Chapter 14

Breakfast in Bed (amid the towering Skyscrapers of Chicago)

Shit! I forgot to call my mother yesterday! Goddamn it

Stephen Eddington opened his eyes; he saw Lake Michigan straight ahead and a couple of skyscrapers to the right of his field of view. It’s not that he didn’t know where he was, he simply was not yet mentally prepared to appreciate where he was. Such was the non-remembered path that lead to his waking in this particular bed.

That alcohol and hormones played the dominant role in his decision-making was so nose-plain as to not warrant consideration.

The remnants of both lingered, like cigarette butts stubbed out in leftover food on a bone china dinner plate, still unmistakable in their allure, deprived of their overwhelming power by the forced maturity of the early morning light. Fortunately (or not, depending on one’s perspective), Stephen was still in his bullet-proof twenties, imbued by his gender to view a night un-recalled as a promise of remembered pleasure, rather than lurking regret.

Even with the blanks in the hours from ‘late-in-the-evening’ to ‘now-in-the-morning’, and how they represented wholesale changes in his plans for his first night back in his hometown, Stephen Eddington felt the iron-clad confidence of the young person with his first credit card

The reason for coming back to town was to see his 74-year-old grandmother. That he would use his vacation time to visit her had everything to do with the fact that she was the reason he was where he was in life. She single-handedly raised Stephen from the age of five and managed to keep her only grandson on a track that ran at right angles to the path that many of his friends from the neighborhood followed. Encouraging and threatening, praising and sacrificing, Mrs. Eddington was not about to let her grandson be condemned to a mediocre, workaday life that nearly every young man in their working class neighborhood was fated to endure. Through college and graduate school, she was there to lift when he stumbled and whip him when he rebelled. None of these memories did anything to enhance the more hedonistic aspects of his early morning musings. It was almost enough, but clearly not quite enough to slow the momentum of the previous evening. Although he accepted the responsibility (and therefore the guilt), for not calling his mother to let her know of his change in plans, some things simply do not change. The call of the wild is inherent in most of Stephen’s age and gender. Add exclusive restaurants, million dollar condominiums and women who knew not only everything that a woman should know, but most things that a man might hope she would know. Mrs Eddington didn’t have a prayer.

As the previous twelve hours continued to replay, Stephen’s face acquired a gender-specific grin always seen in participants of bull fights, suburban traffic-light drag races or any arm wrestling match…anywhere. As luck would have it, just as his resolve to be a responsible son was to assume command, he felt a hand trace a line of nerve-endings from his left shoulder, downwards across his chest. Staking her claim by nestling into the open alcove between arm and shoulder, this re-focusing of Stephen Eddington’s attention was followed by Anya’s left thigh, resting like an un-furled flag, across the tops of his legs. Soft, but forcible sounds, in the dialect of bed, rose from under the mass of her blonde hair, from her base camp on his chest. Like a single match to the serrated edge of a newspaper, the bedscape began to glow and curl in on itself, becoming both light enough to float and hot enough to form coals. The morning passed, the light from the sun outside struggled and failed to compete with the fire raging in the condominium.

“Well, when you get up to call her, bring us back some coffee.” Anya spoke with the half-interested tone often found in people who are either very wealthy, very attractive or near death. “Hurry up and we might even have time to….talk, before I need to get ready for work.”

Stephen found the library off a short hall that lead to the guest suite and dialed his mother. She was as understanding and forgiving as always, which, of course, made him feel really bad. “I have a couple of things to do this morning and I’ll be by the house, no later than 1:00 ok? My friend? Well,”

At that moment, Anya Clarieaux walked past the library, heading to the bath, if the towel around her waist was any indication. Seeing him on the phone, she stopped and started to pantomime two people in one shower,

“No, she, yeah, it’s a woman from Omni Corporate. Lunch? No, she has to work and can’t make it,” Stephen closed the door and turned to face the windows and North Michigan Avenue, the Trump Tower looming just to the south. “Yeah, I love you too, Ma. See you in a little bit.”

“…so all we need you to do is keep an eye on things for us.” They sat in the formal dining room, the glass doors to the terrace allowing healthy doses of light to wash over the young man and the attractive woman.

” Anya, Orel Rees is one of the most stand-up guys this company’s got. He’d never try to pull something over on you people. You need to tell me what it is you want me to watch out for, I mean, you get the incredibly detailed reports every day, I know, because I’m the guy who compiles them. You already know everything that’s going down in Provo.”

“Like your Unit 17?” Anya stopped smiling pleasantly and instead looked intently at the young engineer, who did not find it a comfortable experience.

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t fuck with me Stephen. Unit 17. You know what I’m talking about. If you try to pretend otherwise, I will not be happy, which is not, I assure you, the way you want your day to start.”

“Well, sure. Unit 17. It’s a component in the system that we’ve been monitoring. It started exhibiting some, some odd activity, couple of months ago, after a power surge last…”

“Like including among its functions, a self-publishing blog? Don’t look surprised, we’re totally aware of everything that goes on in your facility.”

Stephen Eddington felt his confidence eroding. This woman was different. And not simply because of his experiences since meeting her the day before. He was pretty certain that he wanted to spend more time with her, but he had no stomach or patience for being lectured at 8:00 in the morning,

“Then why do you need me? If the place is that wired, you hardly need me. And besides, you don’t have anything to worry about with Orel; he certainly isn’t going to do anything about the component. Hell, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that he plain doesn’t like this problem with the system. And he’s the kind of engineer who lives and breathes the science. I think there’s something that, to his mind, represents an insult to his engineering world. He’d just as soon see it shut down.”

“We’re not afraid of what Orel might do; it’s more a matter of what he might not do.” Anya’s face showed frustration, but with an undertone of resentment. It dawned on Stephen that she was, somehow, afraid of Orel Rees.

“OK, Anya, I’m missing something here. Obviously there’s an anomaly. Entire system experienced a power surge, which happens more often than you might think. After coming back on line, one of the components, this Unit 17, appears to have acquired …extra functionality. Odd, for sure, but nothing in and of itself all that strange. Hell, in grad school, one of the mainframe computers somehow started to re-write its own code… unusual, but so what?”

“Did you know that your Unit 17’s been killing people?”

Stephen Eddington was still in his twenties. Had he not been, had he more time to experience life, he might’ve noticed the brief dilation of Anya Claireaux’s pupils, or the faintest of blushing in her ear lobes as she watched him react to this new information.

Standing in the doorway of her condo, Anya looked back at Stephen Eddington, in night-wrinkled suit, with finger-combed hair and said, “Come on. Get it together, we have a lot to discuss and not much time. I’ll have my driver take you to your mother’s. If you want to be a part of something very big, meet me this afternoon in front of the Omni building and we’ll talk.

***

Breakfast and Cigarettes in Bed (an apartment on the Southside of Chicago)

Goddamn it! Is there something that wrong with me? Shit! I’m really going to have to get back in touch with that therapist!!”

Blanket-muffled laughter from the far side of the bed had an effect, not unlike that of a very strong cup of coffee, but without the wonderful aroma. Unable to remain in that benignly grey state of ‘just waking up.’ Maribeth focused on the ‘here and now.’ In her case, this particular morning, the ‘here’ was Neil Kaehler’s apartment and the ‘now’ was 7:00 am. Not the worst place she’d ever woke up in.

Despite being petrified from the effect of near constant defensive aggressiveness, Maribeth Hartley’s mental/spiritual DNA contained a very strong strain that predisposed her toward humor. To narrow this down, she had an innate and nearly irrepressible appreciation of the absurd. Maribeth was one of the people who would laugh at the horrifying events and occurrences, circumstances and situations that all too commonly occur in life. She did not laugh because she was insensitive to the horrific, nor did she laugh because she enjoyed the suffering of others, she laughed because she could not (or would not) reconcile the unjust suffering in the world and her own inability to stop it from happening. For Neil Kaehler, her laughter served to create a spark of hope. For Neil, as with many people navigating the preliminary stages of a relationship, hope manifested as an encouragement to take chances, to accept the risk of conflict in exchange for the reward of increased understanding. Neil believed that there was something between the two of them, something that had the potential to be pretty damn amazing. Neil was, fortunately, mature enough to recognize that this was still only one half enough for a couple. But he was young enough to underestimate the potential long term cost of trying to build a relationship with this most intriguing woman, who was currently in his bed and laughing.

Maribeth’s response of laughter served multiple purposes, not the least important was to throw a certain aspect of her personality off the scent of regret and self-loathing. Satisfied that she had given herself the slip, she pulled the blankets up over her head.

The warmth of the body under the covers next to her, seemed to offer a re-escape from the approaching day’s demands for reasonable and rational decisions and actions. The part of her that hid away from the world, when conditions become untenable, hinted to her that with just a little more time and distraction, the day before her, might involve spending less time in self-hate and regret.

Then she saw the fading red marks on her wrists.

“Hey is this fort private?” Neil’s voice, smoothed over by the layers of sheets and blankets, from her right.

“Ya gotta have the secret password.”

Maribeth listened, a smile growing on her face, as Neil, who saw the opportunity to avoid the pattern they’d fallen into so often in their brief relationship, responded to himself,

“Shit! I wrote it down somewhere… damn, Neil buddy! Find it… nope! Not in the nightstand, not on the headboard, maybe in my pants… no pants… on your wrist. Yeah!! sure!! I bet you wrote it on your wrist!! Wait nothing there…. hold on, what the hell is that? who the hell would think of writing it there?!!”

They both began to laugh, the release of the tension causing a backlash tension, one much more enjoyable to the couple in the bed.

“The password is…I got your back”

Maribeth lifted the blanket from her face and turned on her side and whispered,

“Welcome to Castle Maribeth. You may enter.”

“Here,” An hour later, Neil held out the coffee mug to Maribeth who sat up in the bed, her cell phone in hand.

“Thanks” Neil got in the other side of the bed and picked up his own phone.

“Son of a bitch!!”

“What… what’s going on this early in the morning?” Maribeth thought as she looked around the bedroom, ‘If I were the successful young woman in law enforcement at the level my parents dreamed, I suppose I should be sitting in the alcove off the kitchen, sipping coffee after sending the husband off to work and the children to school. But, this feels just right and this bed can be much more tolerant and forgiving than a small Danish modern table overlooking a carefully tended garden… for me at any rate.’

“Hey, ‘Beth sorry in advance for being such an asshole in the bar yesterday. That snitch, the name I promised you? His name was Barry Audet. Did you notice the simple past indicative of the verb to be? I’m afraid our Mr Audet is very past tense.”

“Shit!”

***

Morning Prayers (in the Chapel at St Emily’s Convent)

“Thank you God. Please look after Sister Phyllis and all the other nuns here in my home away from home. And please take special care of Mother Superior Sister Bernadine and my friend Maribeth.”

With near synchronous precision, morning prayers ended and we all rose. Sister Phyllis was in the lead, as we left the candle-warm safety of the small chapel and, in double file, walked along the sidewalk to the convent.

I had a good rest. A quiet night. No dreams, which was the way I prefer to pass the time while sleeping. The dreams started about a month ago. Nothing too weird, nothing exciting or exotic about them, just the type of dreams that used to bookmark my days. Like my life at the time, not overly peaceful and serene, you know. I had a busy day waiting for me outside in the world, so I hurried a bit, to walk alongside Sister Phyllis on the way back to the convent for breakfast.

“How did you sleep, Sister Margaret?”

“Well, I made a couple of mistakes.” I couldn’t resist the Stephen Wright joke. I could see that she was deep in thought, trying to imagine why I would be making a confession and what it might be. I walked backwards in order to catch Sister Phyllis’s eye, and seeing my expression, she paused, then laughed,

“Sister Margaret! You are such a cut up!”

“Yes, yes I am. I have the Reading of Father Noonan’s Will to attend, on behalf of Sister Bernadine today. It’s scheduled for 1:00 at Kristopek, Connelly and O’Shayan’s office downtown. I’ll get a cab there and possibly get a ride back with a friend,”

“Oh your friend, the detective?” Sister Phyllis said with a smile,

It was now my turn to do a double take. Half the time Sister Phyllis exhibited many of the major indicators of early-onset dementia, which were so easy to dismiss as being a doddering old nun. The smile on her face, as she watched me cover my own reaction, made it clear that anyone underestimating her did so at great peril.

“She seems so…. troubled. I’m sure she’s really a nice person! Clearly she is quite good at her work and she seems to be quite taken with you, Sister Ryan. I will keep her in my prayers.”

“Thank you, Mother Phyllis. I agree. As I get to know her better, it’s clear that she is not a simple woman but is a good person. God puts people in our lives for a reason, no?”

Sister Phyllis smiled peacefully.

“He does. But remember that, even as a member of the Order, we are not separated from the world and the world is not always a safe place. Be careful today.”

I decided that I’d copy the names from Father Noonan’s journal, rather than bring the book with me. I had a sense that it contained information that might prove valuable to me, apart from being a list of names of people who had recently died. If Maribeth got too caught up in her role as detective, I might find her deciding to seize the journal as evidence. That the prospect of this kind of confrontation did not make me feel worried didn’t bother me. That there was a part of me that was excited at the prospect did bother me,

“Did I say something amusing, Sister Margaret?”

Sister Phyllis stood at the door to the convent, the other nuns filing past her on their way to preparing breakfast and otherwise getting started on a day of peace and giving,

“What?” I stopped at the foot of the stairs and looked up at her,

“I asked if you thought what I said was amusing. You had a smile on your face, a smile that, in the short time I’ve known you, I’ve never seen. I don’t know if I liked everything about the look that came over your face.”

“I’m sorry Sister. Something from a dream came to mind and, well, you know how some dreams seem to carry over into real life? Nothing I can’t handle.”

“If you say so. If there is anything that’s bothering you, do not hesitate to call me. I may seem a bit of an old fogey, but trust me when I say, whatever help you need, I will do my best.”

***

Morning Coffee (at home in suburbia)

“Alice, leave your father alone! You know how he is before he has his morning coffee.

Diane Willoughby smiled for the benefit of her daughter, the gesture providing her with little relief from her concern. That there was something bothering her husband Ed was not a question, but she had a very involved and challenging day ahead. Having secured Omni Corporation as a client, she was scheduled to meet with her counterpart in the Litigation and Intellectual Properties Division to work out communications protocols. This first meeting would be at their corporate headquarters in downtown Chicago.

“Are you feeling alright, Ed?”

“Yeah, late night at the office and a big day today, nothing that a bunch of coffee won’t fix,”

Her husband’s tone was a half-hearted attempt at putting everyone at ease, which was saying something. She learned very early in their relationship, that he very much wore his heart on his sleeve. He was very reliable and very confident, but when something was bothering him, no matter how private a matter, the world knew that there was something wrong. Unfortunately, she had too little time and too much to do to press for answers.

“Will you be able to pick up Alice at karate lessons this afternoon?” Diane stared at her phone, trying to see how she would be able to get out of court and make it downtown by 1:00 pm.

“Sure… might be a little late, but I’ll be there. You ok with that, kiddo?”

Alice looked up from her Kindle and said, “Why sure, of course I am. I’m not a little kid anymore!”

Diane Willoughby looked at the two people who were two thirds of her world and smiled to her herself, ‘I need to remember what’s important in life and what is not as important,’ she thought. “If I can finish my work early with the Omni General Counsel, I’ll stop by Ed’s office and take him out to lunch. A little surprise will be fun.”

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