“Jeezus…goddamn, lemme go!!”
Three un-expected things happened at once. Well, make that two un-expected things and one very surprising thing.
I saw Maribeth recover from a fall, (or rather more of a near-fall), which was the result of being pushed un-expectedly and trying to counter-balance by stepping in a small puddle of beer.
I saw a man, lying at my feet, yelling his way into a scream that I should release him. All of which was decidedly not something I normally do when meeting someone for the first time.
I realized that I was holding this man’s wrist in an odd position. His fingers were wrapped, impotently, around my right wrist. I had two fingers of my left hand resting on the back of his gripping hand and had twisted everything in such a way as to cause this somewhat drunk, but otherwise seemingly healthy man, to throw himself at the ground, in a desperate attempt to get away from my hold on his wrist.
His yelling began to take on a plaintive tone. I let go of his wrist and stepped back away from both Maribeth, who was now standing fully upright, and this man, a police detective, if I was to believe the gold badge on his belt. He grasped his arm to his chest, looking up at me with an expression of pained disbelief.
Maribeth looked at me, glanced at the man on the floor and, without a word, walked out of the bar. I looked to my right and saw the reflection of a young woman in a barroom mirror… correction, a young nun in a barroom mirror. “Dear God,” I thought, “if Sister Catherine were here, I’d never again be allowed inside of a classroom!”
I thought back, only half a day earlier to the morning…
I stood in the doorway of the convent as the taxi arrived to take me to the airport. I hugged Sister Bernadine and began to walk down the front steps. On an impulse, I stopped and looked back to see Sister Catherine standing slightly inside the doorway, to the right of Sister Bernadine. I hesitated, then turned and went back up the stairs and said, “Sister Catherine, I’m off, back to Chicago one more time. Wish me luck!”
She looked at me quietly, the sharp features of her face in no way softened by her wire-rimmed glasses, and said, “Take care of yourself, young Sister Ryan. I will say a prayer to both Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret that your trip is mundane and boring and nothing should happen to require help from our namesakes.” I reached out towards her and she grasped both my hands in hers and smiled, so slightly that it might be mistaken for a grimace, and whispered, “Do try to avoid dragons while you’re away.”
A few short hours later, as I rode the escalator down to the ground floor baggage claim area, I scanned the crowd for the face of Chicago Police Detective, Maribeth Hartley. As I moved ever downward, the mass of human heads and faces, like a net full of fish spilled out on the deck of a boat, struck me as all the same, and every one clearly an individual. For some reason, it made me remember being no more than eight or nine years old, trying to solve one of those camouflage puzzles, in which you’re supposed to find an Indian (or cowboy) hidden within a drawing. I usually ended up forcing myself to simply stare at the puzzle, scanning the image, left to right, up and down. Eventually I would give up in frustration and then the hidden figure would jump off the page.
Nearing the ground level, losing my advantage of being able to take in a hundred people’s faces in a glance, I reminded myself, ‘Detective Maribeth Hartley, well-dressed, 5′ 9″, hair the color of a winter’s midnight and a figure…the kind of figure that made men out of virtually everyone.’
I stopped trying to find her among the faces of the other travelers and just let my eyes wander over the crowd below and, sure as sunrise, there she was! My first thought was, ‘talk about your wolf in well-tailored sheep’s clothing!’
She stood to the left of a column, wearing a dark green tailored suit, her gold detective’s badge clipped discreetly to her belt on her right hip. It wasn’t so much that she stood out in the crowd, just that she clearly was the person who was not a part of the crowd. I also could see that the people who made up the crowd, whether consciously or not, avoided getting too close to her. Like an air bubble in cake batter, the space that existed around her was there simply because people did not allow themselves to get too close to her. It occurred to me how lonely she must be. There was something about her, observable perhaps only from a distance. She had a quality that conveyed a sense of a ‘natural apartness’. It occurred to me that I too, had some of this ‘apartness’, as well. I thought of how often I’ve had doors held open for me or watched people step aside to allow me to walk out through a doorway. Like Maribeth, I too was allowed space by those nearby, but for me it was mostly only to the front, in the direction of my path. People tended to follow closely behind me or, perhaps walking to my side, they would venture a smile as if to say, “Wish me well, I promise to try my best”.
I walked towards where Maribeth was standing, we saw each other at the same time, and I reflected her smile of recognition. She never once stopped her constant scanning of the crowd moving around us.
“You know, if you didn’t have a gun and a badge, people might not be so intimidated,” I said, instead of “hello”,
“Yeah, but where’s the fun in that? Scared people are easier to control and, in my line of work, that’s kinda important,” Maribeth smiled.
I reached out and put both hands on her forearms, and simply stood and looked at her. I didn’t think she would enjoy a hug.
“Speak for yourself, Sister Ryan. As is clear to anyone with eyes, you’re being given more space than the average woman in the crowd. Although rather than try to avoid eye contact like they do with me, most people seem to be looking at you with something between hope and excruciating politeness. And you’re not even wearing a gun…are you?” Maribeth walked ahead of me to the baggage carousel.
“No, my child.” She barked laughter that turned the heads of the people near us and inspired at least one young mother to pull her child to her. “I have this,” holding up my crucifix. “This is the source of my power, it’s why they all are being so polite and anxious to help.”
The baggage machinery started with a rumbling sound. It had an effect on the crowd like a magnet on iron filings, everyone turned and stared at the opening in the wall and the empty conveyor belt pouring out into the room. Baggage appeared almost immediately and began to dump itself on the slanted metal carousel.
I turned towards Maribeth and whispered, “Watch.”
I stepped towards the conveyor as I saw my suitcase exit the wall and move along on the belt. I had put ‘St Dominique’s Convent, Crisfield MD’ stickers on both sides of the suitcase before I left the convent this morning. Almost instantly, two men, one probably in his early thirties wearing an expensive business suit and the other, maybe late forties, wearing a tan London Fog with a checkered shirt, spotted my suitcase and immediately stepped up to the conveyor. The older of the two said, “Allow me, Sister,” but both of them reached for the suitcase as it approached. The younger man, who was both taller and in a better position, managed to grab the handle of the suitcase and put it down in front of me.
“Thank you! Both of you,” I made a point of touching the older man on the arm and repeated my thanks. He smiled. The younger man smiled, but he had the sure smile of the victor in whatever contest was created in that small moment of time.
I grabbed the telescoping handle, tipped it over on to its wheels and walked past Maribeth towards the door, “Pretty good for not using a gun, huh?”
We both laughed as we walked out to the street. Maribeth’s un-marked car was parked, half up on the sidewalk, attracting wary but annoyed glances from the people forced to walk around.
“Hey, Sister, so this new information on the death of the priest, what’s so important that you couldn’t email me?” Maribeth asked as she drove up the entrance ramp to Rt 294, heading towards Mt. Prospect.
“Ok. Maggie, I repeat, what is it that you wanted to tell me? Not that I mind the visit. Speaking of minding, do you mind a slight detour before I take you to the convent?”
“Why no, not at all.”
“Thanks, this will only take a second, I need to see this guy about a thing….” Maribeth didn’t complete her explanation and I felt no need to press her for details, I was just grateful for not needing to get a taxi to St. Emily’s.
I must have dozed off, because I suddenly noticed that the scenery had, somehow, gone from suburban office parks to pawn shops, pay day loan companies and autosalvage yards. The people I could see also changed from smartly dressed business men returning to their corporate offices to drunken homeless men fighting the confusion of not knowing where on earth they were and desperate prostitutes standing in dazed disbelief of where on earth they were… What bothered me more about the human desolation passing by me as the car sped along was how not un-familiar it was, rather how I felt like I’d been here before, or a place like it enough to pass. I said a prayer, as much for myself as the people I saw littering the sidewalks.
“Maribeth. Well, the thing of it is, there’s this cop I have to talk to. He works midnight to 8 and likes to eat lunch in a police bar. It’s a ‘run in and run out’, I promise!” With that, she pulled into a parking lot, which was little more than a vacant lot between an Adult Emporium and Mrs. Zareena, Fortune Teller. The sign over the door of the bar read, ‘Flanagans’.
“I’ll be just a second,” Maribeth said, already half out of the car,
“No way I’m sitting in an un-marked cop car, in a parking lot in a niceness-challenged neighborhood, waiting for the only person in the immediate vicinity who has a gun and who doesn’t want my crucifix and purse,” I muttered and got out of the car. I considered locking the door, but being uncertain if Maribeth took the key, I decided that prayer might just trump a lowjack and walked towards the entrance of the bar.
Flanagan’s was what they called, in TV crime dramas, a police bar. The reality was somewhat less… charming. The interior decor was, ‘cigarette smoke and neon’ and there were probably five customers, but then, it was early afternoon. For having so few people, it was surprisingly noisy. Badly expressed thoughts were compensated for with increased volume, the debates that passed for conversation being limited to women and baseball. Silence followed me into the bar. The conversations were all put on mute, with the exception of a pool of sound, located halfway down the bar. My erstwhile chauffeur/bodyguard was apparently engaged in a vocal disagreement with a young man, another plainclothes detective by the look of the badge on his belt. As I approached the two, I could hear Maribeth say,
“So, been here awhile, have we Neil? Look, I need that name that you said you’d give me.” There was a tentative, uncertain tone to Maribeth’s voice that sounded very unlike the woman I had come to know.
“Yeah… but, I don’t got it on me, so quit pestering me, or are ya gonna try and kick my ass?” he was easily 6′ 4″ with the upper body development that came from either very good genes or a weakness for steroids and body-building.
“Fuck this. Sorry I bothered,” Maribeth turned to leave,
“Hey, I said I’d getcha the dope on that guy. What I don’t need is attitude.” He looked up and spotted me, “If you got a problem with that then…damn! Who’s your cute girlfriend?”
They both turned to face me and they both looked angry. Maribeth started towards me saying, “You gotta be kidding me…” Neil, catching his foot as he got off his stool, fell forward and reached towards Maribeth to get his balance and ended up pushing her off-balance. I started to reach for her arm to keep her from falling, when I felt my right wrist engulfed in Neil’s grip…
Without thinking, I placed two fingers on his wrist and turned slightly, just so. Neil fell to the floor, and to say he was screaming would not convey the surprise in his voice, but would do justice to the pain he was experiencing.
“Jesus Christ!!! Goddamn!!! Lemme go What the hell!!?” Neil was a bag of angry muscles on the floor, and my ride was waiting (hopefully) in the parking lot. I walked out of the bar and got in the passenger side of the unmarked police car and said, as much to myself as to the woman behind the wheel,
“Well, this little mission on behalf of the Mother Superior of St Dominique’s is off to an interesting start.”
No sooner had Stephen Eddington’s plane touched down at O’Hare, than an email caught up to him, courtesy of his phone.
‘Your boss, Orel Rees, tells me you’re on vacation in Chicago. That happens to work out very well for what I need. If you don’t mind, please come see me at Corporate Headquarters, at your convenience. Let’s say, at 3:30. Silas Monahan VP IT Services Division’
The email was odd on two counts, 1) it was an invitation to an unexpected meeting at Corporate HQ, and 2) the invitation came through his personal email account.
That he was even in Chicago, rather than skiing, was itself a bit of a last minute decision. His boss, Orel Rees had invited him to go skiing with the family and he was tempted. However, Mrs. Eddington, Stephen’s 74-year-old grandmother was still living, on her own, in the house that he was raised in and her last letter sounded just a little bit…off. It was nothing he could put his finger on, no complaints or stories of illness, but he knew that he needed to go back home. A bachelor and an avid sports enthusiast, Steve found his new home in Provo to be very much to his liking. Offering near endless opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, everything from mountain biking to skiing, there was never a shortage of activities for the time away from the job, however this trip was clearly a priority. When he explained this to Orel, while at Sunday dinner, his boss stared at him for just a second or two longer than normal and smiled,
“What?” Steve asked.
“Nothing! I was just thinking about how much you’ve changed in the very short time that you’ve been with us in Provo.” Orel explained, “It’s always satisfying when a person works hard and brings out their better side, especially when they start so far in the other direction.”
“Who wants more garlic bread?” Orel’s wife Theresa interrupted them, coming into the dining room with a loaf of hot, fresh bread. Orel suspected that she encouraged these Sunday dinners with his engineer as much for the opportunity to cook meals from her childhood, growing up in Chicago, as it was the right and proper thing to do. This was as much a part of her upbringing as it was a tradition in the Mormon community she had become a member of when she married Orel Rees.
Silas Monahan, recently promoted to Vice President of the IT Services Division was very proud of his new office.
“I’m here to see…” Stephen Eddington announced as he stepped up to Anya Clariaux’s desk. She completed his sentence, “Silas Monahan” and after a tentative and, somehow, potent silence, both laughed.
“So you’re our newest graduate from Boys Town,” Anya said, the sharpness of her focus on him, combined with her attractive smile, served to disguise her innate sexual appetite.
Steve stumbled on the reference and then recalled Orel telling him, when he first came down to Provo, that his facility was thought of as being the redemption of last hope for troubled and/or dysfunctional engineers.
“What a great view! Just look at that snow come down.” Stephen Eddington stood, staring past the receptionist’s desk, out through the glass wall that framed the downtown Chicago skyline like a modern-day Currier and Ives.
“Surely Provo has storms that would put this flurry to shame.” Anya Clarieaux spoke quietly, feeling pleasure at managing to get up from her very formal, business-like receptionist’s desk and be standing close enough to the young engineer to feel the fabric of his off-the-rack suit catch and tug shyly at the sleeve of her blouse as she pointed out towards the slightly snow-whitened skyscrapers.
Stephen looked at the receptionist, now standing very close to his left side, revised his estimate of her age downward, and immediately felt an odd yet pleasurable sense of alarm, which he eagerly ignored.
“Send Mr. Eddington in now, Anya.” The voice of the vice president of the IT Services Division suddenly demanded the attention of both the young computer engineer and the attractive woman, shifting the axis of their world from the city spread out beyond the window, to a door marked: ‘Private’.
With a smile, Anya walked ahead and held the door for Stephen Eddington, who hesitated as he approached, straightened his tie and whispered, “How do I look?”
Looking very directly into his eyes, Anya said, “You’ll be fine,” straightened his already very straight tie and slipped a folded piece of paper in the breast pocket of his suit coat.
Stephen Eddington walked into the Office of the VP of the IT Division and was impressed. The office was three walls and the Chicago skyline. The newest Omni Corp vice president was standing at the window, his back to the door, clearly striking a pose for effect. Steve’s months in Provo working for Orel Rees were not wasted, so rather than laugh or do anything funny, he simply stood and waited for the other man to turn and/or begin to speak. Time passed and, after the initial moment faded, silence was all that remained. Finally, Silas Monahan turned to face Stephen, “Oh! I didn’t hear you come in!”
Steve successfully resisted the urge to say, “Yeah…right” and instead took a step forward and extended his hand, “Mr. Monahan, I’m Stephen Eddington”
“Sit down, Stephen, sit down and call me Silas”
“So are you happy in Provo? Orel Rees is a good man and a good engineer and he speaks very highly of you.” Stephen Eddington simply nodded, knowing that this man would talk as long as he had planned, no matter what his response.
“Do you know how I got to be VP of the IT Services so quickly? Many people ask. They say, ‘Silas most executives are twice your age before they get half as high up the ladder as you are, what’s your secret?’
“You want to know my secret? I’m part of the Team. The Team comes first and everyone on the Team puts the success of the Team before everything, including themselves and their careers”
“The Old Man himself decided that I should head the IT Services Division and do you know why? Because I’m the best Engineer in Omni? Well, I’m not. Because I’m the most skillful Manager? Close but not it…Am I a Team Player?…bingo! Why now?
“Because there are great things coming for our business and for those of us ready and willing to give all to the success and growth of Omni. We have a certain project, very ‘hush hush’, it involves the hosting facility out there in Provo. Actually, it was on your watch that this new project took shape, sparked by that little incident with the power surge and the self-publishing blog…what? Don’t look so surprised! Of course, we knew. We’re in the information business, we’d be pretty poor excuses for experts in our field if we didn’t manage to know everything that goes on in our own company, wouldn’t we?
“No, Orel doesn’t know we know…at least we don’t think he knows…. do you think he knows?
“Anyway, I’m hoping that you’ll be willing to work with us on this project… it could mean a lot to your future with Omni Corporation…”
Diane Willoughby looked up from her laptop. Taking a day off from her practice was not something she did very often. However, since making full partner at Manchester, McGonigal and Sloan, she resolved to set aside time for her family. Being the methodical woman that she was, she decided to take one day every month to spend with her children. This first ‘family day’ was spent with her daughter, Alice. After a leisurely and most weekend-like breakfast (it being a Friday), they went shopping downtown, had lunch at a restaurant that one of her clients had raved about and now, mid-afternoon, both were sitting in the Willoughby family room, taking an email break, “Yes honey, what is it?”
“If a person sees something in a place where they aren’t supposed to be looking, but it turns out to be something she shouldn’t be looking at, is that as bad as if they were just snooping?” Alice Willoughby sat at the family computer, set up in an alcove overlooking the backyard. They had the house to themselves, as Simon was still at school and Ed had to work later than usual.
“Well, dear, I guess that depends on a couple of things. Did the person go looking where she was not supposed to be, on purpose or did she see this thing by accident?”
“A little of both. I’m sorry but yesterday, I was getting my email and I clicked on Daddy’s folder by accident and I was going to close it, but I saw something that scared me, so I thought I better look and be sure that it was what I thought.”
Diane Willoughby loved her children very, very much. She also loved her work, but with the demands it imposed, there were times that she felt that she didn’t really know her children as well as she should. At the moment, her nine-year-old daughter was behaving in a manner that, had she been someone else’ child, she would have been quite impressed. ‘What an odd way to think of it,’ Diane thought, ‘but, my daughter is displaying a level of sophistication that’s impressive for a child twice her age.’
“Never mind the how, show me the what”
Diane set her laptop on the couch and stood behind Alice and watched as she double clicked on the only un-marked folder on the desktop. Opened, it contained a single file, a copy of an email. In the subject line, were the words ‘Hermes Consortium’
“See, Mommy, see that? Those words were on the computer in school, a lot, along with some really bad words. Then, Sister Phyllis had them take the computer and put it in her office.”