And A Star FellByAllen Davis A disturbance from deep space turns life on Earth into a living nightmare by interacting with Earth's sun, causing normal sun flares to intensify to gigantic tongues of flame. Earth's cocoon of protective ozone is destroyed. Deadly gamma rays bombard earth with radiation, as do carcinogenic ultraviolet rays. The small island community of Galveston, Texas, the Americas, and the world struggle to maintain equilibrium as the nations' infrastructures crumble... and an asteroid of mammoth proportions hurls toward earth at the rate of more than two million miles per day. Each person must fend for himself and herself as chaos reins supreme. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Mr. Davis, now retired, spent several years in the U.S. Army. He served with the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in Vietnam during 1966, and was awarded two Purple Heart Medals for being wounded in action and the Bronze Star with “V” for Valor. After leading an active life for many years, retirement didn't set well, and Mr. Davis began writing. He lives in Houston, Texas, with his 12 year-old female cat, Graystone.
And A Star Fell By
A disturbance from deep space turns life on Earth into a living nightmare by interacting with Earth's sun, causing normal sun flares to intensify to gigantic tongues of flame. Earth's cocoon of protective ozone is destroyed. Deadly gamma rays bombard earth with radiation, as do carcinogenic ultraviolet rays. The small island community of Galveston, Texas, the Americas, and the world struggle to maintain equilibrium as the nations' infrastructures crumble... and an asteroid of mammoth proportions hurls toward earth at the rate of more than two million miles per day. Each person must fend for himself and herself as chaos reins supreme.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mr. Davis, now retired, spent several years in the U.S. Army. He served with the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in Vietnam during 1966, and was awarded two Purple Heart Medals for being wounded in action and the Bronze Star with “V” for Valor. After leading an active life for many years, retirement didn't set well, and Mr. Davis began writing. He lives in Houston, Texas, with his 12 year-old female cat, Graystone.
AND A STAR FELL
By ALLEN DAVIS
A FUTURISTIC NOVEL
On a world beyond Earth's sun, and beyond the reaches of Earth's most powerful telescopes, a being of indeterminate years sits, reading. The being is dressed in a skintight material of a hue between copper and gold. The body is dreadfully thin, and a glowing aura of light conforms to the body's shape.
A smaller figure sits beside the larger, looking up, as if listening. Perhaps words are spoken, or perhaps not, words not being necessary for communication. The smaller figure is clothed in the same manner as it's companion; only the glow differs, being a few shades dimmer, though no less vivid. The larger figure places a hole-punched, string-bound manuscript onto the cobalt-colored seat, and both figures raise their eyes to a weak coppery sun. The last page of the manuscript flutters as though blown by a light solar breeze. Communication passes between the two beings as they wonder if the Gods will become as displeased with their world as with Earth's civilization. The inhabitants of Elcham, though far advanced as compared to many worlds, did have their problems. The last page of the string-bound manuscript reads: “And swore by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer.” Revelation Chapter - 9
Both beings looked at the fluttering page of manuscript that told of a dead world called Earth... a world once covered by green forests, blue oceans, and enclosed in a cocoon of clean air, but was allowed to become polluted, waters and land alike, through greed and carelessness, a world that once held such great promise. Earth was now just another planet wheeling around its sun as the sun followed, with inexorable slowness, its preordained path through the vast reaches of space...a planet barren of life; desolate, dead.
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
All Rights Reserved
I'm Allen Lee, retired from the business world due to health reason. At the behest of a good friend, scientist, and fishing companion, and his mentor, I chronicle the events leading up to the end. I, my loving friend Dawn, and our dog, Borgia, are most certainly among the very last persons in the small island community of Galveston, Texas, to be claimed by the sickness.
I watched as scoffs turned to wonder, wonder to concern, concern to fear. Paranoia reined for a time...then a quiet acceptance by those who remained alive, of a fate beyond the control of mortals.
Time grows short. I fear I have but little time to complete the duty with which I was charged, and complete it, I must. I miss the seagulls that so often floated on thermals just outside my window, the anxious barking of a pup as he tries to scare my cat, who has long since died...and I miss the joyous laughter of children as they played in the parking lot across the way.
As I reflect on the past, Dawn sits on the sofa, Borgia's head resting on her lap.
She, too, is in a much-weakened state, and our Lordly black miniature poodle, of which we are both so proud, is listless, dim of eye, and is losing his hair...to the ever-encroaching, insidious sickness.
Only the last pages of the manuscript remain unfinished. Tomorrow, I think, we'll, Dawn, Borgia, and I, make our final trip to the beach, perhaps to the little park at the west end of the seawall.
Jeff Chandler sat in his tiny apartment working on a project that didn't interest him, and would never be of significant value to anyone. He felt nothing but selfdisgust for himself for being in such a position as to have to accept such work; he felt cheapened to work on such drivel as Star Charts.
The charts were sold at Christmas time to those wishing to have a star named for themselves.
The gift of a lifetime, Jeff thought.
A gift to be presented when someone didn't want to be bothered with finding out what the recipient would truly like, then taking time to locate and buy the gift. A perfect gift for the egotist, too; after all, not everyone had a star of his own! Jeff had taken the job because he must pay rent, make payments on a piece of junk that might, in jest, be called a car, pay his telephone bill, and eat. He was two payments behind on the car and the telephone company was threatening to cutoff his service.
An interruption of telephone service might not be so bad after all. If he didn't have a phone, then Big Tex, the used car man, couldn't pester him for money. Jeff didn't think that even Big Tex valued the car enough to send some crackhead out to break his kneecaps.
Jeff had worked hard to get through college and the struggle wasn't supposed to end this way. He'd paid his college expenses through a long series of jobs, a few
good, but most were menial and not so good. The good jobs never lasted long because the employer was always looking for someone to work full-time.
Jeff Chandler was now a scientist, an astronomer. Jeff had wanted to be an astronomer for as long as he knew what the word meant, and before. When but a small boy, often, on a clear night, he sat outside the small rundown house with its sagging front door that wouldn't close when it rained, and leaky roof the landlord wouldn't repair. As he'd looked at brightly burning stars, and more distant dim stars, he wondered what made the stars twinkle, who put the stars up there? There were so many stars he'd bet that whoever put them there were awfully tired when they finished the job!
Jeff's star vigil always ended with, "Star Light, star bright, I wish I may, I wish I might...have the wish I wish tonight," uttered just above a whisper. The wish was always the same and the wish had finally come true.
As Jeff grew, and the family moved, as frequently they did, he'd sit in a different yard wondering what was beyond the stars.
Finally, the young astronomer had all he could take at one sitting, of assigning names to stars, for which his employer was paid fifty dollars, and his own share a paltry seven dollars and fifty cents. Still, a job was a job, but he had to get away for a little while, take a break. He stepped into the hallway, turned, and locked the door, lips turning up in a wry smile. The lock was a joke, as was the hollow-core door. A thief would laugh at such security as they whipped out a stolen credit card or penknife and jimmied the lock.
He had nothing a serious thief would want, anyway. His meager possessions consisted of little more than clothes and a few personal items.
The apartment was furnished by Greedy Gene, his landlord. Most everyone in the vicinity stayed too drunk to have need for his cheap spinning reel and smattering of fishing tackle; a thief would be laughed out of a pawnshop for bringing in such equipment.
As Jeff went down the staircase and turned left, to walk up the well-trod path to the Ugly Pink Bait Shop, Sonny, a fellow tenant and hanger-on, fell in beside him. "Jeff, old buddy," Sonny grated in his whiskey-hoarse voice, "you're just the man I wanted to see." When Jeff made no reply, Sonny continued, "Going up to the bait shop, are you? I'm getting mighty thirsty, myself...man, what I wouldn't give for a nice, cold, beer!"
"Lester sells beer at the bait shop," Jeff replied, "I'm sure he'll be happy to have your business."
"Say, Jeff, I'm running a little light on change...you don't happen to have a dollar or two you could loan a buddy, do you?"
"'Fraid not, Sonny. Money's tight and I only have enough for myself."
Sonny's face turned from a sunny hail-fellow-well-met look to a clouddarkened scowl. "Some buddy you are," Sonny growled.
Jeff turned from the path, walked across the oyster-shell parking area and into the pink building.
"Hi, Jeff," Lester greeted, "what can I do for you?"
"You can get me a pound of bait shrimp and a pack of those Hav-A-Tampa cigars in the red pack...the two packs for ninety-nine cent ones, while I locate a six-pack of Milwaukee's Best," Jeff answered.
A couple of minutes later, Jeff walked from the bait shop as Sonny tried to get Lester to 'trust him' for the price of a beer and a pack of cigarettes.
Lester, knowing well the social strata of Greedy Gene's Shady Palms Apartments, was evidently too smart, or had been burned before by 'trusting' Sonny, because Jeff was only a few yards down the path toward his apartment when Sonny caught-up with him.
"Aw, come on, Jeff, have pity on a thirsty man and give him a beer...after all we are buddies and live in the same apartment. It ain't like I'd run out owing you," Sonny wheedled.
Jeff unlocked his door, and when Sonny was about to follow him inside, said, "Sonny, I don't want to be rude or hurt your feelings, but you're going to have to get your beer somewhere else.
` "I've worked all day at a boring job that doesn't pay worth a fiddler's damn, but I worked. I barely have enough to live on, and certainly not enough to share. This six-pack will have to last me three days. Mike will be home in a little while, maybe you can get a beer from him."
As Jeff closed the door, he heard Sonny muttering something about 'damned overeducated Jew assholes'.
Although Jeff wasn't Jewish, he didn't mind Sonny thinking he was. Jews had always treated him well enough, and he'd never yet had a Jew try to cadge a drink from him, although they were quick to try and separate him from his money, but that was only business and he couldn't fault them.
Jeff put five beers in the refrigerator, popped the top on the sixth, and carried the beer to the table. When he'd taken a couple sips of the cheap beer, he crossed over to the telephone, looked in his address book for the number of Doctor Martin Thomas, Dean of Astronomical Studies, in Austin; he could never remember
the number, though he'd dialed the number often enough.
Jeff was aware he could ill afford a long-distance telephone call, but he wanted to know what was happening.
"Doctor Thomas' office, please," Jeff said in response to the vaguely familiar voice.
"Doctor Thomas isn't in. Would you like to leave a message?"
"This is Jeff Chandler," Jeff replied. "Please ask Doctor Thomas to call me; he has my number."
"Oh, Mr. Chandler," the pleasant female voice answered, "Doctor Thomas left word to tell you that he's at a conference in Los Angeles. And that he'd try to reach you before he leaves for home."
"Thank you," Jeff said, and hung up the receiver.
Damn, he thought, money spent for nothing! The expense was only the proceeds from half a star chart, but only the telephone company benefited. If he worked himself to death doing star charts, his death would be investigated. The investigating officers must come to the logical conclusion when they asked the question, 'Cu Bono', who benefits...and the answer would be, the telephone company and Big Tex, the used car dealer.
Jeff resented having to have a telephone, and wouldn't, except for the fact that he didn't want his colleagues to know of his meager existence. Only someone living in Galveston would recognize his address for what it meant.
He wasn't ashamed of the way he lived; he was honest and doing the best he could under difficult circumstances. He'd managed to put a little money aside so that when the job on which he was waiting, came through, he could rent better digs. The job should have materialized three months before, but the construction of the new observatory on old Stewart Beach was behind schedule.
Jeff finished his beer, retrieved his spinning reel and tackle box from a corner, got his bait and a beer from the refrigerator, and stepped into the hall.
"I hope you enjoy your beer, Jeff," Sonny called from his room at the other end of the hall. Sonny watched television almost without interruption, but had turnedoff the television with coat hangers-for-rabbit-ears in order to hear one of the other fellows when they came home.
Two minutes later Jeff was on the end of the 50-foot rickety pier with its numerous missing boards, behind Greedy Gene's house. Jeff was feeling better already, thinking that with decent luck he would be eating fresh fish instead of a can of Chef Boy-R-Dee Spaghetti and Meatballs.
Humming the bawdy little tune, 'Roll Me Over in the Clover', Jeff went into a storage shed and got the 5 horsepower Evinrude boat motor I had left for him to use, along with my 14-foot aluminum boat.
The small motor and fuel tank in place, Jeff squeezed the primer bulb a couple of time, turned the selector switch to 'choke' position, and gave the cord a strong pull. The engine coughed and died. He pulled the cord again and was rewarded with the low drone of the motor and burbling of exhaust.
The motor was old but had been well cared for, having belonged to my father, then to me. The little motor purred like a contented cat after an elegant meal.
As Jeff was about to cast-off the mooring lines, Greedy Gene came onto the pier. "Jeff," Greedy Gene called over the sound of the motor, "your rent is due tomorrow. Brian is short on money this week. Could you loan him money to pay his rent, too?"
"What did you say?" Jeff yelled, cupping his hand to his ear, pretending to be unable to hear. Greedy Gene knew Jeff was putting him on, and stalked back into the rat maze under the house on piers.
Jeff didn't like his landlord. No one seemed to like Greedy Gene except his son and the Greek fellow who occupied the other half of Gene's house, adjacent to Gene's quarters.
Lining up with the red and white checked water tower, across the bayou, and a channel marker, Jeff stopped the boat over a bed of shell, then threw-out the anchor.
An hour and one beer later, Jeff had a nice string of croaker and sand trout.
He'd had fun but would have enjoyed the outing more had I been with him, but knew I'd be in Galveston for the weekend. Jeff freely admitted that he welcomed a change, having someone to talk with other than drunks and a miser.
The young astronomer tied the boat to the pier, leaned the motor against a piling, and set the fuel tank beside the motor, swung his fish onto the pier, then threw his unused bait into the shallows for the crabs and minnows.
One of Gene's cats was at the end of the pier waiting for a free dinner; the cat always met an incoming boat. Jeff found the fish cleaning board I'd left for him and began cleaning the fish, on the edge of the pier. He tossed extraneous parts to the cat, and another cat that had materialized out of nowhere.
"Going to eat fish tonight, are we?" Sonny asked from the embankment above the pier.
"The cats and I are," Jeff replied, looking up to see a silly grin spread across Sonny's face and a half-pint whiskey bottle protruding from a pocket of his jeans; he'd separated someone, probably Louis, from two dollars with which to buy his small bottle.
"I don't want any of your damned old fish, anyway," Sonny replied, a scowl having replace the silly grin. "Louis is going to buy us some hamburgers and French fries, right, Louis?" Louis, who had just walked up, gave a weak smile. The hamburger dinner evidently was news to him.
"See you around, Jeff,” Louis said with a wave of his hand, then turned to follow Sonny back toward the apartments.
Fish cleaned and boat motor put away, Jeff left as the sleek female cat, appetite satiated, sat on the end of the pier washing her face.
Louis' Datsun pickup was parked in its usual place. Jeff climbed the stairs, and as he was unlocking his door, heard Sonny, who was now in his own room, door ajar. Sonny's voice was raised in anger as he soundly cursed Louis, casting doubt on Louis' paternity.
Jeff smiled. Louis didn't earn much money and was evidently opposed to feeding such worthless piece of humanity, as was Sonny.
Neither he, Louis, nor Mike objected to helping someone truly in need. All three men, while earning little, worked at whatever job they could find, while Sonny rarely worked.
According to information released by governmental agencies, the economy was humming along strongly, a chicken in every pot, but those responsible for compiling employment statistics apparently suffered from myopia, or wore rose-tinted eyeglasses.
Jeff left his door open, stood his reel in its corner, placed his fish in the sink. He opened a window for cross-ventilation. He must get his mind off politicians and their self-serving antics. He became angry every time he thought of all the underprivileged and hungry children in this country and read newspaper accounts of hotshot senators and congresspersons touring foreign countries on supposed fact finding missions.
A few weeks later the same newspapers carried stories of millions of dollars destined for feeding children of the countries the politician had toured. Whatever happened to the adage: charity begins at home?
Hot grease crackled in a frying pan as Jeff popped the top on another beer. If he drank this beer he'd have to be content with only one beer the next day, but would still have two for Friday.
As Jeff lifted the last small fillet onto a plate, Sonny dramatically sniffed the air as he poked his head inside the doorway. "Sure smells good in here, Jeff," Sonny called cheerfully."
“Does, doesn't it?" Jeff answered. "Nothing quite like the smell of fish and hushpuppies with onion. I'll bet folks down at the Causeway can smell these fish and hushpuppies.
I only have enough for myself, though. "I'm sure you and Louis will enjoy your hamburgers and fries...I like hamburgers too, but can't afford them, so I have to eat these slimy old fish."
Sonny, seeing he wasn't invited to eat with Jeff, stalked down the hall, muttering, his heels resounding against the thinly carpeted plywood floor.
Jeff began eating, and thought of the vast gulf that separated people at each end of the moral scale. Here was he, and others he knew, who worked at the most menial jobs when none other could be found - then there were the Sonnys of the world.
The Sonnys were in perfect health, able-bodied, and strong. They could work at practically anything that didn't require technical skills...but the Sonnys wouldn't work preferring instead to bum their way through life. Well, Jeff Chandler wasn't going to be host to this parasite.
I had lived at Shady Palms several years before Jeff came to Galveston. With the severe downturn of the economy, brought on by plummeting oil prices, my business had gone belly-up.
I was devastated and needed time to lick my wounds before making another start. I told Jeff of Sonny and how overbearing and lazy the man was when I knew him. Sonny's feeling couldn't be hurt.
One weekend when I was leaving Galveston to visit my friend, Dawn, Sonny poked his head in my doorway and said, "I sure hate to see you go. It's going to get mighty hungry down here."
I'm two inches over six feet tall, with wavy silver-gray hair, heavy, even for my height, and am considered easy going and fairly patient. I, however, do not suffer fools gladly.
The last contact I'd had with Sonny was when I was living at Shady Palms. I hadn't slept well the night before and was standing on the small balcony, absentmindedly looking at the pavement 15 feet below while drinking a cup of coffee and trying to get my wits together. Sonny had been his usual pesky self the night before, and walked up beside me as I stood on the balcony. He began talking about what a bastard one of the fellows was for not sharing his beer, then referred to the evening before when I'd declined his offer to dine with me. I'd had all I could take, and rounded on him. "Sonny," I said in a low but hard voice, "if you don't get away from me this instant, I'm going to throw you over that railing and see if fairies really can fly.”
Sonny left for Houston the next day to try and find a truck-driving job. Jeff was greatly amused when I'd told him of the balcony scene, saying he could just picture Sonny flitting off into the blue, just like Peter Pan.
I wasn't put-off by Sonny's sometimes alternate lifestyle. I pretty much accept people as they are, but the man's bantam-rooster way of strutting, bragging about being a warrior, and flexing his muscles, annoyed me badly.
Jeff enjoyed the cooling gulf breeze as he sat at the rickety table with a mayonnaise jar cap under one leg, to make the table level; his mind roamed to memories of his childhood. Jeff's father worked in construction, following the jobs from state-to-state. They were seldom in one place long enough for young Jeff to form lasting friendships. His father was a binge-drinker, and when on a spree spent all of the family's money, leaving them in a lurch until next payday.
One Saturday morning, while in high school, Jeff was sitting at the kitchen table with his mother when there was a knock at the front door. His father's foreman brought word that Jeff's father, Ralph, was killed in an accident only an hour before; Jeff was stunned, but couldn't cry. He held his mother for many minutes as her body shook with muffled sobs; they were unaware of the foreman's leaving the room.
Mrs. Chandler had managed to keep premiums paid on a small burial policy and a life insurance policy. Her husband's work was dangerous and if his life weren’t insured, she and her son would be left penniless.
Jeff finished high school in Mission, where his father was killed, then, upon graduation he and his mother moved to Austin, Texas to live with his widowed aunt.
Jeff shook himself from his reverie and considered doing another chart or two before turning in for the night, but decided to let the charts wait until morning. Instead, he cleaned the tiny kitchen, grabbed a towel and a bar of soap and headed for the shower.
A half-hour later, as Jeff lay on his back, on the double bed, he was aware of the slightly damp sheets. Only air conditioning would take away the dampness, but he couldn't afford the extra five dollars per week for the added convenience...Shady Palms - the home of the eminent Jeffrey R.Chandler, Ph.D., Astronomer. Jeff chuckled aloud at his paradoxical situation, then slept.
Jeff Chandler awakened on Thursday morning at 6 a.m. refreshed by a good night's sleep and ready for what the new day might offer.
As he carried his cup of coffee to the table he heard Mike say something to Louis as he was leaving for work, but Louis' reply was drowned out by Mattress Mack's 'Save You Moneeey' television commercial. Jeff admired Mike. The small man was quiet, unassuming, and rarely missed a day repairing a dent or scrape on someone's automobile. He did the part that required skill and left the sanding to the owner, thus saving the owner considerable money.
Mike enjoyed his beer but was never loud, and always maintained a cheerful outlook on life no matter what difficulty he encountered. Coffee finished, Jeff rinsed his cup, placed the cup on a drain-board, wrapped a towel around his waist, gathered his shaving gear, and walked down the hall to the bathroom, after he'd locked his door. Jeff examined himself in the mirror as he brushed his teeth, paying particular attention to his hair. Nope, not a single gray hair. He wasn't a vain man and was rarely given to introspection, and even more rarely to inspecting his features, but he felt that a scientist must have at least a few gray hairs in order to look distinguished.
He wanted to attain the accepted image of the learned man.
He was pleased with his slender six-foot frame, short black hair, and angular features. He didn't yet wear thick bottle-glass eyeglasses as did the stereotyped academic, but once or twice had thought of buying a pair of plain-glass horn-rimmed eyeglasses at Eckerds or Walgreens, to impress the young ladies.
Back in his room, with another cup of coffee and his star-chart paraphernalia on the table in front of him, Jeff once again thought of Doctor Thomas, his mentor, and the anomalies they'd observed when operating the observatory's large radio telescope.
The disturbance was coming from deep space, for sure, but so far they'd been unable to determine the source or reason for the unusual activity. Once, when he was studying on a grant at Mt. Palomar Observatory, he'd asked other students what was known about the strange waves and wave groupings. They'd looked at him as if he were crazy and claimed to have observed nothing. He was beginning to doubt himself, but then, the equipment was incapable of lying.
Another time, he'd broached the subject to Doctor Ransome, a prominent astronomer doing research on black holes and mass of space objects. Doctor Ransome grabbed the printout from Jeff's hand, glanced at the lines of ink, folded the paper, and stuffed the paper into a pocket of his lab coat. "Doctor Chandler," the scientist said sternly, "if you expect to have a long and productive career as an astronomer and get promotions on a timely basis, you'll do well to ignore trash like this...and make absolutely sure you refrain from subjecting your colleagues to such garbage!"
Jeff couldn't believe his ears. He'd walked dazedly away from Doctor Ransome, wondering why such a well-known scientist would get so excited if the printout were garbage.
Now Jeff was more curious than ever. Did the older scientist know more than he was willing to admit? Was this information being deliberately ignored? Was there suppression of the deep-space anomaly? Investigation and research was the very essence of astronomy.
When back in Austin, Jeff had, while talking with Doctor Thomas, related his experience at Mt. Palomar. Jeff and his mentor scheduled use of Austin's radio telescope, turned the antenna toward
the quadrant in space from which the emissions came; they were quickly rewarded by a series of bursts.
The next day Doctor Thomas, with Jeff as an observer, gained access to equipment that translated the radio waves into sound. They later searched the observatory for evidence that someone else had stumbled onto the anomaly, but found nothing.
"They're a hidebound bunch at Palomar, to be scientists," Doctor Thomas had observed. "We'll carry on our own investigation and I'll nose around a bit in the scientific community."
That conversation was shortly before Jeff finished his post-doc work. Jeff was anxious to talk with his friend and mentor, but couldn't afford a telephone call California.
Friday morning, just before darkness began its grudging retreat from a sun still well below the horizon, Jeff was entering a deep and untroubled sleep.
At the same time, two time zones and almost 2,000 miles away, Doctor Martin Thomas rose from his bed nearly as tired as when he'd lain down. "A pity the disease of aging prevented a man from sleeping less well than he did when young," Martin groaned.
Every morning when getting out of bed he was reminded of joints he never realized he had, until he turned 55.years old.
Too early to get a cup of coffee, the old scientist thought as he sank into a chair beside a window. The occasional car, or prowling police car, nosed along the silent streets 15 floors below. A sea of myriad lights, some flashing, some not, stretched as far as the eye could see. Two huge airliners' lights winked as they floated silently through the night sky, awaiting assignment of a runway on which to land at LAX.
I should have retired long ago, Martin Thomas thought, but if retired, what would I do?
Cancer had taken his beloved Anna, six years before. Martin had never done anything really bad, but just the same, he felt guilty, especially where Anna was concerned. Small things he'd said or done, or left unsaid and undone, bothered him when awakening in the wee hours. He and Anna were without children, a fact which he
couldn't bring himself to regret. Today's society existed without sufficient social parameters, and thereby created an environment for moral and ethical decay. History does repeat itself, he thought.
How long before America falls victim to the extent of destruction, as did Rome, the fabled Atlantis, and Sodom and Gomorrah? But not only America suffered from the insidious cancer of societal blight, so did the rest of the world, to a greater or lesser degree.
Doctor Thomas shook his head as if to dispel unwelcome thoughts. His mind turned onto more positive avenues as he watched a fire truck race across an intersection, its lights flashing frantically.
The elderly academician rose from his chair, crossed to the bathroom, and relieved himself. At least he didn't suffer from prostate trouble, as did so many of his peers.
Again in his chair, his thoughts turned to young Jeff Chandler.
In all his years of teaching, he'd only had two students capable of becoming truly outstanding scientists; Jeff was one of the two. Astronomy wasn't an easy field, being considered the bastard child in the scientific community. Astronomers didn't launch space capsules, or design space suits, but without the astronomer there would have been no need for designers of either. Maybe it's time I did retire, Doctor Thomas thought. He'd been thinking of retiring, and if he did so now his position could be filled before the next semester began. He'd do it! He'd cite health problems and let his bright young teaching assistant finish this semester while remaining available for telephone consultation.
He wanted to visit Jeff, in Galveston, see that boondoggle of an observatory, and talk with Jeff about the unusual activity in deep space. His ire rose every time he thought of the gross expenditure of money for the building of an observatory in the worst possible place for such a project...at sea level...for seagulls to shit on and roost.
The Pitt Hampton Observatory was a tribute to the retiring Texas senator by the same name. The Senator, fascinated with astronomy, had rammed the project through channels for the sake of having something bear his name. Other members of congress had gone along with the proposal because they wouldn't want to be opposed when doing the same thing, themselves.
Doctor Martin Thomas returned to bed; he'd doze until awakened at seven, by the wake-up call. He was going home and wouldn't have to listen to the lecture by that boring shit that considered himself a scientist.
Jeff awakened himself, moaning, “Oh, Baby,” do it again. Put those sweet lips back over this thing...it feels sooo good!' Then, aware that he was alone, was disgusted with himself and the tricks the mind played. His loose swim trunks strained away from his body; the beast inside throbbed with each beat of his heart. "I suppose I'll just have to beat you into submission," he said to his thumping member, then decided to see if urinating would quell the monster before taking more drastic action.
"Don't want to spill my seed unnecessarily... one never knows when one will get lucky, do one?" He'd picked up the last part from reading a book about a fellow named Archie who was partial to puce berets, and thought the expression rather erudite. Jeff smiled. He could imagine the questioning looks he would receive if using the expression, himself. Perhaps one must wear a puce beret and utter the expression nonchalantly, in order to not raise eyebrows. Jeff rolled from the bed, hastily started his coffee, and dashed down the hall to the bathroom, only just in time to prevent himself from dribbling down his own leg.
Now the beast lay along his leg as if ashamed for being such an impudent upstart. A fuzzy dreamland memory of red lips, and blond hair tickling his crotch, remained with Jeff, causing his lips to curl in a half-smile.
After the first cup of coffee Jeff decided to go across the way to the large apartment building, for a newspaper. As he was about to climb the stairs, on the return trip, he noticed a strange car parked alongside the concrete retaining wall separating the Gulf Breeze Apartments from its poor relative, Shady Palms.
The white car sported only one banged-up fender, but had enough rust on the trunk and below its doors to feel at home among its fellow vehicles with their tired looks. The car was literally covered with an assortment of religious stickers, most of which proclaimed Jesus to be Savior, and warned of his imminent arrival. BE SAVED! THE TIME IS NEAR! JESUS SAVES!
Jeff agreed that Jesus was probably coming, but the when still remained open to speculation. Jeff thought he'd heard movement in the hallway last night as he was drifting off to sleep, and he was right, the car verified the fact of new tenants. He made the fifty paces to his room without meeting anyone.
He was grateful that he wasn't required to give his opinion of the weather or of the President's latest conquest...or worse yet, have to suffer through a cloud of stale whiskey-breath while one of the fellows aired his own opinions.
Jeff made quick work of the Houston Chronicle, completely skipping the obituaries; he didn't know enough people in the Houston area for the column to have any import for him.
Newspaper finished, Jeff laid out his charts and reference books. He was about to affix his signature to a chart, when the telephone rang. Must be a wrong number, he thought. The phone seldom rang unless Big Tex or the telephone company was calling, and the hour was too early for either. The instrument quit ringing in the middle of the ninth ring; Jeff relaxed and poised his pen for another attempt at signing the chart. The phone rang again. "Hello," Jeff said into the receiver."
Jeff, is that you?" a far away voice asked. "It sounds as if you're in a barrel." Before Jeff could answer, the voice advised him to hang up; he'd call back and, hopefully, get a better connection.
A minute later, the phone rang again. "Is that you, Jeff?" Doctor Thomas asked.
"Yes, it's me," Jeff answered.
"Are you all right, Jeff?" Doctor Thomas asked. "The first time I called, no one answered. The second time, the connection was so poor I could barely hear you. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine," Jeff answered. "Where are you calling from, Doctor?"
"I'm at the airport, in Los Angeles. My flight leaves in 15 minutes. I wanted you to be first to know that I'm submitting my retirement papers when I arrive in Austin...made-up my mind during the wee hours, this morning. I'll be coming to visit you soon, if you're prepared to receive me."
"I'll be glad to see you, Doctor," Jeff answered, delighted at the prospect of visiting with his mentor, in person. "My place is small and rather cramped, but you're welcome."
"I won't presume upon your hospitality, Jeff, though I know my welcome is assured. I'll stay at the Galvez. I heard the old hotel's had a facelift since Anna and I stayed there.
"I'll arrive in Galveston sometime tomorrow afternoon. There's the boarding call...got to go." The connection was broken and the dial tone buzzed in Jeff's ear. He could hardly wait for his friend to arrive.
Jeff's internal barometer rose considerably after his conversation with Doctor Thomas. Work on fools' charts was made more bearable by the doctor's impending visit.
The young astronomer had only just begun working on the charts. His pen was poised over a chart to affix the unlikely name of LaKeesha Tuthill to the chart, when the small apartment building with
paper-thin walls erupted in song. Two untrained and off-key voices sang, 'Nearer O' My Lord To Thee'.
LaKeesha Tuthill's chart would have to wait until he determined from where this ungodly, or rather, Godly music came. Jeff laid his pen on the edge of the chart, pushed back his chair, and went into the hall.
Sonny, Mike, and Louis, were standing in front of the door at the end of the hall, opposite Sonny's digs, listening. The voices were those of the folks who had arrived early the night before.
As the three men listened, their credulity strained, the voices shrieked even louder though the quality remained unimproved. The hymn ended and was immediately replaced with “When The Saints Go Marching In.”
The volume increased, and was exceeded only by the curiosity of the three men who listened on the other side of the door.
Suddenly, the song stopped in mid-stanza, and with almost no break, was replaced with, "Oh, Jesus, thank you Jesus. Ahaaa! THANK YOU JESUS!" Only deafening silence came from the room.
"Wonder what Jesus gave them that made them so thankful?" Mike whispered. Sonny and Louis shrugged their shoulders, as if to say, 'to each, his own'.
Jeff shook his head, the grateful and climactic 'Ahaaa' reverberating inside his head.
Sounds of movement came from inside the room, prompting the hall to empty quickly. Neither of the men wished to be caught eavesdropping at a neighbor's door.
Well, Jeff thought, as he entered his room, we now have Jesus freaks in our midst. Bet they were divinely inspired to come to Shady Palms to lend a balancing influence - to offset the drinking of and whiskey, and foul language.
As Jeff worked on the charts, he found himself hoping the check for his last week's work would be in today's mail. If the chart-work lasted until the week before Christmas he'd have the telephone company and Big Tex off his back, could make a car insurance payment, and still have a little Christmas money left...but after Christmas he'd be one-broke-dude.
While working, Jeff kept an ear attuned for movement in the hall. Louis and Mike had gone to work immediately after the confounding affair at the new tenants' door. Sonny went once to the Bathroom and then hurriedly back to his own room.
At 9:35 Jeff heard voices, and footsteps of two people coming down the hall; he turned from his work to watch as the people passed his door. Normally, Jeff wasn't overly curious, but after the action inside the room at the end of the hall, he couldn't restrain himself; he had to see who was responsible for the singing.
The woman's long face was framed with shoulder-length blond hair and she wore a long granny-dress. Steel-rimed granny glasses rode on a long, thin nose, and on her feet were flip-flops. She was about 5'-7" and slim; she chatted merrily and waved to Jeff as she passed his doorway.
The woman's companion was maybe two inches taller than she, cadaverous, wore a black Western style hat, bolo tie, white Western-cut shirt, faded jeans, and black cowboy boots. His voice was as animated as was the woman's.
Both man and woman appeared to be in their mid-to-late twenties. Jeff, trained in observation as he was, was unable to detect even the faintest halos around the heads of either new tenant... perhaps much time and singing is required to obtain halostatus.
At noon Jeff was ready for a break, having worked steadily all morning except to go to the bathroom and get another cup of coffee. He needed to go to a supermarket for weekend supplies.
Jeff had his hand on the door handle of his car when he saw Sonny coming down the path from the bait shop, beer in hand. "Where are you going, Jeff?" Sonny called.
"Going to Kroger's to pick up a few things for the weekend...want to come along?" Jeff harbored no ill feelings toward the man. Sonny wasn't a bad guy and was reasonably good company when sober.
"Yeah," Sonny replied, "I'd like to go. I was going to look for a job, but that can wait until you finish at the supermarket.
"If you don't mind, on your way back you can drop me off at a moving company down on Broadway. I worked there several years ago. Maybe the help has changed and no one will remember me.
When they were driving toward the beach, on Sixty-first Street, Jeff said, "Allen and Dawn are coming down for the weekend."
"Allen and Dawn, who?" Sonny asks, turning in the seat to face Jeff.
I knew an Allen and Dawn a few years ago. Is he a big man with a crippled foot...and does Dawn have brown hair with a little streak of white over her forehead?"
"Perfect description; must be the same people. You seem nervous, Sonny, is something wrong?"
"You'd be nervous too if that big bastard had come within an inch of throwing you off Gene's balcony. I guess I'd rubbed him the wrong way one time too many. He called me a queer too; I don't look like a fag, do I?"
"Nooo," Jeff said thoughtfully, you don't look that way to me.
"I think Allen had made-up his mind to kill me," Sonny confided. "He didn't threaten me, but I could feel it in my bones. One day when he was going to Houston to see Dawn, I asked him to let me ride with him to Houston and drop me off at Allied Van Lines."
"Allen doesn't strike me as a bad sort of fellow," Jeff said as he nosed his old Chevy into a parking space in front of Kroger’s.
"He isn't," Sonny admitted. "I told you I bug people when I'm drinking, and I can't help it, and I'm a pest. I'd bugged Allen one time too many, so I wasn't taking any chances; I left town."
Clouds had rolled in off the gulf, dimming the already pale December sun even more. Waves pounded the seawall across the four-lane highway with a rhythmic persistence. "If this wind doesn't settle down, Allen and I won't be going fishing tomorrow," Jeff said as he and Sonny walked toward the supermarket.
"I've seen Allen fish in weather almost this bad," Sonny said, looking at the scudding clouds. "Never can tell about the weather down here, Jeff. Like as not this will blow over and tomorrow the gulf will look like a sheet of glass."
When Jeff got back to the car, Sonny was drinking a 16- ounce Bud Light. Two Snicker bars and a Butterfinger lay on the dash in front of him.
"Thought you didn't have any money, Sonny," Jeff said, nodding toward the candy bars.
Sonny grinned. "I don't," he said. "Want a beer?" He lifted a trouser leg above the top of his cowboy boot-top and extracted another Bud Light.
"Thank you, but no, I still have a few charts to do," Jeff replied.
As they drove down Seawall Boulevard to where the boulevard intersected Broadway, Sonny was engrossed in thought; finally he spoke. "I think I'll stay with a friend who lives on Fifty-third Street, this weekend. I don't want to run into Allen while I'm drinking...I don't want to take a chance on pissing him off." "Allen wouldn't carry a grudge over something that happened years ago," Jeff said. "Maybe not," Sonny admitted, "but if my mother raised a fool, then the fool was my sister; I'm not going to take the chance."
Jeff turned onto Broadway, and in the middle of the next block dropped the paranoid Sonny off at the Mayflower terminal, drove on to his bank and through the bank's drive-thru facility to cash a check, then back to Shady Palms.
About mid-afternoon Jeff took a break from the charts and walked the few yards to Gene's house, to pay his rent. When on the way back to his own apartment, Jeff smiled, wagged his head from side-to-side and marveled aloud, "I do believe that if I'd held onto that money another five seconds, Gene would have begun salivating!"
Forty minutes later, Doctor Thomas called.
The doctor had checked into the Galvez, refreshed himself with a nap, shower,
and a change of clothes; he would wait for Jeff in the hotel's lounge.
Nearly half an hour later Jeff passed through the archway separating the lounge from the hotel lobby and spotted his mentor sitting at a small table near the large plate glass window overlooking the gulf, a half-filled bottle of Corona beer on the table before him.
Jeff had expected his friend to be alone, and was surprised to see a young lady sitting across the table, listening attentively to the elderly scientist.
As Jeff crossed the lounge the lady lifted a glass of what looked to be white wine to her lips. Doctor Thomas rose and extended his hand in greeting, then offered Jeff a chair.
"Jeff," Doctor Thomas said when they were seated, "I'd like you to meet the lovely young lady who will be your colleague at the new facility. Jeff Chandler, meet Linda Lassiter."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Ms. Lassiter," Jeff said as he clasps her hand. If one must have a colleague, Jeff thought, he'd take a pretty young lady over a scruffy, illtempered man, any day.
"It's Linda, Jeff," the dark-haired, dark-eyed, lady murmured pleasantly, then continued, "Since we'll be working together, you may as well call me by my first name. I understand first-name usage is common down here in the land of good-oleboys."
"Both Doctor Thomas and myself are dyed-in-the-wool Texans," Jeff said as his mentor placed a drink order. "Do I detect a slight accent?"
"I was born in Michigan, but was a military brat," Linda explained. "We
moved frequently from one army post to another until I began college. I refused to move anymore and took all my degrees in Boston.
"I'm staying in the Galvez until the new facility opens, which I hope will be soon, or, I should say, my father hopes. I'm staying in the most expensive place in Galveston to get even with him for all the years he dragged me around the country.
"I recognized Doctor Thomas from his picture in the Society's news letters. When we met at the desk, I couldn't believe my eyes. He's so well known and respected... and I've admired him for years...and to meet him here, face-to-face!"
Doctor Thomas' cheeks colored slightly. "Linda will be joining us for dinner, won't you Linda?" the elder scientist asked.
"Of course I will!" Linda exclaimed. "Dinner with an imminent scientist and colleague-to-be will be an excellent way to begin my stay in Galveston. If you'll suggest a time I'll take care to not even be fashionably late."
"Would 7:30 suit the two of you?" Doctor Thomas asked, looking from one young person to the other.
"That will be fine," Linda said, taking a sip of wine and getting to her feet. "See you then!"
Three men, seated two tables away from Doctor Thomas' table, eyed Linda approvingly as she walked across the lounge.
When they finished their beers, Jeff suggested a walk along the seawall; he was anxious to learn what his mentor had discovered about the activity in deep space.
Doctor Thomas signed the bar tab and as he and Jeff entered the lobby, excused himself, saying he would join Jeff under the hotel's portico in about 15 minutes.
Jeff assumed his friend preferred the privacy of his own room to the public bathroom facilities within the lounge. The opulence of the old hotel's lobby was not lost on Jeff.
As he waited under the portico, he watched seagulls compete for morsels of food thrown into the air by a young man and his female companion.
Someday, Jeff thought, I'll be able to afford to stay in a luxury hotel.
The business day had ended and rush hour traffic along Seawall Boulevard was picking up. The sticker-covered car he'd seen when going for the newspaper, this morning, cruised slowly past the hotel and slid into a parking space along the seawall.
Jeff wondered what the Jesus people did for a living. Whatever they did evidently didn't pay very well, if one's financial health were judged by his wheels.
Conversation in the lounge had centered on the topic of who had published the best scientific papers, and about the new observatory. Jeff thought about academic injustice... of young post-doc scientist, whose studies and research were published as being the department-head's own work...then his thoughts turned to Linda. He had to restrain himself from trying to imagine how she would look sans clothing. He hadn't seen a naked female for much too long.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Jeff," Doctor Thomas apologized, as he stepped up to Jeff's right side. "I wanted to make a telephone call."
"No inconvenience," Jeff assured his mentor. "I watched as people fed birds, and thought about what it would be like to be on one of those ships and travel to so many different countries."
"I had visions of becoming a seafaring man when but a lad," Doctor Thomas confided, "but the vision was quickly dispelled when my father took me deep sea fishing on a party boat. I was sick all day long. I promised myself that if the good Lord would let me get my feet on land again, I'd never again get on a boat of any kind, not even a rowboat."
Finally catching a break in traffic, the two scientists ran across the wide street and turned left, toward the Flagship Hotel.
Distant fishermen lined the Flagship's fishing pier, and seagulls, only white dots in the distance, wheeled above the fishermen, waiting for the piece of bait dropped by accident or for a school of baitfish to make an appearance.
"Jeff," Doctor Thomas asked, his voice barely audible above the wind and pounding surf, "do you remember the article in the Chronicle about several thousand homing pigeons suddenly losing their sense of direction, and many of the pigeons dying mysteriously?"
"I remember," Jeff replied, surprised to be talking about pigeons when he'd expected something much different. "A very strange phenomenon. No one seemed to have an answer at that time and I've seen nothing further."
"Do you also remember another article that appeared at about the same time about a deep-space disturbance causing an incidence of low-grade gamma radiation? The value of saturation was about the magnitude of a dental x-ray. Do you remember?"
"Yes," Jeff affirmed, still unclear as to where this conversation was leading. “It wasn’t that a correlation wasn't made; a correlation was made,” Doctor Thomas said. “We never saw anything further about the incident because the response was squashed.” Can you think of any reason why that story should have been silenced?
“Seemed a harmless enough story except for the fate of the pigeons, of course, don't you think?"
"I never connected the two stories," Jeff confessed, "but now that you have, the correlation is clear. The gamma rays fouled-up, no pun intended, the pigeons' navigational systems, and ultimately killed the birds. Since pigeons don't have dental x-rays, one doesn't know the lethal radiation dosage for pigeons...and since no other birds were affected, one assumes the pigeons' navigational apparatus rendered them more susceptible than other fowl..."
Jeff snapped his fingers, a personal idiosyncrasy when remembering something that should have been readily apparent. "I remember Allen saying something about an unusual number of dead birds, just after the article appeared. One rarely sees a dead bird unless the bird was hit by a car."
"Yes," Doctor Thomas agreed, "your friend is correct. Birds must die at a rate consistent with their hatch-rate...which leads one to wonder if birds do not have a secret burial ground, as do elephants. If so, then the exposed birds were unable to make the journey to their celestial sanctuary."
"Why, then, was nothing more printed about the pigeons?
"For the same reason," Doctor Thomas responded, "that one never hears more than a very brief broadcast about alien spacecraft. The government puts a lid on all reports of UFO sightings, as quickly as possible. The government has responded in this manner since the forties, and acts as though the government-secured area near Roswell, New Mexico, Area 51, doesn't exist at all.
"Further, there's good reason to believe that powerful radar, based near Roswell, interfered with perhaps at least three alien spacecraft, causing the craft to crash...and I suspect Doctor Ransome's reaction to your radio-telescope printout was motivated by government-promoted secrecy.
"History is laden with tales of spacecraft and extragalactic visitors. Such visits are recorded on cave walls and in the bible...on cave walls in South and Central America are drawings that resemble suited-up astronauts; the similarity is too close to leave doubt. Sodom and Gomorrah...the walls of Jericho, are biblical examples."
The two scientists turned around to retrace their steps back to the hotel, and almost bumped into the new residents of Shady Palms. So engrossed were Jeff and his mentor in conversation, they hadn't noticed the people as they walked toward the Flagship. Either that, or the two Jesus freaks had walked down the seawall in the other direction, which was more likely, since two people wearing sandwich boards would have been exceeding hard to miss.
The sandwich boards consisted of two large pieces of cardboard fastened together with string and drooped over their heads, one sheet hanging over their chests, the other over their backs. The messages were identical; both proclaimed - THE END IS COMING - JESUS IS COMING - REPENT WHILE THERE'S STILL TIME JESUS IS LOVE AND FORGIVES ALL SIN - REPENT - THE END IS UPON US!
Both, man and woman had a bag of Jesus figurines in boxes hanging at their sides.
A brief flicker of recognition registered in the woman's eyes as she looked at Jeff, then faded, unable to place his face since their encounter was so fleeting. "Want to buy a genuine Jesus figure blessed by Brother Les Turner?" she asked.
"Thank you for asking," Doctor Thomas answered kindly, "but not now."
"Cheap cocksuckers," the sandwich-board-bearing man groused as the scientist turned to cross Seawall Boulevard.
As they neared the hotel, they were met by a breathless Linda. "Look what I just bought for two dollars," she enthused, extending a hand in which a Jesus figurine was clutched. "I know the figurine isn't worth much, but I like it...and those unfortunate people looked like they really could use the money... and they looked so grateful when I gave them the two dollars."
Jeff and Doctor Thomas admired Linda's purchase, saying nothing of their refusal of the same merchandise. Linda said nothing of the spaced-out looks in the eyes of the figurine merchants.
Jeff began to wonder what kind of twit he was going to have for a colleague.
Doctor Thomas muttered his appreciation for the figurine, then said, "We'd better get up to my room and freshen-up for dinner,
"I do hope you're hungry, young lady. I've heard the Galvez's food is excellent...but then you'd already know that since you're staying in the hotel."
"Oh, no, Doctor," Linda, said, shaking her head, "I'm a hamburger junkie, but I'll make an exception tonight. I wouldn't miss the chance to dine with two gorgeous hunks! Got to hurry! See you at 7:30," and she was gone, walking swiftly up the Galvez's driveway.
The old-style elevator stopped at the third floor; the scientists stepped out of the elevator and onto rich, red carpet. Jeff could still smell Linda's perfume, a scent that conjured up images of most a carnal nature.
Once in the room, Doctor Thomas went into the bathroom. When he came out, Jeff rose from his chair and was going toward the bathroom, when Doctor Thomas said, "Jeff, you're the nearest thing to a son I've ever had. I'm leaving my entire estate to you...though if what I think is on the horizon for Earth, my estate won't mean much, if anything."
Jeff went into the bathroom, but left the door open - he was only washing his face and combing his hair.
"I'm pleased you think enough of me to make me your sole beneficiary, Doctor, but your last comment has me slightly more than curious. What do you mean, 'If what I think is in store for Earth, my estate won't mean much'?"
Doctor Thomas looked at his watch. "I'll explain later,” he said "We have to get down to the dining room...we can't have a lady arriving before her hosts."
Doctor Thomas had the infuriating habit of saying something to pique the curiosity, and then switch to another subject. He admitted to purposely whetting the curiosity, and maintained that oftentimes students came up with the correct answers on their own, and sometimes, with an answer or theory of which he had not considered. Doctor Thomas maintained that such a practice was an invaluable teaching tool since the student was required to use his or her own intellectual processes to a greater degree.
The two scientists entered the dining room and were shown to a table on the beachfront side of the room.
The overcast had lifted and the evening star, Venus, could be seen burning brightly. The star was practically at the fingertips as compared to distances with which the two astronomers dealt. A waiter appeared, and Doctor Thomas ordered a very dry gin and tonic for himself and an extra dry martini for Miss Lassiter, who had not yet arrived; Jeff
ordered a whiskey sour.
Doctor Thomas looked toward the dining room entrance, to make sure Linda wasn't on her way to the table, then leaned across the table and said, conspiratorially, "It would seem that you have a very bright and ambitious colleague.
"When I went to my room, before our walk, I called an old friend, in Boston. I caught him just as he was leaving his office; he seemed quite content to gossip a bit. He knew our dinner-guest, and was very complimentary. Linda graduated number 2 in her class and did her doctoral thesis on radioactive emissions, their strengths, and relative effect on earth as a life-sustaining environment.
"I wasn't being a nosy old man, not entirely. I'm an old worrywart and wanted to know with whom my bright young student is becoming involved." The last words were barely past Doctor Thomas' lips when Linda appeared at his elbow.
Both men rose courteously and Doctor Thomas seated her, commenting earnestly, "How lovely you are, my dear. You bring back memories of a much younger Martin Thomas, and ladies he squired about Austin." "I thank you, Doctor," the young lady astronomer said. "Gentlemen," she continued, lifting her glass, "to your health!
"The martini is just right. How did you know that a martini is my favorite preprandial drink?"
"Pre what?" Jeff asked, his humble background emerging.
Linda laughed. "That wasn't really fair," she said. "I've been just dying to tryout the expression in proper context and setting."
Doctor Thomas was pleased as he watched the exchange between the two young people. Linda appeared to be a nice person, but hoped Jeff would proceed with care; he didn't want to see his young friend hurt.
Linda Lassiter was indeed an extraordinarily attractive young lady. She wore a red suit with frilly white blouse and black two-inch heels. Her black hair was cut in pageboy style, and her green eyes, made more prominent with skillfully applied eye shadow, transposed her into a five-foot two-inch living doll.
Doctor Thomas was pleased to see that she wore only a small dinner ring and a string of good pearls.
But he doubted that Jeff noticed anything other than her green eyes and abundant breasts.
Their waiter appeared and politely asked if they wished to order, and assured them the seafood had come directly from fishing boats, only an hour before.
When the three meals were reduced to only fish bones, shrimp tails, and fake crab shells, the table was cleared and champagne brought.
When the elder astronomer was about to make an attempt at drawing out Linda as to her interest in cosmic radiation, he glanced up and saw a face he'd known several years before. He derived no pleasure from the fact that he shared the hotel's ambiance with Anton LePage. Perhaps the disagreeable little man was here only for dinner, and not as a guest.
"There," Doctor Thomas said, nodding toward LePage, "is the man who is to be administrator of the new observatory. He's disagreeable, self-serving, and egotistical; be wary of him. Anton LePage will do anything to make himself look good at anyone else's expense."
"He looks the part," Linda agreed. "Look at those little beady eyes and beetle eyebrows...and the wet-lipped taunting smile."
She shuddered with revulsion.
Half an hour later, and with the champagne reduced by more than half, Doctor Thomas pushed back his chair. "I've enjoyed being in the company of youth this evening, but I'm going to excuse myself and leave you two to finish the wine. We older fellows need our rest...I'll call you tomorrow morning, Jeff."
Darn! Jeff thought, I still didn't find out what I wanted to know! Jeff also had breathed a sigh of relief when his mentor signed the dinner check. Such a bill would wreck his own finances for the next six months. Doctor Thomas had told him that he and Linda were to be his guests for dinner, but being the worrying sort, Jeff was afraid the good doctor might forget.
Jeff awakened at 6 a.m. with a torturous stiffness inside his swim trunks; his taste was thick, vile...then he remembered the whiskey sours and champagne of the evening before.
He and Linda, finishing the bottle of champagne, had gone to the Flagship to listen to the band, and had more drinks. The young scientists avoided shoptalk, speaking instead of experiences while in college, of hopes and dreams, of faculty both loved and despised.
Eleven-thirty found them back in the Galvez lounge. Linda was something of the coquette, so when they got to her room, he felt as if he might get lucky. He pulled Linda close, and kissed her. She didn't resist but neither did she respond; she didn't do anything. He'd just have well been kissing a department store mannequin. Releasing her, he took a step backwards and made a production of sniffing his armpits.
"Jeff," Linda said in a small, strained voice, "I'm sorry. I thought I could. It's not your fault." Then she rushed into the room, hands covering her face.
As Linda turned to lock the door Jeff heard muffled sobs, then the lock clicked into place. He walked across the deep red pile of the Galvez carpet, to the elevator. He hadn't really expected to get lucky the first time, but then, one can always hope. Best of all, nothing was done to endanger their personal or professional relationship.
Jeff rolled out of bed, started the coffee dripping, and headed for the bathroom. Sonny, coming from the bathroom, was so hung-over he was totally unaware of Jeff's presence.
When the first cup of coffee had dispelled his mild case of the 'fuzzes' and all but eradicated the foul taste, Jeff extracted two quarters and his room key, from his trouser pocket.
At the foot of the stairs, on his way to buy a newspaper, he noted that the white car was parked, as before, so the figurine sellers were more than one-night
The air was balmy and the breeze light. The stillness was marred only by the sound of an outboard motor pushing a boat along the bayou, and a cat in the vicinity of Greedy Gene's house, screamed, and another cat answered a second later, trying to outdo the first.
Today is Friday, Jeff thought, and according to the weather forecast, a cold front was supposed to move into the Houston-Galveston area by Sunday. Fishing should be good tomorrow since, for some reason known only to fish, they would go into a feeding frenzy ahead of the cold front.
The young astronomer was looking forward to his friend, Allen's, visit. Maybe he could get Allen to relate more of his experiences while in Vietnam. Allen had told him of the five-story whorehouse in Munich and of Sin City, in Vietnam.
Jeff's mind boggled at the prospect of going into a five-story whorehouse with girls on every floor. How would one make up his mind with so many from which to chose? But he wanted to hear about the fighting; military tactics fascinated him.
While Jeff was occupied with thoughts of fishing, catfights, and whorehouses, Linda Lassiter wrestled with self-incrimination and feelings of guilt. She was up early in spite of having fallen asleep after 2 a.m., and then she slept fitfully. She knew that to feel guilt was to accept her actions as bad, and that wasn't how she felt.
She'd not known Brian to be a married man whose wife was in Florida caring for her ill father. Brian denied being married even when she'd asked him directly. Within a week after Brian's wife returned, Brian dumped her, and she was seduced by Tonia.
Linda didn't know if she were a true lesbian or not, only that she liked what Tonia did...and now there was Jeff Chandler.
During the wee hours before finally falling asleep, Linda had though of putting on her bikini and walking across the street to the end of the rock jetty, diving into the warm gulf waters, and swimming until she was too tired to return to shore.
Linda sat on the edge of her bed and cried bitterly.
Doctor Martin Thomas felt a rare surge of unmitigated joy as he sipped at his first cup of coffee and read of Anton LePage having been arrested. Anton was rumored to have a well placed friend in Atlanta who interceded on his behalf when he ran afoul of the law, while engaging in weird sexual activities, also rumored, but with enough substance to lend validity.
Not bad, Martin Thomas said to himself as he looked into the bathroom mirror. "Not bad for an old fellow," he said aloud. Martin felt reckless today. He wouldn't shave. He couldn't remember when he'd skipped shaving, even for a day...but he'd not shave today! As of today he was officially retired and he was going to enjoy his first day of retirement!
Doctor Martin Thomas walked jauntily through the hotel lobby, down the two steps, and crossed to his '75 Cadillac Eldorado.
After all the years since he'd driven the Caddy from the showroom floor, he'd come to regard the car as an old and trusted friend. Doctor Thomas patted the padded dash. "Thank you for your faithful service, old friend," he said, then turned the ignition key.
The elder scientist drove through the drive-in at Jack-In-The-Box and bought breakfast sandwiches for him and Jeff.
Jeff made a pot of coffee, and as they were eating, said, "I have friends coming down from Houston, tomorrow, the outing was planned some weeks ago and I'd like you to join us. We'd planned to fish the bayou. Allen's boat is too small for all of us, but we'll arrange something to entertain all five of us."
"Five?" Doctor Thomas asked, raising an eyebrow. "Who's the fifth person?"
"Their black poodle, Borgia," Jeff answered, smiling. anywhere without Borgia."
"They don't go
"I'd enjoy meeting your friends. I wasn't looking forward to spending the day alone," Jeff's mentor admitted.
As Jeff cleared the table of debris leftover from the sandwiches, and poured a second cup of coffee for them both, the singing began.
"This is a most unusual hour for holding a revival," the elder scientist observed, looking askance at his young protégé.
"That's the people who drive the white sticker-covered car. The couple we met yesterday, on the seawall," Jeff explained, and then told of the gathering in the hall the day before.
Doctor Thomas only smiled, and then their conversation centered on the subject the good doctor had so adroitly evaded the evening before.
When the gist of Doctor Thomas' information was covered, he asked, "Have you mentioned these phenomena to anyone outside the scientific community?"
"Only to Allen and Dawn, whom you'll meet tomorrow," Jeff replied.
"What does Allen do for a living?" Doctor Thomas asked.
"He's retired, and so is Dawn. She was a legal secretary and he had an auto-parts business, but since retirement, he's begun writing books.”
"Is he any good at writing?" the doctor persisted, surprising Jeff, and causing him to wonder at his mentor's interest.
"I've read two of his books and found I liked his style; his work is informative and often amusing."
"I assume Dawn helps him, is that correct?"
"She was an English major and keeps him straight on the fine points of grammar. You seem to have an unusual interest in his work. Would you care to elucidate?" Jeff asked.
"My thoughts are of having Allen record, chronologically, events as they unfold. Though we do our job exceedingly well, we'd bore people to tears with all our scientific words and qualifications. Perhaps we'll broach the subject, this weekend, to him and Dawn.
"She'd have to agree, else he wouldn't take-on the job,” Jeff stated.
Over into the afternoon, the telephone rang. Jeff crossed his fingers, hoping Big Tex or the telephone company wasn't calling. He lifted the receiver, listened, exhaled a sigh of relief, and motioned for Doctor Thomas.
Two minutes later, the elder scientist lowered the receiver to its cradle. "Jeff,"
he said, "I must go. I have a phone call to make and some thinking to do. There's nothing wrong, so don't be alarmed.
I'll see you tomorrow."
Saturday morning dawned cool and clear. A slight breeze fluttered gaudy plastic banners of car lots as the Dodge pickup traveled south on the Gulf Freeway.
The freeway, during its more than 50 years in existence, had never been totally free of construction, or so said longtime Houston and Galveston residents.
Some folks surmised that the 50-mile stretch of concrete was designed exclusively for hole-watchers, those fellows seen at any construction site, leaning on shovels and peering into holes.
Our 20 pound black poodle sat on the seat between us, front paws resting on Dawn's lap, so his vision was unrestricted as he looked out the window. Borgia looked forward to his pit stop at McDonald's, in League City.
While Miss Dawn took the poodle around the grassy area to wet, I bought hamburgers for myself and Borgia. He preferred Jack-In-The-Box hamburgers, but in a pinch, would grudgingly eat a McDonald's burger.
There was only a light chop on the bay, as we drove across the Causeway, which separates Galveston Island from the mainland.
The fourteen-foot aluminum boat would be easy to handle, I thought, as I looked toward South Deer Island. I'd made arrangements for my four cats, Gray stone, Chat Noir, LeChat One, and Lecher Two, to be fed by a neighbor. Borgia, though a dyed-in-the-wool homebody, always went with us when spent time at the Sandpiper Motel, in Galveston.
The clock on the newspaper building at the southern end of the Causeway read 10:12 a.m. The tide was out and the stench of decaying sea and plant life drifted from mud flats and through the open side-vents of the truck.
We exited at 74th Street, cruised by Smithy’s Bait Shop, past the Ugly Pink Bait Shop, and into Shady Palms.
Dawn and I were both surprised to see Sonny and Louis getting out of Jeff's car. The fact that they were in Jeff's car wasn't the surprise, but rather the condition of the two men. Sonny's head was bandaged and Louis' left arm was in a sling.
"What a way to start the morning," Jeff sighed as he stood at the truck's passenger door.
"I'll see you guys in a little while," he said over his shoulder to Louis and Sonny. "I want to say hello to my friends and greet a black dog."
Borgia licked Jeff's cheek by way of greeting; his short, knobbed tail wagging so furiously the tail seemed in danger of becoming detached from his body.
"Wasn't that Sonny?" Dawn asked.
"Un huh," Jeff acknowledged. "He was planning to stay with a friend this weekend so he wouldn't run into Allen, but there was a little accident this morning before he could get away."
"What kind of accident?" I asked.
"Come over here and I'll tell you, then, if you want to tell Dawn, you may. Borgia can listen if he wants to; I know he'll keep his mouth shut," Jeff said over his shoulder, to Dawn, as he walked some ten paces to the foot of the stairs.
"Don't bet on this dog keeping his mouth shut," Dawn called to Jeff. "He'd blab on his own mother if he were bribed with a piece of cheese."
Jeff told of the early-morning singing and of the curiosity within the group of men, which led to the accident. "Well," Jeff continued, "Louis, Sonny, Mike, and I, were determined to see what was going on in that room. The curiosity-provoking part was the conclusion whether the song was finished, or not.
Jeff nodded to a ladder standing on an old mattress, the ladder leaning against building, and just beneath a window. "We very quietly rigged the mattress and ladder, then, since Louis is the more agile, he climbed the ladder.
"As Louis looked into the apartment there was a momentary pause in singing; the ladder chose that moment to shift, causing a scraping sound. "Carla and Tom-Bob were screwing like minks. The sound of the ladder shifting wasn't loud, but was loud enough to get Carla's attention. She looked over Tom-Bob's shoulder and winked at Louis; Louis fell off the ladder, and as he fell his knife holster caught Sonny on the head.
"We'd placed the ladder on the mattress so there would be no sound, but as things turned out, the mattress kept Louis from being seriously injured...well, we aren't curious anymore and Doctor Thomas won a six pack of beer on a bet we'd made about what was happening inside the room."
"Your mentor is in Galveston?" I asked.
"He came down from Austin Thursday. He's due here anytime."
While Jeff and I were talking, Dawn walked Borgia in the grass so the dog could wet and sniff the unfamiliar smells.
She now stood talking to Louis and Mike as Borgia cast about at the end of his six-foot leash.
"There goes Sonny," Jeff observed. Sonny walked swiftly from the stairs, across the driveway, and toward town. He clutched a beer can in one hand and an overnight bag in the other hand.
"I wish he didn't feel threatened by me," I said. "I bear him no ill-will."
"I told him so," Jeff said, nodding his head, "but he's afraid he'll get drunk and make you angry."
Tom-Bob and Carla came down the stairs and walked across to their stickerladen car. They were discussing what part of Galveston to work today. As Carla opened the car door, she made eye contact with Louis, pointed to his arm, and made the 'for shame' gesture of rubbing one index finger with the other, and winked at the injured man. Louis' dark features became suffused, and he became intensely interested in the black dog, who was sniffing a long-dead dandelion.
The white car puffed blue smoke as it chugged onto the feeder street and toward downtown Galveston.
No sooner was the white car gone than a sleek 75 Eldorado pulled noiselessly into the driveway, a silver-haired, distinguished-looking man at the wheel.
"Good morning, everyone," Doctor Thomas greeted as he stepped from the car.
He wore a light-gray shirt, dark trousers, and black wingtips that must have been resoled several times, since wingtips had gone out of style many years before.
"Good morning, Doctor Thomas," Jeff responded. "I want you to meet my friends from Houston." Doctor Thomas shifted his Shipley's Donut bag to his left hand, shook hands with Dawn, and myself then ruffled Borgia's topknot.
Louis, passing Jeff's doorway, called, "Ready for your beer, Doctor Thomas?"
"This afternoon, my good man," Doctor Thomas replied. "Tis a bit early for me to befuddle my thought processes."
Dawn, eaten-up with curiosity, beckoned me to the kitchen area.
"Tell me!" she demanded...and I did. She seemed to not think the activity in the end room and subsequent peeking was as funny as did we men.
While eating the donuts Doctor Thomas brought, and drinking coffee, the day's activities were settled.
Jeff and I would go fishing while Doctor Thomas escorted Miss Dawn and Borgia to the Dickens Festival. We'd meet at the apartment around five or five-thirty. Jeff suggested before leaving on our separate agendas we have a short meeting.
As we began our discussion, Borgia moved so he could look into the hall, from the open door. The dog gave an occasional low woof! Woof! apparently hearing sounds denied the human ear.
Sounds of someone coming up the metal staircase drifted into the room and a moment later Greedy Gene stood in the doorway, a scowl of displeasure clouding his features. "Jeff," Gene asked in a harsh tone, "did you use my mattress and ladder?"
Before Jeff could answer, Borgia came to his feet, and bared his fangs, a low rumble coming from his throat. Neither Dawn nor I had ever known Borgia to growl at anyone.
Dawn, remembering Gene's phobia about contracting AIDS, asked, "Gene, did an AIDS-carrying mosquito finally infect you? That looks like a lesion on your forehead."
"No!" Gene almost shouted, "I didn't get AIDS," but, as a reflex, felt his forehead. "You didn't answer my question, Jeff."
"No, Gene, I didn't get your ladder or your mattress," Jeff replied.
He hadn't gotten either item; Mike had, at Jeff's suggestion. Gene went down the hall to question the other fellows, and as he passed Jeff's doorway on his way out of the building, Dawn said loudly, "Gene sure looks sick to me...and that does look like the onset of AIDS."
"Now that that's over, lets hear what Doctor Thomas has to say," Jeff suggested.
"First, I want to hear from Dawn about the AIDS thing," the elder scientist said.
"At the time Allen lived here, a young man with AIDS lived here also. He'd been badly abused by homosexuals and was enrolled in the MHMRA program. Gene tried to make David move, but was told rather forcefully by the authorities that he couldn't discriminate against David by forcing him to move. Gene worried constantly that a mosquito would bite David and then bite him.
I told Allen that we should buy stock in the company that makes OFF. I was sure Gene would make the stock rise significantly."
"He does seem a disagreeable man," Doctor Thomas admitted.
"Let's get on with this!" Jeff said with exasperation. "I've waited almost three days to find out what Doctor Thomas knows."
"I was on the phone this morning with Hugh Larkin, in Washington, D.C." the doctor began. "It would seem that Anton LePage has more problems than was at first apparent. LePage is into child pornography and worse.
"Hugh asked me to direct research at the new Observatory, here in Galveston. I asked why he didn't tap Jesus Vega for the position, but it seems he had and Jesus declined. I accepted as an interim appointment only. The reason I accepted is because I'll be in position to pursue our inquiry, without obstruction.
"Understand, all of you," Doctor Thomas emphasized, "these are only my personal hypotheses, albeit, arrived at after years of careful consideration.
“First, I believe there's a great disturbance in deep space. I feel that my belief is born-out by spectrographic readings I've magnified for clarification. I've never, in all my years as a scientist, seen anything quite like this. "Here," he said, passing a computer readout to Jeff, "have a look then pass it to our guests.
"I think there has been an explosion of great magnitude in Antlia sector, and the result may be inundation of Earth by gamma rays of unusually high frequency.
“Second, and last, I'll give voice to a theory I've had for some years, but never shared. A large asteroid is headed our way. You'll all no doubt remember that a few years ago a large asteroid narrowly missed Earth. This one appears to be right on target but its trajectory could still be influenced by outside forces. I feel sure other Scientists have noted the asteroid's presence, but have remained silent, not wishing to be known as alarmists.
"Allen, for your and Dawn's information, an object in space travels at approximately 26 miles per second. The earth travels at 18 miles per second. An impact of an object, on Earth, may be greater or lesser, depending upon the direction from which the collision comes.
“The collision will be diminished if the object impacts the Earth from the reverse of Earth's direction of travel, and enhanced if approaching in Earth's forward orbit. If the collision is from the front, the impact speed is 44 miles per second; that's 158, 400 miles per hour. While in space the object travels approximately 2,246,400 miles per every 24-hour period.”
"The asteroid of which I speak is about 12 miles long, 8 miles wide, and 4 deep. There's a possibility that the asteroid could explode when entering Earth's atmosphere. The asteroid most certainly would lose some mass upon entry, but the loss would be negligible when considering the immensity of the object and its potential for destruction. Either way, whether by radiation or asteroid, devastation would be horrific. Such an event may not happen, but the ingredients for disaster are present.
"Questions, anyone?" "If a collision is imminent, do you suppose the fact will be made public," Dawn asked.
"Unlikely, to say the least, unless amateur astronomers go public with the media," Doctor Thomas replied. "We're all aware of the panic orchestrated by the broadcast of Wells' 'War of the Worlds' in the early 1900's. This event would cause panic worldwide."
"What would be the end result of each thing," I asked.
"The gamma rays, if intense enough, would cause mutations in the earliest stages, and the latter stages would mean death, by radiation, to every organism.
"A collision of the magnitude of which I spoke, would upset the balance of nature. If striking land, and if the angle were right, a polar shift could occur, causing the polar ice caps to melt. If the asteroid fell into an ocean; huge tidal waves would destroy much of the landmasses. Either scenario is unthinkable, but entirely within the realm of possibility."
"Doctor Thomas, why are you telling Dawn and me?" I asked.
"First, Allen, let's drop the Doctor. We'll most surely be on a first name basis if you and Dawn accept the job I'd like you to do... and my first name is Martin.
"Jeff told me that you're a writer and I would like for you to chronicle events as they unfold. Will you?"
I looked at Miss Dawn. "What do you think, Missy," I asked.
"You certainly write well enough to do the job. Sounds as if it may well be the last book you write, but the book should be interesting. I have no objections."
"Won't be interesting if there's no one left to read the book," I observed.
"This would compare to the theory about a tree falling in the forest; does the falling tree make noise if there's no one to receive the sound waves?"
"I agree with your theory, Allen," Martin Thomas said, "but a written account must be kept. Jeff and I are scientists, not writers. Either of us would become sidetracked on detail and a reader would give up in frustration."
"I'll write the account," I agreed. "Now, let's set about enjoying our day, seeing as how our enjoyable days may be severely limited."
The streets were crowded for Dickens-on-the-Strand festival.
Borgia, wearing his red scarf with gold stars, received many compliments, but all that was visible to the dog was a sea of legs. Miss Dawn and Martin alternated carrying the puppy so he could see what was happening.
Miss Dawn sipped mulled cider and Martin ate from a bag of roasted chestnuts as they watched an enactment of British soldiers shooting a spy who stood against a brick wall. They'd arrived early at the spy-shooting scene and were in the first row of spectators, thus allowing Borgia to sit on the brick street, beside Miss Dawn's feet.
Leaving the spy sprawled at the base of the wall, Miss Dawn, Borgia, and Martin, made their way down the Strand, the two people laughing at street urchins' antics, and footpads as they ran afoul of a Bobby. Tiny Tim made an appearance, and an elegant coach drawn by magnificent horses, passed.
Miss Dawn and Martin were turning away from the coach when Martin heard his name called; Jesus Vega pressed through the crowd, only a few feet away. The man seemed very nervous. Miss Dawn and Borgia were presented to Doctor Vega, and then Martin gave his full attention to his colleague.
Miss Dawn and Borgia watched an open carriage carrying ladies in Victorian dress, but out of the corner of her eye, watched the dark-skinned astronomer with coal-black hair and Mephistophelean beard hand Martin a sheaf of papers, hastily and nervously cross himself, then turn away, to be swallowed by the milling revelers.
"That was most unlike Jesus," Martin observed, a frown on his face. "He's usually the epitome of courtliness, very considerate and outgoing."
The man, lady, and dog, made their way through the crowd, to a grass covered area. As Miss Dawn allowed Borgia to wet and sniff, Martin crossed to a bench, sat, and read the papers given him by Doctor Vega.
By four-thirty, Borgia was tired and becoming fretful so they made their way back to Martin's car. When inside the car, Martin handed the typewritten papers to Miss Dawn. "I'd like you to read this," he urged. "Jesus had a very vivid dream. He was very upset and wanted to share the dream. Jesus is a truthful and honorable man and is not given to flights of fantasy.” **** In the land of Old Gods, a meeting was about to begin. Lesser Gods had been summoned by a Chief God; a decision must be made.
The Lesser Gods grumbled among themselves at having been taken away from their various pleasures. Gods at play were happy Gods. They'd had to leave their Goddesses behind, and who knew what mischief those delightful creatures might wreak in the absence of the Gods.
Moving about a great table, the Gods vied for the most coveted positions and the most comfortable chairs. Transition to Godliness had not robbed them of all their human frailties. Though Gods, they still strove for perfection. The chief God called
the meeting to order and announced that the subject was to be a faraway speck called Earth, in the Milky Way galaxy.
So far as the chief God was concerned, the Earth experiment had failed miserably. The Gods chosen to conduct the experiment couldn't agree among themselves on two decisions out of three; a good example was the differing features and skin coloring of Earth's inhabitants. The Gods had simply decided to give inhabitants of their area of responsibility the cast of features and coloring that they themselves possessed...much less friction and fewer wars might have been avoided if the people were all of the same coloring and had the same basic features.
The Gods grumbled among themselves; they didn't like criticism.
The time had come to do something about the experiment - could the experiment be ordered, and saved, or were more drastic measures in order? Each God would have his say, and then a vote would be taken.
The first God felt the experiment should be continued; Earth's inhabitants were only human and expected to stumble.
The second God called for termination; the bickering, fighting, and needless taking of life was getting no better, in fact, was actually increasing.
The third God called for termination, citing pollution of sea, air, and land.
The fourth God cited greed for power and love of money...he was in favor of termination.
The fifth God reminded the others of the crimes of murder, rape, and theft that had become so prevalent on Earth. Children killed classmates, teachers, and parents...young children were without guidance and running amuck. Many spiritual leaders sank to new levels of depravity by preying on children, sexually. When holy men stooped to abusing children, the time had come to pull the plug
on the experiment.
The sixth God was infuriated that Earthlings were not content to pollute only their own planet, but were now polluting near-space, and if given time, would pollute other planets as well.
The seventh God agreed with the first, the mistake was in making earthlings in different colors. Doing so had created cultural differences, and unwarranted social prejudice.
One white token and one black token rested on the table before each God. A small bowl moved around the table, and as the bowl passed, each God dropped a single token into the bowl - white for continuing the experiment, black for termination.
The vote was taken; the chief God counted the tokens and called-out the prevailing number of tokens.
"Woe unto Earth. Woe unto mankind," a course of voices wailed.
Miss Dawn, Martin, and the poodle, were driving west on Seawall Boulevard. The dog had his head out the window, ears pinned tightly against his head, by the wind
Dawn shuddered as she folded the papers, written by Doctor Vega, and placed the papers on the dash of the car. "I see why Mister Vega was so nervous.
If I'd had a dream like that I'd be a blithering idiot," she said.
"The unnerving part to Jesus is the fact that he's a scientist and, therefore, supposed to be immune to such things,” Martin said, then continued, "The more science tries to dispel the theory of creation by a supreme being, the more abundant are events supporting such a theory."
Ten minutes later Martin, Miss Dawn, and Borgia, were again inside Jeff's apartment. Jeff and I had caught and cleaned sand trout and croaker, and I was getting ready to fry hushpuppies with onions.
Over dinner we discussed our day and was pleased with the result. Though Borgia didn't care much for fish, he ate his fill of hushpuppies, slivers of raw onion, and two slices of dill pickles.
Sunday, Dawn walked on the beach while I began the account I'd been asked to write. Borgia woofed at seagulls as they floated leisurely past the balcony on which he and I sat, awaiting Miss Dawn's return.
Jeff and Martin were left free to plan for the observatory's opening.
By one o'clock Dawn, Borgia, and I were again in Houston. I left the lady and dog at their apartment and 20 minutes later was mending the hole in my cats' kibble dish.
Sunday afternoon I perused the Houston Chronicle. Not unexpectedly, I saw where another mid-east peace conference was to be held at Camp David, and, again, the tab for housing and wining and dining the emissaries was to be picked up by the American taxpayer.
Factions in the mid-east have fought since there was a mid-east, I thought. The man who wears that silly-looking black-checked towel on his head won't give an inch, and Israel's representative won't budge either, so why waste everyone's time and the American taxpayer's money. Far too many American dollars go to both countries anyway, and if they weren't fighting over land, they'd find another excuse. Piss on' em!
In another article, the President had his balls in a vice again, this time for lying to congress and for questionable campaign expenditures, plus questionable campaign contributions. Congress was giving their own another pay raise, and closer to home, a big-city mayor was once again attempting to browbeat city council to approve a large overage in his travel expenses while on a trade mission to a country with very little to trade. John Q. Public was beginning to wonder if being elected wasn't a way to see the world with no personal out-of-pocket money. And another condemned killer, in Huntsville, claimed to have found Jesus. He also claimed the jury had convicted the wrong man...and that he'd killed the police officer because he, the condemned, had been listening to heavy metal before the killing... and that the judicial system was all wrong, that they were wrong to give a man the needle for listening to music. Garfield again tricked Odie, and had Jon pulling his hair in frustration.
I laid the newspaper aside, thinking that if a Sunday comic section were placed in a time capsule and dug-up after a few hundred years, how advanced the reader would think our civilization to have been...even our animals could talk!
The following week I talked with Jeff, by telephone, and found that figurine sales had deteriorated and Greedy Gene had declared Carla and Tom-Bob to be persona non grata for attempting to make a whorehouse of Shady Palms.
Doctor Thomas had hired an administrator for day-to-day supervision of the observatory, and was now hiring non-technical staff.
Jeff was placed on duty status as of the preceding Monday and would be moving into new digs
Sunday morning Jeff was reading the Galveston Observer and drinking coffee in his new digs, and at a dining room table that didn't require a mayonnaise jar cap to hold the table level.
Jeff paused without realization of the lapse and was thinking of the previous
week he'd spent at the observatory. Linda avoided him to the extent that Doctor Thomas had noticed.
Doctor Thomas called both Linda and Jeff into his office and demanded to know what was going on. Linda told her boss of hers and Jeff's last encounter and how badly she felt about the scene at her door. She was afraid Jeff thought she was some kind of freak and was reluctant to approach him.
"How you and Jeff behave is none of my business," Doctor Thomas said, "as long as your performance here at the observatory isn't affected. If your performance is affected, then one, or both of you will be dismissed. Is that clear?"
After the stern lecture the ice was broken and the two young scientists' relationship returned to near normal.
Jeff shook his head as if to dispel the intruding thoughts and returned to reading an article about the poor condition of Galveston's water system. The system was old and constantly in need of repair; perhaps a bond issue would be needed to finance much-needed repairs.
The telephone rang. “Hello," Jeff said into the receiver."
Jeff, this is Linda. Doctor Thomas, Doctor Vega, and I are at the observatory and would like for you to come down, will you?
"Sure," Jeff agreed, "I'll be there in 20 minutes."
"Oh," Linda said, "Doctor Thomas said to tell you to pickup donuts and coffee filters and he'd reimburse you."
"Will do," Jeff agreed, and then lowered the receiver, wondering what was important enough to be meeting on Sunday morning.
Forty minutes later, Linda served the coffee and joined her three colleagues at the conference table. Doctor Vega appeared to be very tired and was not his usual dapper self, and his suit was wrinkled; Jeff had never seen the scientist so unkempt and wondered why the lapse.
"I asked you two," Doctor Thomas began, nodding toward Jeff and Linda, "to come down here this morning so you could hear what Jesus has to say. His story is unusual and, though parts may sound a bit farfetched, the story may lend credence to our inquiry.
"Go ahead Jesus, you have the floor," Doctor Thomas encouraged.
"Jeff, you and Linda read this," Jesus Vega said, handing several pages of paper to each of the young scientists, "then I'll begin. The papers are an account of a dream I had, more than a dream, really... more like a visitation. The dream-visitation was incredibly disturbing and prompted me to contact a very old relative, my Tia Rosa...Tia is aunt, in Spanish," he explained.
"CHRIST!" Jeff exclaimed as he looked up from the last page," no wonder you were rattled.
Linda said nothing, but stared as the papers trembled slightly, in her hands.
"My Aunt Rosa is Bruja of a small village in central Mexico. We're of the Zapotec Indian tribe, direct descendants of the royal family. I visited Tia Rosa yesterday, and that's why my clothes are rumpled; I came directly from the airport to the observatory and called Martin.
"Bruja is female, Brujo male. They look to the spiritual and health of their people, and begin training when but small children. My aunt is 102 years old, as best
we can figure.
When but a child she began training at an ancient temple near her home, under the tutelage of a man known only as the old one.
"Aunt Rosa tells of drawings on the temple's walls, depicting wavy lines coming from the stars, and under the stars are many dead birds. Another drawing shows people pulling out tufts of their own hair, and what looked to be sores on their bodies. that's the last scene.
"Two scenes previous to that shows a world covered by water, then the next scene was of a world with new vegetation, people, animals, and birds.
"The last scene is the one I feel is meaningful. I think it represents the end of time...our present time.
"Some years ago, Aunt Rosa took a male child to the temple to begin his instruction, but the temple was no longer there...and there were no signs of the huge stone tablets and curious carvings Aunt Rosa thought to be of celestial origin. The legend said only that those items were gifts of Gods who came from beyond the stars. “Where the temple stood was only a smooth flat stone, and the surrounding area was devoid of vegetation.
Two nights before Aunt Rosa's and the child's journey to the temple, people of her village saw strange lights in the sky, in the direction of the temple. She said the Gods had taken away their gifts and destroyed the temple.”
I'm aware that this sounds farfetched and under some circumstances would cause quarters to be reserved for me, in Rusk, among other mentally disturbed folks, but this is the truth, so-help-me-God." Doctor Jesus Vega crossed himself and sat silently, a faraway and haunted look in his eyes.
"I'm inclined to agree with Jesus," Doctor Thomas said, over the rim of his coffee cup. Predictions of the world being destroyed by fire appear in several ancient religions.
“The drawings of waves from the stars, the dead birds, people's hair loss, and sores, could only mean radiation. Fire is apt to be the only description a primitive people would find applicable.
"Let's breakup this meeting an enjoy the holidays...and try to not let our inquiry and Jesus' findings bear too heavily on your minds. There's little to be gained from worrying about something over which we have no control."
"I'll go to the hotel and get my luggage," Linda said. "I'm going home, to Omaha, for the holidays."
"Jeff and I are invited to spend Christmas in Houston, with friends," Doctor Thomas said, then continued, "by the way, Jesus, if you're in or near Houston on Christmas afternoon, drop by and visit with us. Here's Dawn's address. I've already arranged your welcome."
When Jeff and his mentor were alone in the observatory, Doctor Thomas said, "Here's the surprise I told you I'd have for you.
“It's ready for use." Doctor Thomas pointed at the controls for the radio telescope. "I prevailed upon the good nature of a technician to have the scope ready today... promise of a bottle of good Scotch made his good nature even better."
The elder scientist turned-on the spectrometer, then turned dials on the telescope's control panel. Three stories above, a huge metal dish tilted, then swung a few degrees to the West.
"We really had a stroke of luck when we found this place, didn't we?" Jeff asked. "I never expected to find a place much better than Shady Palms, for the money I can afford."
"We did, at that," Martin Thomas replied, yawning as he pulled a chair from the dining table. Jeff placed a cup of coffee and a plate of eggs, sunny-side-up, two strips of bacon, and a side of grits, before his mentor.
"Biscuits will be ready in a couple of minutes," Jeff said, placing an identical plate, for himself, on the other side of the table, then moved back to the stove to wait for the biscuits to finish baking.
What Jeff meant by getting lucky were his and Doctor Thomas' picking up a one-year lease on a unit of the six-story condominium, on the beachfront, and within a stone's throw of the observatory. The owner of the unit was going to Europe for a year and had, in fact, already departed. The rent, shared, was within Jeff's means, and the condo was exceptionally nice.
As Jeff buttered a Hungry Jack biscuit, his mentor said, "Sharing the unit might well be detrimental to your love life Jeff. “However, if you'll give me sufficient notice I'll try to accommodate you. Next week I'm having a single bed and linens delivered to the observatory. There'll be times when we're working on a project that someone will want to catch a nap.
"By the way, Jeff, before I left the Galvez, yesterday, Dawn called and asked if we'd like to stay overnight in Houston, on our way back from Austin. Since we'd
only have to drive back to Houston the next morning, I accepted for us both.
"Dawn said we could stay at Allen's house and he'd stay overnight with her. She also said we'd each probably be sleeping with one or more cats, before morning, but if we didn't object to cats, we'd be most welcome."
"I don't mind sleeping with a cat, I like them in spite of their sneaky ways," Jeff admitted.
"I wonder how Linda's making out," Doctor Thomas said. "I like that girl. Something seems to be bothering her, but if she wants to talk about the problem, she will.
"Jeff!" Martin Thomas exclaimed excitedly, slapping his forehead. "Let's get dressed and get to the observatory. Leave the dishes until later. This should have been apparent from the first! I knew there was something of which I wasn't thinking... something nagging at the back of my mind."
"What's all the excitement about?" Jeff asked. "No time to explain," his mentor said as they stepped from the elevator, "anyway, I may be wrong. "When we get inside," Doctor Thomas continued, handing Jeff a scrap of paper on which a series of numbers were written, "you punch these coordinates into the optical telescope, then make us a pot of coffee; I'll be busy with the radio telescope and spectrometer.
"Even if I'm right, the outcome won't be influenced, but we may be closer to an answer to what's been worrying us."
At the door of the observatory, Jake, the older of the two security guards, wanted to talk. Jeff hurriedly explained to Jake that there was something that demanded their immediate attention, and left the security guard scratching his head in puzzlement. I've never known these two to be
in such a hurry before, Jake thought. In fact, they seemed to be about the most laidback educated people he'd ever seen. Jake scratched the skin covered by his wrist watch; a redness had appeared.
Jake figured he'd find out soon enough what had built a fire under these two scientists...the young one was friendly enough, usually stopping long enough to pass the time of day. Jake would find out, but too late to do him any good.
Jeff watched as numbers on a control panel changed rapidly.
"Jeff," Doctor Thomas said, looking up from the spectrometer, "look inside the cabinet underneath the oscilloscope and get a Geiger counter. Calibrate the counter to its most sensitive adjustment, then take it outside and take readings on my car, the grassy area, and yours and Jake's wrist watches.
"Record all readings, even if the reading is negative.
"We'll be taking reading on the same objects every day, with the exception of Jake's watch."
"I ain't been feeling so good this morning," Jake complained as Jeff did the reading on the security guard's watch. "Musta been the catfish I ate last night...I've been half sick to my stomach ever since I got up this morning...say, what's that clicking noise?"
"Just the machine," Jeff said. "I have to go inside now, but I'll see you later."
"Any positive readings, Jeff?" Martin Thomas asked, looking up from his work.
"None on the car, grass, or my watch," Jeff answered, "but Jake's as hot as a firecracker. I'm going to get another Geiger counter and see if I get the same reading, but I think they'll be the same because Jake is complaining of nausea."
"I'll go with you," Doctor Thomas said, taking off his reading glasses and slipping them into a pocket of his lab coat.
"Jake," Martin Thomas said as he and Jeff approached the guard, who was now in the parking lot, "we want to take another reading on your watch." "Okay, Doc," Jake agreed. "Something wrong?"
The Geiger counter clicked hesitantly when a few inches from the guard, then, when the probe was within an inch of Jake's watch, began an almost steady growl.
"Jeff," Doctor Thomas ordered, "go call EMS. Jake's going to the hospital."
"What's wrong, Doc?" Jake asked.
"You've received a heavy dose of radiation, Jake. Where have you been that you would come into contact with radioactive material?"
"Me and the wife went to visit her sister in Bay City and, Barney, my brotherin-law, works as guard at the nuclear power plant down there. I spent a few hours with him while he was on the job.
“We found this door that was open, but shoulda been closed. Well, we investigated. There was a box inside the room. The lock on the box was lying on top of the box...and you know how it is...we had to look inside.
“The top of the box was heavy, but we got it open and all there was inside the box was some strange looking metal bars. We didn't bother nothing and nothing didn't bother us. We just shut the box and locked the door behind us."
Jeff was back outside. He and Doctor Thomas waited with Jake until the ambulance arrived and Jake was inside, and then went back into the observatory and called John Sealy Hospital to notify them that a patient suffering from radiation was on his way.
"Terrible way for a man to begin the holidays," Jeff observed, "and there's another unlucky devil in Bay City... the poor bastards."
The week passed swiftly and on Thursday afternoon, Christmas Eve, Jeff and Martin rang Miss Dawn's doorbell. Jeff and Martin had decided, between themselves, that Jeff would stay only a few minutes, then drive on to Galveston to unload the car and check data at the observatory, then return early Christmas Day. Martin would stay in Houston, have dinner and a drink with Dawn and myself, and then sleep on Dawn's silk couch instead of going to my house...if Borgia didn't make too much of a fuss when his numerous stuffed animals were removed from the couch.
Just before 10 p.m., Borgia gave Martin a weak goodnight kiss, walked sleepily into the bedroom and jumped onto the Queen-sized bed. He would have gone to bed two hours earlier but didn't want to miss anything.
Martin insisted on waiting for any new data Jeff might bring, before talking about what was most on all our minds.
Christmas morning we only drank coffee, having decided to have brunch when Jeff arrived, then open presents.
As Dawn, Martin, and I, drank our coffee, Jeff was walking across the observatory's parking lot. The guard, wearing a hellish-pink windbreaker, leaned against the door, one foot propped against the door, looking like a forlorn flamingo as he stared vacantly into the distance.
"Morning, Doctor Jeff," the guard greeted.
Jeff smiled. "Good morning, Randy," Jeff returned. "Looks as if you have it all to yourself today."
"Not anymore I ain't," Randy said, smiling. "Not now that you're here, Doctor Jeff. My wife's in a snit about me working today but she don't complain about my double-time pay!"
Jeff unlocked the door, turned-on the lights, and loaded the Braun coffee maker. He went to the door and called to the guard, Randy, who was examining Doctor Thomas' antique Cadillac.
"Come inside and have a cup of coffee," Jeff called, "no one's going to walk off with this place on Christmas morning."
"I'm much obliged, Doctor Jeff," Randy said, grinning.
"What're you doing down here on Christmas morning? I'd have thought you'd
be cozied up against some pretty young lady."
"Doctor Thomas asked me to check some stuff," Jeff said.
Jeff crossed over to the optical telescope and said, "look in the refrigerator and see if you can find something to go with the coffee.”
Jeff peered through the eyepiece of the telescope, and seeing nothing noteworthy, crossed to the radio telescope and checked the directional settings.
Turning to the spectrometer, he saw the machine had been very busy; the readout tray was nearly half full. The spectrometer only worked when there was data to record; otherwise the machine sat quietly, its watchful red light blinking.
Jeff checked the time of the last transmission, only thirty-five minutes ago! He didn't have time to examine the entire printout, but instead, glanced at the last transmission. Many jagged lines filled the paper, the lines broken in several places. He'd never seen readout like this one. In places, the stylus had very nearly gone off the paper. There was another gap, then five straight lines an inch long, then nothing.
Jeff crossed to the radio telescope's control panel and checked its settings again; nothing appeared to have gone wrong with the machine.
"Coffee's ready, and poured," the guard called, "and I found us some breakfast."
"Be right with you," Jeff called back as he placed the readout into his attaché case. He'd have to be careful to not let his reaction to the material betray his concern.
"That coffee maker really makes good coffee," Randy observed. "Makes it quick, too."
"I have to go now," Jeff said as he poured coffee from the mug into a McDonald's go cup.
"Pour the rest of the coffee into the thermos beside the coffee maker. Take the donuts too. Leave the thermos behind the hedge outside the door and I'll get it later...and have a Merry Christmas when you get a chance."
Jeff took his coffee and attaché case to the car, and then returned to get a Geiger counter. He hastily took readings, and was halfway finished when he realized the import of what he was recording.
"Now what bug bit Doctor Jeff, to make him so excited?" the guard named Randy wondered aloud as he watches Jeff drive out of the parking lot.
Jeff's hand trembled as he held the coffee cup to his lips.
He turned onto Yacht Basin Drive, thinking, I'm going to have a look at the scenic old city while I still can...might not be too many more opportunities.
Early Christmas morning, Galveston was nearly devoid of human presence on the streets. A cat perched on the rim of a dumpster behind the Kettle Restaurant while one of the cat's buddies examined something at the base of the dumpster.
UTMB medical facility slid by on Jeff's left, then presently Hill's Seafood Restaurant was on the right, and across from Hill's stood the old Peanut Butter warehouse. Moments later, Jeff watched as the Elissa swung at her moorings, sails furled, her tall masts reaching skyward. Two seagulls perched on Ellisa's topmost spar, unaware of the irradiated sky about them on this sunny, but chilly, Christmas morning.
Martin could tell that Jeff was in a high state of excitement as soon as he was inside Dawn's apartment. He also didn't want to spoil a Christmas morning; the tidings Jeff bore could wait. Jeff knew his mentor would bring up the subject of their inquiry when he was ready and that to urge him to do otherwise would do no good...and Jeff owed this elderly scientist too much to put him in an uncomfortable position.
I served Eggs Benedict shortly after Jeff's arrival, and then when the kitchen was restored to order, joined Dawn, Jeff, Martin, and Borgia.
Jeff sat on the long antique couch underneath the Margaret Dyrer painting, Miss Dawn and I on the white leather love seat and Borgia jumped onto the antique couch to give Martin a kiss.
"Is this dog wearing perfume?" he asked Dawn.
"Of course he is. He's wearing Joy today, since today is Christmas. He wears Joy only for special occasions. Yesterday he wore Cartier, as did I. The day before, both of us wore Opium."
"You should smell them the day the Cosmo arrives," I said. "They each wear several scents taken from the magazine's samples...and smell like the victims of a demented perfumer."
Jeff's first present was enclosed in a paper towel roll, wrapped in green foil, and tied with a curly red ribbon. Unrolling the enclosed paper, also tied with a ribbon, revealed his very own star chart; he was aghast...then he began laughing; the star chart bore Jeff's own signature.
"Allen and Dawn paid for the chart, Jeff," Martin said. "It's an excellent way to remember your humble beginning as an astronomer."
Turning to his mentor, Jeff said, almost choking on emotion, "So that's what
you were up to when you were helping me and claimed your wrist was tired. You knew I wouldn't look at the names at the top of the charts!"
"You're right, of course," Martin replied. "Now, here's your real gift from them," Martin continued, handing Jeff a small, rectangular package. "I'll open my present as you open yours."
The packages, once opened, revealed identical sets of Cartier pens, each set engraved with the scientist's name.
Dawn received her usual basket of perfumes, soaps, and suntan lotion, all bearing a Sax Fifth Avenue sticker.
Borgia received a new leash and collar from his person and a hound's tooth sweater from me.
I received a box of Godiva chocolates from Borgia, a check for a deep-sea fishing trip and a Kitchen Aid Mixer from Dawn, and an honorary astronomical degree from Jeff and Martin, along With a gift certificate from Office Depot.
"I have to walk Borgia now," Miss Dawn said.
"He'll take a nap when we return, then we'll be able to have our discussion without being kissed or having to play ball - want to come with us, Martin?"
"Indeed I do,” Martin replied and rose from the couch.
Dawn donned her Foreign Legion hat, leashed Borgia and a moment later the camel bells attached to the patio gate rang, signaling their departure.
Fifteen minutes later, the three returned, Borgia resplendent in his new sweater.
"I never dreamed a black dog could be so popular," Martin said. "A silver Mercedes and a BMW passed us while we were out. Both drivers rolled down their windows and called, 'Hello, Borgia! Merry Christmas, Borgia!'. Neither driver acknowledged Dawn's and my presence.
"We also met a priest who stopped to greet Borgia. The priest asked Dawn her dog's name, and if Borgia were French. When Dawn told him that Borgia wasn't French, but was Italian, the priest rubbed the dog's head and said, 'Bless you Borgia, Merry Christmas, folks', and went his own way."
When everyone was settled I made another pot of coffee and opened a bottle of champagne, serving the wine in Lalique flutes I'd given Dawn.
"Jeff and I need a few minutes to go over the data he brought from Galveston," Martin said apologetically, "then we'll discuss the data and a possible course of action."
For ten minutes Jeff punched numbers into his scientific calculator and called them out for Martin to record onto a legal pad.
"We had our first radiation exposure of significant value, early this morning," Martin said as he slid his reading glasses back into his shirt pocket.
"My theory is that the deep-space activity is influencing our sun, causing unusually intense solar flares.
"Radiation by the sun is an everyday occurrence, and is in fact quite normal. Harmful radiation levels are insignificant and other radiation helps to promote growth in plant life, and are quite beneficial.
"Dawn, I would advise you to not wear your jewelry. Metal retains radioactive particles and builds-up quantities with each successive exposure. Also, I’d advise against drinking milk, because the cows eat exposed grass."
"Then, what's Borgia going to do about his cup of milk before bedtime?" Miss Dawn asked.
"Use evaporated milk or powdered milk, and make sure the milk is dated before today, just to be sure," Martin answered.
The elderly scientist sighed, and then said, "Folks, I don't believe in scare tactics. What I say is based on many years of studying our universe, and beyond. I'm afraid Earth is in grave danger."
"What's the worst case scenario?" I asked. "Sun flares of high enough intensity could destroy satellite electronics, disrupt the ionosphere to the extent of making long distance radio and television communications questionable, or rendering those mediums entirely inoperable...and such disturbances could destroy the ozone layer that shields the earth from ultraviolet and gamma rays. The shield is fragile, and as we can see, didn't stop the gamma rays, today."
Two hours later, our two friends were on their way back to Galveston, having left the Geiger counter with us, along with instructions for its use.
The New Year brought no further incidence of radiation, and the incident on Christmas remained unacknowledged by government agencies. Only one news anchor, a lady of some renown, said
almost as a throwaway line, "We appear to be having more solar activity than is usual," then passed on to the next news item.
Linda returned from visiting her parents and sister. She'd had a good time, having gotten along better than usual with her mother. When her father complained of Linda's frittering away his money on resort hotels, she'd jibed him about being a rocking chair general who'd been given the star only as a goodwill gesture.
Linda's incurable sweet tooth had beguiled her into eating too much ice cream and pie over the holidays; her slacks were uncomfortably tight.
Weight was so easy to gain but so terribly difficult to lose and was very frustrating, especially when seeing a slim person eat like a horse and never gain an ounce.
When talking with Jeff and Doctor Thomas during a coffee break, she told them of having seen an article about Anton LePage while on a shopping trip. Both men had missed the article and were anxious to learn what had happened to Anton.
"Mr. LePage was in jail in Atlanta," Linda reported. "He was jailed for molestation of several children, and was awaiting results of DNA tests to determine if he were guilty of killing a male prostitute.
He managed, with the help of a cell mate, to electrocute himself."
"Probably the only generous act the man ever did," Doctor Thomas observed. "He saved Georgia's taxpayers lots of money...and where he is now, he won't ruin anyone else's reputation with his scheming and lies."
On Friday afternoon, the second Friday of the New Year, Jeff and Martin invited Linda to their condo for an after-work drink. After Jeff had given her a tour of his new digs the three scientists nursed drinks and talked as they sat at the dining room table. When conversation lagged, Linda announced that she'd like to go onto the balcony to take advantage of the last rays of sunshine.
The two men lamented the fact that, Jake, the security guard, had died the day before and supposed that heads would roll at the nuclear power plant in Bay City. Jeff faced the sliding plate glass door of the balcony as he refreshed drinks at the condo's bar; the sunset was spectacular; gray clouds were turned mauve and pink by a sun only a hand span above the horizon.
Linda came in from the balcony. "I was enjoying the weak sun, so much," she said, "when all of a sudden the temperature must have risen ten degrees, perhaps more."
"Jeff! Quickly! Get your raincoat!" Martin ordered, and then turning to Linda, asked, "Did you stay out there until the temperature dropped again?"
"Yes," she said, "the temperature still wasn't uncomfortable, but the lighting changed...looked sort of brassy. I was getting ready to come in, anyway."
Jeff came out of his room, wearing his raincoat, fishing hat, and sunglasses. "You want the Geiger counter, right?" he asked the elder scientist.
"Right," Martin acknowledged. "The raincoat isn't much protection, but anything will help if there's another burst."
"I'll go with Jeff," Linda said, "then I'll go home." Jeff was already out the
door when Linda got up to follow him. "Stay where you are Linda, you're not going anywhere,” Martin ordered.
"What do you mean, don't go?" the female scientist retorted. "I have to go. I live at the Galvez." Then she thought of what Jeff had told her about the dose of radiation received on Christmas morning.
"Oh," she said weakly, and then sank onto a chair, the full import of what had happened, sinking in... and she'd received the entire exposure!
Doctor Thomas phoned the observatory only to be told that Jeff had left the premises moments before. "Then let me speak to Doctor Vega."
"Jesus," Doctor Thomas asked, "was you aware of the temperature change, a few minutes ago?"
"Not until Jeff came in dressed like a cross between Darth Vader and a Mafia hit man," Jesus Vega answered. "I then looked at the computer-generated temperature log."
"I had no knowledge of an abnormality until Linda came inside complaining of the weather suddenly becoming very hot, so I have no idea of the length of exposure or the temperature deviant," Martin Thomas said. "What does your readout show?"
"The mercury reached 92.2 degrees at 4:31 p.m. I backed up the readout and found that 2.3 seconds before, the temperature was an even 78 degrees...that's a 14.2 degree change in 2.3 seconds."
"Jesus, will you come over to the condo for a few minutes, please...and wear protective clothing. We need to run some figures on this exposure," concluded Martin Thomas.
"Damned if we didn't get a dose that time!" Jeff exclaimed as he entered the apartment, still dressed in raincoat, hat, and sunglasses. "I've already taken readings with the Geiger counter. I could hardly believe the readings and have no idea what the cumulative effect will be."
At Jeff's last words, Linda's head jerked up, and then she rose to her feet, went to the bar, and returned with two inches of amber liquid in a whiskey tumbler. She took a sip, then gulped the remainder of the whiskey, shuddered, and asked in a small voice, "Doctor Thomas, does this mean my hair is going to fall out?
"My aunt had cancer and lost all her hair...is the same thing going to happen to me?" she finished, her prescription of Percodan flashing through her mind.
Doctor Thomas walked across the room to stand beside Linda's chair. Resting his hand on her shoulder, he said, "I think it'll take more radiation than this to cause hair loss."
Damn, Jeff thought, I should be comforting the damsel-in-distress, instead of Doctor Thomas, then more soberly, what am I thinking about! At a time like this I'm still a slave to my cock!
Jesus Vega knocked on the door, then walked into the room.
"What's your thoughts on this episode, Jesus?" Martin asked.
"My guess would be superficial damage to the ozone layer and damage to
animal and plant life, though I don't think the damage will be severe."
"I agree," Martin said. "We'll have to make a report to Washington...not that there's anything anyone can do about the problem, but every observatory in the country will report the anomaly and we'd be amiss if we didn't go along with the crowd.
"I don't get off duty until 11:00," Jesus said, "so I'll get the report ready for your signature...come on Linda, I'll walk you to your car.”
"Thanks," Linda said, but I don't want to be alone tonight. I'll stay with Jeff and Doctor Thomas, if they don't mind."
Martin Thomas chuckled inwardly as he watched Jeff's face light up at Linda's announcement.
Before leaving the observatory Martin had thought of taking Jeff and Linda to dinner at Hill's Seafood Restaurant, but in view of recent events, suggested they order pizzas instead.
An hour after the pizzas were finished, Martin said, "I'm going to phone Allen and ask that he, Dawn, and Borgia, come down for the weekend, then I'm going to bed.
"Linda, I'll leave one of my shirts and a bathrobe on the couch for you. Anna used my shirts for nightgowns when the need arose."
"He's such a sweet and considerate man," Linda said as she and Jeff leaned on the balcony rail and watched the lights of a freighter slide silently toward the horizon.
"Martin Thomas is probably the nicest person I've ever met," Jeff said wistfully, thinking of the many kind things the man had done for him, with no expectation of repayment.
Linda placed her hand over Jeff's, as his hand rested on the balcony rail. "I’m frightened, Jeff! Within a short time we may all be dead. The earth’s cocoon of lifesustaining gases may soon be destroyed, leaving only rays of death.” "Yes," Jeff agreed, "it's frightening…a dead world wheeling about the sun. I feel shortchanged, somehow. I was looking forward to my little bit of heaven on earth...Lord knows, I've worked hard enough. And we haven't really considered the giant asteroid hurling toward earth at 100 times the speed of sound.
“It’ll be sort of anti-climatic to have the world destroyed by a form of fire, then be struck by a chunk of rock."
"Let's go to bed," Linda suggested, "I don't want to think about my hair falling out and being buried under billions of tons of space debris. I'm tired and feeling sorry for myself."
A half hour later, Linda had showered, buttoned the shirt Martin had left for her, and slid between the sheets feeling very small, insignificant, and lonely.
Jeff was under the shower almost as soon as Linda's bedroom door closed. As he soaped himself he vowed to not wash his aching member so rapidly that it lost control and regurgitated.
A short time later Jeff laid on his bed, mind occupied with the insignificance of one person among billions.
He was drifting off to sleep when he felt a weight on the edge of the bed; he hadn't heard the door open.
"I hope you don't mind, Jeff," Linda said. "I was lonely and scared...you don't mind, do you?"
"Mind? I thought you'd never get my telepathic message," he countered.
In the faint moonlight coming through the window Jeff saw Linda's tentative smile.
"Hold me, Jeff," she said as she slid between the sheets and snuggled against him. "I'm feeling lonely and fragile tonight...and I know what coming to your bed implies; I won't back out. That night in the Galvez? I wanted to do it then, but I had to get
something straight in my own mind, first."
"Hush," Jeff said. "You're talking too much because you're nervous; just relax."
Martin Thomas sipped coffee from a cup he'd had for 30 years as he made breakfast for himself and his two young colleagues.
Jeff, smiling like the Cheshire cat, came into the dining room, followed by a contented-looking Linda. One would never guess that only a few hours before, she'd been on the ragged edge of emotional trauma.
Jeff poured coffee for he and Linda, then took a seat across the table from the female scientist. Doctor Thomas, standing so he could watch the young people as he cooked, chuckled under his breath. He could remember being a hot-blooded young stud, himself. He didn't know if he could still cut the mustard or not, but given the chance he might just have to find out if smoldering embers could be re-ignited.
"Aren't either of you going to acknowledge my presence?" Martin asked as he placed breakfast before the young lovers.
"You were here first," Jeff countered. "You were supposed to greet us when we came into the room."
"Thank you, Miss Post," Martin responded. "I didn't do as well in etiquette as in astronomy, and sometimes suffer for the lapse."
Linda laughed, a pleasant tinkling sound. "You two really make a pair!"
"The only way I can upstage him is sometimes on a subject of little or no consequence," Jeff admitted. "He knows almost as much about
Astronomy as God, and that puts him out of my humble range."
The table cleared and kitchen restored to order, the three scientists sat in the living room, on chairs facing the balcony's glass doors. They watched as steel-gray, low hanging clouds marched in from the gulf. An occasional seagull floated languidly past the balcony.
"What are you two going to do today?" Doctor Thomas asked.
"I'm going to the hotel to shower and change clothes, then I'm going to meet Jeff at the observatory...then we're going to car lots and pick out a new truck for him," Linda said, her somber mood of the evening before completely dispelled.
"I wasn't aware you were thinking of buying a new truck, Jeff," his mentor said.
"I've only been waiting until my salary would support a new vehicle," Jeff replied. "I want something that won't breakdown before I get out of the parking lot. The only place I might hit a snag is in the financing."
"If you won't mind my intrusion into your affairs, I'd be happy to cosign your note," Martin offered. "Old though my credit is with GMAC, the credit is good...and if that's not enough, my current financial status is adequate for such a purchase."
Jeff grinned broadly. "Thanks," he said. "With your help I may be able to take delivery late this afternoon."
"Let's get going, then," Martin suggested. "One of us will need to be here at one o'clock to receive our visitors from Houston."
"Come on, you guys," Linda said impatiently, "I'm feeling itchy. These clothes may have millions of little gamma rays noodling around in the fibers!" Martin averted his face, lest his expression betray his thoughts. He knew that gamma rays wouldn't be lodged within the fabric, but within the wearer of the clothing. Linda, being an astronomer knew that fact also, but perhaps her mind chose to ignore what it didn't want to accept.
Little more than an hour later the three scientists walked across the parking lot, toward their cars.
"I'll follow you two," Martin said. "There's no way a man of my age can foldup his old bones and get into that little doodle bug of Linda's."
Watching the two young people walk hand-in-hand toward the blue BMW convertible, Martin remembered the warm glow of love. Though he and Anna had their disagreements, their love for each other remained intact until the day she died.
And now the memories of shared experiences glowed warmly.
Being off-season for tourist, traffic on the Gulf Freeway was light, even for a Saturday morning. Borgia, front paws on Miss Dawn's lap, showed no desire to poke his head out the window. The little dog seemed to have a memory like an elephant. On our last trip home from Galveston, Borgia, his head out the window, was socked in the face by a large flying thing that just happened to cross the dog's path at the right, or wrong moment, depending on one's perspective. Anyway, the one contact was enough to make our dog wait until the truck traveled slowly, to challenge flying critters.
Miss Dawn wore a brown safari shirt with four tiny gold poodle pins, set, one with diamonds for eyes, one, emerald, one ruby, and the other with stones with which we were unfamiliar. The pins were presents from her daughter, and given Dawn for her birthdays.
Since a bird had the audacity to drop a present on Dawn's foreign legion hat while walking Borgia under trees earlier in the morning, she opted for her Indiana Jones hat.
We made our usual pit stop at McDonald's in League City and twenty minutes later were driving down Broadway. Borgia, head out the window due to the reduced speed, woofed at two dogs that rode in the back of a blue pickup truck.
When we stopped beside the pickup at a traffic light, the two dogs wagged their tails and gave Borgia an answering woof, then were gone when the traffic light changed to amber for the intersecting street.
A few minutes later we stopped in the condo's parking lot. Jeff was working on his car, but when he saw us, slammed the hood and walked to the truck.
"I see you're pulling your boat trailer, Allen," Jeff observed.
"Yeah," I replied, "hop in and we'll get the boat and bring it to the condo."
"Okay," Jeff agreed, receiving a slurpy kiss from Borgia as he got in beside Dawn.
"Gene's going to hate to lose that twenty dollars pier rent."
"You're two days overdue on your pier rent, Allen," Greedy Gene said as I stopped the truck. "Looks like you're going to take your boat now that Jeff got uppity and moved up in the world."
"Yeah," I answered, "You know ole uppity Jeff. He now has a pier where we won't have to pay, but we'll both miss your pier...yours is so homey, what with all its missing boards and swaying like a drunken sailor when we walk on it...but with luck, time, we'll get over the nostalgia."
Gene frowned, knowing he was the butt of a joke. "You still owe me two dollars and a five dollar late charge," he said.
I reached into my pocket, peeled off two one-dollar bills, and handed them to Gene. "I make it seventy cents per day, Gene, not a dollar per day. Take the two dollars and consider the extra sixty cents the late charge."
Miss Dawn, walking Borgia in a patch of grass, called, "Gene, where were you yesterday afternoon when we had that hot burst of sunshine?"
Gene eyed Dawn skeptically, trying to decide if she were setting him up for something to make him look foolish. "I was out here washing my car," he replied, "not that it's any of your affair."
"Oh, Gene," Miss Dawn replied, feigning great concern and sympathy, "didn't you know you were being bombarded with death rays? Tiny gamma rays were burrowing into the very marrow of your bones...gamma rays are radioactive, you know."
Gene's face was the epitome of doubt. He replied, a note of concern in his voice, "It was hot...and the sky looked strange."
"Ask Jeff if you don't believe me, he's the scientist."
Miss Dawn continued, "Don't you feel a bit weak and maybe have some hair coming out...and runny nose...and smarting eyes?"
Gene rubbed his eyes and sniffed, then turned and walked up the steps and into his house.
A few minutes later, as we drove past Gene's open bathroom window we heard water drumming on metal.
Dawn stroked Borgia's head. "Gene's in the shower trying to scrub away the death rays," she said, smiling.
Later that same afternoon I took Jeff to get his new truck, and once back at the condo, after we'd all admired the new Ford Extended Cab pickup, we went upstairs.
After an early dinner we sat on the balcony and talked until bedtime of the two dead gulls Jeff and I had seen floating off the end of Gene's pier, along with several fish and crabs washed up against the rocks...and of other things one considered of little importance until the existence of those things were threatened with extinction.
Miss Dawn, Borgia, and I, slept well in Jeff and Martin's spare bedroom and were up by 7 a.m. for Borgia's call to nature.
When Dawn and Borgia came back from Borgia's first run, Martin was sitting at the dining room table with papers spread out before him.
"Good morning, Martin," Miss Dawn greeted. "You're up early."
"Good morning, Dawn, Borgia," Martin responded, and by pronouncing the dog's name, was instantly rewarded with several good-morning kisses.
"I was at the observatory most of the night," Martin confided.
"You must be worn out," Miss Dawn sympathized.
"Not terribly much," Martin replied. "We have a bed over there and I nap
The apartment door opened and Jeff came into the room wearing a smile that only a contented man could sustain.
"Coffee's ready, Jeff," Martin said.
"Good morning, Jeff," Miss Dawn greeted. "Morning, folks," Jeff returned. "I'll have coffee after I've showered and dressed."
I passed Jeff as he was on his way into the bathroom. "Morning, Jeff," I greeted.
"Morning, Allen," Jeff said, holding a towel around his waist. "Allen," Jeff continued, pausing at the bathroom door, "one day Doctor Thomas was talking about the buttermilk biscuits his wife made, and the next day I bought some Hungry Jack biscuits, thinking those might please him...but I could tell that they fell short, he knew they were canned biscuits. Well, what I'm getting to is, would you make real biscuits if I went to the supermarket and got the makings?"
"Sure," I agreed. "I'll have a list ready when you come in for coffee."
When Jeff was on his way out of the apartment, Martin said, "Jeff, I'm going to phone Linda. Stop by and pick her up on your way back; she can breakfast with us.
I made a whole cookie sheet of biscuits, a pan of soft-scrambled eggs made with milk and butter, sausage, and grits.
When breakfast was finished, Martin looked at Linda and said, "Young lady,
when you can make biscuits like that you'll have the key to any man's heart."
"My mother wouldn't teach me to cook," she said defensively, "and I very nearly failed Home Economics."
Jeff and Linda cleaned the breakfast dishes while Dawn, Borgia, and Martin, went downstairs for Borgia's second run. The dog had eaten his own food and two biscuits, as well. I made a fresh pot of coffee and set out cups so that everyone might serve themselves.
Twenty minutes later we all made ourselves comfortable, sitting in the living room, coffee cups at our sides.
Martin began the discussion. "I want to know how each of you are reacting to the stress of these recent events and to what might come," he said. "I'm not a psychiatrist, but if a psychiatrist is needed we'll employ one of good standing. It's very important that we cope with events in a rational and intelligent manner.
"Let's hear from you first, Dawn."
"It's not bothering me too much at this point, though I wouldn't choose death by radiation," Miss Dawn said, looking at the ceiling and ordering her thoughts. "I've lived a good and comfortable life and am pleased with what I've done with my life, though looking back, I would change a few things. But, overall, I have no regrets.
“I'm anxious for Borgia and Allen, and of course, my daughter...and I feel sorry for those little birds Martin and I saw lying in the grass and on the beach."
"As you know, Martin," I said, knowing Dawn was finished, "I have an acre lot, and early yesterday morning I walked the whole area. I saw three dead birds. My climbing white rose had shed most of its leaves, but my large Tabasco pepper plant had grown nearly a foot...but the growth was gnarled and twisted.
"Since I'm speaking, I'll tell you how I feel. Sure, I'm scared. I've been scared many times before, but in times of fear one must not let fear dominate them entirely...and I'm concerned for those I love. At this point I'm trying to make the best of an unknown and unpredictable future. If the radioactivity continues, food, water, and power, will become major problems.
"I've made a list of things to buy, where to buy them, and in what quantities, in case something happens to me and Dawn has to act alone.
"I'm not looking forward to a death by radiation either, but I refuse to dwell upon something I can do nothing about. I'll prepare as best I can and hope for the best."
Martin looked at the list I handed him and added a few items, making sounds of approval as he noted each item.
"Apparently your time in the army stood you in good stead. You've covered everything, even items for barter.
"I'll have the list copied so Jeff and I will have one. Perhaps we can get Linda to throw-in with us for the duration, but if she won't, then at least she'll have a list."
"I'll go next," Linda volunteered, but before she could continue, the telephone rang and Jeff lifted the receiver, which was beside his chair. "No shi...I mean, no kidding?" He listened a few seconds longer, then lowered the receiver to its cradle.
"That was Mike," Jeff explained. "I gave him my number, since he's the most dependable of the lot at Shady Palms.
"A large moving van backed up to Greedy Gene's porch about an hour ago and the movers are loading like crazy, with Gene shouting for them to hurry.
"Mike went down and asked Gene what was happening and Gene told him to mind his own business and he could pay his rent to the real estate agent or not, he didn't care.
"Mike said Gene kept pulling at his hair and scratching his arms.
"Mike said Gene said something to one of the movers about going back to his homeland.
"Now Mike's scared because he's never seen Gene acting so irrational."
I couldn't imagine anything that would prompt Greedy Gene to forego rent, and said so.
"Go ahead, Linda," Martin urged when we'd gotten the surprise generated by Mike's telephone call.
"Well," Linda began, "I'm scared out of my skin. I'm still young and want the kind of life I have every right to expect. I obviously haven't lived long enough to acquire the equanimity of you older people. I don't want to have my hair fall out in gobs...I'm terrified to the very end of my toes," she finished, tears sliding down her cheeks.
Jeff put his arm around Linda’s shoulders and whispered words of encouragement barely audible to others of the group.
I felt sorry for Linda. I was very familiar with fear, having soldiered in Vietnam's jungles during the early, and worst, part of the war.
My platoon had once been pinned down for five hours; none of us expected to come out of that one alive because we expected to be overrun at any moment. Yes, I knew fear, but my fear had come and gone within hours, and in other instances, within minutes. Linda's reason for fear was unlikely to go away before being eliminated by death.
Occupied, momentarily, with my own thoughts, I caught only the end of Jeff's response to Martin's question. "...pretty much as Allen and Dawn, I suppose. I'm deeply concerned about my welfare but there's nothing to do but make the best of a bad situation."
"What about you, Martin," Dawn asked.
Martin looked from one of us to the other, smiling ruefully. "I'm not looking forward to the sting of death either...but I'm a scientist, an astronomer, and I can't help but be pleased to be a part of this phenomena as it unfolds. Few scientists are privileged to witness something of this magnitude, in their own field.
"I deeply regret the untold suffering that will be brought on if the solar flares continue. At this rate the suffering will be lengthy, almost cruel. The asteroid would be the more humane because it would be most likely to fall in an ocean. Huge tidal waves would result, washing away everything but what exists on the highest mountains.
Everything would be over, worldwide, in a matter of hours, if not minutes.
"I'm not immune to fear, of course, but first and foremost I'm a scientist and the role of the scientist is to observe and record."
"Let's take a break," Dawn interjected. "Borgia needs to go outside.”
"I'll go along, Dawn, if you don't mind," Martin offered.
While the lady, scientist, and dog, were outside, Mike called again. "Jeff," Mike said, "you're not going to believe this but the Greek that rents the other part of Gene's house is moving, too."
"That's surprising," Jeff replied, "but all rats leave sinking ships."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Mike asked. "What's sinking?"
"There's serious problems, Mike, but I'm in a meeting now and don't have time to talk. I'll call you this afternoon and fill you in. There hasn't been much said about the problem so far, but there will be, so I'll fill you in so you can begin preparing."
When back inside, Martin said, "I'll make another pot of coffee. If someone wants something stronger, feel free to raid the bar.
“The hour is still a bit early here but the sun is over the yardarm somewhere in the world, and today, that's sufficient for me.”
Though we had no way of knowing, at the time Martin made his comment about the sun being over the yardarm, the countries of Europe were receiving a heavy saturation of radioactivity generated by an extremely intense flare.
Martin may as well have not made coffee. I went to the bar and got a beer for myself and a glass of Andre’s champagne for my favorite person. Jeff served Johnny Walker Black to Martin, white wine to Linda, and made a whiskey sour for himself.
"Everyone ready to continue?" Martin asked as Borgia scrambled onto the couch to lie across his person's lap.
"Yesterday I received another communication from Washington," Martin
confided. "As expected, the gist was to dispense information about the flares on a need-to-know basis only."
"They can't keep this under wraps much longer," Jeff commented. danger will soon become apparent to anyone with even half sense."
"Going public would be the wrong thing to do because within an hour pandemonium would cover the entire country,” Martin said.
“I suggest we only tell those close to us and give them a copy of the list we made, of supplies to lay in. Also tell them that if they pass-on the information they must be prepared for scoffing and ridicule. People are most likely to scoff at anything their minds are unwilling to accept, especially that which could pose a threat to their physical or financial welfare.
"I spent much time, last night, in telephone conference with world astronomers. I talked with colleagues in England, Germany, France, Africa, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and Russia.
"Their exposure is approximately the same as ours, 105.3 roentgens. The safe dose on a continual basis is considered to be .003 roentgens per week.
"I had a look at the sun yesterday afternoon, using filters of course, and I took several photographs of the sun's surface. I did the same as the sun rose this morning. Increased activity is apparent even when a huge flare isn't forming."
"How large does a flare have to be before it's considered abnormally large?" I asked.
"The normal flare is a mass of flames shooting outward from the sun to a distance of approximately a quarter-million miles, and those of that size are not an everyday occurrence.
"You see, portions of the sun are very active, looking like water in a kettle that's on the verge of boiling, just before the steam begins to escape. When the flares of which we're concerned, escape the sun's surface, they've been shooting as far as ten million miles into space; however, we feel that the last flare we experienced reached as far as 30 million miles from the sun's surface.
"Further, Santui Amakita, in Tokyo isolated a ray of unusual strength, that we've never seen before. The ray's effect, at the present time, is unknown.
"That's all I have," Martin concluded. precautions we've established; follow them."
"You all know the necessary
"Looks as if we're in this together, for the long-haul," I said. "From what Mike said, Gene's place is on the market. I feel Dawn, Borgia, and I should move to Galveston. What do you think, Missy?"
"I've always wanted to live in Galveston," Miss Dawn answered, "although I'd always thought of living in one of the big houses along Broadway instead of a place like Greedy Gene's."
"Jeff, would you look into Gene's asking price, tomorrow?" I asked.
"Sure," he agreed.
"One more thing before we go our separate ways," Martin said. "Allen, your idea of prepackaged combat rations is our best bet since they require no preparation and are complete meals.
"You'll have better access to the rations in Houston, so I'd like to give you a check for a nine-month supply of rations for Jeff, Linda, and myself, figuring two meals per day. I'll leave the amount blank since I have no idea of the cost.
"Now. I suggest we stretch our legs a bit and have lunch while we decide how to spend the remainder of the day."
Greedy Gene's asking price wasn't as exorbitant as Dawn and I had expected. Gene had left the country and had given the real estate broker his power of attorney to negotiate and handle the sale. After a bit of haggling we agreed on a figure that we could handle and would be fair to Gene.
I'd gone to the Veterans Administration building on Holcombe Boulevard and gotten my Certificate of Eligibility for a VA guaranteed loan, and sent the certificate by certified mail to the real estate broker.
The following week, we closed on the property and had a seven-foot chain link fence erected around the entire property, with a gate opening onto the fishing pier.
A few of our neighbors from the large apartment building across the way watched as workmen attached angle brackets, leaning outward, to the posts, then strung razor wire on the brackets. I surmised that the neighbors' general opinion was that their new neighbors were very strange birds indeed.
Sonny moved out of Shady Palms as soon as he found out who had acquired the property.
Mike approached me about continuing to rent to him and Louis. I told him that Dawn and I didn't want the responsibility of tenants, and gave them a few days to make other arrangements.
We moved into the Galveston property during the first week of March. Borgia was disgruntled with the move but my cats seemed to enjoy the change, often sitting
on rocks at water's edge and catching minnows.
Dawn had begun driving, with Borgia, to the condo on the beach so Martin could walk with them. As she drove down Broadway she wondered how long she'd have the pleasure of birds in the giant live oaks along the boulevard, and gulls at the beach.
One day when she and Borgia returned from their walk with Martin, I was sitting on the porch drinking coffee, eating toast, and reading the Houston Chronicle.
"What did you and Martin talk about today?" I asked as she and Borgia ascended the sixteen steps, to the porch.
"He told me of how he and a friend used to go tom-catting in his father's Model A Ford roadster, over in San Antonio...and we spoke of the red tide and how the tide is spreading...then we talked of the sun and how we've had such a lull in the large flares of which we're concerned.
“He thinks this is just the calm before the storm.”
Borgia had his front paws on the edge of my table and was eyeing my toast, whining pitifully. I pinched off a corner of toast, tossed the toast in a high arc, and watched as the black poodle snatched the bread from the air.
"I'm going into the house to make Borgia's breakfast," Dawn said, turning toward the door.
I watched as Borgia followed his person into the house. The dog eyed Chat Noir, my large black Tomcat, warily as the cat sat on the end of the porch washing his face.
I returned to reading the newspaper. Nothing was mentioned about solar flares or radiation, but an article on the third page caught my attention. In Dallas, three teenage boys had stolen several chickens, taken the chickens to a garage, and proceeded to torture them by pulling-off their feathers with pliers and making them fight.
The boys, being underage, were not charged. Why was I not surprised at either the boys' cruelty or the fact that they went unpunished, free to do the same thing again, or worse?
A few minutes later, Dawn came onto the porch.
You need to catch some fish," she said. "Martin and Jeff have something they want to discuss with us, so I asked them over for dinner...I knew you wouldn't mind."
"You're right," I replied. "We do have things to discuss, or I do. I have no idea what is on their minds.
"Missy," I asked, "does anyone ever wonder why I do all our cooking?"
"Jeff did," she replied. "He wondered how you became such a good cook, and mentioned he'd never seen me cook. I told him what I told you - my mother didn't want to be bothered and our cook wouldn't let me into the kitchen when she was cooking, why?"
"I just wondered," I said.
"Oh," she said, "and I told Martin about the cookbook you wrote."
Linda brought two six packs of Corona beer for me, two bottles of Andres for
Dawn, a package of jerky treats for Borgia, and a box of Pounce for the cat gang; Jeff and Martin brought beverages for themselves and Linda.
Dinner was a pleasant affair, resplendent with a barely legal redfish, croaker, speckled trout, French fries, and hushpuppies with onion and a touch of cayenne. Knowing Borgia's affinity for hushpuppies, I made a half dozen sans cayenne.
Nothing was mentioned, during dinner, of our constant worry of giant sun flares or of the unusually large asteroid, beyond the fact that some astronomer in California had dubbed the asteroid, Wormwood.
Dinner finished and drinks served, the talk turned into more serious avenues, our conversation was punctuated with an occasional burp from the hushpuppy-satiated poodle that lay with his head and front paws in Dawn’s lap.
"How do you like your new home," Martin asked.
"We like it very much," Dawn and I said almost in unison. "Neither of us had a compelling reason to stay in Houston, and when this place became available, well, we just couldn't resist the temptation...but what also weighed heavily in the decision was being near friends with whom we could work in difficult times," I continued. "And there's the very real possibility that some zealous flake will get the urge to push buttons and release a few ICBM's with nuclear warheads...just to help God along, of course."
"I agree with your reasoning," Martin said, unconsciously examining the level of cognac in his snifter. "Your reasoning coincides with my own.
“Since prevailing winds are from the south and southeast, most contaminants would be blown inland, away from the island."
"The reason I had the fence erected is that in times of chaos the criminal element begins looting everything within their reach, and as things become worse, law abiding people resort to theft, especially when hunger is the norm rather than the exception, and you've said that's a very real possibility.
"I'm trying to cover every eventuality, but I know, hard as I try, I'll leave something undone.
"I'm going to Houston soon to get medications for myself, vitamins for Dawn, food for Borgia and the cats, two pump shotguns, two rifles, two pistols, and a Connex container I can put under the house and secure with padlocks.
"I haven't kept firearms since I came back from Vietnam, and the idea goes against the grain with me, but I feel it's like insurance; I'll buy the guns and hope I never have to use them. I'd hoped I was finished with killing. I only killed one man that I know of, for sure, and that was one too many."
I hadn't spoken so much for a very long time. Being the quiet sort, I generally listen while others speak, but that night I'd had something that needed saying. Dawn and our guests only nodded in agreement on one point or another.
"Allen," Jeff said as he rubbed Linda's jean-clad knee, "what do you plan to do with all the extra room you have? You have the apartment across the hall, in this house, and the whole building up front. Are you going to rent the space?"
"Not unless we rent to someone we know and like," I replied. "We don't want the hassle. Why? Do you have something in mind?"
"We both do," Martin said. "I insisted the realtor include a sublet clause to our contract. Jeff and I will exercise that option if you'll rent to us. We'd also want
accommodations for Linda.
"Linda and Jeff wish to cohabit, so they'd need quarters of their own.
"If this threat passes with no further ado, then we've sacrificed nothing. Meanwhile, if my theory is proven and worst comes to worst, we'll, all five of us, be better able to cope with the situation. The state of affairs may become very bad indeed as radiation takes its ultimate toll. There'll only be safety in numbers as people compete for food, fresh water, and drugs."
"We'll share equally in expenses related to preparation for bad times."
"I like the idea," Miss Dawn piped up. "It makes good sense, and I like the prospect of having a baby on the place. Borgia loves children, and he does need a playmate."
Linda blushed in spite of herself. She looked at Jeff, a new light coming into her eyes. "Do you think we could?" she asked.
"I can't see pregnancy as a viable option at this time," Martin interjected, looking at both his colleagues. "Linda's likely to have all she can handle without the added burden of pregnancy, to say nothing of the unfairness of bringing a child into such an unstable situation. There's almost certain to be birth defects from the host mother's exposure to radiation, both animal and human."
"Fuddy-duddy!" Miss Dawn exclaimed. "I hope you're satisfied now that you've rained on mine, Linda's, and Borgia's, parade!"
"But...But..," Martin sputtered. "I'm just kidding, Martin," Dawn said, smiling. "What you said makes perfectly good sense... sometimes I tend to forget, especially when there might be something nice to
look forward to."
Linda looked crestfallen, but quickly realized that to bring a child into the world at this time would be an act of unmitigated selfishness.
"Well, folks," Martin said, rising to his feet, "we've had a most enjoyable evening after a superb meal, but the time has come for an old man to hit the sack...but, Dawn, what does that dog want?
He's stared at either myself, Jeff, or Linda, for the last half-hour.”
I chuckled, and answered Martin's question. "Borgia wants you all to go home so he can go to bed and he won't go to bed until Dawn does."
Within a few days after our fish and hushpuppy dinner, I'd gotten the Connex container into position under the house, and with almost two feet to spare between container top and floor joists. I'd also had an oil distributor place a 250 gallon steel tank on the premises and fill the tank with gasoline, my reasoning being that if electricity failed, there would be no way for service stations to get gasoline from underground tanks.
At Martin's suggestion, I'd also bought Styrofoam insulation with metallic silver backing, cut the material to window-size, and fashioned a means of securing the panels to the windows. Martin's reasoning was that the silver covering would reflect sunrays, and perhaps a modicum of radiation.
On Tuesday morning of the second week in April, Dawn, Borgia, and I were on our way out of the house for a trip to Houston, when the phone rang. My first impulse was to ignore the instrument, but Dawn picked up the receiver, listened, and then lowered the receiver without having uttered a word.
"That was Jeff," she said, her voice betraying urgency. "There's another flare!"
"I'll get the panels into the windows!" I said, turning toward the door.
Dawn, able to walk faster than I, said, "no, I'll get the panels...you put them in place."
The interior of the house was plunged into near darkness and our dog paced worriedly. He was always disturbed when household routine was altered. I turned on a light and sat in a chair by the telephone; Dawn held Borgia and whispered softly to him as she sat on the love seat.
The phone rang again. "Allen," Martin said, anxiety in his voice, "this flare is surpassing the others, in intensity. Make sure everyone stays inside until I give you the all clear. Are your reflectors in place?"
"We put them up when we got Jeff's message," I said.
"As I speak," Martin continued, "I see people going down to the beach. There's no way to warn them because I'm under orders to tell no one...call your mother if you haven't already done so."
The dial tone buzzed in my ear. I called my mother, in Louisiana; she answered on the second ring. "What's wrong?" she asked, my tone alerting her to the fact that this wasn't a call to discuss weather, dogs, and cats.
"You know what I told you about a few weeks ago, about the sun? Did you do as I asked?"
"We got everything you told us to, why?"
“It's happening again. Right this minute.
"He's out in the yard," she said. sunshine."
"He wanted to soak up some of this
"Get him in the house now, and keep him inside until the hot spell is over! We'll talk more, later." And I lowered the receiver to its cradle.
"How long do you think this episode will last?" Dawn asked, anxiously.
"I have no idea and neither does anyone else," I replied. "I suppose even scientists are now realizing how little they know in comparison to what is to be known."
"Well," Miss Dawn continued, "I hope it doesn't last long because Borgia's will need to go to the bathroom soon."
I used the time between the onset of the flare and two o'clock, at which time we received the all-clear from the observatory, to order supplies for enclosing the downstairs area of the house, and to write a few pages on the lengthening manuscript.
Linda called to give us the message and I invited the three scientists to dinner. I would indoctrinate them and Miss Dawn to the survival rations.
The lady astronomer reported that Martin was taking calls from all over the country as Jeff assimilated data that poured in from the observatory's many instruments.
When Dawn took Borgia for his Bathroom run, I tagged along, opening the cat's door on the way out. The temperature was dropping rapidly, but the sky looked weird, and the air seemed to have a strange quality.
Once back inside the house, I removed the reflector panels, got a cold beer from the refrigerator, and settled down behind my word processor. Dawn sat on the love seat, a flute of champagne on an end table, a book in hand, and a black dog spread across her lap. Miss Dawn sometimes reminded me to be careful for what I wished, because I just might get the wish. She'd always wanted a lap dog; now she had one, but she hadn't expected the dog to lie on her lap every time she sat down. Sometimes, when togetherness became too much, she'd sit in a chair, Borgia stretched across her feet so he'd know if she got up from the chair!
I dialed my parents number from memory and my mother answered on the ninth ring. "Did you get dad inside without too much hassle?" I asked.
"He came in like Mary's little lamb," she said. "He didn't argue, which isn't like him.
When I told him you said to get his skinny behind into the house, he said, my boy don't make mountains out of mole hills. If he says it ain't safe out here, then it ain't safe'."
"Mama," I continued, "I'm going to ask you to do something you may find difficult to accept, but do as I ask and deal with the right and wrong later.
"Go to your doctor and tell him you're not sleeping well and need some good sleeping pills. Tell him you don't want any halfway pills, you want good ones.
"The reason for the pills is that there's no cure for radiation sickness. The radiation victim lingers for days with horrible symptoms and pain. The doctors can do nothing but watch the patient die. A death by sleeping pills is highly preferable over death by radiation. I want you and dad spared the agony of a slow death, if the worst is realized."
"I'm not afraid of dying," she replied rather stiffly.
"Being afraid has nothing to do with this. The quality of dying is what I'm talking about. There's no sense suffering for days when easier measures are available. I've already seen to mine, Dawn's, and the animals' needs, in this respect."
"Well," Mama said hesitantly, "if you think it's best, I'll do as you say."
"Mama, before this is over, the telephones may quit working and the postal system will almost surely collapse. We'll stay in touch as long as we can."
"I love you, son," she said softly. "Take care of yourself." I lowered the
receiver, thinking of how fragile were my parents; they were both in their late 80's.
"Are your parents well?" Dawn asked. Her parents had died several years before.
"They're fine," I said. "They accept their fate as being the will of God and refuse to become upset."
"I'm going to the end of the pier to catch a few fish for the cats," I announced. Borgia marked my departure with one eye opening, then he sighed deeply and the eye closed.
Dinner was more tense than usual, a cloud of foreboding hanging over ourselves and our guests. The dinner of survival rations was found to be tastier than expected by Dawn and the three scientists. I'd served four different dishes, buffet style, so that each person might try all four. As far as I was concerned, the beverage was, and had always been, the least appetizing part of the rations.
"Anything new to report, Martin?" I asked when we'd settled ourselves in the living room.
"The flares are becoming more intense and of longer duration," Martin replied. "The ozone layer suffered a devastating blow today. I expect that by late next week we'll see the appearance of radiation sickness."
The following week, Jeff took two days off from work to move his, Martin's, and Linda's, personal effects to Shady Palms and to help me enclose the bottom portion of the house.
On Tuesday of the same week, the manual pitcher pump and sand point that I'd ordered from an Amish catalogue, arrived. We would have our own freshwater source by attaching 2-inch
galvanized pipe to the sand point, then pounding the pipe into the ground until we reached fresh water. The pump would be screwed onto the top end of the pipe, and then one had but to operate a handle to bring a stream of cool water to the surface.
Martin's prediction of radiation sickness proved correct. The problem could no longer be ignored and kept quiet.
Martin occupied the apartment across from Dawn and me, and after dinner, came to our part of the house to have a post-prandial drink, before retiring. Miss Dawn suggested Jeff and Linda be included if they weren't otherwise occupied; they arrived five minutes later, since the distance from the apartments to the house was slightly under 100 yards. I rarely watched television and Dawn only watched two or three sitcoms during the week, but we decided to see if there was anything forthcoming from our government's leaders.
No sooner had I turned-on the television than we saw a nationally known face. The face held a very grave demeanor, and the voice carried a note of sadness and concern, as if the weight of the entire world rested upon his own shoulders.
"Fellow Americans," he said, "personnel essential to the operation of the United States Government, today, relocated to emergency headquarters. A recent threat to high-ranking leaders prompted the move. 'Terrorist threats upon the life of the President and his successors made the move to emergency headquarters imperative,” said Chief of Staff Eldon Tidwell."
The newscaster made no mention of the problems at hand, but went quickly to news of the suffering of Iraq's people because of sanctions levied by the world community, some years before.
"They're running like rabbits to their burrows," Jeff said."
And you can bet the running has nothing to do with terrorists," I said. "I'd say the cocksuckers are running because of a sun gone berserk...sorry Missy, sorry, Linda," I continued lamely, knowing how Miss Dawn so despised vulgarity. "I got carried away."
"I've heard worse," Linda said, "and for far less compelling reasons."
"Cover your ears, Borgia," Miss Dawn said to the dog that rested his head on her thigh. Glaring at me, she continued, "You don't want to pickup nasty habits."
"Regardless of adjectives," Martin interjected, "I feel you’re right, Allen. The self-serving rascals see their positions as ordained, and their survival paramount...but before this is over, if the scenario plays out as it is headed, the rabbits will starve in their burrows!"
An hour later, the scientists went back to their own quarters, each to dwell upon his own thoughts, fight his or her own demons, and search his or her own soul, with the knowledge that everything they'd come to accept as a normal progression toward their mortal end was being circumvented by powers beyond human control.
The next morning, not knowing how much longer travel would be safe, Dawn, Borgia, and I, went for a drive around the island.
We turned right on Sixty-first Street, crossed Offats Bayou at the bayou's narrowest point, passed Wal-Mart, a pizza joint, The Victorian, then turned left to drive along the seawall.
Borgia, with his head out the window and his ears pinned against his head by the breeze, seemed like old times, times before the threat of annihilation...a time before which one unconsciously cast wary glances overhead, to look for the atypical cast to the sky that denoted a beginning flare.
Whereas fishermen were nearly always seen leaning expectantly over fishing pier railings, slim protrusions of one or more fishing rods drooping in front of them, there were no fishermen.
A few seagulls wheeled expectantly, no doubt perplexed by the absence of man. A CLOSED sign hung across the entrance to the pier.
Borgia pulled his head inside long enough to push his muzzle into one of his person's large pockets and extract an animal cracker, which he munched loudly, gave her a quick kiss, and returned to testing scents outside the window.
A few people walked along the beach; a few others sat on the rock jetties and stared out to sea as high puffball clouds floated overhead.
"Look!" Dawn exclaimed, pointing to Kroger's parking lot; the lot was nearly full.
"The shopping frenzy," I said. "News of the government's move to safety, and word of radiation sickness has generated the first stage of panic. Within a few hours every edible item in every store in Galveston will be gone."
"The stores will only order more," Miss Dawn predicted.
"Surely," I agreed. "Store managers and owners are, without doubt, overjoyed with their good fortune and are on the phone, as we speak, to their wholesalers. The wholesaler's won't be able to meet the demand because of everyone ordering at once, and incoming food will disappear just as quickly."
As we approached the intersection of Seawall Boulevard and Broadway, I pointed to the observatory. "I wonder what's going on over there?"
Two ambulances and several police cars, emergency light flashing, were positioned in the observatory's parking lot. "I wouldn't
have thought there'd be that many people left in Galveston, crowded as are the supermarkets," I observed.
A milling mob, several hundred strong, surrounded the observatory.
"I hope our friends are safe," Miss Dawn said as she fed Borgia another animal cracker.
We drove through old Galveston, past the sheltered bay that served as anchorage for fishing vessels and docking facilities for cargo laden freighters, past the Peanut Butter Warehouse, and an old brick building with a tall brick chimney. We turned left, then left again, and drove down The Strand, then reversed our direction and continued along the waterfront, beside railroad tracks.
At the Fifty-third street traffic light we turned left, back toward Broadway. I took a two-block detour. I wanted to see what was happening at the large housing project that was home to many of Galveston's poor.
For the time of day, pedestrian traffic had been much lighter than usual, but small children played around doorways and in yards of the projects. A trio of winos leaned against the wall of a neighborhood store. One wino brandished a bottle of what looked like Thunderbird wine as his two cronies chins rested on their chests.
The few adults who walked the streets cast furtive glances at the sky. These people couldn't know with certainty what was upsetting their small world, but were aware, atavistically, that something was very, very wrong.
As we drove into our driveway, two young men were trying to jimmy our electronic driveway gate, but interrupted by our arrival, glared at us and sauntered off in the direction of the bait shop.
I knew the time would come, if the flares continued, that the young men would no longer leave, but would dash in as I opened the gate to drive inside. I said nothing to Miss Dawn about how dog-eat-dog people would become as life became more difficult.
That afternoon, when Martin came up the steps and onto the porch, I noticed that his left arm was in a sling. "What happened, Martin?" I asked.
Dawn and Borgia came up the steps as Martin seated himself across from me, at my table on the porch. "Oh, Martin!" she exclaimed. "What happened to your arm...no, wait until I get you a drink, then tell us."
A couple of minutes later, Miss Dawn placed a tall vodka Collins in front of Martin, served me a beer, and went back into the house for her own drink, a glass of Chablis Blanc.
"Now, Miss Dawn said, "tell us what happened."
The scientist took a sip from his glass, made a sound of approval, and then said, "We had a mob scene at the observatory this morning. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured. As I was getting out of my car, I was pushed, and fell against a parking stop. My arm was only sprained, but my ribs are badly bruised."
"Did any of the mob get inside the building?" I asked.
"Luckily, no. The guards blocked the door until the police arrived." "What prompted the mob's gathering?" I persisted. "People are becoming ill at a far greater rate than we thought," Martin said, lowering his condensation-beaded glass. They know something is dreadfully wrong, but can't put a label on the cause. Most, though, seem to have made the connection between the weather and their sickness and the sores appearing on their bodies.
"The people know that the observatory deals with phenomena of the sky, is government funded, that their government is doing nothing about their suffering - and, in fact, is hiding. The poor bastards feel they have to strikeout at something, so they chose the observatory.
"If I weren't in a position to know absolutely the cause of the illness and the prognosis, I'd probably feel as do they."
A week passed, then another...and another flare, this one of a greater magnitude than the last. No more birds twittered in Galveston's stately live oak trees, and seagulls were conspicuous by their absence.
The beach was littered with dead fish and the stench was nearly overpowering as the sea breeze swept the island...and red tide appeared in great blotches.
Supermarkets and neighborhood stores, alike, had closed their doors, management not bothering to secure glass-fronts with plywood.
Area hospitals had long since ceased to meet the needs of the people they'd served so well only weeks before.
Power plants, except for the nuclear facility in Bay City had failed, plunging all but a small portion of Texas into darkness.
As expected, gasoline and diesel fuel was a thing of the past even though hundreds of thousands of gallons lay below ground, in tanks.
Water pipes had run dry for lack of fuel to operate the huge pumps that pulled
water from reservoirs and from the ground.
Galveston was awash in a stench of dead and rotting flesh, animal, fish, fowl, and human.
I'd foiled several attempts at theft with devices I'd fashioned from simple materials, products of my years in the army, and Vietnam in particular.
At Shady Palms, we had shifted to generator power, but used our supply of gasoline as sparingly as possible. Our water came solely from the manual pump. I often thought of how little fresh water was on the island, and of how people were suffering.
Muggings and worse were commonplace, the stronger have-nots preying on anyone who appeared to be better off than themselves.
One evening in early August, Miss Dawn, our three scientist friends, and I, gathered for an hour or so, as had become our custom in the evenings.
"Take a look at this," Martin said, handing me a 5x7-inch photograph.
"I can't see anything but a bright dot," I observed, handing the photograph to Dawn. "What is it?"
"Wormwood, the asteroid," Martin answered. "I took the photograph just before our emergency generators ran out of fuel."
"The asteroid looks so small," Dawn, observed.
It is the largest asteroid ever seen by man," Jeff explained. "It's a shade over a
billion miles away, traveling at approximately 2 million mile per day...and right on target for a rendezvous with earth." CHAPTER 20
KILLER RAYS BOMBARD EARTH GIANT ASTEROID LOOMS EVER CLOSER.
Sources close to a prominent astronomer told this reporter that the episodes of intermittent intense temperature increases are, in fact, sun flares bombarding Earth with lethal gamma rays.
The same sources also states that a twelve mile long by eight mile wide asteroid is on a collision path with Earth.
Folks, that's almost as long as Galveston Island, and approximately four times as wide. Wherever the asteroid hits, the result will be felt worldwide and will almost certainly condemn mankind to extinction.
This will be the last issue of this newspaper, barring an unforeseen source of energy with which to continue.
I'd found the newspaper outside our front gate. Someone coming to the Island, from Houston, had thrown the paper onto the feeder street. I showed the newspaper to Martin as Borgia got to his feet, stretched, and shook himself with a rattling of chain and dog tags;
the dog's bedtime was approaching and he needed to make a final bathroom run before retiring.
"Missy," I said," be careful of rats.
“I've been reluctant to tell you how brave they're becoming, but you need to know and so does Linda. Don't go under the house or near the concrete abutment, because, in addition to the rats, there are now spiders as large as my hand."
"What kind of spiders?" Linda asked, a high note of terror in her voice.
"Mutations of common house spiders," I replied. "They're not aggressive and would only bite if surprised."
Linda shuddered. "Oh, God, how I hate spiders!" she exclaimed, then continued. "I'll go with you to walk Borgia, Dawn, but first I'm going to get something to hit spiders and rats!"
"Borgia and I don't need this!" Miss Dawn exclaimed. "I absolutely detest rats! It's not like we didn't have enough with which to deal...now we have killer spiders and rats...I'll dream about them tonight!"
"Linda, there's a kid's ball bat just inside the front door," I said. "If you two don't hurry Borgia is likely to wet himself."
An occasional cloud drifted across a half-moon, however, between the moon's light and illumination coming from a window, the ladies had sufficient light to walk Borgia in grass along the fence.
"Who do you suppose leaked the information to the news media?" I asked the two scientists when the ladies were gone.
"I did," Martin confessed. "People are so beset with problems that panic would be an anticlimax. The poor devils have a right to know what's happening and to prepare themselves as best they can...order their minds, if you will."
"I miss having a newspaper to read in the mornings," I said, "and Dawn misses the paper more than I do."
"How is Dawn holding up under the stress of the drastically altered conditions?" Martin asked.
"Miss Dawn's a much tougher cookie than one might think, Martin. She doing very well, and will as long as she has Borgia to care for. Without him, I think she'd have a very rough time."
We'd moved onto the porch since the time had come for Jeff and Linda to go back to their apartment at the front of the lot. "See any rats?" I asked as the ladies and Borgia came up the steps.
"No," Dawn said, "but we heard rustling sounds in the rocks down near the water...and there's three or four men lurking in the shadows of that building on the other side of the fence."
"The people in those apartments see our house lighted and don't see us bringing in food or water," Martin said. "They figure, and correctly so, that we have plenty of food; they're jealous and resentful."
"I'll stay up for a while after the lights are out," I said. "I expect there'll be trouble, and if so I want to head the trouble off at the pass. Once they break through the fence, there'll be fifty more people in hiding that would be inside before we could stop them.
"I wouldn't mind sharing what we could spare, but if we did share, word
would get around and half the population of Galveston would be at the gate within two hours...no, we can't help them.
“They would force the fence by sheer weight of numbers, then we'd have nothing, not even our lives." "But the children!" Linda exclaimed. "Couldn't we give them something?"
"I'm afraid not," Linda. "Giving food to them would only satisfy their hunger temporarily, doing nothing for the long run, and would reveal that we do have an abundance of food."
"I'll stay with you, to watch," Jeff volunteered. "No, you need to be at the front of the lot, to keep watch up there," I said. "If anything at all happens back here, Borgia will let us know. I've never seen a finer watchdog."
Less than half an hour later, Jeff called on the intercom I'd rigged for communication between the house and apartments; the system worked on dry cell batteries. "Allen," he said, "Louis and Mike are at the gate. What should I do?"
"Do you see anyone else who would be able to get inside if you open the gate for them?"
"No," Jeff said after a pause.
"Take a shotgun and several shells with you and stand in the shadow of the stairwell. If there's still no one else around, let them in and send them back to the house...and Jeff, use the shotgun if you have to. You'll be protecting Linda."
Martin and I heard the gate open and close, as we sat at my table on the porch, then, only moments later, Mike and Louis climbed the steps, pulled chairs from the table and sat.
"God, but it's good to see you people," Mike stated. "We didn't know if you'd let us in, but we had to try.
"You have no idea what it's like down in the city!"
"They killed Sonny, this morning," Louis said.
"They, who?" I asked.
"A gang of kids," Mike interjected. "Sonny had found a couple of cans of beans and a candy bar, inside an old house. The kids saw him eating and killed him for his little bit of food."
"How did you find out?" Martin asked.
"Old Mather Wilkins told us," Mike said. "He saw the whole thing...couldn't do nothing to help Sonny...too many kids."
Mather was an old man who hung on the fringes of society, intelligent and interesting on his better days, and on his worse, sullen and uncommunicative.
"Mather said," Mike continued, "that when Sonny was down, they stomped him to death, then began fighting among themselves over Sonny's food."
"You wouldn't believe how bad it has gotten," Louis repeated.
"What about law?" I asked. "Doesn't the law do anything, anymore?"
"A few officers still try, but there's not much they can do. Most of the city policeman and county deputies have quit to look after their families, as best they can. Ain't no use to get a paycheck anymore...money's no good. The only thing that's good anymore is something to trade. A few people meet down at the monument on Broadway, almost every morning, to trade what they have for what they want."
"I can't but wonder what the city and county did about their prisoners," Martin interposed.
“What I heard," Mike responded, "was that the sheriff and chief let the best of the lot go free, then shot the bad ones...word was, they didn't want to turn the bad ones out to cause more problems. “Mather said that cruel as getting shot might be, it beat sitting in a jail cell and starving."
"Are you fellows hungry?" I asked.
"We ain't had nothing to eat since day before yesterday," Louis admitted, "and that was little enough."
"Martin, would you call Jeff and Linda on the intercom and get them to come down here?" I asked. "And while you're inside, please ask Dawn to get a couple of packs of rations and bring them out here... I don't want to leave the porch while those people are sneaking around on the other side of the fence."
"Missy," I asked when Miss Dawn brought the rations, "will you stay with us for a while? We have to make a decision and we'll need everyone present, because every person has a vote."
"Hello, Miss Dawn, hello, Borgia," Mike greeted.
The sleepy dog trailed at his person's heels, unwilling to let her out of his sight for even a few moments.
"Hi, Miss Dawn, Borgia," Louis greeted around a mouthful of date-nut cake.
"Hi," Miss Dawn returned. “ We’re glad to see you both are well."
"We're doing pretty good," Mike confirmed, considering how bad some people are doing."
The light was too feeble for us to see the skin cancers on the men’s arms and face.
"What are your plans?" I asked the men.
"We was kind of hoping you might have room for us here," Mike said. "We don't have anything to help out with except what labor we can do, and help guard the place if that's needed."
"Since we're all in this together we'll need to take a vote," I said. "If you two will step inside the house for a minute or two we'll get on with the democratic process."
"Well," I said when Mike and Louis were inside, "you all heard their request. How do you feel about letting them stay?"
"Do we have enough food for us and them too?" Jeff asked.
"What about it, Martin," I asked. "You know our food situation. How long do you think the food will need to last?" "Given the pace of solar activity so far, and the prospect of impact by the asteroid, I'd say not more than three to five weeks."
"We'll have enough then," I said. "How many agree that they stay?"
"They're decent fellows," Jeff said. "I've known them for several months...I vote yes."
And so did we all vote for Louis and Mike to join us.
"That was the longest two minutes of my life!" Mike exclaimed when we told him and Louis the result of the vote. "You have no idea how I dreaded to go back through gate!"
Mike and Louis' presence gave us greater flexibility of movement, permitting Martin, Jeff, or me, to leave the premises for short periods without leaving our property unguarded, but above all, the two men would be our eyes and ears to the outside world. Mike and Louis were known and accepted by the Island's residents, looked the part, and could move about with less risk.
Martin and I were reluctant to leave the premises, Martin because of advanced age and the fact that he'd never fully recovered from his fall at the observatory, and me because of my crippled foot made walking so difficult. We'd given up use of our vehicles in order to conserve gasoline, and further, to have an operable vehicle on the streets would present too great a temptation to armed thieves wishing to leave the area.
Miss Dawn and Martin had long since given up their walks on the beach for the above stated reasons, as well as the following reasons. The beach was no longer a place to soothe the psyche by listening to the murmur of surf rolling in from the deep and feeling cool sand underneath bare feet. The beach was now littered with dead fish, crabs, birds, and an occasional huge sea turtle; nor was an outing safe.
Scraggly gangs of desperate men and women, young and old alike, roamed in search of anything edible, or anything they perceived to be of value to barter. The gangs, however, were becoming fewer as numbers were thinned by the ever encroaching sickness as the sickness claimed life-after-life, first rendering the victim listless and without sufficient energy to roam the streets...then death.
The practice of burial as a means of disposing of bodies was abandoned. The dead were either burned or taken to the beach and disposition left to the outgoing tide.
Trouble was narrowly averted the night Mike and Louis joined us. I'd fired five shotgun blasts into a mattress the men threw across the razor wire so they could scramble across without suffering serious cuts. The men dispersed amid growls of anger and frustration, but I knew we would have to remain ever watchful, else a future attempt be successful.
What chilled me to the very marrow of my bones was the thought of someone sitting at an upstairs window of the apartments, with a deer rifle, and sniping at us. I didn't think that likely because the apartments were a cut above the average and I judged the tenants to be opposed to violence...still, the thought remained with me and I was ever alert for the rifle fire. When sitting on the porch of an evening, pitiful cries of children assailed us from those apartments, though the number of tenants was greatly reduced.
Some folks struck-out for Houston in hopes of finding a better life there. Others just walked away, seemingly without purpose, fever-bright eyes burning with near-madness. Their numbers were further reduced by death, for I'd watched as bodies were cast into the bayou, behind the apartments.
We were destitute for news from the outside world. Miss Dawn missed terribly reading a newspaper each morning, as did Martin. I'd always preferred to get news by radio, but was also deprived because radio stations no longer operated.
As a group, we functioned rather well except for the occasional flare of temper caused by external pressures and our virtual confinement. The tedium was relieved, somewhat, when Mike and Louis returned from one of their forays with a telescope they'd gotten from a teenage boy, in barter, for a 11.5 ounce can of coffee.
Another teenager had a ham radio set, which he traded for a six-pack of Coke Classic.
Martin and Jeff were beside themselves with joy over the telescope, which both scientists admitted was a rather good amateur apparatus, and within two hours, had converted the ham radio set to battery power...we could again find out what was happening outside our small world of Galveston Island and Shady Palms…maybe?
We continued to have our evening meal together, buffet style, and afterward sat on the front porch that ran the entire breadth of the house.
No cats were in evidence, having disappeared one at a time, victims no doubt, for a stew-pot inside the apartment building on the other side of the fence. Borgia couldn't get outside the fence if he'd wanted to, which he didn't, because that would mean leaving his person's side, but I've yet to see a fence that a cat couldn't negotiate if he set its mind to the task.
Our after dinner session on the front porch had broken up a bit early. Jeff wanted to use the telescope and Martin, the ham radio.
"Allen," Miss Dawn said when the three scientists were gone, "did you notice how Linda incessantly worried her hair with her index finger and thumb? And before Martin began his story, she had such a distant look in her eyes, almost as if she were in a dream world...I'm worried about her." "I noticed. Now that she doesn't work anymore, she seems more disturbed than ever. She has too much time to think, to dwell on death by radiation.
"Are you going to bed, now?"
"I'm going to lie down with Borgia, he's sleepy. I'll read for a while if I can find something I haven't read so many times I remember the text verbatim. Are you coming in now?"
"I'll sit out here for a few minutes. I enjoy the cool of evening.
"My thoughts were of how very fortunate I was to have Miss Dawn and Borgia for companions. Dawn was the epitome of a lady, sensitive and intelligent, and very capable when the going became rough.
My thoughts were interrupted by Martin, as the scientist stood in the doorway. "Allen, get Dawn and come into my quarters. Get Jeff on the intercom and have him come down too...I'm picking up London."
Two minutes later, we were gathered in Martin's living room. Linda had begged off, saying she wanted just to go to bed.
"I thought radio communication was disrupted by damage to the atmosphere," I said.
"I suspect that's true most times, but atmospherics are conducive to sending and receiving, tonight."
As we spoke, the voice of the operator became garbled, and then faded completely, leaving only a high-pitched hum.
"London, and all of Europe," Martin said, Evidently they're no better off than are we."
"is having a difficult time.
The hum faded and once again the London broadcaster's voice filled the room. "...and mid-east factions continue to wrangle over disputed territory, in the name of their particular deity. Food supplies...," then the voice was again lost.
Martin turned dials, and a few moments later another voice came into the
room, the voice clear, but obviously shaken by the magnitude of the news being dispensed.
"Folks," the voice said, "chemical agents of unknown origin were released, this afternoon, over a widespread area of the United States. It is believed that there will be no survivors within a twenty-five mile radius of Denver, Omaha, and Oklahoma City.
"Communication in any form is extremely difficult, and becoming more-so daily.
“Do not, under any circumstances, enter the contaminated zone. I repeat, Denver, Omaha,..."
Martin turned off the radio. "Just as I feared," he said, "the crazies are coming out of the woodwork.
We, in Galveston, could only surmise the hardships of the rest of the country. Could their problems differ greatly from ours? With the exception of the cities devastated by chemical weapons, the rest of the United States, Canada, and Latin America, could hardly differ to an appreciable degree.
Fear, and dread of even more incomprehensible horrors, shone behind the eyes of Galveston residents, brighter in some, in others to a lesser degree, and still others' eyes reflected insanity, the person behind the eyes being past caring, past recognition of danger, causing them operate as automatons...as zombies in a world gone crazy beyond their most demented nightmares.
A week had passed since the night we listened to news of London and of Western Europe.
Jeff languished in the depths of despair, blaming himself for something over
which he had no control. Even though his intuition told him that Linda was on the ragged edge of despair, there was little he could have done. Anything Jeff could have done would only have postponed the inevitable.
On the morning after...my inclination to write is still a compelling desire, yet my ability lags...is the sickness taking its toll on me in spite of forewarning by our scientists friends and precautions taken?
Oh, yes, as I was saying, on the morning after listening to the ham operator in London, Jeff appeared at our door, tears streaming down his cheeks. "Linda did it," he said.
"Did what?" I asked as he entered mine and Dawn's quarters.
"She done gone and killed herself," Jeff said, unconsciously reverting to idiom of his uneducated youth. "When I went back last night, she was asleep. I crawled into bed beside her; being careful to not disturb her because I wanted her to sleep...she'd been having a really bad time. I was tired so I went to sleep and didn't awaken until this morning.
"I got out of bed and made coffee and went back to wake her up...there was an empty Percodan prescription on the bedside table, and an empty bottle of scotch whiskey beside Percodan bottle.
"When I called her name, she didn't move. Then I put my hand on her shoulder and shook her...she still didn't move...she's dead, Allen!"
Jeff handed me a note he'd found on the floor beside his and Linda's bed. "Dear Jeff," the note began. "I realize now that I could never live through the last days. Maybe I'm cowardly, but I just can't go on. Please don't grieve for me, but remember me kindly." The note was signed, "Love, Linda."
Martin, hearing Jeff's voice at such an early hour, came into the hall dressed only in his old blue robe. Seeing his friend in such a distraught state, Martin didn't have to ask what had happened. He draped an arm over his protégé’s shoulder and led him into his own quarters without uttering a word to myself, Dawn, or the ever-attentive Borgia.
We buried Linda on the premises, Mike and Louis volunteering to dig the grave.
The day after Linda's burial, we had another flare, more intense and of longer duration.
In the days that followed the last flare, Mike and Louis reported that Galveston was very nearly a ghost town. Many people were committing suicide by whatever means was readily at hand.
Having been fortunate enough to have friends who warned us of the lethal gamma rays, and ultraviolet rays once the ozone layer was damaged and ultimately destroyed, we suffered less than most, still, the insidious rays invaded our bodies and were taking their toll.
I could tell a difference in my own well-being over the last week and could see the same progression in other members of our small group.
Jeff wasn't getting over Linda's death as well as we had hoped. One day he went with Mike and Louis to look around the Island so that I might have a report on conditions, for my manuscript.
The three were standing at the end of an abandoned fishing pier, when Jeff climbed onto the rail, dove into the warm gulf waters, and began swimming toward the horizon. Mike and Louis' calls for him to return to shore were ignored.
Martin was devastated by Jeff's unexpected suicide by drowning. The next day, Martin announced he was going back to Austin, to be with his memories, and old friends, if any of the friends still lived. He packed a bag with clothing and another with survival rations, got into his white 1975 Edlorado and drove away.
We'd had no more trouble with people trying to penetrate our defenses. Whether discouraged by fear of being killed, or weakened to the state of incapability, we never knew.
Our ever-faithful black poodle, Borgia, looked as if he'd been attacked by an army of moths.
His sad appearance was the result of his needing to be clipped at a time when no grooming services were available. I'd done the job myself, with Mike's help, and by the time we were finished we both knew that pet grooming wasn't our forte.
A week has passed since Martin drove away from Shady Palms. Louis is bedridden and Mike soon
Another has passed. Dawn, Borgia, and I are alone. The time draws near. Last night I looked through the telescope Jeff setup on our back porch. He made the adjustments so the glass focused on the area in space from which the giant asteroid would come. I looked through the telescope at 8:30 p.m.; the time Jeff said would be the best time for viewing. The asteroid called, Wormwood, was visible through the amateur telescope, as the gigantic piece of rock hurled its way through space toward Earth.
Another week passed. There is no human movement around the apartment building across the way; only huge rats, emboldened by lack of human presence,
scurry in and out the open doors. The odd pedestrian no longer shuffles along the feeder street at the front of our property and domestic animals, other than Borgia, is only a memory.
Two days ago, we had another intense solar flare.
Dawn and I are succumbing to the sickness. Borgia, ever-lovable Borgia, is sinking, also. The short, knobbed, tail that wagged so furiously when accepting a hushpuppy, now droops and the sparkle in his black eyes is dimmed.
I'm going downstairs to check the truck's gas gauge and see if the battery is strong enough to turn the engine.
Dawn, hearing the truck engine, comes downstairs. "The time has come, Missy. Go get our boy dog."
Ten minutes later, the three of us sit on rocks at the west end of Seawall Boulevard, Borgia between us.
"Here, Missy, here's Borgia's pill." I watch as she pushes the pill between his teeth and strokes his throat to make him swallow. \ "Here's your pill, Missy."
I finish the last page, then slip my pill into my mouth, as does Dawn. We hold hands, knowing the pill will do its work within less than a minute. I look at the manuscript by my side, then at Missy..."
Late in the afternoon, a space vehicle settled onto the narrow stretch of beach at the end of the rocks. A figure clad in a formfitting material of a hue between copper and gold stepped from the vehicle and walked to the rocks on which rested a woman, a man, and a black dog.
The traveler picked up the hole-punched, string-bound manuscript by the man's side. This was the third such manuscript they'd found, and each on a different land mass.
As the space machine gained altitude, a disturbance of great magnitude came from the gulf's waters, far below.
"...and there fell a great star from heaven...And the name of the star is called wormwood..." Revelation, Ch. 9