The days after the mine passed quickly as they also dragged by—in a complete contradiction of terms. Days full of hope, and lots of love and laughter. Also, a fair amount of sorrow and sadness. A lot of blood had been spilled, and a lot of life lost in the pursuit of the madman Saal Moradi.
So much of it had been innocent.
I woke up in the hospital. Saint Mary’s in Tucson, to be exact. A couple of days had passed. This time, no visits to the afterworld for me. The entire space of time was just a complete blank.
And no more visitors from the netherworld either. The voices that I had heard below the old Carson Mine had belonged to real enough people. Two men who, like us, were attracted to the sight of the vultures and the smell of death. Local retired gentlemen, they loved to spend their mornings panning for trace gold in the many dry washes of the area. When they had ventured into McCafferty Canyon that day, they had gotten a lot more “fun” than they had bargained for.
They had made a possible connection in their minds with the body they had discovered near the road, to the mine on the canyon wall above them. Once up there to check it out, they were fortunately able to spot Matt and I on the desert floor below. The fact that we had survived, was in the end, mostly just plain dumb luck, rather than our own so-called superpowers. That was often the case with Matt and me.
It was good though, that I had been able to carry Matt the short distance that I did. Without that, we would have never been visible. Apparently, we two had the old guardian angels working a lot of overtime—as usual.
I guess Matt and I couldn’t really fault ourselves too much for finally running out of gas. It had, after all, been a rough couple of weeks.
They had found us in late morning. The darkness, and the cold that I had experienced, was only in my own mind. Part of my extremely ill body and brain beginning to shut down—according to the doctors. We had been air-lifted in to the hospital, none too fast for either of us, as they had explained.
Things were going well for me. It took them a while to figure out exactly what was going on with my body while I was out. Radiation poisoning, it turned out, was not all that common in southern Arizona. Finally, they were able to get the right mixture of drugs into me to begin to dissipate the poison. I was going to make it all right, but they warned me of the possibility of long-term bone-marrow damage. One specialist said that he thought it would probably come back to haunt me in my old age. Another said that I would probably die of that old age long before that happened.
Doctors—what the heck do they really know anyhow?
The docs all asked me how it had happened. I simply replied that it was a really long story.
I would carry a couple of keepsakes of the experience. One, my time-travel abilities were gone—and they looked likely to stay that way. Hard as I tried in the hospital, I couldn’t move even a second in time. The other was that somewhere between Calvert Cliffs and the old Carson mine, what was left of my rapidly thinning hair had turned snow-white. Maggie, echoing me, said it just made me look even sexier. I was pretty sure that was not the total truth, but I loved her for the lie.
Maggie, Linh, and newborn little Albert joined us a few days after we were rescued. Maggie, to try to look after me, and Linh to care for her husband. I had gotten pretty lucky, considering some of the long odds I had been up against at the Cliffs.
Not so much with Matt McCabe. He was hurt very badly.
All of the injuries that I had observed when I found him at the bottom of the cliff were in fact true. Plus a few more. Fortunately, his neck was all right, or my moving him might have finished killing him. Along with two fractured hips though, was also a rather badly broken back. It was in all likelihood, going to put him in a wheelchair they said. That was, if he woke up from the coma he had slipped into.
They were wrong on all counts, as it turned out. But then of course, the doctors didn’t know what a determined son-of-a-gun they were dealing with. Matt did come out of the coma after only about ten days. And he also came out of the rehab center they sent him to, about four months after that. And he came out on working legs, albeit piloting an old guy walker.
The three of us made no end of fun about that to him. He didn’t care, because he knew, as did we, that it was only temporary. He finally threw it away a couple of months later on. Matt would walk, and speak, a little haltingly for the rest of his life. But walk and talk he would. And, he and his lovely wife, would remain my dearest friends until my last day on earth.
Matt would continue on, aging from where he was, for the rest of his life. He always retained his most excellent good looks, but when he and Linh showed up months later for our double marriage vow renewal ring thingy ceremony with Maggie and me, I was happy to note just a sprinkling of gray hair mixed with the black on the top of his head.
The cow-lick, along with his own time-travel abilities, were gone forever.
My boy was growing up. He blamed the head injury for the fact that he couldn’t “travel” anymore. Me, I thought it probably had a lot more to do with a higher power. One that had been watching over us both for a very long time. I had some proof of that fact. The two men that had found us said they had started out for another famous area mine, out on Ruby Road. But for some strange reason, they both said, they were at the last minute, attracted to the Carson diggings.
The re-commitment ceremony was sweet. Back home in Bellevue, and out on Lake Washington. Behind my house on Mercer. On a fine summer day. All four of us lined up in a row—smiling idiotically. It made for some great pictures.
Maggie and I had been married as soon as I was released from the hospital, in a small private ceremony. We both decided that we had waited just about long enough to be with each other in the biblical sense. I still wobbled a little walking down the aisle, and Maggie was still hurting plenty from her wounded side, but we did just fine on our wedding night, albeit very carefully.
And it was well worth waiting for. Waking up for the first time with Maggie the next morning was just about the finest moment of joy I had ever experienced in my life.
We were able to join with the wheelchaired Harold Wiggins about a month later back in DC for a joint memorial service for both his gallant grandson Trey, as well as the equally brave and stalwart Brick Wahl. It was a pleasure to be there to honor these men, and another one to be asked to speak and tell the world what I thought of the two of them. Wish I could tell you I got through it without tears—but why lie?
Shahida Faris, recently promoted to special agent, was there too, along with Dallin Weeks. He had survived his wounds, but had lost quite a bit of one of his lungs. He was also still in a wheelchair the day of the memorial service, but indicated that he didn’t intend to stay there for long. He was happy to accept my offer of employment with my detective agency. I convinced him that I was intending to expand it greatly on my return home, and would benefit from another skilled special investigator.
And as a bonus, that even turned out to be true.
Howard Carter had returned home to recuperate from his leg wounds, and was finally making good on his old threat to retire. The city council of Bellevue was only too happy to comply with his request to appoint his suggested replacement. It sounded good too.
Bellevue, Washington Chief of Police, Linh McCabe.
I’ll never forget the first meeting I had with him when I got home. He wanted to know just what happened to his pistol. I told him I had accidently dropped it—just before the atomic bomb went off. I told him I had slightly more important things to worry about right at that particular moment. Old Howard didn’t consider that to be much of an excuse though, and made me buy a brand-new replacement for him. I was happy to do so, and right while I was at it, got a second one for myself. Howard had been after me for a long time to upgrade my armament. After the Moradi affair, I had to confess he made a good point.
Besides, I had to admit it looked pretty darned good on me in a spanking new leather shoulder holster. My homburg was a total loss with the holes and bloodstains, and as I didn’t want to admit to Sam McCabe and his girlfriend that I had accidentally destroyed their Christmas present, I simply bought another exact copy for a replacement.
They never knew the difference, and I intentionally left that part out of my many retellings of the story.
The President made it out of the country, but he wasn’t about to be coming back. He emailed, of all things, a resignation to the new United States President, Jonas John Watkins. America was in good hands again. And the old President? Well, those in the know didn’t really believe he was going to last all that long in the bug and malaria infested dark corner of South America that he had ran to. He was wanted for high treason. It also seemed that Shahida Faris was able to file a criminal complaint with the US Justice Department against the man that had once been the most powerful person in the world—for the murder of her housekeeper. Probably wouldn’t have held up in court—but the President didn’t know that.
Poetic justice in action.
Like I always said; Karma—she can be one nasty lady.
I was also pleased to note that not a single solitary American-Muslim person had a thing to do with all that had transpired—radical or otherwise. They had simply been a fall-guy. Or more accurately, I guess—a fall-people.
The good lady at the Detroit Airport that had loaned her bullet-proof vest to Linh never did get it back. Linh decided to keep it as a souvenir of the occasion. She did send a brand-new replacement though. Along with a heartfelt thank you card. And a check for the old vest.
Large enough for the good lady to buy a new car.
And a new house.
And college educations for her two children.
And a month-long vacation for the entire family.
Like I said—Linh had some kind of class, and some kind of grace. One of a kind. And the only one that would ever exist. We had come pretty close to losing her. Her miraculous survival was enough to make me rethink myself on bullet-proof vests. You can only tempt guardian angels so much, and I thought mine must be getting pretty darned tired.
So, I bought myself one too.
I purchased the old Carson mine. It turned out that it had always been on private, not public land, and was owned and held as an investment by a Mesa real-estate developer. That fact made the deal easy. He told me he always considered the property to be pretty much a dog, and was only too happy to part with it for a more than fair price.
Before the ink was even dry on my new deed, I hired a construction company to go up there and blast the thing shut. The ugly face was now gone, and no human would ever go inside of it again. The land would never be used again either, and I would hold the deed forever to make sure that was true. The history of that place of sorrow was closed for good, and the hellish pocket-watch buried and gone for all time.
Or was it?
I knew that I was going to have to make sure.
Roan McCabe was exhumed from his crude grave, and along with the bodies of Aedan and Joshua, air-shipped overseas to the McCabe family vault in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, Ireland. Aedan and Roan were back home where they belonged. And Joshua, we figured, in a place where he could rest comfortably. He had become a madman. But not all of that was completely his own fault. In the end, his remains were treated with the respect and dignity they deserved.
The long summer of recovery at last faded into Autumn and the first of the color was already showing in the trees out on Mercer Island. The time had finally come for me to make a couple of trips. The first was to the west coast—with Maggie. California to be exact. The warm, sunny, and very pleasant city of San Diego. To see a lady, as it were—about a girl.
A girl by the name of Jennifer Joyce Ames—the daughter of the woman Brick had accidentally killed years before in Deadwood, Colorado. It hadn’t been too terribly hard for my newest crack investigator Dallin Weeks to come up with the name and address. I remembered that Brick had told me that he regularly sent money to the kid’s aunt to help out with things. It was a tradition that Maggie and I intended to keep up.
We weren’t nearly prepared for what we found when we finally got there.
We walked in on a funeral. That of the aunt. Turned out that she had been sick for quite some time, fighting cancer. I felt more than a just a little out of place and uncomfortable as I described who I was, and what my relationship had been with their late financial mentor, Brick Wahl.
Maggie, with her amazing and disarmingly wonderful women’s ways, helped considerably in breaking the ice.
The girl, Jenny, as everyone called her, was everything and more that Brick had said she was. Bright, articulate, wise, poised beyond her years, and cute as a button to boot. Both Maggie and I fell in love with her instantly. Turned out she didn’t have a lot of options facing her at the moment, with her dear aunt gone. She had been entertaining an offer from a relative in distant New York, to live with them for the next two years, until she reached the age of majority.
Jenny was a sixteen-year-old at the moment; legal, according to California law, to make decisions concerning her own future, on her own behalf. After only a couple of hours talking with Maggie and I, she decided to accept an employment offer on our part with Watchmaker Enterprises, my detective agency. She would be joining Emily Hatcher, as yet another under-worked, but very much over-compensated employee of the firm.
Hey, it was a tradition with me, the world’s dumbest and most overly-generous boss of all time. Truth of the matter was, I loved the role, and played it to perfection. Part of Jenny’s compensation package would include her own nearby apartment and transportation—just as soon as she learned to drive, that was.
For her part of the bargain, she was only required to finish her high-school education while she did part-time secretarial work for the company. If she wanted to go on to college after that, she would most certainly be encouraged to do so, fully paid for by the “firm,” of course.
We were so happy that she accepted. Jenny would never be made to feel like a charge, or a burden. Although she would become as close to Maggie and I as a daughter, she would be supporting herself, and paying her own way in life—while at the same time, Maggie and I would be keeping a good close eye on her.
We both thought Brick would be happy with the arrangement.
I had my attorney draw up the necessary papers and contract. Jenny would be returning to Bellevue with Maggie.
Me, I had one more journey to make. I talked to Maggie about it, and she agreed.
This one, I had to do alone.
This one, was just between the watch—and myself.
The taxi finally came to a complete stop. I took a look around before I finally opened the door, anxious and yet not, to see and to do the thing I had come to this place for.
I paid the cabbie off and started walking up Virginia Park Street, and to the house there that I remembered so well. I had been a guest in it once—around three quarters of a century or so before.
Now I owned it. The keys jingled in my pocket. It had been empty and on the market for some time. The purchase had been a piece of cake.
Finally, the old Victorian came into view. Surprisingly, little had changed in all those years since the days of Kid McCoy, and the spectral and ghostly love of his life, Theresa Mors.
I was sad that I hadn’t been able to find out what had happened to their daughter. It would haunt me, and I knew that someday I was going to have to do something about that.
The house, unlike so many in the once great and now fallen city of Detroit, had been well taken care of. The Kid’s hardwood floors were now carpeted, and the stylish wallpaper had turned to paint.
The color scheme wasn’t all that great, but it was all fixable—and would provide a little employment to a local home improvement company. My small contribution to rebuilding the economy of the city.
The house itself would do the same. I intended to rent it out—dirt cheap—to the first young, deserving, and hard-working area family that I could locate. The local Salvation Army post was already helping with the search for just such a family. The fact that I intended to charge rent was not to benefit me, an already far too wealthy old guy. It was to benefit them. The money received would go straight back to the Salvation Army—to help many more.
But first, I had a job to do here this day.
I opened the door to the Kid’s nursery—this time with little effort. Memories of that long-ago night, not all that terribly long ago, flooded my mind. It had been well cleaned and fixed up over the years.
It held no ghosts now—friendly or otherwise.
I made my way to the backyard, and to the stately oak tree that I knew would be there. I had already confirmed that fact from Google street view, at the time I decided to buy the property. It had grown considerably in all decades since the Kid, Brick and I had entombed Matt McCabe’s pocket-watch into its interior.
In 1940, the oak had been a young tree. One that wasn’t quite growing the way it was supposed to. The tree had developed a hollow—fairly unusual for a younger oak. Anyway, it was getting large enough, back in the year 1940, that it was probably going to kill the tree. The Kid told us that day that he had been intending to fill it with concrete. He said that generally saved the tree’s life. Since we needed a safe place to stash the watch, the Kid had suggested that it go in the hole first.
So, that’s just exactly what we did. It turned out to be a pretty job. The old hollow had closed around the cement plug over the years. I could just now make out where it had been, an exposed tip of seventy-six-year-old concrete still visible. I had little doubt that the watch was still in there, just as it was also at the bottom of the old Carson mine—covered with thousands of tons of solid earth and stone.
Common sense would tell a person that a single object cannot exist in two places at the same time. But those who would say that did not know the pocket watch from hell. I had put it in this tree. Matt and I had buried it in a mountain. Where was it now? In one place or the other? Or in both at the same time.
I intended to take no chances.
The tree removal service that I had hired arrived right on time. It was a big outfit, with a big job to do. It would take a large piece of equipment to do the job I requested—the complete removal of the old tree, and complete chipping of it, right here on the property, and right before my eyes. Even with the enormous rig, it was going to take several hours. It had cost me a fortune, but it was worth it.
The operator informed me that I need not be concerned about the old concrete in the trunk of the tree. He said that “Big Nellie,” their chipping monster machine would happily digest it too, along with any old chains, nails, and/or screws that it might come across. They, and any other metal objects in the tree, would all come out in the end, tiny pieces—not one, larger than an eighth of an inch or so.
I made myself comfortable, sitting on the back porch with my feet up on the rail and quietly sipping soda as I observed the tree coming down. Again, as in days of yore—it was mighty pretty work. All the chips would be hauled away and dumped. Since it bio-degradable matter, the operator explained, it was all going into the fast-flowing Detroit River.
I was a little sad about killing the grand old tree, but I consoled myself that it had died for a worthwhile cause. No one would ever possess the watch again. No one would ever use its powers—powers for both good and evil.
You see, in the end I re-learned an age-old lesson.
It’s not good to fool mother nature.
And it’s not good to play with time either.
By the time the afternoon began to fade to night, the oak was gone. It was time for me to be that way too. I packed up my few things, turned the key again in the front door, and headed back out to Woodward Avenue, there to catch an easy cab to the airport and my flight back to Bellevue. There were people waiting for me there.
People I loved. One of those was that infamous scalawag Jack McGuire. I needed to get that guy back to work. Christmas was coming too, not far off. I had lights to string, and trees to decorate.
The house on Mercer Island was dark and sullen no more. It was airy and light, and full of love and laughter.
It was home.
As I walked up the street, I turned and looked around once more for what would be my last time. First, I saw the street and the house the way it was at the moment. And then my mind drifted back to 1940, and the way it had been. And then the fifties, the sixties, and so forth—it constantly changing and the scene shifting before me. At first I thought it was just a trick of my mind. It wasn’t. My body was going along for the ride.
My time-travel abilities were returning. And why shouldn’t they?—it was never really about the watch anyway. It was about my mind. As the poison of the radiation slowly cleared from the tissue of my brain, the ability was slowly coming back.
Besides—I was still displaced.
Nothing was ever going to change that.
I wondered what to do with my re-found ability. I wondered who to tell. In the end, I decided to tell no one. I had absolutely no intention whatsoever to stop being an annoying and crafty old white-haired private investigator. Such an “extra” little ability as was mine was sure to come in handy from time to time in that pursuit.
Besides—I had always thought that every man should have at least one little secret that he kept all to himself. One tiny little tidbit of information that was all his—and all his alone.
This was mine.
And that is the conclusion of THE RECKONING. Please watch these pages for an upcoming announcement of it’s publication on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and other outlets. Thank you so much for reading. APROPOS OF NOTHING will soon begin again posting entertainment, and other blogposts of general interest.
Looking forward to the new year, and continuing friendship with the readers that we love.
Goodnight . . .
Dumb Joke of the Week: