September 11, 2013

 

Twelve years to the day after a day that changed me in so many ways I wasn’t crying and I can’t tell you why, doc, maybe you can tell me. Grandmother, Aleksy and V were memories. I was an ex-SEAL standing next to an impostor who’d ordered the death of my best friend with a flash drive in my pocket that I hoped would destroy him.

Aleksy lay in the Istanbul mogue. A description of the results of his seven story fall is better left unwritten. I prefer the story of how Hezarfen Ahmed Celebi was exiled from Istanbul after being the first human to fly unpowered from the Galata Tower. The Turkish police had no leads on the guys who tossed Aleksy from the Tower. I was sure they’d been paid off.

Aleksy told me in Iraq he wanted to be cremated and his ashes spread into the Aegean from Santorini’s caldera. He had an old friend there and it was the most beautiful place he’d ever seen, but he hadn’t told his family. So we had to say our good-byes in a small neighborhood church in Warsaw filled with mourners keening over a closed casket. Aleksy’s mother, all in black like the women of Crete in Zorba the Greek, leaned against her sister for support. The priest sprinkled holy water on the wooden box as I watched, hoping that Aleksy’s spirit somehow made it to the holy waters of the Aegean.

“I have to get back to the job. Give this to his mother. It’ll help with expenses.” Lester handed me an envelope outside the church. “See you next week. Take care.” He jogged to a Merc sedan waiting to take him to the airport.

“Fucking blood money.” I stuck the envelop in my breast pocket.

“Meaning?” Sana was waiting out of sight behind my car. She and Aamira didn’t want to meet Lester because they had worked for the Style Agency. She had come to the funeral since Aamira couldn’t travel because she was pregnant.

“Forget it. You don’t need to know.” The envelop in my breast pocket wasn’t going to help her or her sister, neither was knowing Lester was responsible for Aleksy’s death.

“So many deaths I have no curiosity anymore. Aleksy told Aamira Lester was a very bad guy.” Sana put her hand on my elbow. I gave Lester’s envelop with instructions to the driver to deliver the money to Aleksy’s mother.

 

The Saudoil project had ended and Sana flew with me to the States several days after the funeral. She had received her K1 visa before leaving Dhahran.  Lester didn’t know she was at the funeral or that I planned to marry her. Her visa expired in 90 days. The wedding was a sham to stop USCIS from kicking her out of the country.

We became friends but never lovers. I lived in my Coronado condo and she lived with  family in Westwood. There was an attraction between us but the circumstances were impossible. First, the way we met, then Aleksy’s murder, lastly Sana’s mind was on Aamira and the expected baby.

 

January 2014


 

I did Enterprise’s bidding for 3 months waiting for the call from Aleksy’s people. Just after New Years my cell rang. The Good Vibrations tone sounded for the first time since Akeksy’s passing.

“Hello this is Cliff.”

“Hey Cliff, George here, got your email. You found my phone. Thanks” The Beach Boys song was the cell phone ID Aleksy used. I didn’t know George or how he had  gotten Aleksy’s phone. “Let’s do breakfast tomorrow? It’s on me. Least I could do for you.”

“Where?”

“I’ll send you an email.”

I checked my email late into the night. Finally I thought of checking the email address I’d given Aleksy. If Lester was checking my emails he’d never see the message. George’s email told me everything I needed to know.

Harry’s Coffee Shop in La Jolla was a bit far but it was safe. The directions included a 180 degree turn-and-park to see if I was being followed.  Six-thirty was early especially with an hour long drive from Coronado. The place had a 60’s look with picnic benches and tables outside - the kind of place that inspired Johnny Rockets franchises. When I walked in, the waitress walked up to me like an usher.

“Follow me.” We walked to a secuded leather booth and she handed my photo to the guy at the table. “Easy peasy.” She walked away.

Steve Addington’s doppelganger from Surfer, Dude put his index finger to his lips, slid an envelop across the table, rose and put his hand in mine whispering, “Give it to me.” I handed him the flash drive. “Have a B. W. Benny.”  He split 2 fingers into a V and left.

I ordered a B. W. Benny off the menu and opened the envelop. There was an international driver’s license, a bank statement, a credit card,  a passport, a cell phone, a letter and money. The letter read...

Cliff:

Surprise!

Since you’re reading this, the moment of my death surprised us both. Death is no surprise the real surprise is what comes next. Peace would be nice. If you were able to get me to Santorini, thanks. You’re the only one I told. If not, go there  and think of my ashes drifting slowly over the Aegean. That cafe with a view near the top of the village I told you about is my favorite spot in the world. My friend Ari will be in touch.

What comes next for you? You don’t have much time. Within a week there will be news articles about the West Papua gold mine, the Indonesian police and the murders of US citizens. Interpol already knows the Indonesian police and FBI investigation was all lies.

This letter is in your hands because my flash drive wound up in Lester’s. When the articles are published Lester will know you’re involved in leaking the info. You’ll be his target and he doesn’t miss, believe me. You already know that though. You have to disappear.

A new ID, Swiss bank account, credit card and some money should get you on your way. Get the fuck out of Dodge, amigo. We’ll deposit money in your account every 2 weeks. Don’t think about getting even with Lester. Leave the V for vendetta stuff up to the guys who have the flash drive. Aamira and Sana and their family are being taken care of so don’t try to contact them. I’m sure they’ll be on Lester’s hit list too. I shouldn’t say this but... Sana is waiting for you to make a move. If you want to get in touch with her you can write her at the address I’ve appended.

Another surprise!

Aamira’s pregnant. You’re supposed to be the godfather. Probably won’t be now that I’m gone. Groms and SEALs don’t cry. The fuck they don’t.

 

Good-bye and Good luck,

 

Aleksy

 

Address redacted.

 

 

Another epiphany, doc. Harry’s Coffee Shop morphed into Blade Runner and I became a replicant. I thought back. Who was I on 9/11, when I met V, when I met Aleksy, when I saw the Artemis statue? A different person each time. My past flashed like a dying man’s. If I did what the letter told me to do Cliff was no more. Holy fuck! This wasn’t something I could decide over breakfast. I worked for years with you to understand why I ran away from women, why I got crazy when I heard a helicopter, why being a SEAL didn’t mean shit to me anymore? I needed time to decide if I was going to become the man Aleksy had created or live my life on the run.

The bacon-infused waffle with two poached eggs covered in hollandaise and bacon strips was more than I could handle. I ate half, called in sick and headed for Memoryville.

Pismo Beach was from my childhood. Grandmother loved it and so did I. Beach towns like Pismo don’t change much. The streets were still lined with surf shops, restaurants and clams. Clams? Not really. Named the ‘clam capitol of the world’,  a clam statue as you enter the town was leftover from the 50’s. The clam beds have declined from overfishing and sea otters but a line of customers waited at the Splash Cafe for a bowl of clam chowder. I parked, walked to the beach, bought a wet suit and a surfboard - surfing still clears my head, doc.

The big breakers were on holiday, perfect for pondering. Laying on my board, my mind welcomed the release of its psychic chains as I drifted on my board. What did I value in my life? I hated my job. The money was good, but my self-respect had eroded. V’d been right when she told me to get out. V highlights flashed across the rise and fall of the forming swells as the sun headed for Maui - blazing black eyes staring in Hussong’s, stomping feet in Granada, a smiling face in your office, the kiss around Morgan at LAX, the surprised look finding me in Cadiz. I had traded them for the almighty dollar. What a fool I’d been. That kaleidoscope of fleeting images lightened my heart. I had lost Aleksy, my best friend, but I could start a search for a woman who’d given me hope. I paddled to the beach without riding a wave and joined the queue outside the Splash. I looked for Aleksy eating his fish sandwich. Old habits die hard. Pismo clam chowder was a long way from a Galata Bridge balik ekmek. I ate and returned to the PCH. There was a message on my cell. Mindy had returned my call and she could meet me at her place at 8. The lights were on when I knocked.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes!” We hugged.

“Where’s my girl?”

“My neighbor took her camping.”

“Nice neighbor.”

“I meet her for coffee now and then. Loves rotties for protection. Only kidding. Red or white?”

“Red.”

“What you been up to? Stayin’ outta trouble?” She poured one red.

“Tryin’. Not good at it as you know. How about you?”

“Same old, same old. Working, working, working. You still doing techie stuff?”

“No. Today’s the first day of the rest of my life. Matter of fact that’s why I called.”

“You’re kidding. You want me to help you find work?” She poured her white and we sat in the kitchen.

“No, no. I don’t know how much you know about my job and what went down between me and V the last time.” I looked over my shoulder for Morgan. Like I said before, old habits die hard

“Vicky said there were problems with your work. She didn’t want to talk about them.”

“I don’t either. All over now. I want you to tell her that. Tell her I quit. That’s what she wanted and she was right. More right, than she knew. I didn’t agree with her. That job paid more than I can make anywhere else, but I’ve had enough and I’m hoping she’ll see me. Try to talk things out.”

“How long has it been since you two broke up?” Mindy poured more wine.

“Almost 2 years. I broke a promise. Kept trying to call her. Wrote to her. The whole nine yards. She wasn’t interested.”

“What makes you think she’s changed her mind?”

“I quit the job. Like I said she was right. I wanna tell her.”

“Two years is a long time. There might be something else going on in her life.”

“You tellin’ me she’s got someone?”

“I’m not tellin’ you a thing. You and I had a thing together once and she came along. I let you go. It wasn’t easy. Vicky’s become my friend and so are you. You haven’t been in her life for almost 2 years. Things change is what I’m tellin’ you.”

“You know something you’re not saying.”

“I don’t have anything to say. It’s between you and her. I’ll tell her you want to talk.”

“I have a new number.” I wrote it down and gave it to her. “Tell her it’s more than wanting to talk, tell her I need to talk. Things are crazy as shit.”

“From what I remember ‘crazy as shit’ is a normal state of affairs for you.”

“Yes and no.” I gave Mindy the abridged version of Istanbul without getting into Aleksy’s murder. Mindy’s compassion helped: I wanted to tell more but kept my mouth shut. “I better be going. Great to see you, Mindy.”

“I’ll talk to Vicky. Give her your number and the sales pitch that you need a friend. Don’t get your hopes up though.”

“Thanks. My best to Morgan. I’m jealous.”

 

Oregon and Washington state were appealing but weren’t in the same direction as Mexico. South and V was a no-brainer. Mindy’s ‘don’t get your hopes up’ bugged me. It sounded like there was another guy.

I stayed in Malibu at a beach inn for the night and surfed. Two days of surfing was all it took. I realized how fucked-up I had become. I stopped for a cheeseburger in a dive bar in Venice Beach crowded with locals, tourists and peanut shells covering the floor.

“I never smoke alone.” A blonde in a beach coat over a sky-blue bikini, a straw hat and pig-tails held out a pack of Marlboros.

“I quit, but what the hell. I’ll be back.” I turned to the bartender as I left my stool.

“Won’t surprise me if you’re not. Remember the tab’s open.” He laughed.

“Carla.” She held out her hand.

“Cliff.”

We took a spot on Washington St. in the late afternoon sun.

“Never know who’s a tourist and who’s a homie around here. I take that back.” Carla  nodded toward a man in an Hawaian surf shirt and Top-siders. “Tourist. You local?” She had the imprecise pronounciation of a pothead. My eyes drifted to the cleavage between her 36” C’s.

“Coronado.”

“Slummin’?” She lowered her eyes and index finger to my OluKai Hiapos.

“Gettin’ back in touch with my roots. Just quit my job.”

“Ever use a float tank?”

“No. I don’t need more torture. My job was torture enough.”

“Guantanamo isn’t what I had in mind. A friend of mine has float tanks filled with epsom salts. Like going to a spa and meditating. You sound stressed out over work. Might do you some good.”

She had a point, I could use stress reduction. Maybe floating with those 36C’s would loosen me up..

“The place around here?”

“Of course. Wouldn’t be Venice Beach without all the latest new age therapies. I can get us a discount. Wanna try it?”

Doc, you told me once that floating in a tank helped you relax. SEAL’s use it to treat concussions. I wasn’t naive I knew float tanks might help; the 36c’s might help too.

“OK. I’ll go in and pay my tab. We can walk?”

“Sure. I’ll call ahead.”

The walk from Washington St. along the Venice Strand to the float tanks was 10 minutes of sunset, street art and sculpted bodies. If I ever chose the bohemian life Venice is where it’s at. Carla turned from the strand into a side street ground floor unit of a rental property being remodeled. Psychedelic art was glued to the walls. A full- bearded man in a flannel shirt stood behind the counter.

“Carla. Long time no see.”

“Groovin as usual, Lionel?”

“Always. You two need some time?”

Lionel looked at me. I knew the drill; luring paying customers got Carla free floats.

“Yep.”

“That’ll be a hundred. Don’t sweat the clock. Nothing scheduled until 8.”

I handed him the money. The clock on the wall read 6PM.

“I’ll tell him what he needs to know.” Carla took my hand and led us through a door in the corner of the storefront down a hallway leading to another room. Four steel pods took up each corner of the room with two dressing areas in the center.

“You can use these if you want.” Carla handed me a pair of blue disposable boxer shorts she took from a peg on the wall. “I’ll wait while you change.”

I changed while she waited.

“When you’re inside take ‘em off. There’s a peg inside. Just lay in the water and relax. Leave your arms at your side. The salt will keep you floating. I close my eyes. I’ll stay out here and wait a couple minutes. Some people get a little freaky the first time.” She opened  the pod and gestured for me to get in. The inside wall was painted in an indigo blue polymer that almost disappeared in darkness when she closed the pod. I sat on a little cut-out in and removed my trunks, then slid into the water.

“You OK?” Carla’s voice reverberated like it came from a video game.

“Fine.”

Silence ensued and I needed a few minutes to come to terms with my weightlessness. Each time I moved I expected to sink. Didn’t happen the salt kept me floating. Zero gravity - like space travel. The tank was better than surfing because I wasn’t waiting for the right wave. My muscles unwound. I didn’t know how tight they were, until they weren’t. My brain emptied. The pod became a cocoon. How long had I been needy? No more need, just an inner calmness. I had taken opiates playing rugby. The float tank left me with a similar euphoria. Nothing could harm me. Echoes of Kurt Elling’s Not While I’m Around sounded in my ear. Ninety minutes seemed like 30. With reluctance I left my sanctuary of sensory deprivation.

Venice Beach’s neon was brightening the darkness settling over the Pacific.

“How was it?” Carla wore a halter and sarong carrying a beach bag of probable witchcraft.

“Fantastic. Totally at peace. Been a long time since I felt this way.”

“Wanna go my place?” An invitation I would have accepted 2 hjours before.

“I’ll take a rain check.” I was chilled out, didn’t want sex.

“Felt that way after my first float. Call me.” She wrote her number on the back of a card. “Gotta run.”

“See ya.”

 

I was in no hurry to get in my car. The 405 would ruin my clarity and peacefulness. I sat behind the wheel and turned on my phone. There was a text message from an unknown number. V could meet me at 9 in the morning! I texted back I’d be there, grimacing at the memory of Le Pain Quotidien in Westwood Village.

I got a room and spent most of the night going over how I would spin my tale the next morning. I decided to be myself. No bullshit. I would tell the truth. Maybe not the whole truth, but the truth as much as I could bear it.

Morning dawned clear and sunny - LA at its best. I arrived early and sat outside.  V looked better than ever in black leotards and curls dangling from a red beanie. Must be on her way to a dance class. My approach came into question. I needed this girl, this woman. Need had re-awakened. What was I gonna say? Whatever came to my mind to get her to come back to me.

She sat down - no hug, no handshake.

“Remember the last time we were here?”

“Remind me. I come here a lot.”

“After I ditched you at the Bowl.”

“We’ve just got one good memory together after another.” She shook her head, lowering her eyes. “How long’s it been?”

“Too long. Breakfast?”

“Coffee. Red eye. Answer the question. Do you actually remember?”

“Yeah. I gave you the amulet the summer before last in Coronado.”

“And when you left you didn’t come back.”

“I was wrong. I’m sorry. I called and called but you never answered.”

“So sorry, why not get on a plane?”

“Like I said I was wrong. What’s done is done. You were right I should have quit.”

I told her about Lester in West Papua.

“So your boss was never a SEAL. I knew he was a liar the night I met him at the Bowl, but that story sounds pathological. I never imagined illegal gold mines and human rights abuses. What else happened? I know there’s more, I can see it in your eyes. You have the look of the haunted ”

I had to be honest if I had a shot.

“My friend Aleksy was murdered in Istanbul. It’s complicated. He had documents proving Lester was involved in criminal acts. We were helping an Iraqi family get out of a Syrian refugee camp. The murder was made to look like it had to do with Aleksy marrying the Iraqi, but it was done to get the documents. I had a copy of the documents and I passed them on to people who are going to use them against Lester. Of course, I’m through with Enterprise.”

“And you’re haunted because you figure you’re next on Lester’s list to die?”

“I don’t know if I’m haunted? I don’t think so. Actually I feel free for the first time in a long while. But I am scared. I’m planning to leave the country until this ends.”

“How does it end?” She touched my forearm and kept her hand there.

“When what’s happened in West Papua becomes public, Lester will be in the shit. He’ll go to prison.”

“No guarantee of that. He’s a powerful man.”

“I’ve got fake ID and steady income from Aleksy’s people. If Lester gets away with everything I won’t come back. I don’t have much to offer, but now that I’m my own man again, I’m hoping there’s a chance you might still love me. I’ve never stopped loving you. I get the feeling you might have someone else in your life?”

“I do. It’s never been about what you have to offer me. Where are you going for the weekend?”

“Mexico.”

“I can meet you in Erendira and we can talk.”

“Does that mean you still love me?”

“It means I care about you, always will. See you Saturday morning. Eight too early for you?”

“No.”

“We’ll have breakfast.”

 

Peace of mind became a runaway  while I waited in Ensenada. I kept thinking back to V and me in Coronado before I went back to Saudi Arabia. I bought an atomizer in an aromatherapy shop and mixed the scent of vanilla with cinnamon. Our last night together had been more than sexual, more than sensual. We added a new dimension that night.

I called you, Doc. I wanted to make sure what I had to say I said right. It had to be foolproof. Only fools like me think the unsaid can be said foolproof. I left a message but never heard from you. I changed phones after that weekend. If I had from you it wouldn’t have mattered. I had no idea I was going to hear what I heard from V.

 

Ten years had passed since the first time I drove to Erendira. Ten years since V had told me Erendira’s legend. My heart had been hers since that day we sat on the hill. V was my soulmate, my lover, my sister; I was not going to lose her.

“Come in, it’s open. We’re in the kitchen.” She opened the door feeding a child. He turned to me. I knew as soon as I saw the amulet around his neck.

“What the fuck is this? Why didn’t you tell me? What’s his name? Can I?” I took him from her.

“Federico, meet your daddy. Be careful. Put him back in the hi-chair. Here let me.” V disconnected the tray from the chair. The boy was startled with a what-are-you-doing look at his food being taken away. All paternity questions were answered by his blonde hair and blue eyes. He begin to try to kick his way out of my embrace.

“Maybe a little too fast, you think?” V giggled.

“Maybe he shouldn’t have been kept a secret.” I loosened my hold to give the boy a chance to look me over. He worm-squirmed against my chest, knees doing a job on my ribs. “Take it easy, buddy, it’s yer old man. V, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Think about it. You were a father without the balls to walk away from spying. You didn’t believe in what you were doing. I could do a better job raising him alone.”

“And now?”

“Still can do it better without you. You’re on the run and your best friend’s been killed by your boss. Not an environment for the model father, you think?”

“I wondered what happened to the amulet?”

“I kept it out of respect for your grandmother. I know how much it meant to her. Federico is a child of love and I gave him the amulet until he met you. I knew this day would come. As much shit as you’re in right now it’s better than it was lying to me, isn’t it? I was pretty upset when you didn’t come back. I thought about an abortion but I couldn’t.”

“I meant what I said that night. I planned on coming back, but you wouldn’t talk to me. Lester had me by the balls.”

“He did and you acted like he did. If you had the balls you would have told Lester to fuck off and come back to me.”

Federico stopped squirming and took hold of my earlobe. I kissed his forehead, he started to cry. “I want to be his father. I want to be your man. How can I make it happen? Tell me. I’ll do it. What do I need to do to make it happen?”

“Lester doesn’t know about our baby.” She took him from me. “As soon as he finds out Federico becomes something he can use against you. That’s not going to happen. I won’t let you near us until Lester’s out of your life. If it happens, you can be a part of your son’s life if you want to be. The night we made him was once-in-a-lifetime. Thanks to a friend’s advice, my fingers and a dildo I was ready for my first time making love. You did me right that night. It’s why we made Federico. I’m not just talking sex, I’m talking all of it. You were the guy I wanted, the guy I waited for. Too bad you weren’t ready for me. You have a plan now?”

“I’m ready for you now if you’ll have me. Not the way I pictured us getting back together though.” I stepped to her with the atomizer tied in a red ribbon; she moved away.

“Hear that, bambino?” She chucked the baby’s chin and turned sarcastic. “Gotta watch what you say, Daddy. Your son’s still innocent. I’ll leave you together.” The applesauce she spooned into his mouth stopped him from crying.

When I first knocked on the door, I had been hoping to sell V on the idea of opening a dive shop in Bahia de Los Angeles. Now I was feeding my son his breakfast. My son? I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Federico? Named after Lorca no doubt. How old was he? Summer 2012 we made love. Born spring 2013? Wasn’t a year old yet; didn’t look like  Lorca...blonde hair and blue eyes. He started playng with the spoon I held to feed him. I looked for teeth as he gummed the spoon. The peak of a tooth showed through his gum line. What the fuck did I know? Nothing about when he’d get teeth, nothing about  changing his smelly diaper. He smiled at me, “Hi, Dad.”

“V. I need you. I never knew something so beautiful could stink like this.”

She came from the bedroom, holding a diaper and a damp cloth, handed me the diaper and cloth, took Federico and pointed to the kitchen table. A quilt was spread on the table.

“Lay the diaper on the quilt.” I did as instructed. She cleaned the shit, put the baby on the diaper and did magic that ended with a diaper folded and pinned around his bottom. He kicked his legs in thanks.

“Time for a swim. You coming?”

“Water’s too cold for him. We’ll stay here.”

“We have wet suits.”

“OK.” He’s less than a year old and she’s giving him swimming lessons? Who was I to question? His mother knew him better than I did.

Erendira’s beach was twenty yards of sand ending in the calm surf of an inlet. We splashed through the water, V holding the baby in a wet suit wrapped in netting around her shoulders and me trailing. When she was waist-deep, she circled Ferdy through the water. He flailed and kicked like an old pro with his chubby arms wrapped in rubber floats. After he calmed down, V let him go so that he could float on his own. His eyes focused at the sky in wonder and they cooed at each other.

“I need to rehearse for tonight. You wanna stay with Ferdy while I go? He eats in an hour. I’ll leave a note on the table and food in the fridge.”   

“I can do that!”

We swam for 10 minutes or so, then V left us on a blanket on the beach. Ferdy? I didn’t like the nickname. The boy crawled to the edge of the blanket. I put him in the middle. He crawled to the edge again. Determined to get off the blanket and into the sand, he played the game three or four times. Each time I deposited him back in the middle. At first he looked at me like what’s with you? I was afraid he was going to cry, but he decided this was not a win-or-lose game. The last time I put him in the middle of the blanket he smiled and fell asleep. I’d never watched a baby sleep. Unbelievable. My son’s face twitched every so often, his nose scrunched up once or twice, he rubbed his eye and his cheek with the smallest fist I’d ever seen. He tried to roll on his back, gave up and rolled onto his stomach with a sigh.

V had said to feed him in an hour. We returned to the house in what seemed to have been a blink of an eye, but we had been on the beach an hour and a half. FREDDY, not Ferdy, woke up cranky. V had everything ready. I remembered seeing a kid in a restaurant being fed by daddy pretending the spoon was an airplane. I made a noise like an airplane and brought the spoon close feeling hopeful when Freddy opened his mouth. But hope did not spring eternal as he shut his mouth before I could get the food in it. A few more unsuccessful attempts and I gave up that idea. The feeding took a while. I waited for Freddy to open his mouth befoe shoveling in oatmeal mush. A little more than an hour passed before our first meal together ended and I was clearing off the table.

“Everything all right?” V wore a flamenco dress. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

“Mission accomplished.”

“No military bullshit around your son, please.” Her humor was welcome. A sign that maybe I could be forgiven.

I saluted. “Yes, mam. Where you dancing?”

“Ensenada. Where you staying tonight?”

“Haven’t decided.”

“I ususally take Ferdy with me or get a babysitter. You wanna babysit?”

“You sure you trust me? Don’t worry about him being here when you get back. He’s my son too you know.”

She laughed.“Besides a spy, you gonna become a kidnapper? I’ll wait until he falls asleep before I go.”

“If I didn’t know you can take better care of him, than I can, I would take him with me. Just stop with the Ferdy. Freddy Porter sounds a lot better than Ferdy.”

“Who said his last name was Porter? The birth certificate says Federico Kaldera.”

“Mind if I call him Freddy?”

“Freddy’s cool. Maybe babysitting isn’t such a good idea the more I think about it.” She took Freddy in her arms. His lips found their and every man’s favorite place.

“I was joking. You know I wouldn’t do anything to put him in harm’s way. What about Federico Kaldera-Porter?”

“That’s a whole different story.”.

“I like the sound.”

“Kaldera-Porter ain’t on my horizon.”

“It’s on mine.”

“Time for the baby’s nap. We nap together.” She gently gathered his head to his favorite place.  

“Mind if I join you.”

She laughed and left.

 

I snuck into V’s room a little after 8. Freddy was asleep in a crib next to her bed. I took a spot on the bed. Doc, the peace of watching my son sleep brought on one of your epiphanies. How could I be a father, what did I know about raising a child?? I didn’t know V’d gotten pregnant. We hadn’t gone through the Daddy-in-the-delivery-room -holding-Mommy’s-hand routine. Freddy lay there dreaming his innocent dreams. I wasn’t ready to be his father. Maybe I’d never be ready. Was anybody ever ready to be a father and protect a child. How do you do that? Life will be what life will be. What should a father do? What should I do? Did being a protector mean to stop the pain of living or did I have to make him so tough he didn’t feel the pain? I never had a father but I knew if I had he wouldn’t have been able to stop or numb the pain. The world does what the world does, its message to Freddy from day 1 would be…

BE A MAN!

Football is family!

Winning is the only thing.

Be all you can be.  

We’re looking for a few good men.

All it takes is a few good men.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

 

That was the blueprint. Hadn’t we done everything right? 9/11 came and I went, Pat Tillman went. Neither of us came back. Pat was dead and I came back to be a gopher for a man who wanted me dead.

I had to change the message. First thing to do was turn off the TV. BE A MAN! would mean something different to Freddy than it did to me. He would be strong, tough, vulnerable, loving, caring, thoughtful, nurturing, protective. I had learned a little along the way from V, from Mindy, from Sana. The world was a brutal place without a woman’s touch. It wouldn’t be easy to be the kind of man I wanted Freddy to be. First I had to become that kind of man, then maybe I’d be a good father. His tiny fingers reached across the mattress and wrapped around my finger. This epiphany, doc? Freddy’s vulnerability and beauty needed my protection.

I had to understand where V’s head and heart were. She hadn’t shut the door, she had invited me here, I had another chance.

In the middle of the night I opened my eyes and saw the origin of my reverie still sleeping a few feet from me.

V stood by the bed. “Hey, sleepy head.”

I answered in my own way - with an erection. I adjusted myself and scrambled to my feet. “What time is it?”

“Around 4. I usually eat before I go to bed. Want an omelet?”

“I’ll eat a little of whatever you have.”

“How did it go?” She nodded to Freddy.

“Great! Wasn’t ready for all the emotions though. Kid’s changed my life.”

“They do that. You should be used to change though.”

“Not like this. This morning I walked in here ready to talk you into opening a dive shop with me, now I’m tryin’ to figure out how to be a father. I missed all the ready-set-go stuff. Wouldn’t hurt if you married me.”

“Not part of the plan. Got it?”

“You could use help. Going to school’s gotta be a bitch. You could use a man. Being daddy with you as mommy sure beats working for Lester.”

“As long as Lester wants you I don’t.”

“I can fix that.”

“Take a shower and the food’ll be ready.” V tossed me a towel and went to the kitchen.

I finished my shower, smelling her hot chocolate.

“Cinnamon and chocolate?”

“Mexican style. Cinnamon, vanila, nutmeg and cayenne pepper. If you don’t like it I can make regular.”

“It’s good. I like it. Hot and sweet like a woman I know.”

“Same bullshit like always. Where do you go now?”

“Depends.”

“On what?”

“You mostly. I love you, Virginia. I came here to ask you to go to Cozumel with me.”

“It’s always about you. With or without Freddy, I’m a dancer. What would there be in Cozumel for me?”

“You could open a club there, just like here, but Freddy changes all that like you said. We can’t think of being together with Lester in my life.”

“Mindy said you had changed. She’s usually right. First time I can remember you putting somebody ahead of yourself.”

“Could you love me again if Lester couldn’t hurt you, Freddy or me?”

“I don’t know.”

“I knew Coronado was the best. Now I know why. Freddy came from us. You gave him our amulet for a reason. I won’t leave him and you behind without trying to get back what we had in Coronado. I need time to work out a plan. When it’s safe for us I’ll call you. I promise.”   

“No promises. Do what you have to do to make things different in your life. I care about you, but Coronado’s in the rear-view mirror. In the future the baby’s all that matters. Make him safe.”  

I hugged V and kissed our son good-bye.

 

Published by Bill Snyder