IS THERE A CHANCE?
By Atonia and Jo
Jo writing: Maximus, Caroline, Bud, Marie, Lachlan, Cort, Daisy, Ben, Mae, Rusty, George, Lucilla, Robin,
Jack Knife (Col. John Wales), Jeffrey, Julie, Javert, East, Egan, Jack Corbett, Zack, Jim, Nash, Charles, Steve, Monroe,
Dolly, Ardith, Parcher, Merry Men, Hank, O'Hara, Eve'lyn, Kate, Randolph, Sid, Sidda, Liz, Georgie, Glen, Noah, Glinda,
Muriel, Randolph Martin, Tom Golightly
Atonia writing: Terry, Dee, Alex, Linda, Jack, Tarwyn, John Biebe, Bethany, Max, Sophia, Dino, Anne, Hando, John
Cristofuoro, Richie, Cal, John Brennan, Colin, Andy, Ed, Nicholas, Arthur, Johnny, Jeff, Kim, Sean, Dennis, Mel,
Sandra, Carol, Dylan, Pat, Brenda, Kristen, Darren Lincoln, Stephen Maturin, Killick, Ray, Jor-El, Nan, Dennis, Carlos,
Dug, Ronny, Penny, Jannie, Jordan, Sienna, Pearly, Jay Wilson, T. R. Holden
An hour to go before midnight. Tarwyn looked at her watch and shook her head. “Emily, I don’t want you to think that Jack is always in his cups. I know you’ve seen him on film…”
“Oh, Tarwyn, no, I’m quite enjoying his stories. I think a man needs his cups now and again, especially these men. When you think of where they came from and how they have had to adapt…I am amazed, really.”
Jack was telling stories of his days with the Royal Navy and Stephen was there to back him up and declare it the truth. John Brennan was laughing and holding his cup out for a refill. It was good to see John laugh. Emily thought so and so did Jack. He’d been surprised to see the woman John brought. She seemed to have brought out a side of him he’d not seen before.
“What o’clock is it?” Jack asked.
“Five till eleven,” Stephen answered, checking his pocket watch.
“Well, we’ve time for a tune don’t you think, bring in the New Year with a fiddle?”
“I’m with you, brother,” Stephen said.
“It’s a rockin’ New Year on TV,” Tarwyn said.
“I’m sure it is,” Jack responded, digging out his fiddle and bow. “May they rock on…ha, ha!”
Nash was alone and that was his choice. He'd been invited out to Cort's but didn't want to go. Nursing a beer, he sat watching the lights of the city go by as his house slowly revolved. He had this growing feeling he was missing something he couldn't put a name to. Probably the life he'd had to give up. That must be it. He couldn't think of anything else. Still, it disturbed him and he got up impatiently, flipping a wall switch that turned his huge television on. Might as well watch the damn ball drop.
Hando saw Max and Sophie arrive at the Fluke. He left his chair and sauntered over.
“Hello, Max. I’ve been trying to reach you.”
“Hando, what a surprise. I didn’t know you were, um, out.”
“I need access to my money.”
“Indeed you do. Monday, come and see me on Monday and we’ll get you set up.” Max turned to the bar. “Andy, scotch, please and champagne for my lady.”
Hando eyed Sophie up and down. She stared at him evenly, meeting his eye without flinching. An accomplishment for her. “Happy New Year, Hando.”
“And to you, Miz Max.”
“How, er, how is Anne?” she asked.
“Anne is Anne. She’s fat with my baby.”
“Yes, I know. She has been a very brave woman.”
“She had to be 'cause I wasn’t around. I’m here now,” Hando said and turned to the bar for another drink.
Max glanced at Hando and handed Sophie her glass. “Let’s find a table.”
Percival had come in the back door of the Wale's Fluke from the rear parking lot. He was in disguise, wearing a loose-fitting brown corduroy jacket, a thick gray wig, and big tortoise shell glasses. He slid into a small booth, surveying the crowd, trying to get a count of how many of the men were inside.
"You like a drink?" a waitress asked.
"Yes, a Miller light," he replied, modifying his accent so it sounded more American.
"Draft or bottle?"
"Draft," he said, irritated by her distraction of his count.
Ah, there was Max, the banker, the one he'd first seen in London, the one who'd stirred his interest in impossibilities that now seemed possible. He was still rather amazed by the reality of what he'd discovered. It was mind boggling, that's what it was, and it would make the story of the century, any century.
Cal finally made his way over to Sandra. He leaned in and said in her ear. “Let’s blow this joint.”
“I thought you’d never ask. Please get me out of here.” Nick was coming on strong to her and she’d had enough.
Cal steered her towards the door and turned to a man dressed in black wearing a black fedora. “Any chance of you finding my lady’s wrap?” The man stared at him out of black eyes and said nothing. Cal shrugged and for some reason didn’t feel comfortable leaving her with him. He took her arm and handed his ticket to a known hotel employee.
“Who is that man?” Sandra asked.
“No idea but he ain’t friendly.”
Steve had dozed off, his head resting on Kate's right shoulder. "Hey," she said, giving him a little push, "you'll miss midnight that way."
"Comftble," he mumbled.
"Well, I'm not comfortable with your heavy head on me like that."
Lifting his head, he yawned. "Sorry. Bed. Booze. Just lulls me, I guess."
"I'd like you awake at midnight if you can manage. I do need a kiss, you know."
He stretched languidly then grinned. "Think I can manage that." He turned to look at her more closely. "Think your lip can?"
"It's almost healed. It'll be fine. It misses your lips."
"Oh, good. My lips like being missed."
"I expect you to put them to good use in an hour, Mr. Moran."
"Do I have to wait?"
"You want to practice?"
"A little practice never hurt anybody."
She puckered and closed her eyes so he chuckled and began a few minutes of gentle practice.
Dee hardly ever, almost never, drank to excess. Tonight, in her own living room she was feeling the effects of too much wine. It was all that woman’s fault, she told herself. Sienna who liked to talk of past adventures and dangerous exploits was getting on her nerves. She’d been quiet for the last half hour. The TV was on with the sound turned down. She found the remote and turned the sound up loud.
“Hey!” Terry turned around and placed a hand on her thigh.
“It’s New Year’s Eve…can’t we talk about something I like? I like music, loud and jumping, pumping that adrenalin through your body, making you want to get up and dance. Don’t you want to dance, Sienna?”
Sienna stood up and took up her handbag. “I think I’ll go out for a smoke.”
Dino came from the hall where he’d been to the bathroom. “Sounds like a party in here.”
“That’s what I thought,” Dee said. She stood up and moved sideways a moment before moving to him. “Dance with me, Dino. Terry’s not dancing.”
Dino took her hands and started moving.
"You ok, Rusty?" Jim asked.
"I don't look ok?"
Jim shrugged. "A little bothered by something maybe."
"Old year ending. Just thinking about stuff."
Jim could tell Rusty didn't want to talk about it so wandered over to where some others were sitting around in the living room watching the program leading up to midnight. New York City, only not as he remembered it. He made a sound down in his throat and found a seat on a small chair that had been brought in from another room.
”Big party in Times Square,” Pat said, resting against Richie.
“Yeah, big party.”
“Did you ever do that when you lived there? Were you out in the crowd?”
Richie didn’t know. “I can’t remember.”
“Surely you’d remember that.”
“If I was, I was probably drunk. Yeah, memory tanks when you’re drunk.” It was like a big chunk of his life was missing. A BIG chunk. He didn’t often think about it but now seeing all those people crowding in Times Square…he could’ve been there at one time.
Marie was leaning heavily against Bud on the couch in John's living room. "Getting tired, honey?" he asked.
"Tired for two," she sighed, rubbing her tummy.
"Want to go home?"
"Not yet. I'd like to make it through midnight. You know...ball drops, I get kissed by the man I adore."
"I could kiss you now."
"Now's fine but I do want a midnight kiss, too. Got to welcome the new year that's bringing our baby to us."
He rested a palm atop her hand that still lay on her rounding middle. Every protective male instinct he had rose up in him and he had a lot. Leaning down, he kissed the curve near their hands.
“What are you thinking about?” Jordon asked, slipping her arm into John Cristofuoro’s.
“Does it show…my thinking?”
“Yes, it does. I hear wheels turning. You haven’t danced with me.”
“I’m not much of a dancer, Jordon.”
“Neither am I but when I look around I don’t see any Fred Astairs and Ginger Rogers on the dance floor. No one will notice us.”
He nodded slightly and then turning his head to another archway and back to his original line of sight, he kissed her hands. “Just a minute.”
“John, John…!”Jordon called after him.
Lt. Cristofuoro found Lincoln. “Those two goons dressed in black, yours?”
“Not mine. I noticed them earlier. This being a ticketed affair they can’t come in the room.”
“Yeah, but why are they just standing there?”
“I don’t know and it makes me nervous, Lieutenant. I’ll send my man over to find out who they are and what their purpose is. If they ain’t got one, then they’re outta here.”
Big Jack's roving eye was caught by the gray-haired man in the end booth, sitting alone. Picking up his drink, he walked toward it and without asking, slid in the seat opposite.
"Man shouldn't be drinking alone," he smiled, "with the new year almost upon us."
"I'm not alone," Percival replied quietly.
"No. You're here."
Big Jack laughed at that. "So I am. Colonel John Wales at your service."
"Homer," Percival said, extending a hand across the table. "Homer Macabee."
Jack pumped the hand. "So, Homer Macabee, how do you like this fine establishment?"
"Seems a nice place. Lots of people. How do you like it, Colonel?"
"Used to be mine. I named the thing after myself. That's why Wales is spelled like it is."
"Ah, I'd wondered about that. Now it makes sense. But why the 'fluke'?"
"Won it by a fluke in a card game one night. Got myself arrested in the process but the place was mine after that."
"Who owns it now?"
"Young man with the nice smile, the one over there pouring a drink for my brother."
"Who's the brother?"
"That'd be Richie, Richie Roberts."
"Ah, yes, I can see a bit of resemblance."
Jack leaned back, patting his belly. "I've got the best physique of the lot of 'em," he laughed.
"The lot of them? There are more?" Percival asked innocently.
Jack gave a wave of his hand. "Half the men in this place."
Percival arched a brow. "Really? How fascinating. I'm an only child myself. Must have been something growing up with so many brothers."
"Oh, I didn't grow up with them. Just kinda found 'em later in life."
Five miles from Ashgrove Anne sat in a rocking chair in her living room. She was knitting a baby shawl from soft cream wool. Linda had bought her a TV and she had it on with the sound turned off. Noise, so much noise in this world. Why did everyone have to shout, why was the music so loud and horrible?
She placed a hand on her belly. He didn’t move so much now. He’d nearly filled his allotted space in her body. One more month and then she would have a companion. A small one. On the hearthrug the pup Dennis brought her stretched his body in sleep and curled up again. At first she didn’t want him in the house but he’d wormed his way into the house and into her heart. It was all right to love something.
At the Sullivan, Zack came up to Eugene. "You haven't seen Featherstone here, have you?"
"No sign of him," Eugene replied. "I think all of us have been fairly well warned about him by now. I doubt anyone would divulge anything to him."
"I hope that's right. You never know if John Nash checks his messages, though, or Big Jack. He's always a bit cavalier about everything anyway."
Jeffrey joined them. "Did I hear you mention Featherstone?"
"He's not here, is he?" Zack asked.
"Haven't seen him tonight, but I did have lunch with him at the Fluke today."
"Was that wise?" Eugene asked with a slight frown.
"It was deliberate," Jeffrey smiled. He tried pumping me as he always does but got very frustrated when I only asked him about himself."
"Did you learn anything?"
"Not really, but then neither did he."
"Let's hope it stays that way," Eugene sighed. "The man is a menace."
Nick’s phone buzzed in his pocket and he looked at it before answering. “Happy New Year,” he said. “What? Sorry, I can’t hear you…there’s a band here.” Nick moved over to the far wall. “Now what did you say?” He listened for a moment and then smiled. The smile turned into a chuckle. “You’d better go easy on whatever it is you’re drinking. Have a good evening.” He ended the call, still with a smile on his face.
Cristofuoro who’d been watching him stopped him on his way to the bar. “Good news, Nick?”
“What? Oh, heh, Jor-El’s drunk.”
John tilted his head for a moment and looked thoughtful. “Really…I didn’t know he was a drinker.”
Noah didn't really understand what was going on. New year? It must have to do with some new measurement of time. It was winter here. Why would a new year start in the middle of winter? How much time counted as a year? There was what he'd come to know as a clock on the wall in the room where he sat. Maximus had explained to him about the hands and he learned enough about numbers to know about the 12 divisions. The longest, slimmest hand moved much faster than the other two, around and around. He watched it intently, beginning to feel sleepy.
Ben sat down beside him, commenting, "You ever notice how that there last hour before midnight on New Year's Eve goes slower than the ones before it?"
Noah blinked, shaking his head to clear his mind. "It does?"
"Guess it don't, not really. Just seems like it. Maybe because we watch the thing so dam close. That what you doin', Noah, watchin' the clock?"
Noah cleared his throat. "I was watching it, yes. This is my first...my first new year."
"Damn! That'd be right. I ain't thought about that but that'd be right. Guess in your time they didn't go in much for that."
"We had seasons...seasons when different things would grow, when it would rain more, be colder."
"Well, we still got them things now, only we got it all chopped up neat-like into years and in, oh, looks like a few more minutes is all, we goin' to get ourselfs a brand new year." Ben nodded toward the television. "You see that there big shiny ball high up on that buildin'? When that thing starts down, that's when you know the old year's done ended an' the new one's beginnin'."
"The people there, so many of them, all looking up at it...are they worshipping it?"
Ben chuckled. "Kinda looks that way, don't it. I guess most of 'em are just out havin' a good time, Noah. Seems like some folks like to be in the middle of big crowds when the year changes but me, I prefer bein' right here with my fam'ly." He patted the couch to his side and Mae came and sat down, resting a hand on his leg as his slid an arm around her shoulders.
Tarwyn and Emily were filling the champagne glasses. The music stopped and someone turned up the sound on the TV. Jack looked down at Charlie, who’d given it his best shot but he had drifted off to sleep while he and Stephen were playing their stringed instruments.
“Will you wake him, John? He did want to know when the ball dropped.”
“I’ll try.” John sat down on the edge of the sofa. “Charlie, Charlie, need to wake if you want to greet the new year.” Charlie blinked his eyes and turned his face into the sofa pillow.
Marie had drifted asleep as she leaned against Bud. Bud smiled, sliding a finger through her hair. He'd wake her at midnight with a kiss. Across the room John had Beth's feet in his lap, massaging them. The fireplace crackled, its light casting dancing shadows around the walls. The television was on but the sound soft. Bud traded glances with John. It was so comfortable, so cozy and warm. He nodded toward his friend, his voice low, "It's good, John. All of it. This. Life."
John nodded and smiled. He tickled Beth’s foot and she kicked out at him.
Percival eyed Big Jack. "What do you mean, Colonel, that you just found them later in life? Didn't you know your parents had other children?"
"Well now, Homer, that's an interesting question and the answer to it is even more interesting than the question itself." He took a long drink from his glass.
"How interesting?" Percival prodded.
"Most interesting thing you've ever heard, I expect." Jack took another long drink.
"I'd love to hear it," Percival smiled.
Jack looked at the clock on the wall above the bar and rose from his seat. "Sorry, Homer, but it's almost midnight and I must find myself a lady with lips that need kissing." With that he walked away, studying various female forms as he went.
“It's almost midnight,” Terry said. “I’m claiming my wife.” He rose from the sofa and caught Dee around the waist. Though the music on the TV was loud and hopping, he was slow dancing with her.
“Where’s Sienna?” Dino asked.
“She went out for a smoke awhile ago,” Terry said, nuzzling in on Dee.
“Maybe she fell off the deck,” Dee said.
“You really don’t care for her, do you? That’s all right. After tonight I doubt if you see her again.”
“Hope not. Umm, I think I like you.”
Dino opened the door to the deck and looked out. Only the light above the sliding glass doors was lit. “Sienna, it’s almost midnight. Wanna come in? Sienna?” He couldn’t see her so he walked towards the bedroom end of the deck. “What are you doing out here? It’s cold enough to freeze the…what the hell?”
“Sorry, Dino. It has to end this way.” She fired once and he went down. Stepping over him she stood at the glass door for a moment before easing it open.
Terry and Dee were locked together shouting along with the crowd in Times Square. “Five, four, three, two…”
The impact sent Terry forward. He and Dee both crashed into the fireplace. Dee screamed. Terry’s head made contact with the hearth and he was knocked unconscious. There seemed to be a lot of blood all of a sudden. She was screaming for Terry and trying to ease out from under him.
Sienna went calmly to the hall closet to retrieve her coat. Dee got to her knees feeling woozy. She was trying to get to her phone on the coffee table. All of a sudden the TV went blank, no sound at all, and it was then she heard the closet door close. She sat back and reached behind her. Her hand connected with the fireplace poker. For some reason her left arm was numb. In a panic she brought the poker around. Someone had…but who?
Sienna came back to the kitchen island for her handbag.
“YOU!” Dee screamed.
Sienna walked towards her with the gun in her hand. She fired the same time Dee launched with the poker. Sienna went down. Dee crashed into the coffee table.
DIRECTLY CONTINUED AS: CLOUD SHADOWS OF MIDNIGHT
BACK TO PART 36
BACK TO NANOCORP INDEX
BACK TO LIBRISCROWE