Matthew had finally gotten the hint.

After pursuing Michael Hinston for nearly three days, it had become completely obvious that “Mikey” was avoiding him. The latest evidence was that Matthew found Michael in the lobby of a hotel, and Michael feigned having an anxiety attack, pleading to go to the hospital and therefore refusing to speak to him. It was a scam. (Of course, it would be difficult to prove it, and certainly boorish to accuse.)

So Matthew decided to take two days off from trying to contact Hinston, and pursue a different approach. Via Michael’s Facebook page, he discovered that the Congressman was going to be meeting with some Boy Scouts from Ohio for a prayer breakfast on Saturday morning at some sort of local “Pancakes-R-US.”

Without any warning, Matthew descended upon the private affair. Upon walking through the door of the restaurant, put his arm around Michael and introduced himself to all the boys and men in uniform, as “the Congressman’s old friend from college.” As Matthew had anticipated, Michael was in no position to contradict him.

So Matthew sat through the entire breakfast, including the little speech offered by Hinston, waiting for the chance to corner him afterwards, with a series of questions which remained unanswered, festering in his soul.

As Michael stumbled through his little talk, which was half Biblical and half anecdotal, Matthew was astounded at how his dear friend had settled into a malaise of confused identity.

Matthew nearly chuckled aloud when Michael made some reference to Nehemiah. Nehemiah? How irrelevant was it to find the most irrelevant parts of an irrelevant book, to try to make an irrelevant point?

He stifled his giggle.

After an hour-and-a-half of too many carbs, too much sweet and a bounty of Bible, the meeting was over. Michael tried to excuse himself out the back door, but Matthew anticipated his selected exit and was waiting for him. As Michael exited the rear kitchen door, Matthew was standing there, waiting patiently.

“Not leaving, are you?” asked Matthew, stepping toward him and nabbing his arm. Michael lurched back in horror (the way cowards often do.)

“No,” said Michael. “I was just going to go look for you.”

Matthew smiled and decided to let the little lie wiggle away. He continued. “I just have three questions, Congressman–and knowing you’re a busy man, I will recite them to you all at once in their order of importance. First, what do you know about Jo-Jay’s condition, and why she ended up in the hospital?”

Michael attempted to reply but Matthew held up his hand to stop him. “No, no, no. I said three questions. Secondly, why are you avoiding me? And finally… Let me see. Yes. Where in the hell did you get that ugly tie?”

Michael squinted at Matthew and replied, “The tie was a gift from my children, and I would prefer you not let them know you think it’s ugly.” Michael actually smiled.

Matthew was relieved that underneath the crustiness of dried-up government red tape there might be a human being languishing in terror.

“Second answer,” Michael continued, “I wasn’t avoiding you. I was just busy. And finally, I don’t know anything about Jo-Jay. You remember, we weren’t exactly close. She was the one who came up with the awful nickname, Mikey.”

Matthew chuckled. “That’s just Jo-Jay. If she can’t get your love, she’s gonna get your goat.”

Michael bristled. “Always defending that pack of ne’er do wells, aren’t you?”

“Ne’er do wells,” Matthew repeated. “Are we going to continue the whole conversation in Olde English? Or betwixt will we return to the common man’s vernacular?”

Michael attempted to pull away from the hold Matthew had maintained on his arm. “I think I’ve answered your questions.”

Matthew laughed out loud. “To those people in there you may be Congressman Hinston, but to me, you’re the goddamn little twerp I used to send on beer runs. So don’t get uppity. I’m not in the mood for it. Jo-Jay is in a hospital, quarantined with an Amazonian virus, and all the clues point to you.”

“What clues?” demanded Michael.

“I guess I overstated my premise,” said Matthew. “Just one huge clue. She wrote your name on the mirror of the compact I found in her purse. She’s either really horny for you or she’s trying to let us know that you’re mixed up in her trouble.”

Michael frowned. “You are a foul spirit.”

“Back to the Olde English,” Matthew noted. “And thou art a fuckin’ liar.”

The moment froze in its heat. The two men might have gone to blows had it not been for a ten-year-old Boy Scout who came out asking for an autograph.

Michael stared at Matthew. “I should probably sign this young fellow’s menu, don’t you think?”

Matthew shook his head, released his hold on Michael’s arm and stood back, patiently waiting for the ceremony to finish. But instead of signing the boy’s paper, Michael put his arm around the little scout and walked back into the restaurant to join all the others who still remained.

Matthew felt angry, foiled, trapped and foolish. He walked back to his car. On the way, he noticed a black SUV, which he assumed belonged to the Congressman, since most of the cars in the parking lot had Ohio tags. Matthew leaned down to the back tire on the driver’s side, stuck a toothpick in the plug and released the air until it was flat. He rose to his feet, walked to his car, climbed in and headed off to the hospital.

It was a childish thing to do–letting the air out of the tire–but it brought him a strange sense of satisfaction.

As he drove to the hospital he received a text from Walter Reed Medical Center, pleading with him to come as quickly as possible. A chill went down his spine. Why would they send such a text? It had to be bad news.

Matthew felt one of those urges that occasionally overtake the human spirit–to just drive on, change his name and start over again. But he was needed.

So he parked at the hospital, jogged inside, went up to the quarantine level, and as he stepped out of the elevator, a doctor grabbed him by the coat sleeve, pulling him down the hallway.

“What’s going on?” asked Matthew.

“It’s too hard to explain,” replied the doctor.

They arrived outside Jo-Jay’s room, and through the door Matthew could see, much to his surprise, that standing next to her bed was Jubal Carlos. It seemed he had slipped past security, into her room, without anyone being aware. He stood there, holding her hand and talking to her.

Matthew turned to the doctor. “What’s happening?”

“Hold on,” said the doctor, pointing back into the room. “Look.”

Matthew turned, and as he did, he saw that Jo-Jay had shifted in her bed and was sitting up, talking to Jubal.

“Oh, my God.”

That’s all Matthew could say. The doctor just shook his head. “Honestly, there wasn’t anything we could do for her. This fellow came in the room, and the next thing we knew, she was sitting up, talking. Just like that.”

“Can I go in?” asked Matthew.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” replied the doctor.

Matthew didn’t wait. He opened the door, walked inside and Jo-Jay gave him a smile.

“What are you doing?” Matthew addressed his question to the entire room.

Jubal started laughing. “Well, I would like to tell you that I came in here and laid hands on her, prayed for her and she was healed. But the truth of the matter is, once I got in here I turned into an absolute chicken and stood about seven feet away, trying not to breathe the air. I was about ready to pass out from a lack of oxygen when this little princess woke up on her own, looked at me and said, “Where in the hell am I, and why in the hell are you here?”

Matthew looked back and forth between Jubal and Jo-Jay to see if they agreed on the story.

“Are you okay?” he said to the frail patient laying before him.

“No,” said Jo-Jay. “I was kidnapped, abused, and dumped in the Amazon Jungle. How have you been?”

“Better than that,” said Matthew.

Jubal interrupted. “Now, we’re not gonna do something weird and pretend that she was healed by me, right? I realize you’re promoters, and that’s the kind of thing you do.”

Matthew shook his head and Jo-Jay replied. “The last thing I remember was getting on a plane, and the next thing I knew, I was staring at you, and you looked scared.”

Jubal smiled. Matthew smiled. Jo-Jay was all business.

“Have you talked to Mikey?”

Join us Sundays for to enjoy more of this facinating book in the making or catch up from the beginning!

Published by Jonathan Cring