Reality Inspector, chapter 13

Copyright 1982 John Caris

The man behind the wheel put out his cigarette. Looking at his watch, he said to the man sitting in the backseat, "They should be leaving soon." The man in the backseat rolled down the window. Fog was blowing by, but visibility was still good. Two figures left the Rainbow Inn, one pausing to lock the door. He watched them walk across the parking lot toward Keystone Way. He rested his arm in the open window, took aim and fired. The two figures dropped to the ground. He fired again.

The car burnt rubber as it roared down Ocean Avenue, turning right at Ashton Avenue, and raced quickly into the night.

Mary and John stood up, hearing the car disappear. "That was too close for comfort. I've snagged my hose. Bastards!"

"Too close is exactly it," John replied. "He was either a bad shot or . . . I'll look for the bullets early tomorrow morning. Probably won't tell us much but . . ."

"Let's go to my place and put ourselves back together," Mary said.

Leaving the glow from the corner street lamp behind them, they walked a short way up Keystone to Mary's place, the first house on the west side of the street. The house bordered on the Inn's parking lot.

When they had entered the house, Mary turned on a light in the living room and then went into the kitchen. She called out, "How about some bourbon on the rocks?"

"Fine," John answered. He took off his coat, folded it up, and placed it on a chair. He went over to the couch and sat down. Letting go of himself, he sank into the cushions. He replayed the scene over in his mind. He saw Mary lock the Inn. They were talking about their afternoon at the beach. The cool, salty air had a revitalizing effect on the five of them--Mary, Od, John, Barbara, and Esther. Barbara managed the stained-glass shop on Ocean Avenue a few doors west of the Reef. Then the first shot rang out, and he felt terror rise up in his throat. As they fell to the ground, he heard the bullet ricocheting across the pavement. When the second shot came, followed by the roaring and screeching of a car hurrying away, he was filled with anger.

Mary brought in the drinks and set them on the coffee table in front of the couch. "Let's have some music to help soothe us." She went over to the stereo set and placed a record of Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert on the turntable. As the sounds of a piano flowed through the room, she asked, "Do you think Sam Runner was trying to scare me, after my win last night?"

"It was most likely to scare me," John answered. "I've had four threats already. This is number five."

She could tell that his mind was calculating furiously. And she knew that he needed to break out of his closet of reasoning, that he was already losing the carefree air he had projected at the beach. With a twinkle in her eyes, she said, "How do you know it was meant for you?"

"A feeling. It fits. The first threat notified me that I would die. They're making certain I realize the danger I'm in."

"And so you believe it was only a scare, not a real attempt?"

"Yes, I do. We were easy targets. The first shot hit in front of us and the second behind us. They could have killed either of us if they had wanted to."

"Are you getting closer to a solution, making them uneasy?"

"Yes and no. I'm making progress, but no solution is in sight. I need to find something that will link everything into a pattern. I've uncovered a lot of data, and my communication with ZAC is growing, but the problem remains. How does the alien program reappear? The Federal Reserve is no longer worried that the program will upset policy decisions since its reappearance will be discovered soon enough. But the Federal Reserve is damned provoked that its security can be breached so easily. Heads are beginning to roll, and even Mr. Acorn hinted to me that if the problem is not solved soon he will be retired. Our civil servants are more concerned with holding their jobs than they are with an accurate count of M-l. And I think this is the reason I was hired--to help Mr. Acorn and his associates keep their positions."

"Do you think it could be one of them? It would be so easy, wouldn't it, for Mr. Acorn to play games with ZAC?"

"On the surface, yes. But since the recurrence began, everyone even slightly connected has been investigated and, I presume, is constantly monitored."

"And who watches the watchers?"

"The Inspector General's office has teams which do only that--watch each other. Just like the CIA, which may also now be watching the Inspector General's office."

"If everyone is watching each other, then no one may be watching ZAC at the proper moment. Timing may be the clue--like in chess. The game last night was like that. Let me show you." Mary saw her chance and grabbed it.

She took out her chess set and placed the pieces on the board as they were at move fifteen. John had always marveled at her memory for reconstructing a previous game. She could set up the board for any move. He had a good memory too, but it worked differently. In fact, he often thought that people could be grouped according to the manner in which their memory functioned. The brain was analogous to a highly sophisticated computer. The incoming data was recorded and used according to a complex program. And everyone's program differed. A program was a type of filtering system which screened the incoming data and stored it. The way data was stored influenced its retrieval and use. A chess buff was noted for her ability to reconstruct a game, and so too could he reconstruct any of his previous cases.

Mary

chess board 

Sam (next move)

"Notice," Mary said, "that Sam now moved R-R2 (Ra2), which was a waste of time. Instead, he should have played Q-R6 (Qa6). He waited until the next move before he made Q-R6 (Qa6). That one move delay allowed me to reinforce the king file so that I could sacrifice my queen on move seventeen."

Mary

chess board 

Sam (next move)

"From here on it was a matter of timing. I had to keep Sam's king busy so that he could not bring up reinforcements. Notice that not until move twenty-five did he bring his queen back into play, and I took it with my bishop. After that mate was simple."

Mary

chess board 

Sam

John thought of his unknown opponent. Would his mate be that simple? As Hank had pointed out the night of the game before John had stepped through the strange door, Sam Runner had created a hole in his defense. What was the hole in his opponent's defense? The alien program manipulated some weakness in ZAC, and the alien program should have its own weakness. First, he must discover how ZAC was manipulated; then, he could examine the alien seed, searching for a hole in its design. Putting another round of drinks on the coffee table, Mary sat down on the couch. "I propose a toast. This may sound strange, and maybe I have been overcome by all that's happened in the past twenty-four hours, but let's toast to the lucky break in your case. Those two shots indicate a weakness in your opponent's game plan."

John was intrigued. "I'll drink to that." After they toasted, he asked, "What's your idea about the weakness?"

"Well, I see an analogy to last night's game with Sam. Your opponent has finally made a direct, physical threat against your life. I think he is very frightened, and fear is a hole in one's defense."

"Yes, it is. It's a big hole that allows reality to flood out." He reflected on the logic of that idea. "So, I must put my most powerful weapon, my queen, into that hole. Then reinforce the king file and wait for his next move."

"Now is the time for you to go all out, to push as hard as you can against his fear."

"Humm, I see possibilities. I can drop hints that I have a solution but need more evidence before I can name the culprit. That should draw him out even more."

Mary got up, went over to the turntable and turned it off. She switched on the FM. Stravinsky's Pastorale was beginning; its mellow sounds filled the room. John's mind wandered away from ZAC, the two shots, and chess games. He noticed Mary's perfume; it had a soft come-to-me scent. He looked across the room at her, as she came back to the couch. He became aware of a spring-like impetuosity in her gait; it had a bounce that was filled with a daredevil attitude. A smile hung from her high cheek bones, draping her face with laughter of delight. Her long, dark hair clothed her movement with a sensuous flavor. The carefree feeling that he had felt at the beach came back to him. In his mind's eye, he could see her flowing over the sand, exuding fire and freedom.

When Mary returned to the couch, she snuggled up to him and gave him a tender kiss on the ear. She felt his presence brighten. Their feelings were warmed and lifted by the music. He turned toward her, smiled, and said, "Here is my queen." She replied, "And here is mine."

He felt her warmth move out to him, touching him, stroking him. He leaned over and kissed her on the lips, a long fiery kiss. More kisses were exchanged, and neither cared that the music had become Saint-Saens' Symphony #3. Their passion was ignited; it flared and burnt; it was all-consuming. Heated by their mutual desire, they undressed each other. Tenderly, each piece of clothing was removed. They pretended innocence at what was discovered beneath the surface of convention.

They lay bare and open to each other. The music began to sing: The man will know the woman, and the woman will know the man. He touched her, smelled her, tasted her. She was earth and sky. Her breasts were like chocolate ripple, her navel orange sherbert, her garden of paradise peppermint. Kissing her thighs, he whispered "woman"; she melted and became firm. He felt her pleasure and listened to her private song.

When she was fulfilled, the woman knew the man. Her senses sharpened, her fire flickered over him, caressing and soothing. Kissing his thighs, she whispered "man" and heard his low, deep sound. He flowed and became hard. Within his groin fire and tension built, then erupting into a blending with woman.

She was in him and he was in her. They were one mind, drifting on the star dust of eternity. One sensing, one feeling, one caring.

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