CHAPTER ONE: Academia
In late Summer of the year 2001 Leah Pollock endured the general biology game the first day of class on the Hapsburg, Texas campus of Central Texas State University. Her thoughts were consumed by her once and present professor. She wished she had dropped the course, and Dr. Roy Nordstrom, from her schedule. She knew already it was going to be a long semester.
Roy's off on one of his tangents because Hal Rodriguez makes the misstep of referring to cows as more "primitive" than humans.
"So basically, a primitive mammal like a cow, say, has most of the same organs, bones, DNA that we have," Hal says.
" 'We?,' Mr. Rodriguez?" Roy says, closing the trap Hal set for himself.
My "Uh oh." streams from the back of the classroom.
"This brings up an excellent point," declares Roy the Pedagog, "What is primitive? In terms of comparative anatomy, I mean." Like Alexander the Great marching through Persia, Roy takes possession of the chalkboard, as smug as he gets, dividing the green slate into two columns. He thumbs through the biology text on his desk to prepare the next assault. "Okay. Name some primitive traits...Miss Pollack," he fires out at me.
So I decide to play his game and answer, "A tail," which he chalks up under "Primitive" and "No Tail" under "Advanced".
"What else?...Miss Barnstone?" Roy calls to another victim.
"Four legs...like a quadruped," she says, "for the primitive column," just like a mouse taking the cheese, and he lists it on the board then crosses to the textbook, pages through and dog-ears a second page.
"Anything else? Yes?" An explosion of raised hands sends a barrage of examples.
"Paws instead of hands."
"That's plenty," Dr. Roy "I know everything" Nordstrom announces at last, slapping the chalk dust from his hands, surveying the stack of words before him, and ending with a self-satisfied "Interesting." And just as I knew he would he goes for the loaded textbook. "Mr. Combs, read Paragraph Three from the top of Page 194, would you?"
Roger Combs fumbles through the text as always, then finds his place. " 'Paleontologists digging in Argentina have found what they believe is one of the earliest dinosaurs yet discovered,' " he reads, " 'As many experts have predicted, the creature seems to exhibit traits thought to be primitive to all lines of dinosaurs.' "
Roy jumps on me again. "Please list those traits, Miss Pollack."
Luckily I've found the page too. " 'These traits include bipedalism,' " I recite, " 'S-shaped neck, generalized carnivorous teeth...' "
"What was first on the list, Mrs. Sharpe?," Roy interrupts.
" 'Bipedalism, Dr. Nordstrom,' " emphasizes the older black lady with the shock of gray at her widow's peak.
"So, in dinosaurs walking on two legs is the primitive state," Roy says, "Let's go back to page 82, shall we...Mr. Chattergee?"
Mohandas Chattergee is Johnny-On-The-Spot. " 'Pentadactyl hands being primitive for tetrapods such as amphibians...' "
Roy pounces once more with, "And what do we mean by 'pentadactyl' hands, Mr. Rodriguez?"
"Five fingers?" Mr. Rodriguez asks.
"And how many fingers do you have on each hand?" Roy presses.
"Is that about the class average?" asks Roy, "I thought so. Therefore, we might say that we humans are primitive tetrapods based solely on our finger count."
"But it's more complicated than that."
"Yes it's much more complicated than that, Mr. Rodriguez. You are absolutely right. What I'm trying to show here, though, is the trap we fall into by assuming One, that common language and scientific language mean exactly the same things and Two, that there has been some sort of evolutionary progress leading to humans. That's just not so. We are one of the latest species to come along and we have inherited billions of mutations piled upon billions of mutations, rendering some of us capable of writing operas, performing brain surgery or calculating lunar trajectories. However, cell by cell, your friend the cow is just as sophisticated as you and me, all of us." Roy relishes this sort of thing too much. "Does the cow have a five-fingered hand?" he continues, "No, it has hooves. But it's descended from creatures with fingers and toes. Hooves are a local adaptation in ungulates such as cattle, deer, antelopes, etc., which make covering long migratory distances much more efficient than flabby fingers and toes ever could. Are cattle more or less evolved than fish? Mr. Chattergee?"
"I would say more so," Mr. Chattergee ventures.
"I believe you said color blindness is a primitive trait," Roy counters, "Do cows see color?"
"That's right. They may see some shades of some colors but very little...Do fish see color?"
"Actually, they do, Mr. Chattergee." Roy has brought us around to the point he wants to make. "And reptiles and birds and insects and all manner of non-mammals see vibrant colors," he says, "The rule of thumb is if you see a colorful animal, it probably has color vision. Color communicates danger, sexual maturity, health and vigor, aggressiveness, all sorts of signals necessary for survival. Among the mammals, only primates have re-evolved color vision to distinguish which fruit is ripe and safe to eat."
Roy could go on like this all morning, and he has when I awake with a start to see him hovering over me. "Miss Pollock," he says formally, "may I see you in my office after last class?"
"You can say it now, Roy," I tell him "And you can call me Leah. Nobody's here."
"I think it's run its course, don't you?" he says, "Summer school is over, time to end summer flings."
"Is that what your wife thinks?" I shoot back at him.
"Fay doesn't know about us and I want to keep it that way."
I knew it would come to this. "Fine," I say.
"Good," he says.
But I won't let it go. "Will she be with us on the field trip next month?" I ask.
I think he is getting pissed off. "It's over, Leah."
"Right," I say skeptically. I knew it was all winding down but I still didn't want to let go. Maybe I could corner him during the field trip, if Fay doesn't tag along.
In another millennium there was a beach which young Dr. Nordstrom and his wife Fay had found practically deserted on a hazy -warm pre-Memorial Day lark. Hand in hand, they left their slight footprints in the silty sand to be lapped away by the surf. The coastal Texas sky was a bluer shade of silver than the water, which was, in turn, a more silver shade of brown than the beach. It was a limited spectrum but gorgeous in its monochromatic way. The beach-surf-sky was as timeless as that day and that moment. A hapless shrimp boat had been beached in the shallows, forever distant, never to be reached. Not a soul did they meet on their stroll, and when the diffuse sunlight eventually faded away, they ducked behind the sand dunes and made love until the piercing stars hung at arm's reach.
Fay awoke eye to stalked eye with a ghost crab. She let out a sharp scream and the crab scurried to the safety of its hole in the sand. A line of pink strung along the ridge of the dune and a yellow egg yoke sun bubbled out of it, rising higher in the sky, dividing blue above from silver-brown below and switching on the sounds of surf and seagulls.
She pulled her beach towel tightly around her and sat up. Roy was down on the strand cooking eggs and bacon on a gallon-sized coffee can he had fashioned into a stove.
"Can't you read the signs? They say no camping and no fires," she said, approaching him from behind.
"Shut up and eat," he replied affectionately, handing her a paper plate of breakfast.
"Where did you get the grub?"
"There's a bait and grocery store just over the dunes."
"You're sure this isn't bait."
"Can be. I caught blue crabs with bacon on a string when I was a kid in Baltimore."
"You lie. It is veritable ambrosia!," he proclaimed, kissing her chewing lips, "Coffee?"
Life was full of potential then. The future was nothing but promise. Roy's career was one fulfilled promise after another, and still promising to flower into futures even more promising. He could not have done it without Fay's support and sacrifice. He knew that. She certainly knew that. She had promise of her own, and she would put in the same effort to achieve her own potential that she had put into launching Roy's career. It was his turn to support and sacrifice. For a time he did just that.
I get home first so I make the sandwiches or the roast or the pasta. Well, he'd better not mind sandwiches. I've had a long day teaching as well. And Roy's the Ph.D. He has all of that struggle behind him. I work all day, fix his meals, and work on my dissertation until the wee hours. No, he'd better not mind sandwiches. Besides, they are a work of art. There. The final cut: toothpick and olive, toothpick and olive. Toss the salad. Whoops! Tossed it a little too far. A little oil and vinegar. Fresh ground pepper, croutons...Damn, I do good work!
Click on some cool jazz, wonderful. Hmmmm. A nice sip of chilled white wine would be just perfect right now. Let's see what's in the fridge--as if I didn't know. Perfect. "Made from Texas' finest Johannesburg Riesling. Dry but with a hint of fruitiness." To the cabinet. Wine glasses...glasses, glasses, glasses. Top shelf. Nice. Quick rinse in the sink. Pouring the white-amber liquid as it catches the last rays of sunlight. Sipping as the golden hour melts into the dusk of mauve skies. I've waxed poetic. You have to wax it, and buff it, or it'll go dull on you. Ha! Nice nose. The wine, that is, not me. Well, I have a nice nose too. Paid enough for it. The wine...is cool and sweet yet mildly tart to the tongue, and I am mellow and calm and peaceful...Where'd all the wine go? More peaceful and mellow is wanted here. Ah, cool and sweet and brute--that's "dry," you know--just as I remembered. I need to rest a while.
To the sofa with me. I don't want to go to the sofa, well appointed as it is. There's a folder of geography test papers on the coffee table. Don't want to grade; want to peruse Architectural Digest for my dream house; want to sit and sip and take in the nice sweet music in the air. I'm starting to wax again. Okay, I'm plopping down on the sofa. Maybe just one test paper for now. Jimmy Joe Doyle! No, the Sudan is not "one of the largest nations in western Asia." Am I teaching these kids anything? I dread to see the other papers. What's that? The purr of the mighty Mazda lilts from the driveway. My sweet is home. Goody. Just one more sip. Damn good wine, though! I hear his footsteps on the outside stairs! He's approaching the door! Be still my heart. The apartment door creaks open and...it's only Roy. Why can't it be Harrison Ford just once?
"Glass of wine, Darling?"
"A bit early, isn't it, Fay?" he says.
"First glass of the day...second bottle but first glass...just as the golden hour melts into the mauve of dusky skies, or something like that. A bit late, aren't you, Dear?"
"Traffic," he says.
"Oh traffic...I'll just gather my test papers and I'm off to the bedroom for a little exercise in ignorance and futility...Join me?"
"Maybe later," he says.
"There's a nice turkey sandwich and salad in the breakfast nook. Help yourself."
"You're not eating?" he asks.
"I'm filled with the warmth of the finest Johannesburg Riesling Texas has to offer. Who needs food?"
Well, that's another evening ticked off the calendar. Hope I can stay awake long enough to finish grading these jokes. Screw the dissertation for tonight.
In 1991 Roy Nordstrom graduated high in his class from the University of Southern California and it was never a struggle for him. Neither was it a struggle in graduate school. There was no struggle with his doctor's thesis, uninspired as it may have been. He met Fay, then the love of his life, in graduate school, and they married after he received his doctorate in marine biology and before she finished her graduate studies in world geography. Roy became the youngest full professor of Biology in the history of Central Texas State University after, to the dismay of his bride, turning down an associate professorship at Hilo State in Hawaii, and also to the dismay of Harvey Llewellyn, his Centex State colleague, who became a full professor, himself, only after a decade and a half of struggle, and maybe a few beers.
Harvey Llewellyn did not graduate high in his University of Chicago class of 1979 but not for lack of trying. Perhaps he could have tried harder not to guzzle beer all night before each major exam, although he was alternately studying along with his guzzling. He guzzled and studied through graduate school and through his doctor's thesis. It was a struggle for him. His personal habits did not make things any easier but he embraced the struggle it took to achieve his Ph.D in limnology, the study of lakes and rivers and other bodies of fresh water.
What time is it? Oh. Six-Oh-One...And half a dozen of the other. Shit. Look at this place...Well, it doesn't look any worse than the office. Maybe I can get a student intern to sort that out for me. Nah. Don't want to open another can of worms. Hell. I've got tenure. Why shouldn't I have a crack at department head? I've got at least twelve years on Wally Parkinson and Roy, the Viking God. Sure he's neat and well-kempt--if that's the phrase--but this ain't no beauty contest...Or is it? Yes, his office is immaculate, he doesn't do any work. Oh, he teaches, and publishes drivel-- rehash of real scientists' work. But Harvey Llewellyn does the research around here. I study the little buggers and measure them and note their location and watch their behavior for hours, days at a time, my precious amphibians. I am noted as one of this state's foremost authorities on newts and salamanders. I even discovered the tree frog Hyla llewellyni. The goddamned thing's named after me. Years before he kicked the bucket didn't Chairman Jackmon practically tell me I was his choice of successor? But I'm not the flavor of the month fair-haired new kid on the block. I've published dozens of monographs in real science journals, and this...blond "wunderkind" writes some pop-science crap of a book that gets on the New York Times Best Seller List, gets his picture on Page 14 of last November's Scientific American, plus a back page write up in the local newspaper...So suddenly Nordstrom takes on two extra classes 'cause the little callow student bastards clamor for his received wisdom, and alumni divert some of their cash, in his name, to the Biological Sciences Department, funds previously ear-marked for football grants, and...It's Six- fucking-twenty-three A.M. and I've got a General Biology Lab to teach at 7:00. I'll put a breakfast burrito in the microwave while I shower. No time to shave. I'll just have to look like Don Johnson in "Miami Vice"...If only I could pull that off...I was in shape once...When Don Johnson was in "Miami Vice"...Still, I shouldn't be even ten minutes late. The young gits won't get a chance to walk.
On a pleasant Saturday morning Leah Pollock and her little sister Sarah drifted on the cold, dark-green, shady Comal River on their Schlitterbahn inner tubes. Leah was daydreaming. Sarah was restless.
"Wanna go to the other side of the park and ride the tall slide again?" Sarah asked.
"I like it right here, Sarah," Leah told her.
"You're no fun anymore," the eleven-year-old decided.
"Just wait 'til you grow up a little, pip-squeak," Leah countered, "You'll be no fun anymore either."
"Why don't you go find your boyyyyyyyfriend, then? I saw him in the lagoon."
"Barry and I are through."
"Does he know that?" Sarah inquired.
"None of your business," Leah explained.
"Being so grown up doesn't seem like fun to me." Sarah kicked her feet in the cold green water.
"Fun isn't everything, Sarah." Leah slapped the river, splashing on her sister. "Life is not all fun."
Sarah slung an arc of surface at her. "Let's go back to Mom and Daddy in the wave pool. Then you can go off and mope on your own."
Leah slung back. "I'm not moping, just contemplating."
"What's that?" Sarah asked.
"Thinking, to you," Leah said, gently kicking the child's innertube away.
Sarah shrugged it off. "Oh."
Leah pulled Sarah's inner tube, and Sarah, to her with her longer legs. "Okay, I'll dump you with the folks. Just let me relax a while."
"Fine," the sister said curtly.
"Fine," Leah agreed.
Leah closed her eyes seeing only a fading dapple of sunlight filtered through the cypresses and cottonwoods, but before she could nap, Sarah broke her repose.
"Can I go with you?" Sarah asked her.
Leah tried to stay relaxed. "Go where?"
"We're going to Galveston Island, not Corpus," Leah told her, "It's a hundred miles or so up the coast."
"They have a Slitterbomb there too."
"It's called 'Schlitter-bahn', not 'bomb'," she corrected the child, "It means slippery road or something like that in German. It's mostly a made up name, I think."
"Then how do you know it's not 'Slitter-bomb'?" Sarah made a face, then she continued the interrogation. "...So can I go with you?"
"No. It's just our college biology class," Leah said.
"I can collect bugs too."
"We're collecting crabs and jellyfish and fish, Sarah, not bugs."
"I can do that," the child said undaunted.
"You can't go."
"Is Barry going with you...and your handsome teacher?"
"Barry's not in the same class."
Leah could see the truth of that Freudian slip. She splashed her sister to change the subject. Sarah screamed, laughed and splashed back at her. So the water war began.
Dr. Roy Nordstrom often worked in his office after hours in the Biological Science Building, dictating notes into a small recording device. His administrative assistant Ms. Alvarez would later transcribe the musings into computer files, whether they were strictly work-related or not.
A note for the new book...It is 5:23 on August twenty-fourth. Ms. Alvarez, please type a transcript of this minitape and save it in the folder "Book Notes" on my C: Drive.
Lost my train of thought. "Derailed," Dr. Llewellyn would say, with his tendency toward puns...Don't type that...Much is made of upright posture in discussion of human evolution, but man is not the first creature...Strike that...But man did not invent bipedalism...and he has not yet perfected it, whereas...long ago, birds and their dinosaur ancestors before them took it in their stride, so to speak...Now I'm talking like Harvey...Strike that last comment, Ms. Alvarez. I'll think of a better phrase later...To continue: If upright posture in humans predated large brain size, does that make our chimp-like cousins of the time less advanced and less human?...Damn phone again.
“Oh hello. Yes I'm working late again. You know me, Harve. I hate to leave loose ends...Working on a new book on university time? Not me...Yes, big day Monday...The new chairman? To tell you the truth, I haven't given it much thought...Whether it's you or Parkinson makes no difference to me...Oh I suppose I'd choose you, if it was up to me. Don't tell Wally I said that...You too. 'Bye.”
Roy did give some thought toward his political rise in the Biological Sciences Department of Central Texas State University. He pretended the work was everything to him but he had his eye on the chairmanship. He was confident Dean Morganhoff's choice would be neither Wally Parkinson nor Harvey Llewellyn. He did not lie to Harvey. Roy was verbally supportive and not one for academic intrigue. He just knew his popularity would carry him through. He was published, he was celebrated, he was "box office", to use a show business term, and the world of academe was show business to him. He was the new shining star of Centex State, and he knew it better than anyone.
For her part, Fay knew it too. Though the marriage was drifting into doldrums, she clung to Roy for all he was worth. Promotion meant higher salary, and although a professor's salary was meager by the standards of the business world, promotion meant prestige. Prestige translated into even more sales of Roy's cockamamy popular science books, which meant an income many times a professor's meager salary. Fay was already hitched to this particular shining star, and she may as well have hung on for the ride.
Doesn't he look handsome in his new blue suit, that tasteful red and black tie? The knot is now officially straight. "There." Just look him over. Nicely turned out. Of course, this one would look good in peat moss. That's why I married him. Swept me off my feet. I can remember those times. Maybe they're back again. As chairman he won't be able to screw around. I'll do my part if he'll do his.
I'm actually proud of him. Yes, he's a jerk, he's a man. I guess I haven't been exactly supportive lately. All that will change now. And I know I drink too much. I can change that too. After all, now that I'm the wife of the Chairman of the Biological Sciences Department I'll have new responsibilities. There will be certain social expectations. I've done it before. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my memory is the code of academic politics. I can play wifey again, the hostess with the mostest. I really can.
Look at me in the mirror there. I'm not so bad myself: youthful yet sedate, the perfect consort. "Fasten my dress, darling? " Gorgeous gown. He's actually touching me again. I've almost forgotten how it feels, his hands along my back...
What a couple. Together we'll knock their socks off. Make way for Roy and Fay Nordstrom, you lucky world! Dare I think it? It's Jack and Jackie Kennedy all over again. Okay, so maybe I'd settle for Bill and Hillary.
On the surface, Harvey Llewelyn was no more ambitious, really, than Roy Nordstrom was. Oh, maybe he thought the department chairman job belonged to him for his tenure and his long-suffering attention to his professorial duties, but he was not one to force things or make an effort even. Still, if opportunity presented itself, he would not demure. Perhaps he was as confident of his track record as a published and quoted scientist as Dr. Nordstrom was of his own charm and popularity. Harvey thought his hard work studying and documenting his creatures should have been sufficient to propel him to the chairmanship. Whatever his personality flaws, Dr. Llewelyn did care about his "little buggers", afterall. It should have been apparent to Dean Morganhoff and the selection committee that he was the real scientist of the two, Wally Parkinson or any other candidate being not even worth considering.
Shit, that should be me up there toasting with the Dean of the College of Sciences, the President of the University and the Board of Trustees. It's all fucking politics. It's a goddamned wedding reception, and those two just fell off the cake. If the powers that be wanted married I could've given them married. I know at least a couple of bimbos who would do. On the other hand, Roy the Viking is a comer. You can't fight a tsunami. Hell, he probably has his sights on Dean of the College of Sciences. Dean Morganhoff does look a bit old and frail over there. Who knows? Within a year or eighteen months the Viking could be Dean and I would be the natural choice for Chairman. Wally Parkinson, the boob, is nowhere in the picture. Raise your goddamned glass for the toast, Harvey, you overworked, overlooked bastard. "To the new Chairman!"
CHAPTER TWO: Ancient History
It was a beautiful day in ancient Africa's Great Rift Valley. It was always a beautiful day in the Great Rift Valley but was more beautiful now that the rainy season was here. The drought had been relatively mild this year and the community, who had lived thirty years in the vicinity of the twin towering baobab trees, had only lost three members: a sickly newborn, his mother, and an elderly male of the walking chimps. He must have been close to fifty.
Until that fateful day when the towering twin baobab trees caught fire, the worst thing that had happened to the walking chimps, as Gray Mama saw things, was when Dull the Dull ascended to the rank of Alpha Male. Dull had sort of inherited the mantle of leader from his father Skinny the Nervous, probably the least likely A.M. Gray Mama could recall. Skinny had ingratiated himself to previous leaders. Oh he was a master groomer. No one else could pick knits or fleas or bits of dried skin with quite his level of obsequious fastidiousness. But Gray Mama, for one, never would have thought of him as a leader. Nor did she hold his predecessor Red Wrinkles in high regard.
Red was a real backslapper and he could hoot with alarm better than any chimp in the troupe. For Gray Mama his hoots were false alarms for phantom dangers which Red pretended to banish with too much bluster and fanfare. She never trusted his motives and wondered how the others could fall for this obvious overacting. And how could someone of his age not even sprout a single tuft of gray fur? He was brown to the point of redness and wrinkled to the point of absurdity, given the redness, so she thought of him as Red Wrinkles.
Skinny the Nervous picked and nibbled fleas and dandruff to soothe the bereaved, and Dull frolicked, ate and drank and beat around the bushes as he and his brother Quick had done in their youth as the privileged offspring of the Chief Prostrator and future Alpha. Only, Dull was grown now and still frolicking, whereas Quick had become a more serious and responsible chimp. Even back when the rest of the community was caught in a prolonged struggle against a troupe of round-faced walking chimps, a separate species, down by a distant stretch of river where the wild rice grew, Dull managed to frolic himself away from the hopeless conflict.
After years of service to the more influential elders of their band, Skinny the Nervous graduated from being the one who prostrated himself before rival troupes. Under Red he had been the right-hand chimp, not really a powerful position as it turned out, but the one just a heartbeat away from power. Skinny was the consummate insider and took to his role of consoler-in-chief with alacrity. Whenever someone died he would be there representing the Alpha Male. Skinny would perform the social grooming but no one doubted it was on behalf of the A.M.
Gray Mama never had much use for either of the beating-around-the-bush boys, but if she had to pick one as a likely leader, it would have been Quick rather than Dull. That's how she thought of them: quick and dull. Quick at least had the light of understanding in his eyes and he was alert and quick enough to catch onto what was happening around him. On the other hand, Dull was a little slow on the uptake, which would have been fine with Gray Mama except for the fact that the others were always so willing to excuse his blunders. Where Dull led, many a foolish chimp would follow. Gray Mama feared Dull would lead the fools right off a cliff or into quicksand one day. And no one but Gray Mama could see it coming.
There came a time when Red Wrinkles, the old Alpha Male became too blithering to lead anyone anywhere. Gray Mama discovered him one morning bathing playfully in a stagnant pool where dead leaves collected, turning the water a reddish brown reminiscent of the A.M.'s fur. There was a connection there somewhere but Gray Mama couldn't quite put her finger on it. In the past, Red would have leapt out of the puddle embarrassed upon being caught acting strangely. This time he paid Gray Mama no heed and went on happily splashing away like an infant.
As the Beta Male, Skinny the Nervous just happened to be sucked into this vacuum of power, and even though there were stronger and smarter candidates for A.M., most of the community gravitated toward him because he was a familiar face and had always picked the fleas so well from the most influential elders. And he rewarded those elders so well when he took power. Skinny made certain that the influential ones got the first and freshest berries, nuts, antelope meat, and the choicest reserved spots at the nearest watering hole. As for the rest of the community, the leftovers would eventually trickle down to them.
For a time, all seemed well enough. The rains were generous and no other bands of walking chimps intruded on the lives of the community. Most were content to get the leavings of the privileged. Eventually, though, there was a bad dry season. It wasn't the worst in memory. Gray Mama and her contemporaries had all lived through the Great Drought, after all. But the younger generation had never experienced real scarcity, and the Skinny the Nervous recession was bad enough. The well-off, at least, were eating as well as ever.
Then, as luck would have it, a smaller but more aggressive troupe of walking chimps of their same species encroached on the far end of the territory at the confluence of two great rivers. It was actually beyond the troupe’s boundaries but Skinny the Nervous wanted the water rights. He rallied the able-bodied while his offspring Dull continued to frolic.
The Alpha Male of the other band was notoriously nasty. He bullied his own group mercilessly. Skinny and the gang felt no regret in beating the "intruders" to a pulp--"intruders" although it was their own land--even killing some of them, leaving their corpses to the hyenas, the vultures and the marabou storks. These "interlopers" were so thoroughly routed that many in Gray Mama's troupe wanted to chase after them and kill Nasty once and for all, but all the fighters were tired, so they withdrew to their trickling river which flowed by the twin towering baobab trees.
Skinny the Nervous drew such prestige from the battle that most of the walking chimps forgot about the lack of food. At least what they had was secure. However, in time, Skinny's approval ratings began to drop and a younger and stronger challenger came forth. Gray Mama thought of him as Randy, or the australopithecine equivalent of the term.
Where Skinny had groomed the well-to-do into a constituency, Randy appealed to the common majority of the chimps. He seemed genuinely concerned with their plight. Randy's tactics were simple. He would take from the rich and give to the poor. Whenever he saw the upper crust feasting on a big pile of fruit or monkey parts he would grab an armload and redistribute it to the masses. When he saw someone hogging a prime watering spot, he would bring in the thirsty to share it. Suddenly, the scarcity seemed to disappear. Everyone had enough to eat and nothing was wasted. Gray Mama liked Randy. He was so kind to her and the other elders, the youngsters, and even to the Omegas, that when she pricked her finger on an acacia thorn she thought he could feel her pain.
The new A.M. was not without his faults. Aside from a tendency to overeat, Randy's main flaw was that his sexual appetite was insatiable--which is, of course, why he was "Randy"--and he seemed to prefer any female to his own mate Pushy. However, theirs was more of a friendship and alliance than a pair bond, so Pushy looked the other way when Randy misbehaved. Besides, she was busy helping run the community.
Randy's reign was prosperous and relatively uneventful for twice as long as Skinny the Nervous had been in power. As always, another troupe would make trouble from time to time and Randy would take a squad to deal with the situation. But casualties were rare on the baobab community's side because they mostly threw their stony missiles from the cliffs above the enemy.
Eventually, it seemed to Randy he could retire and leave the administration of the troupe to his sidekick Stiff, an able if unexciting Alpha Male candidate who Randy had made the most influential Beta chimp the troupe had ever seen. No one would have guessed when Randy stepped down that the venerable Stiff would be successfully challenged by none other than Skinny's slow and oafish offspring Dull, with the help of Quick and nine privileged elders. Stupidity ruled and then things got really bad.
CHAPTER THREE: Beached
In Saturday's golden hour on the beach at Galveston Island State Park the little caravan of professor and students in their university vans gathered for head count and field trip orientation. They had set out at noon from Centex State, stopping twice along the way for such things as lunch and gasoline and bodily functions. Perhaps, Leah Polluck thought to herself, these kids are a little more professional, mature and circumspect than the comparable busload of the highschoolers they would have been a year or two ago. Maybe they were not just here to frolic in the sand, and there would be little pairing off because significant others were mostly non-science people left behind at the Hapsburg campus.
Some of the guys regreted missing the Jaws' season opener against Sul Ross but most were more interested in what they would learn about the coastal environment and the wildlife they would encounter. Besides, the Centex State Hapsburg Jaws were perennially near the bottom of the Lone Star Football Conference. Still, it was considered a good gesture to bring back, as many vowed to do, some of the iconic shark jaws, whether combed from beach or seashell shop, for the display of the home team. The Hapsburg Jaws was one of those team naming concepts only pretentious college students of the early Twentieth Century could have come up with. It made as much sense as the Nittany Lions of Pennsylvania State or the Tar Heals of the University of North Carolina, and it sounded so educated. The Hapsburgs were a family which dominated the royal families of Europe in centuries past. Their extreme lantern jaws were evident in official portraits. Of course, after a certain scarry movie came out in the 1970s shark jaws replaced the regal caricature as team symbol. The local Hapsburg High School team was less imaginatively dubbed the Hapsburg Hawks.
Roy directs the action. "Listen!," he says, "Listen up! As the coaches say. Everybody listen! Is everyone here? I
only count ten. Okay there's the other two. Listen. We need to pitch the tents before it gets dark. Set up the men's tent about...here, not too close to
high tide. Mrs. Sharpe, show the guys where you want the women's tent. I know you're a student but I appreciate your taking roll and keeping
"I know our students are adults and don't need chaperones," says Dr. Roy, "but your parents will appreciate our taking a head count once in a while."
Sheryl Kerr and I watch the guys struggle with the women's tent. Between the two teams of tent pitchers, I think we got the second string. Not that they are any less the assholes the "A" team is--are? They're just more inept. We might have pointed out women are just as capable as men even in erecting temporary shelter, but then we'd have to do it. The way things are going, we'll need to make adjustments anyway, so why not let the dudes have their fun and glory?
I know Mrs. Sharpe is the religious type. I'm surprised she's even taking field biology. If I was really interested, I'd ask her. Since I'm not, I'll just let it go. I hope she's not one of those vacation bible school chaperones. Not that I plan to get into any trouble. I've decided I'm done with Roy for good. It's just the principle of the thing.
Looks like the first string is done already. They've started on the campfire.
"Weenie roast, Sheryl," I say, "lets haul some driftwood. Not too much. Just a token."
"Okay," she says.
What do you know? I'm a leader.
It's not a particularly cool night. In fact, its quite warm. It's already September, for God's sake. But I like the fire anyway, even though I dropped two hotdogs in there and burned my first marshmallow to a cinder. Some of the guys have gone for beer. I'm sticking by Sheryl, although what I really want is to be screwing Roy in the surf From-Here-To-Eternity-style. No I don't. Where did that thought come from?
"After Dr. Llewellyn drives up to meet us in the morning, right after breakfast, and after a trip to the jetty, we're taking the nets to the mudflats to do some collecting," Roy itinerizes. Well, it's a word now. I have declared it so.
Much earlier than anticipated, Harvey Llewellyn arrived with a passenger in his Range Rover around 11:30 that night. Fay Nordstrom thought she would tag along and surprise her husband. Her idea was that they could find time alone on the beach that weekend and maybe rekindle their romance. The beach held great allure, not to mention nostalgia, for Fay. She figured if she could cut down on her drinking for the good of her husband's career, Roy could show her a little affection for the good of their marriage. Also, she could keep an eye on him what with all those silly coeds offering their hormonally induced distractions. By morning, however, things did not work out as well as she had hoped.
"Nobody is to leave the island until further notice," the Sheriff says, "and nobody is to touch anything until we've sifted through all the evidence. If you can afford to stay in a hotel for the duration, that's fine, but inform either myself or one of my deputies here in advance. Until we've finished here on the beach nobody is to touch anything in any of the tents. Do you understand me?"
We understand everything except what has happened. Roy is dead and I can't understand that at all. I'd asked Harvey Llewellyn to drive me up here as a surprise. I was the one who was surprised, horrified. Who would want to kill Roy? Other than me, of course. And I did want to as soon as I saw him balling that girl in his tent. I shouted and took a forced hike down the beach but I wouldn't have killed him. I certainly felt like it, but I'm sure I didn't. I shouldn't have lied to the sheriff, though. I said Roy must have been dead when I got here. I suddenly felt guilty, like I did it, but I don't think I did.
Sheriff Hal Henderson, Chief Deputy Otto Schmidt--a beachboy if there ever was one--and their mostly young cohort of Galveston County deputies took aside students and faculty, each in their turn, to get to the bottom of Roy's murder. It was an all day affair that Sunday. Of course, everyone was in shock. There was nothing like homicide to put a damper on a school field trip. Fay was in denial and not at all sure what had happened the night before. Maybe she had done the deed herself in a fit of insane rage but she would have remembered, wouldn't she? Harvey Llewellyn was calm and tried to keep his mind clear. He was confident the cops would find he had nothing to hide.
Son of a bitch, what an opportunity. Harvey, old boy, you're the next chairman of the department. What a stroke of luck. I'm not saying it's not a tragedy: blond good-looking Norse god-like young man with a bright future, but we could say he probably got what was coming to him. I don't know who's gonna be arrested for this but it won't be me. I've covered my tracks. Who's to be the suspect? I'd put my money on one of the girls. Maybe she changed her mind about boffing the teacher and he wouldn't stop. I can understand his point of view too: she was eager at first and reneged on him, so he felt he was entitled to go through with it. Who hasn't been there? And then she clocked him but good with a cast iron skillet, so she's the one who did the real damage. I don't know which one she was. It was too dark. Anyway, nobody's talking, least of all me.
Leah Polluck had her eye on the yellow-haired surfer type who seemed to be the main deputy. However, it was one of the others, Hollis somebody she thought he said, an old derelect of a guy, who took down her testimony. As it would turn out, Otto the Surfer also had his eye on Leah, and would remember her in the coming months.
"Like I said, officer, I heard a woman shouting and I woke up. I didn't make out what she was saying because I was asleep. It must have been after midnight. I didn't check my watch. I heard shouting...and then some metal-like ringing. I told you about the metal...didn't I? It was a minute or two after the shouting. Then everything was quiet and I fell asleep again. It wasn't like a bell. It sounded...dull and heavy. A minute later there was a sound just like it, only louder. That's the best I can do. What was your other question? Right. I don't know if anyone was missing from the women's tent. I didn't check. It was just some noise. Whatever the shouting was about and the clanging, I figured was none of my business. It was late and I was sleepy. You took down my name and address, right? 'Pollock', P-O-L-L-O-C-K...'Leah', L-E-A-H. There. It's on your list already, and yes, that's my home address...and my dorm and room number...phone numbers...It's all down there in your notebook. If I remember anything else, I'll let you know."
Leah hoped the surfer dude would get a hold of her name and address and phone number. Oh boy, the thought came to her, what if old Hollis rings me up and hits on me? A shiver waved through her body displacing the one Roy's murder had rippled through her. Then the original chill returned. What if there were more to this situation than some personal attack on Roy? What if there were some deranged killer stalking the beaches of Galveston Island? Something like that occurred to all the campers that morning. Were they all targets if they stayed another night or two as the Sheriff had bid them do? The police were certain the crime was a personal matter and that one of the college people was the perpetrator but what if they were wrong? And what if they were right? In that case, one of them had killed Roy. Was one of their number a homicidal maniac? Harvey Llewellyn seemed to know. He did not seem worried at all.
"I found it sticking out of the sand," I tell the deputy, "the mini recorder, at the edge of the surf. It's probably ruined. It looked like the one Dr. Nordstrom dictated into all the time, so I picked it up to bring it to him. When I got to his tent everyone was gathered around saying he was dead and that someone should call the police...I was just walking on the beach. I drove Mrs. Nordstrom here from Centex State. I was coming anyway and she wanted to surprise her husband. She went to his tent and I took a walk down the beach. Then we found out he's dead."
Shit, it's mostly the truth. I did find the little recorder in the sand, after I dropped it there and pressed it into the beach with my bare foot. I tell the blond deputy kid it couldn't possibly work but it does. It may be a nice bit of evidence, maybe even a bit of damning evidence for someone. Not for me. I was still on the road when it happened, according to that little device. That little beauty will be my alibi. That plus my gasoline credit card receipt from 9:47 last night. I couldn't possibly have gotten here before ten o'clock. I was too far away.
After Harvey Llewellyn offered his two cents worth Sheriff Hal Henderson brought the little dictation device to Fay Nordstrom to see if she could make heads or tails of what it said. Hal did not put much stock in all the science hocus pocus the shaggy professor spouted but he did have a theory that the recording indicated the time of the crime. It was an idea Harvey had planted oh so subtly in Hal's mind. Not much more fertilizer was needed for it to spring into full bloom.
"I'll play it for you again," the sheriff said, "and maybe you can tell me what your husband was saying. It mostly makes sense up to this point."
"...which are, of course, the jellies and comb jellies. Ten oh four...The need area," Roy's voice said on the tape, some of his words digitally clear with unnatural gaps of silence you could drive Harvey Llewellyn's SUV through.
"Comb jellies?," the sheriff puzzled, "it doesn't make any sense." Then he says, "By 'jellies' he means 'jellyfish', correct?"
"Yes," I said, "comb jellies are creatures closely related to jellyfish. I've learned that much from being a biologist's wife. He was dictating notes for his next book, that's all."
"Okay," mused the sheriff, "but it sounds like he was about to continue at 10:04 and then something stopped him. Maybe 10:04 P.M. was the time of death."
"You think so?," I heard myself dissembling.
I wept uncontrollably. I wept because my husband was dead and all I could think to do was distance myself from the crime. I wept because somehow I felt guilty that I had screamed at him and minutes later he was dead. But it wasn't ten o'clock. It had to be after 11:30 because I saw him alive around then when he was screwing that girl. The wife is always the prime suspect in these matters. If somebody had heard me yell, it might have looked like I had a motive. Even if I did have motive, I didn't do it. At least, I don't remember doing it.
"But then what in the hell was the 'need area'?," he continued, "something to do with jellyfish? Doesn't exactly compute, now does it?"
"Perhaps he was referring to another matter. He often switched subjects when he thought of something he forgot to do. Maybe he was interjecting something about a departmental issue and then went back to his book dictation."
"Well, thank you Mrs. Nordstrom. You've been very helpful. We'll get back to you if we have any more questions."
Well, at least they have a couple of deputies camping out with us, Leah Pollock told herself, though she wished Otto the Surfer were among them. The kids the sheriff picked for the protection detail barely seemed to be out of high school but old Hollis wasn't creeping around, and that was some comfort to Leah. She tried to recall some more details for the police investigation but nothing new came to her.
Mrs. Sharpe is still comforting Keisha Cumming. The poor thing is still in shock. I wonder if I would be in any better shape if I'd found him dead. Mrs. Sharpe is a fine motherly type, and besides, I guess black folks feel the need to help each other at emotional times like this.
"Dr. Nordstrom?," Keisha called outside his tent, and then she opened the flap and let out a weird sort of scream. Then we all came running up there. Mrs. Sharpe must have been there first. Well, I didn't want Roy to die, not really, but maybe somebody had even more reason to be pissed off at him. The nerve of the man. First he calls off our affair because he's being the responsible adult all of a sudden, and then when I have already moved on past our relationship, he wants to grope me because he gets horny in the middle of the night on the beach in the moonlight. He couldn't get any satisfaction from me so he moved on to Keisha. The sheriff played the dictation tape for me, like I’m sure he did for the others. It sounds like something stopped Roy at 10:04. The sheriff thinks that was the time of the murder. I don’t know. It seems like all the commotion happened later that night. And what did he mean by “need area”? Seems like an awkward turn of phrase to me.
"Oh Mama," I tell her, sobbing, "I am so sorry."
"You didn't mean to do a thing. I know that," she tries to reassure me.
"He found me walking on the beach and took my hand."
"You don't have to tell me now."
"We went to his tent and sat on his cot just talking."
"Don't you dare tell any of this to the police."
"It wasn't rape exactly."
"He's dead, Keisha. What does it matter? Let him take the blame."
"It was good for a while."
"I don't have to know. I don't want to know."
"Then I felt guilty. He's my teacher. He's married. What was I doing there?"
"It was rape. Just say it was rape."
"I tried to leave and he pulled me back...but gently."
"All that doesn't matter now. Just say he raped you."
"That's not how it was. You wouldn't want me to lie, would you?"
"I thought he was violating you. That's why I hit him with his pan."
"If you tell the police it wasn't rape...well, it makes things complicated."
"Mama, you always told me to tell the God's truth, the absolute truth, no matter."
"I guess I did. I'm so proud of you."
"What are we going to do, Mama?"
"I guess we'll tell the truth, then."
So I bury my face in her shoulder and cry away. She kisses my head and that is all we have to say until the police drop by the tent.
Tuesday morning in his office Sheriff Hal Henderson mulled over all the testimony, his feet propped on his cluttered desk. He rubbed his chin, scratched his head, and took a sip of black coffee, glancing at his portable rabbit-eared Samsung to catch up on the morning T.V. news. Then a jet airplane just struck one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Hal took notice and watched the video in the same state of shock and disbelief shared by millions of his countrymen, by billions of his species. Man, what a horrible accident, he thought. Maybe hundreds of people were killed. Was the pilot drunk? At least the building was still standing. The jet didn't even shake it. There was now another jet. It sliced the other tower in two. These were not accidents. He thought HE had a murder to sort out. Wait a minute. His son, his faggy son, as he thought of him, was in New York. Wanted to be an actor. Would always be a waiter, if he was lucky. Worked at what restaurant? They hadn't spoken for so long the sheriff forgot. "Windows of..." something. "Windows On The World". Windows on the World Trade Center! But it was early morning. He wouldn't have been there yet. Would he? Goddamn. He'd better call Jan. Jan could still call her son. The phone rang and the sheriff answered it. Jan had tried to call New York already but couldn't get through. Goddamn, the towers were collapsing before his eyes.
CHAPTER FOUR: Fire and Flood
History tends to repeat itself, in uncanny ways, although never in exactly the same way. In the ancient Great Rift Valley, Gray Mama gathered three babies and fled the blazing twin towering baobab trees. The innocents tightly gripped her fur for dear life but she ignored the pain. She and the other female walking chimps and some adolescent males evacuated the small ones. They didn't stop running in the sheeting rain until they reached the east river.
They could not cross the flood. They didn't need to cross the flood. They had enough distance from the fire now. They watched their beloved towers fall in pieces. They were too far away now to see any detail. That was all for the best. Gray Mama knew there were walking chimps in those trees, some on lookout, some enjoying a morning climb. She knew there were friends, family members in those trees, and under them, when they fell in conflagration, even as the downpour began. She saw many familiar faces high up there as she collected the tiny ones. She visualized the resignation on the faces as chimps leapt knowingly to their deaths to escape the flames.
She and her helpers tried to keep the babies from seeing all this. She would never be able to keep the nightmares away from them. She would never be able to bring back the mommies of some, the siblings and playmates of others. She would not have been able to explain what happened, even if the walking chimps had evolved language. All she or any of them knew was that lightning struck one tree and spread to the other. She did not know why the grown males were all off over the hill and to the edge of the territory .
None of the males knew why at first, themselves. Even Dull the dim Alpha Male did not know why. Some of the old school walking chimps in his inner circle, though, would pound on a trunk of the burned baobab and give the cry which meant "enemy" to everyone in the troupe. Australopithecus afarensis did not have the full human capacity for language yet but they did have a vocabulary of calls just like other primates in Africa, and a much more extensive collection of them at that. His Beta Male, Creepy, pulled him along grunting "enemy" until he could see where they were going. They all followed Dull to find Nasty and his troupe. They would kill them all for burning their beloved baobab trees, and only incidentally, their beloved community members. Why Creepy blamed Nasty and his henchmen Gray Mama would never understand. Walking chimps knew nothing of fire. It would be three or four million years before Prometheus or somebody discovered that, not only does fire come from the heavens, but that mortals can make it themselves. But even millions of years later, strangers, foreigners, would be easy scapegoats for those in power. Hating strangers could keep them in power.
But Gray Mama knew strangers can be kind. She was once like these innocents clinging to her fur, a victim of disaster. And when her own family gave her up for dead, it was strangers who raised her as one of their own.
It was a flood far worse than the one before her now. After a prolonged dry season the plain, the pan, in the vicinity of the twin towering baobab trees had become a shallow but rushing and churning sea of mud and debris. The community was trying to cross it before things got any worse. Things got worse when Gray Mama's mother and her only brother, and she in her mother's arms, were a giraffe's neck-length from the near bank. Many a walking chimp was swept along in the torrent. Her brother was. Her mother tried to reach him but he disappeared just beyond the bend downstream.
Gray Mama, who was Tender Baby way back then, shrieked when a wall of flood slammed her Mommy and herself to the sandy bottom. She shrieked louder when a thorny acacia limb rapped the side of her mother's neck and scratched Tender Baby's tender brow ridge. She gulped muddy water trying to squeal when the next wave tore her from her mother's arms. Mommy lunged for Tender Baby and caught her little fingertips. Trying to stand against the onslaught, her mother turned for the near bank with her regained little prize. Then, just when they were about to her mother's arm's length of the way from the bank, the flash flood broke through its temporary natural dam upstream and flushed the entire valley of the towering twin baobab trees, fanning out across the pan and splitting mother from daughter against the anvil of a hidden boulder. The spreading flood took Mommy downstream and Tender Baby to the edge of the bank.
Tender Baby grasped a bush and a clump of grass in her strong baby-chimp grips and held tight, coughing and vomiting muddy water, and finally squealing for her mother who had washed away beyond her sight, beyond her life. Just then she felt strong Mommy arms take her up and pull her from the flood's edge. It was her mother! No, it was a stranger, a kind stranger who apparently had trouble walking because she could not take a step without touching the knuckles of her free left hand to the ground.
Tender Baby cried a chimp cry for her mother. She screamed in desperation. She hooted for all she was worth, but her Mommy could not hear her now as she and her rescuer joined half a dozen knuckle walkers ambling away as fast as feet and knuckles could take them to higher ground and far away from the flood, far away from Tender Baby's mother, and far away from the community of the twin towering baobab trees.
Now Gray Mama sighed for her lost mother even two generations later as she set down the heaviest of her three charges, a four- year-old whose mother had just appeared, joyfully kissing and stroking the child and his baby sister, handed over to the relieved female. The kind mother reached out for the still-clinging orphaned infant who was reluctant to release her vice-like grip on Gray Mama's fur. Finally, she coaxed it away from Gray Mama. The vice-like grip was transferred to the kind mother's fur. Gray Mama knew the infant's own mother had been crushed by fiery falling branches of the venerable baobabs. She knew the kind mother would raise the infant as her own, if the baby would take to the foster mother's milk.
It finally hit Gray Mama like the flood that had torn her from her own mother's fur that her almost-grown son, Climber, must have been one of the first burning bodies to drop, like flaming fruit, from that north tower. Had he lived, he would have proved a prime candidate for Alpha Male. Gray Mama did not see her younger son, Drummer, among the ashes. Perhaps he had escaped. Perhaps not. She would not know until the survivors of the community gathered by the shore of the river in the sunset. At least the fire was out and the rain had stopped for now.
CHAPTER FIVE: Ground Zero
The world had changed. That truth was already a cliche when Leah Pollock and the other students were able to return to Hapsburg and their lives. The world was in mourning. On the early broadcast news shows in those days there were scenes of somber crowds laying flowers at the gates of American embassies and consulates all over the world. There was an outpouring of grief and sympathy from the people of London and Paris and Tokyo and Moscow and Ho Chi Minh City and Beijing and Tel Aviv and Bagdad, and in the streets of villages in the Palestinian territories. Now there were no enemies. Now the whole world had sorrow for the hundreds, maybe thousands, of victims in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the jets that hit them and the fourth jet which had been headed, perhaps for the White House but was brought down by brave passengers into a field in Pennsylvania. Surely, Leah thought to herself, all the decent people of the planet can now get together and work out their petty differences. If our former and present enemies can share our grief, it seemed likely we could work with them in harmony to make a better world. Meanwhile, though, in the microcosm that was Central Texas State University a more immediate concern was the topic of the cell phone conversation between Leah and her friend Stacy Poole.
Keisha was arrested! Keisha Cumming, Stacy. Well, “brought in for questioning,” they said. Guess it's always the quiet ones. It doesn't figure. Practically everyone there gave a different time for the commotion. The sheriff's office is certain it happened around ten, though. Seems somebody hit Roy with a frying pan...There were times, plenty, I could have bopped him in the head with any loose object handy. So, was he seeing her all along? So she's why he broke up with me? He said he was going back to his wife! I might have bopped him up side of the head that night, myself. But Keisha? And Mrs. Sharpe confessed, trying to protect Keisha. Turns out she's her mother. It never occurred to me...She remarried after Keisha's father died...Said she caught Roy groping Keisha around midnight. Hit him with the pan, took Keisha back to our tent, pretended to discover the body later. The police didn't buy all of it. They knew it happened at ten. Stacy, they placed Keisha with Roy...Evidence...Semen, Stacy. Got her dead to rights. It could have been me, Stacy...Well, I probably wouldn't have killed him. Who knows? Given the right circumstances. Makes you think, right?...The sheriff's office released the rest of us. I'm going back to the dorm tomorrow. We need to be available for the trial, whenever that happens...Poor Keisha. The bastard probably deserved it...Maybe not to die, but certainly to get smacked...Maybe she can claim self defense or accidental homicide. I don't think she'll get the needle, maybe a few years and out for good behavior...Yeah, I'll be back in class Monday. Too much excitement for one field trip, Stacy. First all this and then the World Trade Center. Should go now. Gotta recharge the phone. 'Bye.
Sheriff Hal Henderson could not sit idly by while the world crumbled around him. Besides, his son Dennis might have been in one of the towers of the trade center. He couldn't admit it, not even to himself, but he did care for his prodigal child. Homo or not, Dennis was his kid and he'd find him if he could, dead or alive. The Nordstrom murder case being on its way to wrapping up soon, Hal left the processing of clues and testimony to Otto and Hollis and the kid deputies. He volunteered his services and the services of his rescue dog Gert, a bright and tireless four-year- old german sheppard, to the New York Police Department and the Fire Department of New York. Maybe together they could do some good amid the dust and the rubble and the surreal waffle cone monuments which where once the towers of the World Trade Center.
Heal, Gert! No sign of Dennis. Why didn't the little faggot run off to San Francisco instead of New York? Shit, no earthquake was ever like this. Wholesale slaughter, that's what it is. Right in the middle of Manhattan and it might as well be Mount St. Helens. Don't choke on the concrete dust, girl. Heal. Good dog.
I know you didn’t volunteer for this duty. I volunteered us both, hauled you all the way up here, but we got here too late. They’ve probably found all the survivors by now. Just had to do something even if the little faggot hadn’t been in the tower. Maybe he wasn’t. Who knows?
Wall after wall of make-shift bulletin boards with pictures and memorials and pleas: "Have you seen my wife?" and "Jack, if you're alive, please call home." and "Doris was a grandmother, a Sunday school teacher and a former Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica." And I've seen more grown men just break down and cry than I ever hope to see again.
God-damned rag heads! You can't just blow up your own part of the world; you gotta bring us into it? I don't care if you do hate the Jews. Keep it to yourself like the rest of us. Sure, Dennis would say I'm unfair. He'd say there are good and bad people in every group. Sensitive little queer bait! Well, maybe he made it to a hospital. Maybe he was able to get down the stairs or he was on the elevator and made it back down in time. Which tower was he in, anyway? When he gets a chance, he'll call his mom. I'll check with Jan tonight from the hotel. There's our search detail. Come on, Gertie, maybe we'll sniff out some live ones this morning. You deserve a happy outcome, for once.
Leah and half of the class she had had with Dr. Nordstrom were reassigned to Dr. Llewellyn's class. There was some overlap of information but theirs soon merged with the other course. It was familiar, yet it was a different world. Dr. Llewellyn was less preachy than Roy, and he tended to emphasize the fundamentals of biology more. Leah just wanted to catch up with the new class and move on. Roy Nordstrom would be just a footnote in her life history one day, if not a lost memory.
"Welcome to Field Biology 201," said Dr. Harvey Llewellyn, "those of you from Dr. Nordstrom's class. I am Dr. Llewellyn. We shall attempt to move beyond the recent tragic events both local and national, and to reconcile our combined curricula. Therefore, we will continue with our survey of invertebrate phyla. When last we met, for those of you just joining us, we were comparing and contrasting the Ctenophora and the Cnidaria. I'll write them on the chalk board for you. 'Ctenophora' spelled 'c-t-e-n-o-p-h-o-r-a' and 'Cnidaria' spelled 'c-n-i-d-a-r-i -a'. You will notice that they each begin with a silent letter 'c'. Why? You'll have to ask the ancient Greeks. Charles Moya, tell us about the cnidarians."
Charles Moya stood. "The cnidaria," he said in a scholarly manner, "are characterized by cnidocysts or stinging cells which they employ to capture their prey."
"Could someone who has not memorized the text give us some examples of cnidarians? Margaret Howard, tell us," Dr. Llewellyn says.
"Corals, jellyfish, hydroids, sea anemones..."
"Thank you. Diana Nguyen, define the ctenophores for the class."
"Yes, Dr. Llewellyn. The ctenophores are the comb jellies. They have comb-like cilia along their bodies."
"Excellent. Do any of our new class members know the main difference between how jellies and comb jellies capture their prey?" Dr. Llewellyn points in my direction. "And you are...yes you in the denim vest."
"Me?" I fumble, "Well, we were assigned that chapter but with all the...the tragedy...I...didn't have time to read it...but I do remember Dr. Nordstrom was writing something about them in his new book."
"Was he?" Dr. Llewellyn seems interested, "Alexy Podgorny, what can you tell us?" Harvey moves right along.
"The main difference," says Alexy, "is that jellyfish have the stinging cells but the comb jellies have some sticky substance on their tendrils to catch their prey."
"Essentially correct but..."
I zone out as Dr. Llewellyn parses the biological details. I think I have heard something about cnidaria and ctenophores before, but it was something associated with the murder trial. And it wasn't about biology, was it? Two police officers and a man in a suit pass me and gather around Dr. Llewellyn’s teaching desk. I can’t hear what they are discussing with the professor but he nods toward the class, sending the trio into the crowd. They surround Mrs. Sharpe’s auditorium seat. I can just make out the pronouncements.
“Evelyn Sharpe, you are under arrest for the murder of Dr. Roy Nordstrom. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say…”
For her part, Mrs. Sharpe actually seems relieved. She keeps repeating, “Did you let Keisha go? Take me but my baby is innocent! Is she okay? Can she come visit me? I've been taking class notes for her.”
Hal was weary, Gert was weary, and Hal's new friend Joe, a volunteer fire fighter from the small southern Florida coastal town of Boca Bonita, was weary too. They were, all three, tired of the dust and the desperation and the death they could smell all around them.
“Joe, where are you?,” Hal called into the walkie-talkie.
“Lyin’ down now ’bout a hunnerd yards ahead, to the right,” the scratchy answer came back to him through the device.
“Got the tarp on?”
“And a couple o’ bricks for affect.”
“Good. We’re comin’.”
“Gert, I have a feeling we’ll find one this time. Up ahead girl! I know the dust has got you stumped. Just a little fuhther. Come on. Here, I’ll let your harness loose.”
“Why, hello doggy! You found me," said Joe at last, the hidden body rising up from the rubble, "Yes, good dog. Yes, lick my face all ya want. Feel better? Yeah, look at that tail wag!”
“Well, lookee here! Gert, you found one. Yep, he’s alive and kickin’. Good girl! Help you up, Joe? There. Look at her. You made her day. Even a dog needs to have a little hope. Findin’ only dead bodies gives even Gertie the blues.”
“Glad I could help. You’ve got a good one there, Hal. You should be proud.”
“Don’t I know it? It’s gettin’ dark. What say we sign off duty and take Gert to the kennel.”
“Sounds like a plan. Still got some coffee in the thermos. Want some?”
Once in the flooded Great Rift Valley, following the burning of the twin towering baobab trees, one group of powerful walking chimps set off to pick on a weaker troupe--or so they thought--on the far side of the hills at the confluence of two ancient rivers. Dull the Alpha Male sent them on in that "Why don't you and them fight while I stand back and watch?" way of his. But the other troupe fought back and kept fighting back, and even though many of them died in the conflict, the insurgents kept attacking Dull's walking chimps and taking their daily toll on them. As the flood water began to recede, the battered bodies of the few wounded who managed to return to Gray Mama and the others back home told tales of brutality and futility. Elders and females and older children went forth to beg the warriors to come home but Dull would have none of it.
And Creepy, the Beta behind the throne, would take some of the other males to the borders of other walking chimp territories. If they found a straggler, they would spirit him or her off to some undisclosed location to do unimaginable things. The more casualties the community suffered from the pointless war, the more Creepy and his bully chimps sought and humiliated and tortured any hapless foreign chimp, insurgent or noncombatant, they could find. Why pick on a foreign troupe in the first place? Gray Mama could not fathom the male political mind. The walking chimps beyond the hills could not have had anything to do with the charred baobabs. The great trees had been struck by lightning, that was all. Gray Mama knew that if you threw a stone into a stream, it would make a plopping sound and rings in the water. That made sense, and it happened every time you did that. But Dull the dim Alpha Male and Creepy the scary Vice Alpha seemed to think that if you tossed a stone into a stream you could make rocks fall on your enemy, or if your enemy struck a tree with a stick, it could make your tree, your special tree, catch fire. Could only Gray Mama see that he was mad? Could only Gray Mama see the danger in this new religion?
Things had been different in her youth when Gray Mama was Tender Baby. The walking chimps, and even the knuckle walkers who took her in during the Great Flood, held to the old religion, if they held to any belief at all. If something moved, it was alive. If it was alive, it deserved respect. That was the litany. No one even thought about it unless something moved, and sometimes, not even then. There was no need for magic and invisible spirits.
CHAPTER SIX: Usefulness
Following Mrs. Sharpe's arrest for killing Roy Nordstrom, life settled into a routine again on the Hapsburg, Texas campus of Central Texas State University--as routine as things could be after a murder of one of their own plus the unimaginable tragedy of Nine Eleven.
Wally Fucking Parkinson, Wally Fucking Parkinson! They picked him to be the new department chairman? There really is no justice in this world. God, am I going to have to kill him too?...Who am I, Richard the Third? Nordstrom just fell into my lap. Otherwise, I would have waited some years for him to move on. He might have left for Harvard or someplace the way his career was going. But Wallace Eugene Parkinson? He’s going nowhere, which means I’m going nowhere forever. This is really not fair. Why can’t I catch a break for once? Why can’t Harvey Llewellyn get a piece of the action? Hmmmm…Maybe I can, get a piece of it, I mean. The Viking was working on another book. Perhaps, his widow would let me finish it. That’s it! She could probably use the money and I’d get some return for my efforts. I can write that kind of crap…and I can bring some real finesse and science to the table. Harvey, you brilliant bastard, it’s time to make lemonade!
Harvey Llewellyn put on his best cloak of diplomacy to approach the grieving widow. What the hell, he thought, if I'm going to be department chairman some day, I will need to dust off these political skills, anyway. So he offered Fay his condolences and vowed to make himself useful to her in her hour of need. He would help her finish Roy's last book-in-progress. He would even offer the entire proceeds of its sales to her so she could meet funeral expenses, get back on her feet and get on with her life. Of course, he figured she would probably let him keep half of all advances and royalties, after all, but his proposed generosity was the politic thing to do, and from now on, he would be as politic as hell.
And Roy always thought Harvey was so self-absorbed he would never reach out to help anyone. It just shows how wrong you can be about people. Of course, I’ll introduce him to Roy’s publisher. To be honest, I could use the income. The royalties from the first book are bound to dwindle after a couple of years. A new posthumous book could actually be more popular than the first. Roy Roy Roy, you fucker, you owe me another book. Couldn’t keep it in your pants, could you? You couldn’t camp out on the beach without boffing some silly coed. You left me alone, you bastard. Damn it, I miss you. Left me alone with this damned dissertation. Guess I’ll need to finish it now. Harvey Llewellyn…I never really noticed him before. He does have a kind of teddy bear quality to him. Wonder if he’s gay. I don’t think he is.
In the weeks to come Harvey and Fay kept busy sorting out transcripts of Roy Nordstrom's notes. They became quite an efficient team, with the enthusiastic assistance of Roy's secretary Mrs. Alvarez. Fay didn't think Roy had nailed that one, perhaps the only woman around whom he had not nailed. Perhaps Mrs. Alvarez was too old for Roy's tastes. Of course, she was only a year or two older than Fay, herself, but then it was probably the college girls that got Nordstrom all hot and bothered, anyway. Harvey Llewellyn turned out to be a real go-getter, far from the slacker reputation he had engendered. Harvey whipped Roy's notes into shape, added valuable observations of his own, and took seriously Fay's suggestions about the organization and presentation of the material in the book. It was probably transference, Dr. Llewellyn knew, that made Mrs. Nordstrom grow fond of him so soon after Dr. Nordstrom's death but Harvey was not above using her affection to his own advantage. Harvey came to realize he was not above anything anymore.
Sheryl, look. Is that Mrs. Nordstrom eating with Dr. Llewellyn? They've been awfully chummy lately. What's up with that? I recognize those notebooks. Roy was writing in them the last time I was with him, you know, before the field trip and everything. He said they were for his new book. I even did some research on the web for him. A lot of good that did me. Well, life goes on. Mrs. Roy has certainly bounced back, hasn't she? Look at those two. There's more than publishing going on there. Oh Sheryl, don't be so naive. I wonder if they were this friendly before Roy kicked the bucket--or got kicked by the frying pan. Very curious.
Sheriff Hal Henderson's wife, Jan, finally got word about their son Dennis. It was Dennis' roomate who found the Hendersons' Galveston telephone number and called to say Dennis was still alive, if not so well. Dennis had begged Brian not to contact the folks. He knew his mom would only worry about his severe injuries, and his dad, well, his dad would have said it was Dennis' own fault for being gay--or something like that. Brian loved Dennis so much, he could not let the clouded judgment of major trauma keep him from doing what he knew was the right thing. He got the phone number from Dennis' wallet and called Jan Henderson. The sheriff's wife then called her husband and pleaded with him to visit Dennis in the hospital, hysterically, on pain of divorce, on pain of her suicide. Hal dreaded the reunion. He had written the kid off as damaged goods, damaged before the towers fell, damaged by perversity. Only for his wife's sanity would he approach the stray youth. As brave as Hal was, it was the most fearful thing he had ever done.
"This way, Mr. Henderson," she says. I follow the nurse down the hospital corridor. She stands beside a doorway to let me pass.
"The bed by the window," she directs me. I go there and see a mummy, a clean white mummy in traction. There's barely enough face showing but I know it's Dennis.
"Yeah, that's him," I tell the nurse. She leaves us.
"Boy, you okay?" I ask him.
"Dad?" he mumbles.
"Yeah. You gonna be all right?"
"Lost a leg," he says weakly. I don't know why but I choke up a little.
"Oh well, you rest. I'll be back tomorrow."
"Sure, Dad," he says drifting off with a little smile.
"Are you his dad the sheriff?," a faggy voice asks from behind me. I turn to see a skinny kid with a lip ring.
"He was hoping you would come to see him."
I say something like, "Well, I was in town anyway."
"You're all he's talked about since he's been in hospital." I notice the kid is English or something. "I'm Brian, his...roommate." He extends his hand. I see it but don't want to touch it. He drops it and says, "I'm from Bristol, Brian from Bristol...Bristol, England that is."
"That's fine," is all I can muster.
"You may not realize it but your son's a hero."
"Saved a room full of office workers, including a pregnant woman. He was going back for more when part of the stairwell collapsed on him. Fireman carried him down to the street. He would have loved that, if he was conscious."
"What?" I knew what he meant but I didn't think it was funny.
"I mean...Well, I'm afraid he's shy a limb now. Could be worse, I guess."
"Yep. I guess."
"You sitting by while he sleeps?"
"Nah...I'll come back in the morning." Then I remember who I am and turn to the little punk. "You be gone then, ya hear?" He just stares me down like I'm from Mars. I blow air and walk away. I can't stop shaking my head. This is what my son has come to: a faggy foreigner "roommate" hooked in the mouth like a flounder. I had the feeling Dennis would amount to nothing.
It was fur and skin and mother’s milk that got Tender Baby through those first few months with the knuckle-walking chimps. She came to love her new tribe although she was frustrated when she came to the time in her life when she could stand and try to walk. She would use a tree or a bush or a termite mound to pull herself up. It seemed the most natural thing in the world for her. Without anyones help she took her first steps. Soon she was toddling all around to the horror of the troupe. If she was vertical for more than a few seconds, her adopted mother, whom she thought of as New Mama, or an adopted aunty or other adopted relative would pull her to the ground. They couldn’t understand why such a straight posture didn’t make her uncomfortable or cause her pain. It made them uncomfortable just to watch her. She looked like they did, more or less, she seemed as smart as any other baby, but she just couldn’t get with the program. Standing tall was fine for peering over the high grasses, for looking out for approaching danger or for showing where you were when you were lost, but it just wasn’t a natural thing to do all the time. It could not be healthy.
When the other youngsters would hit her, or shove her down, Tender Baby would stand defiantly and hold her ground. She could stand and walk for minutes, hours at a time, so she was a freak in their midst. However, they soon discovered she could see things they couldn’t: snakes, leopards, food. She became quite useful. As she grew older she became useful to the entire troupe. Over the years, others tried to imitate her. They never succeeded for long. The chimps came to see the advantages of upright walking but it was a painful ordeal. In this troupe a male walking chimp would have shot right up the political ladder to Alpha in no time at all. As it was, though, Tall One, as Tender Baby came to be known, was able to make a place for herself in chimpanzee society.
When she was of mateable age and size she was courted by the flower of male chimpdom. She could have her pick of the prospective dominant males, to the awe and envy of all the young females. But she liked the third-ranked male Groomer the best. He was calm and confident and made her feel at ease. They mated constantly for three days. Of course, he mated with others as well. These chimps were even less monogamous than Tall One’s own group. She and Groomer had a bond beyond mating, which was a good thing because no living infant ever came from their couplings. There was one painful miscarriage which sent her into weeks of depression, and then she was fine. She had the love and attention of the troupe, food and water were plentiful, and she had never felt better in her life.
CHAPTER SEVEN: Trials and Tribulations
Hal Henderson, the Sheriff of Galveston County, tried to "hit the ground running" when he got back home. He let it be known he was there to stay, although it would soon turn out he was not. He had Otto Schmidt, his young blond chief deputy, fill him in on the current cases. Hal was surprised Mrs. Sharpe had been arrested for the murder of Roy Nordstrom. He thought it was open and shut that Keisha Cummings had clocked the doc for his sexual advances, and that Mrs. Sharpe, her old lady, had confessed, as she had at Keisha's apprehension, just to protect her daughter. Otto assured Hal Mrs. Sharpe's prints were also on the frying pan/murder weapon. Forensics had interpreted the evidence so that Keisha's smeared prints showed her mom had pulled the skillet away from her, gripped it solidly and whacked the professor a good one. In fact, Keisha had pulled the skillet away from her mother but that was a minor detail never quite discovered. Someone else took up the pan after the two women left Dr. Nordstrom's tent, someone wearing latex gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints, and did some real damage to the doctor's skull, while inadvertently smearing some of the prints already present.
Case is going to trial soon, like I thought. Well, they're setting a date. It's still a ways off. The old office looks pretty small now that I'm back from the big city. Jan wants to go up there and see Dennis. What's the point? There's nothing she can do. He's gotta learn to live without his left leg. He's got "friends" to help him out, put him up for a while. Probably get some sorta New York welfare to help him get by. He'll do okay. Yeah, he was damaged goods anyway. What kinda life is that, that faggot shit? What's one leg less to him? It's not like he had any real future anyway. He can't come home, so New York can have him.
Trial's a no brainer, case closed. I knew Otto and the guys could take care of things while I was gone. Sheriff's Office is out of it soon. We'll go on to other cases. Better catch up on what all I missed. Don't want these green kid deputies to think they can get along without me. Don't want the voters to think I abandoned them for Yankeeland.
It was a relatively speedy trial. There had been some trials which had taken longer to get rolling, and almost everyone involved thought it was not going to last very long once the grand jury had voted to indict Mrs. Sharpe. It was also common wisdom that she would get off on a lesser charge than first degree murder. After all, everyone knew she had merely defended her little girl from rape. What mother could do anything less in that situation? Even a Texas jury would be lenient under the circumstances. Time was when they might have convicted a black woman for killing a white man no matter what but things were not like that anymore. For whatever reason, though, the District Attorney pressed for prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.
We hear excerpts of Nordstrom's audio notes. "Now, Dr. Llewellyn," the prosecutor asks me on the witness stand, "you found this little voice recorder in the sand after sunrise that morning. Is that correct?"
"Yes I did," I answer truthfully. Of course, I had put it there but then I found it again.
"Had you seen it before?"
"Yes, it was the one Dr. Nordstrom used to make his notes."
"As a scientist and as a colleague and collaborator of his, can you tell us what we have just been listening to?"
"Well, he makes various comments about comparative anatomy, speculations on natural history...that sort of thing."
"Evolution, basically?" He is heading somewhere with his line of questioning but I'm not sure where.
"Yes. It all comes down to that," I acknowledge.
"So, he was working on his second book touching on evolution and the origins of life."
"Yes. You could say that."
"And then at '10:04', according to the tape, he just stopped abruptly, and right after that we hear him say something about a 'need area'. Is that correct?"
"Yes. That's what it sounds like." That's what it sounds like because that's what I made it sound like with some quick erasing.
"You consulted with Dr. Nordstrom on his new book."
"Yes, very closely."
"And you are finishing the book for publication. Is that right?"
"I think he would have wanted it that way. Yes."
"Having known the man for years and having worked with him so closely, would you say Dr. Nordstrom was a proponent of the teaching of evolution?"
"Well, that goes without saying. He was a biological scientist. Evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology."
"And at 10:04, while he was dictating notes on a book about evolution, he was cut short by a blow to his head and..."
"Objection," complains the defense attorney, "calls for a conclusion on the part of the witness."
"Sustained," concludes the judge.
"No further questions of this witness, Your Honor." Mr. Lowry smiles, having made his point, for whatever it is worth.
Harvey Llewellyn's testimony had come on the heels of the presentation of crime scene evidence. Things moved along swiftly from there. Mrs. Sharpe's only hope, it seemed, was to throw herself on the mercy of the court. Surely, the judge wouldn't let this hot shot assistant D.A. railroad her into death row and lethal injection for defending her child from rape.
What does this man want from me? Mama's pleaded guilty. Everybody knows she was defending me. Why is he making her out to be a criminal? She didn't mean to kill Dr. N with that frying pan. Then they had to go and get a brother to prosecute the black lady, and he wants to show how smoothe he is.
"Now, Ms. Cumming," he says, like the slimy snake he is, "do you recognize this book?"
"Yes, it's Dr. Nordstrom's book," I say, thinking it's a trap of some kind.
"This particular book, Ms. Cumming. Here. Take a look at it." He hands it to me.
"It's my copy. Dr. Nordstrom autographed it to me."
"Was the book a present from Dr. Nordstrom?" asked the prosecutor.
"No. I bought it before I took his class," I said.
"And you had him autograph it after class one afternoon?"
"In the classroom I did," I told him, "We weren't alone, if that's what you mean."
"May I?" He indicates he wants the book back and I oblige him. "There are copious notes all through the pages. Do you usually write notes in your books?"
"No. But it's my book. I can write in it if I want."
"Of course, you can. Did you?" he asks.
"What do you mean?"
"Did you write in this book? Is this your handwriting?"
"No. My Mama did. So what?"
"Objection." Mama's lawyer, the Public Defender, won't let him badger me. "Relevance, Your Honor?" I wonder about that too.
"Speaks to motive, Your Honor," says the slime ball.
His Honor says, "I'll allow it for now, Mr. Lowry, but get to the point soon."
"Of course, Your Honor. Ms. Cumming, could you read this sentence for us?"
I take the book and read what he's pointing at. "Okay...'Mankind, far from being apart from nature, is derived, as is all life on Earth, from a long line of beings whose DNA we share.' "
"Very well," Lowry says, "would you then read the note written in the margin?"
"Right there," he points.
"Uh...'So men say.' "
" 'So men say,' " he repeats, taking the book back, "what does your mother mean by that?"
"Objection. He's calling for speculation," Sister Jakes, Mama's lawyer, cuts him down.
"Sustained," says the judge.
"Ms. Cumming, at the time your mother made notes in this book, did she discuss it with you?"
"Yes. I told her it was my book and she should write in her own books and leave mine alone," I say but I shouldn't fuss at Mama here, so I add, "but that's Mama's way. That's how she learned so much all her life, by reading and rereading and making notes and asking questions. She's a better student than me, so I guess she knows what she's doing."
"Is your mother a religious woman?"
"Relevance, Your Honor?" Sister Jakes is making her salary today.
"Mr. Lowry, you are trying the court's patience," the judge warns him.
"Your honor, Lowry says, "I'm trying to demonstrate that the defendant had antipathy toward the decedent, on religious grounds, long before the incident which took his life."
"Make your case, and do it quickly," orders the judge.
"Thank you, Your Honor. Ms. Cumming, is your mother a religious woman?"
"Yes she is," I say defiantly, "What about it?"
"Does she ever discuss religious matters with you?"
"We go to church and talk about the sermon later," I say.
"Has she ever discussed evolution with you?" What does he mean by that?
"Yes," I answer quietly.
"Could you speak up, please?" he badgers.
"What did she think of it?"
"Of what?" I don't like what's happening.
"Evolution. Did she have any opinions about it?"
"She said it was the Devil's religion." There, I said it but it makes Mama sound crazy.
"If she felt that way, why did she sign up for biology classes?"
"I guess you'd have to ask her that."
"If I get the chance, I will. Thank you, Ms. Cumming."
I'm off the hook but what did this man make me say? He's getting at something. Who knows what?
That afternoon Leah Pollock caught Attorney Libby Jakes outside the Galveston County Court House. Tentatively, she called out to her. "Mrs. Jakes?"
"Yes," answered Libby, turning to meet her.
"So what do you think all this means?"
"Wait a minute. It did strike me as funny that Dr. Nordstrom's dictation was only garbled near the end. It was "Ctenophore" then the tape was maybe erased for a while and then some words and "Cnidaria". What if someone erased it on purpose? Maybe that wasn't the end of his recording. Someone erased then played a few words and then erased the rest."
"Sounds logical. I wish I knew what he said after that."
"Me too. Maybe the killer's voice was on that tape. I need to ask the judge for a continuance. Thank you."
"I hope I've been some help. I don't think Mrs. Sharpe was capable of such a thing."
"Then why did she confess? It's not going to be easy to answer that when the judge asks me but I'll think of something. There may be something in the forensics."
"I hope it's not too late."
"So do I. Anyway, you may have given us something to appeal the ruling with, if it comes to that. I uh...need to look over the files again before court. Thanks. This information may just make a difference. Sorry I have to leave so soon. I really appreciate your coming forward."
Libby Jakes took a wad of small bills from her purse, dropped them on the table before Leah, sipped one more sip of coffee and exited the donut shop briskly into a breezy coastal evening.
One summer in the Great Rift Valley of Africa, when Gray Mama of the walking chimps was Tall One of the common chimps, she and her New Mama knelt to sip from the far river, now a trickle, just a wildebeest’s length wide. It was the same river from which she had been rescued as Tender Baby, perhaps twenty summers past. New Mama had grown gray in her dedication to her adopted daughter. Lacking the power of speech, she could not have conveyed the loss of her newborn twins just days before the adoption in the flood. Tall One would never know why New Mama was so devoted to her. She did know she had needed a mother most when New Mama found her. First Mama, Tall One's birth mother, had perished in the Great Flood along with her only brother. This was the first time Tall One had ventured so far East since her infancy. The troupe's foraging had ranged all over the forests and now they sought what little water remained after almost a year of drought. There was only one pool to be found in this part of the river and the four-tusked elephants had taken it over for the afternoon, swimming in it, splashing in it, sucking it up in their trunks, and spraying it into their mouths past their short straight lower tusks. New Mama and Tall One kept their distance. The trickle of river was more than enough for them and for the rest of the troupe sipping just a few paces downstream. Tall One closed her eyes and took in the cool water confident the males of the knuckle walkers were on guard for any danger.
When she opened her eyes she was face to face with an elder. It struck her that the female chimp she saw was not a member of the community but that she was not exactly a stranger. Those kind eyes, now heavier with age, were so familiar. Tall One stood slowly and the elder across the trickle stood with her, their eyes locked in a mutual quest for recognition. The elder held out her hand, over the trickle, to Tall One, who met it with her own. Their fingertips touched and they both knew in that instant who they were greeting. Tall One noticed the elder was still standing, though a bit slouched, and then suddenly bounded into the stream and hooted. Tall One held out her other arm and leaped into the stream to embrace the elder. It was Aunty, her birth mother's sister. There was a gentle hand on Tall One's shoulder. New Mama stood and tugged her, and she stepped back from Aunty. The two older females regarded each other, New Mama squatting of necessity and Aunty standing her ground, not with hostility, but rather with curiosity. Tall One looked from one to the other and back again. Aunty relinquished her grip. The eyes of the old ones met, each trying to read what to do in the other. From behind New Mama rough hoots and screams galloped into the awareness of the three. It was half a dozen males of the knuckle walkers with their war faces on and their canine teeth bared for combat. Aunty began to pull away but gripped Tall One to come with her. The angry horde of males was within a few strides when some walking chimp males approached the river atop the mound on the other side. New Mama caught the eyes of Tall One and Aunty, turned to the charging males behind her, glanced at the standing males gripping sticks and rocks up the hill, saw crouchers behind and standers ahead, and pushed Tall One over the trickle and toward Aunty. The two old ones made eye contact once more and understanding seemed to pass between them. Aunty escorted Tall One uphill while New Mama screamed at her males, who staggered to a collective halt just short of the river, with Groomer, the nearest male, palming her roughly on her head. Tall One's sad eyes caught New Mama's. That was their good-bye, punctuated only by a warning grunt from one of the walking males from the mound overlooking the river.
Harvey Llewellyn looked up from his laptop on Fay Nordstrom's dining room table and said, "Sweetheart, we need a break." Harvey was half toying with her affections, half serious about her. He was comfortable with Fay and she was his meal ticket, or maybe something more. The new book was on track, the publisher was enthusiastic about its prospects, and both Harvey and Fay had a goal to work toward, a project they could sink their teeth into, and a distraction from grief for one of them and a distraction from guilt for the other. Still, Harvey was contemplating his impending success and starting to think in terms of being among the idle rich. When the book was a hit, he would dump this unsatisfying life of teaching bored post-teenagers, and probably dump his new love interest as well, and be the new Hemingway of the science set, sipping rum and composing non-fiction masterpieces in some tropical locale.
"Sure," she said, putting down her latest test papers, "want some coffee?"
"No coffee, and I don't just mean 'Take five,' he told her, standing to stretch his legs, "I mean really get away. We can write and grade papers, and we can sip margaritas on the beach."
"It's March," she informed him, "there's still a cold wind on the beach."
"You think too small, my dear. I don't mean Padre Island. I'm talking the Bahamas."
"Do you think we should?"
"Spring Break is coming up. It will be the perfect time...and I've already made reservations."
The Galveston County crime lab looked into the new slant on the case evidence Leah Pollock had proposed to Libby Jakes. The defense portion of the trial had a temporary respite as the local scientists and technicians rethought the clues and objects they had previously processed. If "Ten-Oh-Four" was not the time of the murder, then what was the time of the murder? Were there other findings to be had from the evidence? Everything was checked again with new eyes: the blow to the skull, the frying pan, the little audio recorder. Perhaps they had missed a few nuances, having falsely supposed a certain time for the crime. They had not paid much attention to Mrs. Sharpe's medical report but maybe there was something in that too.
Just when you think things are settled somebody throws a monkey wrench into the works. The lab boys are going over the evidence in that beach murder case again. What do you know, they found something. No fingerprints on that little audio recorder somebody tampered with, but damned if they didn't find some on the batteries inside it that were not from the victim. Seen it happen before with bullets in a gun: the piece wiped clean but the bullets with nice clear damning prints. And the old lady didn't do it. Oh, she hit the guy all right, and he probably deserved it for diddling her little girl. Might have known she didn't have the strength to put him away. Turns out she has arthritis. Forensics now show two blows to the head of the victim. The second one had a man's strength behind it, and the fingerprints on the triple A's didn't match the old lady's either.
Well, Otto and the boys can close the case without me, I'm bound for Afghanistan. Where the Hell is that? Somewhere by India, I guess. Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan in one lifetime. What's next? Well, I'm in the Guard. The National Guard says you go to Hell and fight, you go. Do your duty for your country as best you can. I hope Bush knows what he's doing, though. I voted for him but he seems dumber than when he was governor.
Told Jan that Dennis could stay with her when I'm gone. Hell, she misses the little shit. His faggy brit buddy and his faggy buddy's limey folks are driving him down soon as he's ready to travel. Hope he's recovered and gone by the time I come back. Won't deal with that. Just won't. Not after eating dust all those months in the middle of nowhere.
Sheriff Henderson, a former Houston policeman, had won election as Sheriff of Galveston County on an anti-corruption platform. Although his Democratic opponent, a respected local deputy, had never been implicated in the bribery scandal that focused on his boss, who was forced into retirement, the good citizens of Galveston County had wanted a clean sweep. Hal fired the whole law enforcement staff, except for old Hollis, who he kept on part time, when he took office. He hired a bunch of green kids right out of college and Otto Schmidt from the Texas City constabulary. Altogether, their combined years of experience did not add up to Hal's. It was their time to shine or it was their time to fail. Much was riding on Otto's young muscular shoulders. Looking more like a lifeguard than a sheriff, he led two of his best fellow deputies from the seawall to the hill country. They interviewed the usual suspects again. That's how Otto met Leah Pollock.
Of course, Leah and Otto had seen each other that morning on the beach, the morning after the murder, but Otto had interviewed some of the other campers. Leah had noticed him, though. He had literally turned her head. He remembered her too, and even though he had not consciously thought of her in more than a year, he now hoped he would get the chance to take her statement. Bob and George could take the others. Leah was his.
For her part, Leah had gone ahead with her life. She was dating students now. She had had enough of professorial flings. She would pick on someone her own age from now on. Leah had had enough of sand and surf too, for a while anyway. She spent her Spring Break back home in Round Rock. There was no romance on the beach but there were the clubs in Austin, and margaritas she could get everywhere. Leah even went out with Barry, her ex-squeeze, a couple of times. Mostly, though, she was unattached, and that was fine with her. She didn't mind spending time at home with her folks, hanging out with the homies, teaching her little sister Sarah about makeup and hair styles. In the words of Duke Ellington (or was it Billy Strayhorn?) she was copacetic.
Back in school again it was business as usual, except that she was on her third biology instructor this year. It didn't hurt that it was Professor Elizabeth Danton. There was no temptation there. Well, there had not been any temptation with Dr. Llewellyn either. What Mrs. Nordstrom could see in him was beyond Leah's ken. Whatever happened to those two anyway? They seemed to vanish during Spring Break. No one ever said why.
She was in the dorm lobby watching "Survivor" on the tube, sipping a coke from a paper cup, and almost gagging when she saw a cowboy, who was waiting on his date, spit snuff into a similar paper cup, when a lifeguard in khaki and a badge stepped up to her.
"Leah Polluck?" he asked.
"Where do I know you from?" she asked back.
"I'm with the Galveston County Sheriff's Department."
"Right. Right. Is this still about that same case? I know they dropped the charges against Mrs. Sharpe. Are there other suspects?"
"That's why I'm here."
"I swear, I was in my tent all night."
"No, not you. I just need to ask a few more questions."
"We can't say yet. The investigation is ongoing. Look, could we talk over supper maybe?"
"Unless you have other plans for tonight. Then we could meet tomorrow."
"I'll check my calendar," she said pretending to check her personal digital assistant, "Nope, looks like I'm free."
"We passed this little steak and seafood place just outside of town. Would that do?"
" ' Tommy's Surf and Turf ' ? That's fine with me."
"Good. Pick you up here at 9:00, say."
"Make it 8:30." Leah hoped she didn't sound too eager.
"See you then."
"Yes!" she said only to herself.
In the ancient Great Rift Valley the ancient Gray Mama could see history was repeating itself, although her australopithecine mind knew nothing of history. Her thought was more akin to "Not again." She and the elders of her generation remembered when the males of the troupe went off on their long misadventure far away downstream where the wild rice grows. She couldn't recall why they went or whether the Alpha Male of the time was Big Ears or his predecessor, the one with the bad back, both of whom she liked, but the incursion lingered on through the administration of Shifty, who she never could stand. The elder males remembered which of their comrades where killed and crippled by the foreigners who, of course, had had the home turf advantage.
And now, for some other inexplicable reason, vaguely associated with the burning of the twin baobab towers, Creepy the Beta Male was pushing Dull the dull Alpha and the other males to beat up on some other distant troupe of walking chimps. Gray Mama found Creepy to be the creepiest of them all. She remembered once Creepy and an elder friend of his had returned from bird hunting, and apparently Creepy had thrown his fist full of bird gravel in his friend's face, which for an hour afterward was all bloody with some pebbles still embedded in the skin. The creepiest thing to Gray Mama was that the elder was obsequiously grooming Creepy as though the Beta were the injured party. What power did Creepy hold over the elders and even the A.M. himself? Gray Mama shuddered to think.
Now the invasion had gone on too long and many of the younger males where never to be seen again. So many who did return were maimed for life, some of them old veterans of the Wild Rice conflict. Gray Mama knew Dull and Creepy's days of influence were coming to an end. Maybe it was even time for an Alpha Female to lead. Gray Mama was pulling for Pushy, former A.M. Randy's mate. Could she do any worse than the guys?
Gray Mama looked around for her surviving son, Drummer, but he was nowhere to be found. He was not down by the trickling river. He was not on the lookout hill. He was not with the young females grooming their babies under the clump of acacia trees. Where was he? She climbed the lookout hill once more. There was a familiar stick. She had seen Drummer hitting it on the dead tree. He liked the sound it made. She sniffed the stick. It did smell like Drummer. She knew some other walking chimp males had left the camp in this direction following Dull and Creepy. Was Drummer with them? Gray Mama followed the tributary of the trickling river upstream. She would journey until she found her son, and then she would bring him back home.
CHAPTER EIGHT: Flight
Harvey Llewellyn typed away, shaded just enough by the Cinzano beach umbrella so he could read the screen of his laptop. The weather was just perfect--sunny but breezy, very little rain--perfectly condusive for his writing. He took a sip from his mojito and called out to Fay as he read the latest e-mail from their publishing house. "We're in, Fay darling!"
Fay descended the stone path from the beach house and embraced Harvey from behind, her margarita glass cooling his sunburned cheek. Harvey turned his head and they kissed. Fay took her place in the opposite beach chair from his and set down her drink on the round beach table.
"The publisher has transferred a big advance to my bank account--our bank account. They liked the chapters we sent and they loved your introduction to the book."
"I'm no scientist, sweetheart, but I think your observations mesh very well with Roy's."
Fay sipped her drink and played with Harvey's still-wet hair.
"Thank you, my dear," he said.
"How did you find this island?"
"The Internet, of course. Great, isn't it? Quiet. Peaceful. Well stocked wet bar."
"I have to say you were right. It's so much easier to get our writing done here. No distractions, except for each other, and it's so gorgeous."
"That it is. And there's no one to bother us other than the locals who bring us ice and supplies every day from Nassau."
"I don't even miss plumbing. Of course, I couldn't do without it forever."
"Not a bad life, as long as we have ice and booze and food and rainwater in the shower barrel, and we do have the diesel generator for electricity, and of course, Wi-Fi. "
"I could learn to love the primitive life," Fay decided as she pulled her broad-brimmed straw hat down over her sunglasses and napped away the heat of the day.
Leah and Otto
Leah and Otto the deputy enjoyed the surf and turf special and took a long time to get down to business but neither one seemed to care.
"How's your shrimp?" Otto broached.
"It's good," Leah assured him, "and yours?"
"It's really very good. I guess I didn't expect it to be so fresh."
"Oh they ice them down and truck them here in less than four hours."
"Probably as fresh as some places in Galveston, then."
"You...uh...," Otto transitioned awkwardly, "You're the one that told Libby Jakes about Ctenophores and Cnidaria. Did I say those right?"
"Yes. Just right."
"Well, you know the sheriff was sure the incident happened at 10:04 because of that recording. I guess I'm looking at the whole investigation with fresh eyes but I think it happened much later that night."
Leah loved Otto's "fresh eyes". They were so blue she thought she might want to swim in them.
"Everyone I know thinks it was in the morning before sun up," she said.
"That makes sense. We have some fingerprints but they're not Mrs. Sharpe's or her daughter's or Dr. Nordstrom's. Do you know anyone on the field trip who might have had it in for the deceased?"
"Roy?...I mean Dr. Nordstrom? Of course, I only knew him from class."
"Of course. You heard voices that night?"
"Yes. It turns out it was Keisha, then Mrs. Sharpe just before the first thud or bonk or whatever."
"Then you went back to sleep?"
"Yes. But I woke up again because I heard that sound again, only much louder."
"Okay. This is good because we didn't have all these details at first." Otto took out a notepad and scribbled something.
"Well, I've had time to think about it and sort out my thoughts."
"When was this second noise?"
"I'm not really sure when the second one was but it was probably just a few minutes after the first one. I was barely asleep after the first time."
"But you're certain it was after 10:00?" he pressed her.
"Definitely. It was after Mrs. Nordstrom and Dr. Llewellyn drove up."
"When was that?"
"Well it was after 10:00, maybe 11:15 or 11:30, something like that."
"I should talk to them again," Otto declared.
"You really should...I probably shouldn't say anything..." She had to get it out.
"What is it?"
"It's probably nothing but those two have been awfully tight lately."
"Mrs. Nordstrom and Dr. Llewellyn"
"That's interesting." Otto made some more notes.
"It may be nothing. It looks like they're finishing Roy's...Dr. Nordstrom's next book."
"Do you know that for sure?"
"I saw her give Dr. Llewellyn Dr. Nordstrom's notebooks."
"You're a pretty good detective yourself."
"It's just something I noticed, that's all."
"Would you like dessert?" the waiter asked.
Otto and Leah glanced at each other. "Sure," they both said.
Gray Mama trudged uphill following the tributary of the great trickling river. She didn't know for sure where the males had run off to but where else could Drummer and the others have gone on their ill-begotten expedition? She knew somehow that the creek would lead her to the conjunction of the two great rivers. That's where she would find the fray, Nasty's troupe and the males of her own clan.
After three days she was beginning to doubt her instincts when she heard cries of pain eminating from behind some boulders. Gray Mama climbed over a ridge to investigate. It was Creepy the creepy Beta Male and he was twisting the arm of a stranger who was being held down by two of Creepy's enormous henchmen. The stranger was covered with feces. Whether it was his own feces or not Gray Mama couldn't tell, but she knew he had been humiliated before the torture.
The henchmen chimps pulled the stranger to his feet with Creepy holding the stranger's twisted arm behind his back. Creepy pointed ahead and pushed the foreign walking chimp in front of him, still twisting the arm. The bullies took up the rear. Gray Mama kept her distance as the group of males stepped down toward the creek where the walking chimps from the twin towering baobab trees were encamped.
Gray Mama watched the camp from behind a termite mound at the top of the rise. She finally caught sight of Drummer. He looked confused, and probably homesick, but well enough. He was sharing the leg of a baboon the band had just torn asunder. Drummer was in a group of four youngsters, all of whom Gray Mama knew, of course.
Creepy grunted to the assembled males and they all got up to follow. Apparently, the captured foreigner was to lead them to Nasty, who would presumably suffer a fate even worse than that of this captive individual.
Drummer and his friends rose slowly, not sure what was going on, so they lagged behind the mass of walking chimps. Gray Mama, crouching as she went along, moved down the hill toward her son. She touched his back and he jumped. Drummer's friends were happy to see one of their "aunties" and bounced in joyful greeting. Gray Mama pulled Drummer's arm and the friends followed them behind the bushes unseen by the larger group.
Drummer hugged his mother but began to stray in the direction of the marching crowd. His friends began to join him. Gray Mama reached out and tugged Drummer and one of his pals, each by an ear. The other youngsters followed them in amusement.
They almost got away from the war zone but four gorilla-sized walking chimps blocked their progress, threw Gray Mama to the ground, and pummeled Drummer and two of his buddies mercilessly. Another youngster got away and ran with all deliberate speed away from the fight. Gray Mama was cut and bruised but she hoped the tender one would make it back home to his family.
Sergeant Major Hal Henderson, back in his desert camouflage fatigues, rode shotgun in a National Guard Hum-V with a kid half a decade younger than his son Dennis in the driver's seat. The engine was idling while the other vehicles filled with personnel. They were about to go out on another patrol in the dusty highlands of Afghanistan.
Sergeant Major Henderson
Man, I thought we had sand in Galveston. This place is all sand and dust and rock. Even Iraq has some green. It's the Fertile- Goddamn-Crescent, after all, and we were in and out of there in a hundred days or so. Well, the Gulf War is history, no need to go there again. This Bin Laden character's got thousands of caves to hide in, and we've got to check out thousands and thousands of square miles of nothing. He's probably in Pakistan by now, anyway. One thing, though, we're kicking some Taliban ass. Pius bastards. They're like Baptists from Hell. They don't want anyone in Afghanistan to do anything, keep their women under wraps, destroy historic monuments. They dynamited those giant Budhist statues that were hundreds of years old. We're doing the locals a favor throwing them out.
Back home, Otto thinks he's closing in on a new suspect. I heard that before. He's closing in on some tail, if you ask me. He met this girl in Hapsburg. His suspect has probably skipped the state, the country even, and I don't see him getting some guy extradited just to check out his fingerprints when there is no other evidence.
Jan's taking care of Dennis. Maybe she's the one who turned him into a fruit in the first place with all her mothering. Now she's coddling him all over again because he lost a leg. That kid will never stand on his own two feet--well, he'll never be a man until he can take care of himself. He's getting around on crutches okay Jan says. Next he'll be fitted for a plastic leg. City of New York gave him some kind of citation for saving the people in that office, mailed it to him in Galveston. That's something. If he wasn't such a fag, I might even be proud of the boy. Shit, he just did what he had to do at the time.
We gotta roll. Saddle up the Hum-V's, troops. Let's find that six-foot skinny son-of-a-bitch making all this trouble. He's on dialysis, yet, and we can't find his sorry ass? Let's go get him!
In a tropical island paradise Harvey Llewellyn sat in a sparcely furnished room in an austere office building that could have been anywhere but in a tropic island paradise. The Nassau police had been questioning him for hours. He was alone for a few minutes during which time the investigating officers were, no doubt, regrouping for the third time that night, or was it morning already?
It was an accident, I tell them. We were taking the rented boat from the little island to Nassau, a wave almost capsized us, and she was swept overboard. Hell, the God-damned British Navy fished me out of the water. The Bahamian police are skeptical but they can't prove anything against me.
She was getting too clingy and she seemed to suspect me in her husband's murder. What proof she would have had I don't know. She was just grasping at straws because I was cooling to her. She thought she would hurt me verbally. Said I just used her to get the book deal, and now that I had it, I didn't need her anymore.
That was true enough. Now that I have the big advance from the publisher in my bank account, I can finish the book without her. She could have kept me for a while, though, if she'd played her cards right. But I couldn't have her raising questions, proof or no proof. When I offered to take her to Nassau for a romantic night on the town she went for it. Told her it would bring us closer together. She bought it.
It wasn't easy for me to throw her off the boat. When I whacked Nordstrom on the head it was a spur of the moment thing. This time it was planned, and we had had sex, which made it harder to let her go. I was even getting fond of her, stupid bitch. She had to make unsubstantiated accusations out of anger. What was she thinking? Well, I tossed her over in choppy seas, knocked her out with an oar, and that was that. It was a stroke of luck spotting the Royal Navy frigate. I shot off a flare, grabbed a life jacket and ditched the boat. It was a calculated risk but it really covered my ass.
The Bahamians have got nothing on me and the case back home is focused on that old black lady. I'll just answer a few questions and they'll have to let me go. I'll complete the book, tour with it a few weeks, start the next one, tour that one, and all the time build a nest egg. The publishers are already talking about a three book deal. I can do that.
Otto Schmidt dropped his uniform trousers and stepped out of them. Hanging them over a bedroom chair, he plunged into his waterbed, white briefs, socks and all. The bed was an old relic from his dad, a seventies bit of furniture he loved in the spring and summer because it was cooler than a conventional bed. The heater was broken, though, so of course, it was a little too cool in the winter, but he hoped Leah would still be around then, at least on weekends, to provide the warmth.
"He got away," Otto tells me in bed, "He slipped away from the Bahamian police before they could cuff him."
"There's nothing you can do about it now," I assure him as I cuddle up.
"I know he's the one. Now Mrs. Nordstrom's missing under questionable circumstances." Otto swings around and sits up.
I hug him from behind, my head on his left shoulder. "It's out of your hands now. Anyway, where can he go? He's got the Bahamians and the Royal Navy and probably Interpol on his case."
"Hal will think I fucked up."
"No he won't. Dr. Llewellyn skipped the country before you even saw him as a suspect."
"We've been together like, what, three months now?" I think he just changed the subject.
"More like four."
"When do you graduate?"
"What left field did that come out of?"
"You have any plans for the future?"
"What is this, a job interview?" I kiss him on the neck.
"In a way."
"Well, I'm done with my science electives now. I just need to complete my student teaching and I'm through."
"Think you could teach here in Galveston or hereabouts?"
"Why am I being interogated, Officer?"
He turns to me and kisses me on my left temple. "There's plenty of room here on O 1/2 Street."
I think I know where he's headed as I look him in the eye. "Spit it out, Deputy Schimdt."
"Goddamn it, will you marry me?"
I try to hold back my excitement. "Do it right..."
"Do I have to?"
I point to the floor of his bedroom and he rolls off the water bed, sending swells of plastic fabric across it for me to ride. I try to sit up, almost seasick now. Settling on one knee he takes my hand. "Leah, will you do me the honor of being my wife?"
"Why so formal?" I joke.
"Damn!" He rushes me and the covers with a huge bear hug, or maybe a football tackle, which makes surfing waves on the surface of the bed.
"Yes, I'll marry you!" I shout in a muffled shout beneath the bed clothes and the naked lifeguard guy, the water contents of the bed gurgling in my ears. We roll around becoming a ball of flesh and sheets and bedspread sailing the high seas. He fairly howls and I smile and growl a little in pleasure.
The text crawl at the bottom of the television screen gave the scoop away as the anchorwoman solemnly reported the breaking news.
"...This just in, Texas authorities confirmed today that the remains of a woman found washed ashore on a small island in the Bahamas are in fact those of Mrs. Fay Nordstrom, thirty-eight, of Hapsburg, Texas. She was the widow of Dr. Roy Nordstrom who was murdered in 2001 on a beach near Galveston. A male companion of Mrs. Nordstrom who was being held for questioning has fled from police jurisdiction in Nassau. More on this later as the story develops on WWN Breaking News."
"Galveston's your town," said the young Lieutenant in the company day room in Kabul.
"Yes sir," Hal told him, "I'm the sheriff back there. My deputies are working on that case. I was there when that first murder happened. Turns out the perp tampered with evidence. Sent us all on a wild goose chase. I'm confident those boys can handle things. There's nothing they can do until somebody catches this guy. He could be anywhere right now. Guess we can rule out Afghanistan."
"I guess you'll be glad to get back to the job and family."
"Yes sir. Pursuit here is goin' nowhere. At least we kicked out the Taliban."
"I don't think they'll be a factor anymore."
"You have a family, sir?"
"Just married a couple of months prior to deployment. Ashley's pregnant. I hope to be back in time. She says it's twins, a girl and a boy. Do you have kids, Sergeant?"
"Yeah, a boy. He's all grown up." Hal thought a minute before he went on. "He had a tough break," he continued, "got caught in 911 in the Trade Center, lost a leg...but they say he saved some folks."
"You must be proud."
"Yes sir, I must be...I mean of course. His mother says he's getting along fine on his new leg. He's trying to get work in Houston, has to start all over again, you know, but he's hangin' in there."
The Lieutenant is upbeat. "That's all he can do," he says, "We're lucky we have things in control here without a lot of casualties. We should rout Al Quaida like we did the Taliban, pick off Osama, and be back in the States before you know it."
"Yes sir," Hal agreed.
CHAPTER NINE: Homeward
Gray Mama had not felt so confined since the days she was Tall One of the common chimps, and was pulled down every time she tried to stand. A contingent of four or five huge brutes kept her under an acacia tree. They would surround her, backs turned, when she had to attend to bodily functions. Twice a day they would march her down to a stream which fed into one of the converging rivers so all could take a drink. In the evening there would be a changing of the guard, and a different four or five hulks, food in hand would settle down around her, throwing scraps of fruit or raw meat to her, if they felt like it. More than for her own situation Gray Mama worried for the plight of her son Drummer and his two young friends dragged off into the fight with the foreign walking chimps.
On the fourth day of her captivity she and her guards were joined by a dozen or so battered troupers but Drummer was not with them. There were missing arms and ears, and there were scratches and abscesses and bloody wounds. Gray Mama wondered if this bunch was all that was left of the fourty young chimps who had set out to confront Nasty and his band, and she wondered if her dear Drummer was lost in the struggle.
The dozen were soon followed by a handful of elders and Dull the dull Alpha Male. Dull, to Gray Mama, looked to be saddened and old for his years, if no wiser. He seemed to be grooming one of the elders to the exclusion of the others. Gray Mama knew the elder, who she thought of as...Elder, a veteran of the wild rice conflict of a generation before. Even back then Elder had the scars of these youngsters and then some. He was thought dead and then showed up with injuries that did not come out of combat. Gray Mama now realized Elder had been tortured in much the same way she had seen that stranger tortured by Creepy the Vice Alpha and his henchmen in that undisclosed location.
Dull appeared weary of his position and the thought occured to Gray Mama that he was deferring to Elder a great deal. The younger walking chimps seemed to be gravitating to Elder as a leader. Gray Mama hoped Elder would bring the troops home if he became A.M. but she knew he was too much of a "good soldier" to do that. The next morning he would lead the walking wounded back into battle and more would die.
The Nassau police told Harvey Llewellyn not to leave town, so he went to a pub down by the harbor. Of course, the cruise ships and merchant vessels would be notified if he tried to skip the commonwealth. If he could hang on, though, when the cops found no evidence to hold him, he would take what he could get from the ATM and buy a plane or boat ticket home, or to somewhere. He couldn't return to Hapsburg, Texas now, he thought, at least not to the school. He would be a free man but his bridges with Centex State were well burned. A cloud of suspicion would hang over him, and he would never be able to get anywhere in that institution. There was his bank account, swollen from the publisher's advance. If he could beat the wrap, he would drop by his bank in Texas, convert his funds to travellers' checks and hit the road again. Hell, he was going to be a bestselling author, he had no doubt, and his ordeal and false detention by foreign police would just be fodder for another blockbuster tome headed for the top of the New York Times list. On the other hand, if they thought they had enough evidence on him, he would not be able to touch any of his assets. The only things he would be able to get his hands on would be his collection of first edition DC and Marvel comics locked in a safe deposit box in Hapsburg, if he could get to them. They were probably worth all of five grand, anyway.
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. This boat is sweet, though. If I figure right, Florida is northwest, maybe another fifty nautical miles or fifty regular miles. I don't know this stuff. I think I have enough gas. Weather's holding up so far. I picked the right guy at that bar. He bragged about the big fish he caught, got drunk and staggered to his boat. And I tailed him. His passport picture looks enough like me, especially when I get a few days growth of beard on me. The boat is fast and stocked. No anchor, though. Didn't want the bastard to pop up like Fay did, had to sink him. Dropped him in the open ocean chained to his precious marlin. Sharks and barracudas gotta like that. "Eat up, you fuckers!" I think I've got the hang of the wheel now. Kind of drives like a car. Good vantage point. I can see the horizon from up here. A little queasy now. I'll get over it. I'm done with the sea once I hit land. Forget this shit. No more murders either, if I can help it. Gotta keep my nose clean. What's next? I don't have a clue. Maybe I can be this guy for a while anyway, grow his Hemingway beard. The ninety six bucks in his wallet won't last long. He's got a big boat, must have money. And I can use his credit cards. Think I can fake his signature. Things will work out. I'll take care of the long term later. Short term, I get to Florida before the next squall.
Shit! Little boats coming. Think I can out run them. Don't want to act suspicious. Don't want to waste fuel. They look like Cubans maybe. They just want to get to Florida just like me. They don't want any trouble either. I'll just wave them on. What are they shouting? What's Spanish for "Hello"? Right. "Hola, amigos!" Could they be yelling in French? Doesn't sound like any Spanish I've ever heard. They want to board this tub. I don't know. Got this flare gun. That's all. They're on both sides now. Oh shit. They've got machetes, and probably guns too. Okay, taking no chances. Gun this thing. Hard swing right. Slapped the bow of that one. Circle left. Duck! They're shooting now. Duck! Ram the fuckers! Duck! Got 'em. Two for two. "Learn to swim, you bastards!" Get the hell outta here, Harvey! Straight to Florida! I hope.
"Don't worry, they'll love you," Leah assured Otto, "especially Sarah."
Sarah skipped up the front walk. "Are you Otto?"
"Yes I am," he said.
Sarah opened and slammed the front door. "Leah's here! With Otttt-tow!" The child had a way of injecting inuendo into the names of all her sister's boyfriends.
"My folks will love you too," Leah predicted.
Leah's Mom appeared at the screen door followed by her Dad. "You must be Otto," Mom declared.
Dad pushed the screen open. "Come in. Come in." he said holding out his hand, which Otto shook firmly. "Good grip, boy," said Dad.
"Dad, you don't have to talk to him like he's a german sheppard." said Leah as she and Otto entered the livingroom.
"Just admire a strong handshake, that's all." Dad tells them.
Leah's Dad followed the couple through the dimly lit livingroom into the open kitchen/dining room which was illuminated by a shaft or two of sunlight. Sarah had already run ahead of them but her eyes were on Otto. She was developing a little crush.
"Hope you like roast beef," said Leah's Mom.
"Roast BEAST!" exclaimed Sarah.
"Sarah's a big fan of Dr. Seuss," said the Mom but giving Sarah the "Behave yourself." look as she placed the "beast" dish on the table.
"So you're the Sheriff of Galveston County?" the Dad asked Otto, sitting at the table's head.
Otto sat spreading his cloth napkin on his lap. "Acting Sheriff for now."
"He's so modest," said Leah scooting her chair in, "Otto's been in charge for almost a year now."
"Catch that guy yet?" asked the Dad passing the mashed potatoes Otto's way.
"I'm afraid he flew the coop before we knew he was a suspect," Otto told him, accepting the potatoes, "Somebody will get him and extradite him to Texas."
"Leah's got a new ring!" said Sarah, "Let me see it."
"What?" asked the Mom.
"I was going to get to that later," said Leah, "It's an engagement ring. Otto proposed and I said 'Yes'."
"Ohhhh..." exclaimed the Mom, covering her face with her napkin and leaving the table. Leah rose and followed her into the hallway.
"Mom, I thought you liked Otto."
"We've known each other for several months now, we were thinking of next June for the wedding."
"I'm happy for you. Really I am. I don't know why this hit me so hard. Guess I'm feeling old, having a married daughter."
Leah took the Mom's hands in her own. "Old? Not you Mom."
They drifted back into the dining room. Leah returned to her chair and place at the table. Her Mom stood. "Sorry I got so emotional," she said, then giving her husband a questioning glance, "Jim..." He nodded with a smile and she continued. "Otto and Leah, not that you need it, but you have our blessing."
"Sarah Jane," ordered Leah's Dad avoiding emotion, "pass the green beans to your future brother-in- law."
"Oh Wow," said Sarah passing Otto the green beans.
Hal Henderson sat on the green paisley couch in his livingroon, although after all those months it did not feel like his livingroom anymore. He was this visiting soldier, just in from the dust, occupying a civilian dwelling but not really living there. His wife Jan was next to him and his son Dennis sat in the easy chair across the coffee table, making nice. They were all making nice, though an observer would hardly think them related--the woman and the young man, perhaps. The soldier was bivouacked at the parimeter of the encampment stratigizing, projecting his next campaign.
Sergeant Major Henderson
"How you doing, boy?" is all I can say to Dennis. The whole world is changed since I was in Afghanistan, and now it's back to Iraq? How the hell are we gonna catch Osama bin Laden in Iraq? Everybody knows he's in Pakistan or maybe he's back in Afghanistan by now. Sure, Saddam Hussein's a bastard and somebody should take him down. I thought we should have back in Ninety-one but what fucking excuse to we have now? Well, I'll enjoy spending the time I have with Jan and the boy, faggot that he is.
Otto has things under control at the office. What the hell will they need me for? Not much crime going on right now, anyway, what with no tourists in town. The kid's getting married in the summer. Don't guess I'll be back for that. What the hell. Last time the whole Iraq war was about a hundred days. Maybe it will be over by June.
I can't believe it. Dennis is a god-damned local hero. They gave him a parade down The Strand for saving those people in the World Trade Center. Look at him with that leg. He's working it like it's part of him. Never would have thought he had it in him to survive something like that. I'm proud. I guess. I just wish he was straighter or at least acted straighter. "Merry Christmas, Jan" I tell her. I think she likes the Afghan sweater. Hell, she's just glad to have us all here for the holidays. She's been through a lot, and Galveston can be a lonely town in the winter. It's never really cold but there's something sad about a vacation spot in the off season. She'll have Dennis when I leave, at least until he gets a place of his own. I know he's thinking of Broadway again or Hollywood. Lots of luck to him with that missing leg but then I didn't think he'd make it this far. What the hell do I know about anything anymore? "Merry Christmas," Dennis toasts and "Merry Christmas" Jan and me salute him with our egg nog glasses. Merry-God-Damned-Christmas.
Back in the day in the ancient Great Rift Valley of Africa something stuck in Gray Mama's mind as she sat there held captive by her own leaders, in the prisoner camp near the convergence of the two rivers. It was something the former Beta Male Stiff had been trying to show the troupe of walking chimps along the riverbank near the now scorched towering baobab trees. Being a detainee now she had time to mull over things. Stiff had kept pointing to the water marks left on the walls of the river from each year's flooding. No one understood what he meant, such was the need for vocal communication which was still millions of years in the future. However, Gray Mama remembered that the monsoon rains had risen the surface of river much more in the days of her youth. The rainy season rarely rose to the level of those earlier water marks these days. Stiff would also point to dead trees and stumps, and Gray Mama almost made the connection that there were now fewer trees than there were in the days when she was Tender Baby and even in the times when she was Tall One of the common chimps. There was something about these observations that was very disturbing. It was like the whole world was getting warmer. Gray Mama felt Stiff was trying to tell some inconvenient truth but nobody paid attention to him. If only he had succeeded Randy as Alpha Male rather than Dull, the duller son of Skinny the Nervous.
A great rush of hoots and grunts and other vocalizations caught her attention and woke the others in the camp. It sounded to Gray Mama like the whole twin baobab walking chimp community was approaching her camp. There were few left behind, infact. Only the very old, the very young and a few guardians, like Stiff and Gray Mama's son Drummer and those friends of his Gray Mama had sent home, held down the fort. The mass of the troupe surrounded the prison camp area and overwhelmed the huge guards. In at least one case a mother scolded her son the guard for holding Gray Mama and the others hostage. There were two distinct groups vying for leadership of the rescue operation. Gray Mama was proud to see that one faction was led by Pushy, the former Alpha Female. The other faction was led by an impressively charismatic young male who was maybe not seasoned enough for the Alpha spot, although he did have potential. Gray Mama thought of him as "Noble" or the australopithecine concept closest to what modern humans would call noble. Noble was always striking a noble pose. Mostly, he and Pushy shared the same goals for the troupe as shown by their generous actions toward others, bringing to Gray Mama's mind the days of Pushy's mate Randy. The problem was that Noble and Pushy seemed to bicker more than work together. Gray Mama had to admit Randy did not make things any easier for Pushy with his over-zealous back slapping and preening of every walking chimp he could corner. The important thing to Gray Mama was the party was there to free the hostages, and end the stupid conflict.
Due to the great attrition of the war, the rescue party was larger than the number of surviving baobab combatants. Both Pushy and Noble knew it was time for an exit strategy. They knew too that the foreign chimps now outnumbered their friends and neighbors. Foreign walking chimps from all over the region came into the war just to oust the invading baobabs. But the leadership would not give up no matter how many were killed and maimed. Many like Gray Mama thought Elder, the elderly candidate for Alpha Male, would end the war but he just led more youngers into battle. Noble and Pushy independently realized that they could do nothing on the battlefield but they could bring the troops home if they rushed them when they returned to camp at night.
Gray Mama knew there was one thing they could do before nightfall. She gathered Pushy and Randy and Noble and a few of the others and led them to the undisclosed location where she had seen the evil Beta Male Creepy torturing and humiliating the foreign prisoners. They secluded themselves in two groups on either side of the torture camp. When Noble and Pushy and the others heard the screams of pain and then spied what Creepy and his henchmen were doing they knew why Gray Mama had brought them. Group One, led by Pushy, stepped into the open hooting and chuffing to get the evil ones' attention. Creepy was gleefully watching his underlings applying thorns and burrs to the nipples and groins of two prisoners. When the Creepy guys heard the commotion from Group One they turned and attacked them. Group Two, led by Noble, then overtook the Creeps from behind and led the prisoners aside. Members of both groups made quick work of Creepy and his goons, restraining them and dragging them back to the rescuers' camp. In camp, rescuers soothed the prisoners' wounds with mud and water to the best of their primitive medical knowledge. As for Creepy, he was set on a boulder while the entire assembly took turns pelting him with birdshot gravel. Even the prisoners were allowed to participate. Creepy and his followers were held under armed guard. Each of their keepers wielded a big rock, just large enough to fill the palm. Whenever a guard tired he was replaced by another eager volunteer. At one point a henchman tried to make a run for it and got a limestone missle right between his shoulder blades. There were no escape attempts after that.
CHAPTER TEN: New Beginnings
Having survived his voyage to Florida, escaping and swamping Haitian pirates along the way, Harvey Llewellyn was driven, or he did the driving. Nothing could stand between himself and escape, between himself and his liberty. He would maybe stay in the small town he landed at up the coast from Miami, make some money, and figure out the rest of his life.
"Sure, I can take you out there. Cheapest rates in the basin."
"Yeah, I'd love to catch some tarpon."
"Can't make any promises but we'll see what we can do."
"Been in Boca Bonita long? Can't say I've seen you here before."
"Just retired Taurus dealer out of Fort Lauderdale, divorced and livin' the life. Ed Dowd. And you?"
"Mike Kenney, local Fire Chief and barber. The department's all volunteer but we haven't lost a building or a boat in years."
"Good to know. Proud to shake your hand."
"I'll be back at 1:00 with some bait and beer, and we'll shove off, if that works for you."
"Sounds like a plan to me," Harvey Llewellyn, several weeks on, now with the stolen identity of Ed Dowd, told his latest customer. There goes a lifetime of scientific inquiry, he told himself, along with all hopes of professional recognition and prominence. On the other hand, the boat chartering business in Southern Florida was proving to be quite lucrative. As Ed he was beginning to insinuate himself into the local community. He would even join the Chamber of Commerce, and maybe the Rotarians. He could use a little stability in his life. The life of the desperado, always running from the law, always having to kill someone just to get by, that wasn't him. This is a god-damned paradise, Harvey/Ed told himself, I'll keep my nose clean and maybe even become a pilar of the community. It was the American Dream, the whole American saga in microcosm, complete with the bodies strewn along the path of his own manifest destiny. But now he was not that killer any longer; he was Ed Dowd, hard working, personable local businessman with a bright future and absolutely no past.
Hal Henderson was back in the fertile crescent, still in desert fatigues. He was a patriotic American but he wondered if these conflicts were ever going to end. He would need to give up the Sheriff's Office for now. Otto was Sheriff, at least until the next election. Hal had more dust to eat, and more roadside bombs to dodge, if he could manage to do that, before he would see Galveston Island again.
Sergeant Major Henderson
Second tour in Iraq, third if you count the first Gulf War. Man, my dad never spent as much time in Viet Nam, and he was drafted. "Mission Accomplished"! Who does Bush think he's kidding? I hate to say it but he looked like a god-damned poser landing on that aircraft carrier and wearing a flight suit and acting like some kind of fucking officer. When did he ever put his life on the line? His military career was not stellar. And Cheney and Rumsfeld and the rest...sending men into harm's way when they were a bunch of draft dodgers themselves. I'm sick of the whole lot. My boy Dennis, faggot that he is, is more of a man than any one of them. The kid's settling in okay, getting to be some kind of computer whiz, making big bucks. Well, good for him. He's renting his own place in Houston, Montrose area I think. I don't want to even think of what goes on there but the kid is making it on his own, fake leg and all. Otto is now Sheriff. I guess they couldn't hold the job for me forever. When I get back for good, I might have to run against him. I never would have pegged him as a Democrat, though. What does that even mean anymore: Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative? Daddy Bush was okay, I guess, and Ford...Reagan at least acted like a President...and Nixon was a son-of-a-bitch but he got things done. But Dubya is just an idiot. Why didn't I see that before? Why didn't anybody? If I had it to do over, I'd vote for Gore right now. I even miss Clinton. He's a sleeze but he was a respectable President. Maybe I'm just pissed about pulling another tour of duty here in the armpit of the world. Kids are still getting blown up here and we can't seem to do anything about it. Afghanistan is going all to Hell. The Taliban's coming back. Al Qaida's bigger than ever. We just succeeded in making Iraq a god-damned recruitment poster for terrorists. That's all the mission we've accomplished here. But I'm going back out on the streets again tomorrow to do what I can.
It was a beautiful June downtown church wedding. Everybody came. Even more than everybody came, and everybody stayed for the reception party at a vacation home of Otto's largest campaign contributor, a Houston realtor, on the west end of Galveston Island, far enough from the murder scene so that Leah and friends were not uncomfortable. It was more than three years after the crime, anyway. Leah and company had graduated, or not in some cases, and were ready to get on with their lives. Though it was not one of those expensive affairs with fancy caterers and ice sculptures, there was shrimp and red snapper and just a sip of champagne for everyone, everything well within the budget of Leah's father, and a friend of the groom had even donated the venue.
"It's wonderful that you could come," Leah told Mrs. Sharpe and Keisha Cummings at the reception, each with a crystal cup of shocking pink punch sloshing just within each rim.
"We wouldn't have missed it for the world," Keisha said.
"Especially since you saved my life at that trial with the new evidence and all," Mrs. Sharpe said.
"I'm glad it worked out for you. You know, Mrs. Jakes is here," Leah just thought she would mention.
"I know, I thanked her right away" said Mrs. Sharpe, "Also that prosecutor is around somewhere."
"The snake," interjected Keisha.
"Well now, I guess he was just doing his job," Mrs. Sharpe said magnanimously, "now you better be careful of getting pink punch all over that nice white dress."
"It's not like I'm going to wear this thing again," Leah joked.
"Keisha, we'd better find your step-father. He'll be wondering what happened to us."
"Sure thing, Mama. Leah, we wish you the happiest life ever. Give us a hug."
They all hugged and shed one tear each for the occasion.
"Thanks again for the nice food processor," Leah said in parting.
"Leah," said her best friend Sheryl Kerr, catching her from behind, "your groom is going to dance with your brat sister if you don't get to him first."
"That's right, we have to kick off the dancing," said Leah, "there is just so much responsibility in these tribal rituals. Maybe we should have had a simple courthouse wedding, just Otto and me and maybe you and Mom and Dad and Sarah, if she promised to be really good."
"Now you know that wouldn't do. The newly-elected Sheriff of Galveston County had to have a real event, not to mention your dad who saved for years to give you away in style."
"Tell me about it. You'd think he was pushing me out of the house. It's like, 'Here's a $25,000 wedding, now get out of here. We'll come around to O 1/2 Street whenever we come up to the coast on a fishing trip.'"
"Knowing your dad, he's already socking it away for Sarah's wedding. Now she's the one he'll need to push out of the nest."
"Don't be so sure. She's so precocious she'll probably elope with some goth biker guy when she's still in high school."
"Maybe. I think I saw a little tear in your dad's eye at the exchanging of the vows."
"Yeah. He probably was thinking about the bill for this whole shindig."
"You are so bad."
"I know. I'll miss him too."
"Look, your prince awaits with outstetched arms."
"I still think he looks more like a lifeguard than a cop."
Leah took Otto's hand and they danced the first waltz to the CD cut of 'Muskrat Love' booming out from a jerry-rigged sound system. She had the feeling her dad had picked the song. It was an affectionate gesture. Dad had always told her that when she was born with such a full head of hair and a few patches of dark baby fur, which eventually lightened, he thought of her as his little muskrat. And so she was.
In the ancient Great Rift Valley, back near the charred tree stumps that had once been the twin towering baobabs, Gray Mama was impressed by how both Pushy and Noble had turned things around. The entire troupe had tired of the meaningless conflict at the divergence of the two rivers. Each tried to woo the support of the community: Pushy mostly appealing to the older females and Noble to the callow youth. In the end, Noble prevailed. Gray Mama thought it was a long shot for a female to lead the tribe but she had hoped for it. Noble was not so bad an Alpha Male. The walking chimps liked him. They followed him willingly, out of affection, not out of fear or hatred of strangers. Of course, Dull had set the leadership bar very low. Elder, the elder candidate for A.M., was befuddled that this upstart kid passed him by in the affections of the group, and that silly female, Pale One, who followed Elder around making nasty grunting noises and slinging mud at Noble, was no help at all. She was noisy, the males found her sexy, and she was incredibly fertile, but she was certainly no Pushy. The drought was on now and times were bad. Everyone wanted to put the stupid war behind them and move on to the future. Elder was part of the past. Noble and his trusty older Beta Male, Biding--who Gray Mama thought of as "Biding" because he had put himself forth as a candidate for Alpha so many times she thought of him as biding his time each year until he thought he could run again--had their work cut out for them.
With their beloved landmarks gone it was time to move on in the Great Rift Valley. The walking chimps, led by Noble and Biding with Pushy, even, as a key member of their team, wandered away from the baobabs. There was nothing for them there any longer. They wandered upstream day by day and week by week until the trickling river became wider and deeper beneath a showering waterfall. There was still greenery in this place, though the land away from the river was parched. At first, there were few fruits and little green vegetation to be found in their daily foraging runs but there were also animals killed by the months of famine. Scavengers could always make a living in lean times, until the corpses ran out. Meanwhile, the troupe could hide from predators under the overhang of the waterfall. Finally the rains came again and flowers and tender plants sprung up everywhere. Strange antelopes of all sizes, wading birds, baboons, all manner of creatures appeared to drink the water and graze on the grasses. The troupe managed to kill more game than ever before, and sometimes feasted on tender shoots and berries and roots.
Once during a thunderstorm the new Tribe of the Showering Waterfall got a real treat. Lightning struck a buffalo which was peacefully drinking from the river, and shot through its hide to ignite a huge log which the late beast then fell upon. The log and the buffalo kept burning through the night. Everyone in the tribe gathered around the fire for warmth. They felt safer from hyenas and lions in the glow of the flames, and the overhang could be damp and cold sometimes. Gray Mama was the one who first braved approaching the carcass. The others seemed to think the buffalo was ruined but it did smell good. She scooped out a handful of flesh around the lightning wound and tasted it. It was miraculous. When the others saw her eyes open wide with pleasure, they decided to try the cooked meat themselves. The walking chimps were in ecstacy. A chorus of "Mmmm" and "oohhh" sounds filled the night. Lightning, which had destroyed their home under the twin towering baobab trees, was now a giver of food, and such delicious food.
Mob psychology being what it was, a religion was born that night. Some of the chimps still held to their old animist beliefs. Some, like Gray Mama, found no attraction to the supernatural, but many came to see gods--mighty and invisible walking chimps--dwelling in the elements of nature. The cooked buffalo provided their communion, and the waterfall was now a sacred waterfall. They were here to stay.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: A Better Life
It was a better life Harvey Llewellyn had carved out for himself as Ed Dowd than he had ever had as a university professor. Life was cushy, he made friends, and he postponed any plans to move along. Perhaps the cops had given up on him. It had been two or three years already.
"Ed, you should run for mayor," Joe the fireman tells me. That's not going to happen. I'm too high profile as it is. Still, things are pretty god-damned good here in Boca Bonita. Just right for me. I'm respectable here. Hell, I even bowl with the local police. My ivory tower days are behind me but I was always more beer and pretzels than wine and brie, anyway. I miss the field work, no time for newts and salamanders these days. The fishing tour business keeps me busy and I kind of like that. Did see my frog the other day, Hyla llewellyni. Who knew it would have a distribution this far east? Was a time I would have published a paper on that. Don't care anymore. I'm settled in, make good money, a roof over my head, get laid once in a while, haven't had to kill anybody in years. This life suits me.
Good barbeque! These firefighters know their barbeque. Beer, cold slaw, beans, potato salad--this is the life. All the wives and kids are here too, running around the cypress trees hung with spanish moss. "Here's your soccer ball, kid!" I'll just sit on this frisbee a while longer. That skinny brat kept throwing it this way and his mildewed lab damned near knocked me over in my chair twice. Didn't appreciate the dog's tongue all over my face. Guess he liked the barbeque sauce.
Nobody's watching the television. If I wasn't so comfortable here, I'd get up and turn it off. They got the god-damned boob tube turned around and pushed against the front window of the firehouse, volume blasting. Big sucker, that set, fifty-two inch flat screen. Some fool can't miss the Marlin's game even to be at the picnic with his family. Mike the Chief thinks they might get local news of a fire, so he allows it. That's some emergency warning system they have here. And anyone who would call them with an alarm is here at the picnic. Long as they mind that grill maybe there will be no inferno.
"Yeah, Joe, it's great. You got another Heineken over there? You did the ribs? Good job! Thanks." The beer is cold and I'm set for the evening. "America's Most Wanted" is on and Joe flies to the set like a moth. He said he's been hooked on the show since after 911 when he went up to New York to dig out bodies from the aftermath. Guess he thought that made him a cop or something. "Still at large," says the announcer, "is former Centex State professor Harvey Llewellyn, wanted in the slayings of Dr. Roy Nordstrom and his wife Fay, and for questioning in the disappearance of Fort Lauderdale businessman Edgar Dowd." Oh shit, they have my faculty picture! Joe was looking away, wasn't he. God-damn it, he's going over to Mike, who is with the Chief of Police. They're looking this way. Gotta go.
It's getting dark. Won't let on I know they're on to me. I'll sneak back here, lose myself in the trees and circle back to the boat. I'm pretty sure I've got gas in it. Fuck! I was getting to like it here. "Ow!" Barked my shin on that fallen branch. There's commotion back there but I'm not looking around. Damn holes! They should fill these in! Bastards! I could snap an ankle. Duck behind the parked cars. Let's see. They're going the other way. Good! Just a dash to the docks. I'm too old for this shit. There's my beauty. Can barely see it but then nobody can see me either. Throw off the line. Give it a push. Climb aboard. Haul anchor. Drift a bit. Gotta turn it on but I have a headstart. Okay, they hear it now. The commotion is headed this way. Just a little way out of the boat basin. Now gun it, Harvey!
This won't work. The Coast Guard and the cops know this boat now. They'll catch me up or down the Eastern Seaboard, and I can forget the Bahamas and Bimini. I might have a chance inland. The locals will be all over my house and car soon but they'll be chasing the boat before they even think of that. Put my wallet in this waterproof thing and pocket it. I've got a dandy of a distraction for them.
Turning around and heading back. They're just getting in their boats now. Perfect. Burn your bridges, Harvey! Rev up the motor. Aim the boat for the middle of the docks. Grab the wallet belt. Jump! Big boom! "Aiee!" What was that? Got the wind knocked out. God-damned manatees, always in the way. I'm okay. The water's cold but I'll be to shore in about five minutes.
Hal Henderson took a breather when he finally got back from Iraq. No more Tigris-Euphrates and Persian Gulf for him, or so he hoped. It was the Gulf of Mexico from now on. He was in forced retirement, temporarily. Soon he would start making plans to unseat his former deputy in the next election. Hal was still reeling from the latest one, the national election that seemed to put the Democrats in charge. He had voted for McCain, himself, but he thought Obama might just get the job done, with Biden and Hillary on the team. Bush and company certainly had screwed up things royally. Maybe it was time to give the other side a chance. Hal would run for his old job soon enough. For now, though, he could afford to be civil to his young replacement. He had to admit, the kid had done a good job in his absence. Of course, there had been no major murder cases since the Nordstrom slaying, maybe a couple of bar shootings.
The prime suspect was on the run. He had been reported in Georgia and Tennesee, and even as far west as Louisiana in the last couple of years. The bastard wouldn't dare set foot in Texas, Hal thought to himself. He would not elude the Department of Public Safety Troopers and the Rangers. The guy was from somewhere up north, anyway. That was the best bet for a search. At any rate, it was out of Hal's hands, and it was out of Otto's hands too. What was in Otto's hands, in the crook of his arm, in fact, was a blue-eyed baby girl as he sat around a new kitchen table sipping coffee with his former boss. The Schmidt's O 1/2 Street home now showed the decorating preferences of the former Leah Pollock.
"She's a real cutey, Otto," Hal told him.
"Don't I know it? What's the matter, sweetheart?"
"I think she wants her mama."
"And I'll take her," Leah said, half in baby talk, cradling the little one, "Feeding time, Precious." With that, mother and child repaired to another room.
"Ever pick out a name?" Hal asked Otto.
"It's 'Precious'. That's her name."
"Oh, nice. But maybe you should come up with a nickname too."
"It's from a character in these books Leah reads. It's fine."
"Fine by me. Say, where's that boy of yours?"
"Art? He's with his Gran Gran this weekend."
"We think so. Now that you're back, have any plans?"
"Well, it's finally out there. I wondered how long it would take you to mention it."
"I thought you might have brought up the subject by now. You're going to run, aren't you?"
"Thought I might. Nothing personal. Just want to get back to work."
"Sorry. Couldn't wait forever on you."
"I know that. The county needed a sheriff and you've done a pretty good job of it. But, uh, if you quote me to the papers, I'll deny I said that."
"Say, the Chief of Police is up for re-election next year. Why don't you run for that?"
Leah returned to the kitchen. "Are you two going at it?" she said, bouncing the baby in her arms.
"Just a friendly political discussion," said Otto.
"Uh huh," Leah replied and then asked Hal, "Would you like to stay for lunch?" as a strange ring tolled from an unseen cell phone.
"No, I have to be going," Hal told them.
"That's mine," Otto claimed, "Yeah Otto...As a matter of fact, I have him right here. No kidding. Want me to put him on? Hal, it's for you."
"Me?" Hal asked, taking the flip phone, "Who? Joe? Joe from 9/11 search and rescue? Yeah, Florida...Wait, Otto, this concerns you, more than me really. Yeah, Joe. You don't say. When? Last night? I'm sort of retired, for now, but my replacement here could help you. Here you go, Otto. Big break on an old case...'Bye Joe. Thanks for the info. Right. 'Bye."
Otto took the cell phone. "Hello," he said, "That's right, I'm the sheriff...How about that? Could you fax the details to my office? You don't. How about e-mail? Good. Here's my office e-mail address."
Noble led the happy Showering Waterfall band of walking chimps through some lean years into relative prosperity in the Great Rift Valley of ancient Africa. Gray Mama grew older and grayer over the leaner and fatter years that followed. She lived long enough to see her son Drummer ascend to the vaulted office of Alpha Male. She was so proud of him, proud that he was so kind to the elders, the very young, the lame and the infirmed. He was even kind to strangers and never one to take the troupe to war, so powerful were his memories of the Dull and Creepy administration in his youth.
Gray Mama never knew who Drummer's father, and the father of his late brother Climber, if indeed they had had the same father. Such was the way of the walking chimps. She suspected it was Randy the randy former Alpha Male but she couldn't be certain. It was likely because Randy's physical and behavioral traits showed up in a large number of the troupe's offspring, and Gray Mama had mated with Randy as much as any other female of the walking chimps. That was all in the past now. Those promiscuous days were far behind her.
Once while hunting and gathering to the far west of their territory some of the walking chimps chased the roar of a terrifying big cat and came upon an elder chimp, a stranger who was battered and bitten and cut, and obviously near death. The giant cat beat a hasty retreat. Drummer dabbed soothing mud on the codger's wounds. His followers did the same, and they bore the elder back to their waterfall camp, intrusting him to the care of the elder females.
Straight away, Gray Mama took charge of the situation, offering the old fellow berries and roots. She would bring him water from the waterfall in her cupped hands, the other females following suit. He seemed to respond well to their kindnesses and was sitting up and regaining his health within a few days. Times were good for the troupe and Gray Mama had no problem sharing whatever food she had with him. He really took to the monkey and antelope meat she offered him. There was something familiar about the old guy which Gray Mama pondered until the day she thought him healthy enough to help him to his feet. The elder was shaky at first but stood for a few seconds before he dropped down to his left knuckle, and knuckle walked around in circles to steady his walking muscles.
Her eyes met his, and it dawned on Gray Mama just who this old gentleman was. It was her old suitor Groomer from the tribe of knuckle walkers with whom she had spent her formative years. Ironically, she was not his Tall One any longer. In fact, in her decline she had practically become a knuckle walker herself, though she could still out stand even the youngest common chimpanzee, to be sure.
Groomer had definitely seen better days. From his wounds, Gray Mama knew he had been seconds away from being a cat's dinner when Drummer and friends discovered him. Groomer's troupe had left him for dead. They could do nothing else against an apex predator. Oh, they might have thrown rocks and sticks but their aim would not have been true in the sense that the aim of a walking chimp's aim was true, and they would not have shared the australopithecine level of cooperative protection, which was the best of all the large primates. As a matter of fact, no other creature could touch the walking chimps in the security department, except of course, the meerkats, from whom Drummer, Gray Mama's son the Alpha Male, learned a great deal.
Sex did not seem to matter to either Groomer or Gray Mama, and from what they remembered, it had never been great between them, anyway. Still, there was familiarity and companionship, and Groomer lived out his last year or two in Gray Mama's company as an honorary member of the society of walking chimps.
Leah Pollock Schmidt read the flyer again. It boldly proclaimed "She Came from Afar: Rita and Her Pleistocene World" and "Special Alumni Preview Homecoming Weekend". Leah wasn't sure she wanted to see the exhibit, a bunch of old bones, or fossils of old bones. Yet she did have a seed of curiosity. It had been declared by scientists all over the world as "the greatest hominid find since Lucy". Well, it was the most complete, anyway. Central Texas State University was fortunate to be the first school to display the remains. Biological Sciences Department Chairman Wally Parkinson was responsible for that particular coup. He had led the team of paleontologists who made the initial discovery, and named the fossils, determined to be the remains of an elderly female, after the concurrent hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas, soon after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Hapsburg would be the smallest town to host the exhibit on a countrywide tour of universties and natural history museums.
Still, the exhibit was not Leah's cup of tea, and yet she could not miss such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Her mother had lobbied her to see the thing, as she herself had seen the King Tut exhibit a generation earlier. It was history, or prehistory, at the very least. Also, it gave Leah a reason to swing by Round Rock and see her folks. She was kind of curious about the old school, anyway. It would be the first time she would return to her alma mater since she graduated, and she couldn't wait another three years for her tenth class reunion.
I'm going to regret this trip, I know, but I know I'm going to get a kick out of it too. Well, I have a few months to make plans. Otto doesn't care a thing about it but he's a good sport. His mom will be thrilled to keep the kids, especially now that Precious is walking. She's so cute, and Junior is out of the terrible twos at last. It will be our first chance, Otto's and mine, to get away in years. That he's looking forward to. We are going with my folks and Sarah. That could be a mess. Oh, we'll all survive the weekend. Can't believe Sarah is about to graduate high school. She'll be going to Centex State next Fall, so this trip will be sort of orientation for her. Damn, the brat is growing up.
I don't know why but I can't wait to see this thing. It's like four million years old. Man, this is the thing of the century, and it's not yet ten years old--the century, that is. Leah's mostly interested in the homecoming. Maybe she'll have friends there. I know she'll want to go back for her tenth in Twenty Twelve but this is our chance to step out without the tykes. Mom will love having them. I wonder if "Tommy's Surf and Turf" is still there. I'll make reservations and give Leah a treat.
I hope Otto doesn't want to eat at "Tommy's Surf and Turf". That place is the worst. But that's where we had our first date, so I'll go along with the idea if that's where he wants to go. Why am I even worried about this stuff so many months away? It's going to be great.
In Africa's ancient Great Rift Valley the rainy season finally came, as it always did, though it had always seemed it would not come, and the Tribe of the Showering Waterfall had survived another year. In fact they were thriving under the leadership of Drummer the Good. Gray Mama, almost fifty now, was getting to be a little frail but she was still what you might call "spry". The rains had been light but steady, though it was just a matter of days before the monsoons would wash through the gulleys and down the streams. The time she had spent with Groomer was precious to her. He had mellowed with age and seemed to have forgotten the crudities of his youth. They had walked—or she walked and he knuckle walked—down by the creekbed every day at sunset, Groomer and Gray Mama, and now that he was gone, she missed those few years they had had together, so she took her twilight stroll alone now, content with the world she and her family had made for themselves and for the walking chimps.
The rains were not harsh, not yet, but they were deceptively gentle, and after more than a week, the ground became saturated. Drummer did not worry about his mother because she had always been so strong, and even now that she was older than any walking chimp had ever been, she was quite independent and capable of getting around on her own. Perhaps Drummer thought she would live forever, if a prehuman was capable of such as concept as "forever".
It was getting dark, so Gray Mama forded the stream, taking stepping stones when she could, wading up to her ankles, and sometimes to her knuckles when she dropped down to one side, when she had no choice. It was time to head up the embankment to the safety of the waterfall cave, which was relatively high and dry, for the night. When she was just on the other side, a small mudslide rolled and flowed over her right foot. Gray Mama heard a sound she could not describe, even if she had developed the power of speech. It was a rumbling she could not locate. She turned her head toward it and the whole embankment rushed down over her. She gasped and breathed the mud into her nose and mouth, and then she disappeared from the face of the Earth for four million years.
That night Drummer, missing his mother, who was always home at sundown, searched for her as well as he could but the sky was cloudy and there was no moonlight. The whole troupe walked all over the compound the next morning, even down by the creekbed, not knowing they were stepping on Gray Mama's grave just a couple of forearms' lengths beneath their feet. Drummer sensed she was gone. He felt a loss he could not have explained, again, even had he the verbal capacity. The Tribe of the Showering Waterfall was very quiet for days, and then they went on with the business of prehistoric life.
CHAPTER TWELVE: Convergence
"You doing okay, Dennis?" Otto asked him.
"How about you and Hollis take the other side of the street on this block? Jorge and I'll do this side. The rest of the boys are doing the Historic District already. We'll finish up with R Street and R 1/2 Street and meet the others at that big Chinese buffet restaurant on Olfats Bayou for lunch. We'll figure out what to do next then. This thing's going to hit before sundown and it won't be pretty."
"Okay. Hollis, I'm with you." said Dennis.
"Let's go, kid," said old Hollis.
Hurricane Ike had hit Galveston and had hit it hard. The town was still recovering from the influx of New Orleans refugees from Hurricane Katrina, and the damage from its own Hurricane Rita. Hal Henderson, the former sheriff, and Otto Schmidt, the incumbent sheriff, got the warnings early enough to move their families further inland for the duration. They both stayed behind, even as the waves crashed over the seawall, to help with evacuation and rescue--Otto, mostly because it was his job now, and Hal because he characteristically could not do otherwise. Leah Schmidt and the kids were packed off to Round Rock. Jan Henderson, Hal's wife, drove south to stay with her mother in Kingsville. Dennis Henderson, the prodigal son, stayed by the seawall too for a while. Although Hal could not work with him, Otto welcomed his help. Together, with the deputies and a few other volunteers, they tried to route the holdouts who could not or would not leave their homes before the storm surge hit.
Harvey Llewellyn was not happy. His luck had run out and he could not settle anywhere for long. Even when he would have been relatively safe from the law, had he known whether or not the local authorities suspected his whereabouts, he saw police around every corner. No more could he count on even the modest salary of a college professor or a charter boat captain. No more did he have friends or collegues or lovers or anyone he could trust. It galled him to work odd jobs for minimum or subminimum wage, and he would jot on to the next town after each payday.
The two hundred dollars he was able to draw, as Ed Dowd, from the Boca Bonita Federal Credit Union ATM before the authorities could catch up with him, did not go far. His luck extended a little further when he hired a PT Cruiser from Gator Rent-A-Car the morning after his escape, and he was able to put a few hundred miles between himself and his former friends in southern Florida. He ditched the car near the Georgia state line and took a bus west into the unknown. It was all downhill financially, emotionally and psychologically for Harvey from that point onward.
I'm sick of this shit. I was a god-damned full professor of biology and now I'm a landscaping stooge for a band of fucking illegal aliens, for God's sake. And I'm scruffy. Well, maybe I was always a little disheveled but never scruffy. I have lost some weight, I hardly eat anymore, and I've built up a little upper body strength, but I'm not what you would call buff. The very idea of gym membership—as if I ever had such an idea—is out of the question now. I need money, lots of it, and yesterday. If I can get my hands on my comics collection I could sell it and fly out of the country to someplace beyond extradition. I could do well in Venezuala with a few thousand bucks. Maybe they could use a prominent biology professor, and then the Venezuelans could thumb their noses at the Yanks while I discover new species on the Orinoco. Now that's a plan.
Gotta get back to Hapsburg. I might actually have the advantage of surprise. Nobody would think I plan to go near the old school again. Why would they? I've circled around the south and the midwest until even I hardly know where I am anymore myself but I know where I'm headed: Centex State and the good old public storage shed with my valuable comic books and personal memorabilia. And I know when I'm going: when the university and the town and the whole damned state is preoccupied with the hominid exhibit and Homecoming Weekend. Well, I'm coming home just one more time. Who knows, I might just pop in to get a look at Rita's bones. Afterall, I'm a fugitive but I'm still a scientist.
"I would like to welcome all of you who are here for the Centex State homecoming and those of you who are here to see Rita. We are very proud of this exhibit. Rita is one of the most complete skeletons of the early hominid Australopithecus afarenesis, which means she was found in the Afar region of Ethiopia and she is a hominid, the group of animals most closely related to humans. We don't know if Rita's species is a direct ancestor to us because there were other related species around during her time, about three to four million years ago. You may have heard of Lucy, the most famous example of this species. Well, we named her after Hurricane Rita—which you may remember from a couple of years back— because that storm was going on at home while we were on the dig. Now we don't know if Rita ever met Lucy. Probably not since they were found several miles apart and were probably separated in time by a few thousand years." announced Wally Parkinson to the crowd with more confidence than he had ever shown. Being department chairman had been good for him. He fairly blossomed. Wally proved to be the best chairman of the Biological Sciences Department in the history of Central Texas State University.
As for Leah and Otto Schmidt, they were seriously considering moving to Hapsburg. Their home on O 1/2 Street in Galveston had suffered a lot of water damage from the storm surge. It was more or less sound structurally but the insurance was not going to pay for all of the needed repairs. Otto loved the coast but he had a family now and he didn't want to put them through such trauma again. Still, he would need to find work in the Hapsburg area. Perhaps there would be law enforcement opportunities in San Marcos or Seguin or New Braunfels.
For now, Otto and Leah were staying with her folks in Round Rock. Arty and Precious enjoyed playing in Granma's and Grandad's grassy backyard. All they had known in Galveston was sand and seashells. Leah's mom and dad were content babysitting the kids while their daughter and son-in-law had a weekend in Austin, Hapsburg and points south. All concerned were happy to have a little space to themselves. The Pollocks loved having them all around but maybe not all the time.
"This is so cool, don't you think?" asked the oh so grown up college sophomore, Sarah Pollock, of her older sister Leah and brother-in-law Otto as they all peered through the glass at the mortal remains of Gray Mama.
"So," Leah wanted to know, "are you changing your major to anthropology now?"
"Nooooo." Sarah was mildy annoyed in the way a younger sister is always annoyed by an older sibling. "I just think it's cool. I'm sticking with Information Technology; thank you very much!
"My sister the geek," Leah proclaimed.
"You just wait and see, big sister. IT is where the money is, where the future is."
"You'll never meet a soulmate among the computer freaks. They're all guys, aren't they?"
"Mostly. Shhh. Maybe Otto doesn't care to hear about my lesbian proclivities."
"Don't mind me," said Otto, "I'm all ears. But just what are your 'proclivities' and can I watch?"
"Pervert! So Leah, do you mind if I tag along with you guys to ‘Tommy's Surf and Turf’? I know it's all romantic to you two but you do know the food there is crap, don't you? I do crave their hush puppies, though."
"Sure, come along," Otto said after checking with Leah's eyes.
"You do know the food is crap, don't you?" Sarah repeated.
"We do," agreed Leah, "but it's a tradition."
"Totally," acknowleged Otto.
"Just so we're straight on that," Sarah affirmed.
"I thought you liked ‘Tommy's’," Leah told Otto.
"Huh," the sisters Pollock commented.
Piece of cake. Man, its hot and stuffy in here. I thought it was supposed to be a “climate controlled“ storage facility. Goddamn liers. Everybody lies and exaggerates and misleads. Why should I be surprised? Still, nothing's damaged, as far as I can see. So this is what my life comes down to: a few boxes of plaques, diplomas, plus some comic books and magazines sealed in plastic. Those are worth something, though. I can get big bucks in Austin for them, I'm sure, enough to skip the country. And I know a pilot down in Brownsville who won't ask me anything except “How much you got?“
I could use some help with this shit. What the hell, I'll just make a couple of trips with that El Camino I bought in Tulsa. It's old and it's beaten up and it's rusty but it got me this far. It'll do Austin to Brownsville. Maybe not much farther than that.
“Ow! God damn it!“ Broke my foot...well, maybe not. Hurts like shit, though. What about the box? Let's see the worst. Glass broke on my Ph.D. diploma. Crap. That seems to be all. I can get that fixed. The good news is my number one issues of Action Comics and Uncle Scrooge, and the last Collier's, are sealed and unbreakable.
I'll limp for the rest of the day but I'll live. Just lug these two boxes to the truck and I'm off for the motel. One more trip to the shed will do it. Then it's on to Austin to cash in and to Brownsville to bug out.
The mayor's honoring him again. Beats me how this kid's a hero. Oh, he's my son, so I guess he got it from me. Saved a young couple from being washed off the jetty during the storm. Lost his fake leg in the process. City of Galveston bought him a new one. If he just wasn't so faggy. His mom's just as proud as can be. She doesn't see it. He's just her boy. We all do what we can.
Dennis saved a floor of people from that second tower on 911. He saved those kids on the jetty. I get it. He was in the right place both times. Nothing I wouldn't have done. I don't begrudge him but why can't he just get straight?
Now Otto Schmidt, the son-of-a-bitch, now there's a man, like what I'd want Dennis to be. Took my job away from me. Okay, so I was on tour after tour of the Middle East. I'll get the job back. The kid's thinking of moving inland. Can't say I blame him. He has a family to think about and he can't be driving back and forth to Round Rock all the time. Hell, I've been through hurricanes before. Galveston always bounces back. We'll rebuild to meet the next one in ten or twenty years. We'll survive.
Guess I'll call him about that fugitive they spotted in Tulsa. Sorry to disturb Otto on his vacation. He's out of jurisdiction but he'll want to know. Why this guy Llewellyn is headed south beats me. Maybe he thinks he'll fair better in Mexico. I'd stay out of there if I was him, anyway. Don't want to mess with those drug cartels. It's good to keep in touch with the old office. I might just be back there before too long.
Leah Pollock Schmidt
I hate to admit it but Sarah's right. The food there at “Tommy's Surf and Turf is crap. Well, some of it's not so bad, and Sarah had a good time, herself. Can't believe she's all grown up. She says there's a new spot a hundred times better. Maybe so but “Tommy's is our place, Otto's and mine. We have to check it out when we're in Hapsburg.
Whoa, Otto's taking the corner a little hard. I wish he'd get off the cell phone when he's driving. Pretty incredible Dr. Llewellyn is cutting through Texas on his way to Mexico, if that's what he's doing. The Department of Public Safety troopers, the Texas Rangers and every police department in the state is looking for him. He wouldn't dare show up in this town. I imagine he'll just stay on I-35 and lead foot it down to Laredo and parts south. Maybe he'll be a wetback for Mexico. He's bound to be caugtht at the border, one side or the other.
Boy, I'm glad we went early. Look at that line for the Rita exhibit, and in the hottest May in years. Wait, what's going on?
“Otto,” Leah asked him, “what's going on? Why did you cut off that old hippie in the rusty pickup? ”
“It's him,” said Otto pulling into a convience store driveway and blocking the truck, just a little too fast. “Go ahead and park the car. I'll be back soon.”
“Where are you going?” sister Sarah demanded.
And off Otto ran to the rusty red and white El Camino. Unable to budge the truck with Otto's car in the way, Harvey Llewellyn slammed his door and made a mad dash across the street into the queue, pushing people aside as he went toward the entrance of the exhibition hall, and knocking at least one tourist to the ground.
Otto may have been out of his jurisdiction but he was apparently the only one onto the identity of his quarry. “Stop that man!” he shouted to the security guards at the door of the arena but Harvey was already inside. Obviously, Harvey's plan was too lose himself among the tourists and make his escape out the back door, if he could find a back door.
The Sheriff of Galveston pressed on, knocking down a tourist or two, himself. “Sorry,” he said, “Catch him! He's a murderer!” The guards finally closed in on Harvey while sirens screemed down the block. Harvey took evasive action and dove under the legs of some high school girls. Their screams gave away his position as the guards and police and Otto closed the dragnet. Up Harvey jumped on one of the glass display cases covering a diorama of “Rita's” world. He was poised to leap to the next one when he caught sight of the ancient lady herself. Just for a second the scientist in him was awed at her presence, long enough for Otto to grab him by the ankles. Harvey leaped off the case freeing his right leg but Otto had him by the left, so all the fugitive could do was twist away and fall hard. Dr. Harvey Llewellyn smashed into the venerable Pleistocene matron's glass sarcophagus, impaling himself from his back through his heart, bleeding out over the australopithecine remains, and dying in the prehistoric, always gentle, arms of Gray Mama.
The possible descendents of the walking chimps went about their primitive lives in very much the same way all of their ancestors had done. There were conveniences and technological improvements but there was also violence and greed and love and hate and courage and sacrifice and birth and death. The personalities changed but life went on.