Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Visit

House was too small a word for the structure was massive, spread out in a variegated glory of brick, stone, concrete, steel, sunlight flashing off perhaps a dozen or more bright colors, built into a rise of land in such a way that it was moot whether to say it had eight or nine stories or eight or nine levels. Despite the variation in textures, when the eye moved across nothing caught or held so that it skittered along in a wild burst of exhilaration, which was exactly, perhaps, what the builders had in mind. At its zenith, like a cherry sitting atop an ice cream cone was a single room, octagonal, windowed from floor to ceiling on every side, surrounded by a cedar deck, built for sun and air and view. That day, as Louie looked out the window of the chauffer driver car while the driver had a brief chat with the gate guard, the tables and chairs on the deck were crowded with guests. More were standing at the railings looking out over the countryside. And look you could for you could see ten or fifteen miles in every direction. To the south, the direction of the little station where Louie had been picked up twenty minutes before, if you looked very piercingly, perhaps squinting a bit, you could see the tiny steeple of the church standing at the center of town. It was early June, a glorious spring day, not a cloud in the sky, warm but with a gentle, cooling breeze from the west.

The driver dropped Louie off at an entrance on the side of the building. The front entrance, two huge oak slabs reached by a wide rise of granite steps, was used only for grand occasions such as family weddings or the Annual Ball which McNamara held every Fall. Waiting at the door was a young man whose duty it was to escort Louie to his suite. The suite was on the main level, two rooms, one a bedroom with adjoining bath and the other a sitting room. When the young man was leaving he said, “I hope you enjoy your stay, sir.” Louie was not used to being addressed in such a formal manner but managed a mumbled “Thank you.” The young man had a light southern European accent and olive brown skin. He was dressed in a uniform you would call a livery, a word which ordinarily you would find only on the pages of a novel about the English gentry. McNamara liked to mix things up. The art works, the sculptures and paintings strewn in what seemed to be a casual way all over the building but whose positioning, in truth, was carefully planned, were modernist or post modernist. Furniture, decoration, staff uniforms and the distant, correct, formal way in which they interacted with guests, was nineteenth century English.

The furniture and decorations of the suite went along with the livery. Louie considered himself an educated man, having since his early teenage years been an insatiable reader and roamer in many areas of human knowledge but the furniture and decorative forms of Old Europe was not one of them. His personal reaction to the furniture, which was, he had no doubt, genuine antique, a single piece worth many times his yearly income as a private investigator, and as well to the wall paper, the carved moldings, the gorgeous ceiling to floor many mullioned windows, the thick Turkish carpet on the floor, was to feel as if he had been suddenly thrust, by some perverse action of the cosmic power, into a great, dramatic tableau. No doubt this is what McNamara intended when some twenty years ago he had sat down with his designers and mapped it out. The four poster in the bedroom was large enough to sleep a family of tenant farmers. Several generations ago Louie’s people were tenant farmers. So were McNamara’s.

Having refused the servants offer, Louie unpacked his own suitcase, stowing into one corner of one drawer in the massive bureau near the bed, his small store of underwear, socks, shirts. He placed the items of personal toiletry on top of the bureau. Stepping into the bathroom and pausing for some moments to admire its ornate beauty; its shining and perfect cleanliness; its wonderful blend of expensive scents, thick towels, marble counter top spread with a dazzling display of cut glass containers holding aftershave, creams, body lotions, colognes and God knows what else, Louie stripped and took a shower. Afterward, beard stubble nicely softened, he shaved, not having to use his own gear for the counter top held four styles of razor, spray cans of foam and gel and two gigantic shaving cups with brushes large enough to lather a Clydesdale or sweep a floor. Reentering the bedroom he removed his best suit from its wardrobe bag – a fine, medium grey linen of classic, conservative cut, bought three years ago at a thrift store, subsequently altered by his skilful wife, who, at various times in her seamstress career, sewed for a theatre company and a stripper collective. It now fit him as if it were tailored. When he had donned the suit he sat in a comfortable antique chair at an elaborately wrought antique table, its top covered by a single plate of glass, and awaited the summons of the great man.

“The subject in question,” Said the secretary on the phone two weeks before, “Is a German National, a distinguished man, who will be arriving on the evening following the afternoon we are proposing that you arrive.” This was the way the secretary talked. Her voice was brittle, stressed and middle aged as the voices of those upholding invisible standards often are. “And what,” Louie replied, chameleon like falling into the style of the dialogue, “duties would I be expected to perform concerning the subject.”

“My employer,” said the secretary, achieving a tone few Divines have achieved when speaking of the Superior Being, “requires that the subject be observed at close range and that the themes and details of his conversation be reported to him.”

“That’s all?”

“That is all.” The secretary replied in a tone which implied that not only was that all but none other than an indiscreet barbarian would ask for more. When she told him the per diem they were proposing to pay, Louie could not agree more, it being ten times his usual rate. “Would this be adequate, Mr. Milson?”

“Quite.” He replied. A courier would be dispatched with half the money in cash and a round trip railway ticket the very next day, arriving at noon or shortly after. The stint was five days and he would be paid the balance in cash at the end of the five days.

Louie and his wife lived in a brick block in the old section of town. The apartment was quite lovely, due largely to his wife’s efforts for if left to his own devices Louie would live in a rat hole piled high with books and overflowing ashtrays. The neighbourhood was shabby but neither he or his wife minded for they had both been born into shabby neighbourhoods and found them both comfortable and homey. When the courier arrived just after noon the next day it became apparent that the secretary’s meaning of the word courier and their own were at variance. Instead of being a skinny youth arriving breathless on a bicycle, he was a large, middle aged man climbing out of the rear door of a Mercedes sedan. He looked about him suspiciously as if he expected to be rushed by muggers and swept quickly up the stairs to the front door of their building. At the apartment door he knocked – a polite, correct knock but one with an undertone of aggressive expectancy. Louie’s wife opened the door. Louie stood behind her. His wife was much better at dealing with strangers. Their usual practice was that she opened the door and greeted them boldly while Louie observed from over her shoulder.

The courier had about him the air of an unsuccessful pugilist with a nose broken so many times that it seem to travel outward in three or four directions all at the same time. Yet he had been trained in the arts of politeness, trained and tested no doubt, before being allowed to don the McNamara Livery. “Mr. Milson, please.” He said in a husky voice which led you to believe that if Mr. Milson were near he should step up immediately. Louie’s wife slipped off to one side and Louie stepped forward.

“I am Mr. Milson,” he said. The ex pugilist slipped a hand into the inside of his jacket, extracted a heavy envelope and handed it to him. “Count it, please,” he said.

Louie opened the envelope with his pen knife and counted the bills onto the surface of the hall table. He reported the results to the courier who handed him a receipt which he signed. Then the pugilist, with a wave of his hand, whisked himself off amazingly quickly for so large and well muscled a man. Marcia reached around her husband and deftly picked up the cash, stowing it into a small drawer in one of her sewing cabinets. Other than a piddling amount spent that evening at a Korean restaurant nearby, Marcia, the iron financier, doled it out among their outstanding bills in a way just as skilful as the series of deft movements she made when cutting out a costume.

The windows of Louie’s suite overlooked a meadowed park. Around the meadow, in a series of dazzling, slashing displays, were beds of brightly blooming flowers. At the far end a group of men were playing cricket. Closer by, in the middle distance, young ladies in long white dresses were playing a game of croquet. Occasionally, loud, lusty shouts arose from the cricketers. The ladies, however, were quite demure and the sounds of their conversation and the click of croquet balls were much too low to cross the distance and penetrate the heavy glass of the windows. After Louie had watched the silent movements of the ladies for some time, a knock came on the door and the secretary entered. “Mr. Milson,” she said in a tone which said a) that she suspected that he was not Mr. Milson but an imposter and b) that if, contrary to her suspicions, he were Mr. Milson then he had better explain himself immediately. Louie ignored the tone and replied, “yes, I am Mr. Milson.”

“Wonderful, wonderful.” Said the secretary, clasping her hands together and moving her elbows up and down in a pantomime of a bird about to take flight. “Mr. McNamara will see you now.” With this she turned abruptly and headed towards the door. Louie followed her down one corridor, then another and another until they finally came to a two person elevator which took them up four floors, letting them out directly into the old man’s office. He was seated at a large table at the far end of the room holding a fountain pen poised above a tall pile of papers. When they arrived at he table he rose, came round and shook Louie’s hand while giving a meaningful look to his secretary who scooted off and disappeared through an adjoining door.

“That woman is a dangerous idiot but she has her uses,” said McNamara.

“Hmmm,” said Louie, not knowing what else to say to such a revelation.

McNamara led them over the deep, pale blue carpet to a corner where there were two armchairs divided by a low table. The table held a platter of sandwiches, a platter of dainties and a tray of tea things. After inquiring about sugar and cream, McNamara fixed Louie a cup of tea and handed it across the table. “Gieger is a dangerous man as well but in a different way,” he said. Louie made a slight cooing sound to show that he was both honoured and informed by this confidence.

“He heads a gigantic German Industrial conglomerate.”

“Ah,” said Louie.

“Composed of so many companies that he has a secretary whose sole duty is to inform him every morning at ten o’clock sharp, you know these Germans, of who they are.”

“Ah,” said Louie.

“There are several hundreds with acquisitions and devolutions occurring every day. Sometimes the names change when the companies do not. Sometimes the country of registration changes according to the ebb and flow of tax regulations.”

“Ah,” said Louie.

“A significant point, don’t you think?”

“Certainly. Very significant.”

“I thought you would see the point quickly. My informants tell me that, although in your profession you are somewhat obscure, you are a man of high intelligence.”

“Why, thank you,” Louie replied, wondering who McNamara’s informants might be.

“A lot of dumbos in this world walking around with craniums stuffed with cotton wool. That’s what I would get if I employed one of those front line agencies as they call them. Front line in fleecing their clients and giving them in return illiterate reports jammed with paranoid banalities. Read Nietzsche, do you?”

“Well I have, some years ago.”

“Excellent! Gieger reads Nietzsche. In fact he loves Nietzsche. He travels with a leather bound set of his complete writings.”

“I see,” said Louie.

“My informants tell me that he never makes a major business decision without first reading a chapter of the great man.”

“I see.” Said Louie.

“Sometimes two if the chapters are short. Are some of the chapters short?”

“Well, it depends on what you mean by a chapter.”

“’Thus Spake Zarathrustra’. They say that’s his favorite. Did you like it?”

“I found it interesting.”

“Interesting?” said the old man, raising his heavy eyebrows and looking suspiciously at Louie. “That’s a non word, a weasel word. Do not let me hear you use it again. Almost as bad as those ‘communicators’ as they call them today, using the phrase ‘going forward’. What the hell does that mean? Is it possible to go into the future sideways or backwards? Idiots! Don’t let me catch you using that phrase. It is beneath an intelligent man like yourself. Now, explain what you mean by saying Nietzsche is ‘interesting’ but don’t use the word. Please remember I forbid it.”

Louie cleared his throat and said, “I find Nietzsche stimulating but imbalanced. He shrieks at the hypocrisy of others because he has not bothered to become familiar with his own.”

“The man is a dangerous lunatic,” said McNamara. “A debunker of traditional values. Why is a man like Gieger reading such incendiary trash? Perhaps you can tell me that.”

“Well, maybe it’s because Nietzsche is a Nihilist. Perhaps Gieger has a Nihilist side and Nietzsche excites him.”

“Excellent! I think you have hit the nail on the head. He runs an industrial empire with an iron fist by day and in the evenings he indulges himself in Nihilist binges. Very German. Very schizoid. No doubt after reading Nietzsche he has his withered German ass paddled by strapping Valkyries. These Germans are too much. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother with them. If it wasn’t for the exigencies of business I wouldn’t allow them into my house. You are not married to a German, are you?”


“Good. Now let’s get down to business. It’s very simple. Gieger will be here for four days. You are to shadow him and listen to everything he says. No recorders, no electronics. I don’t go in for that sort of thing except in very particular circumstances. They can backfire on you, let me tell you. Just remember as best you can and when you get a few moments alone take notes. You and I will get together now and then during the four days and you can tell me your findings.”


“Don’t worry if he seems suspicious of you. He’s not dumb. Within a few hours he will have figured out who you are and what you are doing. He is a sophisticated man and will not mind at all. That’s the way these things are done. He may even become very friendly and confiding with you and perhaps give you a present before he leaves. Accept the present by all means. Just remember who is paying your per diem. If you do a good job, as I am sure you will, there will be a bonus in it for you. Got it?”


“Do you promise me you will not use the word interesting again?”

“Yes, Mr. McNamara.”

“Excellent. Gieger swills beer by the gallon – light German stuff, the old gut bag. Nietzsche and German beer – what a combination. He travels with three or four nieces as he calls them. Watch that he doesn’t sic one of them on you. They are gorgeous apparently and you are a young man with, no doubt, the normal male appetites. Be on your guard. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

“Yes Mr. McNamara.”

“Leave me then. I have other business.”

Wilhelm Gieger was a tall man, six foot two or three. Despite what McNamara said about his beer drinking he was slim with only the slightest of jowls beginning to form under a clearly demarcated jaw line. He was younger than Louie had imagined him to be, between forty-five and fifty. He had jet black hair, a high forehead which gave the impression of intelligence and two round, cheerful eyes which looked out upon the world with a bright look of ironic amusement. Louie liked him right away and after four days in his company, he liked him even better.

Gieger’s ‘nieces’ were indeed Valkyries – four strapping blondes, stunningly beautiful, dressed in the height of conservative fashion from the most expensive shops in Paris and Berlin. When he first met the five of them, standing at the railing of the high balcony, it struck him immediately that relations between the women and Gieger was very different than what McNamara had told him. Gieger spoke to them respectfully. Although in some way they were obviously subordinate to him, in others they seemed to be equals. The women, although on occasion lightly flirtatious with him, acted towards him in general as if her were an indulgent father or a favourite uncle. At the first breakfast they sat on his left and spoke mostly among themselves. Occasionally one would slip a notebook from her handbag and write a brief note, sometimes in German, sometimes in English, in a clear, legible script as if she were a tourist at a historical site keen to catch the salient points of a guide’s description. Gieger himself spoke perfect, unaccented English. The young women’s speech ranged from the heavily accented to very light. This charmed Louie who found beautiful women speaking with a German accent mildly decadent, delightfully sensuous. But the women themselves were far too intense and real to be reduced to erotic stereotypes and he consciously pushed this aside in talking to them.

When Louie approached them at the railing Gieger seemed to know immediately who he was. “So there you are!” he said, clasping both of Louie’s hands in his own as if he were meeting a long absent brother in a railway station. He invited him to sit on his right for breakfast. When Gieger looked up from his menu and noticed Louie’s eyes resting on his ‘nieces’, he said, “Lovely aren’t they? But don’t worry. You won’t have them sneaking into your suite late at night. They are too prim and proper for that sort of thing! Such things occur only in the mind of that old crocodile, McNamara. Actually these young women are forced upon me by those terrible German women who spend a great deal of time making we male business men feel guilty for the patriarchal past, or present as many of them would still insist. The company has a program to bump women up the ladder, so to speak, thus creating at least a few air holes in the glass ceiling. They are all junior executives, very serious and ambitious persons who take notes constantly and wear me to a frazzle by the end of the day asking me questions for which I am forced to invent answers which they take so seriously I must consume buckets full of energy keeping my face business like so they will not tell everyone, when we get back home, that I have been making fun of them. The one at the far end, distancing herself from accusations of nepotism, is my niece. My wife insists on this for although I have been faithful to her and our six children for thirty years now she claims the only male who can be trusted among beautiful women is dead or impotent and I am neither. Yet I am pure as the driven snow at least when it comes to overt physical acts and even my dear wife would not dream of extending herself into the regions of mind control. If you tell McNamara that one of these women is my real niece he will accuse me of incest for although he is a first class businessman his mind is a cesspool of repressed perversions which he delights in projecting on to those around him. He believes, much as Sade believed, that all humans are sexual predators, and that all Europeans are depraved sensualists, we Germans the worst among them. Such foolishness, for the tragically minded, can be a heavy burden to bear. For the more practical and strategic it can offer a kind of smoke screen behind which certain operations can proceed undetected.”

When he had completed this oration Gieger smiled happily and ordered bacon and eggs from the waiter who was waiting patiently, pen poised above his order pad.

“What he wants,” He resumed when the order was given, “ is certain companies which are in possession of certain chemical processes having to do with copper refining. He perceives, poor ignorant Irish barbarian that he is, that these companies are in distress and in need of an influx of capital. Being a dutiful Christian he is always on the lookout for companies in distress so that he can come charitably to their aid. The only problem with this belief is that the information underpinning it is incorrect and even if it wasn’t he would still have no chance of acquiring these companies for the ridiculously low prices he is accustomed to paying. However, be that as it may, certain chemical processes could be leased to him under license if he could be made to see their value, even encapsulated, as he would see it, in a repulsive legal envelope, in return for a controlling share of three copper mines he owns in the mountain regions of South America. Do you think he would be interested in this?”

“I have no idea.”

Gieger laughed. “Ask him then.”

Later that evening when Louie was smoking a cigarette at his ornate table, dressed only in his underwear for the weather was muggy and close and McNamara would have no truck with the modern evils of air conditioning, a key was inserted in the door from the outside and in walked the old man himself. When he had closed the door behind him he looked to his left and to his right and said, “No ‘nieces’ I see.”

“Gieger claims they are nuns of some sort.”

“Sneaky old snake. And I suppose he also claims they are the ones who drink all that German beer. Did he quote from Nietzsche?”

“Not yet.”

“Don’t worry he will. He’s just settling in, getting the lay of the land. One of these nights he’ll get loaded and tear your ears off with nihilistic ravings. Did he mention the copper processes?”



“Licensed use.”

“Slippery Kraut. What’s he want?”

“An interest in three Bolivian copper mines.”

“He does, does he? Minority of course.”


“My God next he’ll want my left testicle. Tell him I would rather have sauerkraut stuffed up my ass than sell majority. Twenty percent straight trade. Ten year licenses on the processes.”


When he was halfway through the door McNamara turned. “There’s a barrel bolt on the door. Send it home before you go to bed. Naked Valkyries are hard to resist. I had a few myself when I was younger.”

“Twenty percent,” Louie said to Gieger the next day over breakfast. Gieger’s niece, who was sitting next to him, having, perhaps, overcome her fears about nepotism, and writing in her notebook, asked him a question in German. “English,” he replied to her. She reddened a little and asked in near perfect English. “What would the equivalent be in Marks?”

“My dear Inka I have no idea. We are talking about a trade here and what counts is the equivalency of the assets. Ask El when she shows up, if she ever does, the sleepyhead.” Then he turned to Louie and said. “That man would have gangsters toss his own mother into the river to save the cost of cremation. I was thinking sixty but I am a reasonable man and will lower it to fifty-one. What does that man do for pleasure I wonder? Pulls the wings off butterflies I suppose. Today at three I have a free hour. Perhaps you would like to come to my suite for a coffee and a few decadent German pastries.” Gieger rose and moved towards three men with a mid eastern appearance who were eating crepes at the next table. He sat down at their table and engaged them in conversation. When Louie passed them by fifteen minutes later they were speaking French about, as far as Louie’s imperfect French would allow him to make out, horse racing. Inka went down in the elevator with him and made him promise to come that afternoon.

“So far we have been discussing four chemical processes,” said McNamara. “Let’s see if he is willing to include two others.” He was gazing out his office window at the scene in the meadow below. “Sometimes I wonder where all these people come from and who has invited them,” he said, watching the tiny figures below moving about on the green lawn. He looked at Louie sharply as if he had said something critical. Louie looked back with as bland and neutral a face as he could muster. McNamara gave out a rare, brief smile. “No, Mr. Milson. I am not becoming senile. It’s just that when you arrive at my age to the position I have attained, so many decisions must of necessity be delegated to underlings. Eventually you reach the point where the underlings making the decisions have been hired by other underlings who have been hired by other underlings and so on, until around you has been constructed a machine you feel yourself only vaguely related to. Then you start asking yourself questions like who really does control this machine and even entertain, at least philosophically, the notion that no one does for it is a kind of collective creation of human desire controlled as much, perhaps even more, by the gardeners and the chauffeurs and the secretaries as it is by its nominal head, the man at the pinnacle, yours truly. Old age is a time for questioning what we know and if we question forcefully and well we find we know next to nothing. The other two processes are known as XKE and 693-P. Will you remember that?”


“Fine then. Ask that old Viking what he has to say.”

Gieger’s suite was, of course, palatial. The women had taken over one corner of the immense sitting room and turned it into an office. All four were speaking rapid fire German into their cell phones. Around them, perhaps as a kind of guard against the frivolity which beauty sometimes attracts, was a rampart of portable plastic tables lined with laptops. Gieger had his jacket and shoes off and was laying full length on the sofa or whatever the proper name was for the damask covered, fat legged piece of furniture facing the window.

“I have a cottage on the Baltic sea,” said Gieger. “I should be there now sailing with my children and leave all this wrangling to these very efficient and very capable women. Perhaps this is the way it will be in the future. The men will busy themselves with hobbies and happy pastimes while the women batter away at one another over interest rates, licensing fees and tariff barriers. Then the statistics on heart disease and ulcers in relation to the sexes will reverse themselves and women doctors will instruct their female patients to stay home and play stimulating games with their young children in the backyard garden. I sometimes have heretical thoughts. One of them is this. That it is indeed possible that those who all the world thinks of as winners are really losers. Can you imagine a man in my position entertaining such incredible unorthodoxies? No doubt I should retire soon. I used to be a professor you know and you will be very surprised when I tell you my field. Philology. Comparative languages. I specialized in Old Norse. The sagas. Savage according to the do gooder sensibilities of modern people who like to pretend that their rape of the world’s resources is really an attempt to rescue the international poor from the ravages of ignorance and hunger. At least the old Vikings did not add hypocrisy to the sins of rapine and pillaging. Read them, have you?”

“Yes. In translation of course.”

“Nothing wrong with that. There are some very good translations today by people who have that rare combination of scholarly knowledge and literary sensibility. Would you like to see my Nietzsche’s? That old monster must have told you about my addiction to Godless Nihilism. Did he?”

“O yes.”

Gieger rose and led Louie to the corner of the room farthest from the women where there was an oak bookcase filled with the leather bound books. He handed one to Louie who turned it over, opened it and perused a few pages in what he hoped was a reasonable imitation of a man looking at a beautiful object from the point of view of a knowledgeable amateur. He handed it back and Gieger replaced it in the bookcase.

“Since you carry these about with you, you must have an admiration for the man.”

“No I do not. I think he is a raving boor. Every aging civilization, like that of Old Europe, produces a few. I enjoy reading parts of him, mind you. He can be entertaining but on the whole I find it puerile. Nietzsche is a naïve virgin of thirty who has just found out that his parents have sex, and who cannot stop shouting from the rooftops what everybody else has known since the age of twelve.”

“McNamera thinks you adore him and use his works as a kind of cryptic business code.”

“The company spends much time and money encouraging such delusions in the minds of our business rivals. Not my area of expertise but like all good servants of the company I must play my part. I read scholarly works when I have the time and enjoy the intellectual jigsaw puzzles assembled by the authors on the basis, in my field, of scant evidence, conjecture a lot of it, but enjoyable none the less. When I want excitement I read Sci Fi. Modern Literature I avoid like the plague excepting the South Americans who are as gorgeously barbarous as the Old Norse. I am speaking of subject matter, of course. In artistry they are without compare.”

“McNamara is interested in XKE and 693-P.”

“Ah. I was wondering when he would get around to that, the old fox. Quid Pro Quo?”

“Forty percent plus a special profit division on mine number two.”

“He must be taking drugs!”

“Vichy water only.”

“To such a devious mind Vichy water becomes a drug. He can have the original four, fifteen years, for thirty-nine. If he wants the other two we will require fifty-one.”

“Well,” Said McNamara, “Did you get to see the babes half unclad?”

“No. They were in power suits and on cell phones.”

“The old sneak. Veils within veils. Brush away a smokescreen and there is another in technicolour and Three-D. When the door is locked and bolted it will be a horse of another colour, let me tell you. Naughty Wilhelm being chased by Valkyries brandishing punishing switches! So what did he say?”

Louie told him.

“The old Nazi. Well he doesn’t have the Luftwaffe to back him up this time. Tell him forty-five for all six at thirteen. Damn Germans. They practically invented chemistry and now they think they have everyone by the balls.”

At supper Gieger talked of the Greek poet, Cavavy. “I’m not gay myself but Cavavy’s attitude to his homosexuality brings to his poems of lost love, brief encounter, a poignancy, an almost unbearable tristesse. No? This is a great achievement whether you are talking about boys or girls.”

“I like his sparseness, his stoicism,” said Louie. “He uses no similes or metaphors. Straight narrative. So much poetry today is nothing but metaphors with no cdore or center to them.”

“Very true,” said Gieger, “but then ninety-nine percent of produced words are drivel in all ages. Nothing new in that. So what did he say?”

Louie told him.

“Hmm.” He said. “Tell him this then. The six for twelve years. A seventh he will be interested in, LL 649 by name, for five and fifty-one percent.’ He pulled a paper from his inside pocket and handed it to Louie. “A precis on LL649.”

McNamara read the précis four times before he looked up. “They are so clever. You have to give that to them by God. So driven, so focused. Hard to think of another people who punch so much above their weight as they do. Fifty-fifty with an agreed upon German South American as the CEO. The six for twelve, fine but the seventh for ten not five.”

This was the terms of the final agreement with the slight change of all seven processes for ten. Gieger had his ‘nieces’ on the cell phones immediately arranging for executives to be transferred to South America. They were speaking German into the phones full speed when Louie came into the room to say goodbye. Gieger was singing a song. Louie’s University German was enough to translate.

“Backdated Visas are certainly better than no Visas at all.”

He was clapping his hands together and doing a little dance shuffle on the Turkish rug. When he stopped to deal with Louie the women put their phones on their shoulders and clapped enthusiastically. Gieger took a bow.

He was all smiles. “Real ownership is direction and profit taking. Never forget that,” he said, leading Louie over to the table where they sat on opposite sides. On the table top was a Dresden China music box. Gieger made an expansive gesture with both hands indicating to Louie it was his and he was to pick it up and look it over. Louie pulled the box towards him and lifted the lid. A porcelain ballerina twirled slowly while the box played ‘Ode to Joy’.

“A token of our appreciation,” said Gieger. Louie closed the box abruptly cutting off the music. “Thank you,” he said.

“A reproduction, of course, but a fine one at that. My investigations tell me that you would prefer our substantial appreciation to be in a form other than pawnable music boxes.” Gieger passed a key across the table, a locker key numbered 475. “Bus Depot,” said Gieger. Louie put the key in his pocket. He rose and shook Gieger’s hand. As he was going out the door all the women came running over, cell phones still at their ears, and gave him, one after the other, a kiss on the cheek. Louie actually blushed. Gieger, who was watching with great pleasure, said, “ah! So that’s what it’s like when you are still young and beautiful.”

McNamara came to say goodbye when he was sitting in the car on the drive. The chauffeur lowered Louie’s window automatically and the old man handed him an envelope and shook his hand. “You did very well and so did I. You can’t realize how satisfying it is to a man of my generation to put the boots to a bunch of Krauts,” he said, then turned on his heel and walked back to the house.

There was a small, very expensive leather briefcase in the bus depot locker. When he got back to the car he looked inside. Cash. He opened McNamara’s envelope, removed the cash, counted it, jotted a number onto the envelope and stuffed both into the briefcase.
When he entered the apartment Marcia was working at her large sewing table. He motioned her to remain seated, opened the briefcase and dumped the contents onto the table. They both looked at it, a little stunned. Then he removed the music box from the bag he was carrying and placed it on the table beside the money. Marcia lifted the lid and they both watched the ballerina turn while the music played. When it was done Louie sat down and they began counting the money.

“Mr Billingsly. Come to the front desk. Mr. Billingsly, to the front desk.”

The intercom’s quality was low. The voice had a hollow, tinny sound yet was distinct enough for Harry to get the message. He rose from his chair and walked across the gleaming linoleum until he arrived at the front desk.

An older woman was reading from a form lying on the blotter before her. When he came to a stop she gave no sign that she noticed him. She continued reading. She wore the uniform of an auxiliary, on its shoulders a captain’s insignia. She had steel gray hair, cut short. When she finally brought her eyes up she looked not at his face but at the center of his chest. While she spoke she never once looked into his eyes.

“Your place of residence, Mr Billingsly, is sector IV. Yet it says here, in this report, that the arresting officer apprehended you in sector VII. Perhaps you could explain.”

“I fell asleep on the bus.”

The Captain grimaced. Her whole body seemed to tighten in a spasm of disgust.

“You are aware, Mr Billingsly, that a Citizen III is not permitted inter sector travel without special permission from the Ministry. Are you aware of this, Mr Billingsly?”


“Yet you had no permission, no travel card issued by the Ministry. And still you were in sector VII when you reside in sector IV. Perhaps you could explain this to me?”

“I fell asleep on the bus, mam.”

“We are dealing with the law here, Mr Billingsly, not sleeping patterns or personal self indulgence. You are a Citizen III. For inter sector travel you are required to have a permission card. You were out of your sector without a card. Are you aware of the penalties involved?”

“Not really.” Actually Harry was painfully aware of the penalties involved but thought it best to pretend otherwise.

“You will address this officer employing the proper formalities, Mr Billingsly.”

“Sorry, Madam Captain. I am aware that there are penalties but am ignorant of exactly what they are.”

“Then I will inform you. Termination in the most serious of cases. A prison term for the less serious. A location bracelet and daily reporting for the minor. Into which category, Mr Billingsly, would you say your particular case fits?”

“I don’t know Madam Captain.”

“Of course you don’t know, Mr Billingsly. You are one of those ignorant persons who cannot be bothered knowing such things and yet complain bitterly when the consequences of their irresponsible actions fall upon them. Is this not true?”

“Yes, Madam Captain.”

“There are many of my colleagues who would like to see the city cleansed of persons like yourself, persons who make no contribution whatsoever and who are a millstone around the neck of the New Reality. I must say I cannot help but sometimes agree with them. Do you agree with them, Mr Billingsly?”

“I can understand their point of view, Madam Captain.”

“Offences against the law are inexcusable, Mr Billingsly. Yet the Sentencing Tribunals have better things to do than deal with insignificant persons such as yourself. You have had no other charges against you in the past ten years. Therefore I am dismissing you with a warning. Sleep at home, Mr Billingsly. Second offences are always sent to the Sentencing Tribunal. I don’t think I would be giving away any secrets to tell you that a second offence is almost always dealt with by termination. The fact that a Citizen III even comes before the Tribunal is almost enough cause for such a sentence. Do you understand, Mr Billingsly?”

“Yes, Madam Captain.”

“Go then. There are others waiting.” She pushed a signed Dismissal card across the surface of the desk. Harry picked it up and walked out of the building.

Harry’s ‘residence’ was a room in a brick block in the Citizen III area. The building had no heat or electricity, and no plumbing. Residents peed into a drain in the basement which miraculously, still emptied into the sewer system. They defecated into plastic bags, tossing them, in the black nights when the city was in almost total darkness, into the garbage bins of the administrative center nearby. They used the public tap outside the building for water and cooked on single burner gas stoves, containers purchased on the black market. The building, its foundations disturbed by shelling, part of its east end torn away by mortars, was a miserable wreck. Most of the windows were blown out, the doors askew and the brick walls were cratered here with holes and there with long cracks extending from the roof to the foundation. All night long, when the city’s din had gone to sleep along with most of its citizens, the building emitted pops, creaks and groans any one of which very well may have been the announcement of its final collapse. Yet somehow, day after day, week after week, it managed to stay upright keeping the rain off the heads of its fifty-six residents and protecting them from the worst of the wind and cold

On the walk home Harry decided not to tell anyone in the building about his arrest. This did not, of course, include Louise. They shared a room on the top level, a strange room with the floor, ceiling and walls covered with bright orange insulated tarps Louise had stolen six months before from a construction site. The construction site was an official one for there had been no other kind of construction site for a long time. Those outside of official culture had to make do with the crumbling and the dilapidated. Material to make such dwellings livable had to be bought at high prices on the black market or stolen. Louise, a small woman with the lithe quickness of a young boy, was an excellent thief. The proceeds from her thievery provided most of their essentials. The penalty for stealing was termination. “Also the penalty,” Louise would say. “For not eating.”

When Harry told Louise she grew very grim. “No more runs,” she said looking intensely in to his eyes. Harry blinked a few times, ran his right hand over his face and replied, “I know. No more runs.”

After their supper of three baked potatoes and two apples, Louise took Harry’s Dismissal card and disappeared down the back staircase. When she came back, an hour later she pulled from the back pocket of her jeans a small roll of bills. The gangs controlling the black market issued their own currency. Louise had already done so but to include Harry they recounted the bills and had a discussion on what they were going to spend it on. This had partly already been decided by Louise who, before coming back to the room, had hidden half the bills in a secret place in the basement. Harry had the bad habit of giving money away and Louise saw as one of her duties to protect him from his overly generous impulses. When their discussion was finished they washed themselves from a five gallon pail of water in the corner and went to bed.

After the last, and most severe Crisis and then the Great Collapse which followed, up to three quarters of the population had been thrown into what had once been called the under class and was now called the official category Citizen III. There they found the old under classes – the poor, the disabled, the ill, drug users, gangsters and criminals who, both taking pity on the new arrivals and in their own self interest, taught them the ropes. The gangsters and criminals preyed on them, of course, as they prey on every one, but they also supplied the organizational structure creating the black market and as well a kind of rough hewn aristocracy among the Citizen III’s. They were successful in their world in the same way that members of the Official Culture were in theirs – they controlled and commanded resources, they had organization and planning and they could both reward and exact vengeance. Official Culture fervently wished that the great mass of Citizen III’s would evaporate, commit hari kari or go away somewhere and, quietly, politely, starve to death. They didn’t, of course, for human beings, Citizen III’s or otherwise, are greatly attached to the land of the living and loathe to leave it merely because they have become an inconvenience to others.

After it consolidated its hold on power, Official Culture was much troubled with the issue of what to do with the Citizen III’s. Fierce debates and a long period of in fighting and political wrangling finally resolved itself by the emergence of a dominant group referred to by every one, even they themselves, as the Eliminationists. As the name implies their proposal for solving the problem of the Citizen III’s was to exterminate them. But controlling elites are always greatly outnumbered by the population at large and must be careful not to pursue projects creating a fulcrum of this discrepancy. Even to act in a way bringing attention to the discrepancy is potentially dangerous.

In all the major cities a combination of police, army and militia units began a series of planned entries into the vast areas occupied by Citizen III’s and, in an orgy of murder, terror and violence, butchering everyone who came within their grasp. For some weeks they were successful and, excepting some sporadic resistance, unopposed. But the Citizen IIIs, led by an alliance of members of the old educated class thrown into their midst and the gangsters, organized and began to fight back. In the capital, the city of Harry and Louise, and in similar actions in other cities, this is what they did.

Informed by people of conscience from the Official Culture, for there were many among them who privately opposed the barbarism of the Eliminationists, that their enemies were about to launch a truly horrific assault, nicknamed ‘the final push’, on a certain date, at a certain time, they formed a deep U in their territory pointing away from the direction they knew the attack would be coming from. They evacuated this area. Along the edges and at the bottom of this U they created fortified positions, massing behind them large numbers of fighters. At the open top of the U they stationed a line of mobile fighters whose job would be to lightly resist, retreat, lightly resist, retreat, until they had drawn the enemy fully into contact with the fortified positions.

The enthusiastic Eliminationists, drunk on their past successes, delirious with visions of total victory, drawn by the easy collapse of the retreating Citizen III line, drove resolutely forward until they were stopped by the fortified positions manned by great numbers armed with weapons admittedly primitive but at close quarters very effective. Before they could recover and begin an orderly retreat two other forces of citizen III’s, armed with the best weapons thievery and the black market could supply, hit them on the flanks at their point of entry, joining hands, so to speak, at the center of their rear and cutting of their retreat. The butchery following was truly horrendous. Driven by fear, hunger and hate and the desire for vengeance for the murder of their relatives and friends, the Citizen IIIs came streaming over the walls of the fortified positions and slaughtered the invading force without exception. In the capital when it was all over, sixty thousand dressed in official uniforms lay dead in the streets.

But this was not all. Slaughter accomplished, the victorious Citizen III’s marched out of their area to the Main Administration Center and after a brief battle where they quickly overcame resistance, ravaging through the buildings killing everyone in sight including fifteen of the twenty members of the Governing Council. Some of the surviving members of the council who fled to army camps outside the city, wanted to send the army into the city and quash the rebels but wiser heads prevailed. The Citizen III’s now possessed large amounts of weapons seized from depots and armories and quickly swallowed into the belly of deep Citizen III territory. The army had no real Intelligence on these people and the generals, unsure of the loyalty of their troops, did not want to play a game of blind man’s buff. Instead elite units were sent into the city to retake the administrative center. This was easily accomplished for the Citizen III’s had retreated back to their own sector. Army engineers followed, building a series of four ring walls around the administrative area.

The Eliminationists were disgraced and replaced by those supporting a policy of containment. Army and police units moved out of the administrative area and reoccupied police stations and neighbourhood administrative buildings. But things were different from before. Excursions by the army and police out of their fortified centers now had to be done in force and large sections of deep Citizen III territory were now inaccessible to them. There was a pause, a truce of a kind, but it was an uneasy truce, one which could easily break out at any moment into all out war.

Harry Billingsly was a Buddhist monk. When the Eliminationists invaded Citizen III territory he helped man the barricades but while carrying on his shoulder a medic bag rather than a gun. He first worked behind the walls of rubble thrown up by Citizen III fighters then followed behind them when they flowed over the barriers to attack the Eliminationists. The slaughter distressed him deeply but he was a focused and practical man. He said silent prayers for the dead, both Eliminationist and Citizen III, while administering morphine and antibiotics, cleaning, stitching and bandaging wounds. He didn’t sleep for three days and three nights. He had the smell of blood in his nostrils for a month after.

Louise, on the other hand, commanded a small rocket launcher, one of the weapons the Citizen III’s used to knock out tanks and armoured vehicles. She also did not sleep for three days and three nights and for a month after had the smell of cordite in her nostrils. After the Citizen III’s took the administrative center she came back into her own area and collapsed in the hallway of her building. Harry found her there and carried her up to their room and put her to bed. She slept for thirty six hours. When she got up Harry was sitting in an old armchair by the entrance door. In his lap was the sawed off shotgun she carried with her on her thieving excursions. She walked across the floor and, full of fury and indignation, took it away from him. Harry smiled, glad to see her back to her normal self. He reached into his pocket and handed her a dozen shells he had found while tending the wounded. She took them and put them on the kitchen table.

“What’s the Buddha going to think of you sitting there with a loaded shotgun?” She asked him.

“I often run into people,” said Harry, “who seem to forget that the Buddha was a very practical man.”

“I don’t think you would see him carrying around a shotgun.”

“O I don’t know. Before he became the Buddha he would have carried the weapons of his day - spears, swords, bows. He was a Prince, after all.”

Before Louise put the gun away under the bed she checked the chambers. They were empty.

“Superstitious behavior on my part, Louise. If they had tried to come through the door I would have loaded it quick enough and both killed and died before I let them get to you.”

Harry had not fallen asleep on the bus. He was lying. But the Buddhist injunction against lying was over ridden by the fact that if he had told the truth he would have been executed and under such circumstances, telling the truth would have been tantamount to committing suicide, a much greater sin than lying.

The Buddhist organizations, some five years ago, had been disbanded and disappeared officially but in reality had gone underground. They formed a strong underground for they were organized, accustomed to silence and not incapacitated by fear of death. They spread out and melted into the population. Then they formed lines of communication and after a time of discussion, a program of practical action. Their members living on the fertile plateaus in the mountains five hundred kilometers north of the city organized the local people and began a vigorous program of cultivating even the more marginal plots of land. They called on their members in official culture to infiltrate committees controlling food production and use their resulting majority on the committees for the north to under report food crops in the area. The surplus they distributed through their own network, mainly to Citizen III communities in the cities. The gangsters, seeing they were feeding much of their community, left them alone. They made more money off gambling, the sex trade, guns, drugs and luxury items.

The foodstuffs, mostly rice, dehydrated potatoes, beans and flour, were sent down from the mountains at night in mule trains. At the foot of the mountains they were transferred to trucks and, again at night, driven on back roads into Citizen III areas of the city. Official Culture Intelligence began to hear reports of this but many of its officers were Buddhist. When complaints came up they were shuffled off to sympathetic officers who, after much investigation, came up with nothing. The group which drove the food into the city were even provided with a patrol schedule for certain roads. Sometimes patrols were ordered out of sectors where trucks were soon to come into areas where there was no activity.

Harry was the head of food distribution for his section of the city. When he had gone by bus to a meeting of other section heads he had broken an unwritten rule – never use a means of transport easily accessible to the agents of Official Culture. Usually he walked or bicycled but that day he had been delayed, was afraid of being late and the bus was much faster.

Louise was afraid for him. To come to the notice of Official Culture at all was in itself dangerous. Some police agent, trying to fill a quota might pull your name from a file, puff you up as a dangerous plotter in the latest fashionable paranoia and have you rounded up and eliminated. This had happened to people Louise had known personally.

She gave money, through a gangster connection, to a corrupt official who had the record of Harry’s arrest completely removed from the files. She did not tell Harry anything about this. It would worry him and stir up his moral scruples. Louise justified the expense not only by her love of Harry which was a truly focused and monstrous river of love, but by the fact that he was an important part in the food delivery chain. There were lots of people depending on Harry. The gangster agreed, cutting his fee for the file removal down to one half the usual price.

As a further measure Louise browbeat Harry into allowing her to follow him when he went out on his duties. “If they catch you,” she said, “they just might shoot you right there. It happens.”

Harry shrugged.

This incensed Louise. “OK for you stoic Buddha man but what about the hungry ones you leave behind?”

“Someone else would take my place and continue on,” he said.

This affected Louise as if she had been struck a powerful punch in the stomach. She broke down and wailed with such despair and abandon Harry had to hold her in his arms for ten minutes before she could stop. When she could speak she said, “There is no life for me without you. You know that.”

“I’m sorry.” Harry said. “You can follow me if you like.”

After this Louise shadowed Harry when he went out. The thieves collective she belonged to, recognizing she could work far less as a result, began paying her a small weekly salary.

In the early mornings Harry sat zazen for two hours while Louise knocked on doors in their building delivering food. When she got back to the room he was finished and had breakfast on the table, waiting. When they were finished eating he took off his sitting robe, an old blanket with a rough hole in the middle, and put on his street clothes. Under his jacket Louise made him wear a Kevlar vest. He always carried his medic bag hanging from his shoulder. Louise wore an oversized workman’s jacket. Under this was buckled a homemade leather harness with a holster on either side for two shotguns. In the pockets of the jacket she carried extra shells.

Louise went out first, crossing the street and waiting just inside a narrow alley on the other side. Harry came out, smiled sheepishly at her, something she told him not to do but which he did anyway, and started off down the street. Harry walked boldly, not strutting or with arrogance but with a kind of radical acceptance of the often confusing reality of the streets which Louise was sure would lead him to embrace even some terrible violence which might come his way. She sometimes made fun of his walking but in truth she admired it. She thought Harry a very courageous man, much more courageous than herself who relied on guns and quickness as allies against the violence. She followed some fifty feet behind. She told Harry that if anything happened he was to hit the ground and cover his head. She planned to shoot the shotguns a little high. He might be hit by a stray pellet or two but would be OK. She didn’t tell him this because she was afraid he might insist on remaining upright and dying with his attackers. He had promised her he would fall down but you never knew with Harry. Sometimes he could be very strategic and very sneaky.

Three months after the defeat of the Eliminationists official culture began to crumble. The gangsters cut off their food supplies and demanded outrageous payments to restore the flow. There were pitched battles and everyone you saw on the street was armed to the teeth. Official Intelligence assassinated four high ranking gangsters. The gangsters retaliated by, in one spectacular morning, killing the President, the Vice President, the Chief of the Police Ministry and the Chief of Intelligence. Official Culture was thrown into chaos. They retreated behind their ringed walls and were forced to pay exorbitant prices for food. Then in a counterattack the army created a corridor through the city to bring in supplies and foodstuffs. Every night the gangsters attacked its weak points and made off with convoys of supplies. The soldiers, farm boys for the most part and half starved themselves, began to desert in droves, reasoning that at least back on the farm they could eat. Taking whatever they could get their hands on for barter they went back to their places of origin.

A new hard man rose from the inner ranks of Official Culture. He made a deal with some gangsters and mercilessly exterminated others. He worked tirelessly to secure his power. He clove the remnants of the army to him by giving it extra rations and new weaponry. Not even bothering to bring trumped up charges against his enemies he had them shot wherever they sat or stood. He tried to attack the Buddhists for whom he had a particular hatred but found it hard to get a bead on them. He ordered Intelligence to infiltrate and destroy their food distribution program but Buddhist officers in the service blocked him. They equivocated and sent up smoke screens until he started planning a bloody clean up of the department. In the planning of this cleanup he brought in two high ranking secular officers whom he thought he could trust. At one of the planning meetings one of these officers, in despair at the approaching glutting of his service, pulled out his pistol and shot him through the head. Everyone was so terrified they fled the room leaving the shooter alone with the dead man. Ever the disciplined professional, the officer put another bullet through the leader’s head to make sure he was dead. Then he walked back to his unit. Later that day he left the capital. The Buddhists smuggled him north and he disappeared into the mountains.

A fearful committee of six arose from the ruins. Among them were a man and a woman from the south. From the events which had occurred over the past few years they had developed a bitter, experiential wisdom. They dominated the committee not by terror but with the force of their arguments. They ordered in special army units personally loyal to them to secure the ring walls and did not leave the administrative area for three years. They embarked on a program of rebuilding which showed considerable sagacity. They opened negotiations with the business clans now in exile in a country to the south. In return for certain guarantees they allowed them back into the country handing over to them the right to operate in certain market sectors of the economy. They negotiated with the Buddhists a reentry into food production and distribution. The Buddhists demanded an oversight committee with teeth and got it. Some of their major monasteries were allowed to reopen. Some of the gangsters became respectable and went to work for the businessmen.

The committee drew in the horns of the state. They reduced the numbers of police, bureaucrats, the armed services. They transfered whole sections of Intelligence over to a new ministry devoting to explaining the changes to the population. They removed all political offences from the statutes and repealed the laws creating three classes of citizens. Travel restrictions, requirements to register with the police were removed. A consumption tax system was introduced and, surprisingly, it was accepted by the majority of the population as a necessary evil. Hospitals and schools were restaffed, rebuilt and resupplied.

The new private enterprise food distribution system gradually pushed out the old Buddhist system. Harry was now running a food bank, distributing the excess from the business system. But he had grown weary and wanted to leave the city not for the monastery in the north where he originally had come from but for a Buddhist area in the mountain plateaus to a life of farming and meditation.

At first Louise was against it. “What would I do up there in the boondocks with a bunch of bowers and statue kissers?” she asked.

“Grow beans,” answered Harry.

“You should have mentioned that before, Harry. As long as I can do such an exciting thing as grow beans then how could I have any objections?”

Finally after weeks of discussion and argument Louise agreed to go. But first she extracted a quid pro quo. “I want two children, maybe three.”

“OK.” Said Harry.

“But before you said you didn’t want children.”

“Circumstances were very different.”

“You won’t hit them will you?”

“Certainly not. If one of us were to hit them it would most likely be you. You hit me.”

“Yes but you deserve it when I do.”

“And so will you say to the children.”

“When I become a mother it will be different.”

“Why?” asked Harry. “My mother hit us with the broom and only stopped when our legs grew long enough to outrun her.”


“Well nothing. Such things don’t leave until they are replaced with another.”


“Understanding. Way of seeing things.”

“O boy, here comes the holy lecture!”

“Nothing holy about that. Very pragmatic I would say.”

“I don’t think the Buddha is going to smile on a violent person like me.”

“Why do you say that? The Buddha would look at you and see a fierce, loyal, vigorous minded woman – just the kind he likes.”

“Sitting is boring.”

“I don’t know how you can say ‘boiling oil over a blazing fire’ is boring. To my mind worrying about what you are going to eat tomorrow or how many wrinkles you have is boring. And dreaming about perfect motherhood too.”

“You are a cynic.”

“No, a realist. There are things you could do to prepare for being a mother. Dreaming about them is not going to help you.”

“OK. OK. I’ll sit with you one stick in the mornings. But I’m not going to bow to statues or chant any of those weird chants of yours.”
“Not necessary.”

“And sex too. Don’t get any ideas in your mind of turning me into one of those wimped out Buddhist nuns.”

“What’s wrong with sex? I like it myself.”

“I know you do.” Louise reached out and patted his forearm. “Don’t worry. I’ve gotten used to your Buddhist pals over the years. To tell you the truth I like them better than most. They have a sense of humor. Gangsters, for the most part, have no sense of humor. They take themselves very seriously.”

“In the world they inhabit they have no other choice.”

Three months later Louise took the balance of their savings from her hiding place in the basement and used it to outfit the trip north. They bought two mules, chosen by Harry who had experience with mules, and a bright red wagon fitted with pneumatic tires and ball bearing wheels. Harry built a wooden structure over the wagon and they stretched one of the orange tarps over it. Then they packed up everything including the other tarps which they tied onto the side of the wagon. On the outskirts of the city they met six other wagons, some Buddhists some not, and started off on the journey north. Louise and Harry sat very comfortably on an old love seat Harry had installed up front. Louise reached out and grasped Harry’s head and pulled it down to her stomach. She often did impulsive things like that so Harry was not surprised. He relaxed, head in her lap, very pleasant.

“Did you hear that?” She said.

“Hear what?”
“The baby’s heart. Tick tock. Tick tock. Can’t you hear it?”