Run, Nicky, Run! Part #3. Fine, Red Thread of Evidence

“No, Nicky. That’s bullshit. The problem is not that you don’t know what you want, The problem is that you don’t think you need to choose. You want it all, and you don’t appreciate anybody telling you that you can’t have it.

But I am a particular person, Nicky, and I am  asking you to.  You see nothing wrong with doing what you’re doing. I do. So, since we’ve had this discussion so many times in the past, and you know how I feel, let’s just cut to the chase. You can choose, or I will choose for you. We’re not playing this game anymore. ”

Those were pretty much the last words he said to me. Ever. Turns out I chose to stay in school, work full-time at the nursing home, and spend time with my mother. She’s been ill for quite a long time, and I’d rather help her with what she needs than to have her spending  money on a nurse to come in, or to- God forbid- be in a nursing home. She gets lonely. Her other daughters live far away. They do what they can and keep in touch, but I am the only one nearby to go get the groceries and keep up with some light housekeeping. This was just too much for Hugh. I understand, I was gone a lot. I guess he couldn’t understand that I still loved him very much, even if I needed to have a life outside the home. He looked at it differently. He said things to me like , “Love? Love is spelled T-I-M-E, Nicky”.  And every time I would stifle my urge to say, “Yeah? And insecurity is spelled H-U-G-H.”

In the end, though, he was right. No matter how valid my reasons were for being away, it’s hard to make a marriage work when you’re absent from it so much. Our marriage needed to be the priority, not just another nice thing in life. He had to be number one. No, we had to be number one. I blew it.

I remember sitting at the dining room table one early morning, sipping darjeeling tea and poring over medication dosage formulas. He just walked over to me, kissed my cheek, picked up the cap he’d left on the table, and slowly walked to the door.

“I’ll have all my stuff out of here by the end of the week. I’ll send you my new address in case I get mail, or if you have an emergency. I’ll be filing,  so expect to be served. I’m really, truly sorry. ”

He shut the door soundly. I spent the rest of morning sobbing. Every photograph of us together mocked me. Our wedding mementos- worthless. Memories of how we met and fell in love cascaded over me and I simply collapsed and wailed.

We were both so young. We thought things would stay the same forever, just lazy summer days sipping cold root beer out of brown bottles and soaking up the sun on the roof of his duplex.  We grew-up, the duplex was remodeled. He got his job, and wanted to support us both. I still wanted to chase my dreams.  The happiness started to fade, and like a photograph, after a while you couldn’t even make out who those two young kids were, or who they had become.

I sold the place once Lawson and I got serious. He asked me to move in, and I really couldn’t wait to be out of that house, with all its sad memories and shit-canned dreams.

Hugh got married a year later to a beautiful lady, five years younger than me, and eager to start a family. Hugh and I weren’t ever ready to take that leap, but the new happy couple was expecting six months later. I had finished up my nursing studies by then and got hired by Canterbury Place as a nurse’s aid. I had become interested in nutritional studies  and had decided to go back to school to become a licensed nutritionist, so the busy pace of full-time work and school was still making me ragged.

One afternoon and incredibly kind , tall man with the most delicious smile I’d ever seen walked up to me in the hallway. He explained he was there to see his granddad and wanted me to help him find him.

We sauntered down the hall slowly, just hitting it off from the beginning. I learned more about him and his amazing family in those five minutes than I knew about friend’s families I’d known forever. I liked everything about him. We began a whirlwind romance, he became my everything.  We had a simple but wonderful wedding and were married two years later. Meanwhile, though, I was putting in my time at the nursing home, and studying nutrition.

There were deaths fairly often at the facility. It was a fact of working there. It was the final retirement home .It was never easy to deal with , though. When you take care of people, you begin to care for them. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong line of work.

One particularly sad case happened during the end of my first year there. It was more than sad. It almost shut the nursing home down. Allegations of negligence arose because Rose Aarons, a lovely sweetheart of a ninety-three year old, was found deceased in her room at 6:17 a.m. on June 8. The last time someone signed off on reports was at 12:10 in the morning. Rose was supposed to be checked on every two hours, but somehow she got missed during the two-o’clock rotation, and the four-o’clock. While she had no medications scheduled for overnight, and rarely needed help with toileting, someone got lazy and decided she wasn’t a priority case that needed to be tended to. It was wrong, against all policy, and may have cost Rose her life. Nevertheless, that’s what happened. The guilty nurse’s aid was held accountable, and her case was taken to court. Meanwhile, the place was crawling with ombudsmen, concerned families, and the media. It was horrible, the entire thing. I fielded angry questions from family members and residents alike, and I was not allowed to say anything about the situation. One afternoon, a news crew swarmed me and put cameras and mics in my face as I headed to my car. I felt like a guilty dodger, but I couldn’t say anything. I was a person of slight interest because Rose was on my current rotation. I had last taken care of her that afternoon, at around 4:00, and did all the required charting. More than that, I had loved Rose, and my heart was broken, too. I was disgusted that my co-worker had just completely skipped over the basic two-hour checks and reporting for her. Rose had a couple of grandson’s, and one granddaughter, but her daughter and husband had died in a car crash ten years ago. It took everything out of Rose, especially since her husband passed not a year later. She was a tiny lady, always very neatly dressed, in color-coordinated pants suits, and she always had on knee high hose and tasteful, black flats. I told her those knee highs weren’t good for her circulation, but she just laughed and pulled up her pant’s leg to show me how her knee- highs were simply bagged in nylon pools near her ankles.

She has sparkling blue eyes and lots of photos in old frames all over her room. She loved roses, cats, kids, and Golden Retrievers. Once upon a time, she was an avid runner, school principal, and in her early days, a “Rosie the Riveter” in the WW2 effort. She would tell me the stories whenever I came to her room, and told them well. I would end up spending more time with her than I could afford to, but she would sweep me away in her stories. I could just picture this white-haired little lady as a young, gorgeous blonde, just smiling coyly at the boys and getting her job done. I was going to miss her like crazy, and I wasn’t the only one.

Rose’s stepson Miles kept coming to the home, and I’d met him before. As he was related to Rosie, I gave him the utmost respect and courtesy. It didn’t help him warm up to me, though. He was tall, but loosely built, as if he might be a contortionist in his spare time. He had dishwater blond hair, a bit too long and too greasy. Not that I cared about that. It was his personality, or presence, that  made the greasy hair and slinky build bother me. He was intense, and creepy. Grief I understand, anger I get. But this guy had something else entirely going on in his mind. He kept asking me over and over for the names of everyone who took care of his grandma. I told him he needed to contact the Nursing Director to get all the details. This all had to go through proper channels. He got upset and accused me of trying to “protect the murderers”, and then pointed at my chest and said “You, included”. Then he practically snarled, his emotions leaking out with some spittle and revealing a very venomous persona. His stare practically bore a hole through my face. I was shaking worse than he was when he walked out. I called the Nursing Director, who basically told me not to worry so much- that  this was a normal stage of grief. That was right before he banged on her door and she had to hang-up. Now she was going to get an earful, no doubt. I hoped he didn’t scare her like he had me. I didn’t hear back from her that afternoon, because I was out the door by five- o’ nine. Norma, our nursing director, never came back to work. She was found beside her car- at home- keys in hand, her head bleeding out all over the concrete. Foul play was suspected but they didn’t have any leads or evidence.

I think I had a clue…

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Run, Nicky, Run

Run, Nicky, Run

Chapter 1

I close my eyes, and settle in to bed, feeling the burden of my body’s weight slip away. I am grateful the day requires no more effort on my part. I no longer have to control each muscle, to fight fatigue and pain with every moment. It’s over- for now. I sigh deeply, and smile from the pleasure that a good night’s sleep will bring. Tomorrow will be better. The doctor says I am only months away from being able to take a walk around the lake again, or to swim. Sure, I’ll have to start slowly at first. I see myself, a new runner and only 44 years old. I thought I was past my prime, close to over- the- hill. Looking back on it, that was my prime. I had plenty of strength and mobility, and the best part was at that age, I had learned the value of hard work and perseverance. Nothing could stop me, or so I thought. Over the next two years, I continued to progress. two miles became three, then four. The first day I completed five miles, I was ecstatic. I was not the fastest, by any means. My game was endurance, and I was winning.

The races came, and while I never finished at the top, or even in the top five, I kept going. I was fit, my husband and I had something in common, now. I was happy that we had a new bond. He was happy he had inspired me to run.

People sometimes asked me if I’d been injured, and how long it took to recover. They’d notice the scar on my knee and assume I’d torn it up running. Not even close. I simply fell off my bike because I had been drinking beer and showing off. It wasn’t even that bad, I just scar easily. I’d never been injured running, even though I never ran before the age of 44.  Now, the beer was behind me, and every step I ran, I ran from the past. I ran away from pain, from fear and worry, from feeling I was a failure, and never measured up. I’d see a still snapshot in my mind of one of my daughters, and smile with pride. They were my inspiration.

The treadmill was punishment, but it is what laid the foundation of my learning to pace myself, to judge my timing and know when to push at the last mile or two of my runs. Still, I yearned for the outdoors.

Finally, spring came, and my outdoor runs began. I loved the park. It had a gorgeous lake running through the middle of it, all the way around the 3.5 miles. I was enjoying my time at the park more and more. It was my escape, and my redemption.

One splendid late spring day at the lake, the run seemed especially easy to me. I felt I’d reached a new plateau. It was time to begin to push myself for more speed. At the end of my second lap, I decided I would really put the heat on, and see what I could do.

Pride goeth before the fall. Many times I had already learned this lesson the hard way, but I foolishly wanted to have something to brag about to my husband that night. I wanted him to be proud of me, and I decided in a blink that I wanted to start finishing races in the top five. I knew I had another lap in me, even though I’d already run seven miles.

I slowed when I got to where my car was parked, and grabbed my Zero cal. Berry Energized drink bottle off the top, and guzzled the last of it. It was lukewarm, which I am not too fond of, preferring instead to walk a bit to the vending machine and buy a cold bottle. But not today. Today I couldn’t take that time. I had to keep running.

Security is not something I generally considered when it came to water or drink bottles. I never considered locking down my beverages. My car, yes. My purse and cell phone, naturally. Nothing felt odd or wrong to me when I put that bottle to my lips. It was hydration, and I needed it, and was grateful to have it. After downing it, I put the lid back on as to not litter, and turned the bottle sideways between the slots on my roof rack so it wouldn’t blow away, and I began to pick up my pace. I had just enough of a respite  to really add some speed now.  Within fifty yards, something felt wrong. My stomach felt like it was being stretched and pulled.  A strange burning sensation began creeping up from my stomach and down from my throat simultaneously.  I was still running, but slowing. In fact, everything felt like it was going in slow motion.  The pain increased throughout my entire body, now. Fire, and gnawing, and then I couldn’t breathe very well. I remember looking up at the leaves on trees. The sun was so beautiful, streaming through them. I remember wondering if my head hit very hard. I couldn’t feel it.  I couldn’t feel anything but  fire, and the burning increased to the point where I could feel my eyes protruding and tongue  clogging my throat and I became instantly petrified. I was dying. I saw a face above mine, and I don’t remember this part, but I was told later, in the hospital that the guy who tried to help me and who called 911 was still having nightmares about that day. I guess my purple face, bulged- out eyes and blood drizzling from my nose and mouth kinda spooked the poor soul.

The paramedics had no idea of what was happening to my body.  They briefly suspected a hemorrhagic virus, but it was highly unlikely. The bleeding didn’t continue, anyway. During the ambulance ride, the main concern became keeping me breathing.  A tracheotomy tube was inserted. My heart had to be de-fibbed. Luckily, the guy who found me had seen me go to my car. My key was found safety pinned to my short’s waistband. Other personnel opened my car and grabbed my purse, and found my phone.  I had been dutiful to put my husband’s name in my contact list followed by “ICE” , so he was the first one called.  I am glad there is a hospital right by the park. At first they thought they might need to life flight me away to a bigger facility, but they decided to work on stabilizing me first. Transferring me might be the best option at any moment, though, so staff was ready to move me immediately, if word came. Honestly, they didn’t expect me to live. My poor husband showed up, but I wasn’t there to see his face. I imagine it, though ; all his color drained, his eyes wild with fear, frantically pumping the doctors and nurses for information.

I am glad he didn’t call my mom. The shock would be too much. I lost my sister a couple of years ago, to a long- standing illness. I was amazed that my mom survived it , with her COPD as bad as it is, and only worse now.

The reason I lay there, looking like Linda Blair in the Exorcist, was a complete mystery. At some point, a toxicology report was run. That’s when the real fun began.

Somehow, the nicotine levels in my blood were ridiculously high. The whole thing was nearly missed, being the least likely of the drugs abused and  associated with the area where I live. But, after my drooling and convulsions, someone got a clue.

I was absent during my possession, really. I hope I dreamed good dreams, but somehow I doubt it. Dialysis came next. The suction device for my profuse drooling disturbs me to think about more than some of the other aspects of it all, strangely.

What really saved me, I found out later, was the fact that I had been an avid nicotine gum chewer for years. My tolerance of the shit was so high already, that I was able to survive it better than most. Meanwhile, the whole thing suddenly became an investigation when it was determined that I didn’t choose to drink a large amount of nicotine. My car was searched. The bottle was still on top of the car. Bingo! Loaded with traces of the stuff.

Better news was that there were prints on the bottle that didn’t match mine…

More of Run, Nicky Run coming soon. Hope you enjoyed…

Bittersweet Sunday

Most people who see the photograph for the first time assume that my father is a stern man, or not one prone to happiness. Those who know me well, or my sister Deidre, know better. My father was a very happy man, always quick with a joke, a prank, or a dance across the living room floor. He would sweep my mother into his arms, sending her into peals of delighted laughter. Always, there was music in our home when I was a young boy. Usually he liked to play records of classical music- Bach, Beethoven,  and Mozart- his favorite. But when he was in an especially jovial mood, he played dance music- and dance he did!

“Peter! Please stand still, and let’s just let the nice lady take the photo.” Papa had rarely raised his voice at me, and I quickly became petulant. Deidre stood still, not wanting to get into any sort of trouble, but we were both uncomfortable and overly warm. It was Sunday, and Papa was taking us to church for mass. I can only imagine how hard it was for Papa to get us dressed that morning. I could tell that Papa took his duty to get us to church, just like Mama would, very seriously. He fussed for what seemed forever after breakfast with buttons, polishing shoes, and combing our hair. He stayed almost silent as he worked, his face twisted into a sad grimace most of the time. When we were finally ready, Deidre had to go to the potty one last time. Papa sighed, but then just began to laugh- low, and long. I thought it was strange, but I didn’t say a word.

“You children look very proper, and you shall behave very properly- is that understood?” Of course, it was. We knew exactly what was expected of us not only in the church, but on the two-block walk on the way to it. I walked along, in a sort of forced silence that I was having trouble maintaining. I wanted to ask Papa if Mama was in Heaven right now, watching us. I wanted to ask if he thought Mama would have worn her pink dress that matched Deidre’s. I wanted to just stop the tears that were always falling from my eyes whenever I thought of Mama.

As we neared the church, a lady that we didn’t know from our church seemed to appear from nowhere, with a large camera up to her face. She peeked from behind us to ask if we would please pose for a photo. I could tell by how my father seemed to stiffen all over that he was not happy about the idea.

We all seemed to be in a quiet fog during the service, but a great many well-wishers and sad-faced people came over afterward to shake my father’s hand, hug and kiss us, and talk with my father for a long time. Even the Father came over to speak with us, and it seemed very special. At some point, Deidre had heard her mother spoken of too many times. She didn’t really understand that Mama wasn’t coming back-ever- and I barely did. All she knew was that she missed her Mama, and a long, howling wail came from her little mouth that made everyone turn to stare. My Papa decided at that moment we had all had enough for one day. He gently scooped Deidre up into his arms. “Come on, son, let’s go home now”, he said quietly. I gratefully followed. Once Deidre was out in the sunshine, she began to calm down a little, still crying “Mama!”, with her head buried in our father’s shoulder.

It was then that I first learned a bit about how kind, gentle, and wonderful my father really was. As we walked, he began to sing to Deidre, in his rich, deep tone. He spun her gently around, and beamed a huge smile at her, all the while singing the song that Mama always sang to my sister at bedtime. He sang with a love and gentleness, his profound sadness barely contained. It seems to me now, that from that moment, Papa simply decided to put away that sadness. For us, he dealt with his own great grief privately.

When Deidre and I were grown, and only then, Papa remarried a beautiful and lovely lady from the church. It was the woman who had snapped our photo who ultimately won his heart. You see, the woman had distributed that photo to everyone she knew at the church and in our neighborhood. Shortly after the church service that Sunday, the phone began to ring all the time. The door was always full of people with hand-sewn clothes for me and for Deidre. Casseroles and dinner rolls came to our table  – more than we could possibly eat- on a regular basis. Mothers with children about the same age as my sister and me began to call. All of this kindness kept us going through the dark days that were to come, and this kindness and love didn’t stop after a week, nor a month, or a year.

Over the years, Mrs. Schmidt, who had also lost her spouse the year before we lost our mother, became a dear friend of my papa’s. In time, that friendship blossomed into love. She has been a wonderful mother to us, as well. Her greatest gift to us was to help my father be strong, and to bring the sunshine back into his heart.

The last time I paid them a visit is was Thanksgiving, early in the afternoon. My wife and I and our three children were all excited to be at Grandpa and Grandma’s for dinner. As we neared the door, we heard the lovely strains of Perry Como’s voice coming from within. I peeked into the window and saw the two embraced, slowly swaying to the music. Then I saw Papa smile, and could see him quietly singing to his bride.

Now, the photograph of Papa, Deidre and I is nestled just between the photograph of my beautiful family before we lost Mama, and my beautiful family at Papa’s wedding almost ten years ago. They are the defining photographs in my album that is chock-full of all the memories, places, and milestones of our lives. There are only a few blank pages left, and I will need another album soon. One day my children will inherit the photos, and add their own memories to it. Until then, I will keep them safe.

Unreal (new and improved!)

It seems our press has gotten a bit out of hand. Despite our attempts at remaining a complete secret, clients seem to keep finding us. I don’t like the fact that recently, they’ve been ex-cons. How is anyone finding out about us when we expunge the memories of our clients? Yes, we get rid of their memories of us, naturally. I feel as though I am failing on the secrecy front. That is my job, and I have to make sure this gets contained. Someone, somewhere among our client list was either a mole, or their erasure didn’t take. I have to find out who that is, or our entire organization will be threatened. There are too many people interested in anything that someone else doesn’t have. If that weren’t enough, we are talking about life-changing technology and therapy that a lot of people would like to use for reasons unethical at best, and horrific at their most likely applications.

My boss is a genius. Harvard Medical, top of his class, the whole nine. He is also completely naive as to the depth of depravity people would sink to be able to have these techniques and treatments. He likes to rest, I think, in the belief that nobody could make this work but him. He doesn’t seem to understand that there are many who would gladly kill us all in trying. I finally convinced Dr. Nathaniel to hire some real guns last year. He now employs two ex-military security men. David is quiet, practical, and always knows what’s going on with our meetings and clients. Most importantly, he keeps the doctor physically safe. Zeng is our tech guru and details man. His main job is to monitor previous clients for at least a year, at intervals, to make sure they are living normal, happy lives. Any of them start exhibiting changes in behavior and patterns, and Zeng zeroes in and begins serious surveillance.

My job is to profile the right kind of clients, and to bring them into the information and education process. I help do background checks into their stories, lives, and friends. Zeng and I work as closely as we can on this. In the beginning, before we had over twenty previous clients, he was an equal partner in acquisitions, and his teachings were invaluable. So, I miss us being able to collaborate on each case. As it is now, I compile files on potential patients, and sling them onto Zeng’s desk for approval. From there, they go to the doctor and David, but mostly the doctor. If either of them have any concerns or misgivings, they then get looked over much more thoroughly by Zeng. I truly respect and admire him. If he were to have to go over a file again, I’d feel as though I had let him down a bit. I hate that feeling. He has a way of looking at me with those clear, gray eyes and giving me a cool undoing. He is able to completely detach himself from any emotional ties he may have to me-or anyone-and be all business. It’s utterly disconcerting. I can almost forget these are the same eyes that assessed me with nothing but warmth and desire last summer. I digress.

It seems that lately we have been too busy with work to even think about summer soirees, passionate interludes, or even a decent sit-down dinner. I really need to talk with him as soon as possible, though. We have to all be of one mind as to how to proceed to find the leak. After Zeng helps me put a plan together, we will approach Dr. Nathaniel.

But first, we do have a potential client meeting soon that I must attend. As many of our clients come to us, this one comes from the good doctor himself. Through his normal therapy practice, he happens upon patients whose histories and trauma are of such a severe nature, he deems them eligible for further treatment. Erasure.

Back in the bedroom, because Drew will be coming home from his night shift at the plant. I like to make myself available . Drew tiptoed through the bedroom and eased into bed. He is always considerate of me. He knows I’ve been at working a lot lately. He believes that I work in an office, filing. Basic and boring. He loves me in spite of it, and I him. I am glad that Zeng and I never really amounted to more than a summer night. It was a great summer night, but this is what I need. Drew nestles close to me, and brings his hand to rest gently on my hip. I turn to look at him. The moonlight is bright through the open blinds. His eyes are closed, but I know he’s not asleep yet. I smooth my hand down his face. He smiles. I continue to trace the outline of his collarbone, his ribs, down to his hip. “Well, hello.”

” Hi, yourself, Mister. Miss me?” He has an amazing way with nipples that always gets me steamed up. I know where to touch him to elicit his subtle moans. I stroke his long, lean thighs, the sexy hip bone that juts out just enough, and his warm patch of soft hair surrounding that smooth, exquisitely hard part of him I cannot seem to get enough of.

We spent the whole evening together, doing nothing more than making love, and eating large quantities of ice cream, salami, and bagels with cream cheese. I love our time together after amazing lovemaking . It draws us so close. I also enjoy the unstoppable grins we both have, knowing that we just rocked each other’s world. Drew had to go back to work at six in the evening. So he was going to sleep the day away. I gave a call to Zeng to find out what he knew about our latest potential client.

“Zeng, hi. Ok, so- tell me what you know”.  He sounded tired, but in a good enough mood. ” I wish I had more to tell you, but Nate is keeping the details of this pretty close to his chest. I don’t know why. ” ‘ How did this ex-con find out about us?  Obviously this a client of Nate’s?” “Yes. That much I do know. And it’s a woman. In this case, she’s out because of DNA testing . It’s not her guilty conscious she wants to get rid of. I thought the same thing. It’s what the guards and other inmates did to her over twelve long years… now you on board?”

“Oh, Jesus. I sighed. “Yeah, so far, so good. You gonna be at the meeting?”

“Of course.”

“Alright. See you then.”

So, this was a big relief . I didn’t have to worry about this ex-con being some kind of a leak. I had a pretty good idea of who this was. Seeing almost everyone who comes into the office to see Dr. Nathaniel does make me privy to who the clients are, and why they are there. Nancy Stillman was a fairly recent patient who looked  like the walking dead. She had a huge scar across her cheek, thinning black hair, and an unnaturally strong deferment to perceived authority.

My greatest concern were the last couple of contacts to us which were fairly random.  I dismissed them. I still needed to figure out where they got our info, since those last two were not from the doctor, but rather e-mails that both Zeng and I received that were traced to the library and a local community college. We were not private investigators, and we had little to go on, but we needed to find out how anyone found out about us. I was kicking myself for not immediately making contact . I needed to know more. Maybe it wasn’t too late.

I did the normal things a person does for the rest of the day, including working out at the Y., cleaning house, and throwing a ball for the dog. Drew woke up at around four. We chatted and watched some inane television shows. He showered and headed back to work. Today was not an office day for me, so I didn’t need to lie to him about where I was or what I was doing.

Morning came much too soon. A quick cup of coffee in the french press in a travel mug and a protein bar- good to go. I was wearing my favorite boots, a gift from Drew in black leather. Silver buckles cross at the ankles, and there’s just enough heel to clear mud without sinking into it. I have a tazer in the inside pocket of my coat. It’s a trench, but not black. It’s just turned Autumn, and the mornings are foggy and crisp. It’s six when Drew pulls up, and six fifteen when I pull out. I have to head to the office for some ordinary, routine work before making the drive to the meeting this afternoon.

More UNREAL soon!!

Nothing Screams like Silence

I usually get at least a few likes for every blog post I make, so nothing screamed more loudly to me that my fiction writing sucks than the absolute dead silence it has received. I would be open to constructive criticism, even outright booing, but the silence really hurts. Anyone who would please review/ critique ” Unbroken” for me would make my day. Thanks!

Unbroken- Chapter 1. “Remember Me- Not”

He leaned down to kiss me. I had been dreaming vividly…of something. It was another of my great adventure dreams, torn asunder. The kiss was sweet, though. He smelled of his aftershave lotion- mellow,  warm and sexy. “Mmmn”…is all I can muster, then he was gone. I continued to enjoy the quiet of the morning. I checked the time. 7:08. great. I really had no reason to be up this early. So, I figured I would just sleep in, but that wasn’t  possible, because I could feel a definite morning bladder coming on.

I made some coffee, and an interesting breakfast smoothie with kale, frozen banana, protein powder, spinach, and a handful of frozen blueberries. I blended that all together with almond milk. It was good. I am so far removed from my previous lifestyle of donuts and cold cereal.

I did need to check my e-mail. Not the public account- my work account. Nobody knows about this e-mail address except those who need to know- me, and my boss, and his boss. Remembering a password of the complexity required is nearly impossible, but I have it memorized for this month. I have to enter it a total of four times to finally gain access to my account. I try to check it daily, but never at the same time each day, and never when anyone’s at home. If I go on vacation, or am involved in any other activity of normal life, and cannot access the e-mail, I have to account for my missing time, because I get assignments twice per month. I can only refuse one per month, but that is usually more than enough. What really is hilarious is how each e-mail is supposed to be a cleverly disguised message embedded in a spam-ish looking ‘ad’. They need to work on that. Nevertheless, they are generic enough that anyone who happened to look over my shoulder would never question its content or source. The other nice feature is that it doesn’t look like e-mail, but rather a corporate web-site, full of annoying little fake ads in the corners, just like a clothing store or online cosmetics retailer might have.

Saturday, July 28.

Crosspeak Industries proudly announces the Grand Opening of our newest location! Mark your calendars for August 3., and come down between noon and three o’clock to take advantage of all the great deals!

Take I-5 south and exit at 41. Stay on track until you see the Crosspeak Bridge Banner. Ask an associate how you can save!

There is a cute, but ridiculous 20% off everything- in- stock coupon printed below that, but my job is to first decode the  message within this message. First off, I know the way they do things. Everything is backward. If the message says south, you go north, and the exits are always reversed, as well, but will also always be legit. Again, if anyone gets savvy to the message and were to realize that there is no exit 41 on I-5 southbound, that would never do. Thing is, I won’t be going to exit 41, but 14. And I’ll be headed north. It’s a strange system, but it works. The next thing I have to figure out is Crosspeak- this means there will be a meeting with me, my boss, and one of our clients. The Bridge Banner is most likely going to be the spot, and I have to look for a sign (literally or figuratively) once I get to the exit. Bridge Banner could be a literal bridge, it could be that we meet near a sign on a bridge. It could even be someone’s name on a mailbox or the name of a park. It’s always a  pain in the ass figuring these things out, but the funny part is that my boss always drives the same SUV and I will be looking for that more than anything. I guess asking him to use a GPS app on his phone would be asking too much. All the secrecy we use might have you assuming I am some kind of spy, doing some really important spy-movie shit. No. What I really do is even more surprising but not glamorous or high-budget  like what you see at IMAX-  such as  MI4 with Tom Cruise.  No. It’s not like that at all. Yeah, I do all my own stunts…

Your next guess may be that I am an undercover prostitute, meeting with my pimp and ‘john’. Nice try, but disgusting. No. Drug sales? No. It’s all completely legal, mainly because there is no law in the books to regulate what we do. Well, at least not yet.  Besides,  nobody is supposed to know that this sort of service exists. It wouldn’t be seen as…normal, I guess.

People come to me through carefully arranged meetings for one purpose- to forget. My boss has the job of taking care of all the details to ensure that physical clues, documents, and location don’t serve as inconvenient reminders of what the clients want forgotten. This is the trickiest part, because, like the song goes, “…there’s always something there to remind me”. This is the reason we don’t take cases of the brokenhearted lover, wanting to be forever rid of the memories of their ex. Well, the ex has all their memories, as does your mom, sister, uncle Fred, and the mailman. Ditto the three neighbors that you and your ex partied with on last July 4th and New Year’s. How are you going to scrub that memory, really? We also won’t take cases of guilty consciences wanting to expunge some crime- whether illegal or not. What we specialize in is traumatic memories, where our clients have been victimized and feel the only way to a normal life is to remove those memories. My boss is the counselor with our clients first. His sessions are long and extensive, wherein which he explains that as painful as a memory may be, our experiences help to shape us and to make us stronger. He give the client every reason to rethink their decision before we move on. Believe it or not, sometimes what doesn’t kill us, really does make us stronger. However, there are some very real benefits to our program. Victims of sexual abuse and rape are the most rewarding to help. Counseling is also very beneficial here. We feel it is vital that the client process the emotions involved, and especially to work on forgiveness- if not for their attacker, then at least for themselves. Sometimes, we erase the memories, but the person is still not happy. It is vital the would-be clients don’t think that erasing painful memories will instantly improve their entire lives and work like some magic happy pill.  We also have to do the tricky job of setting up the client so that they no longer have any ties to us- no business cards, no records of phone calls, no huge time gaps. Once the memory is gone, if they still remember us and what we did for them, the majority of them, being as all humans, very curious animals, will dig and try to figure out what the memory was that we erased, and thus relive it all or go mad trying to figure out a non-existent conspiracy.

The August third meeting will not be with a new client, but rather with an established one. “Mary” is 34, with persistent thoughts of suicide and an inability to sleep or , well, really- function at all. She is an incest victim. The family has always denied it. She is the perfect candidate for my treatment, and today’s meeting is about the need to start erasing all ‘tracks’ of us in her life just before we undergo the procedure. She confided in her closest friend and fiance’ that she is going to have the memories purged, and they have been required to swear to absolute secrecy- to never tell her about what she has revealed to them, to help her to heal. This part gets very complicated at times. The best memories to erase are the ones that have never been shared. This is no absolute science. If anyone close to “Mary” ever decides to blurt, though, Mary will most likely just be very confused and think the person telling her this is simply mad . We council those close to the client that if they do reveal the secrets, they will simply seem quite crazy to the person they are speaking to, and may cause harm , if any remnants of the memory remain deep inside the  subconscious, by digging them up.

Today, however, there is a second e-mail in my ‘box’. This one looks like a new client, and the business name of  “Freebird” Enterprises is code for me to know that it’s an ex-con. This should be interesting. This has been the biggest growth area to our business. One-time criminals who have served their time often come to us to give them a new lease on life. Our first ‘freebird’ told us that he believed that if he had no memories of the crimes he committed, and the horrific prison years that followed, he would truly be ‘born again’, completely a blank slate, and not trapped by the life he chose in the past. He had spent 30 years in jail for beating his wife’s lover to death after walking in on them as they lie sleeping on the marriage bed. I told him I would not take his case. I told him that his conscience and memories were there for a reason. It goes like that a lot. People just want to dump their bags of crap at someone’s door and not be bothered by their pesky memories reminding them of what they have done. My thinking is this- if you want absolution and forgiveness, start with getting it from God and the people you’ve hurt. You don’t just get to dump those memories like garbage. You deal with that shit, or you keep carrying it.

I won’t know what this is all about until I check in, but my boss already knows how I feel about this, so I am hopeful that there is a really good reason why we should consider the case.

Chapter 2: Unreal

TO BE CONTINUED…