your plight and simply assumes that it’s no different than being right handed. Just fewer gold clubs. Paul snapped back to the task at hand and swung down with a mighty blow. The hammer recoiled and the claw bit into his calf leaving a deep gash. The second blow broke the cover of the housing, Paul wedged the claw of the hammer into the gap and cracked the cover completely off. He had no way of knowing if he mechanism still worked or not but he wasn’t taking any chances. Laying the electronics on the ground he smashed it into as many pieces as he dared. Hobbling back up to his Camry her took off toward the east once more.
Nina found Theodore asleep in his room. His dreams were alive yet disjointed. In the span of 15 seconds images from his childhood were interspersed with memories of this morning’s breakfast. He despised everything about River Bend. He despised the humiliating treatment that he had to endure. Nina found the memory of Mariann’s death and worked it, reconstructing it, laying it out in sequence. It was painful work for Nina, part of her soul was on the line. It was certainly wrong on every front. Here she was invading Dan’s privacy in the worst way imaginable, and to what end she thought? So he could relieve the pain and guilt of his actions? To be judge and jury without the benefit of perspective or training, or to simply mete out the punishment of clarity. She knew these questions would haunt her for the rest of her life. Whimsically she thought maybe she could erase her own memory of this action, but that was the lazy way out. If she were going to do this she’d pay her own price, after all she thought, she wasn’t changing events, only making sure a criminal remembered the crime. It might be nothing more than an attempt to justify her actions. Someone has to speak for Maryann she thought, it might as well be me.
It was time to go. She left Theodore’s room and looked for Robert and Martha. After Mary B, leaving these two was a sad affair. She couldn’t tell them where she was going. She didn’t know herself actually. It was the why of her leaving that was harder to conceal.
27 – Child seats and Glocks
Shastin got off the interstate before Laramie and found a small shopping center. He parked in a group of cars toward the rear of the parking lot and waited. It took 20 minutes for the driver of the nearest car to approach. He looked like a typical rancher type. Carhartt jacket, beat-up ball cap and cowboy boots. He could have stepped out of a Marlboro ad if it weren’t for the cell phone pouch hanging from his belt and the Hyundai he climbed into. Paul was in a great hurry, but not to the point of humiliation. His ankle hurt like hell. He discovered something interesting about himself in the last 24 hours. He was unable to affect his own memories. It must be like being unable to tickle yourself. There’s an awareness from all aspects that negated the effects of his gift.
While Paul waited for the next driver to approach he never thought of his power as a gift. Certainly a tool to be used, to wield like an ax to reshape the world. It was no better or worse than any machine made before. The fact that he was using his gift to benefit only himself did not bother him. The Nobel Prize was merely an attempt to assuage the guilt Alfred had over inventing TNT. That guy blew up half the globe and today he’s thought of as a great man. Shastin didn’t care what history would think of him. All he wanted was to be the only one with this power. There simply wasn’t enough room for anyone else. That’s why he had to kill that Crespo woman before he amassed a fortune and lived the good life. The next step in that goal was to trade out the Camry with Nevada plates with something nice, like that burgundy Cadillac sitting over there. An hour later a woman with 2 small boys came out and began to put grocery’s in the caddy. Her mind was so active juggling driving, her to-do list and keeping a 5 and 7-year-old boys from inflecting bodily harm that she was out of the parking lot and into the street before Paul was able to make her pull over on a side street.
“I believe you have the wrong car.” Shastin said as he approached the caddy. From the back seat the two boys stared at him from padded car seats.
She lowered the power window and said, “I’m sorry?” then she looked at her hands on the steering wheel and front seat as if seeing it for the first time. “Oh my gosh! How did this happen?!” She was truly aghast at her mistake.
“I have your car right her, see?” Paul pointed to the Camry. In her mind Paul was twisting her memories and thoughts, wrestling them to match his objectives. From the back seat of the caddy the two boys were making up ruckus about this being their car and that Paul was a bad man. Paul shut those voices completely out of her mind. Paul held up the Camry keys and simply said please. The woman undid her seat belt and got out of the caddy. She took the Camry keys and began to get in the other car. “Don’t forget your kids Lady” Paul shouted at her. She whirled around and began to apologize for being so forgetful. “No problem lady, just get your brats out of my car.”
Paul opened the rear passenger door and fumbled with the car seat mechanism. Eventually he got the kid unhooked and pulled him out of the back seat. “Get in the other car.” He did. He was deathly afraid of Paul and ran to his mother at the first change he had. Paul released the two car seats and flung them on the side of the road. He walked to the Camry and tapped on the driver’s window. It lowered.
“Now, what are you going to do when you get home?” He asked, even though Paul had placed the answer in her mind.
“I’m going to leave this car in the garage and not drive it ever again.” Paul smiled. The kids were climbing over the seats yelling about the groceries and chocolate milk. Paul ignored them all and took off in the caddy.
Paul pulled over at the first rest area in Nebraska to take a look at his ankle. It was angry and needed medical attention, but that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. In the trunk he found 3 bags of groceries. He transferred all the perishables and threw them away. He did not need rotting food to make this journey any less enjoyable.
In the glove compartment he found a fully loaded Glock 19. That made him smile for the first time in weeks.
28 – Violet Marie Hagerty
Jeff took it on face value that Nina and Miguel were in grave danger. When he got the call from Gary Trainor it was the first time the two had spoken in nearly 5 years. As the pleasantries of the catching up with each other continued Jeff was certain that there was a favor waiting to be asked, and a mighty big one at that.
“It’s not official or anything like that, but I have a father and daughter that need to get out of Nevada and disappear for a while. Is it alright if I send them your way?” Jeff thought for a moment and couldn’t come up with any real reason why not. His tiny apartment wouldn’t be big enough for 3 people. “Jeff, the fewer people who know about them the better. The guy that’s after them is resourceful beyond anything I’ve ever seen. He literally walked out of a state prison in broad daylight without anyone stopping him.”
“Let me check with my sister. She’s got a big spread down in the Irish Hills. The two of them should be out of sight there. “Jeff thought his sister could use the company. Since her divorce she’d been licking her wounds like one of her dogs. Company would do her good and get her thinking about something else besides cheating husbands.
“No shit Jeff, this guy just vanished. The whole state is out looking for him and he could be Siegfried or Roy for all we can tell. He’s smart enough to show up on your doorstep. If she qualified, I would have tried to get her into the Witness Protection program. It just seems like a personal vendetta and nothing the State or Feds would be interested in. Shame really. “
“So what’s your stake in all this Gary?”
“The girl, Nina, testified in my wife’s trial against this guy. I swear to god as soon as Nina took the stand Shastin tried to rip her throat out. He’s been obsessed with killing her ever since. “Gary filled in the rest of the history for Jeff. By the time the phone call ended, Jeff was just about as invested in protecting Nina as Gary was.
Nina was in a sullen mood after leaving River Bend. Her life there had been brief, but for the first time in her life it was HER life. She was certainly feeling guilty for leaving Papa in a pinch and that tainted her experience somewhat, but when she wasn’t thinking of Paul Shastin, she enjoyed her time in Michigan. Every time she glanced at her father she could tell there was a part of him that was lost and uncertain of all that was going on. Staying in Reno was not an option. She had been attacked 3 times there, and only a true fool would wait around for a fourth. The proud man who up until this flight to Michigan had been in nearly absolute control of his life and certain of his surroundings. Not so here. Papa said very little.
Nina did not need to reach into his mind to know he was terrified for her, and to a much lesser extent himself. He’d take a bullet for her, she did not doubt. Miguel did not trust Jeff. He wasn’t family. He wasn’t Anglo. He was Japanese as far as Miguel’s limited experience told him, and that was akin to being Martian. It was Miguel who was a stranger in a strange land and would remain so until he returned home to the high desert of Nevada.
“I think the safest place for the two of you is with my sister Violet. She’s got a small ranch about an hour south from here. Violet raises border collies and such. Everything from companion dogs for the blind to search and rescue dogs. I hope you two aren’t allergic to dogs?”
“I have a dog. Hernando and Eveline gave little Andres.” That seemed to break the ice. From the back seat of Jeff’s Impala Miguel opened up and talked about his little dog. “when I come home from the nursery little Andres would spin in little circles. I pick him up or he’d get dizzy and run into the wall. He likes getting his tummy rubbed all the time.” Nina smiled. She had no idea how fond of the dog her father had become. It felt wonderful to hear her father speak passionately about the little Pomeranian.
“Well, Violet doesn’t have anything that small on the ranch, but I think you’ll be okay. “
Nina knew there was a deep bond between Jeff and Gary Trainor, but she asked about it to help pass the time. It would be good for Miguel to hear this also, so he could appreciate Jeff more.
“Gary and I met at the Academy, the FBI academy in Quantico. He was x-army MP and I was former army too, but all I did was drive trucks in Iraq. He was great at the physical stuff, and I was better at the classroom training. We formed kind of a mini-study group helping each other where we were weakest. It was a lot like boot camp all over again. Gary was having a hard time with the forensics analysis classes and washed out at week 12. It took me two times to pass the firearms test which meant I didn’t pass with my class, but I did with the next class!” Nina saw that ear to ear grin for the first time. She smiled back. Like Papa and his cute story about Andres, this was a welcome story of happiness. She was glad to be her to be a part of it.
In Iowa Paul dropped the Nebraska license plates in favor of plates from an Ohio Caddy that he found at a big truck stop rest area just outside of Des Moines. At the rest area he bought an razor blade knife and paperback book. He ripped the paperback in half along the spine. It was some best seller cop drama which gave Paul moment’s pause. He didn’t believe for a moment in fate or predestination, but the ‘always gets his man’ bravado was a reminder his didn’t need to see.
Paul tried to slide the last 100 pages of the paperback between his swollen ankle and the stiff plastic strap of the ankle bracelet. It wasn’t easy and the dull ache of his ankle was now a throbbing pain with each pulse of blood. Using the razor knife Paul began to carve little slivers of plastic out the strap until he was able to slice it completely off and free his ankle of this albatross.
Somewhere in the god forsaken corn country of Illinois Paul was able to soak his angry ankle in a tub filled with ice cold water. He then wrapped it up in an ace bandage he picked up the truck stop.
Tomorrow is the day, he thought as he toyed with the Glock. He’d be in Battle Creek by early afternoon, and by all rights he’d be free of the Crespo girl and her threat by dinner time.
The first thought that came to Gary had was to call Alice and tell her that he met Brad Pitt. Something was off though, he wasn’t in Nevada. This was Utah for chrisakes. How the hell did he get here? He hadn’t been this disoriented since his bachelor party 12 years ago. What made this worse was there was no one within eyesight that he recognized. All the police were Ute’s. He didn’t even know where his car was or whether his Reno police radio would even work this far from base.
Beneath him was an unoccupied stretcher. Brad Pitt was there. I talked with him! Seemed like a nice guy. Gary patted his pockets. Car keys were hanging off his belt, where they were supposed to be. In his left breast pocket was his small notebook. Gary flipped toward the back where todays entries were.
“Paul Shastin, fugitive. In custody. Salt Lake City. Return to Utah State Police for extradition and transport.” Gary had no idea who Paul Shastin was and his confusion only mounted. There was a very cryptic note below this official note. “Play video on your phone.”
Gary pulled out his iPhone and found the watched the video.
“Sargent Gary Trainor,” the video began. It was obviously taken today, about 2 hours ago. The camera swung down to show a man asleep or unconscious on the stretcher. The background noise made it hard to understand. “This is Paul Shastin, escaped convict, suspect in an attempted murder investigation. Extremely dangerous. Do not let this man out of your sight. If you don’t have him in custody, watch the other camera.”
“What other camera?” Gary asked himself, then he remembered, he had set up a camcorder behind the stretcher. Gary flipped it around, rewound the recording and played it back from just before they guy on the stretcher open his eyes. Gary was both dumbfounded and scared out of his wits at the same time. For the first time he truly understood how dangerous Paul Shastin actually was.
Just after 1:00pm pau pulled into a Starbucks and ordered a iced coffee. He sat in a corner and waited and watched the other patrons. He picked a college student and planted his wish. She came over to his table and set down her iPod and car keys. Paul handed her the Cadillac keys and she drove off. Paul drained the battery scowering the internet for information on Jeff Tamaura. Before the iPad stopped working Paul knew every child hood friend Jeff had, where he lived, what he drove. Every shred of public information available to him. The frustration was the internet wasn’t as pliable to his powers as people were. He couldn’t spoof an algorhythm to give him what he wanted. He’d fill in the gaps as necessary. He had to settle himself from being over anxious. Mistakes are made when you’re anxious he told himself. He had literally come too far to let things slip out of his hands now. He left the iPad and climbed into the college student’s yellow VW Beetle. “god I have Yellow Cars” he thought as he drove to Tamaura’s home address.
Violet Hagerty had about 30 acers just north of Loch Erin in the Michigan Irish HIlls. “I would have changed my name back to Tamura but I live in the Irish Hills, on Loch Erin, so what the hell” She said as she reached out to great Nina and Miguel. Her spread was across the road from a small horse farm.” That’s the sheriff’s place. His day job is to race trotters for the harness racing. Otherwise he basically keeps the college kids from humping and drinking on the beaches. Jeff, did you tell Walter’s what’s going on?” Jeff shook his head. The fewer people who know Nina and Senior Crespo are here the better. Right now it’s just you, Gary Trainor from the Academy and me. We need to keep it that way. “Jeff’s phone rang and he excused himself to take it while Violet continued the tour.
“I’ve got an hour or two before I need to feed the dogs. I usually have one or two stay in the house with me each night. Is that okay with you two?” Both Nina and Miguel nodded their approval. The house was fairly new looking. Perhaps 20 years old or so, certainly newer than Nina’s home in Sparks. The lower level had that rehabbed open floor plan look to it. With the exception of a bathroom and pantry most of the rooms flowed into one another. A small functional kitchen anchored the rear of the house and a small common room slash living room at the front of the house. The front of the house and north side were wrapped in a screen porch that on a hot muggy night like tonight would keep the mosquitoes at bay. Nina didn’t the lack of curtains or drapes in the windows. She felt exposed. Violet must have noticed. “Usually, I pull the blinds on the porch to keep out the hot afternoon sun. I’ll certainly do that tonight as well as along the north side. Don’t worry Nina, you’re as safe as you can be here.”
Jeff came in and looked a little shaken. “Well, it looked they had this Shastin guy the day before yesterday in Utah. That was Gary Trainor on the phone. He literally had Shastin hand cuffed to himself and somehow he got out. Gary’s in some hot water, but I think that’s just for the review process. He taped his encounter with Shastin and it was corroborated by a couple of people that Shastin hypnotizes people into thinking he’s Brad Pitt.”
Violet laughed.” Oh, I’m sorry, really I am. Brad Pitt? Seriously? Who falls for that?”
“desplazador de la forma,” said Miguel.
“My father calls him a shape shifter, an old Senora desert legend. “
“Ah, well, here in Michigan we call ‘em Buckeyes. Just as slippery and just as hated.”
Jeff brought the conversation back to a serious tone. ‘Vi, believe me, half the law enforcement community in the Western US is spooked by this guy. I expect that in the next day or so the FBI will issue an armed and dangerous bulletin on him. Vi, right now his only interest it seems is to do harm to your house guests. This is no laughing matter.”
“I’m sorry everyone, I really am. I’m just not prepared for this kind of thing. I train dogs. That’s love, discipline and milk bones. I’m just not ready for homicidal maniacs stopping by for lunch. Sorry Nina.”
Jeff said, “Why don’t you go get tonight’s guest dogs and introduce them to Miguel and Nina. I’d like a dog to be with them around the clock if that’s possible.” Violet said that would be no problem and she went out the back toward the converted barn that was the kennel.”
A half hour later Violet returned with 4 dogs. At first Miguel was frightened by the dogs. The exhibited no sign of being friendly at all. No tail wagging. Even Jeff who knew the breed was a little put off by the all business attitude of the dogs.
Violet explained these were Belgian Shepard’s. Very smart and easy to train. The four, Lucy, Kaylee, Pirate and Shadow were being trained for search and rescue. She had others in the kennel who were being trained as sheep dogs. Those were the dozen border collies she and her trainers were working with. The Belgian’s were geared more for police and military duty. These four were going to be evaluated by the Air Force when they come of age, and if selected they’ll head off to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas by Columbus Day.
“So Nina, Miguel, you too Jeff, stand over here” Violet had the three visitors stand a couple of feet apart from each other. She handed each of them a whistle. Red for Nina, White for Miguel and Blue for Jeff. She stood behind Nina and called Lucy over. The Belgian Shepard was solid tan with a black face. The dog trotted over and sat in front of Nina and Violet. Using hand gestures as well as her voice Violet gave the command “Protect. Protect Nina. Now Nina, give a short, hard blast on your whistle. That’ll tell Lucy what your tone is.” Nina took a breath and blew hard, but nothing came out. “Not so actually. Lucy heard it and that’s all that matters. She’ll ignore the other whistles but she’ll break down a door to get to you when she hears her tone.” Violet repeated the ceremony for the other two.
“Now,” she said, “you all have a protector. They won’t let you out of their sight if you let them. They’ll sense danger before you do, they’ll hear things, smell things and will react accordingly. All you need to do is remember 2 phrases. The first is ‘protect now’ that’ll literally unleash their full potential as guard dogs. The other phrase is ‘break, release’. That’ll call them to heal. Everybody got it?” the each nodded that they understood. For a woman who a short time ago thought this an absurd situation, she was taking things very, very seriously now.
The board of review was held in a small conference room in the first basement of the Reno Police station. Gary Trainor was wearing his finest uniform and sitting ramrod straight and in front of 3 senior officers who were sitting behind a table. They had just watched both of the videos Trainor had made while in Utah. No one said a word. Eventually the senior member of the board of review began to speak.
“While it is commendable that you came in here with this videographic evidence one would be hard pressed to see this as evidence in your favor Sargent. One video is of yourself admonishing your actions, almost predicting your situation, while the longer video simply shows you in conversation and letting your prisoner go without a qualm. This is hardly something I would call justification for your actions. Is there anything you would like to add?”
“Thank you sir. I brought this to the review board’s attention not as a defense of my actions, but simply as a demonstration of influence Paul Shastin has over the people he has contact with. Franklin Tuner has passed several lie detector tests where he’s asked and confronted with pictures of Paul Shastin and himself, yet he denies there even being another person in these photos. The Lie Detector does not catch him in a lie. He genuinely believes he has never known, has been with Paul Shastin. He has no memory that the phycologists or interrogators can discern of the night of the Crespo attack. We have every reason to believe that he attached a road gang in Nebraska and destroyed an ankle tracking bracelet I installed in Utah. This along with the interviews and video surveillance tape from Northern Nevada State penitentiary are all consistent in one regard – Paul Shastin is capable of anything. My own experience with Shastin tells me something else. It will take a small army to subdue him.”
Paul hung out in front of Jeff Tamura’s condo till 3:00am If anyone was inside they were comatose. All the information he had about Tamura’s Battle Creek connections had turned up cold. Neither he nor Nina Crespo were within 20 miles of Battle Creek. He was getting anxious and desperate. Which also meant he was beginning to take unnecessary risks. His ability to influence and control people had limits. It felt like the maximum number of people he could juggle and influence at any given time was at most two. Much like the Utah hotel incident as long as he wasn’t faced with a mob, the size of the crowd was not going to be a problem. Paul’s ankle was healing but the gash was looking like it might be infected. The wound had healed over, but the 3-inch-long gash was puffy and underneath the scab were signs of puss. He had been applying Neosporin to the scab every morning and changing the dressing as well. Things seem to have stabilized and he only limped a little now.
At a Denny’s south of the city he changed cars once again. He loathed the yellow VW as it stuck out like a sore thumb, but the Ford Focus was an every man’s car. And it had Michigan plates. He waited till dawn and headed toward Tamura’s sister place in Onstead. The Internet had a little history of young Violet. High school honors, College in Denver. Married in 2006. Divorced in 2010. She kept the dog kennel in Onstead and in 2012 won the Midwest breeder’s cup for best herding dog class with a border collie named Chico. If Tamura and the Crespo woman weren’t there, perhaps the sister would flush them out into the open.
The dogs were inconspicuous while dinner was prepared and served. Lucy and Kaylee, the all jet black female were curled up in catching the last remaining warm rays of the sun. Violet had Shadow out on the porch and pirate was out back. It might not be Fort Knox but it gave Nina and Miguel the ability to relax and let their guard down a bit. Violet had some music playing in the background. It was nothing Jeff or Nina could identify. “Jeff, you need to expand your horizons. There is so much good music out there besides American Idol.” Nina exchanged glances with Miguel. They both shrugged. During dinner Jeff cautioned about drinking too much wine. He considered himself on duty as much as the dogs and suggested that everyone else approach it the same way.
It was too late for Miguel. He had a snoot full of wine and the relaxed atmosphere was all it took to loosen the man’s tongue. “When I was a boy, I was the Shepard. We could not afford any dogs. We had to many mouths to feed as it was. Every morning my sister, Nina’s aunt Margareta and I would take the goats out to the pasture. At sunset we’d bring them back again. One time I have to fight off a mountain lion with a stick to drive him away. “He looked around the room and saw he had everyone’s attention. “One day Margrete was sick, so I ask Haziline, my sweetheart from the next village to help me. I lose two goats that day.” He banged his hand on the table and let out a hearty laugh. It took a moment for the real meaning to set in. Jeff and Violet politely smiled. Nina turned 3 shades red.
After dinner Nina was helping wash up. Miguel and pirate had already gone upstairs to bed. Jeff commented on how nice it was that her father trusted him. “No offense Jeff, but I’m pretty sure he trusts the dog more than you.”
“I didn’t want to say this in front of your father, but we’re pretty sure Shastin his in Michigan. We’ve had all agency’s funnel odd crimes to Reno. There have been weird auto thefts where people ended up with their car missing, but having someone else’s. For example, in a Nebraska man brought in his wife who insisted an unknown car was hers. He was tipped off by his two boys who identified Shastin as the guy who took their Cadillac. We don’t know what that car is, but we do know a handgun belonging to the husband was in that Cadillac. We have to assume Paul Shastin is now armed. We know he’s dangerous and we’re pretty sure he’ll be knocking on our proverbial doorstep any day now.
Shastin spent the night in the Ford Focus with it wedged between a boat trailer and a camper in an apartment complex parking lot south of Jackson. The mosquitos were thick and hungry and every attempt he made to keep them out failed. He sprayed repellant on a shirt and hung it over an open window and that seemed to help. He knew if he had stayed in a hotel or motel that the chances of him being spotted were greater than the inconvenience of a few mosquito bites. One last day in this pursuit then it’s over the border into Canada and a new life. The thought of what lay ahead even helped his throbbing ankle.
When dawn broke he gassed up the Focus and breakfast consisted of a bag of chips washed down with a coke. Tonight, he told himself, he’d dine on a nice steak dinner somewhere in Ontario. He didn’t trust the GPS in the car to get him to Hagerty’s Dog Center. He didn’t believe for one moment that those devices were passive, and received information only. He was certain that the NSA or CIA knew the whereabouts of very car on the planet. How else were the able to shoot a Hellfire missile at some turnip truck half way around the globe and take out a suspected terrorist? That or some poor dirt farmer who had the unfortunate luck to simply look like the terrorist in question.
After a few false turns here or there he passed by the Dog Center before he realized it. The first order of business was to reconnoiter the area. The Dog Center property consisted of 30 acers of rolling hills that were bordered by a lazy highway to the west, a stream that fed Loch Erin on the east and what appeared to be fence lines north and south. According to a tourist map he picked up in town there appeared to be to be a hiking path that ran from the public beaches of the lake to the center of town. He might not look like a hiker or vacationer from Toledo but he didn’t stand out. It was about 10:00 when he started down the trail to the lake.
After breakfast Violet took Nina and Miguel on a tour of the center. “My ex, Dan and I converted the barn about 15 years ago into a kennel.”
“Did you say Dan? As in Dan Hagerty?” Nina asked. She liked Violet, there was nothing pretentious about her. The night before Nina had entered Violets mind and was relieved to see that there was very little hidden with this woman. What you saw was what you got. Violet wasn’t the kind to hold her tongue or pull her punches. Her divorce was precipitated by an inability to balance and separate a business relationship from her personal relationship with Dan. That led to resentments, distance and a lusty attraction to a trainer named Walt. Violet shared her feelings toward Walt with her husband, as a problem they needed to address together. Dan took it as an affront to his masculinity and his skills as a husband. Hurt beyond expression, Dan moved out the following morning. Violet fired Walt the same day citing a conflict of interest. Within 24 hours Nina lost her husband, the man she lusted for and was left with 22 dogs that needed her full attention. Nina saw in Violet a kindred albeit more expressive and confrontational spirit, but a kindred spirit none-the-less.
Inside the barn were 5 pens along each side of the barn with a dog run along the back. “Between April and October, we train as many as 25 dogs here. Some as young as 12 weeks, some as old as 3 years. I can’t afford to heat the kennel year round, so we try and wind down operations before the first hard frost which usually is in November. “
Besides the 4 dogs that were protecting the four of them, there were 3 border collies in the pens. “These guys are here for a tune up couse in sheep handling. Further out back I have a pen of 8 Leicester’s, which provide good wool by the way, to help drill the dogs. The owner is out of town this week and is boarding them and paying for the additional training. Nancy the trainer will be in a bit and will drill Huey, Dewey and Louie. We won’t even know she’s here.“ Violet took the pair past the fenced in agility yard with its obstacle training equipment and back to the edge of the woods. “This is my pride and joy. I’ve got 20 acers of good search and rescue terrain here. A couple of thickets of old growth forests, one good out cropping of granite rock plus some swampy ground in the spring plus a stream bed. Terrain wise this is about the best facility in the state for training rescue dogs. Whenever I have a contract for S & R Dogs, er, search and rescue dogs for Colorado or Arizona I get them exposed to riders on horseback from the neighbor across the road. It’s one of those mutually beneficial arrangements. I get dogs socialized to horses, and he gets, well, other benefits.” Violet blushed and began walking back toward the house. Nina knew exactly what benefits Violet was referring to.
Shastin crossed over the stream at the first footbridge he came to. That put him on the same side of the stream as Nina. He suspected that if he opened him mind and found Nina that would tip her off so Paul relied on conventional means to locate Nina. He came upon a chain link fence that was out of place for large animals like cows or horses. After climbing over he was certain that he was on the Dog Center property. Across the field he saw three people walking dogs. One of them looked like Nina. The man looked enough like Nina’s father that he was certain it was her father. Using the brush and tree line he moved up closer to get a good shot. All he needed to do now was wait for the three to walk toward him. Paul was a good marksman with a rifle, but only fair with a pistol at range. He told himself that he needed to hear her voice before he pulled the trigger.
Behind him he heard a car pull up to the barn. A women got out and went inside. That put someone on his flank who could interrupt his plan. Paul could still see Nina and her companions had their back to him, so Paul scurried to side of the barn and peered inside, between the flats. A woman wearing tall rubber boots was inside getting three dogs all excited. He took a gamble that Nina was too far away to notice, Paul reached out and inserted a compulsion into the women’s mind. She walked over to an unoccupied kennel, went inside and allowed the door to swing shut, locking her inside. Threat eliminated.
Violet stopped mid-sentence as the three were returning to the house. “Nancy’s here, but she hasn’t taken the collies to the sheep pen yet. That’s odd.” Nina went blood cold and dropped to the ground and hissed to the others to do the same. She opened her mind and reached out to see if Paul Shastin was there. He was.
“He’s here. Oh god. He’s here.” The dogs were also spooked and on high alert. Ears straight, fur up and their heads jerking this way and that at every sound, every movement.
“Protect Flat” Violet hissed and the three dogs got down on all fours. They were like coiled springs, ready to jump at the first provocation.
“What do we do?” Miguel asked in Spanish. Violet pulled out her cell phone and dialed Jeff. He was still in the house cleaning up after breakfast.
“Busy” she said in disgust.
“Let me try”, Nina said. She closed her eyes and reached out for Jeff. He was just on the edge of her reach, but he was there. All this time she had never tried to influence someone’s conscious thoughts only past memories. Danger, Shastin. Here. Barn, she repeated over and over again. There was no way of knowing if the thoughts were taking hold, but it was worth the try.
“We can’t stay here,“ Violet said. “We’re too exposed. We could make a break for the house…”
“No!” Nina interrupted. “he as a gun. A pistol and he’ll use it to kill us all if we head for the house. What’s behind us?” She asked.
“Some woods, a rock outcropping, the stream and eventually the lake.”
“Is there an alcove or protected spot back there?” Nina asked.
“Well, there’s a spot in the rock face that’s somewhat protected. The high school kids used to hang out there for necking parties until the dogs started chasing them away. If you don’t know where it is, it’d be hard to find.”
“Ok then, I say we head there.” Nina was tired of running and if it didn’t end here, it was going to end somewhere else.” Violet nodded and began to crawl back into the woods, with the dogs crawling as well. They were well trained which made her smile.
Shastin felt Nina’s presence and grew angry that the element of surprise was now lost to him. He snapped out and threw Nina a psychic lightning bolt of blood lust anger and hatred. She felt the blow hit and was momentarily stunned. She wasn’t prepared for the attack, but now her defenses were up.
Paul was now a bit more brazen. With the element of surprise gone, there was no need to skulk around and pretend. He calmly walked into the woods with the Glock in his hand. It was shoot first, no questions asked.
Nina’s heart sank when she saw the spot Violet had in mind. She grew up with the Sierra Nevada Mountains in her back yard. The protected outcropping of rocks that Violet had was nothing more than a shallow depression in the rock face. The outcropping itself was no more than 8 feet higher than the surrounding ground. Back home, this would have been an insignificant feature. Here in the flat Midwest it passed for a major geological landmark.
Violet motioned for Nina and Miguel to sit, with their back against the rock face. From a sitting positon, in the small depression it was hard to see from anywhere except straight on. The only thing that gave away their location was the three furry sentinels who were also there.
“What did you mean, let me try?” Violet asked after a moment of quiet.
“When Jeff’s phone was busy, you said let me try. And then nothing. I assumed you’d pull out your phone or something but you just laid there. I was curious what you meant is all.”
Nina knew Violet could handle hearing the truth and would accept it, but hiding in plain sight from a crazed killer probably wasn’t the best time to talk. Off in the distance a twig snapped and the three dogs leapt to attention.
Jeff was on the phone with Gary, back in Reno giving him an update. Outside his bedroom window he could see Miguel and Nina getting the grand tour from Violet. All of the sudden he got this panic attack and just knew it was going down. He told Gary to call in the SWAT team, National Guard, state police, even the notorious Michigan Militia. Shastin was on the property. He threw down the phone, pulled his pistol from its ankle harness and crept out the back door toward the barn.
Jeff entered the barn as if he were clearing a room the way he’d been taught at the academy. The three collies barked at him and inside the forth kennel was Nancy. “How the hell did I get in here Jeff!? Let me out.” Jeff ignored her pleas. She was safe for the moment. If he let her out, she might wander into a danger zone and get hurt. Better she be pissed off at him than wind up a bloody puddle somewhere. He exited the barn at the rear and caught a glimpse of Paul Shastin disappearing into the heavy brush.
Paul knew he was being followed, but trying to keep Nina at the forefront of his mind left him little time to implant false thoughts in to his pursuer. He would deal with it the old fashioned way. He crouched in the underbrush and waited for his adversary to come to him.
Nina knew what was happening, and warned Jeff. Shastin is laying in ambush for you. Be careful. Shastin also picked up on Nina’s warning, and lashed out at her. This time Nina was wracked with a searing heat as if Paul were able to squeeze her adrenal gland. She fought consciousness and barely held on. With Nina incapacitated Paul focused on Jeff, saw movement and fired. An instant later a return shot caught him in the left arm. It was excruciating. Paul backed up and out of the thicket he was hiding in. He knew Nina was close by, perhaps 50 yards away and to his left. A second shot hit a tree he was kneeling next to. Paul rolled to his right and crawled away. Overhead he thought he heard the sound of helicopters.
When Nina recovered she reached out again. Jeff was in pain, but more emotional than physical. Shastin was overwhelming her thoughts the way sound from concert speakers make it impossible to speak. The dogs were on high alert. They were tracking something, presumably Shastin not far away. Nina wanted to make a run for the stream and get across to safety. She began to get to her feet when Violet pulled her back down.
“Do you know what the army nicknames these guys Nina?” She shook her head. Violet pulled out a silver whistle from a chain around her neck. “The call them furry missiles.” She gave a mighty puff on the silent whistle and the dogs were off at full gallop.
Jeff knew he had hit Shastin, once, perhaps twice. He had what he thought was a clean shot when all of the sudden Pirate took off on him. Before Jeff could react movement caught his attention from behind Shastin. It was the three other dogs. In the span of 2 seconds the four dogs descended on Shastin and clamped down on each extremity. When Jeff reached the scene Shastin was covered with blood snot and dog slobber. Shastin was shreaking in pain. There wasn’t anything Jeff could do. He wasn’t the dog handler and they wouldn’t listen to him even if he did know the commands. Only Violet could release the dogs. Based on what Gary had told him keeping him in the grips of the dogs might just be the only way to contain him. Whatever ploys he had been able to use in the past it was unlikely to ever work on dogs. Being in as much pain as he was in, it was unlikely Shastin was thinking of anything other than self-preservation.