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  • Incredulity of Thomas

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He couldn’t believe that it happened a third time. That was the stupidity of love. That was the stupidity of hope. Once was bad, two times was stupid, but three times was inconceivable. Three times was unacceptable and insane.

It had been about 4 months since he’d seen or heard from her. It’s amazing how easy it is to avoid someone on a campus as large as the U of W. Winter break had come and gone. He’d been actively dating. After finally having learned the art of asking women out and being accepted, he was becoming quite a ladies’ man. Yet, when she called out of the blue, he was very happy. Not because he had wanted to see her, but because he knew he was over her. At least he thought he was over her. It’s amazing how strong we think we are. It’s amazing how stupid we really are.

Sure, he’d love to spend some casual time with her. Sure, he’d love to go out to coffee and talk about old times. Yes, he was doing quite well. No, he wasn’t dating anyone steadily, but there was a special person he was spending time with. Tuesday, no, that wouldn’t work, he had a date then. The weekend was out, he was booked solid. How about next week sometime? “Call me” he said as he hung up. He wasn’t going to go out of his way for her. If they did meet it would only be to establish that he was totally over her. Just so she knew.

He was interested in a gal called Suzanne, and he was hoping things would work out specially since she seemed very interested in him.

He didn’t expect her to call the next week. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to do anything with her. But decided that in a way he did want to see her. After all, they had been very close friends. Very close. Carl thought that he should go see her, but then Carl had always been a fan of Sandy’s. She called on Sunday. Eager to see him. He condescended to seeing her on Monday, Suz had Biology Lab on Mondays.

On Monday evening he was in a very jubilant mood, celebrating his independence from her. She was in a very sweet mood when he picked her up and right off the bat she started clinging on to his arm, . He was still driving that boat of a car that grounded out every few minutes. Suz loved the car. It was a great “make-out” mobile as she’d said. He made it a point to tell Sandy that, purposely forgetting to mention that he and Suz hadn’t made out yet. He enjoyed in a childish way the fact that Sandy didn’t show any emotion. How could she? Why would she? However the front bench seat did give her the opportunity to scoot right up to him and stay close to him whenever they were in the car. He enjoyed her closeness but was vary. After all, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

They spent the evening casually, he let her speak but didn’t open up much except to tell her the good and successful things that were happening in her life. He made it a point to mention Suz whenever possible. Suz was this, Suz was that. She got quiet whenever he talked about Suz. He noticed this and took a perverse joy in it. Not much, but a bit. He wasn’t a mean and vengeful person, but it felt good to declare his independence from her and he did it solely for that reason, nothing else.

He had no intention to call her the next day and he certainly had no intention to spend any more time with her. Suz came over and after they’d gone out to eat, they came back to his room and did their respective homework together. She was like that, just wanting to be around him. He thought briefly about Sandy, remembering the evening before, but he quickly cast it out of his mind. After all she’d done this to him before. Wanted him back and then not known what to do after she’d gotten him.

It surprised him when she called. Suz was right there. He felt very awkward. He blew her off, saying “call me later.” He had no plans to call her. Suz left around 10:30 pm, he was brushing his teeth when he relented. He felt he ought to call her, simply because he felt he’d been rude. He did. He was elated to realize that he couldn’t remember her phone number and had to look it up.

She came on sounding eager. Her sorority was having some sort of a party and she wanted to know if he’d be her date. He toyed with the idea of saying “No, go to hell” and then tried to envision what effect going would have on his current developing relationship with a Suz. They weren’t dating exclusively yet, they were just spending time with each other. He decided that a date with Sandy would have no ill effects but he still said he’d think about it and tell her next week. He couldn’t imagine being swayed back into any sort of interest in her again. After all he wasn’t a fool. She then talked about many things and they didn’t get off the phone until 2 am.

The next day he “accidentally” ran into her right near the dorms. For some “unknown” reason she’d been studying on the lawn in front of his dorm. They talked for about 2 hours and he finally begged off saying he had to go study.

The next day was Thursday, he didn’t see her that day, but when he got back to his room, Carl mentioned that there was a message from Sandy. He wasn’t thrilled about it logically, but there was a sense of anticipation that it brought.

That weekend he and Suz were going to go down to her parents home in Portland. They were to leave first thing on Saturday morning since Suz had an evening class on Friday. He’d let that drop to Sandy at some point the first time they’d met. On Thursday, she showed up at his dorm room, “Oh, I was just visiting some old friends that lived in the dorm and thought I’d stop by. This time they talked till 4 am.

And one more time tragically the trap was sprung. One more time, the sharp pincers of hope and desire clamped down.

She called on Friday night as he was packing for Portland. He decided that it was time to get the straight scoop.

“Sandy, what do you want from me?”

“What do you mean?” her voice was soft and kind.

He was intense, “Sandy, why have you been calling me? Why? Do you want me back or are you just lonely? What is going on in your mind?” it was a cry from his heart.

She became very sad, and almost started crying. “I realized that I didn’t want to lose you, I saw you and that that…girl on campus, running and laughing, and I thought, ‘that’s what I should be doing’ then on Tuesday, I saw her in your car, I said ‘she’s in my seat, that’s my seat.” Sandy turned to him, but didn’t look at him. “I spent last weekend with my old high school friends, we went biking. The whole time I kept thinking, I should be here with Dare’, I kept thinking that I wanted you here. That it would be so much fun with you.”

They talked until 4 am again. The last thing she said before he hung up was “I don’t want you to go with her tomorrow.”

It was insidiously slow, or was it. She had planned it all, or had she? Looking back he could see how despite the fact that he thought he was so strong she was slowly and gradually able to overcome every one of his painfully built defenses, getting her knife of unsaid promises slipped deep through his wall of pain, a wall built to protect against the very person it was defenseless against. The knife slipped in and worked lose a single key brick, and once that came out, tragically the entire wall came down.

Within days he found himself thinking of her more and more. And yet on the outside he battled it, battling it with his mind, with his memories, and yet amazingly the memories of all the pain from the past weren’t there. He couldn’t remember them. He just knew the giddy wonderful feeling that she wanted him. And yet he never initiated anything. She called, she invited, she came over, she left notes. Oh God, she wanted him. Oh God, she wanted him. His heart soared at the thought.

They started kissing, and in a way that signified that they were dating. And for almost three glorious weeks he was in heaven.

It was less than three weeks after they started dating that she broke up with him one more time. One more time again. He remembered that day. It was Wednesday after Engineering Lab II. She had no explanations except that she wasn’t in love with him.

“You need someone who loves you Dare'” she said.

……

You never have an ex-girlfriend until you have a new girlfriend.

The Thursday was spent in shock, he spent it not realizing what was happening. Looking back he could not even remember any of the events of that day. The second day was even more different, there was a sense of freedom, a sense that something was different. That coupled with the fact that he had plans for the weekend kept his mind busy. But then on Saturday the bottom fell out. He was supposed to be at an activity with some people, he made the mistake of being picked up by a friend, rather than driving himself. Within 5 minutes of being at the party he realized that he didn’t want to be there. But he was stuck. He didn’t have a ride back. The intense frustration started to set in. He felt caged, locked, helpless. The evening passed in sheer depression and mindless torture.

By Sunday it had turned to anger. It was a deep anger followed by an intense desire to express his independence. By now he was discussing the whole issue with a few friends. Everybody was full of advice. The problem was that none of the advice matched. Some said that he should call her up and yell at her, others said that he should work it out and hang in there, that she would change her mind. That he should send her flowers and roses and love notes. Mubarek, said “Don’t be a mindless nimnul, forget her.” And yet the biggest question that continued to haunt him was why? Why? Why? Why would she dump him and then try to run after him. Why did she always want what she could not have? Why was she always the one who re-initiated the relationship? Was she spoilt? Cruel, wicked. Purposely wanting to inflict pain? Not caring what she had done to him? But that was so much against her personality, her nature. She was the sweetest woman he knew. Why? What caused women to be like this? He’d always noticed that certain women always were attracted to jerks. Guys who’d abuse and hurt their women, and their women would be utterly devoted to them. Maybe that’s what she needed. Some one who’d be mean to her, someone who’d keep her constantly guessing whether he liked her or hated her. But…that wasn’t him. He was who he was, a cherisher. Tender, kind and committed.

And yet…she got so close and then wouldn’t go any further. The first time it had happened he’d been convinced that it was because of him. But every time since, she’d come back to him, not the other way. If the situation had been reversed he’d have stayed way away from any woman that had liked him a bit too much. He’d have stayed away so that he’d avoid hurting that woman any more. He’d have stayed away because it would have been awkward around them. But he’d never have hunted them down again just so that he could dump them. What a twisted thing to do. What a twisted wicked thing to do. What a wicked evil thing to do. Oh God, what a evil thing to do.

The days to follow were painful and devastating. This time it was so much more intense than the previous times. Days started to lose their purpose. He would wake up hating to be awake. He would go to sleep crying until he was emotionally and physically drained. His mood swings were horrible. Every time the phone rang there would be moments of wild hope that it was her. Each night when he had a message on his machine the irrational thought that maybe she’d called would flash through his heart. At times he’d park his car in obvious places, perhaps hoping that she’d leave a note on it. There would be moments of wild joy, and within an instant something would switch and such a deep depression would hit him that he would literally fall to pieces. It felt like a huge hole had been punched out of his insides. He couldn’t even look at the future for the pain it caused him. He lost all motivation and it was a blessing that he had only a few finals. Any more and he would have flunked that year. He did them by rote, not caring, yet allowing the years of discipline to carry him forward. There was no passion. At times he gained strength by creating an intense anger at her. Intense anger at how she had tricked him, wooed him back to be used and then tossed like an unwanted doll. The anger would well up in him until he could bear it no longer then it would break down into a cold numbness. Yet within minutes he would wildly fantasize about how she really did love him, how there was something emotionally wrong with her, a need that she would realize that only he could meet. And irrationally in those moments he felt a peace. But then reality would come crashing back infringing with it’s terrible pain of reality into his fantasy. Then there were moments of the memories of how she did chase him, how she did need him and the wonder of whether she was feeling the same way he was. How could someone who looked at him with such longing eyes could not want him for ever? How could someone who told him how jealous she had been could now realize that there was nothing there?

And still there were only questions. No answers. Perhaps she did not know the answers herself. And there was always that horrible ache in his gut. It felt like being overly stuffed after eating too much and yet feeling horribly hungry. That tightness, that tension. Oh, if only he could remove that tension. He ate not because he wanted to, sure he felt hungry but there was no motivation to eat. He ate because the pain in his stomach got worse when he didn’t eat. He would continuously go over the events of the last few years thinking, if only I had done this at this time or done that at that time. Oh, why wasn’t I more sensitive here, or why did I try to make her jealous there. Over and over again he would torture himself with what he should have done or shouldn’t have done, never knowing the right answer. Sometimes at night he would cry and cry and cry until at last he fell asleep emotionally and physically drained. Then there were other nights where the dreams of past and future failures mixed in with him thinking all over again what he could or should do. The emotional yo-yo that he was on was pathetic, when he was standing he wished he was sitting because he felt tired. When he sat, he was restless wishing he could be doing something. In class he wanted to get out, when he was out he wished he something to occupy his mind. He tried running again. It had worked before. But there was no motivation there. He would change into his workout clothes and start, but every time he would run out of motivation and run out of desire. He’d run out of hope. What was the use of running? What was the use of anything?

He’d stopped talking to Carl about it because Carl was always trying to make excuses for her. It the years to come he would remember this time as a period of intense gloom. Wondering how he made it. It was a bad year. A very bad year. It retrospect the relationship with Sandy probably had a lot to do with him wanting to leave the state. Ever after he would dislike the entire state intensely for the negative association he had with it.

“I want you I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever going to love you, but don’t feel sad, ’cause two out of three ain’t bad.”

And he would forever wonder, why? Why? What motivated a woman to do that to a man? And in the end though he would always deny he believed in God, the real question was always, oh God why? Why did you let this happen to me?

“Good Evening Stapleton.” Stapleton was the butler, Varella had never been able to figure out how old the man was, he’d been with the Perlman house for years. All Varella knew is that the man was from England. Gramps Perlman had many ties to United Kingdom. Stapleton was just one of them.

Varella knew where the family would be. “Are they in the den?”

“Yes sir” said Stapleton “Mr. Perlman is in the den with a few of the family. Mrs. Wassau is still upstairs but will be joining you all shortly.”

“I’ll go in myself, you don’t need to announce me, thank you Stapleton.”

The door to the den was open and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony floated out softly. Varella’s personal opinion of the piece was that if you were going to listen to it, you should crank it. He stepped into the room. It was a large room with thick carpeting and bookshelves all around the sides. Off to the corner was a TV set that was on, but no noise was coming out of it. On it, a muted Alice was having a discussion with the enigmatic Cheshire Cat. Gramps was sitting in a great armchair reading a big book, a wine glass in his hand.

Cynthia, Carl’s sister was seated on the couch next to one of the Uncles whom Varella had seen but never met. He was Carl’s father’s brother and had been at the elder Mr. Wassau’s funeral last year. He and Cynthia were facing each other talking in soft whispers. The third person on the couch was a very large lady, fast asleep. That was Aunt Sharon. Carl’s mother’s sister.

“Ah, Dare'” said Gramps spotting him first. “Susan will be so glad that you are here. Can I interest you in a glass of wine”

“Yes, Thank you Gramps, I’d like that”

Cynthia uncoiled her long legs from the couch, came over and fit herself under his arm. He hugged her tightly with the arm. He turned to face her, catching her eyes and holding them, “How are you babe?” he asked sincerely.

She looked at him deeply, “Better” she said her eyes showing how much she trusted him. Then she squeezed him tight.

She stayed there under his arm enjoying his warmth, while Gramps got him his drink, then she went back to the couch and her conversation with Uncle Somebody.

Varella turned to Gramps, the wonderful old man looked at him intently, “How are you Dare’? How are you holding up son?” He asked sincerely.

“I’m OK Gramps, it’s just sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s real and that Carl isn’t coming back. Sometimes there’s this big empty hole in my stomach.”

Gramps looked at him understandingly, Varella felt a lot of love for this man. “Dare’, I lost my best friend in France” Gramps said, “Not on the beaches but in the town of Arnhem, shot by a sniper, one minute he was there cracking a joke and the next minute he was dead. You know Dare’, I don’t think I fully understood the impact until days later. It’s not something that you ever get used to. How can a man’s soul so suddenly leave his body and leave behind something that is only a shell of your loved one? The spark has gone.”

Varella thought about Carl’s dreams and plans. Carl had had all these dreams, less than a third of them had been fulfilled. All those dreams, dead and unfulfilled. All that potential wasted. A man who’d died so suddenly. It wasn’t fair. A man shouldn’t die until his dreams had been fulfilled. So many dreams. There were enough people in the world trying to kill dreams, there were enough people in the world who had just given up their dreams and gone on to live dull lifeless hopeless lives. But Carl had fought for his dreams, he’d been the man who’d made his dreams come true and when they failed at least he failed while striving for them and he moved on. It was not right for one of these men to die. Let die those who had given up their dreams or who’d let others suppress or manipulate away their dreams, but let not die one who dreamed and made those dreams real. Let not die, one who truly lived.

Gramps had always been a fascinating conversationalist. In addition, he had the ability to listen and Varella always found it easy to talk with him. Even when he was a young college student, Gramps had always listened attentively to Varella, treating whatever the then idealistic student had to say with utmost respect. Nobody else had treated him as well as respectfully as Gramps had treated him.

Gramps had come into the money the hard way, he had worked his way into it. He hadn’t started any big companies, he hadn’t invented any amazing gadgets, he’d simply and consistently worked his way up into power and into the position of President.

He’d started very young. At the age of 14 his immigrant father had died of lung cancer, leaving his mother with 6 very hungry kids to feed. The young boy had grown up real fast and soon became father to his younger siblings as well as his two older sisters. He started working after school, selling newspapers on the street corner at first but then later moving to a newsstand. He still told stories of his street corner days. It sounded like a typical “when I was a young boy” story, “we had to walk 20 miles to school, uphill both ways.” But this story was indeed true. He’d wake up at 4 am to have all his papers ready by the 6 am rush. The stock market crash was just over and the paper seemed to be the only thing that sold. School would start by 9 am and by 5 pm he was back on his corner with the evening edition of the news trying to catch the business men on their way home. It didn’t pay much, but it helped add to his mom’s income from the grocery store. But he didn’t give it all to his mother, he saved 10% of each day’s profits and kept it under his cot. When he had saved $10 he walked proudly into a bank and started his first savings account.

Those days on the corner taught him a lot. He listened to the rich business men as they waited for the bus. And he asked questions of those men he’d befriended. He also learned about leverage, and unfairness of life. A few months into his newspaper career he started getting pressure from a group of newspaper boys who felt he was cutting into their profits. There were 5 of them and they had the monopoly on the area. They all worked for one of the other local newsstands and decided that Perlman’s enthusiasm was costing them profits. The first warning was just a threat. When that didn’t work they worked him over and left him penniless and bleeding. He had to dig into his money under the cot to pay back the newsstand owner for the papers. It set him back by three months. It was a very bitter experience for him, but he never shared it with anyone, he told his mom that he got into a fight at school. But inside he knew that he had to do something or he’d be out of business real soon.

Leverage is what he needed and leverage could only be bought. The 14 year old boy bought protection. He wasn’t very big so he’d need a big friend. Spiro was a dropout, the son of Armenian immigrants. He’d flunked 7th grade twice now and they’d finally let him move to 8th. The young Perlman quickly made friends with the much bigger and stronger 17 year old, it was easy, Spiro needed help to get through the school day and Perlman needed help to make it through the business day. It was a good partnership, and the other newspaper boys soon faded out of the picture, allowing him to expand even more.

By the time he’d graduated from high school, the money in the savings account had grown enough to buy a newsstand, he hired his younger brothers and they soon were doing a brisk business on more than half the street corners in their area, Spiro became a full time employee and sort of handy man. But Perlman knew that he had to get himself a college degree. It wasn’t a normal thing to do and only rich kids really got to go to college, but he was determined to do so. The newsstand under the able guidance of his kid brothers was doing well. Using that as collateral Perlman bought out another newsstand and then another and then another. By the time he’d reached the age of 20 the family was able to live quite comfortably on newspaper, magazine and tobacco sales.

When the war came he still hadn’t been able to go to college and he realized that that was one dream that would never be fulfilled unless he made specific plans to achieve it. But the opportunity never seemed to make itself available. He enlisted. After the war he set about using the contacts he’d made while fighting in Europe to start selling imported items from his newsstands, the concept caught on and he soon found himself opening a purely import store. Then leaving the business in the hands of his brothers and the ever present Spiro, he went to college. He graduated 4 years later with a degree in business and then he applied for his first real job.

His impressive business resume that included owning 6 newsstands and one import business enabled him to bypass all the other candidates in line for the junior marketing position at the Taylor-Frey Distribution company. They did basically what Perlman was already doing, but on a much larger scale. They imported and distributed to the entire United States.

He moved up rapidly, his keen sense of survival and his drive to succeed served him well, by the age of 40 he had moved corporations twice and was now Vice President of Maxxim Caldwell. By this time he’d married the most beautiful woman in the world, who also happened to be Spiro’s kid sister and he’d had two lovely kids.

They’d just finished building their dream house when tragedy struck. His beautiful wife, Carl’s grandmother, died in plane crash. Perlman would never forget that awful moment when he found out. And he had never shared that pain with anyone. Yes, while he may talk about the best friend he’d lost in France during the war, he’s real best friend had been lost in peacetime on her way to see him while he’d been on a business trip in California. He’d sent for her and she’d come, leaving the two kids behind for just a weekend that turned into forever. Their personally designed house in New York and all the places she used to love just held too many memories. So he’d moved out to California, bringing with him the two kids who, like him had also had to grow up fast.

The move to California had been facilitated by Perlman’s transfer to an even bigger and more powerful company. At the time, TJ Reynolds was only in the import/export business but now they were in every kind of business you could think of. Under their different brand names, they made or imported or had their hands in the sale and manufacture of everything from soap to cereal to shirts and shoes. The only thing they didn’t seem to sell or import was spices, McCormick and Schilling held that market. A lot of the decisions to move and expand into other segments of the industry had been made or influenced by Perlman. These astute decisions and his continous high performance allowed him to rise rapidly in the corporation.

While he was still just a VP, he now wielded much more power and had other VPs reporting to him. As time passed he became more well known and eventually became a partner in the company. The San Jose area was turning to silicon and he was just the man to realize the potential of the land around a small but rapidly growing company run by two young engineers called (first names) Hewlett and Packard. In the years to come he would personally end up owning as much land as the two soon to be millionaires themselves. And in the process he would not only become a millionaire like them but he would also become very close friends with both men.

But while money and land have their appeal, Gramps Perlman’s real goal was to be President and CEO of TJ Reynolds. To him this was the ultimate symbol of success, to have a pulse on the spending habits of the entire United States. It wasn’t so much to have power, but more to be able to influence America. And indeed he was next in line for the job. When the president of TJ Reynolds retired Perlman was sure that he would get the job. But when the time came, the odds turned against him. He’d been working out some plans and saw a lot of potential in a small island country in the Far East, a small country called Taiwan. This country, Perlman was convinced would soon be a major supplier of low cost, high profit goods to not only the United States but also the entire world. His visit to Taipei only lasted a two weeks, but in that two weeks that he was gone, a ‘coup’ took place in the central offices of TJ Reynolds. When Perlman came back the President of TJ Reynolds was ready to retire and Perlman wasn’t in the running to succeed him anymore.

By this time his grandchildren were in college and his favorite grandson shared his disappointment with him. Carl had come along when Gramps was only 44 and was almost a son to him. The two had been inseparable since Carl’s birth. Carl had almost died at birth and the elder Perlman had right from the start taken the role of protector and future mentor for the young child. The day they found out that Perlman was no longer in the running for the Presidency, Carl had shown much more anger and frustration than his grandfather.

But then a tragedy had struck the TJ Reynolds company, the man who was to become President of TJ Reynolds died while on a business trip. While Perlman hadn’t been the closest of friends with his competitor he was still saddened by the death of this very great business man and partner.

Perlman took the helm of TJ Reynolds that year and led the company to enormous success utilizing the potential of offshore manufacturing in places like Taiwan and later Korea and Mexico. In the latter years Perlman had become renown in the business community for the way he ran his company and now was inexorably linked as the brains behind the current and ongoing success of TJ Reynolds. Their stock had risen in popularity just as their name had risen in popularity and both were now synonymous with stability and good dividends.

Even while Carl’s father was still alive, the Wassau’s had spent much of their time in Gramps’ very large home overlooking the city of San Jose. It seemed that if the Wassau’s weren’t over at the Perlman mansion, then Gramps was over visiting the Wassaus. After Mr. Wassau had died last year, Mrs. Wassau and Cindy had moved back into the big house. Gramps liked it this way, at least the big house was being used. It was a happier house this way, he’d said.

Carl’s two closest friends stood there by the great window in the study and reminisced as they watched the sun set over San Jose. They had both lost someone infinitely valuable who could never be replaced?

By the time Mrs. Wassau came down the stairs, the light through the great window had died down to a majestic red glow. For some reason it made Varella think about death, and going out in a blaze of glory. Is that what Carl had done? Josh sure seemed to think Carl had gone out in a blaze of Glory. “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.” Had he? Where was Carl now? Starting to rot in an expensive casket or with God, if there was a God. Where was Carl’s soul now?. After he’d stopped going to church Varella hadn’t really thought about death. But now he found himself hoping that there was a heaven. Wanting the reassurance that Carl hadn’t disappeared in the black forever. Hoping that one day he would see Carl somewhere “over there.” “Every night I lay awake and pray in the hope that there’s a heaven. Show me the way” …… wasn’t that a song by Styx?

Carl’s mom had been crying, her makeup managed to hide the tears but her eyes were red. She put on a brave smile as she came across the den to Varella but when he hugged her the tears came back as the memories of these two young friends reminded her of her great loss. She collected herself after a few minutes and apologized, dabbing her eyes with an already soaked handkerchief and smiling embarrassedly, he touched her hand wordlessly saying “I understand completely.” They walked arm in arm into the dining room.

Dinner was a very quite and almost cold affair. Varella tried to smile as much as he could but there was a terrible emptiness in the air. The only person to eat much at all was Uncle Whatshisname, everybody else had lost their appetite, including Aunt Sharon. Varella wanted desperately to leave this place of gloom, but he knew that they needed him here, not to say anything, but just to be there. His presence was needed, and oh how desperately.

After dinner they ‘repaired’ to the den for coffee as Stapleton put it. During the conversation Varella found out that Gramps had already started all the legal inheritance paper work going, while Sandy would get most everything, Carl’s well defined will had ensured Cynthia and his mother continued comfort of living. It was unnecessary from a financial point of view, Gramps would no doubt have taken care of them in any event. But it was necessary from an emotional and family point of view. Even in death Carl had taken care of his family.

After coffee, Gramps suggested a stiff Brandy for everyone, Varella walked over to help him fix it. “I’m not too confident that the guy we caught is going to know much. I don’t think it is going to answer any questions” he said. Deep down inside Varella fervently hoped that he was wrong. But he had to be a pragmatist. “We need to know exactly what Carl had been getting from Egypt.” He told Gramps “He’d had a few shipments of antiques recently and I’m wondering what was in them. Besides, everything that had anything to do with antiques is missing. And I want to know why? Why did they steal antiques and not cash or any valuables?”

Gramps looked at him with concern, “Dare’, don’t you think that it would be better to hire a private detective? In fact I’ve already asked our attorneys to hire one just to do some general housekeeping and looking around. Why don’t you at least wait until the guy they caught speaks, he may have some answers, you never know.”

Varella understood Gramps’ concern, the old man had heard about the attempt on his life and the arrest of the now comatose man, and was very concerned that Varella would eventually end up a victim of whomever had killed Carl.

Varella smiled, don’t worry Gramps I promise I won’t get myself killed, I’ll be very careful. I’m just going to look around and talk to a few people.

“Be careful Dare’” Gramps looked very concerned for him.

They spent the rest of the evening talking about the past and the future, through it all Varella’s already high esteem for Gramps grew even higher as he realized how this old and wise man was keeping what was left of this family together.

Later that evening as he was leaving Cynthia walked him to the door. “Gram hasn’t been the same.” She said, “Everybody seems to have changed. Promise me one thing Dare.’” He turned to look at her, “promise me that you’ll still visit, that we’ll still see you often?” He hugged her tight and kissed her on the cheek.

“I’ll be right here.” he said.

* * *

Vernon Arthur Fisher was born in Birmingham, Alabama, he’d hated school and had instead spent most of his time avoiding it. His early childhood was spent mostly in deep trouble at school and when he came home it was no better. If he was lucky his mother would be in a drunken stupor and in no shape to chase the scrawny little boy. If she wasn’t overly drunk it usually meant that she had spent most of her welfare check on booze already but had managed to illegally swap a few food stamps for liquor. Which meant she was still drunk enough to yell and scream and make his life miserable. And God forbid if she should catch the little boy. He didn’t know who his father was and had vowed to himself that if he ever found out who the man was, he’d personally rip the man’s throat out. By the time Vernon Arthur Fisher alias Vaf, had reached the age of 16, he’d had 2 arrests and was on his way to becoming a full fledged criminal. At the age of 23 he decided to leave Alabama since he hated it anyway. The state of Alabama however, didn’t want him to leave, they wanted him to stay in their state and they even offered to pay all the expenses. It wasn’t too strange a offer since they wanted him for 3 different crimes as well as suspicion of murder.

Vaf wanted to go to Miami. But Miami was far too close to Birmingham, so he chose San Francisco for the time being instead. He promised himself that in a few years when things had cooled down a bit he’d go visit Disney World and settle in Miami and steal things from the rich old people who retired there. But in San Francisco, while working his way up from small time jobs, he was caught and put into one of their penitentiaries for a couple of years. In retrospect getting caught and thrown in the pen was probably his best career move ever. By the time he was out of the pen he’d made quite a few very valuable contacts. He also managed to make quite a name for himself and was becoming well known for his ruthlessness. As a little man with a huge chip on his shoulder carried from his childhood, he had a lot of viciousness built up and a lot of things he wanted to prove. The scar that he received while in prison ran from the bottom of his right eye down to his mouth and was from a fight that he’d won. He got 12 stiches and 2 weeks in solitary confinement for that, after all it was self defense. His opponent who was at least 80 pounds heavier and 4 inches taller got a 4 broken ribs and a limp for life.

Vaf graduated from the pen with ‘job’ offers from all around. Nothing permanent you understand but certainly enough to keep a man occupied and well supplied. Then he’d gotten this assignment.

Vaf lay in his hospital bed looking up at the white ceiling and as he glanced around, his small beady eyes noticed the I.V. drip tube. His eyebrows arched as he furrowed his forehead wondering how he was going to get out of this one. He’d noticed that the windows had bars on it and he’d seen enough movies to know that there was probably a guard at the door of his ‘private room.’ He’d have to come up with a plan to get out of here. But he felt really tired, he might as well relax and gain his strength back first. After all he had stopped a bullet in his chest. It was a work related injury as far as he was concerned. He’d better get workman’s comp for this one.

A few hours later he drifted out of sleep awakened by the sound of voices outside. The door opened and Vaf saw a policeman sitting on a chair just outside the door. Then two cops and a doctor walked in. They weren’t dressed like cops, but Vaf knew a cop when he saw one.

* * *

Brinks was taking a very personal interest in this case and had opted to visit the suspect in person. The one Mr. Vernon Arthur Fisher was not too interested in being cooperative. Because, unfortunately Mr. V. A. Fisher understood his rights. “You have the right to remain silent, anything you do or say will be used against you in a court of law, you have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford one, one will be assigned to you. Do you understand your rights?”

Vaf did, and he was retaining his right to shut up. Brinks wasn’t into this stuff, in the other city, the one he’d left behind many years ago, he would have picked this punk up and shaken his teeth out of him and the punk would have talked, you bet the punk would have talked. But here he was in San Jose, and this was out of his jurisdiction and there was a hospital doctor who had just made plain his dislike of cops to them, and Brinks was sick and tired of this whole mess. The San Jose cop next to Brinks explained very patiently to Mr. Fisher that Mr. Fisher was arrested for attempt of murder which was a very serious rap and if Mr. Fisher didn’t want to add a few more years to his record, he’d cough up the name of the person who’d hired him.

Mr. Fisher wasn’t into all this. He wanted to blow this joint and go to Miami. He wanted to visit Disney World.

The doctor was a one Dr. Massimo Carlucci, at least that’s what his license that had been scrutinized numerous times by some very rude traffic cops said, he went by ‘Mark’. ‘Mark’ was of the opinion that all cops had an attitude problem. He’d decided that guys who’d been beaten up and bullied as kids, joined the force when they grew up, just so they could act tough and get back at the society that had bullied them. And as a result they picked on fine upstanding citizens like him who happened to accidentally make a tiny little error while driving. No, Dr. Carlucci was not too fond of cops. And now he was quite enjoying the fact that these dirt bag cops had to listen to him for a change. He’d made it quite clear that he didn’t care two hoots whose prisoner this man was, as long as he was in the hospital Mr. Vernon Arthur Fisher was Dr. Mark Carlucci’s patient and don’t you ever forget that, because I’ll be watching you. Thus under the critical and watchful eye of Dr. Carlucci, Brinks was unable to accomplish anything and it all added to his frustration with the whole case. This was a moment that the ‘good’ Doctor would re-live with his drinking buddies for a while.

After they left, Vaf lay in bed and watched TV. This was nice. He figured he had a few days, at least, to plan his leisurely escape.

By the next 2 days, Vaf had it all figured out. It would seem that three times a day, an orderly came in and fed him. Twice a day another orderley came in and helped him with a wash and any bodily functions. Vaf would have prefered a female orderly but just his luck he’d only gotten a male so far. Furthermore a nurse looked in twice during the day, to ask him how he was doing, to refresh his drip and to check up on him, and at around midnight, the night nurse would peek in. Vaf had noticed that the cop outside the door had switched 3 times during the day.

Vaf had also noticed that each time a nurse or orderly had come in or left, the cop had barely glanced at the orderly. So the plan was quite simple. Off all the regular male nurses, the night nurse was about the same size as Vaf. At around midnight when the the night nurse came in, Vaf who uptil now had played as though he was too weak to stand, would be waiting for the night nurse, behind the door. No, but that was a bad idea. The nurse might make a sound when hit with the bed pan. Vaf was sure the bed pan would go “boing”. A “boing” would be enough to bring the cop in. And the cop had a gun. All he had was a bed pan that went boing. Vaf hated other people having guns. Specially since they’d taken away his Smith & Wesson .38 special. The other option was to actually pretend to have trouble getting up, and ask the night nurse for help. Once the nurse was within reach and helping him up, he could then take his own time in disabling the man. Vaf looked around the room. The phone had been removed, but a phone jack was screwed into the wall. As luck would have it, the wire to the phone jack ran along the baseboard for a little ways before disappearing into the plaster. Vaf unhooked his I.V. drip, got out of bed and examined the cord. It would do just fine. Back in bed he rehooked the I.V. drip and rehearsed the steps he would have to take. The bandages around his chest would slow him down, but if he had his arms around the night nurse and he had the phone wire in one hand he could easily have the cord around the man’s neck and his chest over his mouth before the man even knew what was happening. He was content that the plan would work, he lay back fantasizing about the Miami beaches and went to sleep thinking about bikini clad women on reruns of Miami Vice.

The two cops returned that day, but Vaf was in no mood to talk. He played sick though he knew that they would soon wise up to his game and make him talk. He would leave for Disney World tonight he was tired of this popsicle joint.

Vaf could hardly contain his excitement as the evening wore on. He watched TV for a while, noticed that Alice in Wonderland was on, but thought it looked like a fantasy written by someone on mushrooms and flipped instead to the news.

By ten o’clock that night he decided to get ready. The first thing was to rip the phone cord out of the wall and tie one end of it to his left wrist. At the other end of the cord he made a loop, so he could grab it easily. Then he looped up the wire and hid it in his left fist. The second thing was to unhook the drip. He didn’t want to get jabbed by it. This time he did so by pulling out the needle from his arm. He then taped the needle down so it looked like it was still in him, but the minute he tugged on it, the tape would peel off, freeing him.

Now he was ready, he waited in anticipation for midnight. As he waited he started making plans for Miami. The fastest way to get there was to buy an airline ticket. He’d have to mug someone and get a credit card or borrow money from a friend. He wasn’t sure which would be easier. Maybe the night nurse would have a wallet and in it a credit card. But that’d be too obvious, they’d pick him up immediately. Did nurses keep their wallets in their nurse outfits? He wondered.

At 11:30 pm the door opened and the night nurse came in. Vaf was taken by surprise, this wasn’t supposed to happen till after midnight. The man who entered the room wasn’t the regular night nurse either. He was bigger and he had a beard. Vaf felt his stomach drop. Damn, if this guy was a substitute and the regular night nurse didn’t show up, he’d be stuck here another day if not more. Unless he risked trying to sneak by the guard despite the fact that this guy was much bigger. The beard could cause problems too. How could the cop not notice that the nurse that went in had a beard, but the nurse that came out didn’t. He wasn’t sure what to do, he feigned sleep. The night nurse came right over to him on the side that the drip was, looked at the clipboard in his hand and whispered. “Mr. er” the nurse squinted at the clipboard “…Fisher. The Doctor said you may be developing some bacterial infection and has instructed us to give you a dose of antibiotics in your intravenous solution.”

Vaf cursed, the bottle of drip was between him and the man. He’d planned that the nurse would come from the other side. The clear side. He’d have to wait.

“Oh whoops” said the night nurse “looks like your I.V. slipped out. Here, we go.” The nurse painfully jabbed the I.V. needle back into Vaf’s arm and then started to inject the antibiotics directly into the tube, bypassing the bottle. Vaf realized that the nurse couldn’t be new because he’d seen the nurse before.

When the nurse was done Vaf decided that it was now or never. He tried to get up, but fell back pretending to be weakened. “Help me sit up” he said in apparent pain. The night nurse came around to the other side, the side that didn’t have the drip. He just stood there watching Vaf for a moment. Vaf repeated himself, but for some reason the nurse continued to ignore him. Vaf tried to get up again. But this time he did feel numb. In fact he couldn’t feel his legs. Vaf started to panic. It felt as if someone had just dumped something very very heavy onto his lower body. Then he started to lose the feeling in his arms. Just prior to the brain damage caused by the stopping of his heart and the lack of oxygen to his brain he had a last thought. He remembered why he recognized the nurse and realized that the beard wouldn’t have been a problem after all. The tall blonde nurse wasn’t a nurse and he didn’t have a beard. Ergo the beard was fake, a small tug and Vaf could have used it. With that Vaf reluctantly went to meet his Maker.

Tuesday morning brought no resolution to his hopes. The assailant was reasonably coherent but had no intention of assisting the police. Neither Varella nor Brinks were in the best of moods that day. The more Varela thought about the man who had tried to kill him, the more he was convinced that the man was just a hireling. I mean wasn’t it that way in all the movies. The man probably knew nothing. It’s the Tall Man that we need to catch. He’ll have some answers. The thought of the Tall Man sent chills down Varella’s spine. If the Tall Man had figured out where Sandy was staying…..

* * *

They were sitting together in the downtown coffee shop. It was called the Phoenix and was full of college students. Some were studying some were reading and a whole lot of them were just sitting and talking. They had chosen one of the big tables upstairs. Varella liked this place, it was closer than his other favorite coffee shop, which was ‘Mr. Toots’ down in Capitola and it served just as good coffee. He’d taken some time to find out what Josh did for a living. Apparently the man was in charge of technical support of printers and systems and other things that Hewlett Packard made. Josh spent most of his time in his car driving back and forth to customer sites and could be contacted anytime on the car phone or by pager or by voice mail. Apparently if anyone left him a message on his voice mail, it would immediately page Josh. It was a very convenient set up, thought Varella, one could pretty much set up one’s own schedule and was free in between calls.

Josh and Varella had been here an hour now, going over and over the books that Carl had checked out of the library. There just wasn’t anything here that would warrant a murder.

“OK, so far this is what we have.” Varella started to write it down as he spoke. “One, about 5 books that prove the existence of a man named Jesus.”

“That indisputably prove his existence.” added Josh.

“OK, about 4 books that indisputably prove the existence of a man named Jesus…, one that is questionable….”

“Jesus who was crucified by Pontius Pilate, under the reign of Tiberius and later people claiming the he rose from the dead started to change the world” responded Josh.

“Ok, that’s given.

Two: A missing Quran/Muslim holy book.

Three: Some information on ankhs.

Four: A cut across the chest, the stomach and the throat.” Varella did not like thinking about this.

“Five: A house with everything about Egypt missing or broken in two.”

“Six: A man who tried to kill you, who just came out of a coma.” said Josh.

“Yeah, Six: An attempted murderer who refuses to talk and probably knows nothing.

Seven: A list of things that Carl said before he died, whatever they may mean.” Varella had written this down earlier so he wouldn’t forget it. He now copied it on to his new list.

“Not, ankh, free my son, my son, gramkey el sheeba, farther in to hands”

Josh indicated that he wanted the list. Varella handed it to him and took a sip of his third Caffe’ Latte. There was a momentary lull, Varella stared off into space. Josh started mouthing the last phrase. He tried it a couple of times, saying it softly and tentatively “Father in to hands, Father into your hands” suddenly a light bulb lit up, Josh sat bolt upright. “Father, into Your hands”, then he smiled “He was a Christian when he died”

“Huh?”

“This last thing that he said ‘Father into your hands….’” Josh looked up at Varella, his eyes bright. “That’s what Jesus said just before He died on the cross. He said ‘It is finished,….. Father into your hands I commend my spirit’ and then he died.”

It seemed suddenly quiet in the coffee shop. Varella shook his head. This was so unreal.

“Listen do you really believe all this stuff? I mean I understand how people can get fanatical and emotional about things. But from what I’ve seen of you these past few days, you seem like a very level headed guy. What makes you so sure that there is a God? What makes it seem so real to you?”

Josh smiled, the real question here was not “Why is Josh Nunsson a Christian,” the real question here was “Why the heck did Carl Wassau, my best friend, who is very sane, become a Christian?” And in a sense he’d been waiting for this. “I totally understand where you are coming from because I know of a lot of great Christian Theologians, like CS Lewis who also approached it with a total skeptics attitude. And while I did become a Christian in Junior High, when I grew older I did a lot of re-evaluating. I’d decided that if I was going to continue to believe in some sort of religion it would have to be because there was something provable about it. I’d seen the other religions. Including Christianity. Most of them were just blind rituals. Most of them were just traditions. They did these rituals because somebody somewhere decided that they should do it. Nobody knew the real reasons. I decided if there was a God and he really cared, he would show us a reasonable way to prove that he was really there. And tradition and rituals would have nothing to do with it, because after all, just because you’ve been doing it for a few thousand years doesn’t make it right. They’ve had slavery for thousands of years, that doesn’t make slavery right? Does it. I wanted a God who was real and genuine and based on logic and not on feelings.”

Varella agreed whole heartedly.

“Because if feelings were all I had to go on, how did I know that it wasn’t something I ate. Besides how often have you felt very strongly about something and then later found out that you were dead wrong? Further more, the KKK and the Nazi’s sure felt that they were doing the right thing. And I bet they felt very very strongly about it. Did their feeling that way make what they were doing right? NO, it had nothing to do with that. Just because it feels good, it doesn’t mean it is good. Just because it feels right, it doesn’t mean it is right.

“But nobody seemed to be able to offer me any proof that there was a God. Then for a while I thought that maybe all religions could be right, they were all ways to God. But the more I studied about the different religions the more I realized that a lot of them contradicted each other and a lot of them contradicted themselves. And some of them are intolerant of each other. So it would be ridiculous to say that they were all ways to God. I figured only one of them could be right. Christianity claims that not only is it the only correct religion but that all other religions lead to hell. Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me. If you believe in me you shall have eternal life. If you don’t believe in me you are already condemned.’ So either Christianity was all right or it was half right and half wrong. Which would have made it all wrong as far as I was concerned. There was also one other major difference. You see in almost every other major religion it was not important if the founder of the religion existed or not. It was his teachings that counted. For instance, it doesn’t matter if Buddha really ever existed, to the Buddist it’s the teachings of Lord Sidhartta Gautama aka Buddha that matters. It is not important if Krishna ever existed, the legends of his time and his theology is what is important to a Hindu.

“But in Christianity, if Jesus Christ did not exist, there is no Christianity. You see Christianity is based not on the teachings of Jesus, but on the person of Jesus. In Christianity if Jesus did not live, die and rise again physically, Christians of all people are fools.

“But that’s just your opinion” interjected Varella.

“Actually,” smiled Josh, “it isn’t. That’s right out of the Bible, it’s in first Corinthians Chapter 15 verse 12 onwards.”

That surprized Varella. He hadn’t known that was there, plus growing up in the Catholic Church, as far as he knew everything was based on tradition. He recovered “Well, so how do I know the Bible is correct?”

Josh smiled again, he wasn’t going to get sidetracked. “I promise I’ll deal with that later. The point I am trying to make is that Christianity is not based on ideas, it is based on facts. Douglas Groothius who works with a group called Christian Research Institute says and since I’m quoting this from memory it may not be word for word, but he says in effect: ‘Christianity has always been a historical religion and any serious challenge to it’s legitimacy must attend to that fact. Its central claims are rooted in events, not ideas; in people, not principles; in revelation, not speculation; in incarnation, not abstraction, in facts and not concepts.’ You see Christianity is based not only on the teachings of Jesus, but on the blood of Jesus, if there was no blood, there is no redemption of sin, if there is no redemption of sin,” Josh hit the table with a loud thump, “there is NO Christianity.”

He was really getting warmed up to this, thought Varella, starting to understand something very basic about Josh. Not only did this big football player not feel that you could define your own religion, but he was sure that his religion was logical and provable and based on reality and history. This was the first time someone had even suggested to Varella that religion should be based on reality. Varella agreed with that fact, but he’d never heard anyone say it before. Further more he’d never have even imagined that Christianity of all religions would be based on reality. In his experience it seemed to based on emotions and feelings and rituals. This was definitely charting new ground for him. Maybe this Josh guy was creating his own religion. A logical historical religion. But the guy kept quoting right out of the Bible. Maybe he was interpreting it wrong.

Josh continued with passion. “So then I came to the claims of Jesus. CS Lewis said that Jesus had to be one of three things, he was a either lunatic, or he was a liar, or he was what he claimed to be, the Lord God. At first I thought that that was stupid, because in talking to various people I could see that as far as they were concerned, Jesus was a very good man, or maybe even a prophet, nobody thought he was a lunatic or a liar.”

Until that day in the library Varella hadn’t really put much thought into whether Jesus existed on not. He had been more inclined to think the man was just a legend. He remembered reading some of Joseph Campbell’s views on the matter. That acclaimed author had claimed that Jesus was just a metaphor. In fact even the well known philosopher Bertrand Russell had claimed that there was no proof that Jesus ever existed. That goes to show that you shouldn’t blindly believe everything you read. Now he felt he had sufficient proof that Jesus did exist and he had photocopies of historical works to prove it, so much for Campbell and Russell and their opinions. In fact now that he thought about it, Varella was wondering if he could trust any of their conclusions. These so called “men of learning” had been so intent on pushing their own biases that they hadn’t given a hoot it seemed, about reality or authenticity or accuracy. It was like propaganda. Say what you want to achieve your own ends. While he didn’t think Jesus Chirst was anyone overly special, his historicity seemed indisputable and something even a 10 year old could prove. Had these ‘great’ men of philosophy failed in elementary history? It seemed that way.

Maybe it was the vestiges of his Catholic upbringing. But as a result of the historical evidence he had to amend his opinion. And the only conclusion then was that Jesus had existed and thus he must have been just a great and wise moral teacher. In this Varella found himself agreeing with what Josh had found.

Josh was still speaking “But there’s a fundamental problem with saying that Jesus was just a wise man. You see as CS Lewis says in effect, ‘let’s get one thing clear. Jesus Christ claimed that he was God and there is no doubt about that.'”

Varella wasn’t sure about that though “How do you know that that wasn’t added later? Besides his disciples could have misunderstood him.”

“Well, remember that conversation in the library?”

Varella looked blank.

Josh explained “When you asked me if Jesus ever claimed that He was God?”

It was coming back to him. He nodded.

Josh continued “Well besides Jesus claiming to be the I AM, the old testament prophecy claims that he is God, the book of Isaiah chapter 9 verse 6 says: Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, MIGHTY GOD, EVERLASTING FATHER, Prince of Peace.”

Varella dimly remembered that verse from various Christmas plays in his youth. This football player seemed to know his Bible by heart.

“Jesus also forgave sins, only God can forgive sins.”

“No, my priest used to forgive my sins when I was a young boy.” interjected Varella remembering the smell of a small wooden dusty curtained room.

Josh shrugged “Not really, he was acting as the mediator between you and God…, and actually that’s a whole different can of worms that we’ll talk about later. But Jesus also said ‘I and the Father are one, if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.’ The man claimed that He was God, and he claimed that he would die, and in three days rise from the dead.

“I’ll prove to you later why we can be sure that it wasn’t added later. But knowing all that, let us study the alternatives. Let’s first make the assumption that he wasn’t what he said he was. That is, he wasn’t God.”

Varella was following, but he wasn’t sure where this was leading.

Josh wrote down the word ‘Lunatic’ on a blank piece of paper. “If he wasn’t God then maybe Jesus was just a bit off his rocker, because he was claiming all this stuff! Maybe he had illusions of grandeur and just thought that he was God. You know like Charles Manson, who interestingly enough thinks he’s Jesus Christ.”

O.K. that was a possibility, though Varella didn’t quite buy it.

“Well he couldn’t have been just a bit off his rocker, he had to be totally insane! You see as I explained in the library, claiming that you are God in a fiercely monotheistic culture like the one the Jews had in 30 AD, would be equivalent to commiting suicide. It would seem that the man had a death wish. Not exactly what you’d expect from a good and wise teacher is it?” Josh was getting into it again.

“But the more I studied the man’s life the more convinced I was that he wasn’t mad. His sayings and teachings are sane and wise, he seemed to portray a total knowledge and understanding of human nature, he seemed to know exactly what people of all walks of life needed. I couldn’t detect any madness in the way he acted or in what he said and did. There was only one thing that seemed to indicate he was mad. He really and truly and genuinely believed that he was God. Maybe he was only mad on this one point and totally sane elsewhere. But it seems very unlikely. Interestingly, this is the man that has singularly affected the entire world for good more than any other man living or dead! Everybody says this man was a wise teacher, or a prophet, or as the twisted New Agers would put it ‘an enlightened master’.”

Twisted New Agers, that was the second time he’d heard that name.

Josh was still going strong. “So that brings us to 2. If he wasn’t God as he claimed to be, then maybe he was a liar.” He wrote ‘Liar’ under the word ‘Lunatic.’

“Well if he was a liar, then he was also a filthy hypocrite because he told others that whatever the cost they were never to lie. He was also a fool because when asked repeatedly by Pilate and the High Priest to recant his claim of being God, he, fully knowing that the penalty was death still claimed to be God. If he was a liar then he must have been lying because he was a con man, but what a useless con man he was, he died penniless & powerless. Most con men play their con games for money or power or for an easy life. Jesus had none. He didn’t get rich like Rajneesh in Oregon or Rev. Moon of the Moonies nor did he amass an army around him like Rev. Jim Jones or Hitler or even Saddam Hussein. He didn’t gain anything for himself and he didn’t try! I couldn’t figure out what sort of con man was that?

“Josh McDowell in his book, The Resurrection Factor says ‘And so I ask you how in the name of logic, common sense and…. experience could an impostor- that is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man – have invented, and consistently maintained from the beginning to end of his life, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality?’

“The man who even today changes lives of the most hardened criminals into the most kindest of people. No, there was no way that he was a liar of a con man, unless deep down inside he was really convinced that he was God” Josh stabbed at the word ‘Lunatic’ with his pen “which would mean that he was slightly mad – but I’d already eliminated that option!! And even when I went back to it, it didn’t jive. I was stuck.

Josh paused and then continued softly. “I had to decide if he was a Lunatic or a Liar or maybe he really was what he claimed to be. Maybe he really was God.

“And that is a decision I had to make! I couldn’t just ignore it any more, I couldn’t pretend that he was a great moral teacher or a good and wise man! It just didn’t work.

“I have a close friend who says ‘Christianity ain’t no blind faith! It’s a solid faith built on a solid foundation.’ And he’s right. Christianity ain’t, I mean isn’t a blind faith. It’s based on facts and history and logic. Not on traditions, not on concepts, but on reality.”

Varella thought about that for a while. “What about if he was a very good man at the start but over time the power went to his head and he started getting twisted and started claiming he was God?”

“Ah” said Josh “but that’s not possible if we study his life in detail, as far as anyone can tell, he maintained consistently the same teachings and the same saneness and kindness throughout.”

“And that was what convinced you to remain religious?” asked Varella.

“Oh no, that wasn’t enough, besides that’s really all philosophical. I wanted something real, something solid. Something provable.”

“And did you find it?” there was a pause. “Obviously” said Varella rolling his eyes, answering his own question.

Josh smiled. “Yes, I did. You see there was something that happened two thousand years ago that changed the entire course of history. Something so unusual that mankind has never been the same since. In fact it was so impossible that mankind is still trying to figure out how it happened.”

“And what was that?”

“It was an empty grave… but I have to tell you about that later, because I promised I’d meet someone over at my house in a half hour. Actually, I have a book, or a couple of books that you might be interested in. One directly discusses what I’ve been talking about. Would you like to swing by?”

Varella hesitated, he was starting to trust Josh a bit more, but he wasn’t sure. The Luger was in the car under the seat. He could put his jacket on and stick the gun in his belt before he went into Josh’s house. “Ok, but it’ll only be for a minute.”

“Great, follow me over.”

They gathered their stuff up and headed out. The big man’s limp didn’t seem as noticeable today. When Varella reached his car, he put his coat on before he got into the vehicle.

Josh lived in Willow Glen, one of the many suburbs of San Jose and the ride took only about 15 minutes. Before he got out of the car Varella pulled out the Luger from under the seat removed it from it’s holster and stuck it in his belt, right above his rear pocket. His jacket would cover it well and since he didn’t plan to sit down, he figured that he’d be OK.

The house was a nice cheerful looking place and as far as Varella could see it was impeccably furnished and had all the trimmings. The words that came to mind was “comfortable” and “class.” It was the kind of house that portrayed a very country and trim sort of classiness, and it smelled very nice. It was a “woman’s” smell.

Josh noticed him admiring the place. “When I got married I figured that I should let my wife do all the decorating and keep my opinions to myself. Looking at it now, I am very glad I did. I have friends who got married and insisted on hanging on to their favorite bookshelf or couch or whatever and as a result ended up with some very tacky setups.”

Varella smiled. And I was worried that he was going to try and kill me.

Varella followed him into what looked like a den. The first thing that struck him was the number of books in the room. Oak shelves lined every inch of the perimeter and rose up to within a foot of the ceiling, yet the books in them were overflowing. There were books stuck on top of books. Some were novels, many were reference books. There were a couple of sets that looked like encyclopedias but said “Commentary” on the spine. Either the man was an avid reader or he just tried to impress people with his library. Josh went to one wall and picked out two books and handed them to Varella. Varella looked at them, they were both by the same author. One of them was the one that Josh had mentioned twice, once in the Library and once at the coffee shop. The other was new to Varella. The author of both the books was Josh McDowell, one of the books was blue and was called Evidence that Demands a Verdict, it had a gavel striking a table on the cover, the other book was a reddish orange and was called The Resurrection Factor.

Varella thanked him, left the sweet smelling house and got back in the Mustang. He wondered if he’d ever get around to reading these books. They sounded interesting but he wondered if they really were. He’d seen other religious books before and they’d been so trite and unrealistic or they’d been so esoteric or mindlessly repetitive that he’d quickly bored of them. Most books went on and on about vague uncertainties or strange feeling and aura oriented claptrap that you could tell that the lunatic who’d written the book was off on some weird trip, or was just out to make a fast buck. He didn’t doubt that these two books would fall under the same category.

All day Sunday there was no news about his assailant. Varella spent most of it in severe pain. His chest hurt like the dickens and no amount of tablets seemed to help. Every little move was traumatic. The first thing Varella did on Monday morning was call Brinks for a status report on the man. Brinks was quite reluctant to say anything but that the man hadn’t come around yet. Brinks would call Varella as soon as they found out anything useful.

Varella sat there by the phone after he hung up with Brinks. Despite the fact that he’d just woken up, he still felt tired and unrested, his body still ached. Now he also felt frustrated. If this fool of a man died before recovering they’d be back to square one. In fact they may be back to square one anyway. What if this bozo assassin was only a paid hand and had no idea who had hired him? What if this was like those movies where the man only got a picture of the victim, an address and money in a “Sanction” envelope. Then the man they’d caught last night would be worthless. And his flirt with death had been a waste of time. He decided that he was going to go try out his new gun.

After he’d popped a few more Advils that is.

* * *

The first bullet went wide and missed the paper silhouette completely. The second one was a bit better but still on the edge. Varella looked around him embarrassedly. Fortunately it didn’t seem like anyone was watching him. He removed the clip and looked at the Luger. There were a couple of little screws on the sights, he studied the contraption for a few minutes before he figured out what adjusted what. Then he tweaked on them a bit with a screwdriver that the gun dealer had provided. He replaced the clip and fired again. That was better. But it was still pretty awful.

A couple of hours and an entire box and a half later, he was getting pretty good. At least now he could hit the overall head of the paper silhouette. But he still needed to work on it.

His arm and shoulder were tired, which added to the dull ache in his chest and he decided to call it quits and head over to the office. He wanted to go through Carl’s desk and personal effects, the discussion with Gramps at the funeral had reminded him of it. He realized that Gramps had offered to do it but, he figured he’d know more about what was in that office than anyone else. And if the man who’d taken two shots at him last night wasn’t going to talk, at least he’d have a head start on solving this mystery. He certainly didn’t want to hang around and wait, he needed to do something and this was as good as anything.

The office was as usual a hubbub, Valerie, one of the secretaries said “hi” and looked very happy to see him. They talked briefly and as he left she gave him a hug. He was glad that he’d left the Luger in the car. Everybody knew how close he and Carl had been and he’d probably get a few more hugs while he was here. He walked around the corner to Carl’s office. Carl’s door was locked and had been that way since his death. Varella assumed that Brinks’ men had already been through the place though. Fortunately he had a key. The office was dark and held an air of coldness about it. Varella switched on the light and drew the shades open. That felt better. He shut the door. He wanted a bit of privacy.

The old mahogany desk sat in the center of the room and behind it was Carl’s high backed roller chair. Varella sat in it for a few minutes remembering his friend. This is where Carl used to sit but Carl was dead and there was that hole in his stomach again. There was that empty longing feeling again. When would it go away? He repressed the memory of Carl lying in that coffin, resembling the Carl he knew but not looking like his Carl, and looked around at the room. The walls were lined with shelves filled with books of every sort. Editors always had books all over the place. There were two large filing cabinets over in the corner. To the right of the desk was a computer desk with a powerful high speed PC clone on it, underneath was a laser printer. Varella had always preferred Apple Macintoshes but Carl was an old IBM buff. Varella could never figure out why. They’d have huge arguments about it. And end up calling each other “gunkies.” That was their swear word for each other. If you didn’t agree with someone, or were just acting stupid then you were a “Gunkie.” It didn’t really mean anything and neither of them could remember where it came from, but they’d been calling each other “gunkies” since college.

Varella pulled open the top drawer. Nothing unusual, pens, paper clips the lot. He moved to the next drawer, nothing out of place. Everything that should have been there was there. This was ridiculous. He didn’t have the foggiest idea what he was looking for. And even if he ran into it. How would he know what it was?

The desk yielded nothing. Varella turned to the two massive filing cabinets in the corner. A few hours later he was just a clueless as he was when he started, but now he was three times as frustrated. Nothing. All editorial stuff or notes, or publications, various folders marked “International News”, “Local Correspondence”, “Personal Finances”, “Car bills” etc. But nothing that meant anything. This was an office of a man who was high on life and planning on living a normal life for a very normal length of time, if not longer. This was not the office of a man who’d been targeted for death by a cult. Nor was it the office of a man who was in a cult.

He’d looked for things under Egypt, he’d found some info on Egypt but nothing that really was unusual. He’d found a lot of correspondence to and from Abdel Aziz in Cairo, but nothing out of the ordinary. Most of them were letters that were a bit chatty and then basically discussed a shipment of antiques that Carl had selected the last time he’d been in Cairo. Just in case, Varella had made copies of all the letters that referred to Egypt or Cairo. The copy room was out and down the corridor, but he’d known that nobody would have questioned his presence or what he was doing making copies of a dead man’s correspondence. After all, the dead man had been his best friend.

When he came back, he replaced the letters and sat down, depressed. If only he knew what Carl had been working on, or even whom he’d seen in the last few weeks. Of course, Carl’s day-timer… or his desk calender. He looked for the desk calendar. It should have been right on top of the desk, but it wasn’t there. Somebody’s taken it. Then he remembered, it was probably taken by Brinks or one of his men. But the day-timer, the little pocket calender that Carl always carried, where would that be? But moreover, if he remembered right, the day-timer allowed you to carry just the current and past or future month in a little wallet. The old months were stored in a box somewhere. Carl only carried the current and next month’s day-timers. Varella had seen the Daytimer box in this office before, but it certainly wasn’t here now. He could only assume that Brinks had gotten hold of that as well. What else would tell him what Carl had been doing before he died. Then he remembered something. There’d been a folder marked “Personal Finances”, Varella hadn’t thought about it then but perhaps Carl kept all his personal stuff here, because he spent most of his time hereat work anyway, it would be easier to just file stuff at work. Varella went back to the cabinet and found the Green Hanging folder with a red tab that said “Personal Finances”. In it were folders that he’d ignored the first time through, The folders were titled “cancelled checks”, “bank statements”, “visa statements”. Visa Statements! Let’s see what Carl had been buying the months before he died. Varella decided to start with the latest month and go backwards. The last month listed a large number of restaurants a few purchases of hardware and $3,156 to a Travel Agent. That could be a ticket to Egypt. The travel agency name was listed on the statement. “Wonderland Travel”. Varella decided to make a copy of this as well. He flipped to the next statement. Shoes, clothes, a jacket, he remembered that jacket, Carl had just bought it and had been very proud of it.

There wasn’t much else of interest in the folder and Varella decided to call it a day. He wondered if Sandy was home. The last thing he did was dial 411 and find out the phone number for Wonderland Travel. He would have to call them and check into this ticket.

When he got back to the motel very late that night there was a note from Brinks. His would be killer had awoken, but was refusing to talk.

Varella cursed bitterly and vowed to visit the man personally.

He sat there in the dark room, trying to sleep. His body ached all over, the 5 Ibuprofen tablets he’d taken made his stomach feel sick. But the morning would bring a resolution to his problem. They’d caught one of the men that were trying to kill him and all that remained was to make the creep talk. So why couldn’t he sleep. He thought about Sandy. What was she going through? Despite the late hour he thought he ought to call her. He got up and turned on the light. The phone was by the other end of the bed. He rolled over and grabbed the entire set. It didn’t budge. The stupid thing was mounted to the night stand. He cursed and swore that he was going to find a real motel tomorrow. It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford it, it was just that he’d felt safer checking into a nondescript motel. He knew her number by heart and dialled it. She would want to know that they’d caught someone. He hung on in anticipation, but by the third ring when her answering machine came on, he’d already remembered that she’d moved to her sister’s house. In case the Tall Man wanted her as well.

He hung up the phone slightly depressed. He’d felt that way many times before, many years ago, when he’d called her at the sorority. He rolled over in bed trying to get more comfortable and started to doze.

The second time round Varella was naturally very cautious. It took Sandy a long time to get him to start trusting her again. She probably didn’t mean to start anything, but she genuinely missed him. She missed his smile, his tenderness and his kisses. But in the end because of his passion for her, he wanted to believe that she’d “come to her senses, and realized what a great guy he was”. It started with just long talks and a few hugs here and there, he was always studying or working, but when she called he would go out of his way to rearrange work schedules or study groups so he could be free when she called. That’s when Mubarak started his prophetic utterances. But Varella stood unconvinced, they weren’t dating, and they weren’t in love, at least that’s what they told each other. They were just “friends”.

Carl joined the University during Varella’s sophomore year, they hit it off right away. They both had the same sense of humor and the same kind of quick wit. They would soon have a lot more in common.

As his the new roommate, Carl was very supportive of Sandy, she was a very nice girl. He thought she had a lot of potential. This support urged Varella on even more. Also the fact that Carl thought she was very beautiful made her even more desirable to him. But he wasn’t in love with her. At least that’s what he told himself. He was strong enough without her and he certainly didn’t need her. By this time Carl had met Sandy a number of times and they’d gotten along famously. At night before going to sleep in their dorm room, they’d sit and philosophize and talk. Carl had analyzed Sandy and explained how he thought Varella ought to be more serious about the girl because of all the qualities she had. Varella’s macho-ness would say “Yes, but I’m not in love with her.” And Carl would explain how he thought she was in love with Varella because of the way she acted and the way she was always calling him, and because of how happy she looked and acted when she saw him.

Years later Varella would realize that even idle conversations like those could cause the mind to create it’s own sense of reality. Yet at the time he unknowingly allowed his mind a little more freedom each time. For as far as he was concerned, they were still friends. But the seed had been planted again. And the seed that was planted grew on the conversations about her, and grew on the time spent thinking about her and grew each time he saw her. And while he denied the ties, his heart continued to create an emotional bond.

Friends don’t kiss and yet she enjoyed his kisses. After all he was her teacher, the one who’d taught her to kiss. At first he resisted, but it seemed so natural to kiss and hug and cuddle. And so it went, while his mind said, “we aren’t dating” his heart continued to soar. Sandy on the other hand didn’t feel that she was leading him astray. After all didn’t they have all those conversations about how they weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend? She felt that she wasn’t responsible for his feelings. He was old enough. Did she know what a heartless attitude this was? Probably not. But actions always speak louder than words. And the trap was sprung the second time.

It was fun for a while. Occasionally she’d be hard to get a hold of, even though he was always there for her. But he realized that what with the sorority stuff and homework, she was busy. When they did spend time together they always had long conversations, he would help her with her “problems in life,” usually because someone somewhere had said something mean to her. He would patiently explain that if you looked at it from the other person’s perspective it wasn’t really meant as a cut to her, it was just the circumstances or the other person’s mood at the time. They’d have other long talks about psychology and science; overall he was a fascinating conversationalist. They weren’t “dating” and they’d talk casually about that. As time passed she may have started to realize what she was doing to him. But again she was able to convince herself that he knew that they weren’t actually and officially “going-out”. They were just friends. And this allowed her to justify kissing him and letting him give her so much attention and tenderness. “I told him that we were just friends and so he knows exactly how I feel.” Besides it felt good to be with him.

But reality has to come. They’d been doing every thing together for a while when she realized what had happened. She was losing her freedom again and became uncomfortable. The second time she broke up with him he was devastated. Now it seemed curious to his friends that he would have dated her again after the first breakup. But that’s how silly love can be. This time his anger was intense but still hidden. She could not explain why she wasn’t interested anymore, and he was never able to understand it at the time. Later he was able to realize that part of what she wanted was the fun of cuddling and having him as a close friend, but not the commitment or the sacrifices. At least not the commitment to him.

And thus his anger grew. She would still call and talk to him. That year he started running seriously, he visited the gym for the first time in his life without being forced to. When ever the pain grew too much inside him, he would run. In the rain or in the cold, he ran. And while he ran, he sang songs of deep anger in his spirit. Songs of survival, but all along he knew that deep inside walls were being built, walls that he didn’t want, but had to erect to protect himself from the vulnerability. He would never need her again. Never again. He played her head games with her, being sensitive and caring with her at times and at other times being unaccessible. But he never let down his guard again. Never with her, rarely with others.

As he grew, he learned that everybody has had a heartache, it’s one of the commonalties in life. Everybody’s been hurt before, but at the time he thought it was only him. And so he excelled in all things feeding on the deep anger in him that was fanned anew every time he saw her and every time he felt himself weaken. This anger translated to a renewed vigor of excelling at everything. At work, at play and most of all at school. I will persist until I succeed.

The Engineering program at the State University could take 4 years if one takes 18-20 credits a term. Varella attempted to do so but soon realized that the strain of taking so many hours of school and 25 hours of work was not conducive to good grades in Engineering. As a result the program took him five years of intense work. Early in his Freshman year, he’d learned the value of study groups. His first experience was after he got a C in a very important pre-engineering course. He had a chat with an Indian graduate teaching assistant who spoke with a ridiculously thick British accent. Apparently the TA had grown up in Africa, in British schools. The TA had only one thing to say. “You should really think about joining one of those prep groups, you know…. what they call a study group over here.” Varella did and was amazed at how quickly he started understanding his engineering. Now he could argue and debate what he thought the teacher was saying, now he could say, “I’m lost” and ask for help, and there were friends who could help, not just sympathize. Now all of a sudden he was making friends who had the same interests as him. These contacts would prove invaluable to him after he graduated. Especially a certain ‘Simon Prentice’.

And still the anger grew in him. It was him against the world. One day he would be rich. One day he would be successful. One day…..

He fell into a fitful sleep and the nightmare began.

* * *

The creature was a huge lumbering animal. Varella could never tell what sort of animal it was. But it could speak and that’s what made the terror worse. The creature could not only speak but it could read his mind and everything he did to fight the creature was hopeless because it knew what he was going to do before he did it. They were standing on a long empty desolate plain. The creature always appeared as a speck on the horizon first. There was always someone who was very close to him, very important to him, playing or doing something in the forefront. All of a sudden the huge shadow would rise above the friend and Varella would try to scream a warning. But nothing would happen, he couldn’t make a sound. Just as the creature reached his friend he would find his voice and start to shout and at that point he’d always wake up.

* * *

Varella sat up in bed sweating.

Varella picked up the Porsche from the body shop that night. He’d already paid for it by phone and had had them lock the keys inside the car. He had used his spare. If you paid enough they fixed things quickly. He ran his hand over the smooth surface of the headlight ridge. The new paint job and bondo hiding the gaping bullet hole beneath, told no tales about the violence below it. It looked spotless from outside, but Varella knew that the integrity of the car had been violated. It looked spotless, but it was deformed and carried the vulgar wounds of death beneath it all. Varella immediately had a vision of Carl’s dead face. Yes, it looked spotless, but beneath the makeup, Varella knew that they’d patched holes and tears in Carl’s face and body. The cold and empty feeling surged back.

The brand new Pirelle tires hummed and their soft rubber gripped the road well. It felt good to be in a responsive car again. He gunned it enjoying the feel of sticking to the turns. Yes, it felt good to be back in his own car. It was amazing how you missed some things when they were gone. It would have been good to sleep in his own bed again. The 911 squealed to a halt in front of his apartment building. Varella hopped out and patted his coat down. He was feeling a little stocky in his outfit. He looked up and down the semi deserted street, there were only a few parked cars around, it would be a good night for a walk. It was around 11:30 pm. and a cool breeze was drifting through the city. Varella walked down the slight slope outside his apartment building and crossed the trolly tracks. As he walked he reaffirmed that the streets were pretty deserted except for a few of the homeless that occasionally stumbled past him. All the store windows were dimmed and locked. He passed a darkened alley and shuddered at the smell and dankness of it.

The night air grew suddenly cold and though he had on a thick jacket, Varella shivered, the cool breeze had suddenly turned into an evil chilling wind. It swirled the litter on the streets into little dusters. Varella thought about the Tall Man and realized that he was all alone right now. This was a dangerous place for Varella, dangerous and chillingly cold. The Tall Man would have an easy target here, with no witnesses. He suddenly started to panic. This was a very bad idea. He should go back. He turned around, but realized that it would be quicker for him to continue to the end of the block and turn left instead of going back the way he came. He started to walk faster.

He turned and looked at the cars parked along the side of the street and wondered as he shivered, which car held the Tall Man? Was it this old green Vega here, or how about that El Camino? Way back there there were more parked cars. Which one?

Varella almost felt it coming. Suddenly from somewhere a car roared and Varella’s heart sprang into his mouth. His breath started to quicken and he felt himself slow down. He was almost scared to turn and he felt like he was in molasses. Yet in reality his adrenalin spun him around so violently that he fell against the wall. The car was heading right at him, picking up speed. His face registered the horror that his heart had felt and the skin on his neck crawled. Then just as suddenly, it was past him and driving away leaving behind the vision of an innocent smiling old lady at the wheel of her white Rabbit.

The shock of it was still in his system and he was breathing very hard, his face still showing the panic and fear as he leaned against the wall. He stayed there for a few minutes, his face in his hands waiting for his breathing to come back to normal. Slowly his pulse returned to normal, but with it came intense anger and almost tears. “Damn them! Damn them!” Varella slapped the wall in helpless frustration, his body trembling, his mind screaming in agony at what they were doing to him.

Finally when the anger had passed, he turned and looked out into the night. There was a deep stillness and a calm. The trembling started to settle. Varella took a deep slow breath.

Then it happened. He heard the unearthly whine as a car came to life nearby and moved like a shark in the black of the sea. Varella spun around, this time his side started hurting intensely. Heading right at him was the green Vega, it was already halfway onto the sidewalk when he saw it. He flung himself back onto the road as the Vega ran over the spot he’d been on only a heartbeat ago.

Back out across the street between parked cars, said his mind, but there were no parked cars over here, the El Camino was too far back. The Vega had chosen it’s killing ground very carefully. Varella needed to double back. He sprinted to his right as the Vega crossed the street and bore down on him. He hesitated momentarily and looked back at the car, and in that instant stared directly at the driver of the vehicle. Varella had never seen him before, but that face would forever be etched into his memory. The man behind the wheel was smiling broadly. The face of a man who was enjoying the chase. The eyes were small, and the eyebrows met over the ridge of the nose, there was a big scar across the right cheek. The small beady eyes held him hypnotized, terrorized by fear. One heart beat, two heart beats, Varella feigned to the right and then dived left. The car skidded right and buried its corner and it’s headlight into the side of the building. The driver backed up and swung around to face the fleeing Varella. Again the Vega bore down on him as his mind remembered the alley he’d seen earlier. He located it in the corner of his eye and stumbled towards it, praying that he wouldn’t fall now. He darted into the alley, it was just big enough for a garbage truck and to his dismay, the Vega followed him fitting between the walls, going fast enough to be slightly out of control, knocking over garbage cans and spreading garbage all over. The noise was deafening and it was the most terrifying thing that he’d ever heard in his life.

Varella was in a panic. This wasn’t supposed to happen. His breath coming in short gasps as he stumbled forward as fast as he could, scared that any minute he would trip and fall and be run over. He gained a little ground as the Vega slowed down to squeeze by a large garbage bin. The alley way curved a little, Varella sprinted, gaining more ground. Then suddenly the alley way came to a dead end. Varella stared up at the tall walls. This was it. This was the end. His mind frantically racing. There! A doorway. Varella made his way past some wooden pallets and tried the door. It was locked. Oh god! ….Wait! Wooden pallets! He grabbed a couple and franticly heaved them into the middle of the alleyway. Four more and he had a small pile blocking any wheeled traffic less than a tank. If the Vega ploughed through them, it would get hung up on them.

The Vega driver saw the pallets in the middle of the alley and screeched to a halt. He turned on his headlights and stepped out of the car, blocking any hope Varella may have had of squeezing by the car and darting out.

Varella stared in horror at this man who probably had all the answers to all his questions. The man stood beside the open car door and pointed a very cold and beautiful looking gun at Varella. Varella felt the fear well up and knot his stomach. His mouth was dry, his chest still heaving from his flight, he couldn’t have spoken even if he had wanted to.

The man didn’t waste any time, he merely pointed the barrel at Varella and pulled the trigger twice. As Varella’s mind registered the action, the first bullet caught him just below his left pocket. He felt himself being picked up by the force of the impact and thrown back. But even before his body started falling, the second bullet, more true, hit him perfectly to the right of his left pocket. Square in the heart. His breath came out of him like an untied balloon and the pain in his chest was immense. Varella fell and as he did so he dimly heard the car reverse out of the alley.

It took about two minutes for Varella to catch his breath again. Naturally the Vega was long gone. He struggled to his feet very painfully, it felt like he’d broken a rib. He was barely aware of the commotion at the end of the alley and suddenly shots rang out in the darkness and a horn started blaring. He started walking up the alley cautiously, his chest ached tremendously. He tried to rub the welts that he knew must be rapidly forming on his chest, but the heavy vest made it very awkward for him. Halfway down the alley a police officer dressed like a bum told him to freeze. He did and carefully and painfully raised his hands shoulder high. Anymore and his chest muscles would have excruciatingly reminded him of their recent ordeal.

The cop summarily identified Varella, expressed thankfulness at his safety and let him proceed back to the mouth of the alley. Everything was in shambles here. The green Vega was half in and half out of the alley, and Varella had to clamber painfully over the hood to get clear of the alley. The horn was still blaring loudly as another police officer gave him a hand over the vehicle. Apparently the Vega had pulled out and run smack into the cops who had been just about to enter the alley. It looked to him like the Vega had got stuck in the alley when the reversing driver had miscalculated and had tried to turn just a little too early. As Brinks explained later, the driver had foolishly attempted to shoot it out when he found himself stuck and surrounded.

Varella stumbled past the cops crowded around the prone driver, trying to staunch a bullet wound in the man’s upper chest. The man lay on the road, his face white with shock, the eyebrows framing his face like an arch. As he watched them try to save the man who had just tried to kill him, Varella’s anger started to well up in his stomach. His chest tightened and his body tensed up. His face in a snarl, Varella leaned over the prone would be assassin, jabbed his finger in the man face and yelled in staccato “Bastard!!! I got you now!!” He held the man’s eyes in his furious stare until one of the cops pulled him away and tried to calm him down. Varella entire being oozed anger and given the chance he would have wrung the man’s neck. He had finally found a person to blame for the death of his closest friend and the agony of the last few days.

Brinks was standing talking to his big city counterpart, after all this was out of his jurisdiction. He noticed the commotion and when his eyes caught Varella he half walked half ran to him anxiously

“Are you OK? I was worried he’d run you over”

“Where the hell were you?” said Varella emphasizing the word.

“I’m sorry we didn’t expect a hit and run, we weren’t prepared for that at all.”

Varella could tell that Brinks felt bad that he had failed to plan for this possibility. The plan had been to bait and catch the Tall Man. The bait was of course Varella, dressed in a flak jacket. Brinks had hoped that a drive by shooting, would have been attempted but averted, by the vigilant undercover cops, some posing as homeless people and others hiding in parked cares. A hit and run attempt hadn’t been considered, what idiot would expect to get way awith a bloodied and dented car. Of course in retrospect they both knew that this Vega would turn out to be a stolen car.

“And the damned driver?” bit out Varella still angry.

“Still too weak to talk. Either that or he’s feigning incoherence” replied Brinks. “We’ll wait.”

“He’ll talk” promised Varella with a deep set anger.

Late that night Brinks had one of the officers drop Varella off at the lonely dusty motel. They left the Porsche behind, “It was just a bit too easy to spot” Brinks had said.

 
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