I made it back to my car as quickly as I could. The whole time I was thinking of what my explanation would be when I called the office. This was going to be my first negative call in 13 trips. The torrent of thoughts in my head distracted me from the obvious question. Why didn’t they just say no? The more I thought about it the more confused I became. For 22 months I had been activity working on this project and all 13 parties were kept in the loop. Why didn’t I know she was involved? I knew all the members. At least I thought I did. I was paying for parking before I realized I had gotten to the parking garage. I drove out of the parking lot but didn’t know where I was going. As I circled the block I decided to drive to Fort Triton park. It was a quick ride up the west side highway. Once there I parked overlooking the highway. As I sat enjoying the view over the river my phone rang. It was her.
“Mikey, can we talk? Are you still in the area.”
I did not want to talk to anyone, not least her. I lied.
“I am close.”
“Lets do lunch at the India place downstairs. 1 o’clock?”
“That sounds great.”
” Cool, I’ll see you then.”
I continued to enjoy the view and the gentle breeze coming across the river. It was refreshing and rejuvenating. The warmth of the sun was soothing. Strictly speaking I should avoid sitting in the sun. But I needed an excuse to wear sunscreen, since I had read a studying implying that sunscreen decreases aging. If my plans where successful there would be no need for sunscreen. I got the nerve and got back into my car. As I pulled onto the highway I noticed the slowing traffic. Unfortunately the driver behind me did not. I was jolted out of my stupor. Luckily for me Newton was correct and my seat belt worked as advertised. The rear of the car was totally destroyed but I walked away without any serious injury. The other car, an older Chevy Impala, was in really bad shape. The driver was trapped. I tried to open the door but could not. She was breathing but not conscious.
The Paramedics arrived within 5 minutes followed by a fire truck and they extracted the drive.
“Officer down”, shouted one of the firefighters. The entire situation changed. They ignored everything else to take care of her. I over heard them saying she was FBI. Soon there was a helicopter on the scene. My alarm went off. It was 1250 pm and I was going to be late. I gave Jenny a call and explained my situation. She suggested dinner and I agreed.
“I will call you with the location.”
“Thanks for making the arrangements. I’ll see you later.”
The paramedics insisted that they needed to evaluate me before I could leave.
“I am not going anywhere. My car is immobile.”
As I tried to call a cab a heavily tinted black car stopped at my feet. The driver rolled down the window, “Jenny sent me.” I accepted the offer.
How did she know where I was? This was just not my day.
“Where can I take you sir?”
“I am not staying in the City.”
“I am Jenny’s personal driver. I can take you wherever you need to go for the rest of the day.”
“Yes Mr Gold, those are my orders. I would suggest you get a room in the city for the night.”
“That was a great idea.” Unfortunately that meant not seeing my girls. If I was going to miss then at least let me go somewhere familiar.
“Take me to the Marriott by the Brooklyn Bridge.”
“Great choice sir, I’ll make the arrangements.”
He saw the puzzled look on my face and matter-of-factly informed me that he was authorized to cover all my expenses.
“Okay? What the hell?”
“According to Jenny you are a very valuable client.”
My brain suddenly woke up. It was now clean as mud. Why didn’t they give me an answer? It was only mid afternoon and my day was a mess.
“Very nice car you have here.”
“It certainly is.”
I was really thinking this was an antique. It was a Lincoln town car.
“It does look ancient, but the only thing old is the shell.”
“This car is 10 years old, but it was stripped and remodeled. We needed a large car for the base.”
“The base of what.”
“I cannot say, but it is more capable than it seems.”
As we pulled up to the hotel I noticed that the area had change a lot more than I had imagined. Charlie opened the door and tapped his phone to mine and my room information was accessible.
“You have been checked in. You should find everything to your liking.”
“Just scan your phone at the door and your arrival time will be logged and you will have access to the hotel services and concierge staff.”
I followed the directions to my room. I tapped my phone to the pad and the door opened. I was startled as a voice came on over the intercom.
“Welcome Mr Gold. You have never stayed with us before. I’d like to introduce you to our services.”
I listen and took her advice. I took a shower and went to bed. I was awoken by her again reminding my that I had a call scheduled with my wife.
I sent a text instead. Things were a little clearer after my nap and I decide not to call the rest of my team until tomorrow. I put some music on and tried to relax.
“Mr Gold you have an incoming call from Jenny. Do you want to answer?”
“I will take it.”
I picked up my cellphone, but quickly realized that audio was coming from the speaker on the bedside table. She had instructions for me.
I followed the instructions and arrived at the penthouse suite. The doors of the elevator opened and I was welcomed by Jenny herself.
“This is not going to end well”, I grumbled under my breath. She welcomed me to her place and thanked me for my great work. I was now truly lost.
“What do you mean.”
“I’ll give you the tour.”
“We have some time.”
“Dinner Mikey! Do you remember that we have dinner plans?”
I acted as if I had forgotten. I had not. I could hear voices coming from inside the apartment.
“Who else is here?”
“Just the house staff.”
“The house staff?”
It clicked. She must be the partner assigned to deliver the bad news to me. The House had a reputation as a mans club. I had never heard of a female partner. I played along.
“We will have dinner here.”
“Thanks for making the arrangements, but I will have to call home and video conference with my kids.”
“You can use my study. I have a great setup.”
I was not going to get out of this so I began to make myself comfortable.
“So, Mikey, what have you been up-to.”
“Trying to pay for therapy.” I could not believe I had said that.
“I am sorry about that, I was a neglected child.”
I did not remember it that way. She was from the rich side of town. Her parents didn’t seem to work, but were always donating to local causes.
“I forgave you a longtime ago.”
“Is your family on the trip with you?”
As we talked she gave me the grand tour. We stepped out onto the balcony and my gasp was audible. The view of the city was magnificent. For a moment the disaster that was my presentation disappeared. It was breath-taking and I had lost my breath.
“Jenny, we have come a long way. I could not have imagined this success when you were beating me up in 6th grade.”
She smiled that smile and I could see she was embarrassed.
“Can you forgive me.”
“I have already, but the scars still remain.”
“Thanks for the forgiveness and I hope my partners and I can sweeten the pot.”
For the first time since she walked into that conference room I was at ease.
“Lets sit and talk about our interest in your proposal”
“What about dinner?”
“This will be an early working dinner.”
There was a table with 3 chairs. The setup was very beautiful. It had the look of an art installation. Vibrant red, green and gold stripped chairs and a matte black table. The table was a large deep crescent that matched the shape of the balcony. The chairs looked out on the city. I was in grossed in the beauty of the arrangement when I noticed how low the sun was on the horizon.
“You have a wonderful view Jenny.”
“Have a seat and let’s get down to business.”
“I am glad The House still retains confidence in our group.”
“We have and I am sorry about the surprise this morning. Sorry about the tough questioning too.”
“I was prepared for that.”
“The House has a responsibility to the process. Our goal is to keep you and your group on target.”
“Is there another group working on this project?”
“I am not at liberty to say. However, the consortium has taken extra special interest in you.”
“You mean my team.”
“No, I mean you.”
“One day I will be free to answer more fully, but for now that is all I can say.”
As I listened I thought of the girls. I needed to let them know where I was.
“May I make a call.”
“To the girls I hope.”
“You know me too well.”
“The truth is The House has been following your academic progress for years. We financed your PhD research and continue to consider your brain our best investment.”
“I am flattered.”
I got up from the table and made the call, “Hey sweetie, how are the girls. Tell then daddy will be there for story time. Hey Sarah are you taking care of your sister? Thanks. Could you put your sister on the phone. Hey Samantha, are you sharing with your sister? Thanks. I love you. Give mommy and your sister a kiss for me. I’ll see you later honey.”
I disconnected from the call and looked out onto the horizon and the sun was just about gone. The skyline was a brilliant shade of orange. I missed sharing the sunset with my girls, but I had to get some business done. I turned to walk back to the table and noticed it was set with food and two computers.
“Fruit and cheese dinner?”
“Yup, it’s a working dinner.”
We got our work done quickly and without distraction. But all I could thing about was how I was going to make it back to the girls.
I prided myself on reading to the girls most nights. I requested Charlie pick me up and drive me to my hotel in White Plains. She obliged.
“Thanks Charlie. I hope you get some sleep.”
I took the stairs to the 4th floor and I could hear the girls laughing. Their laughter was such a sweet surprise and it washed away all the awkward turns of the day. I entered the suite and they came running. We hugged and all was well with the world again. My life was perfect because of them. Once in their presence I could forget about my work and the darkness that the world had become. One day I would no longer be able to protect them, but I am doing all I can now.
“Hey sweetie, how was your day.” I did not change my clothes, but took the girls to their room and we started the bedtime routine. I was very tired but any time with them was precious and worth it. I had never spoken to Sharon about my work. She knew it was classified and so never asked. We were very close to the completion of the project and she had noticed the change in my demeanor. I had been spending more time with the family and more time with the girls in particular. I had come close to telling her all but I did not want to burden her. I counted my blessings every day and rued the day that it would all come crashing down. We had the good fortune to be born on the right side of history and I was about to make my contribution to the continuation of our lifestyle.
I put on some music, “Kind of Blue” Miles Davies and read to girls for about 15 minutes. They sat on my lap for the whole time and I gave them a big high-five as they slipped off and jumped into bed. They both where asleep within 5 minutes.
I sat there and listened. Miles Davies always did it for me and I was determined to make my girls lovers of Classic Jazz. The darkness of the room was softened by the pillow lights and was just enough to get me thinking about my childhood home.
My sixth grade trauma was compounded by the fact that I was a boy without a father. My father was a serial inventor. He did well enough for us to live in the best neighborhood and go to the best schools. At the beginning of the 6th grade he disappear while on a fishing trip. My brothers and I were devastated, but my mother was even worse. She lost all reference to reality. I was the youngest. We lasted a year before we were out of money and friends deserted us.
We moved to what was called ‘transitions’. We lived there until I went to college. What I found out many years later was that my brothers dropped out of school and financed my life until I got a scholarship. College was easy and finances became easier. At least that was the story that I had come to believe. I now have questions, but my brothers where not around to answer. I didn’t often think of my brothers. They both “volunteered” for the pale war. I last saw them both more than 20 years ago. Thinking about them was never a good thing. For all of us of a certain age the war was a very traumatic experience. We had not participated, but it was a visceral memory. If you were between 40 and 50 you knew the feeling. Things were so bad after the war that the government set up a national counseling system to teach all college graduates anger management and meditation. It was mostly a success. We all lost close family and most of us didn’t have a body to bury. The lack of closure still is a burden on me.
The fighting came within miles of the capital and it took suicide missions for us to hold on until the weapons were available. After the lines were re-established the military formed the Nubian Core. It consisted of college students in STEM fields. We became weapons developers, and were very good at it. The Nubian Core won the war for us. As my girls slept I thought of the day I was introduced to the consortium. 2 years of work later and I was close to completion of my project.
My phone chirped and I checked the incoming text. Gladly it was Sharon. I kissed the princesses and left the room.
“How was the presentation?”
“It went well enough.”
“That’s new. You are usually so sure about these things.”
She noticed my sigh.
“I am just glad that we are at the end of the road.”
She didn’t have clearance so we had never discussed my work. Even in college she didn’t know what my PhD work was. All she knew was that her husband was a well paid Professor in the faculty of Mathematics and Engineering. I really wanted to share more but I knew better. Since we couldn’t talk about work we discussed the latest in training gear.
She had been a middle distance runner in college and many years ago I joined her. We were interrupted by the phone.
“Hello. What time and where. I’ll see you then.”
That was the phone call I was dreading. I had worked on a great project and it was now time for implementation.
“Who was that?”
“It was my boss. We will be finalizing our product.”
I always knew that day would come, but I was hoping that it would not be this soon. I rolled over and tried to sleep. Sleep came more quickly than I expected.