August 9, 1974 , New York City
The announcement of President Richard Nixon via TV nationwide to resign in the evening yesterday was one of the worst political dismays of the Modern America as he was the first president to do so. Certainly, this resignation was in order to preclude himself from being impeached by the Congress from the Watergate Scandal. The embattled Mr. Nixon was speculated by media to have an agreement with Vice President Gerald Ford who would finally pardon him ,as his successor, to save his ass from jail. Mr. Ford would take helm of this country , once extremely proud of its military might .Now it became like the infirm old man who would be tormented by his humiliation from failure in the Vietnam War for the decades to come.
This August was also the end of summer in New York City. But sometimes the rain poured down in torrents like the raining season in the Southeast Asia countries. Richard went to rummage there for materials to write the new novel ,while the US war in Vietnam was being fomented - almost a decade ago. He was amazed to see the greenery rice fields rippled by rain and strong wind. The picture of farmers hastily collecting something on threshing baskets and leading hysterically their buffaloes to the staple was quite hilarious. He also relished the smells of the rice paddies and the muds, or something ushered by the gusts. Here in New York , the smells were not so affable as they might be from the sewage near his apartment. The familiar look of the big vibrant city with numerous skyscrapers in such a gloomy morning turned to be like the gigantic tombstones with a variety of heights.
Richard didn't want the depression to reign over his mind again. He rose to his feet , lighting a cigarette and putting a large record in the gramophone. Perhaps he had played it for a hundred or a hundred and fifty times - he did not rest assured. The music of Miles Davis , his most favorite jazz trumpeter, was unfurling its beautiful body around his dim room with only an electric lamp from Japan on the desk. The 45 -year- old writer sat down again to stare at the typewriter with blank paper in horror as he was currently stumbling upon the writer's block.
Richard blew the smoke and inadvertently recalled the beautiful but wistful face of his ex-wife who always hated him for smoking in this apartment ,even though she had loved to do that sometimes. Moreover , she didn't like Miles Davis , especially the song being played as she thought it was the tasteless adaptation of the song of Waltz Disney. Now Richard was alone with the male cat named Ben , because his once apple -of-my -eyes was in the whirlwind romance with some guy who spent his adolescence as a devout hippie during the late 1960s. They had just sprightly eloped to the place he didn't bother to know - perhaps the ending point of the world.
Richard tried to gather his wits , stretching his both legs on the table , waiting for some sort of epiphany amidst the lingering smoke. He thought his new novel might be some political thriller with the plot borrowed from the yesterday national limelight : Mr. Richard Nixon had illicitly pressured the military to stage a coup d’état to restore him to be the president again. The weary writer also toyed with the plot that some secret organization (also Satan worshipping ?) was behind the Watergate Scandal to dethrone the poor president who was determined to withdraw the US military from South Vietnam and Thailand. This policy of Nixon was unforgivably inimical to that organization's interest.
However , Richard feared this plot might be too ubiquitous and lacklustre. Worse still , the readers might assume that his second plot attempted to glorify or whitewash Mr. Nixon - it could lead to his downfall. He had intended to contact his slick agent ,whose office was several blocks from his apartment , to inquire about the innovative ideas of his fellow writers , but his mind was occupied by his ex-wife again. Weeks ago , in the late morning like this , when she woke up from slumber after the tiresome working night shift in hospital, they would always make the sweetest love . But now there was only the sweet Ben purring and rubbing his head against his chair.
The picture of his ex- wife's naked body promptly titillated Richard , so he reminisced about Silvia , his long-time close friend , who never resisted pandering to his lust ,while they were studying in university. But they never deemed themselves the lovers or any kind. She was the petite , gentle Californian girl - always demure but had several boyfriends and got married before him. Richard was always the one to give Silvia a shoulder to cry on before her lavish wedding. Now both of them were encountering a horrendous fate of midlife crisis - divorce.
It was several months that he hadn't met her tête-à-tête since her bitter breakup with the husband of almost 10 years . Richard would be so delighted if he and she would return to be the friends , like in the good old days , who bodily gratified each other again without any bonding. Now he was achieving satori about the reason why the hippies had upheld the notion of the 'free love'. The bourgeois style of monogamy became both boring and excruciating for him.
'Someday My Prince Will Come' barely finished the 3rd round, Richard stopped it with the quivering hand and urgently called Silvia at her office. But some folks there said she was being on leave today. Without any hesitation , he decided to leave for her apartment, after filling some food in the bowl for Ben. The heavy rain outside was diminished to be a drizzle and left the pitter patter on his glass window. Now the plot of his new novel was scuttled ; his imagination was running wild to the sensual kiss of Silvia ,and he blushed.
Richard's strong hostility towards the damp and drab weather like this even made him more despondent when stepping outside the apartment. He loved New York city when it was sunny and he felt contented to roam for some muses around the neighbourhood, especially the park at the corner of that street. Amidst the strong sunlight , the mothers or the nannies would take their toddlers to play at the playground in the park .The teenagers would hang out near the fountain at center of the park and play some games including skateboards , filling the park with liveliness or frequently rowdiness .
At this hour , if Richard decided to walk with umbrella to Sylvia's apartment , which needed only 30 minutes of the leisurely walk, there was a high risk that he would be audaciously mugged. Now in 1970s , the tide of crimes rushed to attack the New Yorkers thanks to the US severe problem of economy. The mayor of this badly affected city begrudgingly had to cut the budgets of police department. So the number of the law enforcers was pitifully reduced. But all of them had been notorious for being corrupt and inefficient anyway. In this decade New York City had the new embarrassing nickname, 'The Fear City'.
Richard finally hailed the yellow cab. Its driver was a fiftysomething man with flattop haircut whose toughness made him look like John Wayne. But he kept talking gibberish all the time. The guy searched for his favorite songs from radio ceaselessly, while bragging about being a gallant soldier joining the Normandy landings by the Allied armies in 1944 to beat the Nazis at last. He lamentably harked back to the US in 1940s and 1950s which he took for granted that all Americans had been patriotic and respected 'Law and Order' - like promise from the campaigns of Ex-POTUS Richard Nixon years ago.
Having been struck in traffic jam ,the cab was slowly rolling past the cohorts of teenagers in hippie's dresses and long hairs- probably the university students. They were braving mizzle on the pavement and holding the placards : 'Nixon go to Jail !' or 'America deserve a justice!' to exhibit their frustrations that Mr. Nixon , one of the most crooked politicians in the US history ,would finally be off the hook. Richard mused over how America was the ludicrously ironic country. Whereas it preached other countries to be democratic or respect the human rights or some shit, it became increasingly decadent and savage. This country exactly bore resemblance to New York, the city Richard was born and grew up with - except the latter never sent the troops to any country but jazz music.
The driver became furious and yelled out at them ,even though he didn't bother to wind down the window.
" Hey , the commie bastards ! Go back to kiss the ass of Brezhnev *! "
Richard felt extremely perturbed and attempted to change the topic of conversation , but the driver seemed to be too engrossed in the political issues. The veteran of World War 2 mumbled about the leftists' secret plan to kick Nixon out of the White House because the ex-POTUS was the adept and visionary diplomat who outmanoeuvred the USSR by courting Mao Zedong , the ruthless tyrant of China in 1972.Those teenagers were thus assumed by him to be the pawns of the Soviet commies to pave the way for taking over America within 3 years.
Our writer should have been grateful that he was being inspired by such the ground-breaking conspiracy theory for his future novel ,but he lastly decided to stop the cab before reaching Sylvia's apartment about 100 or 200 meters. This was because he thought the driver's idea was unbearably outrageous. The rain helped him by completely stopping , allowing the ray of sunshine which was partly brightening the area.
The driver looked more relaxed as if he had already blown off steam. He received the fare and winked at Richard.
" I know you are the Democrat , right ? Don't forget it is that fucking LBJ who makes us defeated in this goddamned war!"
Richard smiled scornfully and walked away. He wondered what that John Wayne guy would have reacted , if he had boasted too that he used to contribute the articles attacking Nixon for his secret bombings in Cambodia in 1969 to some newspapers. That brute might punch Richard in the face for their summaries : Nixon should be on trials and hanged for committing the crimes against humanity like the Nazis , as about thousands of lives of the innocent Cambodians were lost . Furthermore , Richard had never voted for the fucking LBJ or Lyndon B. Johnson , another ex-POTUS ,who led the US military to invade South Vietnam on the pretext of protecting it from the red counterpart.
The apartment of Sylvia was not so ramshackle that it should be awaiting the gentrification, but it was not the place any individual wished to thrive or live happily with . Her career as the secretary of a small company didn't pay her dearly. Moreover , she became a bit impoverished when divorcing , as her ex-husband hired some crafty lawyer to help him to avoid paying her an alimony. So, there was a faint possibility for her to move away.
- Perhaps should he invite her to stay with him ?
Richard thought , but he felt wary of developing the intimacy with someone else.
On the way to the building , as far as he knew , the neighbourhood around here was relatively calm and safe , although it was in a downtown and most of the residents were the blue- collar workers. A few black teenagers were standing , smoking nears the red Javelin -AMX - perhaps they were being high on joints . They cast glances at Richard with little surprise , as the white guy with quite the intellectual demeanour - wearing thick eyeglasses and growing long moustache and beard - was not supposed to walk in this place. Richard wondered whether they would know that actually he was the restless writer who looked erudite outside but tried in vain to conceal his burning desire inside like the horny puberty.
The first person whom Richard met at the gate was the Hispanic caretaker of apartment. He was the ageing rotund guy with a funny mustachio who trudged down the stairs with sweats and greeted Richard cordially as they had met before. The writer finally reached the destination , Sylvia's room, after 1 hour of journey , but he felt like already spending 1 year or more with the helter-skelter he had met along the way. The dull corridor was not actually quiet ; an Italian aria of soprano of the famous opera was heard faintly across the rooms nearby. Richard knocked on her door several times , but there was no movement of even a single soul inside. He was disgruntled with himself not to have called her first, but he still forgave himself when remembering that Sylvia used to call him from her office that her telephone had been out of order for weeks.
"Are you looking for Ms. Cartwright ? She is going out for shopping."
There was a voice behind his back. Richard turned around.
* Leonid Brezhnev , the leader of USSR
Richard couldn't catch up with another utterance of the person before him, because he felt like he was helplessly being drawn into those eyes which resembled a blue-green ocean that was unfathomably deep. He was dazed and couldn't even say a single word to that person as if he had been being literally drowned.
5 seconds passed like eternity ; he was back to be aware that he was still alive. She seemed quite surprised to see such a weird gesture from the middle-aged stranger who looked lanky and snobbish.
"Mister , are you all right ? You are suddenly stupefied," asked she with curiosity.
" Yes , of course. Excuse me ...... what did you say just now ?" stammered he.
The girl giggled and raised her hand to cover her mouth, but he still saw her beautiful lips and white teeth moving below her snub nose. She was leaning against the door of the room opposite to Sylvia's and fixing him with such a powerful stare.
"I think there is something quite peculiar about you. Do you abruptly have the health problems , Mister ? " She asked while thrilling him with her hand slowly fondling her long and sleek brunette hair on her shoulder.
Richard said with embarrassment , " Yes , I am a senile old man now and have some problems while walking upstairs especially in the apartment with many storeys like this."
She giggled again and said , " No , don't get me wrong. I don't think you are old at all ! By the way, I just said Ms. Cartwright told me that she would go out for a long time ,so it was not worth waiting for her."
Now Richard had enough time to gauge up Sylvia's good neighbour. The girl was about 15 or 16 years old ; she was far from skinny, but still kept her body fittingly far from plump. Above her captivating eyes were the mushy eyebrows that made her even more gorgeous , although she was just wearing the yellow loose sweater and denim jeans like many teenagers of her age.
She said in a friendly manner ,
" Ms. Cartwright also told me if someone is visiting her like this , tell him or her to write a note and insert it below the door or let me keep it for her later."
No sooner had he said anything than the girl darted inside and returned with a fountain pen and a pink note paper. He nodded and wrote a short message briskly to Sylvia , but he didn't pay heed to it much as he was preoccupied with something else.
"I can't thank you enough , Miss. Your eyes are sparkling with compassion,"
Our writer muttered and returned everything to her, yearning for her smile. At last, he was not disappointed ; the girl charmed him with a hearty one and went inside her room. There was a woman's gruff voice - probably her mother.
Richard trudged down along the steep and tortuous stairs to go outside and find the weather more amiable with the strong sunlight. He would henceforth personally give that girl the moniker 'Miss Sunshine' as , apart from the colour of her sweater, she out of the blue ushered everything around him into the sheer exuberance. Suddenly he felt his stomach growling and his watch told him that he had unwittingly endured the lateness from a usual lunch time for an hour.
This was because, if he had been poet, he would have written the short sentences of poem :
'I tuck in thy voluptuous lips which are dearly red like the fresh morning roses,
and a dazzle from thy eyes feeds my avaricious soul. '
The writer smiled.
Richard's next destination was not his apartment at all. He thought about visiting the office of his agent , but after the call , the agent told him to go to Antonio's Pizza near the iconic Brooklyn Bridge ASAP. It was one of the oldest pizzerias in New York .The parents of its owners were the émigrés from Sicily in Italy who had settled down here since 1910 , almost like Don Vito Corleone in 'The Godfather', the film released almost 2 years ago.
There Richard met his agent, who was quite portly and bald , conversing with a guy that he could vaguely remember that he was also the writer and another client of his agent. This bespectacled nerdy guy was much younger than Richard and - after the brief introduction- his name was Stephen King. The large trays of Pizza were ordered and served immediately to them among the crowd of customers in restaurant thanks to the good connection of the agent with the owner.
Mr. King told Richard that he was impressed with some of Richard's books, which genre was exclusively the political thriller , despite his own obsession with the supernatural stuffs and the main genre of his books which was the horror. The agent added that King's forth book , already published this year, was about the oft-bullied chubby girl who had telekinetic powers and exacted the bloody vengeance on her tormentors . The agent wiped some crumbs off his mouth and boasted that this novel would finally be adapted for a Hollywood film and catapult its author into the international fame. Richard learnt later that its name was 'Carrie' and in the following years it became the popular film.
Richard felt glad about his younger peer's future success. But he was a little crestfallen that he himself seemed to have the slightest chance to achieve it once more. He then thought about Miss Sunshine and wondered how different she would be from the protagonist of King's novel. She was friendly but bashful deep down inside and ,albeit her beauty , her eyes were like his ex-wife's - wistful and repressed. Or on the contrary, she might have been an angel among her friends. The boys had fought one another for dating her and the girls were extremely green with envy for that.
The agent asked Richard about his new novel and showed disquietude when he said that even its name or cursory plot wasn't on his mind. The agent feared that he would be 'whooped yo' ass' by the gluttonous publishing house who had long regarded Richard as the has-been or the relic of the glorious past in 1960s .But they still hoped that his comeback would probably attract the new generation of readers as the world's politics was like the gigantic bedlam all the time.
King politely suggested Richard that he should have found the exotic background in order to make the novel look more appealing. Suddenly Richard met with the epiphany from finding the new plot , and it had been almost completely concocted within 15 minutes : the new president, Gerald Ford , illicitly broke the pact of détente with the USSR by sending a veteran CIA agent to be the diplomat in Moscow. His mission was to find some secret believed to be able to demolish the Soviet's influence in Eastern Europe .But eventually , he stumbled upon the secret more destructive than that. However , the middle-aged spy fell head over the heels with the 15-year-old Russian girl who was the daughter of his apartment's neighbour.
Both Mr. king and the agent , who belched after finishing the large chunks of pizza , admired that his plot was quite fascinating , comparing to the ideas of unfinished novels of other writers. But it was risqué as it might be attacked by the conservative as the thinly disguised mini version of Lolita of Vladimir Nabokov. The agent suggested that Richard should have increased the girl's age, but he was adamant as he thought it might blemish Miss Sunshine as his muse. The agent chortled and said half-jokingly to King that Richard secretly had a proclivity of paedophiles because he frequently fell for the much younger girls , including his ex-wife.
When Richard returned to his apartment in the sultry late afternoon , its concierge told him that Ms. Sylvia Cartwright made him a call and send a message that Richard was expected to have a rendezvous with her at 7.00 AM sharp at Blue Rainbow. Blue Rainbow was the jazz pub he was really fond of frequenting most in New York as a jazz lover. It was like the arena regularly visited by the oft-quoted jazz players and singers in the US or the world to flaunt their unrivalled talents and finesses. Those included the now deceased ones like John Coltrane , Charlie Parker ,and Duke Ellington. Richard also had attended the vibrant concerts of Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald there.
The writer suspected that Sylvia would probably be there with at least one companion who adored Jazz, because her favorite was the country music. Furthermore , she seemed to never appease him by accompanying him to the place like this when they were quite young. Richard felt amused with his mischievous emotion which had been facing volte-face in just hours .If he hadn't met Miss Sunshine , he would be now so frustrated that he could probably end up as the piteous third wheel -especially when Sylvia's companion was male . Now only the picture swirling in Richard's mind was the person he had just spent only not more than 10 minutes with. Moreover, it was ironic that Richard really preferred to spend his entire evening in his apartment ,embarking on the new adventure of his novel with the protagonist who could speak Russian and knew well about the Russian politics but only spent barely a month in Moscow and Leningrad.
Yet our writer couldn't make it on time as the traffic congestion was so horrible. But it was still quite early , so the customers were seen scattering among the tables in the room with dim light. The musicians on stage were the unknown trio who were passionately playing the song that he remembered as 'All the Thing You Are'. He could see Ms.Cartwright sitting and chatting vivaciously among the strangers who appeared to be much younger than her and him.
"Speak of the devil , Richard !" Sylvia beckoned him with the hand holding the cigarette. Their table was quite far from the stage as if it had been intended by her to chatter rather than to listen to music.
"Richard , here are Cedro , Jean and Cyndi," Sylvia introduced everyone to him. Richard quipped to himself this was like the international conference. The handsome and debonair guy named Cedro gave Richard the smile that he thought to be rebellious and untrustworthy.
"Cedro's parents fled from Cuba when the guerrilla of Fidel Castro took control of Havana- that's when he was still young," Sylvia said and fondled the young man's forearm as a gesture of something Richard should know. Now he felt sorry for himself that 2 women (other was his ex-wife) in his life became enamoured of the men who were much younger than them. He absent -mindedly sipped the martini forthwith served by the waiter , although he didn't order it.
Cedro smiled with mischief." And I have a plan to go back there soon."
"Really ? " Sylvia exclaimed with surprise which sounded like she was looking forward to sticking to him wherever he had gone.
"Isn't it now a mess there ? I heard that the communists are making the country's economy bad ," asked the guy named Jean with a thick French accent. Cyndi ,whom Richard remembered as Sylvia's colleague , was sitting so close to Jean in a manner that implied their intimacies.
The Cuban guy snickered and said,
" Please don't believe the media of the Western imperialism. They are extremely brilliant at brainwashing the people like you. Cuba is the poor country exploited by the US for decades and we need times to revitalize our economy. How can we expect something fabulous when our new proletariat society is still fledging!"
Richard thought this guy was hilarious for his naivety. In spite of being the émigré , Cedro might be growing like the American middle class. He might feel repressed by the strict conservative family who aimed for the prosperous lives based on the American dream .This compelled the millions of American youths to find the new ways of lives like Hippies .Some were sympathetic to the communism without the solid evidence like Cedro. Richard knew that Castro had ruled Cuba with the utter brutality and corruption like other communist leaders.
The writer noticed that everyone in the pub was relishing blowing smoke from the cigarettes . Now this place was like the furnaces of factory which were working at full throttle. The trio on stage were gone and left only a black guy soloing piano with the very sentimental melody. The number of customers seemingly were the same. They enjoyed the frivolity , exchanged the pleasantries, and laughed like there were not worries in the world.
Jean still looked agitated with Cedro's bluff and said quite loudly,
"C'est drole ! (It is funny! ) Although I am socialist , I never believe in Castro. He nearly brought the world to the level of harrowing catastrophe once when allowing the Soviets to install the nuclear missiles in Cuba about a decade ago. Il est fou (he is mad)! "
Cedro retorted , "You are showing the prejudice of the Europeans who never see the reality of Cuba , the small country who must struggle to throw off the yoke of the nefarious capitalist. How come you have a face to label yourself as socialist? "
Sylvia rushed to prevent World War 3 by changing the topic.
"Richard is the famous writer. His novels are about ..." and she turned to him, "something like politics ? " Richard nodded before snickering and thinking that the happy - go - lucky Sylvia forgot so easily about him. But he accepted with resignation that they had been just the friends all along.
"Is that true ? " Cyndi asked with excitement but then lamented , "What a pity that I really love to read romantic stuffs. But I thought your name and face were quite familiar. "
Richard grinned and said , " My novels used to be the best sellers for several times during the mid-1960s. There are some romantic elements in every of my novels too , but they may be a bit corny as my life is not so romantic."
Everybody roared with laughter. Richard supposed they had already known that he was the new divorcee or the husband who had been cuckolded. Now he unintentionally entertained everyone with self-satirizing.
Sylvia talked to Cyndi , " Don't underestimate Richard. Richard Nixon once said he had enjoyed Richard's novels , but Mr. President got angry when learning that Richard had criticized him much via the columns in newspapers. Finally, he simply threw them in the trash can."
Everybody laughed again. Richard now realized that Sylvia still remembered a lot of things about him. She turned to Jean and said , "Richard also had a stint as reporter in Paris during the series of protests in 1968."
Jean smiled nonchalantly. " Really ? Good for him. That time was actually tumultuous, and I was extremely tired of ceaselessly joining the bloody protests against Charles De Gaulle [the then French president]."
Cedro interrupted , "Your protests mean next to nothing ; they hardly changed the status quo of the powers that be. The revolution must be based on the Lenin's doctrine , armed with weapons and joining all workers around the world to uproot the evil imperialism ! "
Richard attempted to ameliorate the situation by talking to Jean.
"I presume the protests in France have impacted the ones against the Vietnam War in the US and vice versa. We are both falling victims to the elected authoritarian government , not much different from the people in the third countries ; only we haven't been bombed by the napalms."
Jean only beamed , whereas 2 women laughed. Richard was suspicious whether the thirtysomething French man had really joined the protests as he seemed to be too reticent and cautious when talking about those days.
Sylvia asked Richard ,
" What about Bob , your cousin who is the Vietnam War veteran ? Is he still fine now ? "
"Bob ? " Richard repeated and abruptly looked downcast.
"Don't you know ? Of course , you and I haven't kept regularly in touch. Bob blew his own head off last month."
Slyvia exclaimed and let her cigarette fall from her fingers. Everybody on the table paid attention to both of them.
Cyndi's face became , as he assumed, ashen. She asked,
"How come he committed such a horrible suicide ?"
Richard tried to keep his voice not shaking.
"Cyndi , my cousin , Bob, became the disabled from the war."
"Aha , how was he disabled ? And was it serious ?" stammered Cyndi , while Sylvia tried to keep her composure and light the new cigarette.
Richard began to drone ,"It was during Tet Offensive * - the early of 1968. Bob and his troops had attempted to recapture Hue [a city of South Vietnam] from the Communists. During a fierce and bloody shoot-out , Bob was shot from behind and he went unconscious with the pool of blood. Fortunately , his fellows sent him to hospital in time. But back in the US , the doctors found that Bob suffered the severe spinal cord injury and became permanently paralyzed from his chest down."
Everybody was stunned. Cedro was mumbling something with the solemn face.
"The worst was still far from over. When he came back home , his wife of 10 year divorced him and took his 2 kids away. Although Bob was still in early 30s , his future seemed to meet cul-de-sac. He drowned his sorrows , even though he had never touched a single drop of alcohol before. I sometimes took Bob for therapy at the center for veteran ; I found him downright desperate and depressed. Last month while his parents were singing chorus in the church, he held his rifle for hunting to aim at his own temple and ....."
Slyvia sobbed as she knew Bob, even not so well.
"What a pity I didn't attend his funeral."
Richard gulped the 3rd glass of martini and went on,
" Think of it , Slyvia, when you are like being cursed : paralyzed for already 6 years and you would become the freak on wheelchair who must depend on your ageing parents and the scant pension for veteran for the rest of your life. You can't start your new life- not even remarry or have sex. What should you do ? Now it is taking a toll on me as well. ..."
Richard paused and continued with the unsteady voice and breathing.
"I attended Bob's funeral as the pallbearer and remembered well the moment we were gonna bury him. The sky was gloomy with little rains and the ceremony was so heartbreaking. It made me feel so depressed. Now whenever the raindrops are falling on my head or my roof , this unpleasant feeling will creep into my heart over and over again. Good for you - Sylvia - otherwise you would have had the state of mind like mine."
Cedro looked at Richard , "I understand : the people of the imperialist are suffering too."
Richard said , "That's true , Cedro, that's why there have been constantly the bitter and fervid protests by the Americans against their own government - many protesters are the veterans themselves since they had witnessed the absurdity of war. This is also because all of they are asserting that their young compatriots shouldn't have been and will not be sent to die or endure the same fate as Bob - just to poke the US nose into other countries' business. But there is one thing I have been inquisitive about is whether those protests have actually weighed down on the decisions of Washington to drag on the war - does democracy work in this country ? "
Cedro was still wrapped up in this issue.
"So, all Americans should unite to topple their vicious government and establish the one for the proletariats. The war will thus never happen again as it is the machination for the capitalists to exploit the working class who dies for nothing."
Jean interrupted , "Most of the Americans are liberal. They just want the government to hand off them , not to be overthrown , le cretin (idiot) !"
Cedro retaliated ,"That's why democracy in the US fails. Like I said , the protests were just worthless. As a son of émigrés , I think this country is gone down to hell. Everything is rotten to the core. The president is nothing but a faithful slave of the military industrial complex. French guy like you will never have this in your freaking brain !"
Before anybody would say or do anything, there was the uproar from the people around them. The shining star of the night was strutting from the back of stage. Dave Brubeck , the gangling bespectacled guy leading other 3 musicians to perform the song most memorable for the jazz lovers like 'Take Five'.
Sylvia felt utterly relieved as the further bickering between her boyfriend and Cyndi's was miraculously shunned when they were surrounded by the lively and boisterous atmosphere from the jazz quartet and the people who were now all occupying the tables in this pub.
Richard turned to be quiet and let his mind wander somewhere else. He thought about Miss Sunshine who would always ward off the depression that had debilitated his mental health.
-What was she doing right now in her apartment ? As she was still young. She probably was sleeping or just staring at nocturne view outside her room at this late hour.
Sylvia nudged him and talked like she was yelling as the music was deafening.
"Jennifer kept asking about you."
Richard looked apathetic. "Jennifer who ?"
She giggled. " The girl who greeted and received the note from you at my apartment this morning."
Richard blushed and felt his heart pounding.
"She thought you are quite weird but in a good way. She wondered who you are and what your occupation is." Sylvia sipped brandy before going on,
"Isn't she beautiful ? She and her mother just moved into the room opposite to mine weeks ago. She is such a cutie pie - very friendly and kind."
Richard tried to conceal his own feeling and asked,
"She is now living with only her mother ,correct ?"
Sylvia was surprised. " How do you know ?"
He smiled." Just my hunch. I heard the voice of a woman in the room, and I guess that she is a divorcee or something."
Sylvia laughed. " Because you just become like her, so you have the newfound intuition ? Of course, she is a single mother , a widow not a divorcee : Her husband passed away last year.
Richard asked, "I am tremendously baffled about something : how did she appear on her door so quickly ,even though I thought I had knocked at your door not quite loud ?"
Sylvia looked like she was in the mood of gossip. "That's the hideous truth that her mother is the kind of domineering mother. She is hell-bent on bringing her only daughter into prominence as the superstar."
Richard interjected , "Ah ! , it is not a bombshell at all , because she is so gorgeous and has such an engaging personality. I think she would easily be the gifted starling who is much adored -perhaps worldwide within 10 years."
"That becomes a double-edged sword as her mother is tough with her. Her routine after school as a stepping stone for stardom is increasingly and absurdly strict -especially this month when the agent of modelling has asked her for a test. But I know that Jennifer is extremely bored and seethed at all the things forced on by her mother," Slyvia said.
"So, you're gonna mean that she has hung around the door of her apartment all the time because she has been fed up with the life inside or perhaps she is about to run away , right ? "
Richard asked and noticed that the audience began to relax after 'Take Five' had finished and the less popular song of Mr. Brubeck was beginning.
"I suppose it might be like that. I fear that she is about to have a nervous breakdown and probably do some sort of things like your cousin. I think I am only of her solace as she always find the excuse to visit and chatter with me." Sylvia said anxiously.
Richard was gripped by this feeling too, but he was then furious with himself for thinking that he probably couldn't help Jennifer as he was her perfect stranger -but he should have had to find the ways come what may.
"I am wondering right now : why have you informed me so thoroughly , Sylvia ?" Richard fixed his eyes on her face and noticed some wrinkles on her forehead. She is getting old fast.
"I am about to leave my job and go somewhere else with Cedro. I assume that you could be Jennifer's help or perhaps her only saviour." Sylvia revealed her true intention.
Richard was wary that her sharp eyes were inspecting every nook and cranny of his mind. So, he backed off and blew the thick smoke to be his shield - a ludicrous thought ! he sniggered to himself.
To be continued
* At the end of January of 1968 , the troops from North Vietnam and Vietcong guerillas collaborated to the launch the largest and fiercest attacks on many strategic parts of South Vietnam. Although they were finally defeated, the offensive had changed the perceptions of the American public and even the White House that their military would never win this protracted war.
September 8, 1974
Exactly similar to the wide speculation, President Gerald Ford today was announcing to pardon Richard Nixon for all transgressions he had committed during his presidency. Now Mr. Nixon's expected karma was really vanishing into thin air. During the nationwide live TV announcement, Mr. President seemed to be nervous, but attempted to be resolute while rationalizing his pardon. However , his voice was just a boring act of droning, and this made him look like the old fart.
Richard believed although it was the undeniable reality that it was a quid pro quo. The president had to act like paid actor to save his former boss and retain his prestige simultaneously. But the result was so horrible , full of the beautiful abstractions, yet rang hollow.
Our writer was writing his novel in the coffee shop and watching this live from the shop's TV. He smirked, thinking that Mr. Ford would find his approval rating plummeting soon, after receiving a barrage of criticism. Thus, his chance for the next term of presidency in the next 2 years had withered away. So, the plot of Richard's developed novel would become more realistic : the POTUS had made the efforts to galvanize his future constituents by creating the political scene. That was his image as the crusader against communists by sending CIA agent to undermine the influence of USSR.
"Anything else , Richard ?" Anne , the ageing waitress and the owner of this shop, asked and poured coffee into his cup. Richard and she and her husband were quite intimate , so he was allowed to be ensconced in their shop as much as he wanted.
"How about a wee piece of orange cake , Anne ? " Richard smiled.
Anne nodded , looked at TV and murmured, " I am wondering whether there will be even a single soul believing him ? It is a crock of shit - the utter shame for America. In the next election , I'd rather change my nationality to be Soviet than vote for this guy."
Richard laughed and drank coffee ; he thought about that John Wayne guy , the cab driver. He said,
"There were probably some hardliners doing such a surprising thing like that as their ideology can blind them like a smoke, but they don't even accept there is a smoke getting in their eyes."
Anne beamed and walked away to another customer. Richard didn't know whether she could understand him. Anne's husband shouted from the counter,
"Wanna bet , Richard ? Even if Ford says he can walk on water, those sorts of guys still accept it with unwavering faith.
Richard laughed again. Their conversation ended as other customers were entering the shop. The writer's mind then drifted to that night - unbelievable that was a month ago- the last time he met Sylvia. Before their departure, Richard bid farewell to everyone and Sylvia was the last one whom he had stood fact to face for a long time.
She looked obviously melancholic." I don't know when we will meet again. Please take good care of yourself. Don't expect too much for your successful comeback, Richard."
Richard muttered, 'Mhm ' , but it was certainly the advice he should wholeheartedly brush off. What was the point of living if you abandoned even a bit of your aspiration because you were just deemed the irretrievable has-been ? But he appreciated her concern enormously.
"I am so sure we will meet again, if the heaven is willing to let us. I think it is you who should care about yourself more than I should. Bear in your mind : If something's gone wrong , just run away and come back here."
Richard imagined like a good writer that Sylvia had a plan of disguising herself as another nationality to live in Cuba , with the helps from some acquaintance of Cedro. He also conjured up the worst scenario that she was disillusioned by the harsh reality of Cuba , but her American identity had been accidentally found. Sylvia was later under arrest and held hostage there. Eventually she and Cedro would unwittingly become a part of propaganda of Castrol's government. Richard asked himself why he had not spent spend at least one hour earnestly warning or stopping her. At last he came to the terms with the fact that she was some sort of the headstrong since she was young ; attempt to change her mind doesn't serve a purpose anyway.
"Why would I come back here ? This kind of life here makes me yawn with tears. I am going to fulfil my wanderlust like you many years ago. If life in Cuba doesn't work , I might go to live in Africa or some mystic islands in Pacific. Goodbye , my ex- darling."
At last, they tightly embraced, and the teary-eyed Sylvia emphasized her last words to him :
"Don't leave Jennifer. She is in trouble !"
Richard just nodded . But this time it was overwhelming him. It was like the heroic mission to fight against the ferocious dragon ,in the guise of the domineering mother, to help the princess incarcerated in the lofty tower. But he was more than glad for this mission thanks to his inner urge , not just honouring the promise with Sylvia. He strongly yearned to see the face of Miss Sunshine again ,even it might be the best he could.
The writer had pretended to visit Sylvia's apartment from time to time ,even though he knew that she had already escaped the banality of her life with Cedro to Florida , the closest part of the US to Cuba .However, Jennifer or Miss Sunshine didn't get out to greet him. Richard then decidedly knocked at her door ,but there was still no response. He sneaked to ask the Hispanic concierge. The good-humoured guy with mustachio told him that the tenants of both rooms had already moved out. Lamentably , the concierge didn't know neither where Jennifer and her mother had moved to nor how to contact her. Richard just learnt that Jennifer's last name was ' Tierney ' and she probably studied at the school around here as the concierge saw her friends waiting in front of the apartment to walk with her every morning.
Richard managed to find her school. But the staffs there told him that she had already resigned, and they didn't know about her present whereabout. He was flustered and desperate. He didn't want to be haunted by her disconsolate eyes like Bob's, as only her happy smile was all his dream. Now it was already a month that he had behaved like the fanatic stalker who was determined to find the girl who was 3 decades younger than him. But it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack .He sometimes wondered even if he actually found her, what should he do to save her while avoiding the legal mess or at least the wrangle with her overambitious and presumably irascible mother ?
The writer suddenly lost the appetite for writing or even digging in a tiny piece of cake. He told Anne to wrap it for him and paid the bill before leaving. Now it was almost the evening. In the beginning of autumn in New York City, the weather was quite temperate, and the leaves of the street trees didn't fall much yet. The traffic on the small boulevard near his apartment seemed to be not jammed at all. Richard really enjoyed the scenes of people hanging out along the large sidewalk and the park.
The families were sitting on the benches or the mats on the greenery lawns. The children were playing near their parents who were having meals and chattering with their friends. The line of hangman's elm trees near them were waving along the breeze. Some energetic people were jogging or walking their dogs.
Richard ultimately arrived at his apartment. There he met someone walking back and forth anxiously in front of its gate and ...
It was Jennifer !
Both Richard and Jennifer seemed to get lost in each other's gaze for long , and he thought it was a kind of euphoric at least for himself. He could see her doleful but bewitching eyes opening wide , and she was in all likelihood gasping with thrill -he felt that way too.
"Miss, it's been a while. I have never expected your presence here before !"
Jennifer smiled. "Aren't you surprised at how I can get here , Mr. Cunningfort ?"
He smiled back and shook his head. "No , it is all about Sylvia's will. She really wants us to know each other and meet. I believe she told you in great detail about me. But it is beyond me that it is you who would finally reach me first."
Jennifer looked around relentlessly. "Can I go upstairs to your room ?"
Richard blushed and a bit trembled. "No ,young lady. I think we'd better go to coffee shop around here and have some creative talk."
She looked noticeably distraught." Please , I just want more privacy ,otherwise my mom would find me ...."
But when she noticed he was adamant , she smiled with mischief like Cedro and said , "If you don't let me, I will yell out that you're trying to grab my boobs."
Richard was startled and his face turned red. He finally yielded to her insistence. While they were ascending the stairs to his room , he fumed,
"Don't know you are so cheeky."
He heard her giggling. She suddenly grabbed his shirt as the stairs were quite steep and slippery. He at last forgave her because he felt the warmth from her hand.
In his room , Jennifer tremendously eased off. She greeted Ben, who looked pretty bewildered to see a stranger, and held him in her arms. Ben looked abruptly relaxed in her embrace. Richard felt delighted to see that scene and said,
"Ben was always quite shy before stranger. You are so exceptional , Jennifer. By the way , do you want some drink ? I suggest you the Chamomile tea. It can soothe your mind well."
Jennifer threw herself on sofa while holding and fondling a cat - so childish.
"No , Coca- Cola , please. I am addicted to it. It can boost my energy and make me feel better."
Richard opened the refrigerator , put the red can on the table and sat opposite to her. She was adorable to show such an instinct of motherhood to the lonesome Ben. It reminded him of the title of the French fairy tale : ' Beauty and Beast'.
"Sylvia told me to find you and help you to get out of .... some trouble." Richard paused a little but couldn't take his eyes off her.
Jennifer let Ben go away and sipped Coca- Cola from its can. She eventually talked to him in the voice conveying some feeling she had probably baulked at expressing to anyone.
"Ms. Cartwright must have told you a lot about me too. She was like my big sister who I never have, or actually she should have been my biological mother , I utterly hope .... Yes , I am in deep trouble. I want to confess that during these months I'm gonna explode into pieces. There are many times that I have been so distressed that I threw up. I can't stand my mom anymore."
"Now you've changed your living place and school , have you ?" Richard asked.
"Yes, the model agent paid my mother a great deal of money in advance , so my mother and I could move to an expensive apartment , far from here. I thus have to change the school too , to the one for the children of the rich. Please be assured that I'm gonna slave to death until our debts are paid off."
"Listen, Jennifer, I have planned to talk with your mother . But I assume that I am just her perfect stranger ,so I might be suspected of being your suitor- that is going to be so obnoxious . What about your other relatives ?" Richard was curious.
"I have never expected you to do that as I know my mother well. There are my uncle and his family , but they live in Oregon -bloody far from here. They wouldn't be any help , Mr. Cunningfort." She said and rose to her feet to watch the view outside the window.
"Or there is another way that you should talk to the agent and persuade him or her to talk with your mother to be easy on you. Your mother might not understand well about this career ,as you need more space to grow up, " Richard said while stealthily watching her body which was slender and magnificent.
"That's a superb idea ! " Jennifer exclaimed. "But if it doesn't work ,I might go to court and ask for changing my guardian."
"It might hurt your mother badly, even if this way wouldn't work , Jennifer, " Richard muttered.
"If you knew my mother well, you wouldn't say that." She chuckled.
Her smile suddenly made the atmosphere in the room much less tense. He was going to quip that her mother might have resembled the Wicked Witch of the West, the villain in The Wizard of Oz , but he changed his mind. The girl walked around , rummaged through a pile of his recordings and said,
"You are such an avid music lover , Mr.Cunningfort !"
"Those are the records I have spent 2 decades buying and desperately finding the space for keeping them." He grinned proudly. "But it will be better if you call me Richard."
"That is longer even than my lifetime ! What about this ?" Jennifer asked and picked the record with the cover as a picture : the blond boy and girl hugging each other , staring cautiously at some point beyond the frame, against the background of a beautiful seaside and a large mansion.
"That is the instrumental song 'A Summer Place' , the original soundtrack by Max Steiner, for the movie with the same name in 1959." Richard walked near her and boasted ," It is the film I watched while dating my girlfriend at the theatre not far from here. At that time, I wasn't young anymore -29 or 30 perhaps."
"How romantic you were ! But you are alone now. What is the movie about ?" Jennifer asked and begged him to play this record. She revelled in its melody by closing her eyes and rocking her head a little. When the song stopped , Richard began to describe ,
"It is about the gripping romance between the youngsters who have the different backgrounds of family. I really love its name as A Summer Place could possibly be a tryst in the faraway land or the fairy tale where 2 people can live together, sharing love with tranquillity and happiness."
Jennifer opened her eyes and fixed them on him. She then murmured like she was captivated by the mystic spells.
"Richard , would you please take me to the place like this ? I promise that I would go anywhere with you. I would do anything you tell me - anything."
Richard deeply sensed that Jennifer's imploration was so heartfelt and passionate. All of a sudden , he felt that her eyes , her lips, and her body -or actually everything in her presence became like a whirlpool that was dragging him into. He was aroused by the hunch that she was feeling the same way. Richard gradually moved closer to her, and his naughty hands rushed to grab her arm and a side of her waist , while their owners were seemingly trembling and staring at him without blinking. He could feel her heavy breaths.
The writer suddenly stopped , withdrew his hands and stepped back. He grumbled ,
"Silly girl, how can you trust the person whom you have met totally not more than 2 hours ? "
Jennifer took a deep breath and pretended to go on searching for the unknown records in the pile. She said in unsteady voice ,
"Time doesn't count. Even my mother whom I have known all my life cannot be trusted at all. But I used to meet the persons who I could guess within minutes that they were really nice."
"Think about it , Jennifer. Listen carefully ! If I take you to someplace, your mother will notify the police and we would certainly be apprehended. I might end up in jail on a charge of minor abduction and you would go on staying with your mom but enduring the wraths from her for months."
Jennifer pretended to ignore him by humming , but he thought she realized about the ensuing catastrophe for both of them.
There was a sound of someone knocking at Richard's door. They were both startled. He shushed her and walked to open the door ajar. A mailman was standing there to deliver him some parcels that could not be left downstairs. When Richard came back, he saw Jennifer sitting and reading the papers of his novel.
"Like Ms.Cartwright said, you are the great writer. I went to the library of my school and found a bunch of your books on the shelves. Although I had just perused them, I thought they were pretty cool." She smiled and put them down on table.
Richard chuckled. "Are there many students borrowing my books ?"
She laughed. "Sorry to say that : just a few. The teenagers ,especially the chicks like me, are fond of the romantic or coming-of-age pulps .So please take heart as the political plots of your novels were too complicated."
Richard glanced at the clock and made his voice tense.
"I think it is an appropriate time for you to go now , young lady. I will take you to hail cab. Your mother must be so anxious!"
"I think she deserves the punishment for some time. By the way , who is 'Miss Sunshine' ?" Jennifer picked up another paper he had used to doodle on when pausing from the typewriter.
Richard was a little embarrassed. "It is the name of my imaginary character. I got inspired by the song of Stevie Wonder , 'You Are the Sunshine of My Life', released last year."
Jennifer giggled. "It is quite old-fashioned , but I like it. In your novel , she must have been so beautiful."
Richard just smiled and asked ," Shall we go now ?"
Jennifer shook her head." No ,Richard, don't you just hear that my stomach is growling ? We should have some dinner before going. I love Chinese foods. Please call for its delivery , because it is risky to eat out. And this dinner is on me."
Richard grinned. "No offense young lady. I am afraid you don't have even a dime in your pocket right now."
She smiled coyly." Of course , so I'll just borrow yours and pay them later."
The writer laughed and was surprised with himself that eventually he had caved in to her endless demands. He also doubted when he would be unable to resist his desire which was almost unbridled from time to time.
Chinese foods from the restaurant in the vicinity were delivered in time. Both the world-weary middle-aged writer and the restless future teen model had the late dinner together with cheerfulness. Richard thought that Jennifer had actually spiced up his life : no talks about dreadful works , heart - wrenching politics or mundane lives of adult. She just relished a chitter-chatter about her new school and friends, including old crush. The girl said the agent paid her the compliments that she was a diamond in the rough. The guy guessed only months of modelling could usher her into Hollywood as she had a charisma to hold the audience spellbound. Let alone the fact that he also had a connection with the film company's executive. However, she looked more enthusiastic to inquire about his life and experiences of globetrotting. It was also quite appalling for him that the girl had rarely ventured outside the New York state.
Richard in this moment found himself a real hypocrite : the more he was coaxing her into leaving , the less he deep down wanted to see her doing that. Jennifer belched a bit and covered her mouth. She keenly helped him to collect all the food remains and their parcels and dump them in the trash can - much to his amazement that she was not a kind of spoiled brat at all.
The girl smiled with mischief again after looking at the clock.
"It is late now. I am too sleepy to even move a bit. I also learn that the neighbourhood of your apartment is quite dangerous at night ,so it is much safer to go out in broad daylight. Let me sleep over here tonight. I swear I will leave you in peace tomorrow morning."
Richard smirked with the feeling that she was trying to make him a pawn or something to get revenge on her mother. But ...
"Your mom would be worried sick about you ."His voice sounded softer.
"I am afraid you ain't actually bothering to force me to leave , as you are too obsessed with me, aren't you ?"
Richard was stupefied and thought she was more precocious than he had assumed. He grudgingly nodded as a gesture of allowance. Jennifer looked extremely elated , jumping and playing with Ben like a small kid.
The writer thought it would be utterly unsafe if he urged her to take a shower. He just said curtly,
"You can sleep in my bedroom. Now it is time for bed."
She nodded and said "Nighty- night" before going straight to his bedroom with several of his books. After his evening routine , Richard finally lied with exhaustion on the couch. He tossed and turned for an hour and at last reached to switch off the lamp nearby. There was a hand grabbing his and that was Jennifer's.
"Richard , I can't sleep. Would you please read me a bedtime story ?" She made her voice so soft that he had goosebumps.
Jennifer was back to lie on bed with the blanket covering part of her body. Richard lifted up a chair for sitting near the bed. Even the flickering light from the lamp couldn't obscure her beauty ; these alluring eyes looked irresistible and led him astray in the maze of her charms.
"You are now 15 years old , how come you still want the bedtime story ? " He wondered.
"Who says I am 15 ? I am already 16 for months. I just want to be with my father again through the bedtime stories. He had helped me to indulge in the sweet dreams by telling them every night. Sadly , he died last year in the car accident, and I miss him so much."
Richard sulked " OK.I am so sorry to hear that. I guess my age is almost the same as his ,right ? Listen , once upon a time , there was Prince Ugly."
Jennifer giggled and said , "Prince Charming !"
"Yes , but it is the new version told by the writer of political thriller novel .... Prince Ugly, who was then middle-aged ,fell in love and attempted to rescue the beautiful and young princess who was captured in the high tower. It was guarded by the ferocious dragon who could destroy everything by unleashing the great fire. The prince tried to recruit the soldiers to accompany him, but to no avail, as everyone was too frightened of the dragon..."
Richard had told the tale in a monotone and saw the girl asleep now. He quietly pulled the blanket to cover all her body. Suddenly Jennifer grabbed his hand before muttering,
"Dad , why did you leave me ?"
He thought she was talking in sleep , so he withdrew his hand and gently caressed both of her cheeks. He moved to kiss her forehead , and it took his breath away with its delicateness and fragrance.
Richard at last whispered ,
"Darling , actually you are my 'Miss Sunshine'. Yes , you are absolutely right : I am obsessed with you. Only thinking of you can brighten my life - to drive away the gloomy days with these darn raindrops. I love you so much and wish you the better days with courage and determination to fight."
Richard gradually crept out of the room and slept on the couch beside the sleeping Ben, , contemplating that tomorrow he would go to consult with the lawyer, who had worked with his agent , about how to rescue Jennifer from that lifeless tower and subdue that dragon. Even this might risk jeopardizing his career with its scandal, he didn't care anymore. Our writer fell into slumber with blissfulness , knowing that someone whom he adored so much was sleeping not far from him.
When Richard woke up in the morning , Jennifer had already gone, vanishing without a trace.
August 9, 1975
Richard believed that one of the most unnerving scenes in this decade of America was a helicopter on the top of the CIA station in Saigon , waiting to evacuate the American diplomats and the South Vietnamese. Those wretched people were struggling in long line to climb up the stairs , but some of them would be hugely disappointed as the size of helicopter seemed to have not enough space for them. This topsy-turvy happened at the end of April this year , just a day before the North Vietnamese armies would be marching triumphantly into the presidential palace of its southern counterpart.
Before this tragedy happened , Mr. Gerald Ford, the US president had been humiliated by the congress not to authorize the assistance for the South Vietnamese government. This certainly hastened the collapse of the country ,once deemed by the post World War 2 POTUS, the important pawn against the spread of Communists. Lamentable for the Americans , the world ,especially the bloc of communist countries , had laughed their heads off to see the world's superpower crawling with its tail between its legs. Although this was mainly from the blunders of his predecessors , it was certain that Mr. Ford's already low approval rating would bear the brunt.
Our writer also felt amazed at his forever unfinished work , doubting when and how it would meet the end. It might be the work that he had squandered his efforts and time the most in his life for , after rewriting over and over again. The darn raindrops were making the pitter-patter on his window glass on this gloomy evening .His depression started to get worse as several heart-rending scenes of the Vietnam War were haunting him. He could recollect the painful eyes of Bob for the last time before they said goodbye, and the very next day Bob committed suicide. Richard was puzzled about what Bob's life as an utter shambles had been sacrificed for- Just to see the last helicopter of the US hastily fleeing from South Vietnam ?
The phone rang ,and Cyndi was calling. She reminded him of his promise to take her to see the opera. Richard told her that he would pick her up in 15 minutes at her apartment. Cyndi , the easy-going and pretty thirtysomething blond, broken up bitterly with Jean and turned to be Richard's girlfriend, after Jean had returned to Paris without attachment with anything in the US, including her. She also confessed to Richard that she had been carried away by his charms on the first night they met.
After all , Richard knew so well that his novel's lack of progress was mainly because he totally missed the muse who was the source of his joie de vivre. Richard had never met Jennifer again , although today was one year anniversary of meeting her for first time. Now 'Someday My Prince Will Come' of Miles David was being played once more, but it had already lost the prowess to relieve his depression. All the minutes he was descending a staircase of his apartment and sitting on cab , Jennifer's alluring face was on his mind. Now he was the boyfriend of one woman, but his heart was lingering around one girl.
Cyndi hopped in the cab and greeted him in ebullient manner as usual. She dressed in a black evening grown and showed the feverish excitement.
"Look at you , Richard ! You are very handsome today - in this black tuxedo. But you looked quite exhausted." Cyndi caressed the shoulder of Richard and grinned widely.
"Maybe I don't sleep much because the recurring nightmares keeps besetting me," Richard said flatly.
"About Bob again ? C' mon it is time to move on , Richard. As a Buddhist, I believe he would be reincarnated into the higher form of life as he was such a great guy."
Richard smiled to her." When I saw the people escaping- like the animals from wildfire- from the communists several months ago in Vietnam , it has jogged my memories about Bob's death and other horrible things I had met in Vietnam. Thank you for comforting me with the oriental religion anyway."
Cyndi smiled and kissed sweetly on his cheek. "It is me who ought to show you the gratitude for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime to watch opera, although I have never actually listened to it ,ha ha."
Richard saw ,via the rear-view mirror, the face of the cab driver who was casting a glance at Cyndi- perhaps with amusement to see the goofy girl with the attire like this.
"Still no news of Sylvia ?" Richard looked at the bustling street around the cab which was rapidly bracing the drizzle.
"No. I have attempted to contact some Cuban friends in Florida ,but they are still clueless. This is because the communications between 2 countries are exceedingly elusive. Oh Sylvia , I miss her so much. Now the poor girl must have seen the true colour of Communism already."
"Hmm ...." Richard looked nonchalant but he was missing Sylvia too. Their cab currently arrived at the towering Metropolitan Opera House , and the crowds were enthusiastically thronging it though uncomfortable with light rain.
"What's the name of that opera ?" Cyndi asked while prancing arm and arm with him.
Richard couldn't help laughing, "Madame Butterfly , one of the most favorite repertoires of Met (Metropolitan Opera , New York's oldest opera company). You will see the painting scenes imitating Japan in the early 20th century, and a Japanese girl screeching like soprano as being pursued by the horny young Lieutenant who was American. Funny , the opera was written by the Italian man who himself never went to Japan even once in his life. "
"Ha ha , what a feast for the eyes !" murmured Cyndi.
In the crowded hall illuminated by the gigantic chandeliers ,Richard had chanced on and had the quick greetings with some of his acquaintance. The cheerful uproars among the crowd made everyone look at the same direction.
"Look over there !" exclaimed Cyndi.
Both of them could see a quartet that became the limelight in the hall where all the socialites in New York City were waiting in to enter the auditorium. Jennifer with her dazzling hairstyle was walking there, wearing the fabulous lily-white evening dress - million times more mature and elegant than the sullen girl he met one year ago. The handsome guy , about her age, was near her and let his arm clung loosely by her hand. The rotund bald guy and the middle- aged woman kept following them - perhaps her manager and her pompous mother. Someone called out Jennifer's name. The delighted people smiled, cheered and clapped their hands .4 of them looked around and greeted them incessantly. Beaming Jennifer was keeping her composure well ; her gait made her look more like the princess , accompanied by the entourage.
"Jennifer Tierney , the rising star of Hollywood ! Richard, have you seen her recent film ? It is incredible ! It is the highest grossing of this year. She and Brad , her co-star, looked like a match made in Heaven." Cyndi said with eagerness.
Richard pretended to be apathetic but felt the warm blood racing around his face. He quietly stared at her ; he felt like being some freak in the cage helplessly gawking at the total pureness of angel before him. She was in this moment absolutely beyond his reach. Lastly , he resigned to this fact , but her presence would indelibly be in his heart ,and he would treasure it even on the way to his grave.
The writer urged Cyndi to seize the opportunity to enter the auditorium, while the crowds were distracted by the divine couple. The match not made in heaven could finally find their reserved seats. The middle-aged man had to endure the endless prattle of his 'petite amie ' ,while he was yearning for some quiet time before the opera began. So, all he had been responding was nod or 'hmm' from time to time.
" Unbelievable that she spent barely a year rising to fame after being the teen model only for months. She is like the magnet that draws the public attention enormously with her mystic charms. Jennifer used to live in the room opposite to Sylvia's. What a pity, If I had known this in advance , I would have visited and asked for her autograph ,or I could have been her close friend."
Cyndi then grudgingly became silent when the auditorium turned dark. The very brief overture by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra began ,followed by the duet between the US navy's Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton and Consul Sharpless in Nagasaki. It reminded Richard of the grandiose foreign policy of the US in the developing countries. The picture of the bombing in Saigon where he was visiting many years ago abruptly emerged. He remembered rushing to the scene and finding the place strewn with the bodies and the debris of human flesh severely torn apart by the explosion. The blood spattered around the wrecks of cars , emitting the gut-wrenching fetid along with the remaining strong smell of gunpowder. The crowds were thus extremely aghast ,running around in frenzy.
While the opera of Giacomo Puccini was continuing , more of the horrifying remembrances descended on him, even though they were not related at all. Richard also remembered when he visited the countryside not far from Saigon . He came across the Vietnamese peasant carrying around his son, the victim of another bomb by the Viet Cong, and wailing for help. The poor man still did not know that the toddle was already dead. Moreover , the picture of several corpses of the US soldiers ,who once used to hang around and have beers with Richard, vehemently attacked him who was shaking now. He was profuse with sweat and felt unbearably suffocated. The writer tried to loosen his bowtie ,but to no avail.
Eventually, the performance reached the most sensational part in this opera : the love duet between Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-san as his 'dearest little Butterfly'.
....Dear child, with eyes full of witchery,
now you are all mine.
You're dressed all in lily-white.
I love your dark tresses
amid the white of your veils...
Richard desperately glanced at the faraway seat , supposedly belonging to Jennifer, in the pitch dark. His eyes were brimming with tears.
All of a sudden , he felt that Cyndi was pulling his arm quite forcefully.
"Richard !" exclaimed she.
"You are standing up. Sit down now !" Cyndi stammered.
April 15, 1976
Richard knocked at a door and briskly opened it without permission from inside. The man ,ensconced in the middle of that office, was his agent who was burying his face in the newspaper beside the lingering smoke on his messy desk. The bald man lowered the newspaper and greeted him cheerfully.
"Hey Richard. You are coming so early."
"I just took Cyndi to her workplace- it is a coincidence that her office is not far from here." Richard beamed , throwing himself on the swivel chair.
"Aha , your laid-back girlfriend. I really like her. When will you two tie a knot ? " His agent put the newspaper on the desk and lifted up the smouldering cigarette from the ashtray to make a big puff.
"It is the absurd question , since marriage is not in my mind or my dream any longer," Richard said flatly , after refusing the cigarette from his longtime friend.
"I understand, you are developing the symptoms of gamophobia right now. I suppose it is like some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder ,since your wife left you. "The agent smirked.
Richard chuckled. "It is not a mental disease or anything. I just feel bored with marriage since it is just the invention of human despair of his own treacherous nature. But it is still pathetically misleading him. By the way , what's about the script of my finished novel ?
"Good good .., my staff read it already, and we have been in contact with some publishing houses who would be so thrilled to witness the Phoenix like you rising from the ashes,"
The agent said and called out, "Derrick , move your ass over here ! Mr.Cunningfort is dying to know about our feedback."
The young man - some unkempt nerd with the thick eyeglasses - walked out of another room with a small basketball on his right hand and bounced it on the floor. He smiled to Richard.
"Hello , Mr.Cunningfort. Your novel is so breathtaking." He finished his sentence and turned to throw the ball into the mini basketball hoop installed at a corner of the room.
Richard was perturbed.
"Could you please elaborate your opinion about my novel ?"
"The plot is quite brand new , unpredictable , especially in the end. But some parts are too long ,especially the part the CIA guy is hooking up with a girl next door, the Russian girl. After all ,there is one thing I want to .... how can I say... strongly object .... that your novel has exploited Jennifer."
Derrick was droning while picking up the basketball and throwing it again, whereas the agent seemed totally unconcerned about this. It was likely that he was observing Richard quietly.
"As the most awesome fan of Jennifer Tierney, the greatest young star of Hollywood or the world, I think you deliberately use the Russian girl in your novel as her avatar. Worse still , you use the pet name 'Miss Sunshine' with that girl , and Jennifer used to mention in an interview that it was her most adored pet name."
Richard was a little startled but remained calm.
The agent laughed and talked to Richard , "He is really the great fan of hers ; even I want to join her fan club. My wife keeps nagging me to take her to see Jennifer's films. She is such an attractive gal ! She can effortlessly move the audience with her prowess ,even with the role that used to be crappy in the previous films. "
Derrick went on. "You also write that the Russian girl loves the song 'A Summer Place' from a record played by the CIA guy, while Jennifer also said it was her favorite song too. I think it is unfair to steal her from me."
Derrick said in a comical monotone and sat on the nearby chair , still smiling , but Richard felt that there was the agitation in his talking. Nonetheless , the writer was highly amused at his gestures. The nerdy boy then grabbed the sandwiches on the table and munched it like a child.
The agent laughed again." Sorry , Richard. I would say that he is quite weird and blunt but believe me that he used to be the child prodigy , the best of our staffs."
Richard nodded and turned dispirited. He had never read or watched any interview from Jennifer ; should he be elated that Jennifer was still thinking of him ? Or was it just the remnant of her good memory about him ?
"Just let his criticism go. It actually depends on the editors we have contacted. Although the first refuses your novel , I believe the next would embrace us with happy arms. You used to be a big shot before , and they must still be beguiled by your legend. Go to get some sleep , Richard. You look like shit ! " The agent said.
"Perhaps I spent the night too long." Richard yawned and prepared to leave. He began to see the fate of his novel from some hints of his agent.
The agent smiled mischievously.
"Don't be tough with your girlfriend at night. You are the old man now , ha ha."
Richard roared with laughter for the first time.
"It is not like your nasty imagination. I think I am grappling with my chronic depression and nightmares , even though it doesn't reach the suicidal level."
"So go to the shrink then. I know several of them. Call me if you wanna get the mental problems off your chest."
The agent smiled and talked to his assistant about another business. Richard left the office and went out of that building. His agent's office was not far from the Hudson River. He just walked idly along the river , despite the cold breeze in the early spring. The writer relished its scenery in the morning : the clear surface of water was intermittently strafed by the lively wedge of Canadian Geese. However , he had to squint sometimes when the sunlight was too strong , but he could see the Statue of Liberty situated on the Liberty Island from afar. In its background were the skyscrapers , including the World Trade Center, the twin gigantic buildings , completely built 3 years ago.
"Hello , Richard. Long time no see! "
All of a sudden, the familiar gruff voice was from behind. The man , about his 50s or more, in the thick grey overcoat , was smiling to Richard. Apart from its sinister radiance , his all-white moustache and beard even made him look more manipulative.
"George ! Why are you here ?" Richard exclaimed.
George moved quite slowly and finally stood near Richard ; both of them were watching the view together. George sniggered. "Ha ha, look at you ! You are grimacing. I guess I am the last tribe of people on earth you expect to see. On the contrary, I have been thinking of you tremendously."
Richard blushed with anger. "Don't know you will at last turn to be the freaking psychic who can read the people's minds ,even I am not doubting a bit how you can find me."
George said proudly ,"Even you escape to the brink of hell , I still can hunt you down, if necessary. By the way , remember the fleeing helicopter on the top of our building in Saigon last year ?"
Richard looked at him." Of course , old Bailey was the pilot. Can't believe he unwittingly became a part of the historic picture , even though it is the picture of shame."
George looked around." I know that picture is the shame and the beginning of the US collective mental problems - at least you and me."
Richard snickered. " Don't know the tough guy like you will have to suffer that problem. You always showed off your bravery and mastery skills of fighting like the hero in the Hollywood films. But actually, you are just the lonely cold-hearted spy."
George appeared to make his voice unbelievably much softer. "Perhaps I am increasingly mellow thanks to my advanced age."
Richard looked at his once comrade-in-arms , trying to size up his genuineness. The writer finally halted his sarcasm and asked,
"As far as I know , you have already climbed the ladder to the post of deputy director, right ?"
George smiled. "Yes , but it is just transient, Richard. I feel I still have something more to do in this life, but the post will inevitably become my hurdle. It is the ugly sort of office stuff : fiddling away whole day by reading the boring piles of papers and joining the endless meetings. By the way, do you want to get back to work ? You are still quite young and serviceable for our organization. I don't think your comeback as the great writer would thrive as time changes - you are the incurable goner."
Richard smirked. "Not a chance in hell ! Even if my new novel totally flops like your curse, I will still live like this : probably a bum or some deplorable thing , I don't care."
Both of them were quiet for a while. It was the awkward and annoying silence. There was a helicopter flying from afar, and they could hear its muffled whirr.
"Richard , next week Pentagon will announce the new estimation about our losses in the Vietnam War. As far as I know , we lost nearly 60,000 of our boys ,and nearly 17,000,000,000 dollars were squandered. Besides , probably the 2,000,000 lives of gooks , oops ! I mean.... the lives of Vietnamese from both sides were lost , " George described bluntly like it was the plain statistic.
Richard was dumbfounded and let his friend continue.
"Funny, whenever I delve into those horrifying details, I always see your faint fingerprints all across them."
Richard seemed unable to quelle his wrath. "And why the hell do you move your ass over here to drag me back into this ?"
George stared at his eyes." I want you to accept the truth that you actually caused these debacles like Kennedy , Johnson and Nixon , though your part was a minuscule fraction. You thus should stop pretending to be the pacifistic writer, as I think you have attempted to conceal your guilt and make your part in this war invisible. The blood of millions was on your hands , Richard , so to speak. You are well aware of it. I don't think only the death of Bob , your cousin, would make you grief-stricken like this."
Richard was terribly shaken. Some beads of sweat were suddenly springing up on his face. He murmured,
"I never pretend to be against the war. I change my mindset when I have witnessed its fallouts and the avarice of America's warmongers. Eventually I come to my sense , while you are still delusional."
"Really ? Although you really recant , you will never hide the truth about yourself. Imagine what would have happened if the [Lyndon B.] Johnson's administration had not chosen your social and political assessments about Laos and Vietnam ? The history would have changed. Those statistic I have just quoted would change its numbers -fascinating to think about it ! " George still droned ,but there was a trace of blame game in that voice.
Richard felt all his strength had already vanished. He really wanted to throw himself on the floor and wail like toddle , but he restrained that urge.
" Richard , that's the way of the world : The weakling shall perish before conquered by the strong at last. Do you remember Sebastian ? Of course , he was your best buddy in Laos," George said and lit the cigarette before proffering another to Richard who slowly shook his head.
The writer managed to say starkly, "Yeah , I know that last year Sebastian and his team went to Indonesia and met with President Suharto , right ? They were the ones who had assessed the situations in East Timor and informed the Ford administration. Finally, Ford gave the green light to the Indonesian army to invade the tiny former colony of Portugal."
George still looked unfazed." You do your homework well. I know you still keep abreast of your old organization. Don't you know about the cruelty of the Indonesian army ? It is in the orgy of killing ,raping or inflicting the excruciating pains to their enemies via every imaginable method. Hundred thousand of Timorese have been being ensnared in these ordeals until this day. I rest assured that Sebastian finally has been consumed by guilt because he is faint-hearted like you. But those are much better than the crumbling of our relations with Indonesia , and the advantages of the communists ensue. So, stop tormenting yourself ; don't let those communist bastards fool you. They are just the worthless scums , deserving to be wiped off the face of the earth ASAP. "
Richard suddenly found that the view of Hudson River was not so spectacular for him like an hour ago. He turned to George.
"You are still the same old George : the psychopath or the heartless scoundrel who never cares about human lives or anything. Just now you misled me that you were haunted by your parts in those carnages !"
George laughed and stared at Richard balefully.
"I am not the saint like you. I just meant I have been greatly disturbed only by our fiasco in Vietnam. This is my job , and I wholeheartedly stick to it. And you ,apart from your denial of your past roles , you have utilized the resources from the organization for your own prestige as the famous novelist for too long. Some in top echelon of Washington had toyed with the idea of terminating you , not even negotiating or intimidating you , because they knew that you were stubborn and vainglorious. They had begun to loathe you since you wrote the articles to attack President Nixon's secret bombings in Cambodia. That was the act of betrayal."
He then blew the big smoke which had evaporated into the river below.
Richard shouted ,"So, this is the reason why there are many times I have picked up the fucking phone for dozen times and there was no one on the other fucking end each time. Are those the jobs of your boys ?"
This time George looked puzzled. "No , we never choose that way to bully you .The guys , who wanted to put bullets in your skull, were also dead or retired already. We just let you reap the benefits as much as you want. This is because now you are indebted enormously to us. And you must pay back even you already retire or hate your own organization so much , Ha ha."
Richard's face was ashen. He really wanted to run as fast as he could to some place. Out of the blue , he saw the face of Jennifer among the white clouds.
George suddenly changed the topic :
"Like Indonesia , although our boys are already out of that godforsaken region , we are obliged to protect our old allies. Now it is the turn of your another favorite country : Thailand. Her fledgling democratically elected government is horribly weak. The establishment is scared shitless of the threats from the crafty commies. The latter are suspected of infiltrating the groups of the radical students who have been putting the country in jeopardy by the incessant protests. So embarrassing that we have to crawl out of our own military bases and Thailand as they wish, but the Thai military and ruling class still want us so badly, Richard. They have been concocting the plans to slaughter those damn kids in the coming months like the Indonesian army has done to the Timorese. Our assistance would thus be utterly valuable to them, and do you want to join us ?"
Richard cried out,
"George , those kids are probably in the same age as your sons. Don't you just feel anything about their lives or their families ? There are still the innocent people among them ! "
George shrugged." Like I said, don't let the Reds lead you astray. If the domino theory is right, Thailand will be the next of the commie's victims and hence the whole Southeast Asia. I don't give a fuck if thousands of them or more would be butchered like the filthy swine, as they have transmitted the fatal diseases. There must also be the collateral damage that we should overlook in stride for the greatest good. I will pray for their poor souls every now and then , Richard."
Finally, Richard mustered up all strength to leave George without bidding him farewell. Nonetheless , No sooner had Richard started to move forward than he met a couple of tough guys in tie and suit. They seemed to be extremely untrustworthy from their sunglasses. The guys were rapidly walking toward him , so he steered away to the right , just to find another one who was seemingly on the same team ,while George was standing still and beaming.
The minute Richard was totally surrounded, one of them said to him politely but curtly ,
"Mr.Cunningfort , we are the United States Secret Service. Please come with us. Some important person is awaiting you."
Richard automatically knew who 'some important person' was, when those men identified themselves as the US Secret Service. Or actually Richard had known this, even since he first saw them approaching him ; it was from the familiarity as he used to frequently work with them. Several of Richard's acquaintance were also working in this agency. After all, he was ashamed that George might have been amused by his unsuppressed panic.
The important person was waiting for him at the building not far from there. The building's terrace was adjunct to the river, and it even made the river's view far more picturesque from its high angle. The sun seemingly was a bit worn down; it hid some part of its face behind the scattering clouds. And the wind kept blowing , helping the flock of birds to soar in the boisterous manners above the murky river.
That person was standing there. Beside him were several people sitting on the portable chairs ,listening carefully to what he was dictating : especially a bespectacled woman who was adroitly typing. The vigilant agents of Secret Service were standing around the place. Now Richard knew why there was a helicopter flying around here restlessly.
The gangly man , about same age as George, noticed Richard first and darted to greet him. Richard begrudgingly beamed, but deep down inside, he felt glad to meet his former mentor again.
"Congrats ! Finally, you are the director."
The director smiled , shook hands and hugged him lightly.
" Thank you. I haven't met you for so long . Hope your career would be great as always."
He then looked at George and quipped,
"Now we have 2 Georges as the executive of this organization ! I am glad that George Philis has just retired, otherwise there would be now 3 Georges."
All of them burst into laughter. Richard finally felt more light-hearted, especially when he suddenly was oblivious to how vicious they have been. The important person still looked busy, so they had to wait briefly. Richard asked the director :
"What about your stint in the Liaison Office (1) in China ? You got the risky mission there when Chairman Mao's health looks more and more debilitated , Mr. George Bush ? "
George H. W. Bush (2) smiled.
"You know the situation well , Richard. I was so lucky that the geezer wasn't dead during my tenure. We are currently anticipating his death any time soon. The Gang of Four is also waiting patiently to seize the power from other powerful cliques. The civil war in Beijing could be something we're at least desiring ,as it would be disaster for their relationships with us. It is especially when the ultra- Maoist like Jiang Qing [wife of Mao] becomes the paramount leader, not Mr. Hua [Hua Guofeng , Mao's immediate successor]."
The director suddenly stopped and introduced Richard to the fiftysomething and bald guy before them.
"Mr. President, this is Richard, the guy you are looking for."
The president of the United States of America, Gerald Ford ,with the smoldering pipe on his mouth, proffered a hand to Richard.
"Not so delighted to meet you. But finally, I meet you , " He said gently, but not in much cordiality.
The writer politely grabbed his hand, noticing that the president's face looked haggard, and his eyes were bloodshot -probably from not enough sleeps. Now Mr. Ford was utterly out of his depth ,when the opinion polls about the presidential election at the end of this year overwhelmingly showed that his popularity was much dragging behind the Democrat's most likely candidate like Mr. Jimmy Carter , the ex-governor of Georgia.
Some members in the president's staff briskly rose to their feet. 2 Georges and 1 Richard were invited by the president to sit on their portable sofa. They were ultimately left alone , except the woman who stopped typing and sat beside Ford. The paper cups of fragrant coffee were served by a member.
The president tried to enliven the atmosphere by looking around and cracking,
"Mr. Nixon told me long time ago that he felt scared to be among you , the CIA guys. And now I'm realizing that."
Everyone baulked at laughing and said nothing. The woman as Ford's secretary handed in the papers to the president ; Richard knew abruptly that it was the script of his finished novel.
"I don't believe your novel ,if published ,would much undermine my credibility and reduce my votes. As it is just the fictitious work, and it doesn't guarantee that the readers would welcome you again, Mr. Cunningfort, " the president said while roughly flipping over its pages. He then fumed,
"But it has greatly offended me with your wanton and ludicrous imagination. In you novel , I become the opportunist who breaks the detente with the USSR , just in order to boost my popularity. That's not funny."
Richard nodded and said gently,
"Guilty as charged. I would neither claim the freedom of expression nor ask you how you acquire the script of my novel, although it is illegal to do that ,Mr. President. But I am very honoured to know that you are paying some heed to me."
Mr. President beamed, though Richard thought he was still holding a grudge against him.
Ford said , "During the 60s , I was a great fan of yours. I read most of your novels and short stories like Mr. Nixon did. Even when I became the president, I was electrified by the very fact that you were one of the CIA agents."
He looked at George the Deputy Director.
"Brief me on his curriculum vitae. I want to know how my favorite writer has lived his life."
George nodded politely ; Richard felt amused to see the obsequiousness from his friend who was seen as always tough as nails.
"Sir, Richard graduated from Yale University with the PhD in History. He had done some stints as the journalist and the writer. After joining CIA, his debut was to play a minor part in the operation that led to the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961."
The president chortled loudly ; it looked like he was being vindicated by Richard's flawed biography. He said with laughter,
"Ha ha, I remember that. It was an utmost catastrophe - the shame and the blunder for the gullible [John F.] Kennedy to overthrow Castro. The cohorts of pitiful Cubans in Exile were killed ; many were later imprisoned and brutally executed by the Cuban government -terrible start for you , Richard." The president turned to call him his first name.
He swiftly beckoned to his personal aide who was standing not far from here.
"Do I still have time ?"
The guy with the weird beard rushed to skim the diary for a while and warned,
"We still got 15 minutes left , as you are scheduled to deliver a speech at Fulton Club , Sir."
"Make a phone call and tell' em that I am still busy and gonna be late for at least an hour - whether my car is bombed by the Russian's nuke or something , think about the excuse !"
His aide nodded and left. The president smiled at George as a gesture of allowing the continuation of burning Richard.
"Richard lived the double life as the writer and our guy ..." George went on , but he was immediately interrupted by Ford.
"His books revealed so much about the CIA. How come you guys have let him do that , Mr. Brett?”
George sniggered." Mr. President, we were then aware that KGB [the Soviet's intelligence agency] was attempting to exploit Richard's literary works. Some of us wanted to fire him , but we knew that Richard was brilliant at blending the facts and the fictions. So, the Soviets were bemused by the so-called information of our organization -just like the general readers. Leonid Brezhnev [the Soviet's leader] was enlightened that Richard's works were unquestionably the lures at last."
Ford roared with laughter , while George Bush ,who was sitting near him, still kept his composure. Richard blushed as he had a hunch that the president was relieving his stresses from the incessant and tense campaigns for presidential election. The writer became the colourful entertainment for him. But he lastly accepted that what went around came around.
(1) It was the de facto embassy thanks to the fact that the US and China still didn't have the diplomatic relations until 1979.
(2) Historically , the real Bush had never really worked with the CIA before , as he was the businessman and the politician all his life (He finally became the US president in 1989). However, this short story intentionally distorts some parts of his biography to satisfy the writer's imagination.
The eerie silence fell upon everyone. George sneaked at Mr. President and went on.
"Richard and his team were sent by the Johnson's administration to conduct the research on societies, economies and especially political situations of Laos and South Vietnam ,before the US would escalate the war in 1965. Actually , there had been already many teams of Anthropologists and other types of scholars doing those across the mainland of Southeast Asia , President Johnson surprisingly chose Richard's research as the main source of his foreign policies, and the rest was history."
Mr. President stared at Richard.
"Now I learn that one of my undesired legacies have enormously been caused by you ,the writer and the spy. It looks preposterous that the Vietnam war is actually the upshot from the confusions between facts and fictions from the erudite scholar like you - but it is true."
"Mr. President, there are numerous factors that had led the US military to lose in the Vietnam War. I would like to insist that George's opinion about me is unfairly exaggerated. Besides , I am still doubting until now whether Washington and Pentagon then were clever enough to transform my assessments into the real and practical policies."
Ford simply smiled and blew the smoke from his pipe , as he knew that Richard was simmering with anger. George Bush interrupted to assuage the situation.
"By the way ,Richard. I browsed through your script last night. I think your novel appears to spend much time with the mystic Russian girl the hero fell for. Don't know you will be such a romantic guy !"
Richard smiled wryly and said nothing.
Mr. President agreed.
"Yeah yeah, the protagonist ,intentionally elaborated most in this novel ,is the 16-year-old woman whose father secretly works with the KGB. Even the CIA guy himself looks quite drab and ambiguous in many parts."
"Mr. President , most important of all , everyone reading this will immediately know that she is the incarnation of Jennifer Tierney. Every element of Jennifer is unrestrainedly simulated in this novel. Richard has an exceptional taste for the much younger girl than him."
Mr. President had another idea.
"It isn't unusual for anyone to be obsessed with Jennifer, as she is the most gorgeous and charming superstar in the world. Everybody in this country is crazy about her ,even my daughter has attempted to imitate her way of speaking and style of dressing."
Everybody ,except Richard, laughed heartily. The president lamented,
"What a pity that Jennifer is a Democrat , otherwise I would manage to recruit her as our advocate. It would be reassuring that I can 100 percent garner far more votes in many swing states , and I am not gonna be dead tired from fighting tooth and nail like this !"
The secretary finally had a chance to tease Richard.
"Mr. Cunningfort , if you want to date Jennifer , you must work real hard to fight with a million men to be the first on the queue to her - just to find that she already has boyfriend. Besides, Mr. Brad Lemann , her boyfriend , is the true lady-killer - extremely attractive, handsome and wow , I can't describe about him all !"
Everyone laughed again. George said,
"It is obvious that Mary [secretary] is a big fan of Brad. I think she's absolutely right : you are the ugly old man now , Richard - the one whose face is wrinkled. Your moustache and beard turn white just like me (and your unfaithful wife will certainly agree). No hard feelings ,if I say that you will be exceedingly lucky, if you meet the charming Jennifer even once in your life .What a fantasy ! "
Richard sighed a little , because this implied that his crafty friend didn't know that once Jennifer used to spend a night at his apartment. However, he became furious and stood up abruptly.
"That's all ! Mr. President. I think it's time for me to leave now. You can say my novel will never be published. I will finally surrender to this fate , although I had spent years giving life to it with such the hardships."
Mr. President waved his hands downward and said with laughter,
"Take it easy, Mr. Cunningfort ,don't go away . You have attacked me in many parts of your novel. Please consider this conversation as retribution against you or , in other words, your karma. Mr. Brett , continue to brief me !"
Richard threw himself on the sofa. George stammered a bit as he could feel his friend's wrath.
"Apart from almost every country in Southeast Asia ,we had sent Richard to travel extensively in Europe ,especially USSR , Switzerland , West Germany and France. In Paris Richard , in the guise of reporter, had conducted the impressive investigation about the riots in 1968. But the traumas in the Asian countries'd still gripped him , Richard suddenly quit the CIA in 1972 ,claiming that he had been fed up with the brutalities of war."
Richard interrupted him.
"Let me talk about my own life , George. You probably never closely witness the dying man ,desperately clinging to his life, from the bombing in Saigon. I also suppose you never see the dead toddle whose father had carried and tried in vain to revive him in the countryside of South Vietnam. That was utterly horrific ,George. I kept asking myself over and over again whether I was really one of the culprits of these heart-wrenching and grisly murders , let alone the death of my cousin."
George stopped smiling and murmured,
"You are such a chicken-hearted guy ! I come to realize that it served you right when you resigned from this honourable organization. But it is quite peculiar that you had condemned President Nixon's bombings in Cambodia after your resignation , but you never even mentioned the bombings in Laos which had been carried out since the Johnson's administration. Is this because you were a part of this campaign ? "
Richard became stupefied. Mr. President lit his pipe again and droned. It was exactly like he had done when he was on TV to pardon Nixon , scornfully watched by Richard in the coffee shop that day. But this time his speaking was too scathing.
"Richard, we all have the skeletons in the closets. You attacked me that I pardoned Mr. Nixon, because it was a quid pro quo between me and him for the presidency. And what about you ? You kept silent about Laos which had been bombed even more devastatingly than Cambodia. I once saw the picture of you smilingly shaking hands with Lyndon B. Johnson. That dotard was the real villain ; he opened the Pandora's box by starting this war. Mr. Nixon and I have to be burdened by his darn legacies , but you have unashamedly avoided criticizing him. What a hypocrisy ! "
George Bush cut in the conversation.
"Mr. President, I think Richard is punished enough. Our agency keeps him on surveillance and learns that He has been enduring the trauma from the past. Please have leniency on him. You may cut to the chase now."
Mr. President became more amiable.
"OK , Mr. Bush. I will reminisce about his contributions in the past as my favorite writer. Richard , I think you already know about my intention today. Don't let your novel be published in anyplace in the world ,otherwise we shall kill you ...."
Everyone was in the great shock. But the president ended his sentence with smile :
"... by revealing who you were to the public. You know after the war, a majority of Americans turn hostile to the CIA, as they think this organization was the real villain behind our fiascos in Vietnam. If your past identity becomes known , your career as writer will certainly be buried forever. Even if I would be lost in this election, I still can exact the unimaginable revenge on you. How about this ? You can spend some months rewriting the plot and send it for our scrutiny again. I really like you ,Richard. I hope to read more of your novels , but not the one barefacedly slandering me like this !"
Richard was benumbed and could feel his shirt drenched with sweats. The chance of his comeback seemingly vanished into thin air with his dismay.
All of a sudden , the writer could hear the sweet 'A Summer Place', the very one he used to play for Jennifer that night, resounding from somewhere. He looked around and shouted,
"Do you guys hear this song ? "
Everybody followed suit with bewilderment. George sniggered.
"No , Richard. Don't change the subject ! Or you are probably developing the schizophrenia right now, aren't you ?"
Richard quickly stared at the white clouds which were presumed to be the source of that song. He turned to everyone and said with the unexpected smile :
"Is it hauntingly beautiful to listen to this song with the one you love , even the whole world is collapsing before you ?"
November 3, 1976
This morning all Americans across the country finally were facing the reality that they'd got their new president from the election yesterday. Jimmy Carter from the Democrat could beat the incumbent Gerald Ford from the Republican via the electoral college. Although it was not much landslide victory , it still made the Mr. Ford to repent for all his previous blunders in the remaining 2 months of his tenure as the lame president.
Richard knew that even though Mr. President would soon become the relic in the past, he'd still bore the brunt if he decided to go ahead with his novel. But it didn't strike his nerve any longer, as his agent later told him that the chance of any publishing houses to accept it was quite slim ,because everything about Mr. Ford became archaic. However , to follow Mr. Ford's advice to rewrite was out of the question, because Richard thought it amounted to the act of dismantling his hard-earned novel. So, Richard probably had no option but grudgingly put the novel on shelf forever and embarked on the new one. But it was monstrously difficult to do that , as he felt he was facing the writer's block again.
Months later, Richard was amused to learn that the nerdy boy with basketball was actually working as a mole for the CIA and sent the script of his novel to them, unbeknownst to his innocent agent. Richard wondered how he had made the mistake, not able to detect something in this person who had shared his old career.
The loud TV with the unremitting news of presidential election woke Cyndi up. She rose from the bed with eagerness , while Richard was cooking in the kitchen. She was much delighted to know the result , while still lazily ensconced on the sofa to watch TV.
"Gee ! No regret voting for him yesterday. Finally, we will move on with the new boss. I think this country is plunging into hell. What are you cooking ,Richard ? Such a pleasant smell !" Cyndi stood up to embrace him from behind.
"Your favorites : scrambled egg and bacons. Do you want them done ? " Richard said in the lukewarm voice.
"I'm glad that I have a boyfriend who can cook , even better than me. It is one in a million , no... zillion to find the guy like you !" She said and jumped to kiss his cheek.
All of a sudden, the TV program turned to the interviews with the celebrities about the election result. Reporter was handing a microphone to Jennifer who was beaming among the crowd. Richard picked up the remote control and abruptly changed the channel.
Cyndi yelled out,
"What's gotten the hell into you ? I want to watch my favorite superstar."
She grabbed the remote control from his hand and changed back to the same channel. The program seemed contented to linger as much as they could to interview Jennifer , the alluring superstar, whose every word had mesmerized people nearby, or even probably the president-elect himself whom she voted for. Richard pretended to walk into another room.
Their breakfast didn't go smoothly, as Cyndi was still agitated with her boyfriend's oddity.
"Are you the closeted gay or secretly have some complex ,Richard ? Every time I urge you to see the films of Jennifer, you will decline. Even her interviews or appearances on TV will always be shunned by you. I think if I had a friend as a journalist , I would tell him to make a fascinating scoop about you with the title 'Is this man the only one in America who hates Jennifer ?' You will certainly enjoy your sudden notoriety," she said half-jokingly , but with satire.
Richard sniggered ; he just kept quiet and thought about his work and ... her in his everlasting dream not in any appliance like these.
"Could you do your girlfriend a favour by making her weekend worthwhile ? Please take me to go to Bloomingdale's ; the sale of the high- heeled shoes there is absolutely stunning - never gonna find like this in your lifetime. I know there is a theatre around there and the new film of Jennifer has just arrived. I won't trick ya as I can watch it all alone."
Size of the unexpected crowds there in the late morning was spectacular. Its immensity had diminished Bloomingdale's ,one of the oldest department stores in New York City. And the song from the loudspeakers of the store were all muffled by the people's unbearable clamours and screaming. Richard sighed as he was thinking that Cyndi made a dreadful mistake by taking him here ,as he deeply yearned for some serenity in the forlorn garden somewhere in spite of the cold weather.
Cyndi was holding one of his arms and asked the nearby old lady :
"Excuse me , Miss. Is some celebrity like John Travolta or Jane Fonda visiting here ?"
The old lady turned to answer her with excitement.
"No, more than that. Jennifer Tierney is appearing as a presenter for some jewellery shop on the second floor and walking toward this way to promote her new film at the movie theatre."
Cydni turned to Richard.
"Richard , we should wait here, because we are now on the corridor to the movie theatre. Here is narrow and not much crowded yet. So, we will be able to see her clearly or ask for her autographs."
Richard felt the warm blood running around his face. He saw many people increasingly began to stand near him, and Cyndi kept pulling him to continue staying in the front of the crowd. The clamours and the screams became louder to show that the princess and her entourage were coming closer. But the people's utmost frenzies made her more look like the messiah or the saviour who will redeem them from their mortal sins.
Amidst the boisterousness , Richard found that the people behind him were frequently shoving him and Cyndi ,and the crowd around him began to be in disarray. He then thought about going away but couldn't do that , as there was not enough space in the crowd to push himself and Cyndi (if she agreed with him) through.
The solemn men, probably the bodyguards, were ushering the superstar who was immersing herself in shaking hands from the fanatic admirers. They were yelling and calling 'Jennifer' tirelessly. All of a sudden , Richard felt like something was forcefully dragging him and Cyndi to rush past the bodyguards to stand in front of the superstar. Jennifer stopped greeting the crowds and stared at him. The beautiful girl was stunned , and her eyes opened wide. Richard harked back to the first time they met. Those blue-green ocean - like eyes were still inscrutable as usual ; they could lure him to be stranded there and die with ecstasy. But she looked more elegant and smarter even than the last time he saw her at the opera house that night.
Richard was expecting her smile and greeting as the old acquaintance. But her lips merely stretched a little just like the attempt to suppress a smile. She then looked nonchalantly at Cyndi who was trying in vain to shake hands with her. The superstar briskly turned around to greet other fans and walked past them to the movie theatre.
Cyndi was still in good mood. She felt grateful even just to be near her idolized actress, although the latter had refused her handshake offer. Richard now realized that the things upsetting him most was not his stillborn novel , but the person, whom he had ardently fallen for, just brushed him aside like a pebble along the road. Or it was showing him that all he had clung to all the time was nothing but delusions of a desperate man, and now they were shattered into pieces. Richard had absent-mindedly accompanied Cyndi to the shop. Even she might eventually lead him to jump into the abyss , he didn't care much.
No sooner had they arrived at Richard's apartment than the phone rang. Richard rushed to pick up the phone. There was not voice from the other end. He attentively listened and could hear the faint breathing from a human being. He at last put down the phone softly and saw Cyndi looking at him while trying her new shoes.
"I think that prankster intentionally tried to get on your nerve, because when I picked up the phone the other day , he immediately hung it up. Why don't you change the phone's number ? This is perhaps the 25th or 30th time you have received like this. You are such a coolheaded guy ! As I would be so pissed off , if I were you."
"I begin to get used to it. Perhaps he is a sick guy , trying to remedy his sick mind or vent his frustrations , and I am ready to help him. Moreover , I suppose this person has the ability to track us. Even if we change the number, he can still play the prank like this. What about your new shoes ?"
She shook her head.
"They don't fit well with my feet. I probably will go back to change it for another size. By the way, when we miraculously stood in front of Jennifer, she looked apparently thrilled to see you. Her eyes opened wide for too long - I could notice."
"I think she could recognize me vaguely. Maybe her great pride prevented her from showing that she used to know me. Look ! I'm now resembling the bum - the writer with no work who just lives off his own saving money. I am like the old man who is only waiting to die."
She chuckled and embraced him.
"No , not at all. You're still looking like some sort of the incorrigible intelligentsia , though you are dressing in rags. Take heart and prepare to write your another promising novel. I can guarantee that it would be inevitably the bestselling one .Richard , I bought the new record yesterday and shall we dance ? "
Cyndi darted to the corner with the pile of records and began to play one of them on the table. Richard thought about the time Jennifer was rummaging through those records. He could even remember her sleek brunette hair on shoulder.
Finally , Richard spent several minutes recollecting that this song was 'I Only Have Eyes For You' , one of the greatest love songs in the 50s by The Flamingos :
My love must be a kind of blind love
I can't see anyone but you ....
Are the stars out tonight
I don't know if it's cloudy or bright
I only have eyes for you dear
.............. Maybe millions of people go by
But they all disappear from view.
And I only have eyes for you.
While both of them were dancing, Richard's lips unintentionally touched the forehead of Cyndi , he thus reminisced about the soft forehead of Jennifer that night. He felt his eyes moistening.
March 30, 1977
The Empire State Building
Richard remembered well when he was still an overjoyed toddle , his parents from time to time took him to the Empire State Building to watch the breathtaking panoramic views of New York City. It was hysterical to think that he had grown old with this building in tow like brothers, as it had been built around the time he was only 1 or 2 years old. This time Richard was visiting it as a middle-aged man, despondent about the unrequited love and perplexed with the unforeseen future of his career. This happened after the Empire State lost its championship of the tallest building in the world as soon as the twin towers of the World Trade Center were completed in 1973.
The weather at the top floor of the building was still freezing , though the snow had already vanished for almost a month. The visitors were still enthusiastically walking around, relishing the views , and some were being amazed at their grandeur via the silver telescopes. Richard could see the small vinyl banner covering a building below. Actually, it was extremely large when seen from the ground. That was the bewitching Jennifer posing with the diamond necklaces -probably the most outstanding banner in New York City. He spent minutes watching it like being under hypnosis.
"Hey son of a gun ! Are you freezing to death ?"
The Hispanic guy about Richard's age yelled out and walked towards him , along with a boy.
"Sebastian , how dare you get me to see you in the place with the piercing cold like this ? Richard beamed and embraced his once best buddy.
Sebastian said in sheer delight:
"Clara's having an appointment in the next building. And Peter is dying to watch the views from here , because we rarely come to New York. See , does he grow fast ?"
Richard shook hands with Peter and fondled his black hair.
"Hello , Peter. Oh , how the time has fleeted ! I remember kissing him when he was still a baby. What about Clara ? I hope her work as the house saleswoman would go well."
Sebastian shook his head.
" It is a kind of dog- eat -dog business , Richard. You must be ready to do everything to convince the people to buy your houses .This is even they might be the stigmatized properties like their previous owners committed suicide or were murdered. You must try to soften or conceal their flaws as much as you can. Being the CIA agent becomes like a blessing from heaven, compared with it."
Both of them laughed. Sebastian bent down to say to his son :
"You'd better walk around and watch the views as much as you want. I have some business to talk with Uncle Richard. Here are the coins for telescope. If some stranger approach you , you remember our drill ?"
The boy nodded , smiled to Richard and walked away.
Both of them braved the cold wind to watch the views together. It was fortunate that other visitors were scattering far from their spot. But they switched to use the Russian language just in case. Sebastian snatched a clasp envelope from inside of his overcoat and sent it to Richard. The latter opened it and found the pictures of a woman ,dressing in military-like uniform, conversing with a somber expression with the guys who were dressing the same. Some photo showed her posing in front of the national flag of Cuba. That woman was Sylvia.
"Sorry for the belated service. Fidel Castro , Cuba's newly self-appointed president, becomes ludicrously paranoid ,after there have been numerous attempts on his life by our assassins. So, our moles have to hibernate for a while. This is how your ex-girlfriend has been until now, though these are the photos taken a month ago, " Sebastian said and looked around.
"Thank you so much for your risks," Richard said while browsing through those pictures. He then kept the clasp envelope inside his overcoat.
Sebastian said bluntly ,"I owe you my life : without you, I would never be able to stand like this. So I am so eager to do it for you whatsoever."
Richard thought about the war in Laos a decade ago , when the guerillas of Pathet Laos [communists] surprised the Royal Laos Armed Forces [supported by the US] with the sudden ambush on their military camp in Phou Vieng. Several CIA operatives were attempting to lead some of Hmong soldiers and Thai mercenaries to the rear of the camp. Richard noticed that a guerilla was lurking in the dark and aiming rifle at Sebastian ,so he promptly shot that guy. Richard didn't know whether he was dead or not , perhaps this was the first time he killed human with his own hands. Richard used to deride that it was senseless to endure the firearms training for hundred hours, as he had been working as mainly an intelligence officer. But it finally paid off.
Sebastian said with the steam covering his mouth because of the cold :
"It looks like Ms. Cartwright is hooking up with socialism in Cuba. Now the Cuban economy is being fully buoyed by the supports from the USSR, and it becomes incredibly prosperous as the perfect paradise for the foreigners who long for class equality. However, your ex-girlfriend's still under the guise of the nationality of West Germany, according to our moles. And she is probably working in the legion of foreigners in the Cuban army."
Richard curled his lips.
"Funny , she's still trying to find the new exciting way of life ,even though she is as old as me -whereas I am withering away .But I never imagine that she'll go too far like this."
Sebastian smirked. "That's the human , buddy. Human will always make our jaws drop , if not, he is none but a worthless gravel on the downtrodden road. By the way , sorry about the failure of your return as the illustrious writer. Would you consider returning to work with us?"
Richard looked at his friend. "You are asking me like the old George ! No ! I will never do that. Perhaps this organization should recruit and train more young blood , not me."
Sebastian fumed, "You are underestimating yourself ! Be proud that the CIA executive still look up to you, the seasoned retiree with the profound wisdom. I from now on suggest you study the politics and the societies of the countries in the Middle East. Iran and Afghanistan [the latter is considered by some as in the Central or Southern Asia] are tumultuous .Their current regimes have been speculated by us to probably crumble in months or a year by the extremists or the invasion of the foreign troops. You will certainly be sent there. Now our boss is not George Bush , your ex- mentor, anymore."
Richard sneered. "What about you ? Do you still sleep well , when you learn about all sufferings of the Timorese ? It was you and your team who had accommodated President Ford to tacitly allow the Indonesian army to invade East Timor."
Sebastian chuckled. "I guess George told you that I would wholeheartedly repent for my sins in this invasion, right ? He is so fucking brilliant and manipulative , thus he always looks down on people. But this time he is wrong. Richard, I am perfectly reconciled with my conscience. I come up with the idea that we are all the sinners and the innocent's blood was on our hands ,and this is o.k. Accept it ! Think at least about the guy whom you shot to save me. That guy was someone's son and probably a husband and a father of others. What about the millions of the deceased Vietnamese , Laotians and Cambodians ? You are gonna be nut, if you let morality lead your heart, because it would always rattle your nerve even in your dreams. What are about those POTUS ? I have never seen anyone hang himself , even though they were the very ones who had signed the death warrants for the millions. Just think we are the rank and file , merely receiving the orders from above or doing the things deemed necessary. So be happy with your life."
Richard was dumbfounded and then murmured ,
" I thought you will eventually be disillusioned by the war exploitations of elites in this country ..."
But he stopped because he didn't want to prolong the argument. Besides, his mind was surprisingly more at ease after all these years with the question : how come he never grieved for the guy he literally killed ? Although Sebastian's reason was still self-serving , it was far more comforting than George's.
Sebastian cast a glance at his son who was still being preoccupied with a telescope not far from them.
"My buddy, Peter is about to change the school .He has been bullied by his friends ,because he has the father as the Puerto Rican. Clara becomes pregnant again and feels desperate ,because she can’t sell even a single house in months. I need money and security in my job. So that anti- war accusation is just a crock of shit for me ! You will never be in my shoes , because you are living in an ivory tower and with just a pretty partner." He grinned.
Richard ended their conversations and bade farewell to his friend and son. Sebastian patted his shoulder before walking to the elevator.
"Or you'd better imagine yourself being the psychopathic George. If he were the US president , he would never hesitate to press the nuke button to attack the Soviets in the first day of his presidency ! "
Richard finally burst into laughter.
May 25, 1977
The agent became the unheralded hero to make Richard's life less idle and brooding thanks to the call from him in a sunny morning. The bald man apprised Richard of the lengthy news from the company which had obtained the copyright of his novels and short stories since the early 60s. The company was now on the verge of launching campaigns to dust off some literary works from their selected authors since 1950s.Richard was persuaded to select some of his previous works to be on sale again , so he might become a limelight once more. But he knew this mercy actually was from the company itself squeezed by the severe financial problems , as the books of the new generation of writers didn't bring about much satisfying profits . At first Richard thought about declining , but he felt that it was extremely pitiful to let his works drift into oblivion or be munched by termites in the warehouse of company.
However , according to the agent , Richard was required to participate in the meetings, along with other writer fellows, in the various bookstores in New York City to promote their works. He knew they were merely the antiques for nostalgic readers. But the writer assumed this might pave the way for him to be back at least as an active writer , though the disease of writer's block in his troublesome mind wasn't properly remedied. It was also a good chance for him to shake off his increasing Social Anxiety Disorder, as he had been living almost a secluded life for too long - the valuable advice from Cyndi.
A month passed , Richard's first destination , Gritter and Son , one of the oldest and largest bookstores in this city [it is fictitious], seemed to be not a bad choice from the company. He used to frequently hang around there several years ago. Its wooden interior and apple green concrete wall reminded him of house of French colonial style. Apart from grabbing several books every week , the writer loved to walk around the store to watch the copied paintings of the European masters ,especially Claude Monet, hung around the shop as the owner was rumoured to be an unapologetic Francophile .The faint piano sonata of Debussy like 'Claire de Lune' from all loudspeakers made the shop looked dreamy.
There Richard met his 3 fellows who shared the similar fate : a forgotten ageing writer who sullenly turned to do other stints , when their money ran out. Richard thus felt like he was in the reunion party of the desperate old-timers. However, they were still bragging about their incoming novels , presumed to make them great again or even surpass the celebrated Mr. Stephen King. When they seemed curious about Richard's , he sincerely told them that perhaps his new novel had to wait till the kingdom come ; they all laughed.
The makeshift room of meeting was pretty private, as its partitions separated it from all other parts of the bookstore. All the books of every invited writer were creatively arranged by the staffs into the piles that resembled art sculptures on the large table. Richard was in awe of how marvellously the company had kept the longtime published works that they still looked quite new.
It was a tradition that after the customers bought at least one of those books , they would queue up to get it signed with autograph from its writer. Fortunate for Richard that several ageing customers had done those to him. They also cordially asked him about his life, as if they had been his long lost cousins , though he was so certain that they were his perfect strangers. He felt over the moon. Perhaps he should have gone out and talked to people ,even the strangers, as much as he could to cure his depressions. It also reminded him of traveling in Laos and around the Northeast of Thailand (apart from Vietnam) a decade ago. His research teams needed much effort to interview the local people who were impressively friendly and guileless , but those native finally became the pawns of the imperialists like the US and the USSR.
One of his fellows was just sitting still in sulky face, as no one had bought his books. Richard thought next time that guy could be lucky , but he himself might be not.
It was also in the schedule that the talks from the writers about their lives and inspirations would follow this kind of embarrassing moment shortly. Richard finally learnt that both he and his fellows became terribly outmoded , as the seats for attendees were half vacant. A lone old lady was sitting , solemnly reading a book , while some men, with the wrinkled faces, were entertaining themselves with free snacks and lively chatters. However , the room seemingly was being pervaded by the elderly ,except the moderator who's in his 30s, like a nursing home with several earnest young staffs running around like the care workers.
The first speaker was Harry Dunst , the veteran of World War 2, talking frankly about his life both before and after being the writer with several non de plume. His zenith reached such a point that he had long been expected to receive the Pulitzer Prize. Out of the blue , the tragic car accident ,that cost the lives of his wife and son, devastated him and put a bitter end to his glorious career in his mid-50s.
Mr. Dunst then was suddenly interrupted by the clamours and the screams outside. They were so deafening that the moderator decided to pause the talk and sent a staff outside. After being whispered by the scout , the moderator awkwardly said ,
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we got the news that now Jennifer Tierney is visiting our bookstore. However, we would continue our talks as scheduled, even though it might be quite loud there. Please accept our apology."
The room was filled with exhilaration, even though the people here should have only appreciated Jane Russel or Elizabeth Taylor - the middle-aged Hollywood actresses , who were famous during 40s and 50s.Some were likely to walk out of the room , but their friends stopped them.
William Perthes , another fellow , scoffed and said to Richard : "Kids these days are so crazy. I have heard that Jennifer is about to enroll in Columbia University this year. Can't conjure up the scene she is attending classes among the frenzies like these every day. So horrible that the much-adored idol like her will cause the mayhems to the poor campus."
Richard smiled wryly. This moment he was feeling crestfallen and restless. He toyed with the idea of escaping somewhere if Jennifer by chance visited here. He couldn't bear seeing her brushing him aside again .But now it was his turn of speaking. He stuttered from a start ,as he never thought about telling the truth of his life ,because it was so complicating and risqué ,especially his CIA background and the experience of being cuckolded. Thus, he made up the story of his life as monotonous .In a concocted story (which was actually his utmost ambition), Richard was an ordinary writer who had always lazed around the parks for dreams and muses.
He also said as the lamentation that although his novels were now dated, because they were mainly about the cold war in the 50s and 60s , he hoped they would still be useful for historical studies. One of his books sold here used to be the best sellers for several months. It was about the rookie CIA agent who tried to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 by himself .Finally he became unknowingly embroiled in the plot to assassinate John F. Kennedy , the youngest president of the US history. Richard had then received some rewards from the societies.
However , the noises outside were greatly distracting all the attendees. By the time Richard was scrambling to talk about his muses, the door was open, and he felt like the world before him stopped revolving. That was Jennifer walking slowly into the room in the dress that came straight from a catwalk in Paris. This was the first time in years that he saw her being alone. All the attendees were utterly dazed after turning their faces to witness the dignified princess appearing before their very eyes. The girl promptly went to pick up a book from the table .She was then looking around the room and gently smiled. Perhaps it was the most beguiling Richard had ever seen in his entire life ,although it was just a smile to everyone. Jennifer at last humbly nodded amidst the applause from everyone before leaving the room.
The disturbing tumult outside had gradually receded , and the moderator urged Richard to go on.
Richard felt his voice wasn't quivering anymore.
"I really want to say that my muse is the only one. She is the person who always makes me feel like living under the eternal warmish sunshine. But if it is a night , she will be my sky with the lovely crescent moon and the flickering stars."
After the talks finished , a lone old lady walked toward Richard. He could remember that she just bought his books. The lady was glaring at him and muttered something before she left:
"I know that your muse and your wife ain't the same person. Her fate and yours have bizarrely entwined. Try to be decent by following your heart !"
Richard was perplexed with her briefly before darting to the table with the piles of books. He breathlessly asked the staff which book Jennifer had just picked up. The exhausted young man politely denied knowing , because all the books had been being packed up. He thus suggested Richard to ask the front desk. Alas , when Richard followed his suggestion, the staffs there didn't know either, because Jennifer was allowed to keep that book as a gift by the bookstore owner personally. It was also the bookstore's policy to keep the customer's privacy. Or they might have feared that Richard could probably be her hidden stalker.
Jennifer not only caused him the constant heartbreaks but also became the big mystery for him.
July 8, 1977
That fateful morning , in Richard's warm and sunlit apartment , his life became unexpectedly the scene that would bore resemblance to Meursault in L'Etranger , the novel of Albert Camus. It was especially when that guy told his sexual partner that love didn't matter to him. Cyndi told Richard while digging in breakfast that her mother had incessantly pestered her to tie a knot , because she thought her daughter was utterly rightful for the sumptuous wedding. And the guests would be the members of the faraway close-knit community like her relatives and neighbours who had been inquisitive about Cyndi's love life all along. Above all, Cindy was in her mid-30s now.
Richard bluntly replied to her that marriage didn't mean anything to him. His age was rushing towards 50 years old, and he was no longer captivated by the act of pledging before the priest about the eternal love. As his ex-wife had demonstrated that such a passion was nothing but a farce. Cyndi argued that he should have had a faith in love and humanity ; the idea of just living together forever was not cool at all.
Suddenly Richard took her by great surprise by abruptly kneeling down on the floor.
"Cyndi, I am wholeheartedly begging you to forgive me for one terrible thing !"
Cyndi was transfixed , lowering the spoon above the bowl of soup.
"I can't marry you , because I don't deserve to be your loving husband or even your boyfriend from now on. I am but your cheating lover and have been in love with someone else throughout the restless years."
"Do you really mean it ?"
Her eyes opened wide. Richard nodded, and that was horribly crushing her , because he seldom joked around. During this crisis that perhaps equalled to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Richard was so relieved that he had not to live the double life like con artist any longer.
Cyndi was shaken and on the verge of tears. She looked downward in the mood of facing the end of the world.
"Can you tell me who she is ?" asked her.
"Nope , I can't tell you."
He shrugged and stood up. He felt sorry for her but wanted to end her illusion as quickly as he could. Or actually he didn't feel anything at all, as this confession was from the attempt to rid himself of guilts. Richard thought his love in all likelihood had already been transferred to Jennifer ,the unreachable person in his ideal. After all , he should accept any kind of punishment, because he was the real villain in this tragedy.
Eventually Cindi threw a tantrum. Ben , Richard's poor cat, scurried away to another room.
"For Christ's sake ! Tell me now ,Richard !! Otherwise, I will never forgive you or I'm gonna do something that makes you regret for the rest of your life. Don't even think about bullshitting me , I know whether you are lying or not."
Richard had been mute for minutes before saying in a soft voice,
"I'm in love with Jennifer Tierney."
Then he could see the astonishingly mixed reaction from Cyndi : she was confused whether she should laugh her ass off or unleash the outburst of anger.
"You ... what a scoundrel you are ! Only meeting her twice will make you be able to date her and ask her to marry you ? See how friendly she was acting toward you that day. Tell me that you stop loving me, this is better than slapping me with the lame joke like this !"
Richard sighed after recollecting the popular quotation from the English playwright William Congreve of late 17th century : Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Cyndi could be angel and then devil in just one eyeblink.
While he was despairingly attempting to find the way out of this maelstrom ,someone outside his apartment rang the bell. Richard wasted not a single second to hurriedly open the door.
This was Sylvia !
Sylvia was standing there in almost the same attire by the time they had passionately drifted apart from each other that night - in front of the Blue Rainbow pub. But some luggage beside her legs and radiance on her face made her look like the tourist just coming home. She looked noticeably thin and had the much darker skin. Sylvia smilingly stared at Richard and embraced him with an utmost glee. Cyndi appeared behind Richard and was exceedingly elated to see her friend, as if her fight with Richard had never happened before. Both women were in each other's arms and blabbered ; they were both crying.
Being snuggly on the sofa inside , their conversation was full of zest and reminiscence. Sylvia was doubtful why Cyndi was here. Lastly she learnt that both of them were partners and lived together for years. Now they were in a bitter brawl. Sylvia was quick-witted enough not to stir their wraths. The middle-aged woman only said that she just returned from Cuba, and now she had no place to stay .She had to use Richard's apartment for a while before finding the new one. Richard was so glad that his friend was now like his personal saviour with halo from above. He then asked about her life in Cuba.
Sylvia pouted while trying to light a cigarette.
"Horrible ! One of the worst mistakes in my life. I never imagine such a so-called heaven for proletariat would become the living hell for the unprivileged like me. Toiling , as a worker in factory, for 14 hours daily had made me feel dizzy and suicidal. Worst still, there was nothin' like here, even the food had to be rationed. "
Cyndi asked ,
"What about Cedro ? "
Sylvia became livid.
"That son of a bitch ! The motherfucker ! He left me for another woman. He was indeed the womanizer in his bone. After the separation, I had to find the way of survival on my own. This included searching every method to evade the checking from the secret police about my true identity. I had to dye my hair and get my skin tanned with some special method .That would help me look like the Cuban or at least the half-blooded ."
The room was in a rueful silence. Richard said,
"Suppose the authority had found your nationality as of the US , it would have used you as a pawn for propaganda around the world as the person who was disillusioned by the US capitalism. And you would have been so notorious after being branded as a traitor by the media and the US government."
"I think so. There were many times I nearly got caught by the secret police ,but I think I was smart enough to outmanoeuvre them."
Richard asked her,
"How did you escape from Cuba ? "
Sylvia let the smoke linger from her mouth.
"That's a challenge ! I befriended with the factory's manager who happened to have connection with some member of the communist party. For months that I had wormed myself to work as a clerk in the Propaganda Ministry. When the troupe for cultural exchange was sent to Mexico , I was allowed to accompany it as a staff. There I escaped from the hotel and let myself be smuggled through my own country's barbed wire fence like the wetbacks."
Cyndi cut in her story.
"What an adventure , Sylvia ! I admire your stamina. You must have been so patient and best gathered your wits through these horrible days."
Sylvia nodded and grinned.
"Cyndi , now I am profoundly grateful for our lord to give me strength to pass those ordeals and finally to kiss the soil of my homeland again. I am ready to begin the new life in this same old vicious capitalist and imperialist country."
Everyone laughed .When Cyndi glanced at Richard, she stopped laughing and returned to her wistful face. Ben perhaps sensed some joviality and went back to the room. He purred and immediately jumped on Sylvia's lap as a gesture of welcoming .She chuckled and lovingly caressed him.
Sylvia turned to Richard.
"Please don't consider me as a third wheel. What's happening between both of you ?"
Cyndi said ,
"He just shattered my dream of wedding and confessed that he had been in love with Jennifer Tierney for years !"
Sylvia exclaimed ,
"Really ? What about Jennifer ? What's she doing right now ? I have been terribly missing her as my long-lost little sister. Richard , have you done like your promise ?"
Cyndi's mouth was agape.
"Don't you know about Jennifer ? She is now the worldwide phenomenon : one of the greatest superstars in the world !"
Sylvia lit another cigarette and murmured,
"Life over there was like being behind the iron curtain or a suffocating immense jail cell. I and my fellows were allowed to watch only the crappy Cuban and Soviet's films and music about revolutions. This was because Mr. Castro deemed the Hollywood films and American music the decadence of the capitalists. Wait ! I remember now that while I was traveling from Texas to New York here, I noticed plenty of the commercial banners with the same beautiful girl. Is that Jennifer ? Can't believe how she has grown and is more mature in just several years."
Cyndy said with anger ,
"And he is in love with her!"
Sylvia stared at Richard and began to roar with laughter like she was watching the films of Woody Allen.
"Richard, you just met and talked with Jennifer once , didn't you ? Or am I missing something about you and her ?"
Richard smiled begrudgingly and thought he would keep that night between him and Jennifer as an ultimate secret. Maybe it might be the last thing that could make him smile, by the time the last breath was running out of his life.
"Sylvia, once Richard and I went to Bloomingdale's and met her by chance. I really wanted to record that embarrassing moment with camera and show you : she looked totally shocked to see him and treated him like a piece of junk ! "
Sylvia pondered in horror.
"Really ? Next time , if she meets me, will she treat me like Richard ?"
Richard peeked at Cyndi and said to Sylvia,
"That's certainly not gonna happen to you, Sylvia. I know she still loves you. But to be frank , I can't completely ensure that her gestures will still be the same, because that time she was still young ; the new social roles and the ensuing experiences might change some of her views on you. By the way , I know you've just arrived at New York. Grab a bite and take a good rest."
Sylvia laughed and waved her hand.
"Don't change the subject, Mr. Intellectual. Let me presume you never bother to honour your promise with me. I know that Jennifer's mother is so domineering and scheming that she won't hesitate to shield you from her daughter ,if you happen to act as the nosy person or the well-wisher. Above all, you are too obsessed with your new novel."
Richard said in a calm voice ,
"The fact is not about her mom. Like I have just mentioned , Jennifer herself has already elevated her life to the position I can't reach , let alone the attempt to change her life for your sake. Besides , you still don't know that my hope for comeback turned to be unexpectedly nightmarish."
Sylvia grabbed an apple on the table to crunch with a loud noise and looked at him.
"Ha ha. I don't blame you on this. Thank you anyhow. I am so sorry about your failure, and I have a gut feeling that you will always try to find another way around to retrieve your golden days again. But I am amazed at the reason why you have a feeling for Jennifer , in spite of her contempt for you . I assume millions or billions of fans are also in love in her, but if they were in your situation , they might change their freaking minds."
Cyndi walked away and brought a thick book with her ; it was the encyclopedia of psychology.
"Lemme find some appropriate word for Richard. Here we are ! This word is Erotomania : a psychiatric syndrome characterized by the delusional belief that one is loved by another person, generally of a higher social status. Richard must be assuming that she's secretly falling head over heels for him but pretending to do the opposite. Richard has lived as the writer whose feet have not touched the ground for too long. He thus forgets about the boundary between the fantasy and the reality. I keep doubting why he has acted as the Jennifer hater. Now I got answer that he had tried to suppress his true feelings. After all , this at least proves that I am no longer in his mischievous heart."
Richard was disconcerted .He found this word for the first time , even though that book belonged to him. And the writer wondered why he all at once found Cyndi's analysis perturbing.
However, he decided to rise to his feet and said ,
"Fine ! I got to go now , as I am dead tired of being burned by both of you. Sylvia , make yourself like home. See you in the afternoon."
Cyndi became silent as she accepted that she was pushing him too hard. Sylvia beamed and tried to distract her with other small talks. Richard got dressed and promised Sylvia to buy some essentials for her. He walked out of the apartment without any words with Cyndi because some puzzles were swivelling on his mind : especially , why Sylvia's narrative about her life was diametrically opposed to Sebastian's. He was so certain that in the modern time even the US community of intelligence still couldn't develop the technology to conjure up such the realistic pictures of Sylvia in Cuba.
Richard's suspect became increasingly strong, when Sylvia had spent a couple of days looking for apartment, but only returned to him with excuse that she couldn't find the appropriate one. Despite the complaints about the traffic jams and the crowded streets of New York like her old habit , his ex-girlfriend still didn't show any signs of weariness of too long wanders. She didn't even bother to mention how she had been desperately seeking for new job either. Richard supposed she might have relished the visitations to her acquaintance or familiar places ,but he had a hunch that she was working on something -that was probably unscrupulous.
Richard felt grateful that he was saved by bell thanks to her arrival. Nonetheless, he discovered that some dark clouds were obscuring his trust in Sylvia.
Richard now was traveling to the office of his agent by the subway train. Maybe that was the only place that he frequently considered as the sanctuary during this storm (and eventually he forgave that nerdy boy , the mole of CIA). All the trains in NYC were hilariously embellished with graffities ,and any stations were the perfect locations for the thriller films ,especially the crime scenes. Amidst the crippled economy of 1970s , the real crimes were always lurking in such the cavernous corners of the stations. They were thus not the good places to hang around at night. Funny that those , including the countless neighbourhoods in NYC ,were even more dangerous than many places near Saigon under the threats of the Vietcong during the Vietnam War.
On the not crowded train, some other commuters were staring aimlessly outside , though it was dark. A couple of man and woman were talking .One man was burying his face in the newspaper .Many were just idly sitting and closing their eyes. Richard unintentionally smiled at a toddle on the lap of his mother who was sitting facing him.
Apart from Sylvia , Richard was beset by the excruciating problem with the other woman like Cyndi. While their conflict hadn't been settled yet ,they henceforth became like the 2 strangers sharing the same apartment and talked to only Sylvia as the medium. He was amused by how only one sentence of the blunt speaking could tremendously alter the relationship that had been formed for years. Would he break up with Cyndi and live with hope that one day he would meet Jennifer who had brushed him aside ? He might have spent the last years of his life alone .
The writer then mused over the word 'Erotomania' and Jennifer back and forth. He at last presumed that he should be consulting the shrink via the introduction of his bald agent. Richard got off the train in the next station and visited a phone booth to call him instead of his office.
Dr. Sindhu , the ageing Indian psychiatrist, looked incredibly benevolent and emphatic. He let Richard do the tests and patiently listened for 15 minutes to the writer who was lying on sofa and blabbering on his problems (of course , it was the bad habit of his not to talk about meeting Jennifer at his apartment as usual).
The old codger at last said with the unsuppressed laughter,
"Mr. Cunningfort, don't worry too much. I think you are still standing above the line 'normal'. Please believe me that in the previous months , there are more than 20 of my male clients strongly insisting that Jennifer Tierney's falling for them hard. Some of my clients just shake hands with her in the public places like you have seen in TV , but they take for granted that they and the young superstar have the mutual infatuations. Now Jennifer's boyfriend is constantly threatened by some psychos who think they are only of her boyfriends or even husbands. But in your case , you still have the self-doubt , that is a good sign !"
The doctor stopped to clear his throat and looked at the papers.
"This is such an interesting social phenomenon ,studied long time ago .The people, during the hardships and the banalities of time like this, would irrationally identify or relate themselves to someone perfect like Jennifer. Their brains would go awry and unconsciously distort the truths just for their new fantasy zones [not comfort zones].And those zones will slowly and completely take control of their minds."
Richard was still curious.
"I think my mental problems are also about the depression and the Social Anxiety Disorder. And this could be entangled in my view toward Jennifer ?"
Dr. Sindhu said smoothly ,
"Probably. But you are just developing those syndromes. You are both the veteran of Vietnam War [ the CIA experience wasn't revealed as usual] and the solitary writer who perhaps has the potential self-loathing. No hard feeling if I say your partner might not be so attractive regarding your description. Suppose your claim of meeting Jennifer once at your friend's apartment is true , you have the chance of becoming like those of my clients. Try to remind yourself about the difference between truth and fiction. Take the medicines I'm gonna prescribe -I believe you can keep your problem at bay."
Richard felt benumbed while hobbling to wait for the medicines by sitting near the front desk of clinic. Some kids were playing in the children's zone , while one of their parents were being called by Dr. Sindhu's assistant.TV was displaying the record of old concert of the late Bobby Darin , the crooner and the heartthrob , singing 'Beyond the Sea' in the 50s.
He kept suspecting that perhaps the night Jennifer spent at his apartment was purely imaginary -just like the repeated song of 'A Summer Place' that had recurred on his mind many times. That night might have appeared so realistic, but it was due to the glitches of his troubled mind .He reminisced about a movie in the late 50s , which he couldn't remember the name. It was about a lone school janitor who had a crush on the pretty actress, and one day she miraculously became his girlfriend. He several times prodded her into visiting his bedridden mother with pride. But the film revealed the twisted ending that the girl's affection for him was just his own fantasy. The poor guy had unknowingly been developing the schizophrenia all along and ended up as a pathetic patient in a macabre bedlam.
Bobby's concert was interrupted by the breaking news. The handsome actor, Brad Lemann, was smilingly waddling through the army of reporters and Paparazzi to some building , probably a studio. The announcer speculated that the engagement between him and Jennifer would soon be declared. Richard blushed and felt his strength was all gone. The diagnosis of Cyndi and Dr. Sindhu became bloody correct ! His love was undeniably one-sided. That night with Jennifer was eventually just a pipe dream , a hallucination of the hopeless middle-aged man.
Richard also reflected on his oft-assumption about those seconds Jennifer was walking in the room of bookstore that day. He was so elated from sinking in the reverie that Jennifer was fixing her eyes on him. Her beguiling smile was also going straight at him - only him. But now the writer became unsettled by this kind of ridiculous assumption. Was he really going insane like the hero of that film ?
The picture of Jennifer in a film was displayed by TV as a part of the news. Richard unwittingly rushed to its screen and caressed the part of her face. When he was aware of this embarrassing act , he turned back to sit on the same seat and immediately used the remote control to change the channel - even it was still displaying her talking with someone with the happy smile.
This time he did it for real.
Richard came up with the brilliant idea of a ritual to exorcise 'the spectre of Jennifer' from his heart. So, he thought he had better find the solid evidence to prove to himself that he was being swallowed up by hallucination. Jennifer's body language in the Bloomingdale's was that one. Cyndi was correct to say that he had unabashedly taken for granted for months that Jennifer's coldness stemmed from her desperate attempt to conceal her love for him and also her disappointment to see him with Cyndi. Richard begrudgingly ended such a delusion and henceforth kept reminding himself that that coldness was actually caused by Jennifer's too much hubris and embarrassment to show the public that she used to know this shabbily dressed geezer.
Moreover, another step to get him out of this mess was that Richard had to admit to Cyndi that he was on the brink of mental illness (it was better than saying that he was 'getting' ill). And he now was undergoing the treatments from the best of psychiatrists in NYC. Principally , their marriage would go as her mother's wish in the nearby future , though Richard used to swear that he was ready to walk on water rather than get married again. His sudden idea now was that to buy a ring before asking her to marry him would be the good emblem for such a heroism.
Actually, Richard had to first and foremost transfer his love back to Cyndi , but he fathomed this with intuition that it was almost impossible.
After all, the poor writer at last could make peace with himself. He was so elated that he still had a chance to live with the same real person , not the hallucination ,who loved him. But it would be so nerve-racking for him that the local newspapers of NYC might make their headlines about their wedding in the following day like 'The (once) renowned writer becomes the oldest groom in the US' or something more hilarious.
He hurriedly visited the department store not far from the clinic to buy a ring. Alas, when he passed its jewellery store, he still saw the immense pictures of the gorgeous Jennifer posing with the diamond necklaces on the wall. He turned his eyes to another direction.
By the time Richard went to his apartment in the late afternoon, his expectation of making Cyndi hysterical with an utter delight was subdued. His girlfriend rushed toward him in the quivering voice and body and told him that several hours ago , there was a call for Sylvia. The other end was the guy with the thick foreign accent. And Cyndi happened to overhear her speaking the foreign language in the muted voice. It was the language she'd never felt familiar before. When their short and cautious conversation ended , Sylvia told her that she suddenly had a rendezvous with some friends. Her gesture abruptly looked suspicious for Cyndi to the extent that she felt like Sylvia was the stranger, even though they were the longtime colleague and close friend.
Richard changed his mind that he'd better solve this riddle before proposing to Cyndi (and he was glad to suspend this as long as he could).He comforted her that that man might have really been the friend of Sylvia. Cyndi later was informed by him about the diagnosis of the shrink . Richard said he bought into it and would gladly be abandoning the ridiculous affection toward the young superstar. Cyndi was absolutely enraptured and embraced him -one problem was solved.
Richard went to ransack the piles in the storage room and finally found the bugging device that had been used long time ago. It was then connected from the telephone to the audio recorder in his bedroom.
Several days had passed , Sylvia's peculiarity was still the same ,and there were still the calls for her on a daily basis , especially when Richard and Cyndi were away. In spite of Richard's skills in main foreign languages , he found her language very unique. It was similar to Spanish used in Cuba ,but still much different. Richard hastened to call Sebastian , but his wife said he was being on an unidentified mission abroad. So, the writer rushed to his another best buddy in Laos ,Bill Hanson, at his FBI office in NYC.
Bill was born the same year and exactly the same day as Richard. His ancestors like his great-great-grandfather and family used to be the wretched slaves in plantation in Virginia. Bill was still enduring the racial segregation during the 50s.But he was so delighted to have the white man like Richard as his close friend in high school and also best man during his wedding. While working as a CIA agent, Bill still experienced the racism at his office, even in the exotic countries like Laos and Vietnam. At last he openly denounced the Indochina Wars as the machinations of the white men to oppress the coloured people. But, for some unknown reason, many years later Bill changed his career to be the agent of FBI - the very same agency that had eavesdropped and harassed the leader of black civil movement like Martin Luther King Jr. , his revered hero , in 1960s.
Bill now was sitting with an absolute amazement when he tried to replay the voice of Sylvia over and over again. He looked at Richard who was standing near him.
"Richard , I think I know Spanish quite well regardless of its variant accents and local dialects in many parts of the world. But Sylvia's language is far more complicated. It sounds more like the newly invented codes for some specific uses."
"I assume this stuff is perhaps far more serious than we thought thanks to some evidence about her in Cuba. I have an inkling that it could be involved in the national security. Now I am begging or even coercing you to do something more in your authority."
Bill played the voice of Sylvia again and sighed.
"I'll bring it to the special unit that has more advanced equipment to decode her voice. keep an eye for your ex-girlfriend , alert me if there is something coming up. I used to meet her many times , she was extremely nice and polite , but I never think she would go too far like this."
Richard chuckled and patted his friend's shoulder.
"I have known her for more than half of my life , but finally I learn that I don't know shit about her."
Bill quipped, "Are you seriously talking about my wife ?"
Both of them roared with laughter.
It was almost evening when Richard returned to his own apartment. It was funny that he had the feeling like sneaking on the battleground or the minefield. The apartment was dark ,and the poor Ben was walking around with loud meow, because there was no one feeding him. The writer found a little notepaper written by Sylvia that both she and Cyndi were being out of town for visiting their former colleague and would be back tomorrow. Richard was doubtful whether that was true, as Cyndi apparently turned to distrust Sylvia. But he had no idea of contacting both of them right now. Some belongings and luggage of both women were missing, while all the things in his apartment were in the proper place .There was not anything interesting about Sylvia or trace of foul play.
That night Richard had the bizarre and befuddled dream. It became the irony that all was about Jennifer. No matter how hard he had attempted to repress her ,she appeared to wreck havocs in his dream. He saw her wailing in the high tower while he was climbing up the ladder. Then there was blood all over her body and he was exceedingly frenzied to rescue her. The phone's ringing interrupted his nightmare, The caller was Bill and now it was 4.15 AM. Bill spluttered,
"Hey dude, you make me work up all night. Move your ass over here ! We are beginning to be enlightened."
At Bill's office , there were several guys with him , certainly his subordinate .They were sitting idly and smoking with relaxation near the large pile of papers on the table. Bill burst into laughter when he saw Richard.
"We , the most able FBI agents and the most sophisticated equipment, have worked our asses off , but we could decode only some of the layers of her speaking. Look ! Who is our saviour ?"
Bill turned to a Hispanic who was standing still behind him. That's Aleja ,the thirtysomething woman, who was the daughter of Amador ,the Cuban exile. More than a decade ago , Amador was recruited by the CIA into the army , aimed to topple the Castro's government during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The plan turned to be an utter disaster. Amador was arrested and died by the tortures in dungeon a year later - another guilt of Richard who had a part in this operation .
Richard shook her hand gently. He was shaken, and his eyes brimmed with tears. His organization had compensated Aleja and her family by supporting them financially. And Richard himself used to visit her family regularly. Fortunately , they'd never really harboured the grudge against him and other CIA operatives.
"I therefore called Sebastian , he suggested me to ask for help from Aleja and here she was ...."
Aleja was still beaming and said softly,
" Hello , Richard. Long time no see. This is the dialect used in my village in Cuba for many hundred years .It is much different from the central language and unknown to the outsider. Many words in your friend's voice were also spelt backward. But I still managed to translate it."
Bill said ,
"Let me sum up , Sylvia talked to the same guy in several days mainly about the unidentified operation : buying the illegal gunfire and explosives and also recruiting the workers -probably the sabotage. Strange that they were also trying to talk about the trivial things - possibly in case someone's bugging her.
Richard was startled.
"Is there anything else ?"
Bill gave him a paper.
"Yes , there are 2 other unknown words that aren't in the dialect of the village of Aleja. But , without her ,we still wouldn't be able to extract them from Sylvia's speaking. They could be written in English like this."
Richard found those 2 words quite familiar, and they were stuck somewhere in his memory. He stared at Aleja's eyes which were black but mesmerizing like Jennifer's. Everybody was surrounding him with curiosity. Out of a sudden, something was jogging his memory that they were in the dialect particularly used in a large community near Leningrad [St. Petersburg today] of the USSR. What a coincidence that he used to study it as a free elective in university ! Yes ,Sylvia also studied it in the same class as him. It was probable that she had applied this dialect as a part of the communicating codes by herself and had no idea that he would eavesdrop her.
Richard tried so hard to recollect their meanings ,while the people around him were crossing their fingers.
"The first word is probably 'kill' or ... 'assassinate'."
He walked around the room and waved his hands crazily.
"The other word is ...... 'the leader'. No ... maybe the 'top leader'."
Bill shouted loudly,
"The US president ? Mr. Jimmy Carter ?"
Richard was still not so confident.
But he recalled Sebastian's remarks about the CIA's attempts on Fidel Castro's life for numerous times. Probably this was the Castro's plot to retaliate the US by sending Sylvia back into the US to kill the president. If so ,all she had told him were the blatant lies !
The writer hollered ,
"Yes , their target must be the president !"
Bill was still wondering.
"And how are we gonna know when and where they would assassinate Mr. President ?"
Richard looked at Aleja again. Her beauty unbelievably gave him the sudden insight -in the Japanese jargon- Satori. He remembered that last night Sylvia had spent a night not in his apartment for the first time since she came back. And how the hell did that he forget that it was quirky that they just let his apartment in the dark ? It was important as well that Cyndi loved Ben so much that it was impossible she would have abandoned him like last evening.
It could mean ......
"I assume their missions would be undertaken today !"
Everybody was staggered. Richard briskly told them the reasons and added,
"It is purely based on my hunch. But it could mean a matter of life and death of the US president and our country , including my girlfriend. Bill, now it depends on you whether you will believe me or not."
Bill had been mute for minutes , and finally nodded ; he ordered one of his guys,
"Peter, check the routine of Mr. President today and call our men up right now !"
The phone rang ; it was from Sebastian. He was talking to Richard gaspingly but in the muffled voice from somewhere in a strong wind.
" Thank God that you are with Bill ! I got some shocking news for ya. I have a premonition about Sylvia , so I have tried to inquire of our moles in Moscow into her information ...."
His voice was interfered by another signal briefly.
"Richard , listen to me carefully .My clues have helped them and the CIA to successfully identify a person behind the moniker , Sonia, as one of the most efficient moles for the Soviets in the US for a long time -that's her ! Actually, Sylvia has been the agent of KGB since she graduated from university. The pictures I gave you that day were probably intentionally leaked to our mole in order to show that she was working with Cuba. But it was possible that previously she had lived in Moscow most of the time , not Cuba. These are all I know in this minute. Do you know what she's up to now ?"
No sooner had Richard replied to Sebastian than his friend's signal was permanently gone.
Richard felt the warm blood running around his face. Now he was finding the ultimate truth about his dear friend or friend with benefits. He and Sylvia had hidden their true identities from each other all along. She had never known about his CIA background, and he had never known that behind her seeming naivety and apolitical façade was the sophisticated spy at the Kremlin's behest.
Richard stared at Bill.
"Sylvia is the agent of KGB ! It illuminates me why she has chosen 2 words in the unknown local dialect near Leningrad. She intentionally uses them to communicate with other Russian moles in our country ,especially NYC. The reason she mainly uses the local dialect of Cuba is to prevent it from someone who might understand Russian deeply like me - such a thoughtful and meticulous plan !"
Bill felt that he was losing his mind.
"Oh , my goodness ! This situation is getting increasingly grave and complicated. Do you mean the Kremlin is also playing the part with this presumed assassination ?"
"Maybe it is the collaboration between both governments like the Cuban Missile Crisis."
Bill's subordinate was darting into the room with a paper.
"Boss, the first program of Mr. President's routine today was to preside over the ceremony ,held by the civil movement , for the campaign 'to raise the public awareness of danger from nuclear bombs' in the Central Park. The time of president's arrival is about between 8.00 and 8.30 AM."
Richard wholeheartedly thanked to Aleja who smiled back to him sweetly. In only 10 minutes , plenty of fully armed men clamoured and rushed to the cars dashing from the FBI office.
Outside, the break of dawn was increasingly brightening up all the places ,especially , the skyscrapers in this city. A streak of sunlight was beautifully reflected by their glasses. The municipal workers and their vehicles were busying cleaning the street. The light from streetlamps went out. More cars and people were appearing on the bustling streets and pavements.
Richard was sitting in the same car as Bill. He said,
"Do you want to visit my apartment first ? There might be some evidence or traces of Sylvia that I didn't still find last night."
Bill agreed and turned to Arthur , his aide.
"Try to contact the police officers in the Central Park. Now they are certainly preparing the place for the president. Or we'd better call the White House chief of staff."
Richard said ,
" Bill , you should also call the bomb expert in your agency. Perhaps if we fail today , hundreds of people could be dead ! "
Arthur read the paper.
"Gee whiz ! The celebrities invited to join this ceremony are such the big names : Jane Fonda ,Diana Ross , Diane Keaton and especially Jennifer Tierney! Funny that people in other countries might know Jennifer even better than President Carter himself."
Richard blushed and reminisced about that old lady's divination at the bookstore : Jennifer's and his fate entwined. He also thought about his strange dream last night. Or it just might have been the coincidence ?
At Richard's apartment, the officers couldn't find any traces of Sylvia's clandestine activities. Richard presumed Cyndi stumbled upon the unrevealed facts of Sylvia. They then abducted her and set everything up to make it look like she and Sylvia were going somewhere together. The writer opened his closet and grabbed the revolver that had been well kept for years. It was the same one that he used to shoot that Laotian soldier to save Sebastian. For some reason , he believed he would certainly use it again.
Their cars rapidly went towards the boisterous Central Park .The police officers stopped them. Bill showed his identity card and they let them go through .It was still 7.30 AM ,but the Central Park was extremely crowded. A large number of participants were holding the placards to protest against the nuclear arms race between the 2 major powers. Many were wearing the fancy dresses like the ones in comics to imitate the world inhabitants in dystopia after the nuclear war. The popular march like 'Stars and Stripes Forever' was being played by the lively marching band near the fountain of the park.
All the FBI agents and the local police officers were gathering solemnly under a tree. Richard urged everyone that they should have searched for the bomb. Some officers ,who thought Richard was also the FBI agent, were incredulous and said there was a parking lot not far from here, and all the cars there had already passed the metal detectors. The writer said there was now the new material that could shroud a bomb to avoid being detected. He then suggested that searching for the bomb was utterly inevitable.
The head of police scratched his head and asked Richard ,
"There are now more than a hundred cars parking near this place. How the heck can the officers check them thoroughly in time ?"
Richard closed his eyes and pondered for a while. Suddenly he could remember that 2 days ago while he and Cyndi were looking at the catalogue of cars ,Cyndi looked at one picture and said that lately she had seen it suspiciously parking near their apartment for days. He took a wild guess and told them to single out this make of car. Lucky for them , some of the police officers were the car lovers and remembered its appearance well.
Bill stared at Richard.
"Do you think there will be the assassins scattering around the park like lurking in the crowds who have already passed the metal detectors ?"
"Yes , they probably use the materials other than metal to make the guns. There is a method developed by the KGB."
Bill smiled wryly.
"What the fuck am I doing here ? If this becomes only of your fantasy, I will be without doubt kicked out of the job. I don't even tell my boss yet."
Bill's subordinate told him that he had already contacted the aide of the White House chief of staff , but there was no respond from him anymore. Bill looked around and said,
"The chief of staff didn't buy into our warning. We should search for the suspects first ; they might be the Russians or the Cubans in fancy dresses.. If this fails, our last choice is to go to the head of the US Secret Service. The new one is Samuel Ridgemont. Richard , do you remember him ? He is the ex- CIA agent who used to work in the Central and Latin America. Hurry up ! I suppose now the president is about to arrive here."
Richard contemplated that it was exceedingly risky for everyone ,especially Bill. If all his assumptions were wrong , it could result in the embarrassment for the White House and Bill , along with him ,would bear the brunt . But if they were right ? Plenty of people would die horribly , including the president and... Jennifer.
2 buddies , along with the FBI agents and the police officers , rapidly walked through the crowd to search for the conspirators .But this was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Richard couldn't identify Sylvia either , as she probably was only the mastermind from a distance. Richard imagined that Cyndi now might be gaged and tied with rope somewhere far from here. Eventually everyone gave up. So the FBI agents and the ex-CIA agent had to gather near the center of ceremony at the fountain to get close to the president as much as they could.
There were the brouhahas in the center of ceremony .The celebrities ,who were all women , were arriving. The people screamed and cheered for them. But Richard had to face his ordeal again. Jennifer was standing there among the actresses [Jane Fonda and Dianne Keaton] and the singer [Diana Ross] who were her seniors. But all of them were also thrilled to shake hands and embrace her. Some zealous fans rushed to take photos with them and ask for their autographs. Richard was desperately gawking at Jennifer ; the same old feeling at the opera house had recurred. The attempt to exorcise her from his heart pitifully collapsed.
Bill walked to stand near him and sniggered when he observed his friend's gesture.
"You are just like other million poor guys who fall in love with Jennifer. Isn't she celestially beautiful ? Regrettably , she and Mr. Brad might be engaged soon."
They heard the commotions again ,as the 39th president of the United States of America was arriving in the encirclement of the agents of US Secret Service. Everyone was cheering , shouting and applauding ; the US president's personal anthem 'Hail to the Chief' was vigorously played by the marching band. Mr. Jimmy Carter and his wife waved their hands to greet the people. Lastly ,Mr. President walked to stand near the podium. The group of organizers greeted him politely ,and one of them talked to the public as the introduction.
The intentions to save the world of both Richard and Bill seemed to overstep a bit. They both had a bickering with the agents of US Security Service , so its head , Samuel Ridgemont, rushed to the scene. Samuel was the obese man with a great sense of humour, but he actually possessed the genius of scheming. While working with the CIA, he collaborated with the Chilean military to topple the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973.La Moneda Palace or the presidential office had been besieged and attacked by the army. General Augusto Pinochet ,the junta , later claimed that the left -leaning president had committed suicide inside. But it was widely believed that his suicide was actually the murder , and Pinochet was helped by the deception planed by Ridgemont.
The head of security chortled.
"Sons of a gun , Bill and Richard. What the heck are you two doing here ?"
Both of his subordinates suddenly eased off. Bill hurriedly informed Ridgemont.
"There is a plan to assassinate Mr. President this morning !"
Ridgemont looked unfazed.
"What are you saying ? You are just skipping your FBI work to tell me such a freaking stuff ? Sorry , we haven't been notified by the NSA [National Security Agency ] or any intelligence agency about this."
Richard attempted to tell all the stories to him , but to no avail. Ridgemont sneered.
"Richard , when Gerald Ford was still the president last year, there was the gossip that he told everyone that you were the nutcase who got confused between facts and fictions. This always brings the house down for the White House until today. How can I risk the future of my career to believe you , the loony writer ?"
But Ridgemont tried to placate his old colleagues by ushering both of them into the center of ceremony like a study trip. He kept bragging,
"Look around , my boys have set up the impenetrable shield for Mr. President. There is almost zero percent for any psychos or foreign assassins to put him in jeopardy."
The organizer at the podium already finished his lengthy introduction, and the president was stepping to replace him.
Bill whispered to Richard,
"I think it is the good time that he will be shot, because he is about to be alone at that spot."
Richard had some insight and replied quietly,
"No, not yet .Keep Ridgemont talking."
Bill asked his old colleague,
"There is a building not far from here. Have your boys already cleared those rooms ? "
"Sure , my friend. All the coasts are clear. There are also our best of the best snipers in the balconies. If there is any living thing rushing to attack Mr. President now, his head will be no doubt blown off."
Richard suddenly remembered that he and Sylvia used to discuss long time ago : what would have happened, if those snipers of the US Secret Service had betrayed their own country, or if they had actually been the longtime sleepers for the communists ? Would they have imitated Lee Harvey Oswald who shot John F. Kennedy from the building near the president's motorcade in 1963 ?
Now he had the strong gut feeling about this.
Mr. President was giving the usually impressive speech. His character was diametrically opposed to the ex-POTUS like the coarse Richard Nixon. Carter was soft-spoken and humble. He was possibly the most religious president in the history. He showed his sheer delight to see the world in peace forever -without the bloodthirsty nuclear arms race. Above all, Mr. President was still determined to maintain the détente with the USSR.
Ridgemont was still prattling and unwittingly let two of his friends get closer to the president. It was amusing that his subordinates presumed that both Richard and Bill were the VIP guests waiting to meet the president. They paved the way for them to be next to the horde of dignitaries , including the president's wife - not more than ten steps away from Carter.
The US president at last finished the speech and stepped from the podium to cut the ribbon to preside over the ceremony. The group of balloons flew up to the sky. This was rapidly ensued by the rapturous applauses and hurrahs of the people , along with the deafening march from the band. Carter gradually walked to shake hands with all the organizers before greeting the actresses and the singer who were waiting with excitement.
All of a sudden, those 2 words in the local Russian dialect jogged Richard's memory again ,especially the second one. He was enlightened now that it had more meaning in English -not merely 'the leader'.... but also 'the beautiful' ! The face of Jennifer appeared on his mind.
Mr. President finished talking with Diana Ross and about to shake hands with Jennifer who was smiling so warmly. Richard glanced at the building again and miraculously saw the glittering from its fifth floor. It was certainly from the telescopic sights of the rifles belonging to the snipers of the US government ,but the writer knew with his insight what to do.
In seconds , Richard rushed through the group of celebrities to the president and pulled him to the ground. At that time Carter was shaking hands with Jennifer , so both of them tumbled. The writer felt a hail of bullets swiftly piercing the air above the heads of the president and Jennifer. Some of them hit the persons behind and they yelped loudly with pains.
The marching band suddenly stopped playing. Richard then heard the utmost tumult from the persons around him. The panicked agents darted to use their bodies as the shields for the president. They shoved Richard away and he fell down to the position not far from Jennifer. The young actress was gazing at him. It was strange that she seemed not to be frightened much, but her sparkling eyes kept fixing on him.
There were also the repeated gunshots. The people screamed and stampeded in horror .Richard saw the blood splattering from the body of one agent, but his colleagues continued escorting the president and his wife to the car. The group of assassins had been out to do their jobs ,but they were facing the resistance from the agents and some police officers who were shooting back fiercely. The writer rushed to help Jennifer , but he tumbled as being jolted by someone who was wildly running nearby. Richard saw some people in fancy dresses taking Jennifer away. When he tried to rise on his feet , he was too dizzy from the concussion.
Bill came running to him and shot one gunman ,in the dress of the Statue of Liberty ,who was about to pursue the president. He pulled Richard up and said,
"Thank you for your incredible hunch ! The president has enough protectors now , but I just saw the terrorists kidnapping Jennifer. Go and rescue her !"
Richard tried to pull himself together and asked,
"Which way ? "
Bill looked at the nearby building which was the place of the treacherous snipers. 2 buddies began to run as fast as they could. They were later accompanied by several FBI agents. Richard snatched a revolver from inside of his overcoat. He still felt dizzy, and his left leg was so in pain , as it might been stomped just now. However, he didn't even give a damn , as he was so jittery that if something horrible happened to Jennifer , he was going to spend the rest of his life hating himself. Her eyes would be haunting him until he went insane or died pathetically.
Fortunately, the officers could easily trace the escape of the perpetrators, as the shaken onlookers near the building told them. Before entering the building , Bill's aide told them via walkie-talkie that the agents managed to take the president and his wife into the car .They finally made their escape with the escorts of the army of the police officers. Most of the gunmen were dead already ,as no one showed the signs to surrender.
Bill led the officers to breathlessly run along the stairs of the building to the fourth floor. But Richard could sense something , he turned left and entered the stairwell of the other side of the building. There he met a person standing still and panting while locking Jennifer's neck from behind. They might have been too exhausted to go on. And that person was Sylvia in the fancy dress as a solider. She had such an excellent makeup that he couldn't remember her while searching for her among the crowds.
Richard aimed the revolver at her, but she quickly used Jennifer as her shield. The young superstar still didn't look terrified much, even though the wooden pistol of Sylvia was being aimed at her all the time. She was staring at Richard quietly.
"Hello , Richard. Can't believe the crappy and desperate writer like you would ruin our plans which have been well planned for years. Cocksucker ! I should have killed you in your apartment along with your stupid girlfriend."
Richard was startled - was Cyndi already killed ? But he tried to gather his wits and was more than ready to shoot her any minute. If he did , it would become ironic that the second person he killed with his own hands was the one who he used to kiss and care for.
Richard said bluntly ,
"Let Jennifer go , Sylvia. I know who you really are now. And I know you don't cherish our relations for three decades anymore. But you always say that you love her like your little sister , don't you ? Let her go now ! She has nothing to do with this dirty politics like the president."
Sylvia snickered ,
"No , numbnuts ! You don't know a damn thing ! Actually , she was the target along with Carter. Funny , I just remember that many years ago , that day you were trying to reach me. I knew you really wanted to fuck me. Sorry, I couldn't help you , the horny old man. But then I unknowingly led Jennifer to you to become your fiery passion."
The writer smirked and looked at Jennifer. He thought about signalling her to throw herself off the arms of Sylvia before he would shoot some part of Sylvia that rendered her motionless. But he was afraid that it was still too risky.
Jennifer attempted to turn her face to Sylvia who was behind her. All of a sudden , the girl said in the unbelievably balmy voice,
"Sylvia, you know how much I love you. I tried to reach you , but suddenly you were gone from me without a trace. I always think of you as my kind-hearted mother or my dear sister who I've never had. It is my great dream that someday three of us.. " Jennifer looked back at Richard "... will be together like this : to have the lively talks , to have the hearty laughs and to kiss me good night like I'm your little girl. Please get out of this mess together. I forgive you for everything."
Richard at first had thought Jennifer was performing like the top-notch actress. But then he found that these were actually straight from her heart. It was then beyond belief that Sylvia would apparently relent. Her voice sounded mollified like she was being under hypnosis - to the extent that she finally wholeheartedly apologized to Jennifer.
The girl patted Sylvia's hand repeatedly to comfort her and said something more for other 5 minutes. Sylvia, on the verge of tears , lowered her pistol and let Jennifer go. The young superstar politely thanked her and walked towards Richard who was still aiming his revolver at Sylvia. Jennifer beamed and gently pulled his hands down. Richard felt elated , and his heart was melted. But he was still confused.
-Is this the reality or just his hallucination like that night that she was touching him ?
However , Richard all at once noticed that there was someone pointing the gun at Jennifer from the stairs of the higher floor. The writer couldn't shoot him because Jennifer was in the way. In the blink of an eye , Richard grabbed Jennifer and turned his back in the direction of the gun to shield her. There was the sound of gunshot. Richard felt like his back was exploding into pieces. Along with the indescribable agony , he saw his own blood splattering like that agent. No sooner had he fallen down on the floor than Jennifer sustained him with her both arms. There were also several gunshots, followed by the shrieks of both man and woman. Richard knew automatically that was Bill.
Richard felt that his body was terribly shaking, and the blood was gushing from his mouth. Was it probably the end of his life ? Even though he had the blurred vision, he still saw that Jennifer was wailing and babbling like crazy. The drops of liquid fell on his forehead ; they were her tears. He was thus certain that this was not his hallucination.
"Richard , are you OK ? Please don't give up ! " And she yelled out to someone nearby ".... call the ambulance !"
Richard tried to touch Jennifer. She grabbed his hand and attached it firmly to her cheek .He could feel that it was all wet.
Richard mustered up his last strength to say ,
"Jennifer, my love , my darling. There is not a single hour or day passing by that I haven't thought of you. I never stop loving you. You are the angel sent from above: pure and innocent. I am the sinner , the tormented soul. Jennifer , I killed a lot of people. Would you please absolve me ? "
Jennifer looked extremely sorrowful ; she had loudly sobbed and then shouted at the top of her voice,
"No ! Be absolved by yourself later, Richard ...I will never let you go ! How can I live without you ?"
Richard was gradually losing the consciousness .He lastly was amused that Richard Cunningfort , the writer who was the incorrigible has-been, and the ex-CIA agent , who had inflicted the painful death on the wretched people in the third world countries , now had to face his own death.
But he was utterly ecstatic that at least he was dying in the embrace of the woman he loved.
Richard strongly gasped and swiftly opened his eyes at the same time. The first thing he saw was a ceiling with the colour of apple green , his favorite colour. At first he felt like the ceiling was swivelling, making him a bit nauseous. When he closed his eyes briefly and felt better , he tried to get up from the bed. But the lingering pain and cramp pitifully halted him. However , they were still far less than the moment he was dying. Eventually the writer found that around his bed was a well - equipped room in hospital with a television displaying the news of the mayor of NYC visiting the ghetto and shaking hands with the poor black bums. Beside it were 2 of the colourful bouquets on the table. The light outside the window was quite strong ; still he didn't know what time was, as there was no clock on the wall.
A nurse with thick-rimmed eyeglasses opened the door. Without her presence , Richard might have still thought his room was actually the limbo with freezing air- condition that was imitated by the divine being to be one luxurious hospital to relax him before the judgement day. He could then be sent to be burnt in hell for all eternity.
The nurse saw him and became excessively excited .She exclaimed and went to call doctor. In a heartbeat , 3 doctors struggled to descend on the room. It was so hilarious to see them acting like the comedy team : the 3 stooges.
The seemingly most senior doctor said while still gasping :
" Mr.Cunningfort ! I am so glad that you are at last regaining your consciousness. You have been here for exactly 1 week now. Despite some pains or cramps in your body , your health now is almost perfect like the 21-year-old-man ; just take a rest for another few days. But the thing that is perplexing us most is the question : how can you survive from such a serious injury ?"
Another doctor cut in the conversation.
"The bullet ,made from some special material, pierced your back and ripped apart ....... (insanely long Latin word), the parts of your vital organs. Can't believe , I used to see the patients with the terrible wounds like this , they always died for sure within 15 minutes. But you heart stopped beating for only several minutes , according to Agent Bill , your friend. Then you were brought back to life. Your severely damaged organs were miraculously healed by themselves like I have seen in the sci-fi flicks!"
Before the turn of the third doctor , the first and the second attempted simultaneously to make their own diagnoses deemed most sensible about Richard's miracle. So, the room looked rumbustious and disturbed the patient much. But a knight in shining armour for him was Bill and his men who dashed into the room .Their presences unintentionally rattled both the doctors and the nurse when seeing the FBI agents, though they didn't have uniforms.
But it was Bill who caused more disturbing noises by shouting,
" Hey Mr. Hero ! I supposed you would have died or lied like the vegetative forever. You are actually the phoenix rising from the ashes ! Doc , would you please explain this to me? "
Richard waved his hand and said for the first time :
"You'd better wait for the time those Herr doctors have the clear-cut and unanimous conclusions. Please, all gentlemen ! I need the eternal peace ,as now I am gonna lose my mind or even consciousness again."
The doctors baulked at getting out of the room , but at last they gave in. Some had said with hope that after Richard was discharged from hospital, he would be back to be the voluntary part of experiments for the greatest good of humankind. The medical science would have the gigantic progress , if the mystery of his resurrection was completely unravelled.
Richard asked Bill with the question he was eager to know most.
"What about Jennifer ? What happened to her by the time I was passing out ? "
It was Bill's aide , Arthur, who answered him,
"It was the first time for me to see such a great superstar exploding into such a strong emotion of grief. I've watched every of her film and seen only her roles as the suave and prudent girl with high IQ. Don't know she would be totally different off-screen. Mr.Cunningfort , by any chance , are you closely related to Jennifer or her special one ? "
Bill argued ,
"No , Arthur , her special one is Mr. Brad. Lemme explain from the psychology I used to get A in from the FBI academy. It is ordinary for a helpless hostage like Jennifer in this life- and-death situation. When Richard appears as only of her hero, she will automatically feel attached to him. So, the time he even sacrifices his life for her, she will be grief-stricken thanks to her guilts. Moreover , she is the gifted actress .She is aware that to act as the grateful one- even they are both the perfect strangers- will make her more popular. Don't forget all her die-hard fans around the world are keeping their ears to the ground about this attempted assassination."
Richard smiled wryly at Bill. He used to admire his buddy's straight talks , but now he just wanted to thump his back.
Arthur pursed his lip disapprovingly.
"I have another idea. I think it is not necessary for her to act with such an emotion like that. She would also be loved by fans anyway .But you are my boss , you are always right. However, Mr.Cunningfort ,while Mr. Hanson was running out to receive the ambulance , your heart stopped beating for several minutes (from checking the pulse) .Then I was dazed by the sudden flash, the bright flash around both you and Jennifer. It lasted for seconds , I guess. Suddenly you seemed to have a sign of life again. But Jennifer looked extremely exhausted and panted so hard."
This time Bill was stupefied.
"Yeah, it was amazing right there. Richard, we thought we were gonna lose you. I didn't think the first aid or any equipment in the ambulance would help you much. What did she do to you ? "
Richard was bemused.
"I don't know either. I was being 'dead' during that time , the knucklehead ! And when the medical staffs took me into the ambulance , what happened next to Jennifer ?"
Bill tried to recollect.
"She tried to get on the ambulance with you. But some people ,I guess , her staff and the panicked woman- perhaps her mother, rushed to embrace her with excitement and tears. The troop of reporters was in the building without delay- those blood suckers ! I was temporarily blinded by the flashes from their damn cameras. Lucky for you that they didn't have a chance to take photograph of you or get in the way of your ambulance."
Richard closed his eyes for a while and asked,
"What about Sylvia ?"
Bill took a seat and lit a cigarette.
"That's enough for now , Richard. You seem too obsessed with the women. Don't you want to know about how the attempted assassination in Central Park have ended ?"
The writer smiled coyly as a reply. Bill nodded to Arthur to brief Richard for him.
"Mr. Cunningfort, you must be the clairvoyant or somethin'. Your assumptions were all incredibly correct ! After we had arrested the terrorists , some of them ,especially the snipers, confessed that they had been the sleepers for Moscow for years. As far as they knew ,the plan to assassinate both Mr. President and Jennifer had 3 steps. If the bullets from snipers missed the targets , then the assassins would be out for the operation .Finally, If the first 2 steps failed , they would be detonating the bomb from a car nearby."
Bill let off the smoke from his mouth and said,
"Amazing that their weapons were neatly designed for evading the metal detectors like you said. The perpetrators were Americans, Russians and Cubans .They had known well how to camouflage themselves in those hilarious fancy dresses and makeups ,so we couldn't find their identities just from the quick glances."
"Yes, we were embarrassingly hoodwinked by the persons we always look down on. And what about the bomb ?"
"I suppose you secretly possess some extrasensory perception. The police finally found the hidden bomb in the car like your description. That was 1970 AMC Hornet - wow , what a taste ! The bomb experts, that you had asked me for ,raced to defuse it on time -possibly only a minute before they would switch on the remote control, according to the confession. The bomb was so advanced and powerful that it could have razed the whole area in Central Park and nearby buildings to the ground like a micro nuclear bomb , if I'll exaggerate. I believe even the president's car wouldn't be able to withstand it. Thousands of people could lose their lives - higher number than your prediction."
Richard murmured like he was talking to himself.
"Unbelievable that it is only because they just wanted to kill only 2 people. And why didn't they kill Jennifer , though they had their chance ?"
Another of Bill's subordinate interrupted,
"Perhaps , they changed their minds as all their plans failed ,sir. They might have thought of taking Jennifer as a hostage to make their escape. We also had the evidence telling us why the terrorists were fleeing to that building. There would be a helicopter to pick'em up as planned. Nonetheless, that helicopter didn't arrive at all. We are still trying to search for its hangar until now."
Richard was still curious.
"And Sylvia ?"
"The bullets hit her vital organs like you. She is lying in a coma in hospital now - probably have the slim chance to recover. The guy who had shot you also had his head blown off. If we hadn't arrived in time, he would probably have shot you and Jennifer again."
Richard seemed to remember something.
"And Cyndi ? Did you guys already find her ? She must be incarcerated somewhere."
Bill's face looked quite disappointed.
"We can't find her yet. The remaining perpetrators didn't really know about her whereabout. The only ones who knew were Sylvia and the guy who shot you."
Richard scrambled to get out of the bed. Arthur rushed to stop him.
Bill patted his friend's shoulder. "Buddy , take heart. My men still have searched high and low for her. Have a rest by now. If there is more news , we'll inform you ASAP.I have the impression she is still all right."
Richard groaned with pain and thought even if he could get out of the bed , he would still collapse within several steps. He hoped Cyndi wouldn't be killed like Sylvia's ambiguous words. Or if she was locked away somewhere , she would be able to help herself or be rescued by somebody after all.
Arthur intended to distract Richard by fetching one of the banquets from the table for him.
"Look , Mr.Cunningfort. This is the bouquet from President Jimmy Carter. He and his wife said that they were much indebted to your heroism."
Richard saw a name card among the flowers with the handwriting from Carter to show his gratitude. The writer was amused if all his hunches had been wrong , he might have received the life sentence in jail on a charge of harming the president.
Bill said with laughter,
"I am gonna laugh my ass off, because Ridgemont was immediately fired ,ha ha. Serve him right ! But actually, his hubris had unknowingly helped us to get close to the president. By the way, the White House tremendously appreciate your and also my helps so much. The repenting chief of staff called me up this morning and said that if you already fully recovered , you and I would be invited to have the cordial talk with Mr. President at his oval office."
Richard just smiled as he wasn't thrilled at all. He asked sardonically,
"Am I the world's new celebrity now ?"
The room resounded with laughter. Arthur said,
"No , Mr.Cunningfort. We keep your identity anonymous , because we're extremely cautious about your privacy and security. There might be some backlashes from the real masterminds in the future. We most of all fear that your background as the CIA agent would be exposed too. Now the world knows only that the unidentified FBI agent saved the US from its disaster. "
Richard sighed with relief. There was only one person in the world who he wanted to know about his heroism. He noticed the other bouquet on the table.
"Whose one is that ?"
Everyone looked puzzled. When Richard checked the bouquet , most consisting of yellow flowers, he found only a colour picture attached to it .It showed a beautiful beach -probably in some exotic country much far from here. The blue-green sea from afar was glittering when touched by the strong sunlight. There was also a large mansion on the beach. It was exactly like the record's cover of the song 'A Summer Place' at his apartment.
Arthur said with excitement ,
"We don't know whose it is. It has been put on this table for a couple of days. It is impossible for the outsider , because your hideout is a top secret. We have to check this with the medical personnel here right now !"
Richard didn't hear Arthur at all, as he was smilingly musing. The writer- with his insight again- knew who sent it to him.
There was someone asking Richard where his mind had been drifting to during the week-long unconsciousness. He lied without a qualm that it was nothing : like the robot was completely switched off. Actually, Richard had dreamt about many things , most were the memories since his childhood .First , he was joyfully running with some friends , including Bob , his cousin who died from suicide ,around the golden cornfield belonging to his grandfather in the countryside. Those memories also included when he received the first prize of short story writing contest in high school ,which delighted his parents so much .Perhaps the equally impressive memory displayed in his dreams was his arrival in Laos , for the first time , watching Mae Kong River glittering with the sunlight in the morning among the serenity of the green mountains. It was like the heaven on earth.
The memories then turned to the reverie. He saw Jennifer staring at him adoringly ; both he and she were idly walking hand in hand along the beach, watching sea birds flying. When he immediately woke up , he still felt its sweetness lingering in his heart.
Richard learned that the week during his time in hospital, the reaction from the Carter administration to this spectacular attempted assassination was astonishing. The spokesman of the White House just said that the mastermind behind this brazen terrorism was the secret organization determined to wreak havocs in the US and its alliance like the Western Europe. Richard suspected that the writer of this explanation probably got inspired by Spectre , the fictious organization in the films of James Bond.
It also puzzled him particularly when there weren't even the slightest hints about the USSR ,Cuba , KGB or anything that was relevant to the cold war.2 superpowers still treated each other the same - no signs of protests or belligerence. Richard was curious as well about the press freedom of this country which was frequently praised by itself and countries around the world. He knew all along that the government had the machinations to control the press .Even though there were the whistleblowers going public from time to time about the conspiracies of the US government , those were just the little tips of the iceberg.
Richard at last returned to his apartment. Apart from Cyndi ,the person who became Richard's major concern was the poor Ben who had endured the starvation during his week in hospital. But Ben was wise or lived long enough to absorb some skill from his owner by escaping from his apartment in order to be well fed by Richard's neighbour in the next room. The writer was appalled to see Ben vanishing, but finally the good neighbour notified him. The emotional reunion between the father and the son from different species ensued.
Ben now became not just the relic reminding him of his ex-wife , but also of Cyndi who used to pamper Ben much. Richard wasn't certain whether he correctly apprehended the renowned word of wisdom of an existentialist like Jean-Paul Sartre : 'Hell is other people.'. But the absence of 'other people' like Cyndi became even more like hell for him. His apartment turned to be such a hollow and lonely place. Although he didn't actually love her , the reminiscence of her spending time with him kept haunting him. Her belonging was still well kept, as it was awaiting its owner. Richard spent days looking for Cyndi , going to the police stations in NYC several times a day. The countless corpses of Jane Doe (unknown female person) couldn't match with her body.
Now Richard felt like being the spectre endlessly roaming around the macabre land , even it was his own hometown .This perhaps was the punishment for him as the unfaithful. At night he had the risible hope that Cyndi's ghost , if she happened to pass away , would visit him in dreams or just appear before him any time. So he would be certain and felt that his life could move on , but nothing supernatural occurred at all.
Richard still struggled to sleep each night. When he woke up in the dead of the night , it was difficult to be back to sleep again. The writer had to kill time by reading book ,watching TV or rambled over his neighborhood. Some nights he returned to the old habit by hanging around the bar , sipping beers and talking to the strangers. The pretty girls had made the passes at him, but their appearances and ages reminded him of Jennifer. He just smiled at them and went on discussing with some new friends about the politics or the histories of the countries they hardly knew like Thailand or Burma. Everyone , except the bartenders who were acquainted with Richard, was in awe of his erudition. He simply told them that he was the middle-aged writer who loved to wander around the world , but desolately , he didn't know how to write anymore.
Above all ,Richard always wondered what their reactions would be , if they knew that he was actually that unidentified FBI agent who saved both of their respectable president and priceless superstar , probably including thousands of lives. But he still enjoyed keeping this as secret until the end of his life.
Several days after returning to a normal life , Richard found himself in the very awkward situation again when Cyndi's mother had attempted for a dozen times to call her .Eventually he had to tell the old woman the truth. She was terribly inconsolable and accused Richard of murdering her daughter. The writer asked Bill and some police officers to travel with him to the hometown of Cyndi, which was more than 100 miles away from New York State, to convince her mother that she really disappeared without a trace. The ageing woman finally relented but still was devastated. She had anticipated so much the wedding of her only daughter, but now she couldn't even arrange her funeral.
Richard in this moment realized that one of the worst tragedies happened to humans was that their beloved one just disappeared - unbeknownst to anyone in the world whether she or he had been dead or alive. This had happened a lot in the third world countries ruled by the autocratic leaders who endeavoured to silence the dissidents by numerous forced disappearances. Most of them always were in cahoots with the CIA. Richard was assured that he used to help those ruthless leaders or even went to shake hands in amity with them at their presidential palaces. This sort of karma sought to strike him, as if it had thought that his death cheating wasn't fair at all.
Bill and his men also couldn't help Richard about Cyndi any longer, as they received the order from the higher-ups to wrap up the investigation soon . Richard hereafter heard that all the remaining perpetrators were incredibly swiftly prosecuted. Their nationalities and punishments weren't disclosed to the public. Richard guessed some with the American nationality must certainly have faced the electric chair execution on a charge of treason. But it was still a secret until now.
Albeit all those irregularities , Richard was still glad that the government finally rewarded him. So he was the only one in the world that was allowed to visit the important instigator- Sylvia. She was still in a coma in the special room guarded around the clock by the agents in the unidentified hospital.
That moment Richard thought it was strange to see her lying absolutely still , just being assisted by ventilator. While sharing their lives together decades ago, he just saw her sleeping peacefully and snoring a little. Richard was currently confused whether he should still hold a grudge against her or forgive her with magnanimity for the sakes of old times and affections that still overwhelmed him sometimes. Out of the blue ,he had showed the urge to hold or at least touch her hand , but he was abruptly prohibited by the agents who kept watching him without blinking the eyes.
The writer at last thought out loud that his ex-girlfriend-turned-enemy should wake up and tell him immediately about Cyndi's whereabout. The doctor rushed to the room and told him it was also impossible to happen. Even if she was revived , she might be permanently mentally disabled or totally amnesiac.
Indisputably , the only person who had kept him sane, or kept his insanity at bay , was Jennifer. Richard still preserved the withered bouquet believed to be hers in his bedroom. Now he was inquisitive about her whether she had the preternatural powers, or she was literally an angel who could resurrect him. The writer felt that the remain of her powers were still running around his body , just like the electric appliance. Now it wasn't certainly his hallucination at all because there were 2 witnesses like Bill and Arthur. And the bouquet ? The way of its delivery to him was still enigmatic like Jennifer herself. But when he looked at it for seconds , his depression and anxiety were greatly mitigated.
One day Richard stumbled upon the TV program that was intended to show the highlights of what had happened to Jennifer in the last 2 weeks. It began by displaying her walking out of that building on that day. Although her mother and people nearby tried to shield the girl , people still saw her blouse drenched with blood .This made the vast crowd around the place scream in terror. The police officers had made the great efforts to keep them out of the way ; their head quickly declared via megaphone that it was indeed the blood from the officer who had rescued Jennifer. She was completely unharmed. The people yelled out and clapped their hands with the utter delights. The young superstar still kept her composure and said nothing. Richard noticed there was probably the faded trace of anxiety on her face.
The TV program later told the audience that her agent and her mother (just like the dual regents) announced that Jennifer decided to 'take a break' for a while according to her trauma from this terrorism. The young superstar also adamantly declined the interview with any press. Approximately hundreds of die-hard fans nationwide would gather daily outside her large mansion to earnestly support (or actually disturb) her - probably both night and day. As the token of their wishes of her speedy recovery, they put the yellow flowers ,her favorite, on her gate which was well protected by the security guards. Richard chuckled with the fact that during his time in hospital , the only one in this world who was distraught over his fate might have been a cat like Ben.
The troop of reporters and Paparazzi paved the area around her mansion as their temporary accommodations. They were more than ready to make the incessant and urgent news about Jennifer around the clock. It was so comical that the news of her attempted assassination had even sidelined the US president’s. Richard presumed that the White House had the mixed feelings .First , they were relieved that Jennifer would help distract the press from something they didn't want the public to know. Second , deep down inside they might feel humiliated from being relegated. But the White House might be no so lonely ,as there were dozens of people dead or injured , but they had rarely been mentioned in the news .
It was the first time that Richard really wanted to see the film of Jennifer. In the evening , he went to a theatre near his apartment. The audiences were not many, as this film had been in theatre for more than a month. The writer reminisced about Cyndi : if she had been with him now ,she would have been so delighted. As he had let her watch Jennifer's films all alone for years. The film was a typical romantic and screwball comedy. The hero , portrayed by Mr. Brad, was the heir of the well-to-do family who shunned going out thanks to his Social Anxiety Disorder. Jennifer portrayed the girl from a humble background. She was the type of the girl-next-door : optimistic and amiable. Mr. Brad's doting grandfather hired Jennifer to take care of his self-willed grandson. Even though Mr. Brad tremendously despised Jennifer at first sight , the rest was history.
Richard nibbled popcorn while laughing at many jokes from this film which became the highest commercial success of the year. But ,at the end of the film , while Mr. Brad was kissing Jennifer's forehead ,Richard blushed and felt downcast. He bitterly remembered the news of their engagement. However, the writer felt relieved that at least the kiss was superficial, as the film producer had intended their film to also attract the young audience.
When the writer returned to his apartment and watched the TV news again. Many channels were still engrossing in reporting the daily life of Jennifer. The news anchor told him the heartbreaking news that the superstar suddenly decided to change from pausing to suspending her career for an indefinite time ,albeit the protests from her mother and her agent. And the insider revealed that the girl seemed nonchalant about the intimidation of the film companies to sue her.
Richard was lying sleepily on sofa. Ben nuzzled up against his stomach for a while before going somewhere. He extremely cared about Jennifer. Regardless of her decision , he really desired only the best thing would happen to her , although he would never cross her path again. Or if he by any chance met her, he was assured that the girl would greet him with cordiality .Even this happened for the blink of an eye ,he would still be much contented.
Richard didn't know how long he had been napping. When he woke up , the news and the interviews with Jennifer's fans were still on TV. Some said with tears in their eyes that they ultimately hoped that their beloved idol would come back soon. The people outside her mansion desperately lit the candles to beseech her to change her mind.
Richard struggled to lay his head on pillow again ,but he found that his head was lying on something which was so soft like a lap of woman. He was startled - perhaps the ghost of Cyndi.
There was a soft voice that sounded like it was lingering from another dimension. And it belonged to Jennifer.
"Don't let them fool you , Richard. They are so in love with someone that's not me. There is only one in this world who truly loves me -that's you."
Richard was not sure whether now he was in the same old dream or hallucination. But her voice was so spellbinding .He didn't struggle or do anything but let himself drift in this sweet reverie.
The girl gently caressed his face and neck. She then kissed his forehead. He felt her warm lips and breathing; he was overjoyed.
"Good night, have the sweetest dream, my Prince Charming , " murmured Jennifer.
That night was the first time in months that Richard was in the deepest slumber like a child.
When Richard woke up in the morning , he was dizzy, as he was confused about the boundary between truth , dream or hallucination at the puzzling moment he was about to doze off last night. The writer was extremely incredulous that Jennifer really used her psychic abilities to appear and confess her true feeling for him .This was damn straight from the thrashy horror B films or the fairy tales for children ,although he accepted that Jennifer was someone 'very unique'. Richard at last accepted that the most certain thing in his life was his utter adoration of the girl .It was indelible in his heart ,regardless of what was happening or would happen in this treacherous world.
Something suddenly crossed his mind ; it was the manuscript of his novel. He one day bitterly received it back from his agent . Now it was lying motionless on his bookshelf like the forlorn tomb. Even though his novel was not published , at least he was proud that it used to be read by Ex-President Gerald Ford , the muse of this novel. But Richard had the impression that it should rest in eternal peace on the hands of the greater muse like Jennifer. It was thus the highest honour for him , if she at last learnt via this novel how he was obsessed with her. It would therefore lead to her insight of the reason why he used his body to shield her from the bullet.
In a nutshell, Richard was determined to give the manuscript to Jennifer before biting a bullet for a new novel again. His life would be able to move on, even the fate of Cyndi was still unknown. The ensuing puzzle was how he would do it .Jennifer was not the girl-next-door like in the film, who would rush to open the door and smilingly greet him after ringing the bell .Quite the contrary , it was universally accepted that she was one of the most unreachable VIPs in the world.
After all, Richard made up his mind to go to the office of Jennifer's agent before noon to complete this task.
While the writer was having breakfast , some TV channels still reported her life as around- the-clock news. Outside her mansion, the reporters and the cameramen had to trudge through the tents of Jennifer's devout fans. Now the area around Jennifer's mansion was like a weird little town. The media attempted to interview some of people who were just waking up and brushing their teeth from the water pipe they managed to install from the trucks . Their resolves to see the comeback of their idol were both praiseworthy and ludicrous.
However , most of them later had passed the time with various activities like singing and playing folk music in the manner that looked like Peter, Paul and Mary .Some opened the stalls to sell the gifts or the souvenirs based on the various images of Jennifer. Some even played games and later they became the gambling den like casinos in Las Vegas. Richard thought this exhibited the mental symptoms of the Americans who became aimless after the preoccupation with the tense ideologies in the late 60s.Plenty of fans here probably used to be the hippies worshiping cannabises and free loves- like the guy who his ex-wife had eloped with. Now the Vietnam war ended and the protests against it were no more. The rebellious youths felt that they were cut adrift. They were forced to go back to university and work like the bourgeois lifestyles they used to show hostility to. Probably they used Jennifer as the pretext to do something that helped them to escape from a banality of life in this capitalist society.
Worse still, the serious economic problems since the 1973 oil crisis had still persisted .America was in predicament : it was beset by the high rate of unemployment and crime. People greatly loathed politicians and considered them as nothing but fat pigs or leeches. The public therefore believed Jennifer was like their opium - the quirky counterpart of religion in Karl Marx's maxim.
The media then reported that there were several attempts to break in Jennifer's house last night , but the perpetrators were arrested on the spots by the security guards and the police officers. Some fans cracked that in the near future Jennifer's team might ask the governor of New York state to send the national guards to guard in front of her gate , lest it'd become the riots one day.
When Richard arrived at the office of Jennifer's agent , there were the restless crowds in the building and its surroundings as well. Some onlookers there told Richard that they had intentions to give the presents to cheer Jennifer up. It was amusing that they - just like him - had previously attempted to shun Jennifer's mansion.
A bespectacled woman , in her 30s, stood on the chair and spoke via megaphone that Jennifer's agent and mother decided to stop receiving the presents from all well-wishers .Their reason was that they didn't have enough manpower to thoroughly check all the things during this crucial time. The people loudly booed her. The jeers were so deafening ; the disgruntled crowds were likely to escalate into the violent mob. The staff whispered something to her. She finally gave in and said now their staffs were urgently preparing the place beside the building for keeping the presents.
The situation looked much more relaxing. But some still bombarded the woman with megaphone with the question : how were they certain that their presents would reach the hands of Jennifer ? She was dumbfounded briefly before assuring them that every item would without doubt be appreciated by the young superstar. Many still didn't buy into her promise , but they had no choice. Richard was one of them. He knew intuitively that all of those presents would be rummaged and usurped by the staffs. The worthless ones would pitifully be dumped or decimated somewhere.
The writer assumed it would be the wisest to talk to that woman tete a tete. He thought he had the great chance to succeed , because his present to Jennifer was one of a kind. It was unbelievable when that woman saw him , she yelled out with glee,
"Hello Mr. Cunningfort ! Fancy meeting you here !"
The blonde enthusiastically introduced herself as Lillian. She told him that she had been a great fan of his novel for ages, though she was still quite young (much to Richard's chagrin that this stipulated now he was the old-timer). Lillian said she used to attend his talk at some bookstore , but she didn't buy his book, as all of them were already on her bookshelf at home. Now she was working as the head of PR for the company of Jennifer's agent . Richard thought she was eloquent and friendly.
Lillian gladly invited him to have coffee together at the canteen of company.
"May I know what you are doing here ? Don't tell me that you are one of Jennifer's fans !" teased Lillian.
Richard shrugged and laughed.
"Guilty as charged. But age doesn't matter , does it ? I have a strong determination to send her some present . But the situation here makes me realize that it is certainly the mission impossible."
Lillian giggled and sipped coffee.
"Mr.Cunningfort, no offense , if I suppose you are only the fan of Gary Cooper or Steve McQueen [famous stars of cowboy or action film in the 50s and 60s.] ,ha ha. By the way, I have been working here for several years, I could see the countless presents from Jennifer's fans around the world being dumped or stolen by the staffs. What a waste ! But I can do nothing as a result of the draconian policy of this company to prevent some presents with the toxic substance or even the bomb inside. It is exceedingly concerned about the safety of Jennifer. Just now we tried to be honest , but the fans couldn't accept that. Mr.Cunningfort , what about your present ? "
Richard surmised that she was going to know anyway , so he told her the truth.
"It is the manuscript of my unpublished novel."
She looked so surprised.
"Wow ! Really ? Why wasn't this masterpiece published ?"
"The reason can't be revealed here. But I would really be glad if you could do me one favor."
Lillian smiled sweetly.
"Yeah , of course, you want me to send it to Jennifer ?"
Richard felt that she was awfully nice - that's a good sign ! He nodded.
Lillian sighed a little ,
"Even though I have been working here for many years , I can only see her from a distance, let alone talk to her. But that's ok , because you are my inspiring writer. I will do my best for you."
Richard thanked her from a bottom of his heart. However , when he saw Lillian often fondling her hair and fixing her eyes on him, he thought that she was making a pass at him. Sometimes her colleagues came to talk with her about works at the table , but she was able to shake them off quickly in order to keep talking to Richard.
Their conversation was overall lively ; it had also included some details about her private life just like the blind date. Lillian said she actually wanted to be a writer since she was still in high school. But due to the financial restraint of her family , she at last ended up as the white -collar worker like today. Richard found that there were many things about Lillian that bore resemblance to Cyndi's. Finally, their conversation was about Jennifer.
The young woman said quite softly,
"Every time Jennifer comes here, she looks exactly like the princess visiting her subjects in Europe during the Middle Ages -elegant and awe-inspiring. People are excited and try to get close to her. The person who happens to be greeted by her or talk with her would feel so honoured and be enviable for many. I believe that Jennifer might secretly have some transcendental prowess to hold people spellbound."
Richard laughed , but deep down inside he bought into her analysis when contemplating Jennifer's film yesterday. Her charms and skill in acting was unsurpassable. She really made the audience believe that she was 'their girl'. The audience around him would get angry with the jealous woman who had bullied Jennifer (he was afraid that they would even throw their shoes into the movie's screen). Or they were over the moon when she was about to marry Mr. Brad. It was even possible that if Jennifer turned to a career of politics in the future , she might be the first female US president and also the youngest one.
"But I notice something in her eyes sometimes. Perhaps there are the feelings the public have absolutely overlooked or never imagined - like her boredom or sadness. I think she might be hiding them well."
Richard wasn't bemused at all. He already knew all about that. He said,
"It is ordinary for the super celebrity like Jennifer. Those feelings are caused by the conflicts between the roles expected by society and her true self. She's just like us ; perhaps she was trying hard to escape from this like the princess imprisoned in the lonely tower. But we are trapped by our own prejudice that she was happy with her perfect life."
"You are such a well-read guy. You are exactly like I used to imagine before - from reading your novels."
The head of PR looked at her watch and exclaimed,
"Oh, my goodness ! It's time for me to be back to office now."
Richard gave her the clasp envelop. She opened it and flipped through the manuscript for a while.
"Thank you so much. Actually, it is not urgent. You can read it as long as you want .I am so glad to receive the criticism from you. I think you are a smart girl, " he said gently , but he would keep contacting her to make her honour her promise.
Lillian smiled even more broadly.
"Thank you, I will peruse it with heart and soul. You can later pay me for peer review by buying me coffee or beer. Can I have your phone number ?"
After Richard had parted from Lillian, he idly walked out of the building and look for the place to hang around. Perhaps the office of his own agent was still the best. He and the brilliant bald man (including that nerdy guy) could probably find the new idea about his new novel. It should have had the plot that would never get on the big shot's nerve again. Richard lost the faith in America as the society of freedom of speech now. Perhaps he should have changed the genre of his novel to be horror or romantic comedy.
Outside the building , 2 cars rushed to pull over not far from Richard .They were ushering a van -very expensive van into the place near the gate of building. Other cars followed them, and the vexing paparazzi were darting out of them to surround the van. Richard felt that this was a sign that some super VIP was in that van. Amidst the blinding flashes of light from cameras , 4 or 5 brawny bodyguards were using quite harsh methods to fend off the overexcited crowd . That was when Jennifer was walking out of the van with her mother.
Richard was utterly surprised, as all media unanimously predicted that she would confine herself to only her mansion for a month or more thanks to her so-called post-traumatic stress disorder. The writer nonetheless was thrilled to see her in the flesh - first time since she embraced him while he was dying. But he was greatly disturbed by the scramble from the people around him, and he couldn't find the way to escape again. When Jennifer was walking near him , Richard felt like he was being dragged by some unseen power. He thus could get through the people before him and also the cautious bodyguards like a miracle .Now he was standing in front of Jennifer once more , like in Bloomingdale's. Richard was expecting her smile.
However , this was much different from the first time - but in the horrible way. The young superstar scowled at him and punched him at his chest. He didn't get hurt at all , but someone beside him shouted aloud,
"Look ! that scumbag is attacking Jennifer !"
Richard was immediately pulled down to lie on the floor. All hell broke loose : the people around him went berserk with scuffles and screams. He expected that he was about to be trampled on by the lynch mob. Fortunately, no one harmed him , but many hands or knees of the bodyguards pinned his entire body ,including his head ,against the floor.
As previously the unexpected hero , now he became the unexpected villain.
"Hello, Richard. Are you already melting from a long wait ?"
That person drawled after opening the door. He was the guy whom Richard at least expected to meet in this life. That's George , the psychopathic deputy director of the CIA , or perhaps he resigned from this post already -Richard was not sure. The writer felt both relieved and distressed. This was because he would be off the hook thanks to George's strong connection, but he would be pitifully indebted to his old colleague who kept nagging him to be back to serve the organization.
George walked slowly while chatting vibrantly to the police captain into the room. He peaked at Richard like the benevolent father who would rescue his astray son. The police captain smilingly talked to Richard :
"Mr.Cunningfort , you can go now. The legal team of Jennifer doesn't press charges against you. They publicly declares that it is just the terrible misunderstanding. By the way , it is so baffling for me how you managed to get through her bodyguards. They all used to serve in the elite force in army before. But we are reassured by Mr. Brett [George] that you have the clean background and the moral integrity , so we finally consider it as the accident."
Richard shook hands with the police captain and politely thanked him lest he wouldn't meet him again.
He finally left the interrogation room where he had spent about 4 or 5 hours watching the hands of the clock. The officer there was generous enough to let him borrow some newspapers , but he just skimmed it as he kept wondering why Jennifer had done this to him. He believed he and the fans around the world had never witnessed such a tantrum from their beloved superstar in just a second , whether on-screen or off-screen.
George and Richard walked to the entrance of police station. No one even cast a glance at them. No swarm of reporters or paparazzi was trying to rip them apart like Richard used to fear. Everything around them looked perfectly normal like other police stations in NYC. A young police officer was passing by them. He was locking the arms of a boisterous skinny guy - probably the junkie - from behind . A couple of man and woman were filing a case with the officer at the desk. Their loud and jittery conversation showed that there was a burglary at their house last night.
George snickered while leading Richard to stand at the bus stop near the police station. He said bluntly like his old habit :
"Richard , I can't claim all credits about this. Like the police implied , if the legal team of Jennifer had pressed charges against you, you would be in really ... really deep shit, though you are not the first case. We can't use connections or influences to silence this case easily, as it would be notorious around the world. I know you're obsessed with Jennifer , but I never think you will come this far. You used to be a hero who saved her, now you are a kinky stalker ,ha ha. Have you taken for granted that she's falling for you ? "
Richard shook his head.
"No , not at all. I am not insane yet. I know my place and how unreachable she is. But now, I am the world's new celebrity ?" he asked sardonically again.
George looked at him and laughed.
"No, don't be delusional. You are still anonymous like when you were the hero at the Central Park. It is now inexplicable that your pictures in all cameras of paparazzi are absolutely blurred. The police also refuse to identify you, because they are afraid of more copycats , and my persuasion has greatly swayed them as well. Until this minute, you are no one. Every newspaper has only reported that an unidentified man is arrested near Jennifer because of misunderstanding. "
Richard sighed with relief. He was relentlessly trying to piece together the mystery that almost put him in deep shit. He reminisced again about quotation from the English playwright William Congreve of late 17th century : Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. This moment it was much horrifying than Cyndi ,when he was messing with the woman who unequivocally had the supernatural power like Jennifer.
"George , although I really hate you since you are a pain in the ass , I want to thank you anyway. Are you now taking me to somewhere by bus ?"
"No , wait here for minutes."
While waiting , George told Richard that he was still the deputy director , but he had the plan to retire at the end of this year. He might go to work with the billionaires in other countries in order to spice up his life. But some higher-ups in the agency were still contemplating recruiting the retirees like Richard ,because there was now the severe shortage of the able rookies in the CIA.
Exactly 5 minutes later, the long black limousine pulled over beside them. George without hesitation opened the door and led Richard into it.2 sturdy guys in grey overcoats and Ushanka hats were sitting inside and looking at them. George shook hands with them and introduced Richard. One of them refused and spoke broken English :
"I believe I knows Richard so welln. Richard , don't you recognize mei ?"
Suddenly Richard remembered that that was Alexander Golitzen, the agent of the KGB. When Richard visited Moscow in the late 60s under the guise of American journalist. It was Golitzen who welcomed and took care of him in the name of the Soviet Press Association. So hilarious that both of them fretfully tried to spy and stole secrets from each other.
"It is not unbelievable at all that both of you know each other. Mr.Golitzen is going to be the deputy director of the KGB next month."
It was Richard's turn to laugh ; now the agents of both the KGB and the CIA were huddling together in the expensive car like the comrades-in-arms. Golitzen introduced another Russian guy to both Americans in Russian. His last name was Losif ,and he was the high functionary in the government -probably the vice premiere.
Losif ,the man with a distinct mustachios and beard, said to Richard gently,
"Mr. Cunningfort , in the name of the government of the Soviet, we want to thank you with all our hearts."
Richard was disoriented. He thwarted the plan of the KGB and Cuba to assassinate the US president and the superstar. But now they were showing the heartfelt gratitude to him.
Golitzen seemed to fathom what was on his mind. He laughed.
"I understand your surprise. The situation in Moscow, during the attempts on the lives of your VIPs', was utterly complicated."
"Mr.Cunningfort, there was then the fierce politics in the upper echelon of our government. Our country was in the crisis of leadership. The secretary general, Leonid Brezhnev, was getting old and frail. Many hard-liners in the Kremlin deemed him the incompetent leader who was plunging our country into the abyss. The plan of coup d'état had been concocted for years. But the accomplices had more ambitious scheme. During the secret meetings, some proposed about staging the coup in Russia and the assassination of the US president in tow. Therefore , after being capable of controlling the whole USSR , they would declare war against the US. Their assumption was the US must have been in a complete disarray as its top leader was dead. Then it was the good time for the Soviet to take over the world. Finally this became their consensus."
He paused for a while.
"Let me go back to Sylvia .Sylvia is our proudest American asset on US soil. She turned to our side after she had graduated from university and had a Swedish boyfriend who was working with us."
The gangly and pale guy appeared on Richard's mind. He used to have dinner with Sylvia and this boyfriend twice. That young man showed himself as a fervent socialist and denounced the American capitalist ,although Richard had seen him visiting a branch of KFC.
"For some reason, Sylvia supported this coup and was called to stay in Moscow for brainstorming about the plan. But she tried to trick the world into believing that she was in Cuba the whole time. Her aim was that if the assassination failed and she was arrested, the Cuban government would be responsible for it . But Fidel Castro could then falsely claim that it was the plan of a particular group of its rogue military personnel. It is true that Castro had collaborated with the coup, because he was seeking vengeance against the US."
Losif said with laughter,
"There was also the ludicrous story as one of the accomplices, who was powerful in the presidium of the Supreme Soviet , were mentally- ill."
He turned to ask Golitzen and said ,
"We can't remember the exact technical term of his illness , but it is about the delusion of someone who thinks that the famous person is falling for him."
George looked at Richard and chortled like he was saying that was Richard too.
"This guy secretly watched the Hollywood films too much. He was obsessed with Jennifer and really thought that she was his mistress. One day he watched an actor kissing Jennifer's forehead , and he was extremely furious. So, he ostentatiously proposed to other accomplices that Jennifer should have been killed, because she was the symbol of the decadence of American culture. The intense discussion about this had lasted for an hour, and eventually they unanimously agreed with that loony. For that reason, the day Mr. Carter met Jennifer would be the day for an assassination - killing 2 birds with 1 stone."
Richard had goosebumps ; it was like the breathtaking plot straight from his mind or any well-known writers of political thriller genre.
Losif said ,
"That fateful day the coup promoters had successfully seized the Kremlin and held Mr. Brezhnev ,along with other leaders, as hostages. According to their plan , by the time the assassination was successful, they would declare to the Soviet people and the whole world about their intentions. But the result became like we see today. Most of the accomplices were taken aback and finally backed off. Other of Brezhnev's proponents outside Moscow seized this opportunity to arrest them all."
"According to our intelligence network in Moscow, those are absolutely true. Richard , you not only saved the lives of both US president and Jennifer, but you also saved the world ! There was the serious possibility that both countries could have attacked each other with nuclear missiles. The US government now still wants to maintain the peaceful relations with the USSR like détente , so all the news in any media have intentionally been censored and distorted- all are fake now ! "
On Richard's mind, there was a picture of all nuclear missiles in Russia were slowly being launched and pointed at the US simultaneously , while the national anthem of USSR was being played. Below them were the troops of soldiers with rifles solemnly singing along , as they were ready to sacrifice their very last blood for their motherland. The soldiers were standing before the large red flag of USSR intended to be installed in the US , if they finally won this war.
The writer was nevertheless curious.
"Why didn't the perpetrators only detonate the bomb , as it would certainly kill the targets 100 percent."
"That's the good question ,Mr.Cunningfort. Several of the accomplices proposed something like that. But the coup leader decided that they wanted to limit the collateral damages as much as they could , in case the war didn't last long or escalate into the nuclear war. They just wanted the whole world to think they were not much barbaric ,even they already killed Jennifer. Furthermore , they had the enormous faiths in the snipers who had been their sleepers for a long time. However, Plan B and Plan C also followed. But you came along like a knight in shining armour ; all accomplices then realized that they were totally mistaken. "
Richard felt like this world was like the gigantic bedlam. Funny he just thought about Jennifer the whole time -not the freaking whole world.
Their limousine now was passing the bustling Time Square - the important commercial intersection of NYC.- irresistible charms of the capitalist evil. 2 Russians watched them with eagerness and turned to the Americans.
Golitzen said ,
"Now most of the accomplices were shot or sent to Gulags in Siberia. Your government has successfully dismantled the network of Soviet's moles in the US - this we have to accept it in stride. But we can't shake off the doubts that there are still the traitors remaining in the Kremlin and also our unbridled moles in your country who we even don't know yet. One of the executives of the KGB fatally shot himself, because he was also the accomplice. It is a pity that only this man knows all about moles in the US. We thereupon warn your intelligence community to keep the potential mole under surveillance. I think they might still be very dangerous."
Losif offered a handshake to Richard again.
"So, we come here to thank you , and Mr. Brezhnev would like to invite you to Moscow in order to show you his gratitude in person. It is ironic that the US as our nemesis would become our friend indeed at last."
George smiled and talked to Richard.
"You are greatly arousing my envy that you will meet the leaders of both superpowers soon. You can be one of the most important diplomats of the world."
He then relaxed Russians with some joke.
"Richard is deeply falling for Jennifer."
Losif was unfazed.
"Really ? We all fall in love with Jennifer. She is so charming that no Russian actress can beat her. I told myself after learning the plot that I would never forgive those bastards , if she had been killed or injured. Don't get me wrong , I love her like my daughter."
Golitzen also said ,
"Actually, the soviet people love the Hollywood films , though those films are currently in limited theatres or just for the circle of elites in the Communist Party. The USSR government has denounced the US culture , but its citizens have the strong urges to visit McDonald or Disneyland someday. To be frank , we are all the hypocrites !"
Everybody in Limousine roared with laughter.
It was so peculiar that the people of both adversarial countries were talking to one another like the reunion party. Richard was reminded of the ex-president , Richard Nixon. He had much intimate friendship with Leonid Brezhnev like they were the blood brothers. But the politics was still the politics. Friend could turn to be enemy in a heartbeat ,if the unexpected conflicts broke out.
The limousine sent Richard to his apartment. George said to him :
"Wait for our contact. You might be sent by the government to visit Moscow within weeks , that's after you and Bill visit the White House. Take your time , try to do something that will distract you from Jennifer."
Richard chuckled and waved his hand to bid farewell to everyone. He was amused that was probably George himself who was secretly preoccupied with Jennifer- alas , the accusation of dirty old man should not have been only against him.
While having Chinese food for dinner from the same restaurant he used to eat with Jennifer (if that night really had happened) , Richard was taken by surprise by Lillian who suddenly gave him a call. The song 'Witchcraft' of Frank Sinatra from his record player had just ended.
She spluttered a little ,
"Hello ,Mr.Cunningfort ? This is Lillian. I just want you to accept my apology. Yesterday ,barely an hour after you had given me your manuscript , there was somebody calling me with the voice oddly familiar. She told me to immediately send your manuscript to her at the office of Jennifer's agent. Did you tell anyone else at my office about this ?"
After he had replied that he had no acquaintance there , Lillian said in the lengthy sentence,
"I hesitated at first , but then her voice was quickly followed by the one of the executives of my company to confirm it. Mr.Cunningfort , it was a fluke that I am indeed an avid reader with the great skill of reading. I could finish reading half of your novel in just 1 hour before sending it to a man who had rushed to receive its manuscript at my office. I think I am insightful enough to talk about some parts of your novel .So if you are free , please have a cup of coffee with me. I' m also wondering who she is and hope you may clarify this to me."
Richard hesitated but finally made the half-hearted promise. He asked for her phone number and said he would call her as soon as he was free , though he was indeed living like a sloth all the time. He was beginning to feel that she was too friendly and that was discomforting him.
Suddenly Richard was stupefied after he had become enlightened that person who asked for his manuscript was Jennifer. He had already known that she had the extrasensory perceptions , so it was highly probable that she eavesdropped on his conversation with Lillian. He had firstly assumed that his trouble was particularly conjured up by her wraths over his unwitting gossip about her. But then he was elated that she actually cared about him. Or actually Jennifer was jealous that he was rapidly getting acquainted with Lillian ? He flushed and immediately shrugged this idea off ,as he thought he was not that worthy. And this probably was the masterpiece of Erotomania again. However, he began to ask himself again why she punched him with the outburst of anger.
The writer reminisced about his last word with Jennifer before his drift into the twilight of life and death. She was so exalted like she was an angel or the messenger of God, so in his delirium, he wanted her to absolve him. Now he was surprised that the angel could be irascible sometime.
After dinner , the writer switched on TV. Now the media seemed to abate its news about Jennifer, the viewers could thus enjoy other news bulletins that might have been toned down for the previous weeks. The news of the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union , Leonid Brezhnev, seemed to deliberately be the limelight in many channels of the US. About 70 - year-old- bulky guy slowly hobbled to shake hands with the young workers of the factory. The picture couldn't conceal his noticeably shaking body. That was mainly caused by a series of his strokes in 1976.Richard thought of the Russian friend's notion about the crisis of leadership in the kremlin. Perhaps there might be other coups in the future. It became unbelievably the US task to intervene in the future to deter the hard- liners to rise up and pose the threats to the West again.
There were also the interviews with the Soviet folks in the streets who showed their unwavering faiths to their ageing leader and optimism about the future of their country. In this totalitarian society , these interviews were without doubt the pieces of propaganda as usual. But Richard didn't rule out the possibility that the citizens of Soviet - like their American counterparts - didn't know anything about the failed coups and the real reason behind the assassination attempts in America. Power of government in censorship made both the communist and free countries turn to be like the quirky 2 peas in a pod.
Richard contemplated about the invitation to visit Brezhnev. He doubted whether this was also the orchestration of George to lure him to work for the CIA as well. He might at last be assigned with some work over there that looked innocuous , but it actually the espionage or something. His life would be replete with adventures like the past again. This was the situation he desired no more , though now he was utterly bored with the idle life. So, he just wanted to walk the middle path.
Another news was about the deluge of Cambodians refugees at the border of Thailand . Richard used to work in Cambodia's capital city, Phnom Penh, briefly in late 1969 .But it was very lucky for him that King Sihanouk granted him and his friends an audience , since he didn't know that they were all the CIA operatives. The conversation during that dinner was exhilarating, as the king spoke English fluently and had a great sense of humour. Sihanouk loved the Westerners, whereas he cultivated the relationships with the countries in communist bloc like China and the USSR. Richard was fond of the king when he was teased about life in America. Nonetheless, those amicable American dinner guests turned to support General Lon Nol to overthrow the king the next year. It was kept as a top secret that they had received the order from the White House who was agitated with king's inclination towards the communists. Richard supposed Sihanouk currently might have known who he and his friends really were ; it was a shame that the mutual good feelings that night between them vanished into thin air.
However, the regime of Lon Nol allowed the intensification of the secret bombings of the US to eliminate the hidden trails and the havens of the Viet Cong in the Cambodian countryside .It had pitifully resulted in the unknown number of the Cambodian casualties. The restless operations of B-52 inevitably made the Cambodians harbour the deep-seated resentment against Lon Nol and the US imperialist. The power of government led by the ex-general had been greatly diminished and paved the way for the rise of the odd couple like the Khmer Rouge and Sihanouk. Now it was 1977 , 2 years after the Khmer rouge , the radical Maoists, had taken charge of Cambodia and the king, the practical centrist , had been the head of state.
The news tonight was also about the defectors as the ex- members of Khmer Rouge giving a vivid account to the Western reporters that the Khmer Rouge had systematically massacred the Cambodians. Even though there was still not the solid evidence of the scale of those unremitting massacres , the word 'genocide', like the fates of Jews in the concentration camps of the Nazis, were increasingly mentioned by the media. The king and his family were also rumoured to be under house arrest , thanks to his conflict with 'those Brothers' [the leaders of Khmer Rouge].Richard realized that he was stumbling on another evidence that more blood was on his hand , though it was just his very indirect role. Criticizing Nixon for bombing Cambodia via those articles in newspapers later seemed not able to help redeem his sins at all.
The foreign news was suddenly interrupted by the urgent program. That was the live interview of Jennifer after the assassination attempt. The host was Dick Cavett , a famous TV personality and comedian. He looked quite excited to talk with the charming superstar who had previously refused any interviews. A girl appeared among the thunderous applause and screams. She looked sublime as usual. Mr.Cavett asked the girl about her feeling as a poor victim of both assassination and kidnap. She flabbergasted the audience with the account of her extraordinary calmness at the time of peril. It could convince the audience, as it seemed so straightforward and sincere. However, she spent more than 10 minutes praising her rescuer : the so-called unidentified FBI agent (which she actually knew who he was).She beseeched that he also deserved the highest honour from the White House for saving the life the US president.
Following Jennifer's request , Mr.Cavett turned to the camera to make a plea to the government to reveal the identity of that national hero and reward him handsomely for his bravery. Richard almost said 'no' aloud. He just wanted to be famous again only because of his new novel.
The host then asked Jennifer about her state of mind after that tumultuous day and the reason why she decided to suspend her career. She abruptly answered that she didn't suffer the PTSD at all like the rumours , but she needed a break for self-reflection and preparations for the study in university. She would like to thank all of her fans around the world who had encouraged her tremendously. She had never felt more secure in her life .Her legal team had already compromised with the film companies and there was nothing the fans should have been worried about. She thus passionately begged the die-hard fans who had been gathering around her mansion to leave and let her in peace at least for a while. Her persuasion sounded powerful enough to make some female audience's eyes brim with tears. But it was widely acknowledged that the fans wouldn't move away if she didn't return to star in her unfinished film.
Mr. Cavett asked the beautiful girl about the incoming engagement of hers and Mr.Brad , Brad Lemann. She giggled and said that was just a rumour again. She never had that on her mind, as she was still quite young. The host complimented that she and Brad were so elegant like a match made in heaven. She blushed and said those were speculated by the media , based on their images mainly on-screen. She quipped that the romances between the stars off -screen in Hollywood were similar to the advertisements that helped the merchandises to make a profit.
"Don't let those fool you. An essence of human relationship is fundamentally the feeling : love, " said Jennifer astutely. The people in the studio clapped their hands to show their admirations.
The host begged her to elaborate the word 'love'. Jennifer said that love in her opinion was like a person who kept brightening her up even in the cloudy days , though he himself was always brooding and lonesome .But he was the only person in the world who really loved her , no matter who she was. He never stopped loving and thinking of her, even for a single of hour or day and vice versa. Although she did some terrible thing to him on a whim , she knew that he still forgave her. For her , he was her 'a Summer Place'. For him , she was his 'Miss Sunshine'.
The host said with a tongue in cheek that he was losing his mind from what she was really meaning. Jennifer smiled and said nothing. The audience were consequently befuddled, and their chatters drowned out the voice of the host.
The brief interview ended as Jennifer politely requested. The TV channels from then on reported that there had been the audience incessantly making the calls and giving the various opinions based on their own interpretations .Some surmised that it was purely Jennifer's allegory of love. Some said that perhaps she was implying that she was in love with someone else. Mr.Brad's fans argued that she was talking about her boyfriend, but she just used the allegory to make her romance more colourful. Plenty of TV channels attempted to contact Brad but to no avail .For some unknown reason , the young actor refused to give the interview, though he had never missed even a single chance to do it.
Richard felt the heat flowing around his face ; he knew with all his heart that she was talking about him. He had long forgot how the feeling of being loved in return was. Funny that deep down inside he found the peacefulness in one-sided love , though it was painful sometimes. Although he never thought that he was too old to love , now the mutual affection was about to cause his severe headache. This was because she was totally out of his league, and he was doubting how this unimaginable romance would carry on. Nonetheless , it was a bit annoying that she seemed to know too many things that happened to him on a daily basis. He walked to stare at the withered bouquet in his bedroom for a long time. He thought that she was smiling to him.
The phone rang, it was once more Cyndi's mother who frequently caused Richard's heartache. The grief-stricken old woman still cried aloud whenever she called Richard for the news of her daughter. Richard was trying hard until today to find the way to provide her a solace. He didn't have a heart to tell her to give up her hope, because Cyndi was probably dead. Suddenly something came across his mind. Richard remembered that Cyndi several times mentioned that her mother was deeply churchgoing and superstitious. Richard was diametrically opposite to her mother. But he at last remembered the old lady who came to warn him about his tangled love at the bookstore. He supposed she must have had the clairvoyance that greatly helped him to be straightforward with Cyndi. Thanks to those experiences, Richard stopped scorning the superstitions and decided to contact that old lady. But the question was how he could do that.
"Mr.Cunningfort , how do you know that I'm gonna help you ?"
The old lady, whose dress looked retro like the bygone fashion at least in the 30s or 40s, asked him bluntly.
Richard beamed and said gently,
"It is only my intuition, Ms.Tilly. The first time I saw you , I thought I could depend on you. Your insight was so penetrative, and you looked compassionate."
She giggled and a tone of her voice was dramatically softened.
"How sweet you are ! How do you find my apartment ?"
"I asked the staffs at the bookstore I first met you. A girl said you always hung around with many friends there. An old gentleman there also told me about your address."
"Of course, I like to visit there several times a week to exchange the creative conversations with the elderly like me .But the young people are also challenging to talk with. Mr.Cunningfort, look how America has been changing in the passing decades. I think I can't catch up with them any longer."
Richard thought it wasn't a good time for discussing about the social issues or venting from the old-timers. He just nodded and introduced Cyndi's mother to the old lady.
"Ms. Tilly, this is Ms. Swanson. She is the reason I am visiting you here. The people there told me that you were such an exceptional fortune teller. And it is true because the way you warned me that day changed my life. Ms. Swanson has something extremely important to ask you right now."
Ms. Tilly nodded to the woman who was probably younger than her by a few years. The latter did the same but was still bowed from grieving. It was Richard who spent a couple of hours driving to take her here with the effortless persuasion.
Ms.Tilly still talked to Richard.
"Actually , I've quit this career for almost a year. Since you are my favorite writer , this is not a business but a way of showing my gratitude. Normally , I used the cards to help my fortune telling, but I have already reached the point that they are not indispensable anymore. I know you are going to ask me about the missing woman, correct ?"
Both the visitors were startled. Ms. Swanson spoke in an unsteady voice :
"Yes, that's my daughter , Cyndi."
Ms. Tilly closed her eyes and clasped her hands, while she was still sitting on the rocking chair. It looked like she was gathering her psychic strengths. The room was quite dark ,even though it was still afternoon, and the light outside was strong. Her dingy apartment was full of the nostalgic decorations that evoked the feeling of the ritual place for witchcraft in New Orleans since the previous centuries .The strange large bronze symbol on the wall was its central component. The black and white photographs of a family, who were supposed to pass away for almost a century, on the shelf made the atmosphere around them creepy as well.
"Ah , I forget to tell ya that I am also the medium. I think merely my insight is not enough, so I would summon her spirit if there is one, " said the old lady before muttering something that sounded like the incantations.
This made both her visitors on edge more. Richard thought now his life astonishingly was thrown into the horror fictions written by Bram Stoker or Edgar Allan Poe.
Ms. Tilly spoke to the unembodied entity beside her :
" Cyndi, are you here ?" The old woman then murmured , " Yeah, she is standing right here - beside Mr.Cunningfort !"
Cyndi's mother broke down and cried. It meant she was implying that Cyndi was doubtlessly dead. But Richard wondered why her ghost was not standing near her mother ,as she loved her so much. He was wary that this could be the top-notch performance practiced during her career for a long time. But a photo near Ms. Tilly suddenly fell down on a floor like the film 'The Exorcist'. It frightened him a bit , but he still presumed that it might have been one of her special effects.
Ms. Swanson said to the medium :
"Please ask my daughter : how did she die and where is her body now ?"
Ms. Tilly still closed her eyes and talked to herself. She then said,
"Your daughter tells me that she has been mercilessly tied and blindfolded by the person who used to be her friend (perhaps Sylvia). She thinks she might have been thrown into the river, because she is still conscious at that moment and can feel its strong current."
Cyndi's mother asked hurriedly , "What river ? Where ?"
The medium said, "She says she doesn't know either. Now she is in the place that is excruciatingly cold and dark."
Richard pondered that it meant nothing. Since her body couldn't be found , it wouldn't be the concrete evidence that proved the words of Ms. Tilly anyway.
Ms. Tilly said to Cyndi's mother:
"She tells me to tell you that please don't worry too much. She knows finally she would be led to someplace more splendid than this earth. She says she loves you very much. Please don't cry 'cause it's gonna make her suffer even more. She promises that she and you will meet again in heaven."
The old lady went on.
"Cyndi has something to talk with Mr.Cunnifort alone, please excuse us for a moment, Ms. Swanson."
Cyndi's mother hobbled out of the room while holding her handkerchief to wipe her tears off. Richard thought that was a good sign that she would finally make peace with herself.
"For you , Richard ," she called his first name and said bluntly,
"Even though you are the unfaithful asshole or the....incurable Erotomaniac , her love for you is still not receding .She really wants to stay with you as long as she can. However, there is some power that is enshrouding you like a cocoon. So, it was impossible for her to touch you."
Richard felt stupefied. It was out of the question for Ms. Tilly to accuse him of falling ill with the Erotomania - the technical terms which she had even never met in her life. The writer was also certain that he had never used this word in any of his novels.
Or this was really Cyndi standing here in this room ?
"Now Cyndi is bidding farewell to you and wish you the best in your life. You can move on with someone whom you have been head over heels with for the ages."
Richard almost yelled out,
"Hold on ! Please tell her that I really want to apologize to her for everything." But he stopped short of saying that he loved her, because it would be a barefaced lie.
The medium was silent for a while and said,
"Don't worry , she had long forgiven you for everything."
Richard felt that he was shedding his tears and sobbing. He spent minutes gathering his wits. Ms. Tilly told him that Cyndi was gone already and before that, she was trying to touch him, but she flinched.
The medium told the writer:
"Mr.Cunningfort, connecting Cyndi accidentally helps me to shed the light on you more than ever. It is especially when she says that you are being enshrouded by some power."
Richard repeated her word. "Some Power ?"
The medium nodded and said,
"That power is redoubtable, because its source is the mystic person who's highly emotionally connected to you. Your and her fate entwine, even before she first met you, and they grow increasingly intense. In my vision, she is much younger but far more exalted than you. She is your muses and the countless precious things in your life , but she can't live without you either. You are the source of her power like the symbiosis. It means your and her power are not stable all the time. The best is when both of you are near each other."
Richard recalled Jennifer's last words before he was unconscious : how can I live without you ? He had contemplated this sentence for a long time. He gave credence to Bill's psychological analysis that it might have been her hysteria and her guilt that she used to treat him badly. Furthermore , he was assured that she'd never lived with him and she was like the princess , so he deemed those words preposterous. Now he was changing his mind.
The medium still gave the gripping analysis,
"Try to remember , Mr.Cunningfort ! Have you ever endured the grave situation along with her in the previous months ? I guessed you managed to pass it with your incredible intuitions. But those were mainly driven by her power. Your solutions might have been based on your experiences and insights , but they had flown out of your mind quickly like the river's streams because of her. "
Richard believed he was reaching the mental state like Satori now. He asked her,
"Ms. Tilly , please tell me how our fates would be going on."
She closed her eyes again and spent too long time searching for answer. She finally opened her eyes and said,
"Sorry, I can't find the answer you are looking for. The future of both yours and hers is too obscure like the murky water in the pond. However , I don't mean it would walk the path to tragedy. Mr.Cunningfort , there are many possibilities in the world for our life to choose. Moreover, I think I don't have enough power to fathom hers , because she is too divine like I'm trying to stare at the sun. But there is only thing I can warn you at this moment. I can feel another source of power that is downright malevolent ; it is hell-bent on bringing that girl and you into another peril."
Richard murmured to himself :
Ms. Tilly said ,
"Yes , but I don't know how dangerous that power can be , and what form that power would appear in. Get a grip and spend times contemplating how to prevent its threats from both of you. Mr.Cunningfort, I have read all of your novels. Your heroes , the avatars of yourself, are brilliant at assessing the situations around him. I believe you and she would pass this ordeal together again. Just hang in there."
Richard appreciated her overwhelming benevolence , but he was afraid that he had spent too much time here. He offered her some fees before leaving, but she refused. He lastly invited the old lady and her friends for sipping tea and chattering some other time at the coffee shop near his apartment. Ms. Tilly smiled with sheer delight and grabbed his hand tightly.
On the way to her house , Cyndi's mother had been dumbfounded all the time .But finally the old lady sincerely thanked Richard for alleviating her misery. She planned to arrange her daughter's funeral within a month, though there wouldn't be her body in the coffin at all. Richard thought that whereas the old lady could find the time of her tranquillity , he was embarking on another unknown adventure that could cost him his life and his beloved one.
Upon arriving at his apartment, Richard mused over the past : if he had really loved Cyndi , both of them would have gotten married much earlier. She must have convinced him to move to her mother's house, because she was concerned about her health. There thus would have been far less chance of meeting Sylvia again. Cyndi probably was beside him right now. He felt nauseous to think that he even unwittingly caused the person by his side to be dead. But he came to argue with himself that if he hadn't met Sylvia after her return from Cuba , the world would have been in an utter shambles .This was because he would never have deterred her and her accomplices from the those destructive missions. Finally, he was at ease that Cyndi unknowingly died for saving the world. She should have been hailed as the martyr, because without her disappearance , he would never have suspected of what was happening.
After all , it was the unerasable fact that he was still ' the unfaithful asshole'.
That night a bizarre nightmare descended on him, and it almost bore resemblance to the dream before the day of assassination attempts. Still, it came out so real that he felt like it indeed happened. He woke up about 3.40 AM with the body profuse with sweats. Richard immediately stared at the withered bouquet affixed to the bedroom's wall, that looked like a cross. He tried to concentrate on contacting Jennifer, but to no avail. There was nothing at all, as if she had pulled the plug of her telephone.
Nonetheless, the writer was amused with himself to have done that - probably he was gone mad ? But he had no other choices because he would never reach the superstar by other means. However, he had inexplicably a strong urge to know what kind of peril was coming towards her. Jennifer must have known much better than him.
Richard thought about going to Sebastian and other old friends in his organization , but he was aware that the peril was not necessary from the foreign agents like the previous adventure. The little weird village near Jennifer's mansion was the most suspicious place for the potential perpetrators. Among those crowded tents , there might be a deranged man sharpening his knife every night. He possibly wanted the whole world to learn his awesomeness by slashing the throat of their beloved superstar. Richard also feared that although the protections around Jennifer's mansion were impregnable , that kind of guy might manage to find the incredible ways to attack her at last. This was because he possessed the psychic abilities like Jennifer. So another possible scene was conjured up by his restless mind : a frustrated middle-aged man with Erotomania was gradually creeping with a large club into her mansion via the deserted sewer nobody knew.
Richard derided himself for such a vivid imagination. He thought he should have written the crime or psychological thriller books instead. However , America in 1970s became a breeding ground for the people with mental illness who should have been locked up for good. So, Richard was consumed with the morbid thought that such the stories might be real. Richard would never forgive himself if something happened with Jennifer again as a result of his negligence.
The writer toyed with the idea of notifying Bill, but Bill had been promoted to the new position which made him extremely busy. Even though his friend might believe him , Richard preferred that he wait for only he eventually found the irrefutable evidence.
Richard at last decided to stay in that little weird village temporarily , under the guise of a devout fan of Jennifer. The method to be its member was as easy as pie .Just taking tent to occupy some vacant space and keeping prattling about Jennifer were enough. The writer assumed the next step was to befriend 'the person of interest' and secretly study him like the field trips in South Vietnam , until he could find the satisfying traces and call the police or take all matters in his own hands. He was dauntless , as he hoped that he would probably be given the clues by Jennifer herself before spending many months undertaking this.
Richard was not much surprised , though he eventually met the community with the diversity of people. His previous assumption was partly true. Plenty of them used Jennifer as the pretexts for dwelling in this little weird town. Certainly, they were the escapists ,extremely desiring of doing something to alleviate dullness of their daily lives. Or they even attempted to find their new meanings here. Some were even quite well-off but wanted to walk the nostalgic path of Hippies. Richard befriended with a retiring seventysomething professor who felt bored to stay in his large mansion. The writer also used to dine near the bonfire with a CEO of the large company who had resigned just to settle down here.
However , Richard turned to find that others were jobless and homeless , figuring out the ways for earning their livings in this town. Richard met a bunch of teenagers who were the dropouts from high school and ran away from home. They were frequently helped by the good Samaritans who cherished the idea of brotherhood and sisterhood of human being like providing free meals. Now the town became the sanctuary for the misfits. Nonetheless , this community was relatively peaceful thanks to the special patrols of police who knew they were being the national limelight. This place was much safer even than loads of neighbourhoods in New York City. There were the sporadic altercations and steals, but the offenders would be single-handedly arrested right away by the vigilantes.
Above all , the rule of thumb for everyone in the community was to talk about Jennifer with only admirations. The members wouldn't tolerate any kinds of backbiting or demeaning her. Those acts would become like the blasphemies ; the penalties were various and the most severe was deportation , imposed by the committee elected by all members in the community - freer and fairer than governor election of New York state.
For the real fans of Jennifer , apart from the run-of-mill activities about her like Richard used to imagine , some educated members of the community held the academic discussions and the analyses of Jennifer's films in the different aspects. The most remarkable one was feminism. Once the guests -probably the university professors - tried to soften their rhetoric or avoided directly criticizing the superstar. But the audience could sense that and booed them. Richard realized one epigram : the people just saw what they wanted to see.
After all, people here always listened to the small radios and kept abreast of the news of Jennifer. When there was something updated about her, they would send the news throughout the community. It was like deliberately returning to the age that televisions hadn't still dominated human communications.
When Richard looked at the lofty mansion of Jennifer, he couldn't help compare it to the tower in the middle age of Europe .It was the place where the royal family was living in the opulent , snuggly rooms. The difference was now there was only the lonely princess who lived above the cottages of her subjects in this fairy tale of the US , the so-called land of freedom and equality. The writer thought that he himself might be only the vagabond poet.
Having stayed here , Richard tried to be humble and reticent. He always told his newfound friends that he was the owner of a little news stall at the market. He showed himself the type of a guy who had made ends meet as a dropout from high school since he was young. He secretly resorted to the techniques which he used to identify the person suspected of being the Viet Cong infiltrating the villages in South Vietnam. The writer would listen attentively to the people in this town ,especially the one who looked suspicious. Then the tricky questions would be repeatedly asked to lure the targets to unconsciously utter something from their minds. Additionally, Richard assumed that if the suspect had the psychic abilities , it meant that person could either camouflage himself neatly or intend to show something extraordinary for his own benefits. So, he frequently hung around the gambling den and found nothing but the ordinary tricks of several gamblers to cheat others.
Richard still found no one with the malicious intentions to harm Jennifer. All of his targets were merely the bravados or the flippant who just attempted to flatter themselves. It was already 2 weeks now , and he estimated that he would squander the endless months investigating the would-be another threat to Jennifer. Worse still, there were incessantly the newcomers to replenish the members who had left.
At the same time, Richard was not lonely like a life in the apartment. He could sleep unexpectedly well in the small tent every night , though it was boisterous all night. Perhaps he was so elated to live near his beloved one , or in Ms. Tilly 's hilarious term , his power had been constantly enmeshing with Jennifer's as a result of their proximity. Sometimes the questions were swirling around his mind before sleeping : if Jennifer had the ESP , did she know about the attempted assassinations of her and the president beforehand ? And why didn't she resist the kidnapping of Sylvia and her men ? In spite of his dogged curiosity , Jennifer had never visited him like that night.
Every evening , Richard wondered how the people in Jennier's mansion were feeling when surrounded by those annoying frenzied crowds. And he guessed that it was not the pleasantness at all. Richard thought that to drive those fans away was so almost impractical even for the mayor of NYC, who himself used to visit this village once in a while. This was because he was too afraid of losing the popularity before election. Now Jennifer became the captive held in the gilded cage. She could not do anything on her own or at will. It might have been true, according to her own reflection , that no one really loved her. They just loved her shadow or even themselves.
One night in the weird little town , the people were intrigued by the exotic performances by the political refugees. They came from the different parts of the world and were granted the asylums in America. One of the most fascinating performances were from the Iranians. They fled from the brutality of the regime of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi , the Shah of Iran. About 2 decades ago , Mohammad Mosaddegh , the democratically elected prime minister ,decided to nationalize the Anglo-Persian Oil Company owned by the British. So, the unsavoury collaboration between the MI6 [the British intelligence] and the CIA brought Mosaddegh down by supporting the military to stage a coup d’état in 1953.The king then managed to consolidate his power and became an autocrat ,even though he was supposed to be only the constitutional monarchy. This was with the blessing from the West because of his pro-Western stance.
The liberal critics were henceforth ruthlessly repressed by the king's secret police , and many fled the country. The conservative minds -majority of Iranians - also harboured the grudge against the prodigal Shah. The fanatic religious teacher like Ruhollah Khomeini , currently fleeing in Iraq , became increasingly like the messianic leader for their future uprisings. It was probably like Sebastian's remark, this country was going to descend into anarchy sooner or later. The performance of those Iranian refugees, as the political drama , could reflect these situations very well, although it had lasted for only an hour. It was horrible they would probably never be able to return to their native country for a long time ,even if the regime of the Shah would collapse.
Richard used to meet the CIA agent who had instigated the upheaval ,paving the way for the coup in Iran. That guy became legendary among his colleagues for his boundless Machiavellian tactics. He was as well the mentor of Samuel Ridgemont and inspired him to do the same in Chile in 1973.
After the end of performance , Richard walked back to his tent with the retiring professor (of probably Physics ,Richard guess) who was his neighbour for a month.
The professor sighed and said,
"Unbelievable that our country , extolling democracy and freedom all the time ,has done something like this to other countries. I used to land in Normandy beach in 1944.We sacrificed our lives for fighting the Nazis to save the free world , but finally we have at last behaved like those bastard fascists. Damn government ! Damn CIA ! How come they keep instigating the mayhems in the third world countries for their own interests ? "
Richard grudgingly smiled . The professor reminded him of the taxi driver 'the John Wayne Guy' many years ago, who claimed that he was the veteran of World War 2 , but they had the absolutely different mindsets.
The writer said,
"Yes , that's right , Professor. We, the imperialist , unashamedly exploits the façade of democracy to be the hegemonic state -to stand on top of the world. We are perhaps deep down worse than the USSR, because we are blinded by the illusions that we always have the freedom ,while most of the Russians are already disillusioned."
The old codger looked at Richard with surprise.
"Are you really just the owner of the little news stall at the market ? I have been talking to you for a month and I think you are not."
"It doesn't matter, while we can still enjoy talking with each other , does it ? That lowly career doesn't need to hamper my self- learnings."
The professor chuckled.
"Yes , yes ,you are right. By the way , we think that we have freedom to elect our own leaders like the presidents. Look ! When the presidents are in the White House , they always prefer to ingratiate themselves with the hidden powers-that-be around him like the uber-rich. Could that be called the oligarchy or the plutocracy ? The real aim of president's policies is only to enhance his approval ratings for the next selectionism a break ! Mr. Peterson (Richard's alias) Look at this community. It is the upshot of the failure of government to tackle all social and economic problems. This place is like the laboratory of the anarchism [belief that the government should not exist].The US government misspends a large pile of money each year for the military industries and the assistances to other countries ,whereas our compatriots are starving or sleeping in the streets. Do you think we have the ways to solve these ugly problems ?"
Richard shook his head.
"I am afraid it is the utter uphill task, because our political system is tightly intermeshed. I agree with your remark about president- he indeed has no real power. No one in this country has the absolute power. That's good like the founding fathers' will ,but the chance for the far-reaching change is out of question. President Carter now is enduring the arm-twisting of the congress full of the privilege. So he would barely change things during his tenure in 4 years. Only solution is to stage a revolution and dismantle all the political structures, but it is also impossible. Above all, there is no guarantee that we wouldn't face the same catastrophe as Russia and China , like the demise of the millions or the rise of another tyrant."
Professor merely nodded. He probably resigns to the reality of the world. Their mind-numbing conversation came to a halt when they arrived at their tents. After saying good night, the old man immediately crawled into his 'home'. Richard used to ask him why he just left his real home and loving family. He replied that human being was not necessarily confined to the same patterns all his life.
Richard sat on his small bench outside his tent. He quitted smoking already for years. So he just did nothing but watch Jennifer's mansion in the dark with the flickering lights as it was already midnight. Although the curtains of all windows were drawn on like all the time , He could sense that Jennifer didn't sleep yet.On his mind, she was lying reading the manuscript of his novel on her bed under the lamp. He smiled. In the world of the madding mass , she was the mellifluous echo of his sanity.
The writer reminisced about some part of the song written by Cole Potter in 1930s - Night and Day.
Night and day, you are the one
Only you beneath the moon and under the sun
Whether near to me or far
It's no matter darling where you are
I think of you.
No sooner had Richard crawled into the tent than he saw the beautiful red handwriting on the floor : Love how you think of me. Target's not here.
In the morning , Richard knew that he had to leave , though he was still filled with longing to stay. Perhaps Jennifer just warned him that her threat was not here. So, it was his mission to search for it anywhere else .Or Jennifer might have implied that Mr. Tilly’s premonition was wrong. That would be the best for Jennifer and him. Richard packed all his belonging and tent ,saying goodbye to his acquaintance. They gave him the hearty hugs ,including the addresses or telephone numbers, so they would keep in touch in the future. The writer walked to stare at the gate of Jennifer's mansion for the last time .He felt like the vagabond poet who would bid farewell to his beloved princess.
Suddenly the whole little town was put on alert with the bell repeatedly stricken. Some shouted that there was a rare sign of the movement behind the gate of Jennifer's mansion. The people swiftly gathered shortly before the cars ,or actually the motorcade, were slowly coming out the gate. The police officers earnestly made way for the cars and found the crowd gladly complying to their requests. But they still struggled to stand in the front row. Richard, who was just loitering, was miraculously pushed to stand in that enviable position - again.
All of a sudden, the luxury car like the Rolls-Royce Camargue stopped not far from him. One of its window was rolled down , and that was Jennifer. Richard thought if he was in the same situation like the day at the office of her agent, he might be dead meat like the pigs which had been daily butchered in this community. Amidst the clamours and screams as usual from the fans around him, including the flashes from cameras, the superstar nodded and smiled - the most beautiful smile he had ever seen even in all her films. He immediately knew that she was aiming it to him. He could see her eyes brimming with tears ; she was then trying to wipe them off with her hand.
Richard felt that his eyes are moistening too .There was a little bickering behind Jennifer before the window was rolled up. Perhaps her mother feared that she would fall victim to sniper or gunman. The motorcade had already gone, and the crowd dispersed. Richard was still standing there.
When Richard returned to his apartment, it became like the brand-new place that was cavernous and forlorn ,as his mind was still being stuck in the lively weird little town and its weirder people. It was also heart-wrenching to be far away from Jennifer again. He needed more clues from her last night , but she didn't collaborate with him at all. It was his guesstimate that Jennifer herself couldn't envisage the future culprit clearly either. Maybe he had to await other unexpected premonitions.
The answering machine of telephone in his apartment informed him that there were many calls during his absence. However , there weren't the prank calls - no voices on the other end - like in the previous months. For some ridiculous reason , he kind of missed that prankster like his longtime companion. Apart from the calls from the salesmen from insurance or credit cards company , there was Bill who reminded him of the schedule of visiting the White House the day after tomorrow. The next call was his agent who warned him that he should have started his new novel, because a close friend of the bald guy had just been the editor of a renowned publishing house. And this was a great chance for Richard to see his novel published.
Besides ,Lillian had called him several times. He was quite bemused to see how determined she was to meet him. She reminded him of his zenith in the 60s. That time he felt like the rock star who had incessantly been restlessly followed by the groupie or the unabashed female fans. His ex-wife was one of them. Finally, Richard called Lillian back, as he felt good to have someone wait for him. He at last caved into her demand to have some talks. At first she wanted to visit his apartment, but he disagreed. So, their meeting place was the coffee shop near his apartment tomorrow afternoon. Richard couldn't describe how much he really wanted Jennifer to be like Lillian : the girl next door who was easily in touch with him. Both he and Jennifer thus could meet and go any place without being fettered like in real life. However , he said aloud to the air around himself that this meeting was only between a writer and his fan club , nothing more. He thought this was to presumably appease Jennifer - he chuckled to have done that.
After receiving Ben back from his generous neighbour, Richard immediately started to be engrossed with his typewriter , though he still didn't fully develop its plot yet. Now it had the humble aim : just to remind the readers that he was still the devout writer. And now his novel turned out to be the political satire. It was no doubt that his materials would be from the weird little town, and allegory was used as a basic method to tell the story. So, this was totally different from the novels or the short stories he had ever written. Its background was in the middle age of Europe. The hero was assigned by the king with a mission to investigate the anonymous person who was prophesized by the seer to harm the princess in the near future. So, he disguised himself to live in the bizarre village around the castle to search for that would-be culprit. The part of romance was that the hero was just a knight , but he secretly fell for the princess in spite of learning that she was already betrothed to a prince. after all, Richard still didn't know how to relate this plot to the contemporary politics or society.
When the time passed and the idea didn't go as smoothly as he had intended , Richard switched on TV again. A channel reported that now the fieriest talk of the town about Jennifer at this hour was about her love life. Mr. Brad ,Jennifer's handsome boyfriend , reluctantly accepted via the interview that their engagement would never come true. The relationship between her and him fell into the obscurity , as the girl seemed to be extremely reserved after the interview that night. They were however speculated to break up soon. All of the fans were grieving over this heartbreaking news and hoped for their reconciliation in the future. The media all in haste postulated who would fill the vacancy of this prestigious position. The profiles of other good-looking actors, who were quite older than Mr. Brad, were thoroughly examined like the candidates for the presidential election.
Richard thought Jennifer also look like a freak in the circus , whose every movement became the sheer entertainment for the audience. Suddenly he had an idea of fulfilling the task as her Prince Charming who would rescue her from the tower guarded by those senseless people. If only he could contact her, he would ask her to star in the film that had the scenes shot in the country where the CIA office was stationed. With the utmost tactics of his comrades, He would manage to abduct her and take her to the faraway place - perhaps an unknown island in pacific. No one knew his identity as the abductor. It could consequently be the unsolved crime of the century.
Nonetheless, he was aware that this was essentially based on his selfishness to ruin her future. Or deep down inside he just wanted to own her ? Depriving Jennifer would also amount to inflicting pains on the people, because she was their enormous joy. Besides , it might be risky for both him and his comrades if the government resorted to the NSA to solve this crime thanks to the unbearable public outcries. Or even Jennifer's mother at last hired the detective who used to work in intelligence agency and had the far-flung networks.
Notwithstanding , there was another ludicrous solution like just waiting for her fame to wane or to fall from the world's favours , but that might be waited for another decade or more. Or Jennifer was cursed to tormented like this until her last breath ? But now the writer still endeavoured to find her impending peril at all costs. He was more than ready to take the bullets for her over and over again. It was exactly the act of redemption for his past mortal sins.
Richard changed the channel and found some interesting program. The fortysomething woman, who looked familiar , was siting opposite to the famous television host. Now he remembered that she was the university lecturer who used to participate in the seminar in the weird little town. Unlucky for her to be booed after she had tried to say something critical of Jennifer. Now she looked more self-assured ,as Richard supposed that she knew the audience in this show were hired and had to adhere to the script written by the producer even laughter.
The host asked the suave woman about her feminist stance and her attitude toward Jennifer. She didn't elaborate much of those theories and cut the crap that she thought Jennifer was the illusion of womanhood in America in 1970s.This illusion meant the stereotype of a girl-next-door who was white , middle class, adorable and prudent. And this was the hegemony created by the influential white males, like the directors or the film executives , to impose her image on every woman in the US .It aim was mainly to gratify the men's fantasies , in spite of the fact that women were highly diverse. She concluded that this was the abhorrent power of popular culture enhanced by the modern media.
Out of the blue , there were the unexpected booing and rowdiness from the audience. The camera didn't fail to capture the face of the host who was startled. He looked at the corner beyond the camera :probably his aid or the producer. The woman was also stunned after finding that the audience's infatuations with Jennifer made them break the rules of this studio. The program was temporarily halted. Perhaps the producer was fearing for the woman's safety.
This was the clash of civilizations between the intellectuals ensconced in ivory towers and the mundane people who had the hostility toward the first.
It was amusing that even Richard himself agreed with that lecturer. It was the analysis that had been frequently proposed by many scholars in the seminars of universities , which he used to attend. If the writer himself had been invited to attend this show, he might have said something like that or even more risque by pleading with the audience worldwide to free Jennifer from those invisible shackles. But he might receive the attacks that were far more horrific than booing.
Although the next morning was cheerfully sunny , the afternoon turned to be quite gloomy- the kind of weather Richard disliked. There were from time to time the strong winds that had shaken the trees along the street, and their poor leaves were harshly tugged off many times. There was the weather forecast that the storm was coming. He expected the raindrops might fall or else the torrents of rain. When Richard entered the snuggly coffee shop , it was Anne and her husband who cordially greeted him from counter. There were a couple of customers sitting near the counter and a woman who was sitting alone at the table near the window. Tiny smoke was lingering from a cup in front of her. She wore the blue casual dress, and the faint song in the coffee shop was accidentally 'Blue Velvet' of Bobby Vinton.
Lillian smilingly greeted him. Richard smiled back and said,
"Lillian , today is Tuesday , and you are supposed to still be at the office. Or you just got off your work ? "
She shook her head.
"I took a day off , Mr.Cunningfort. I don't know why .It is probably because I'm burning out, or I am helplessly falling for your charms."
Richard flushed as she was flirting. He sat down and ordered coffee from Anne.
"I think you are flattering me. I am pitifully old now. The people my age are even expecting the weddings of their children."
Lillian giggled and fixed her eyes on him.
"Mr.Cunningfort, I think you aren't married yet. Why haven't you sought someone ? Or are you too picky ?"
The writer snickered. He thought she was prying into his private life.
"I used to get married once , and now I am a divorcee. And you ? Lillian , are you married or now in relationship with someone ?"
She smiled coyly.
"Nope, I guess maybe I am too free-spirited and headstrong. The guys always brush aside this kind of girl. I imagine your ex-wife is some kind of jerk who doesn't know how priceless you are."
Richard chuckled and sipped coffee he just received from Anne. The ageing waitress peeked at both of them and smiled.
"Everyone has his or her own reason. I won't neither argue nor agree with you about this. Thank you for your admiration. By the way , what do you think about my novel ?"
She mused and said,
"To be frank, your novel is some kind of exploitative. At that time Gerald Ford was still the president. The idea of detent was quite promising , though now it's declining, as both superpowers turn to distrust each other. But your plot is still intriguing. I enjoy it though I reached only its halfway. And I sometimes toy with the assumption that you must have used to work with the CIA , because its narration about this organization is so nuanced."
Richard was unfazed because he was accustomed to this kind of suspicion for decades. He said,
"It is from my own laborious studies. I have been fascinated by this agency for a long time. Perhaps the details of the organization in the novels are totally different from the real one , but the readers don't know whatsoever. However , a writer is the villain here ,as he is always whimsically trampling on the truths. His pretext is that it is just an entertainment , though his novel keeps misleading people."
"But I think you seemed to play up the Russian girl too much. Sometimes I find you novel's gone astray and should have become the romance instead. However, the Russian girl reminded me of someone , yeah ,that's Jennifer."
Richard chuckled. He thought his novel was so shallow that anybody could easily see it through , even the woman who spent only one hour reading it.
"It's not strange , is it ? I am a huge fan of Jennifer .So I am obsessed with her, though it is quite nasty as I am too old now."
"Yeah, sorry to hurt your blistering wound. Actually, you are not too old at all. For me , human heart doesn't have age."
Richard smiled, and both of them were quiet briefly. Suddenly he stood up to close the window near the table since the raindrops were starting to splatter on their table.
She said gently ,
" Thank you so much , Mr.Cunningfort .This sort of weather can make me sick. By the way , did you watch the TV program in channel 4 last night ? I think it is extremely thought-provoking , because a university lecture was invited to talk about Jennifer. Her point was unbearably scathing ,even the audience who got paid couldn't tolerate that."
Richard laughed , drinking coffee to avoid replying. But Lillian still vented.
"I agree with her. When society is fanatical about someone and creates the perfect picture of the superstar like her. It's gonna make everyone forget other types of persons who really exist - a kind of hysteria or hallucination. Why don't we reflect on a young single mom, who is a blue-collar worker , toiling 10 or 11 hours a day ? What about a teenage hooker ? She has to sleep with 3-5 clients and be beaten up by the pimp daily . Many people tried to expose these social problems , but all TV channels were flooded with the ludicrous news of Jennifer. She is the pure product of the capitalist exploitation , or the emblem of the establishment's attempt to conceal the decadence of our society !"
Richard could feel her wraths and noticed something bizarre from her gesture. He agreed with her but wanted to end the conversation soon. He cautiously said,
"Lillian, you are such a clever and contemplative girl. But I am sorry that I have another appointment. So, if there is a good chance , we might have a talk again."
He saw the disgruntle glinting in her eyes. Lillian said nothing but smiled begrudgingly.
Anne briskly showed up and said,
"Richard, there is an urgent phone call for you."
Richard walked to receive the call from the telephone on counter. It was the voice of Arthur , one of ex-henchmen of Bill. Now he got promoted to the post of Bill.
"Mr.Cunningfort ? Is that woman still with you ?"
Richard was utterly surprised but quickly replied. Arthur said gaspingly,
"Did you eat or drink something there ? Get out of this coffee shop immediately ! She is very dangerous !"
No sooner had Richard responded him than he felt the numbness quickly spreading around his body. He was twitching in his abdomen and became nauseous. All his strength had gone ,and he abruptly passed out.
When Richard opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was the apple green colour of the same ceiling of the same room in hospital again. But he could immediately hear a voice uttered from the person he didn't feel familiar with.
"Mr.Cunningfort, you have cheated death twice already. Neither the word 'unbelievable' nor 'incredible' seems to be able to explain how you are still alive !"
He found that it belonged to the 3rd doctor who didn't have a chance to speak after he had regained consciousness a week following the assassination attempts. The young doctor was standing near the middle-aged nurse , the same one who first found him awake and called doctor. They were now both staring at him in amazement near his bed.
Richard attempted to get up , and now he could do it comfortably, without pain or any physical restraints .But the nurse quickly pressed him down on the bed with her maternal instinct as usual.
The writer asked ,
"What just happened to me , doctor ?"
The doctor read the papers and said in an unsteady voice,
"You ingested the poison , perhaps the one of the deadliest poisons in the world. Normally a patient would die with agony within 5 or 10 minutes. But magically , it couldn't harm you at all, only rendering you those painful symptoms , including fainting."
Richard asked again ,
"How long have I been unconscious ? "
The nurse looked at her watch.
"Now it is 4.30 AM ; it means almost 12 hours that you have been lying here."
The doctor added ,
"We have thoroughly checked your internal organs and God , they are miraculously intact ! They are now even better than before you were poisoned. Don't worry you can be discharged at any time , but taking more rest is swell. However, please come to be the voluntary part of our experiment (or actually the guinea pig) , you would contribute substantially to the medical progress of mankind. Will the next week be OK ? "
Richard jumped out of the bed. He finally managed to resist the nurse and get dressed hastily ; he knew vaguely what was happening right now. Arthur arrived at the room in haste , along with several of young FBI agents whom Richard had never met.
Richard walked toward him while he was still getting dressed.
"Arthur, would you please explain about your call to me yesterday ?"
"Sir , please accept our apology. We have to confess to you that since the assassination attempts , we have kept you under surveillance. This is because we firmly believe there would be the bloody revenges on you from the terrorists who are presumably at large. Most importantly, this is the direct order from the White House - from Mr. President who is extremely grateful to you. Even you went to stay in the community near Jennifer's mansion for weeks ,we sent our guys to keep the eyes on you all the time .This is for your own safety."
Richard snickered while he was getting furious with himself. It was like he became a clumsy fool. He was trailing someone else, but finally he was the one who was being trailed. Maybe he was too old for this shit.
Arthur still droned,
"Mr.Cunningfort, it is lucky that the voice of the girl named Lillian, I heard on your phone's answering machine, faintly jogged my memory. I then remembered that I used to hear her voice talking with Sylvia about the plan .It was in the record we found after the day of assassination attempts. I contacted your friend ,Sebastian, a week ago. and sent him her voice (which I should have done long time ago) .The result via the computer's analysis was that her voice belonged to the woman with the alias 'Olga'. The CIA's moles in Moscow confirmed to us that Olga was actually the Russian KGB agent .She has been mainly living in the US for years, but we can't find her whereabout yet , similar to Sylvia. After the day of assassination attempts, she has been off radar from both us and Brezhnev's government, since she never really participated in this operation."
Richard was flummoxed.
"Really ? What does she really want ? Why does she want to kill me ? "
Arthur shook his head.
"Sorry, sir. That is beyond our knowledge. All I know is that Lillian was probably the Plan D of the Soviet coup promoters on that turbulent day. However, when all their plans went awry , Lillian went underground and hibernated for a long time. For some unknown reason , she emerged again in order to befriend and kill you."
"Let's me guess. She is a well-trained assassin, and her weapon is a poison , right ?"
Arthur looked at the paper.
"Yeah , but her resume is more startling : she had the extra sensory perception since she was born. And the KGB had trained her to use it as a weapon for some special purposes, since she was only 16 years old. Many years later she has become the spy who uses her charms to lure the targets and finishes them off. Lillian or Olga can speak English with the perfect American accent. She is erudite and has the score of IQ : 170. Her operations are so swift and effective that no target can survive. But only you are unprecedented. Please don't get me wrong that I used you as a bait. I just received the belated information, because our lines of communication with the CIA operatives abroad incessantly failed."
Richard nodded and thought about her desire to visit him at his apartment. If he had agreed , he could have been killed by some other method , and he certainly already perished by now. She might have been wary that there were the witnesses in the coffee shop , so poisoning was the safest. Harking back to the previous assumptions , Richard was amused that his elusive target was actually 'she' not 'he'. Lillian also didn't exhibit even the slightest sign of mental disorder like he had presumed. And she eventually had him as her prey. He thought about the proverb ' Don't judge a book by its cover'.
"Lillian always uses both her ESP and poison to assassinate plenty of politicians in Africa and Latin America, who are pro-Western. Her unique style is throwing a minuscule poison capsule in the target's cup or food dish during the meals ,if he becomes unwary for only seconds. I wonder why she has attempted to kill you since your identity as a hero is kept as a secret."
But Richard abruptly realized the reason why : her ultimate aim was to kill Jennifer. So, she had to kill him first , since she was well aware that the superstar's power greatly depended on him , according to Ms. Tilly. It was all in likelihood that day she used some psychic power to beguile him into contacting her at the office of Jennifer's agent. He still believed that she really was one of his dedicated fans , so it was weirdly coincidental. Or it was also like a novel he used to read during the 50s that some psychotic fans had the intense pleasure of torturing and killing their favorite writer.
The writer looked at Arthur.
"Can you contact the police officers at Jennifer's mansion ? "
Arthur was surprised a bit.
"Of course, we also keep Jennifer under surveillance too. Our agent is even secretly working as one of her housemaids."
Richard shook his head and lifted up his voice.
"I mean now ! I really want to know about her current safety."
"You are implying that someone's gonna assassinate her again ?" asked Arthur. He looked disoriented and made a call via walkie-talkie briefly before saying,
"Last night there were the strong gales and the heavy rains in many parts of NYC , including here and Jennifer's neighbourhood. But just now my agent says she and everyone in her house are still fine .They were sleeping - safe and sound. Nothing to worry about."
Richard looked at the outside of window which was still dark like a cave. The streetlights near the building were all inoperable -the trace of the blackout last night. Everything around the hospital was absolutely calm and muted in the manner of the weather after the cruel tempest. He remembered the complaint of Lillian that she didn't like the weather like last night. This meant it could thwart her plan - but temporarily.
He said in adamant voice ,
"Arthur , take me to Jennifer's house ! I have a hunch that Lillian is gonna harm her soon or even right now."
Arthur didn't hesitate to agree with him , as he had an unexplainable faith in Richard. But he warned him :
"Mr.Cunningfort , I remember that you and Mr. Hanson are scheduled to meet Mr. President at the White House this morning. You can probably miss the chance of your lifetime ! "
Richard looked serious.
"I don't give a damn, Arthur ! Please tell Bill to meet the president by himself."
Suddenly there was a familiar voice from the door.
"Son of a gun ! Are you gonna dump me , so you can have fun alone ?"
That was Bill standing and smiling at the door.
"Bill ? " Richard was surprised.
Bill said haughtily , "I have my own freaking hunch as well, buddy. When I learnt that you survived from being poisoned , I knew there was gonna be something thrilling in the early morning like the previous time. I will go with you come what may."
"What about the visit to the president ?" Richard was curious.
"I still have all the time in the world to wait for meeting him or even the next president. But Jennifer is much more important. I regretted never mentioning that I am also a great fan of hers . The president can be changed , but the superstar is irreplaceable."
There was the roar of laughter in the room. Richard smiled and heartily embraced his buddy. The FBI agents and the ex-CIA agent darted out from the room. The doctor and the nurse were standing in perplexity like they were watching a thriller film with bizarre plot.
Richard told Bill while they were on the car.
"I need you to stop at my apartment."
Bill chuckled and grabbed something from inside of his overcoat.
"Your revolver ? I know this kind of shit is gonna happen, so I went to get it on the way to the hospital. I got the spare of key of your apartment, don't you remember ? I somehow believe that you are meant to really use it now , because you are always the hero."
Richard beamed and showed his gratitude to his comrade-in-arms. He would be glad that at last he was the hero for only Jennifer in the world. Now he was extremely worried about her.
While their cars were rushing through the dark to Jennifer's mansion , Bill asked,
"Why does that girl named Lillian want to kill Jennifer ?"
"I don't know , but from our conversation, she is highly critical of Jennifer. Perhaps this is the mission from her own conviction , not from any masterminds in the Kremlin or the cold war ideology any longer."
Arthur was sitting at the rear seat. There were three of them exactly like the morning of mayhem at the Central Park. He chimed in,
"Or she wants to avenge Sylvia's downfall , sir ? According to the information from our moles ,they are very close and eagerly participating together in the plan for the USSR to take over the world. They are like the wicked blood sisters. She probably blamed both you and Jennifer for what happened to Sylvia."
Both Richard and Bill made the sounds 'Hmm' simultaneously. Richard thought Sylvia still unwittingly beset him even though she was vegetative.
But Arthur was still inquisitive like a child.
"I have heard from the doctor that even the deadliest poison couldn't harm you a bit. Do you by any chance have the supernatural power , Mr.Cunningfort ?
The writer chuckled. Now he understood what happened to his body.
"Yes , I realized that I received this kind of power from Jennifer at the time she was resurrecting me. Do you remember this , Arthur ? You saw it with your own eyes. Now it's still spreading in my veins."
Arthur nodded and made the sound , "Hmm...". Although he had experienced a string of preternatural things, they were still running against his common sense.
Upon their arrival at the weird little town , the sunbeam was beginning to appear at the horizon of sky ,illuminating everything around both of their cars. Richard was upset to see the tents were all in quite a shambles. The people , some were his acquaintance, had been already awake - perhaps up all night. They were unfortunate not to have the well-built shelters from the unforeseen torrents of rain and strong winds. So many of them had to flee to the church that was not far away from here , whereas many were bracing the rain. Now they were busy repairing their ruined tents and retrieving some of their damaged properties. Lamentably , some parts of the town were inundated that they appeared like the tiny swamps. The writer thought this was the test for the community to be unanimous in fighting the dangers from outside. Would the social experiment of anarchism actually work ?
Nonetheless , such a hectic night was the great chance for Lillian to attack Jennifer. But thanks to her resentment to storms , he still had an opportunity to save the young superstar. After all , he was wondering whether Lillian knew that he still survived , and he could at last take on one of the most prolific assassins of the USSR like her.
Their car stopped outside the gate of mansion. Arthur got off and talked to the police officers , the gate then was opened. Richard was thrilled that finally he would be able to meet and talk with Jennifer face to face again , not via the weird psychic channels. But if something still had not happened yet , and someone like her mother asked them about their motives of appearing at such an early hour, he thought it would be almost impossible to make her believe that the peril was approaching her daughter.
All of them raced to the door of the mansion. Bill knocked at the door repeatedly and called someone to open it aloud , but there was no response inside. Richard knew with a gut feeling that Lillian was being there. Her presence was creeping him out, as it was so sinister. He snatched the revolver from his shirt and furtively walked around to the rear part of the mansion.
Thanks to the vastness of the mansion's courtyard , Richard had to spend the incredibly longer time trudging through its big, lush garden that more looked like a jungle. Along the path, he found 3 security guards lying still at the different spots. This stipulated that the people in mansion were being in grave danger. But when he checked their pluses , they were all just unconscious. The writer tried to use his insight to locate Jennifer's bedroom. It might cause him trouble if he chose the wrong one, because her mansion was complex like a maze - he read it from a magazine. Richard finally stopped below one noteworthy window with black tint film at a corner. He attempted to climb up by clinging to its big drainpipe or anything that stuck out from the wall. While climbing with difficulty, Richard noticed that the sprawling concrete wall with barbed wire around mansion was so high that he couldn't even see the view of the weird little town clearly. There were the surveillance cameras everywhere ; this reminded him of a macabre prison. How could Jennifer live in the place like this all the time ?
Eventually the writer could reach that window. It was tightly shut. Its glass also could stand the pounding from his revolver. When he decided to shoot at it , it challenged him with the bullet-proof ability. Richard gathered the little ESP of his own briefly and reminisced about Jennifer. He could miraculously open it easily. The room he was sneaking into was an opulent and spacious bedroom - almost as large as his entire apartment. Near the window there was a big paper partition with Japanese art that became his temporary hideout.
Richard's nightmare came true when he saw about 4-5 people tied and huddled on the floor. Only a girl was sitting on the armchair -that was Jennifer. The intruder, Lillian, was standing not far from her. She was dressing in the black attire that looked like the special force of Soviet military. Richard gradually stepped out of the partition while aiming the revolver at Lillian.
It was certain that everyone in the house couldn't hear the gunshot outside. They ,even Lillian, were thus surprised by his presence. Jennifer kept her composure like the day of the assassination attempt. But she then couldn't stop smiling from seeing him.
"Mr.Cunningfort , are you still alive ?" exclaimed Lillian.
"Of course , Ms. Olga , the psychotic assassin. Surrender now. Don't do anything funny ,or I won't hesitate to shoot you."
Lillian laughed maniacally. She didn't carry any weapon ,as far as he could see. So, Richard withdrew his revolver, even though he knew that she still possessed the invisible one which was far more ferocious. The writer thought about the FBI agents .They should have been here by now. It meant that Lillian was using her supernatural power or tactic to prevent them from entering the mansion. He walked toward Jennifer and used his large body to shield her. He held one of her hands , while the girl hurried to hold his hand at the same time. The people were befuddled to see those gestures. Jennifer's mother seemingly burst out something, but it was still inaudible.
Lillian laughed again.
"Now I know whose voice was in the telephone that had compelled me to hand in your manuscript. Both of you have the special relationship that nobody knows. Good good, it is a real blast at this moment to finish off both of you , the arrogant young superstar and the desperate old writer !"
"I am afraid you're never gonna do that , Lillian. you have nowhere to go. The authorities of both the US and the USSR are currently finding out your identity. Now use your psychic power and I will whoop yo'ass !"
Lillian spread out her arms and the pieces of expensive furniture flew toward both him and Jennifer. Richard managed to dodge or push them away, but some large or sharp ones were deterred by the unembodied force belonging to Jennifer. He rushed toward Lillian and tried to subdue her as quickly as he could. But she evaded his hands adroitly and jumped to kick him like she was a ballerina , so he fell down on the floor.
"Richard !" shouted Jennifer and used her power to hurl a record player at Lillian, but she could squash it easily. Richard immediately stood up and grab Lillian's body. Because he was much larger than her, Richard could do it without a great effort. Lillian retaliated by repeatedly hitting him violently .Though his nose and mouth were bleeding , he didn't loosen his grip. Both of their bodies were then hovering about inches above the floor.
Jennifer rushed to help him , but the writer shouted at her,
"Jennifer, go downstairs and open the door !"
Lillian finally threw him away at the television like he had no weight at all. Despite being utterly dizzy and hurt , he wasted no time in drawing the revolver from his pocket. But it was still slower than the assassin who drew her own knife. Richard knew for a split second that it was aimed at his forehead , and he couldn't shoot to ward it off. Out of the blue , Jennifer threw herself before him ,so the knife struck her instead. Richard was horrified to death. He shrieked like crazy after carrying her in his arms.
Lillian was stupefied, while Jennifer's mother screamed at the top of her voice. Richard looked at Jennifer. She held up his face and smiled at him, even though he found that the knife stuck at the spot near her chest. He kissed her and stood up with a fit of anger. He could feel that some power inside him was raging. Instead of shooting ,he threw the revolver at Lillian, but it was odd that she could not even dodge it. The metal weapon hit her , and she fell down on the floor with some blood splattering from her head like she was shot. Richard sat on her body and was about to punch her in the face. The assassin groaned and made a fool of herself by asking for his mercy. He stopped but still grabbed her neck. In a heartbeat ,he thought about breaking her neck, but he restrained that murderous urge.
Fortunately , Jennifer's agent successfully untied himself and others .They hastily helped Jennifer who was lying on the floor. Richard asked for rope and managed to tie up Lillian. He looked for Jennifer, but her people had already taken her away from the room. Suddenly ,Richard heard the hissing sound from Lillian who was still lying on the floor. She grimaced. Her bloody face was twisted until it resembled a demon. Her eyes changed their colour to be scarlet .She trembled violently but sprang out of floor like an acrobat. The assassin at last tore the rope around her body into pieces with an indomitable power.
She smiled maliciously and spoke in the tone that sounded bizarrely masculine.
"Hello , Richard. It was such a long uncomfortable time that I haven't properly met you. I am dying from thinking of you."
Richard presumed that she was possibly hysterical .Such a state of mind could inexplicably transform her body. Or she was being really possessed by the demon ?
"Who are you ?"
Lillian frightened him with those baleful eyes.
"Ha ha. You are so forgetful. Don't you remember I am YOU. I come from the chasm of your soul !"
Richard begrudgingly laughed.
"Don't fucking joke with me. If something happens to Jennifer, I am gonna beat the crap out of you , the wicked bitch !"
Lillian playfully pursed her lip. She said,
"I am afraid that you will never have a chance to do that , my friend. Now you are running out of time on this earth."
Richard thought that this person was not Lillian any longer. She was still glaring at him with the eyes that no mortal could ever have. Richard promptly realized that perhaps this was the real malevolent power like Ms. Tilly 's premonition. And Lillian was now merely the medium for it. However, He peeked at his gun on the floor and planned to catch her again.
Lillian or that thing said in an extraordinarily gruff voice :
"Your murderous urge just now woke me up from the abyss. Now witness the darkness of your soul , Richard." She laughed again.
All of a sudden , Richard found that Jennifer's bedroom changed to be someplace that looked familiar to him. He then remembered that it was the bedroom of Bob, his cousin. There was no Lillian there , but Bob who was sitting desolately on wheelchair and holding his rifle. Richard rushed to him and shook both his shoulders.
"Bob , no, you don't have to do this !"
Bob looked at him. His downcast eyes pierced Richard's soul.
"Richard, why do you leave me ?"
"No, Bob. I don't leave you. Like my promise, I am always on your side."
Bob yelled out,
"You are a liar ! Richard, stop pretending to be a saint. I know you are the CIA operative. You've paved the way for us to fight in this fucking country. You are the bloody murderer ; you killed all my friends and now me !"
The veteran of Vietnam War pushed Richard away and pulled the trigger of rifle that was being aimed at his temple. His head was blown off , and the blood splattered to half of the wall. Richard screamed and tried in vain to revive him.
Suddenly Bob's corpse was changed to be a little Asian guy. Richard knew that he was the soldier of Pathet Lao whom he shot to save Sebastian. He spoke in the Laotian language that the writer could roughly translate : why did he shoot him ?
Richard told him :
"It is for self-protection. You were going to shoot at my friend. Would you please forgive me ? "
The Laotian was glaring at him. The writer found the unutterable wraths in those eyes.
"Really ? This is my country. I am fighting for my family and my people. It is also a self- protection too. The American intruder , you are so cruel !"
Richard then found himself flying on the clear blue sky. Not far from him were several gigantic planes : B -52. They gradually released the vast carpets of bombs on the land below that the writer believed to be the countryside of Laos. The gruff voice was resounding in his ear :
" Richard , you literally killed him and led your government to put his people in the dreadful carnages. What about also those Cubans , Vietnamese or Cambodians as your victims ? You are so depraved ! Even though you rescued the world from the brink of catastrophe , it didn't mitigate a bit the mortal sins you had committed. I know that you have been tormented by these after all these years , but you never actually do anything to redeem those of your sins."
Richard found himself returning to Jennifer's bedroom again. Lillian was standing there and smiled in the manner of a priest who relished torturing the sinners with their own consciences.
"I know you can use the excuse of Sebastian to make peace with yourself. You now think that you were only the rank and file and followed the orders from the higher-ups. But deep down inside you are still aware that ,without you, those goddamn wars would have changed their faces. Your psychopathic friend ,George, is absolutely right. Hey, don't ya know anything about Cyndi , the woman who truly loves you ? You just let her die in agony in the deepest dark water."
Richard collapsed and cried like a toddler. He mumbled,
"Yes , you are right. Those are my sins !"
Lillian mused over something briefly and said,
"Now Jennifer is in a critical condition. She risks her life for you. If she dies , your sin will be downright unbearable ,Richard. You will indeed burn in hell. The world will keep condemning you till kingdom come."
The writer wailed and blabbered hopelessly :
"What must I do ? What must I do ?"
"Richard , look at your revolver on the floor. It is a symbol of your sins. Pick it up and end them with your life."
Richard looked at her.
"Why would I do that, when Jennifer's power greatly depended on mine ?"
The damaged television miraculously stood on its previous spot. It displayed a tumult in the operating room. The doctors and the nurses were preoccupied with the unconscious Jennifer on bed. From their jittery conversations, Richard learnt that her condition became rapidly worse.
"No ,it is not any longer , because your power now is on the hideous side and becomes lethal for her. But some of her power is remaining in your body. If you die, it will return to her, and she will survive. But don't even think of going there ,'cause I'm never gonna let you do that. Richard, didn't you ever promise to yourself that you would shield her from bullets over and over again for a redemption ? Now this is about a fucking time to do it !"
Richard picked his revolver up in a daze and caressed it. Funny that its second victim finally became himself. He thought about Jennifer and all of depravities in his life. Yes , this was really the time for him to depart from this world after depriving numerous innocent people of their lives. But this could help him to save one innocent life that meant tremendously to the world. He wished Jennifer would at last find a true joy of life.
"My dearest angel, I do love you. I hope you will remember me sometimes."
He directed the revolver at his own temple and pulled its trigger , while Lillian was beaming.
However, the revolver didn't go off at all. When Richard opened his eyes , he saw Jennifer ; she had had her fingers blocking its hammer. The teardrops were rolling from her beautiful eyes. She tightly held him and said ,
"Please don't do that ,Richard. I absolve you. You are delivered from those mortal sins now. You are my forever Prince Charming , destined to live with me for all eternity."
Richard burst into tears and embraced her. There was abruptly a sunlight from the window or someplace - Richard didn't know - shining on them. Lillian screamed in terror like she knew that she was being vanquished. She collapsed on the floor. Richard looked at Jennifer again , but now she was gone. Was this her wraith or lingering power ? He immediately opened the door ; there he met Bill and other FBI agents standing with anxiety outside.
Bill said hastily,
"Richard , sorry that we couldn't open the door. It has been unbelievably tightly shut and impenetrable. But I still could hear something inside. What happened just now ?"
Richard told him :
"Send somebody inside and capture Olga. Take me to the hospital that has admitted Jennifer right now !"
When their car pulled over at the gate of hospital. It was Bill and Arthur who used their FBI authority as the effective tool to make their way from the police officers and the news reporters ,including the crowds of frenzied fans. Richard finally arrived at the door of the operating room. Several people , especially Jennifer's mother and agent, were walking back and forth there with disquietude. Richard knew that she was still alive. He used his power to open the locked door and rushed into the operating room. There the medical personnel were busy performing operation on Jennifer's body with a ventilator. Some of them noticed him and screamed. A nurse tried to prevent him but to no avail. Richard darted to knock the doctors away and grabbed Jennifer's hand tightly.
He felt that the power from his body was swiftly being transferred into hers. Now both he and Jennifer were all white like a large flash of light. It was similar to Arthur's observation of the time Jennifer was resuscitating him.
Richard had been reckoning since his wife left him : if he by any chance deceased, who would be shedding tears for him ? The answer was almost 'no'. His parents had both passed away for a decade. He had no sibling , and his estranged relatives were so distant that he wasn't certain whether he would meet them again in this life. There were only his long-time friends and their families who might sob for his death for a while. But for Jennifer , if she died , more than half of the world population would be weeping and mourning for her for months. Her funeral would be very grand and draw the public attention tremendously - even more than of any celebrities in the world. Richard knew that Jennifer loved him , but it was beyond even his own rationality that she would shield him from a knife , just because of the glitch in her psychic power (so he guessed).
Nonetheless, at this jovial moment, the young superstar had stupendously recovered. Her fans were in the great euphoria , after they had been like a cat on a hot tin roof for days. The TV channels reported that Jennifer's convalescence would persist for a month, but Richard assumed that actually it was amazingly short. Her mother might feign it for a little longer, so the nosy public wouldn't suspect of her supernatural gift.
According to the official narrative from Jennifer's coregent : her mother and her agent , a lone culprit with the utmost capabilities (not mentioning the ESP) successfully broke into Jennifer's mansion. It was her extreme luck that the lunatic person stabbed at some part of her body that wasn't vital. The residents in mansion however managed to arrest him.
Richard's identity and role were never mentioned as usual. Jennifer's coregent was so affluent that they could control media. The bigshots in government and the police officers were illicitly on their payrolls as well. Bill and Arthur were disgruntled with the injustice for Richard ,but the writer was too pleased with the fact that Jennifer returned to be perfectly normal. He also treasured his forever anonymity , because the meteoric rise to fame would greatly disturb his daily life. However, the unlikely next victim was the people in the weird little village , when the local authority couldn't turn a deaf ear to the public outcries. It eventually evicted them , because the whole country presumed that this town was the hideout of that perpetrator and probably the next potential one.
Richard returned to his apartment and began writing again. He learnt from Bill that Lillian was being incarcerated in the special facility that had deterred her from using the ESP. They also used the not yet experimented substances to suppress it , as if she had been a guinea pig. It was undoubtful that the US government would not hesitate to extract the information from her about other moles in the US. Or finally, the US government might turn her to be on its side and exploit her. He thought about visiting Lillian to learn the real motive behind her attempts to murder him and Jennifer.
After all , Richard was still curious whether there would be incessantly other copycats of Lillian in the future or not. He went to see Ms. Tilly again , but lamentably, she had already passed away. Now Richard felt his own special power had already evaporated. He gladly accepted this anyhow , as it should have been where it belonged. But it came at a cost that he couldn't feel or communicate with Jennifer anymore. So everything he pondered about her became less and less reliable now. He felt like there was the gigantic iron curtain between his mind and hers.
Richard's telephone rang. A guy introduced himself as Jennifer's agent and invited Richard for some talk at her mansion this afternoon. The writer smelled something fishy but accepted the invitation. When he arrived there , he was quite saddened to see the weird little town gone. But it left its messy traces of hasty evacuation on the vast lands around Jennifer's mansion. Nonetheless, the little community of press was noticeably intact ,as it was still useful for the coregent. Richard reminisced dearly about his indelible experience in this vanishing town , but every party needed to end at the break of dawn.
Richard later found that the mansion's inside security was enormously revamped. His body was thoroughly searched by the new team of security guards who might have been the members of SEAL teams before. There were also the metal detectors and the large dogs fiercely barking at him. Now Jennifer's mansion became the second White House or the maximum-security prison. But its sumptuous living room reminded him of somewhere , perhaps the Palace of Versailles in Paris. It stunned the visitors with the large delicate chandeliers and the portraits painted by the renowned painters in Europe on the walls. He was assured that those were original with the total prices that could buy some building in New York.
Jennifer's coregent walked into the room. Her mother gawked at him ,and her face looked uncongenial. Jennifer's agent looked emotionless to show that he was professional , but Richard guessed that in his mind, he was hostile to him too. Three of them sat on sofa in the awkward silence. It was Jennifer's mother who broke it.
"Mr.Cunningfort , we are really grateful for your good intention to save my daughter. But I will be straightforward here. Now your relationship with her becomes our grave concern."
Richard said nothing but nodded. He could guess what her mother was going to say next.
She said curtly,
"Jennifer lost her father when she was very young. Look , you were born the same year as my husband. I accept that my daughter is always yearning for a person who is like her father. However, I am not going to accuse that you have intended to play the game of 'father figure' with her ,in other words, to seduce her. Although I don't know how you have the chances to hang around with Jennifer , I am begging you not to try to mess with her again."
Before Richard would say anything, the agent added,
"Mr.Cunningfort, we have the connection with our government to gather information about who you really are. You are so sophisticated as the former CIA agent ,whereas Jennifer is so naïve and vulnerable. Your unhealthy relationship with her would jeopardize her career and perhaps your well-being. How will the frantic public tolerate her romance with the person who is supposed to be her dad ? There might be some nutcases who would get you of the way."
Richard was livid and raised his voice ,
"Does this mean you are threatening me ?"
The agent looked a little startled.
"No no no , Mr.Cunningfort. It is our best wish. Talking about a large sum of money that we are ready to pay here is also extremely inappropriate , because it means insulting you. If you really wish Jennifer well, please consider this condition as the greatest benefit for her you have ever given."
Richard knew why they mentioned his past. They were probably insinuating about exposing his past career like EX-President Gerald Ford was. He thought now he didn't care about it anymore. But he ultimately concurred with them.
"Yes , I'm ready to be gone from her life for good , but there is one thing I have asked of you. Would you please cut her some slack ? I suppose she is currently like the pitiful bird in a gilded cage. If you don't want me to accuse both of you the fat cats leeching off her stardom, please consider her feelings more than anything else. By the way , I learn that both of you have prevented her from going to university , correct ?"
There were the mixed emotions of 2 fat cats. They were not assured whether they should have been happy or agitated thanks to the subtle rebuke from Richard. Finally, the negotiation was settled, though the coregent had baulked at Richard's ultimatum. The writer was elated that Jennifer would be allowed to study in university or have more space in life. He convinced them that if they failed to honor their promise , he would launch the dragging war which had them as its casualties. Richard also didn't mind that this might include himself.
When the writer was about to leave the gate of her mansion , he didn't find any feelings of contacting Jennifer. He cast a glance at the room near balcony at the front of mansion .He hoped she would furtively stare at him behind a curtain to bid farewell to him - but no. He realized that her life had to leave the unsavory old past behind. Her self-sacrifice might be now regarded as her compensation for him. This moment their affections could remain only in the deepest parts of their minds.
A couple of weeks later , Cyndi's mother made him a call for invitation to attend Cyndi's funeral without the corpse. It became a dark comedy that her grave was in the same cemetery as Bob's , even though both of them was quite far away from each other. There was some reason why the old woman chose the place in NYC rather than her hometown. The weather in that afternoon was gloomy like the day of burying Bob. The sky was cloudy and likely to depress him again with the raindrops. It was unbelievable that the coffin without her body could utterly cast a pall over the funeral. Richard was one of the persons who carried the light coffin to the grave , just like the funeral of Bob. The priest preached and said a prayer, while the writer was sitting near Cyndi's mother who kept shedding her tears under the large sunglasses. He gave her the handkerchief after her previous one was too wet. The funeral ended with the guests throwing the roses and the handfuls of soil on the coffin. Several old women , perhaps the relatives, went to console Cyndi's mother by holding her hands and embracing her.
Richard had accompanied Cyndi's mother and others whom he knew to the cars for adieux. No one loitered around here , because they had to drive home for hours, and the rain was beginning to fall. Richard walked back to her grave and collapsed before it. He broke down in tears since he was still thinking of her as his loving companion. He then felt the little and cool raindrops gradually falling on his head and shoulder. He stood up and stared at the sky. The pouring rains were lashing down on everything in the cemetery. Richard walked back to sit in the car and kept watching Cyndi's grave in the rain for an hour before starting the car to leave.
Several months passed by Richard found that his novel had progressed rapidly. But he felt that it rang hollow as his great muse wasn't there for him any longer. The TV channels still reported the news of Jennifer being the freshman in Columbia university- in the Department of History just like his in the past. He deeply hoped that her major would be the Asian history. The picture of her walking with her friends greeting other students in campus made him smile. But he thought this was the PR of university, because the frenzied fans would never leave her walking comfortably like that.
One day Richard bumped into the old professor ,his neighbour in the weird little town. While sipping coffee , the old codger told him that after the town had been dismantled, he had to live the insufferably empty life in his mansion. Finally, he returned to teach in his former workplace again - Columbia University. It was Richard's turn as well to reveal to him that he was actually a writer staying in that town to search for some materials or muses for writing .The professor came up with the idea that he would invite Richard to have a talk with his students in the Department of Physics. His aim was to inspire or help them to appreciate the power of imagination, apart from the mundane scientific facts they had been fed on a daily basis. Richard agreed to go there tomorrow morning.
That night Richard found his writer's block again. So, he just lied on sofa watching TV or reading the book. The old Ben was sleeping nearby in his weird position. Bill called Richard up to say that the White House was already briefed on their reason not to show up. The US president , who was Jennifer's fan himself, set the new schedule for meeting. Bill was over the moon, whereas Richard felt nothing ,as he used to even touch the president's arms with his own hands. The writer thought more challenging one was to visit Moscow and shake hands with the most powerful man of the USSR ,Leonid Brezhnev. He hoped George wouldn't try to make him as a pawn or something that would put him in an awkward situation or an utter danger. Most of all , he wanted to travel to his most favorite city like Leningrad (former name was St. Petersburg).
The phone rang once more. Richard picked it up and found no voice on the other end - but the sound of breathing for minutes. The writer roared with laughter and said,
"My friend ,it's been a while. Now this is the 63rd time of your calls with no voice. I don't know who you are, but I am glad to be you friend."
Richard expected that the prankster would immediately hang up the phone because of his boldness , but that guy was still listening. Lastly , the writer coaxed him into their meeting at the central park of Columbia University at high noon tomorrow. Funny that Richard wasn't wary at all that this person might be another Lillian. He hoped he might have a new friend. Having that guy as a case study for the mental disorder - a persistent stalker - was also tempting, as Richard became increasingly interested in psychology now.
In the morning Richard's appearance in the large lecture room of Department of Physics caused the exhilarating and the lively atmosphere. All the students greatly enthused over his talk ,especially his profound analyses of American politics and foreign policies instead of imagination to write. A student told Richard that he used to read his novels, since his parents were the writer's great fans. The talk had ended before many vied for his autographs like he was the ageing superstar.
The professor and his colleagues invited Richard to have lunch with them , but he refused. All of a sudden, he asked them about the location of Department of History. Some of the lecturers smilingly teased him that he must have wanted to see Jennifer , because this department lately became like a tourist attraction or a Mecca for her devout fans. Richard recollected the prediction of his fellow writer at the bookstore long time ago. The dean must have been extremely dizzy to cope with such a helter- skelter in his campus for at least 4 years.
The writer ambled with sweat along the path to the Department of History. He just wanted to see its building wherein his beloved one was studying. Or it might be fortunate for him to catch a glimpse of her from afar before quietly leaving. There he encountered a large crowd which looked disturbing with its pandemonium. A young onlooker at a building briefed him that Mr. Brad , Brad Lemann , an hour ago, dashed into the lecture room inside. He didn't waste a single minute to kneel down and beg Jennifer for reconciliation like he was proposing to her. No one, even the lecturer, dared to thwart this romantic moment. On the contrary, Jennifer's fellow students noisily cheered for a match made in heaven. There were the deafening repeated words like 'yes yes yes' from everyone. It was reported that the girl heartily accepted Mr. Brad's imploration .The thunderous applause and hurray ensued. Many took the photographs or filmed them like shooting movie.
Richard became solemn. Jennifer couldn't escape from this circus as usual , but he hoped that she would actually reunite and live with that Mr. Brad happily ever after. He left and walked toward his meeting place with that prankster.
The central park of university around midday was still quiet. There was almost no one there. A woman was jogging nearby and swiftly gone out of his sight. A boy was walking his golden retriever and cordially greeted Richard before leaving. Richard sat down on a bench and felt that he was now completely alone in the park. He watched the lake which surface was like the mirror reflecting the image of its vicinity ,especially the blue sky with the scattering clouds. The strong sunlight had mercy on him with its comfortable warmth ,while the piercing cold wind of incoming winter was excruciatingly blowing. The trees and the shrubs in the park were vividly colourful like the embellishment of a work of fine art.
This amicable atmosphere unexpectedly reminded Richard of the funeral of Cyndi and Bob, as there were diametrically opposite. Richard at last became enlightened that the raindrops during both funerals were a personification of all evils and suffering of mankind. Richard also mused over the demon, or himself in the dark dimension or chasm of his soul, that had been unleashed for a while. He assumed that it had not been completely confined at all. It was probably masterminding him from a distance. Or everybody was indeed its puppets and lived like the blind in this world - the world of eternal teardrops. Richard briefly escaped from those raindrops to bask in the sunshine radiating from Jennifer. Now he had to encounter them by himself. He didn't buy into the words of her lingering power (or whatever) that he was destined to live with her for all eternity. Perhaps she might have implied that only their loving memories about each other would exist like that. It was still much better than their real lives together that would cause them a hell of trouble. The writer at last found the tranquillity of mind.
It was exactly high noon , Richard saw somebody at the bridge over the lake not far from him. But the lake's surface was strongly gleaming, so he had to squint to see that person clearly. He abruptly knew with all his heart that it was indeed the prankster who kept calling him 63 times just to hear his voice.
Jennifer was standing there and smiling at him.
"Mr.Cunningfort , I don't know whether or not it will be called an etiquette or our mutual understanding : you shouldn't or mustn't raise the serious issues like politics or anything else , regarding his worrisome state of health now. Bear in your mind, you must every time use an honorific with him: Mr. Secretary, "
The sexagenarian guy with solemn face still harped on, while he was standing vis a vis with Richard near his desk. Before this kind of nagging, he had told the writer the reason of their belatedly allowing him to visit Russia : to completely eradicate the hidden dissidents to ensure his safety. That man was without doubt Brezhnev's secretary. Richard guessed that his sobriety might come from the fierce struggle in his office, or even in the inner circle of the communist party's leadership. The writer did nothing but politely nodded. He really wanted to take a liberty in asking the secretary about how the life during the era of Stalin was, but he dared not. Both thus were standing in the awkward silence.
The door was open; a lanky man in military uniform ushered the older man into the room. That’s Mr. Leonid Brezhnev, the secretary general of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Richard could see his shaking body gradually walking toward him and proffered his right hand to him like the writer was in dream.
"Dobroe utro (good morning), my lifesaver!"
Brezhnev then embraced Richard tightly. Due to the difference of their heights (Richard was 187 centimetres tall, and Brezhnev was only 173), Richard felt relieved that it helped him to avoid the famous but creepy 'fraternal kiss' of Mr. Secretary. The embrace had lasted quite long. Brezhnev chuckled repeatedly to show his enormous pleasure to see Richard, the former CIA operative , who had gallantly foiled the assassinations of the US president (and Jennifer) , unwittingly leading to the failed coup d’état in Moscow. Brezhnev 's secretary and other members of his entourage were staring at them reservedly.
The writer expected Mr. Secretary to invite him to sit on sofa nearby, but the old codger urged him to go somewhere else. While walking, Richard delivered the best wishes from Mr. Jimmy Carter, the POTUS, to him, Brezhnev seemed to accept it eagerly. However, he and his immediate interpreter, who was walking nearby, were utterly surprised to see that Richard could speak Russian flawlessly.
The corridor in the grand Kremlin palace - the residence and the office of the supreme authority of the Soviet government- was quite tortuous and dingy. The guards were cautiously standing along it and showed the salutes to their leader. Finally, they arrived at a large double door. By the time Brezhnev opened it with his own hand, they saw the ageing men in military uniforms gathering in the hall.
Mr. Secretary proudly pointed to Richard and declared ,
"Comrades, here comes our hero! "
Richard immediately learnt that most of them were the highest echelons of the USSR's military -the survivors from the horrible, attempted coup d’état last year. They were clapping their hands and yelling with glee before rushing to embrace Richard. Their profuse words of gratitude had descended on the writer. He felt like the male version of Jennifer in this 'Iron Curtain' land. Someone gladly kissed his cheeks -the Russian tradition of intimate greeting , he cringed a bit.
After the lively welcoming of their hero , some officers distributed champagne to everyone in the hall. They held the glasses quietly to await Brezhnev who kept smiling. He was standing before the large painting of himself, imitating Stalin's cult of personality, and the USSR flag.
Brezhnev turned around pompously and spoke to everyone:
"Without Mr.Richard Cunningfort , we might be lying in our own mass graves right now. He is our hero , no, our saviour indeed. I am sorry that I can't give him the medals because he is coming here as a private citizen. Regrettably, for the political sake, his heroism must be concealed by both governments from the world. However, I hope his visit this time is a good omen that 2 superpowers will retain the cordial relationships like this forever. Long live the USA and the USSR, Cheers!"
Everyone raised the glasses, hoorayed (instead of saying cheers) , and sipped champagne simultaneously. After saluting to Brezhnev, they wasted no time returning to their own seats for the incoming conference. Brezhnev asked Richard to go out of the hall and the building. Both, along with other men, roamed across the beautiful garden of the Kremlin. The writer was flabbergasted to see the frail old man like Mr. Secretary walking in such a long distance.
Brezhnev looked overwhelmingly delighted to talk with Richard. He earnestly asked the writer to brief him on the day of attempted assassinations in the Central Park. The old codger also vividly narrated the coup to topple him. Both events were so breathtaking that Brezhnev's one man slipped on the cobbled path.
However, Richard was reminded by a cold gaze of Brezhnev's secretary who was tailing them. The writer thus attempted to make the atmosphere light-hearted by keeping cracking; Brezhnev laughed heartily several times.
The sky of Moscow in April looked gloomy and sunny alternately, as it was in the freezing spring. Richard could feel the little snowflakes on his shoulder. A member of Brezhnev's entourage offered them the umbrellas, but the old codger refused.
" No. I am still pretty strong. Mr.Cunningfort, you know my biography , right ? I used to valiantly take on those damn Nazis with the small unit of my men."
Richard smiled back, although he knew that his bravery happened more than 3 decades ago.
The colourful flowers in the garden had enlivened the beholders so much. Russia’s most favorite flower like the chamomile with the adorable and tiny petals were seen everywhere. The Kremlin's gardeners were toiling across the field. When the group of Brezhnev passed by , they immediately stopped, took off their hats and nodded to their leader like he was the modern Tsar. Brezhnev greeted them in a friendly manner to show that he was the populist leader.
Richard noticed that despite the coldness, Mr. Secretary still sweated and used his handkerchief to wipe off his face. The person nearby -Richard assumed that was his person physician - in vain persuaded him to go back into the building. Brezhnev led everyone to take a rest at a cute little pavilion and demanded some refreshments while relishing the view of garden that resembled the painting of Claude Monet, the French impressionist.
"Do you remember the hall that we have just visited ? " Brezhnev asked.
"Of course, Mr. Secretary. It was opulent and well-equipped, "Richard said while gulping some black liquid that tasted like Coca-Cola.
"It was the war room that we mainly used to operate and also negotiate with your government during the Cuban Missile Crisis [in 1962]." Mr. Secretary smiled.
"Really? It was such a wonderful experience for me to leave the footprints in that hall, sir, " Richard exclaimed after having the big goosebumps.
"I guess at that time you have already become the CIA operative." Brezhnev peeked at him.
Richard beamed and told him the truth, because the Russians had already known almost everything about him.
"Of course, Mr. Secretary. At that time, I was still licking my wound from the failure of operation Bay of Pig. It was my dreadful debut."
Brezhnev roared with laughter and turned to his entourage.
"I really like this guy! Funny that some generals in that room used to be the hawkish ones who had incessantly tried to convince Mr. Khrushchev [Nikita Khrushchev, the then -Soviet leader] to strike America with nuclear weapons first. Now some of them even kissed your cheeks, ha ha. I remember that during the coup attempt, they had cowered like the scaredy-cats."
Richard said, "During those days of nerve-racking crisis, I thought the world would meet the catastrophic ending soon. But both of us knew that we had to keep this world for our children."
Brezhnev chuckled. “Of course, but someone didn't think that way. Apart from those boisterous generals, Mr. Castro [the leader of Cuba] had fanatically pestered the Soviet to make war, whereas our old Khrushchev was too prudent. So, we still survive today. Later, plenty of members of our clique thought he was too soft on the capitalist, and his leadership finally became the history."
Richard knew that Brezhnev was the main promoter of the so-called democratic coup d’état to oust Khrushchev from power in 1964.That was an act of betrayal or ingratitude, because the bald Khrushchev himself had catapulted Brezhnev to be the rising star in the communist party. Therefore, the writer avoided this kind of sensitive topic by gossiping about the notorious sex life of John F. Kennedy, the US president during the crisis.
Mr. Secretary said, "What a pity that Mr. Kennedy passed away from the shocking assassination. He was handsome and charismatic, so he could sleep with many pretty girls. Don't have the wrong impression that I have envied him ,because he reminded me of myself at young age."
Everyone in the pavilion burst into laughter. He asked Richard:
"Have you ever met Kennedy?"
Richard smiled. “Of course, he frequently visited our headquarter. One day President Kennedy held my hand tightly and passionately apologized for his blunders in Cuba. But I didn't think I would forgive him so easily."
Brezhnev sniggered but abruptly turned to talk about Richard Nixon, the US president whom he was well acquainted with like the blood brothers. Both managed to hammer out the detente -the relaxation of strained relations- between the US and the USSR. They had signed the agreements to control nuclear weapons. Although the USSR was later criticized for using the detente as a pretext for extending its influences in the third world countries like Africa, the world population was extremely elated by a life without dread of the nuclear holocaust - at least briefly.
Brezhnev, moreover, showed his confusion about why Nixon resigned from the presidency 4 years ago, because he wasn't accustomed to the idea of America's system of checks and balances – trial and impeachment by parliament. Richard tried to explain it to him, but to no avail. Eventually, the secretary of Mr. Secretary cleared his throat as a sign for Richard. The writer asked Brezhnev about his wife and children. The old codger bragged about his warm and loving family and ...
"What about yours, Mr.Cunningfort ? I suppose your children must be old enough to graduate from universities already."
Richard smiled wryly. “Sorry, sir. I got married once, and now I am the unofficial divorcee with no child."
Brezhnev looked curious. “How come you ended up divorcing ? You are such a good guy!"
The writer nodded." Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I am totally flattered. She eloped with another man and didn't even bother to sign the paper of our divorce."
The old codger looked contemplative.
"This reminded me of once visiting Paris and attending the opera, " He said and then asked his secretary, "What is its name? Ah, Carmen. There is the most famous aria sung by the heroine:'L'amour est un oiseau rebelle' or 'love is a rebellious bird'. How can we trust the individual passion like a love that is so treacherous?"
Richard smiled. "I wholeheartedly agree with you, sir. I have witnessed that from time to time."
Brezhnev asked, "... and what about your love life today? You are dating some girl, right?"
Richard was puzzled: why was the world's almighty leader like Brezhnev prying into such a privacy of his? However, the writer told him the truth.
"I am in love with a young girl, but she is out of my league. Even though I know she has a feeling for me, we have an extremely rare chance to meet. But the fate helped to arrange our rendezvous someday in the park, on that bridge..."
Richard then noticed that everyone around him was immersing themselves in his romance. It was comical that it was the communists who had known about this kind of his top secret , not even his close friends like Bill or Sebastian. Richard ridiculously hoped they wouldn't betray him by passing this information to George. But everybody certainly still didn't know who his love interest was anyway.
"We spent our worthy 15 minutes talking about many things. She tearfully thanked me for what I had done for her. She said she missed my cat so much, “said Richard.
Everyone laughed because they thought Richard was joking. But he knew that Jennifer was too timid to say that she had missed him terribly. The writer briskly summed up by saying that he and she made the promise to meet again in the future. They eventually had to depart lest someone witnessed their encounter. Richard wondered what reactions of everyone in the pavilion would be, if he said that girl was Jennifer Tierney.
Brezhnev became suddenly solemn and said,
"Thank you for sharing your impressive love story. Its problem must be caused by the inequality of the capitalist country like yours. But now it was my turn to tell the secret I have kept well for long. During the World War 2 - several days after the Germans had launched the Operation Barbarossa - I was seriously injured. An extraordinarily pretty girl, who had been working as the medical volunteer, helped nurture my health back to normal. I could still remember the pair of her beautiful blue eyes which sucked my poor soul into. Her body was so soft and fragrant like an expensive perfume from Paris. During my convalescence, we were really the lovers. She made my heart flutter by holding my hands, and I sweetly kissed her."
He coughed a little and went on.
"Out of the blue, she just disappeared. Regardless of how hard I had tried to search for her, it was merely the heartbreaking missions for me. Decades later, as I was still a member of presidium, I happened to meet her again, but she was already the faithful wife of a powerful general. I was totally petrified; our brief conversation there enlightened me about her reason of leaving - sorry that I can't tell you here."
Richard noticed a little teardrop from the corner of his left eye. His entourage also showed their genuine bewilderments to their leader. So, Brezhnev was straightforward about his secret.
The old codger then softly slapped Richard's shoulder.
"Mark my words, Mr.Cunningfort. If you really love her, do whatever to get her. Love (not time) and tide wait for no man. Don't procrastinate, or you will grieve for the rest of your life like me."
Richard smiled and nodded.
The secretary immediately chimed in the love lamentations of the head of the communist party and the ex-CIA operative.
"Mr. Secretary, it is time for you to meet the trade representatives from Kazakhstan ...well, according to our schedule, we have been late for half an hour."
Brezhnev looked nonchalant and watched the garden. He smiled when seeing the red dragonflies flying nearby. He then said curtly,
"I guess they can wait for me for another half an hour, then."
Everyone in the pavilion was in an utter silence. Richard reminisced about when he met President Gerald Ford personally about 2 years ago ; the world leaders were human too ,although they always thought they were more exalted than everyone.
While roaming around Red Square near the Kremlin, Richard reminisced about the day he was in Saigon of now defunct South Vietnam, though it was like million miles from here and forever from now. It was in December 1967, only a month before the Tet Offensive. The writer was visiting a barber shop, as he had the intention to investigate its owner who was suspected of running the hidey-hole for the Viet Cong. The streets in that afternoon were quite bustling: the local people were riding motorcycles with some merchandises behind their backs. The ageing riders of Cylcos (Trishaws) desperately hustled him for ride. Richard saw the GIs in plainclothes walking by, escorted by their Vietnamese girlfriends. Some in uniform were walking with their peers in the very relaxing manners, pointing to the interesting shops, especially the raunchy bars. Richard walked into the barber shop at the corner of street and was cordially greeted by its owner while giving haircut to a boy - probably not more than 10 years old. Richard talked to the barber about hiring him to deliver service to the officers in the American embassy next week. It was just a pretext, but the well-tempered, rotund man easily took the bait.
Other full-grown Vietnamese, who were sitting on the long bench for their turns, gawked at the writer. One of them greeted him in a broken English, as he had frequently had some friendly chats with the foreigners like Richard. Richard talked back while adroitly peeking at everything in the shop, but he found nothing particularly suspicious, only all the sincere smiles. He later told those men about the tentative plan of visiting their houses someday. They enthusiastically agreed; an old man joked that he was more than happy to have the writer as his son- in- law. Everyone all laughed. Richard told himself that probably even the best trained members of Viet Cong could not have such the friendly gestures.
Just minutes after Richard had walked out of the shop, he found the air around him ‘too darn hot' , shoving him hard to the ground with the deafening sound of explosion. He stumbled and hurt his knees quite badly. Some sharp debris flew only inches away from his head. He felt numb and dizzy, and his ears were having the terrible ringing. However, the writer still could see several bystanders running back and forth. The middle-aged woman near him, who was holding a toddler, screamed hysterically. Now the barber shop pitifully became the ruin with the smouldering fire, and everyone he had just met were now gone. He hobbled to the shop and saw the blood from the severed corpses splattered everywhere .The remains of human organs were strewn on the road. They, including the smell of gun powders, were so unbearably fetid that even using the handkerchief to cover his nose seemed inutile. Richard almost broke down but finally managed to regain his composure.
"Pennies for your thoughts," asked his guide, who was walking near him and looking curious. That KGB guy was about his 30s.Another man was tailing them and looking around Red Square as a surveillance. They were just stepping out of GUM - the most famous department store near Red Square after finishing lunches. It was already afternoon, but the sky was quite gloomy and windy. He could feel the cold from the ground besetting his soles, although his shoe was thick.
Richard smiled and lied that he was thinking about a girl. They chortled as they thought he was too old for that kind of stuff. But the stuff that had never vanished from his mind was that day in Saigon. Richard wondered whether that bomb was aimed to assassinate him or just coincidental. If the first was the real cause, this meant someone knew that he was the CIA operative, and his life was certainly being in jeopardy. However, nothing happened to him afterwards.
Nonetheless , It was mainly in the history books that the USSR had supported North Vietnam during the Vietnam war, and the latter had collaborated with the Viet Cong, the guerrilla who had masterminded numerous assassinations and bombs in many cities of South Vietnam, including that barber shop. Richard mused that perhaps many new tactics of terrorism of Viet Cong were passed down by the KGB experts after North Vietnam had become estranged from its Chinese patron. Furthermore, the KGB as well played the vital roles in making the US military crawl from Vietnam with the tail between its legs. They had dealt with the double agents in Pentagon for the valuable information of the US military operations each day. Then the KGB sent those to North Vietnam who could minimize their damages and casualties from each attack by the US airpowers for years.
Now Richard was chumming up with the persons who indirectly almost deprived him of his life and killed those guiltless Vietnamese in the barber shop. And Bob, his cousin, was also one of their victims during the Tet Offensive (however, both North Vietnam and the Viet Cong could retort that they also had been the victims of the US imperialist).
Only after visiting Brezhnev, Richard just realized : what an irony to dance and kiss one's own archenemy like he did today.
Thanks to the tight schedule, Brezhnev lamented that he couldn't have lunch with Richard. He gave the writer a souvenir and repeatedly solicited his other promises to visit him in the future. Richard assumed that the old codger was quite lonely ; it was ordinary for the one who was standing on the zenith of power. The politics of any countries looked similar: friends became the foes and vice versa when the mutual interests were lopsided. The sincerity was thus elusive in this kind of business. So, the writer toyed with the idea that he would never visit Brezhnev again as a subtle method to take revenge on him, because Mr. Secretary was the supreme patron of North Vietnam and Viet Cong,
After all, the Soviet and US governments were very kind to allow him to go to any places in the land behind the Iron Curtain until he felt satisfied, on only one condition that the agents had to keep him company all the time for his own safety, in other words, the Soviets feared that he was the hidden spy. Richard didn't consider this offending because it was almost the informal protocol for the players in the cold war to trust no one, even the friends.
The vast crowds, especially the tourists, were hanging out or loitering across the famous Square, even it wasn't holiday. Red Square and the Kremlin were the political emblems of the USSR and the Meccas for political refugees who fled from the authoritarian governments in their countries and then fell into the traps of the propaganda of the Soviet government as their saviours. The writer refused to be photographed like a tourist ; he just loved to walk around, absorbing its historical grandeur. Richard used to see a black and white picture of Vladimir Lenin, one of the founders of Bolshevik, walking before its militia gathering at Red Square in 1918.Perhaps the very positions he was stepping on now had the invisible footprints of Lenin.
The writer also revelled in observing the foreigners around - made this place look like a cosmopolitan city. Many appeared to come from Africa, as they were wearing the attires of their own tribes and enjoyed being photographed in numerous spots of Red Square. Richard and his own little entourage happened to walk past the couple of Asian men in the familiar uniforms talking with the Russian counterparts - those were the members of the reunified Vietnamese Army. Richard supposed it would be fun if he had walked to introduce himself to them that he used to work as the CIA operative in Saigon during the war and participate in interrogating the captured North Vietnamese soldiers with the harsh methods probably deemed tortures. The writer imagined he would have been punched in the face by those soldiers, or, on the contrary, they might have shaken hands with him and said: let bygones be bygones since their armies eventually had the last laughs.
Richard told his guides, or actually his guards, that he was extremely eager to visit the house of Russia's most famous writer, Leo Tolstoy. They concurred but one agent informed him that it was the inevitable schedule that he had to go someplace first. Its name would not be mentioned here - just let him guess with thrill. Their destination was not far from Red Square, so they merely walked idly and visited some stall for the delicious local sweets.2 of his guides looked bored and exhausted - the incurable disease of communism.
Finally, they arrived at the building that Richard knew promptly that it was the headquarter of the KGB where he used to just pass by many years ago. Before the distinguished brick-coloured building was the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the head of the Checka and the OGPU , the distant forerunners of the KGB. Mr. Dzerzhinsky was the architect of the Red Terror , the wave of the repressions by the Bolshevik to the citizens , which had resulted in more than million deaths in the first half of the 20th century. Richard was possibly the first openly known CIA agent setting feet in this building -only he was the erstwhile. There he met Alexander Golitzen, the vice chairman who visited him in New York City last year. Golitzen shook hands and embraced Richard with laughter.
"Can't believe that you will be here at last. So sorry that it takes such a long time bringing you here. We have to reset our domestic politics in balance."
He then introduced Richard to the bespectacled man with white hair. That was the chairman of the KGB: Yuri Andropov. Andropov looked elated to meet Richard. He showed his gratitude to Richard, as he himself had been held hostage by the promoters of coup d’état and scared shitless that his life would have ended that day. Richard knew that Andropov was one the most repressive KGB leaders who had exploited some of Stalinist methods to silence the regime's dissidents , but little did he know that several years later Andropov would take helm of the USSR after the death of Brezhnev.
The chairman of the KGB smiled at Golitzen.
"Look, can't believe our own eyes that we are now standing face- to -face with Mr.Richard Cunningfort, the owner of the books which had confounded our understandings about the CIA for the ages. Out of the blue he became our knight in shining armour."
He turned to Richard.
"We really want to offer you the heartfelt apology that we had illicitly translated your novels in Russian for decades."
"It is not a big deal, sir. The persons who should complain this are the book companies who have the copyrights of all my novels and short stories. I found that for almost 2 decades some of them had illicitly published my literary works without notifying me. However, they have power and connections to interfere in the justice when I several times attempted to sue them - the utmost immorality of the capitalists."
Everybody burst into laughter.
Andropov and other senior officers led Richard to the hall full of the KGB agents in the distinct uniforms. Most of them were young and looked energetic. Andropov spent quite a long time introducing and praising Richard; they received the loud applause from the audience. Richard imagined that at the time of coup, they didn't mind having the new boss, but they were worried to death about the war with the US. The writer also presumed that the moles of CIA ,or at least the double agents, were sitting here, observing and sending all information about his presence and speech back to Langley - the CIA headquarter in Virginia and then Washington. Now it was Richard's turn to let his voice heard. He had done his homework. He had studied the speech of President Richard Nixon when visiting the USSR in 1972 and used it to craft his own speech, even though its many parts looked like the act of parroting or blatant lies.
Richard talked gibberish about the precious detente between 2 superpowers. He told the audience that unfortunately, both countries stumbled on the mishap when the bad weeds hidden in the Soviet's powerful cliques tried to sabotage that pact, almost ushering the world into the nuclear holocaust. Richard then avoided praising his own heroism by summing up that he hoped when all the storms had already passed, the marvellous relationships between 2 countries would last forever. The audience cheered and applauded even louder; Richard didn't know whether they were really overwhelmed or just pretending. However, he felt like a glib politician who knew how to impress the voters with also the body gestures like a beguiling smile.
After the speech, Andropov shook hands with Richard once more and left. Plenty of young agents noisily surrounded him like a famous intelligentsia for autographs -similar to that day in Columbia University. The men took liberties of asking the writer about life in America. Richard smilingly replied that it was cool if one was the millionaire, as the American society was drifting into the full- blown materialistic or money-oriented one. After the Vietnam War, all the young hippies, those Russian men had seen in the films, returned to study or work like the nefarious bourgeois they used to denounce.
"Here in Russia, life will always be cool if you are the upper echelon of party and pretend to be poor or preach about class equality, even though you are the closeted rich man with the enormous privilege."
A man talked to Richard like he was whispering. He and his friends then glanced at the senior officers and giggled.
Another man earnestly asked him,
"Mr.Cunningfort , have you ever met Jennifer Tierney in a flesh ?"
Richard flinched a little.
"Why do you know her? I suppose the Hollywood movies for you guys are not allowed to be watched at all, except among the elites of your country."
The same man sniggered.
"No, we are the members of intelligence agency; we have to learn the various aspects of your society via every kind of media. I can assure you that Jennifer is the most beloved idol for the KGB agents here. They have watched her films and TV programs even more frequently than the Americans themselves. My comrades are dying to meet Jennifer at least once in their lives. Some even passionately beg their superiors to send them to work in Hollywood."
Richard laughed and said,
"Don't know she is such a celebrity even in the communist world. Of course, I used to meet and even say some nice words to her."
The agents were obviously overexcited. They all vied to ask him: how he met her, what she was talking to him and whether she was gorgeous like in the films. Golitzen shouted at them like he was the strict principal:
"That's enough, boys! Let your other comrades have Mr.Cunningfort's autographs."
Suddenly a beautiful woman in a KGB uniform strutted toward Richard. Everybody was in silence. She was slender and almost as tall as the writer. Richard noticed that the young woman was seemingly holding the men around her spellbound with her sleek blonde hair and mystic hazel eyes. Richard heard Golitzen saying her name:
Alyona held the thick book before Richard and asked for his autographs, while he felt from her gaze that she was going to eat him alive. She all at once reminded him of Lillian. She was like another version of Lillian - enigmatic and crafty , but she was much larger than her.
The young woman said in a raspy voice ,
"I want to confess that today is the greatest day of my life that I have finally met my favorite writer and admirable hero - more than anything, you are my Prince Charming!"
Richard blushed. She used the words exactly like Jennifer's and now perplexed him with her smile.
Someone near Richard cleared his throat.
"Nyet [no], Alyona. ‘Prince Charming' is such an anachronistic word. It is used in the tales of medieval world where the noble families have exploited the people, so metaphor here is not appropriate, as we are now in the classless society."
Alyona brushed him aside and kept on looking at Richard, while he was writing the autograph on the first page of his own novel. The writer knew that the guy was envying him right now but ostentatiously adamant in the ideology which was rarely put into practice in any communist countries. There were the de facto Princes Charming like the spoil brats who were the sons of the elites of every communist party. They were good-looking and stinking rich. With the fastest luxury cars, they could get as many girls as they wanted.
Richard sent the book back to her. She thanked him and came closer.
"May I ...?"
Richard smiled as her cheek kissing to show thankfulness would be the best he received in this country, because it was from woman for the first time. All of a sudden, much to everyone's consternation, Alyona kissed Richard's lips. He felt her warm lips arousing, probably casting a spell that would petrify him eternally. The kiss didn't last long, but anybody knew it was beyond the gesture of friendship. Richard heard a brouhaha: many people were excitedly exclaiming, "wow..." and "phew" when she withdrew her lips.
Golitzen seemed agitated. He abruptly raised his voice at the beautiful woman though attempted to restrain himself.
"Alyona, go back to work. Never do that again! You might be severely punished because it is against our moral code and discipline here!"
Alyona looked nonchalant and smirked again like she was a cynic. Richard imagined she might have really wanted to retort: what about most of the KGB executives who secretly had the mistresses? Moral code, my foot!
The twentysomething later talked to the writer in the voice that made a shiver run up his spine.
"I heard you have a plan to travel to many places, including Leningrad (Saint Peterburg). Would you like someone who knows every nook and cranny of that city as your new guide? She can fulfil your boundless curiosity."
Golitzen cut in,
"We have already assigned several of your peers to do it. Don't humiliate them; just simply get lost. I believe now your poor desk is burdened with the piles of work."
Alyona appeared not to show any signs of disgruntlement and teased him.
"Sir, don't know since when you have cared about my poor desk. I believe Mr.Cunningfort should have a say in this ,because it is all about him and his own satisfactions."
She smiled at Richard, but her ensuing words sounded pressing.
"I need your answer right now!"
Richard looked awkward. He thought about Jennifer and the repercussion of being swallowed by this foxy lady. He didn't want to cheat on the young superstar, as he was aware what would happen, if he accepted Alyona as his companion all the time in the USSR.
The writer was mute briefly before muttering,
"I'm afraid that I can't do nothing but comply with the schedule of Mr.Golitzen. Maybe next time if I return to Russia again, I won't hesitate at all to call you, Miss. I really appreciate your good wish.”
Alyona was unfazed, but something like a glint in her eyes told Richard that she was hugely disappointed. However, the young woman then smiled mischievously and nodded to him before leaving. Golitzen sighed to show his enormous relief and quickly snapped his finger to one of his subordinates.
"Tell both Alexei and Vladimir to come here. We are going to change the team of Mr.Cunningfort’s guides."
The atmosphere became more relaxing. All the KGB agents in the hall went back to work. The vice chairman apologized to Richard for not taking him around the headquarter for sightseeing, as most of them were busy for some special missions tomorrow. Richard laughed as he knew that it would be extremely bizarre to expose sensitive information at their office to the foreigner suspected of being the hidden spy.
2 men were walking here. Both were quite short when comparing to Richard's height. They looked more naive and younger than his first couple of guides - about in their mid-20s. Richard shook hands with Alexei who told him that his last name was Kovalev. He was brawny and had a distinct moustache along with a faint beard. But the second guy was opposite: Vladimir was quite pale, slim and boyish. His head had the slightly humorous shape below the thin hair that sometimes made him look bald.
He smiled while firmly grabbing Richard's hand.
"I am Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. You can call me simply ‘Putin’. I am deeply honoured to meet you, the legendary hero, and I am ready at your service around the clock, sir."
Richard had chattered away to Golitzen for half an hour before departing. The old man said he hoped the writer would come back to Moscow after travelling to Leningrad, and they could have dinner together. He thus would introduce the proper Russian lady to him; Richard thought Golitzen was envying him about Alyona too.
The next destination of Richard was so enthralling because it was the house of Leo Tolstoy, the writer who had produced the world's famous novels like War and Peace, Anna Karenina, or the novella like The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Count Tolstoy was the utmost inspiration for Richard's writing career; he began to eagerly read his works in Russian, when he felt listless during pursuing the tiresome thesis for master’s degree almost 2 decades ago.
Nonetheless, on the way, the writer was greatly entertained by his guides, especially Putin who was lively and talkative- not typical of a KGB operative. Putin told him that he was born in Leningrad and finished a Bachelor of Laws from Leningrad State University about 2 years ago. He had ceaselessly bragged about his grandfather who used to be a chef for Stalin. Kovalev, who was driving car, was quite taciturn but joined their conversations from time to time.
Richard changed the topic of this conversation:
"By the way , do you guys know Alyona well? What is her position in the headquarter, and doesn't she have boyfriend?"
Putin and Kovalev smiled at each other. Putin said,
"Are you going to ask me whether she flirts with men or is simply biksa (a slut)? I know she kissed your lips; it quickly became a rumour swirling around our office."
Richard blushed and almost yelled out,
"Nyet! I am just curious why she did that to me."
Putin giggled. He had a great sense of humour that Richard thought he should have changed his career to be a comedian.
"If you are doubting like I think, the answer is no, sir. Quite the contrary, she is so arrogant like a noble lady. She once had a boyfriend, but that guy couldn't tolerate her haughtiness. Alyona is so headstrong that even her boss, or any men, feels uneasy to work with her. Don't wonder why she hasn’t been fired yet. That's because her father is the powerful guy in the communist party; he is also the friend of Brezhnev's family. Perhaps she has a crush on you or simply wants to drag you on her cozy bed, ha ha."
"Aha ! And does she know Lillian or Sylvia?"
Putin shook his head.
"Who are they? Your ex-girlfriends?"
Richard just chuckled.
Putin returned to talk about himself: it was his ultimate goal to visit the US and wanted Richard's helps to find the perfect American girlfriend like in his long-time fantasy. Kovalev interrupted by saying that in the future Putin might be sent to somewhere else, probably East Germany, and have no chance to leave it. Putin thus looked despondent.
After the house of Tolstoy, Richard's guides took him to spend the colourful evening in the bustling neighbourhood around Alexander Pushkin's house. Pushkin was Russia's most celebrated poet whom Richard didn't know much, so he just walked and visited the souvenir shops around there. Richard thought about buying the Matryoshka Doll to Jennifer, but he didn't know how to send it to her. There was only one possibility that she would have mercy to call him again. Putin told him about the restaurant with traditional cuisine nearby, and they gladly led him there when Richard promised that the dinner would be on him ( the Soviet government had previously offered Richard all kinds of his expenditure during the travels , but he declined). He knew that Putin and Kovalev were just the rank and files who struggled every month to support their families.
Putin seemed to know the owner of that restaurant well. He ordered a heap of dishes of Russian foods which Richard didn't feel familiar with. But the unmissable thing was Vodka which became the stable diet for the Soviets like an opium during the hardships like this. Richard had known even before visiting Moscow that Brezhnev’s policy of prioritizing Military made the red army frightening for the West, but it inevitably took a toll on its economy like a stagnation and the ordinary people's lives. However, no one knew for sure that such a policy would essentially lead to the collapse of the USSR in the early 90s.
3 men eventually were unable to keep their conversations going, so they solely paid attention to TV at the rear of restaurant which was quite loud. It was about the news of the Defence Minister presiding over the statue of some important member of Bolshevik who died during the civil war about half a century ago. Putin attentively watched that news even he was digging in some hot soup of beef.
"What do you think about this , Putin ? Should we better build the statues for the persons who have contributed much to the Russian society like medical sciences or new technologies? "
"Though I love America, I still worship our mother Russia. I strongly believe that the Bolshevik should be forever respected for commencing the greatness of the USSR. Now our economy is hitting the snag, but I believe it would be better soon. According to Mr. Brezhnev’s rulership, our government still prevails over the small nations that used to be the parts of the Russian empire, including Eastern Europe, just like an eagle reigning over the sky."
Richard slightly compressed his lips. Putin was more complicated than he thought. The writer had a hunch that perhaps in the future if this guy by accident became this country's leader, he might make the most hawkish general in the Kremlin feel like a saint.
The news bulletin switched to the entertainment in some regions of the USSR, and then the news of a famous foreign singer emerged. That was Elton John, the British singer, playing piano in his concert. The news told that John was slated for his performances in the USSR next year - the signal of the Kremlin’s tolerance of the western culture. The next news couldn't astonish Richard more - the smug face of Mr. Brad who was standing with Jennifer's mother and agent in front of the herd of reporters. Jennifer’s mother smilingly told them about the engagement between Mr. Brad and Jennifer. Richard felt like someone was pounding his head. He knew it wasn't from Jennifer's own will because she wasn't there and joined the announcement herself. But he guessed she had accepted this tacitly at last. Despite her great psychic abilities, she was just a confused teenager who would begrudgingly give in to controls of the adults who were much more sophisticated. Richard suddenly realized that indeed it was a boon that he would never break the gentleman’s agreement with Jennifer’s mother and agent again. The people should stay in the place they belonged - Jennifer with her real Prince Charming and he with the someone else. That noon in the park was certainly the last amicable experience she and he had shared together and ended it beautifully.
Putin said to Kovalev :
"Probably half of the men in this world are devastated now, that includes you. Tonight, don't cry yourself to sleep."
"I am afraid that's you too, Vladimir. Look at Mr.Cunningfort, I envy him for not caring about the kind of shit like the senseless crush on the superstar. He is a guru with the great wisdom, I can tell this from philosophies in his novels."
Richard pretended to smile.
After the dinner which Richard thought was the blandest in his life, his guides were supposed to escort him back to the hotel's room full of bugging devices. But when he told them that he desired to study a night life of Moscow a little more, they smiled and their faces became radiant like the children, as it meant they would have the excuses to go to pub, which was a taboo for the KGB operatives, except it was directly about their tasks. Richard didn't want to spend the entire night haunted by the face of Jennifer alone; maybe he just wanted to drink himself to sleep or death.
The pub they had just visited was quite dim and stuffy. A lone ageing singer was playing guitar and crooning the folk song, describing the beautiful and serene lives in the countryside like Siberia. A few customers were scattering in the dark as it was still early. Putin ordered the drinks which Richard never felt familiar with again; they tasted quite sweet like soft drink but could make him drunk in no time. Half an hour later, there came the band consisting of 4 young men who played the song that sounded like rock music in the US. Putin told Richard that the pub owner has such a temerity because the authorities didn't like rock music much, as they thought it had represented the indecency of the western societies like sex and drugs. Some of its songs also cunningly alluded to the liberalism and subversions of the state’s authority. Therefore, the owner had to endure the harassment from police once in a while - bribes were frequently solicited as well. Richard understood the authorities since he didn't like rock music either. This time he was dying to listen to jazz music like in the Blue Rainbow pub, New York City.
Now Richard began to suspect that someone was drugging him. He felt extraordinarily thirsty for that kind of drink and kept ordering it. It not only inebriated him but also made him gradually unable to separate between the truth and the hallucination probably induced by that drug. Now rock music was miraculously superseded by the much slower Jazz played by the big band. The writer recognized the song: Moonlight Serenade , one of the most popular during World War 2. He abruptly found himself dancing on the floor with Mary, his first girlfriend, in a Manhattan's nightclub ; it was about some night in the serene summer of 1959. While dancing , Mary's eyes were fixing on him, and she sometimes gave him the quick sweet kisses. He knew she was expecting his proposal.
Moonlight Serenade ended but was resumed as the revellers across the nightclub unanimously implored. Richard was about to ask Mary about their future, but he suddenly found that he was dancing with Jennifer. She was sulking with the tears in her eyes. Richard was totally flustered. Before he would do anything, there was a soft and warm hand grabbing his. The writer emerged into the real world again amidst the deafening rock music - that was Alyona.
Alyona seemed to cast a spell on Richard with luscious smile , but she scowled at Putin and Kovalev who dared not a bit move when seeing her.
"Look! What have you done to my Prince Charming? Comrades, let me take him from here."
2 guys abruptly left them alone like they were the faithful servants under the command of noble lady. Suddenly, Richard found himself returning to the same nightclub and seeing Alyona in the same evening dress as Mary, but she looked like la femme fatale in the 50s movies of Hollywood. The big band was playing the same song like it would repeat like this eternally. Richard now recognized its conductor : Glenn Miller, the renowned musician who disappeared mysteriously during his military operation in World War 2 .
Both Richard and Alyona were siting , surrounded by the smoke from cigarettes. Alyona softly lifted his chin and talked to him in the New York's accent thanks to his hallucination.
"Poor you! It breaks my heart to see you brooding like this. If there is something I can do to relieve you from tragedy in your life, let me know this. Tonight, I will take care of you and do whatever you desire. Now please tell me about what's on your mind."
Richard suddenly became wary that this might be the deception by the KGB to lure him to leak some information about the CIA. He felt like the place around him spinning around. His words became pathetically slurred, and he began to lose control over his shaking body. He thus found his assumption became increasingly reasonable. Richard really wanted to pound on the back of Putin who had drugged him. But he would disappoint the KGB as he was now just the ordinary citizen who had barely known anything about the government's security agency which was increasingly complex after the Vietnam War. And if Richard by any chance confessed about his little secrets like the unrequited love for Jennifer, he would make the fool out of himself. He remembered prattling to Alyona for an hour, but hardly did he know what he was mumbling about and what she was responding to him. Perhaps this gorgeous spy had been doing her excellent job of interrogation.
A female singer strutted into the stage. Richard remembered that was Jo Stafford - his most favorite singer in the whole wide world. She had to be in her 60s now , but here she was so young as if she had been in the 1940s. He tried in vain to clap his hand as loud as he could. Ms. Stafford began singing the song he adored: Manhattan Serenade.
That night in Manhattan was the start of it
We lived it and we loved every part of it
The glow of moonlight in the park
The lights that spell your name
Alyona whispered in his ear:
"It is deafening here. Let's find somewhere else which is much quieter."
Before the writer would say anything, Alyona grabbed his hand firmly like she was afraid he would escape in a heartbeat. He let himself walk easily out of the pub like a harness horse. It now appeared that Jo's song helped his hallucination create the scene outside the pub to be the parking lot of the nightclub. There were not many streetlights; the place around them was somewhat dark. Alyona exclaimed while pointing to the full moon on the sky :
"Mr.Cunningfort, tonight the moonlight is shining so bright. How romantic it is now!"
Both were standing and watching the moon together for minutes. Richard remembered that Mary used to do that with him that night. They then hopped in the car: the green and long Chevrolet Bel Air convertible (it was another make of car in reality of 1978 Moscow, and it probably belonged to Alyona who became the driver). He smelled her perfume -so fragrant like a scent from heaven , however, it was very familiar. She laid her hand on his lap ; he found it titillating. ‘Manhattan Serenade’ was from somewhere and still lingering around them.
The autumn breeze that fanned the spark
That set our hearts aflame
Our kiss was a sky-ride to the highest star
We made it without touching a handlebar...
Richard said, “I don’t know how you find me. But I'm so sure that you must be the most attractive and gifted spy I have ever met. Has anyone ever told you that you are the dead ringer of Lauren Bacall?"
"Please accept my apology that I don't know her at all. Who is she ? "
"She is the widow of a veteran actor, Humphrey Bogart. Both were one of the most famous couples of Hollywood celebrities in the 50s.You look like her so much ,especially your sparkling eyes."
Alyona shook her head and blew smoke from her mouth.
"Here your country's movies had been heavily censored when I was still young. And I don't care because this is nearly the end of the 70s.Won’t you delight me by saying that I look like Jennifer Tierney, the beguiling superstar of your country?"
Richard shook his head.
"No, not at all! You look totally different from her."
She raised her eyebrows.
"Don't you love her?"
He was startled.
"Everybody in America or around the world falls in love with her. How come you surprise me, an ordinary old man, with such a bizarre question ?"
"Maybe , for her, your love is more important than anybody's in the world. By the way , this is a confession from her heart : Richard, I feel like I am in love with you all my life, even before I met you. Don't you think the stars have destined me to follow everywhere you go? I would be devastated if you refuse to share the same feeling with me anymore."
Richard was confused ; it looked like Alyona was speaking for Jennifer. But due to inebriation , he drowsily smiled and kissed the corner of her neck. The writer suddenly passed out and drifted into the voidness of unconsciousness.
When Richard woke up in the morning, he found himself naked on bed alone in a luxury hotel's room. It was almost 10 am now. Despite the freezing air-conditioners, he became sweaty as he reminded himself of the former Indonesian president, Sukarno, during the 60s.Mr. Sukarno was blackmailed by the Russians with videotapes of him spending the raunchy night with a female spy in the disguise of flight attendant. Much to their surprise, the President was so ecstatic to see himself as the lead actor in this pornographic film and asked the Russians for more copies for distribution in his country. The writer thought that it was no use for the Soviet government to do so to him. They should have proffered him money- or some tempting privilege - to go back, apply for the job in the CIA again and become their mole. Richard planned to accept their proposal and find the way to renege it afterwards.
Richard went back to the hotel, he was supposed to sleep in last night, as fast as he could. Putin and Kovalev were on edge and restless. When they saw Richard, they were like seeing the messiah hovering above the sky. The writer was enormously relieved : If this had been a blackmail, they would have acted as the villains. Their boss, Golitzen, would have sat on sofa with his legs crossed, waiting for negotiation.
Putin gleefully embraced Richard.
"Thank Go.. Lenin! I am trying to contact Alyona, but she doesn't show up at the office today. I know you are just coming from some hotel, and she was gone before you woke up, right?"
Richard smiled awkwardly and asked,
"How do you know? Does she ever do like this to anybody?"
Kovalev chimed in,
"No, we just make a wild guess. Mr.Cunningfort , we must hurry now, otherwise we will miss our train to Leningrad. And our today schedule will be an utter shambles."
Good luck for them that they hopped on train in time. Richard nearly made the rank-and- files like Kovalev and Putin reprimanded and probably demoted. The thought about Alyona had been plaguing him about her true aim all the time. However, while in the toilet, he turned to thoroughly look over his body and find that he had not had a sexual intercourse at all last night. His worry still wasn't diminished , but he was at least certain that 2 of his traveling companions were not in cahoots with Alyona.
Leningrad's former name was Saint Petersburg. It used to be the capital city of Russian empire for 2 hundred years. After the revolution in 1917, Mr. Lenin, the leader of Bolsheviks, moved the government offices to Moscow for the sake of security. However, Saint Petersburg still preserved its grandeur and cultural importance so well that even Moscow couldn't be its rival. If the Romanov dynasty had not been abolished, this city would have been much more imposing - the shining star among the cities of Europe. Still, a good number of beautiful churches were incredibly intact, though the communism had the utmost intention to eradicate religions deemed as opium for the proletariats. Richard was so in love in this city that he had even asked for visiting it first on his schedule, but the Soviet authority insisted that to visit Mr. Brezhnev was his first priority.
Kovalev drove the car borrowed from the KGB branch in this city to lead Richard wherever he wanted to go. Putin showed his incurable talkativeness once more; he kept chattering and pointing to every place in Saint Petersburg like a professional tourist guide. But sometimes he told Richard that an ulterior desire in his life was to become the local politician and develop his hometown with his heart.
The wide and tortuous Neva River as Saint Petersburg’s main river didn't fail to impress Richard like the first time he set foot on this bridge many years ago. The river's glittering surface from sunlight made it appear to welcome his return. There the writer saw the Winter Palace on the bank from a distance. He wanted to visit there to absorb the spectres of Tzar Nicholas 2 and his family, but Putin said it had been closed temporarily for renovation. Their next schedule was therefore the Catherine Palace 30 km south from here. It was the stunning two-storey building commissioned by Tzar Peter the Great for Catherine, his wife, in 1717.
The road to the palace was increasingly narrow and desolate , just the vast forest and gardens with the sporadic sights of houses or churches. They suddenly met the large truck parking before them in the position that was hindering their car. Richard instantly knew that they were being in the serious trouble ; he told Kovalev to make a volte-face. Before Kovalev would follow his order, another truck was coming behind them. Putin was stupefied and tried to ask for help via walkie-talkie, but there was nobody responding to him. The Large group of men got out of both trucks with the modern assault rifles ; they all wore the balaclava masks to hide their identities. Everyone in the car immediately knew that they weren't the ordinary robbers or kidnappers.
Kovalev pulled his revolver out of the shelf and talked to Richard:
"Mr.Cunningfort, leave the car and run into the forest as fast as you can ! I and Putin will obstruct them here to buy you some time."
Richard still had a nerve to smile.
"No, Kovalev. Both of you will die in vain because I won't survive in that forest even for more than just an hour as there are plenty of them. And I guess some of them are also the natives of this place. Just wait to see what their purpose was. We can have the negotiations."
Kovalev and Putin looked at each other. Richard saw the sweat on Putin's face and bald head. The young man shook a bit, but he managed to restrain his fear.
Kovalev ridiculed his friend :
"Putin, you always brag about your superb skill of Judo? Now it is time to display it."
One member of the group approached the window of Putin and said politely,
"Dobraye ootra (good morning), comrades. Would you step out of the car please? But first of all, surrender all your weapons to me."
3 of them had to cave in to his command and raise their both hands while walking to a person, who was presumably their leader. The leader who appeared smaller than everyone suddenly took off his mask.
"General Miloslav Arseny? Aren't you already dead from the execution?" Putin shouted.
General Arseny was one of the promoters of coup d’état which attempted to overthrow Brezhnev. After the terrible fate of the coup, he was put on trial and sentenced to death, along with other leaders.
The General chuckled.
"It is my great pride that even a humble KGB agent like you still recognizes me. I always know that I am extremely famous for the Russian people. Are you now stunned by my ghost? Nyet , don't you remember that bribery is rampant in our great motherland ? Fake death has been practiced in this country for decades. Now I can find my faithful peers hidden in this government and gather our men enough to stage a coup again, sending that old codger [Brezhnev] along with his cohorts to their graves for real."
Putin looked around and the General burst out laughing.
"Don't look for your reinforcement. They are all our friends. They kept being on your tail, but now they are just waiting to collect 3 of your bodies into the bags. Remember one thing : it is them who had spilled the beans about your schedule. So, your organization is rife with corruptions too."
Kovalev interrupted furiously,
"To hell with those bastards ! General , your intention is to avenge your previous failed coup by killing Mr.Cunningfort , right ?"
The old man nodded.
"Yes, your agency has gotten wind of our presence and tries to trace us. But we are like a spectre which adroitly evades its detection. However, it is irresistible to resurface before the coup to kill this hero who had ruined everything about us. Funny that we don't even bother to send the spies to assassinate him in the US as , miraculously, he is now stepping under our deadfall !"
He then spoke in fluent English to Richard :
"I am tremendously thrilled to see you in the flesh , but it will certainly give me far more excitement to shoot you with my own hands , Mr.Cunningfort. You must pay for your sin to have wreaked havoc on the coup and the bright future of Soviet. Hello and goodbye , my American hero, ha ha."
Richard snickered and looked at Kovalev and Putin while blinking his eyes repeatedly.
"Gentlemen, it is my sorrow to unwittingly lead you into this senseless revenge. I hope we will fight to our death together."
All of a sudden, Richard forcefully grabbed a rifle from the guy who was standing next to him. He used the rife buttstock to subdue its owner and shot the General almost simultaneously. Both KGB agents drastically followed suit and were successful too. Other men from afar tried to shoot them but Richard used the bloody body of the General to shield his group. The writer later shot at those guys, but they scattered to hide behind the truck. Kovalev led Richard and Putin to drag the General up into the forest and use the trees as their shelter.
Both sides had exchanged gunfire for a long time, but the incoming bad news was that Richard's side was running out of ammunitions, and the General was already dead as well.
Putin pretended to shout at the other side that he would kill the General if they kept following them. They didn't know whether their ultimatum was accepted or not, because those assassins were still fiercely attacking them with a large hail of bullets. Kovalev told Richard and Putin to run away while he was resorting to the last bullet. Both were reluctant , but then there was a coarse voice from behind. Several assassins were pointing rifles at them as they had furtively outflanked them several minutes ago.
3 of them were led to the same place with the ropes tying their hands behind their backs. The number of assassins noticeably dwindled as some of them became the pile of corpses instead. They showed their griefs to the late General , and a few even began to weep quietly. Some became furious and both kicked and punched their prisoners before taking them to stand on the lawn, while they were beginning to stand in a line - an execution.
Richard bad farewell to Kovalev and Putin, and vice versa. Both of KGB agents embraced each other though they couldn't use the arms. Putin lamented that he didn't get married to an American girl yet. The writer felt amused that eventually he had to die in the foreign land, a thousand miles from his hometown. If the next life had really existed, he would have been born in some family in Saint Petersburg ,waiting to witness the fall of the communist regime in the future. Nonetheless, the last thing popping up on his mind was Jennifer's beautiful face. He was saddened that he would never have a chance to embrace or kiss her like his dreams. He hoped he could still cherish the memories about her , even if he would become a ghost. The writer didn’t know whether she would do that to him or not, when someday she learnt about his death.
The assassins were thought to the professional soldiers since the process of execution looked too adept. They were directing the rifles at the prisoners, simply awaiting the signal from their leader.
The gangling guy, the second-in-command or probably the person most furious at the condemned prisoners, showed a hand gesture to his comrades to shoot. Richard hardly believed that he could see the process in extreme slowness like in an action film - probably the glitch of the frightened human brain. A fusillade of bullets was darting toward them, while the writer imagined the agony of being torn into pieces. Out of the blue, those bullets ground to a halt in front of them like a miracle. Much to everyone's amazement, they fell and lied idly on the ground. The group leader showed the mangled bewilderment and wrath. He nonetheless didn't wait for another minute to order his fellows to renew their mission, but the next bullets still encountered the same fate.
Before everyone would do anything, the sound of machine guns appeared from somewhere. All the executioners collapsed on the floor with a large splatter of blood. Few of the remaining assassins raised their hands to surrender to the newcomers. Those were a dozen of armed KGB operatives led by Golitzen.
The old man ordered his men to untie the prisoners and clear all the mess. 3 of them fell on the ground like the falling trees. The Deputy Chairman of KGB chortled while patting on their shoulders.
"The fate has smiled on you ! I am so sorry to come to your rescue almost late, as we had to fight with the traitors who had informed your schedule to these terrorists first. And it led to our delay more than we expected. Look! The corpse of our brave General Arseny is lying still here. Funny he can't cheat death with his strong connection anymore. Good ridden! Now we know all the bad weeds in our government who are in collaboration with him to stage another coup. At last, we can uproot them - the last cohort of enemies of the state."
Richard was disturbed by the idea that he ,as well as the innocuous officers , became unknowingly a pitiful decoy for Golitzen.
"Mr. Deputy Chairman, how do you know this attack would happen?"
Golitzen turned to Alyona who was walking from behind.
"We just know it roughly for a while, but that is not enough. So ,you should show your gratitude to this girl who has the psychic ability to predict it."
Richard immediately knew that her previous flirtation with him was merely a stage play. Golitzen pretended to leave Richard and Alyona alone by turning to talk with Putin and Kovalev who were still shaking while sitting or the floor. Kovalev then jumped up to vomit.
Alyona smiled at Richard, but the way of her speaking to him seemed much different -cold and distant.
"Hi , Mr.Cunningfort , I am truly sorry to cause your misapprehension. My ulterior intentions of seducing you are to investigate whether you are the spy of the CIA, when you were intoxicated. Putin unwittingly had given us the helping hand there. More importantly , I want to foresee your future via repeatedly touching your body. I therefore knew that today there would be an attempt on your life here."
Richard smiled back with embarrassment.
"Now every inch of my mind and body becomes awfully transparent to you ?"
Alyona stopped smiling and spoke more softly:
"No, though you were utterly drunk , your talk was mainly drivel. It was full of the political and philosophical jargons, and I found it extremely boring. So, I had to use my power to dive into your mind, but there was a wall around it. I could feel another power that was way superior to mine, trying to protect you. I even found my memory blacked out for sometimes. But I still managed to see your future at last, probably with the blessing of that power. However, I am certain that you are not the nefarious spy or at least any harm to our country come what may. Sorry again for my underlings to set up such a humiliating scene in that hotel. We didn’t want to take you back to those KGB rookies at your hotel since our plan could be leaked. Don’t be vengeful; it is purely professional."
Richard balked at smiling.
"That's OK. It is your job. But Alyona, my next puzzle is : it is impossible that the weapons of those assassins would be so crappy that they couldn't even send their bullets to the targets. Is this your power to protect us?"
"Hell no ! I could have lied to you that was me , but it is disgraceful. You should ask yourself whether some of your special acquaintance could cause this miracle. Goodbye then."
She nodded and walked away. Golitzen talked to Richard again.
"Don't hold a grudge against us that we had used you as a bait, as we are confident that we can protect you like just now Alyona used her power to stop the bullets [Golitzen misunderstood].By the way, I know that you fall in love with this city, plus you still can have two more days for sightseeing around here. We will make amends by sponsoring all your expenditure. But your tour guides must be changed as Putin and Kovalev are being assigned with another mission. And more bodyguards would be present to protect you though the situation turns to be absolutely normal. Mr. Brezhnev also told me if you feel that your wanderlust in the Soviet hasn’t been fulfilled yet, you can come back anytime (on a condition that you must visit him first)."
Richard almost burst with laughter and thought about leaving for the US today, but he still had the irresistible visiting places on his list. Nonetheless, the writer had to bid the real farewell to his comrades-in-arms. He embraced them. Kovalev kissed both of Richard's cheeks and told him to take care. Putin did the same to Richard in a voice that sounded like almost crying.
"Mr.Cunningfort, please keep in touch. As soon as I have the long holiday or even resign from this agency, I would right way come find you in the US."
Richard smiled and patted his back.
"Sure thing ! You and Kovalev are always welcome, as you are like my little brothers, passing the moment of death together. I know several foxy ladies whom I guarantee that can be your impeccable soul mate. Goodbye!"
Putin waved his hand and began to walk away with Kovalev. Richard all at once had some idea.
"Hold on ! Putin, I have a premonition that in the future you will become a bigshot - a very powerful man in this country. When that time comes, please sacrifice yourself for merely the well-being of your country fellows. Don’t start any goddamned war, bringing about deaths and suffering. Can you promise me?"
Putin paused and smiled broadly.
"Don't know that you also have a supernatural power of prophesy. Though this scenario you are concocting is absolutely ridiculous, my answer is: certainly, Mr.Cunningfort. I promise you!"
The writer could see a glint from Putin's eyes, that had aroused his suspicion for the rest of his life.
The last destination of Richard's last day on Russia's soil was Fyodor Dostoevsky's grave in the Tikhvin Cemetery in Saint Petersburg. Apart from Tolstoy, Dostoevsky was the great muse for Richard's writing career while he was in university. Though the genre of his novel was mainly the political thriller, he was frequently inspired by some subplots and philosophical ideas of this literary giant. Dostoevsky’s tombstone was attached by his remarkable bust which looked so sacred and unique. Though the grave stood lonely, there were several colourful banquets at its soil. Meanwhile, the grave of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, one of the greatest musical composers of Russia in the 19th century, was also situated not far from Dostoevsky's.
Richard kowtowed and laid the banquet to the grave. He spent minutes meditating like he was trying to have communion with the ghost of the late writer. He simply aimed to muster up his strength to write another novel in the future.
"Can't believe this is the last place of your adventurous visit in Russia!"
Richard looked at his left. That's Jennifer walking slowly toward him. She wore the thick black overcoat and blue jeans, but she still looked so dazzling like she was in the evening gowns in the sumptuous parties that had been frequently seen on TV.
Richard was obviously unfazed; she asked him with a little surprise.
"Richard, ain't you astonished to see me like this ?"
Richard then opened his arms. Jennifer rushed to embrace him tightly with laughter. She nestled her head against the chest of Richard and swung herself a bit like a toddle in the arms of her father, while the latter kissed her forehead sweetly. They then watched Dostoevsky's grave together.
“Jennifer, is Dostoyevsky your favorite writer ?”
She nodded to the grave and said,
“Not really, I prefer the American and British novels. I used to read his most famous novel like … ‘Crime and Punishment’ a few times when I was in high school. Still, I didn’t grasp its essence much. But he is such a formidable and insightful writer, I assume.”
“Don’t you think that novel’s protagonists bear a resemblance to me and you. It is about repentance and soul salvation.”
Jennifer smiled and twisted his nose gently.
“Perhaps I would go back to peruse it again. Talking with you, the great writer, makes me feel like I have to quit my job and spend my lifetime burying myself in the enormous pile of books.”
They both cracked up and walked together hand in hand on the path along the numerous graves. The horde of Richard’s Russian bodyguards mysteriously vanished into thin air, but this didn’t surprise him either.
Richard grabbed her soft hand.
"The reason I’m not staggered at your presence at all is : with your increasingly insurmountable power, you can do anything ,darling. Apart from stopping those bullets in the air , I know that you teleported yourself from New Jersey or California just within a second to stand right here with me or even controlled Alyona's mind to send the message to me last night."
"Yup, your hunch is always correct. Our emotional and spiritual affinity still goes safe and sound , although it is sometimes stained by our mutual misunderstanding. So, I can use that kind of power to save you without much effort. Alyona is the psychic like me and Lillian, but my power overwhelmed and controlled her like she was my puppet for minutes. She is so seductive, but she doesn’t mean any harm to you.”
Richard raised his voice.
"And your engagement ? Is this a misunderstanding?"
"Yes, I suppose you know the nature of my mother and my agent well. They always take liberties with everything about me. If I intend to be someone's fiancée or wife, why did I even bother to squander most of my power to go to Russia and deter those darn bullets from you? I thus would like to inform you about the good news: my engagement has been completely scuttled. I said sorry to Mr. Brad , including everyone, and declared the manifesto : not the kind of this thing in the next 10 years or more."
Richard caressed her hand and kissed it.
"You are a real free spirit. That's why you quietly left me that night. Until today I keep asking myself why you did that."
"I felt really head over heels for you. Are you already bored of my redundant remarks? The fate destines us to be together forever. Do you forget the day we first met ? Was it too coincidental that I was standing in front of my room to greet you while you were knocking on the door of Silvia's room? I knew even before your arrival that you were my soulmate who was stepping into my world . Richard, in a flash I thought I was willing to go anywhere in the world with you. I was more than ready to be your young lover or wife. But then I realized that it was merely the fantasy for a silly girl. But to run away from you doesn't mean I am not in love with you any longer. We both need the space to thrive on, but the road we are walking will eventually lead us to meet each other someday."
Both stopped at the beautiful verdant garden with a vast swathe of red roses. The sun on the cloudless blue sky became so strong, making everything exuberant, that was opposite to the foggy atmosphere in the cemetery. Richard didn't know whether that was really just the field near the cemetery, or the place conjured up by Jennifer.
"Jennifer , I am so grateful that you've shed light on the situations I have been marvelling at -much better than 15 minutes that we spent together in that university. May I keep asking you? Why did you act so hostile to me when I met you in the department store?"
The superstar chuckled.
"I was angry because you had someone else while our promise wasn't fulfilled yet. Even though I knew it was not your fault, I couldn't help myself agitated by your infidelity. It happened once more when I knew that you began to like Lillian, that woman spy. But again, I kept thinking of you, calling you up over and over again like the insane. Richard, you are always the tormented soul, filled with longing for me eternally. Remember the night at the MET opera house? I knew that you were there and desperately looking for me in the dark while 'Madama Butterfly' was being performed. Please learn that night I was looking for you too.”
Richard was about to dissolve into tears. Jennifer caressed his cheek and took him to walk on the green field.
"C'mon , don't be so weepy. You are a big boy now. And about the talk in bookstore? That was how I tried to compensate that for you. I knew that you were there even without reading the banner. I told my chauffeur to stop in front of the store and walked straight to that room. The minute I saw you as a speaker, I wanted so badly to hold you. But there were plenty of people, so I just bought your book and left the place quietly. By the way, I know that you are going to ask me the important question about the day of assassination : did I know it beforehand ?"
He nodded , so she confessed,
"I knew it vaguely. As I grew so exhausted from my overworks, my psychic ability became wasted. There were some pictures of pandemonium on that day periodically appearing as my visions , but I ruled out that it was just my delirium or some sort which I frequently met due to fallout of my ever-expanding power."
The writer interrupted,
"Without me , would those bullets be able to hit both you and President Jimmy Carter ?"
Jennifer was mute briefly.
"I don't know. I didn’t feel it coming and even your presence nearby. Perhaps without you, I would be lying in the grave right now. Under a veneer of my composure, I was too confused to resist the kidnap by Sylvia, or probably I was too glad to be near her , so I didn't want to hurt her. And it led to my worst nightmare : I didn't use my power to stop that guy from shooting us in the building, and it was you seriously injured just to save me. I was consumed with utmost guilt ever since."
Richard stopped walking and looked at Jennifer.
" That's why you used your body to shield me from Lillian's knife instead of using your power. But remember you spent all your power resurrecting me after I had been shot in that building , silly girl!”
She shook her head.
"I am not silly now , my darling. When you could even give up your life for me numerous times, why couldn't I do that to you? Richard, all the previous circumstances have proved that we are meant for each other. You are always my Prince Charming, and I am always your princess awaiting your rescue on the high tower. But this princess comes looking for the prince and rescuing him too."
Both stared at each other for a long time in silence. Richard then saw the dark corridor not far from them. He immediately knew that it was the way back to the US , as it was 7 hours behind Saint Petersburg. He guessed New York was already in the evening.
"Jennifer , are you going to say goodbye to me now ? Of course, the great superstar and the commoner must always be apart at the end of the story."
"Yes , Richard. And I am going to say as well that we will cherish our love together and wait for our paths to be crossed when that time comes: when the raindrops have disappeared, and the world is enlivened by our everlasting love. Remember I will always be your Miss Sunshine. But now, let me kiss you!"
Without Richard's awareness, Jennifer stood on tiptoe to kiss him.