Monday, May 31, 2010

The Chance to Dream

Second and final Update: Officially on vacation as of Friday, 12:50am EST, will check back a few days from now. Peace.
The system diagnostic displays all showed green as Commander Eric Connor keyed in the final numbers into the navigation computer for the flight taking outgoing base personnel off the moon. Waiting for the linked computers aboard the Argo heavy lifter shuttle to agree to his coordinates he glanced outside the window in front of him seeing the huge multicolored face of Jupiter looming over him like an unimpressed god looking down on human endeavors as we might look down upon ants.
"Argo Flight 017, this is base control AI, you have clearance for lift off." The Callisto Base artificial intelligence announced over the radio net.
"Confirmed base," Eric said, "I'm waiting for final judgment from onboard computers over course and fuel consumption, will give two-minute warning once numbers are crunched." Looking over at the beautiful raven-haired Indian sitting in the copilot seat Eric was satisfied that she would be more than competent as his replacement when he rotated back to Earth in three months. "Adrika, even with the base AI clearance you might want to scan the surrounding area to make sure no vehicles or people were missed. A couple of years ago the AI's scans missed a crew still out when another Argo lifted off and it fried everyone."
"Rodger that commander," Lieutenant Commander Adrika Sarin said and with a few key strokes the view screen mounted between the two flashed on showing a section of the area just outside.
The Argo shuttle, a hemispherical craft resting on six landing legs extending from pods mounted at the base of the craft, had the pilot and copilot in a small cockpit looking straight up from the top of the ship. Cameras mounted on the landing pods allowed Eric and Adrika to view their landing pad and surrounding areas. The four adjoining landing pads were empty and the nearest item that they could see was a robotic scout on the icy surface heading away from the base. Eric gave one last look at complex series of interconnected buildings and concrete domes that had been his home for the last seven years. Up until three years ago Callisto Base was the farthest outpost of human civilization, even now only the bases on Titan and Rhea were farther out, and he was having a far harder time than he thought possible with the idea of leaving behind the friends and lovers he had made here.
In every way that counted Callisto Base was becoming more and more a frontier town than a scientific outpost. When the Jupiter Seven Expedition fleet arrived ten years from now, around 2075, Callisto would be ready to permanently support over twenty-thousand souls. The studies of the biosphere and its incredibly complex life forms living under the Europan ice sheet were the main reason for the human presence around Jupiter. The massive radiation surrounding that moon prevented all but the briefest human visits to Europa leaving the exploration to autonomous and remotely controlled robots with humans exiled to Callisto.
"You look like you're going to miss the place Commander." Adrika said smiling at him.
Quickly changing gears in his head Eric smiled back at the woman who despite her bulky space suit he knew had an awesome body. "Yeah, a little, but I'm actually eager to feel Earth gravity and to eat some New Orleans seafood again. I don't care what they may have told you on the flight out here the hydroponic gardens and fish tanks have yet to produce an edible tomato or catfish."
"Well I have to bunk on the Galileo until the next load of supplies is ready to be shipped down. Maybe I could stay with you and we could discuss the matter in more detail." Adrika said smiling leaving the actual meaning of her words very apparent.
"Oh, I think further training is vital to the mission and the United Nations Exploration Service." Eric said hoping he was not drooling. Moments later the Argo shuttle lifted off the surface heading toward the collection of ships trailing the Jovian moon.
Eric and Adrika's destination was the three-mile long UNS Galileo being readied for the voyage back to Earth. At one time it had been the most advanced ship ever constructed when the Jupiter Three Expedition left Earth orbit but was now outdated and due to become a colonial transport ship between Earth and Mars after a lengthy refit.
Upon final approach, another Artificial Intelligence on the Galileo took control of the craft and guided it until it docked with the supply section mounted between the rotating torus where the crew lived and the drive section that housed the fusion engines. Their primary duties after all the passengers had disembarked had them making sure all the shuttle's systems were properly powered down and connected to the Galileo's diagnostic systems.
Eric allowed Adrika to shut them down alone so she could get the hang of it. Once he left, Adrika would be doing the flights by herself just as he had for seven years. Only on rare occasions would she have an actual human copilot given the demands out in space that was constantly stretching everyone to work alone or do multiple jobs. As she brought the ship down and linked it with the Galileo's egotistical engineering AI Eric read the news that just beamed in from Earth.
He was happy to read that a final agreement were reached on environmental repairs to endanger ecosystems with China, Russia, the European Union and the United States coordinating aid to countries that were most in trouble. Construction of helium-3 fusion reactors was increasing as mining operations on the moon were finally keeping pace allowing the ancient coal fueled generators and fission nukes to be phased out across the globe in less than ten years, far ahead of schedule. Because of that and massive tree planting, the news agency was reporting carbon dioxide levels would begin to fall by the second decade in the 22nd century.
With the shuttle powered down Eric and Adrika went their separate ways agreeing to meet again later that evening in one of the ship's galleys. The central axis of the Galileo was the main traffic corridor allowing weightless transits between all the different sections of the ship, it was always busy and Eric disturbed several people after having to stop suddenly when a priority alert began sounding on his personal communicator.
"Commander Connor," the avatar face of the ship's AI announced, "you have an urgent message from your granddaughter, please leave the central axis at the next top exit and enter conference room 2-A to receive the broadcast."
Puzzled at the obvious misdirected message, Eric had no children much less a granddaughter, he keyed in a response to the system. "AI," he said, "this is a mistake, I have no children so this message is meant for someone else. Please check and redirect to the proper recipient."
"No Commander," it replied sounding slightly annoyed, "proceed to the conference room, view the message, and if you feel it's still wrong I will redirect."
The conference room was muted gray with a large table and the required chairs but on opposing corners were small computer terminals. Eric floated over and sat himself in one of the chairs using the straps to tie himself down. Beside the old fashion keyboard was a palm reader pad used for security purposes. Eric placed his hand on the pad and spoke his name, rank, and security access code. The screen flickered showing the smiling female face of the Galileo's avatar. That's when everything went black and silent.

Eric awoke feeling normal Earth gravity and lying on an uncomfortable pad, tubes were running all through him and into a small compartment that reminded him both of a deep-space hibernation pod and on a more basic level a morgue locker. Looking around he realized his compartment was one of many stacked five high that made up a wall running in both directions as far as he could see.
"Mr. Connor," a bothersome voice said somewhere, "do you know where you are?"
Eric became nervous and almost scared because he really had no idea where he was, they last thing he remembered was that he was on the United Nations Ship Galileo in orbit around Jupiter then found himself back on Earth.
"Was there an accident?" He whispered to no one in particular feeling something very wrong with his body.
A stern looking nurse wearing an old-fashioned jump suit stepped into view using a stylus to input something on a data pad. "No sir," she said, "you're just fine. It's your birthday and your granddaughter wants to see you." The nurse then jumped back out of view preventing Eric from telling her there was some huge mistake.
After that, nameless and silent orderlies moved him out of the compartment and onto a stretcher. Eric watched the compartment close with a thud creating a featureless granite-looking wall with only nameplates and small monitors giving any sign it was anything but actual rock. The various hallways and corridors he traveled became a blur leaving him almost in a panic. Something was very wrong with reality but he could not figure it out, the people looked completely different with most in despair or devoid of any real expression. Unable to handle the sensory input his mind shut down.
When Eric awoke this time, he was laying in a bed in what looked like a pleasant hospital room. The walls were a golden brown with flowers in vases decorating tables and pictures of outdoor scenes hanging on the walls. Sensing he was awake, the room lights increased and it was then Eric saw the mirror hanging on the wall in front of him. Reality began to make sense again after seeing the reflection looking back at him with gray hair and ancient wrinkles lining the face. He realized he was not some explorer on the edge of deep space, but an old man living in a high-tech rest home. The memories of his real life began flashing through his mind. His childhood growing up in Louisiana, joining the navy and becoming a naval aviator, flying off the deck of an aircraft carrier loaded for combat, meeting his future wife while in Paris and the birth of his son raced through his mind.
The entrance of his granddaughter, her children, and her husband into the room moments later brought a new wave of memories. These were unpleasant recollections of him as a teenager seeing dead Louisiana marshes choked with oil, of a Gulf turned brown and permanently dead. A few years after that his beloved New Orleans flooded and abandoned, the only inhabitants being teams of scavengers trying to make a living recovering items from the dead city.
Despite his love for her in the face of his granddaughter, he saw the death of his wife during one of the pandemics that ravaged the globe leaving him to raise their son alone. Countless wars flashed through his memories watching desperate and frighten people fight over religion and ever-dwindling resources. Eric remembered the foolish pride of watching his son follow in his naval aviator footsteps only to see him die with his crew mates after a Chinese cruise missile slammed into his carrier, breaking it in half and sinking into the waters of the Taiwan Straits. He remembered it all now, all the death and suicidal destruction of a world driven mad by fear, ignorance, and the lust for power.
The one bright spot through it all was his granddaughter, named Sandra after his mother. During her first few years in school it was learned she suffered from a learning disability brought on by exposure to toys tainted with lead and other toxic chemicals. Sandra's mother had a hard time recovering from the death of her husband so Eric spent every possible minute he could with his granddaughter while she was growing up. The two were inseparable until Sandra's marriage to the shrill, intolerant, sliver of man whose best part he still thought had ran down the side of his mama's leg the day he was conceived. Even now, Eric eyed the pin attached to his lapel of the American eagle whose talons held the Christian cross on one side and the lightning bolt in the other. The symbol of a dangerous political movement that tolerated no dissent from anyone.
All during that day, he talked with his granddaughter and his great grandchildren adjusting quickly to the fact that the life he loved was an illusion directly inputted into his brain. Occasionally he would touch the input jack implanted in the back of his skull out of a sense of morbid curiosity.
He had nothing to do with Sandra's husband who for years before coming to the rest home attempted to use him to advance his political ambitions. Eric was still a war hero no matter how much his political beliefs were persecuted these days and his granddaughter's husband, someone far too cowardly ever to serve himself, wished to use him as a trophy to advance his position.

"Grandpa," Sandra began stroking the side of his face gently as the day ended, "each birthday I ask you this but you always say no. I beg you, please reconsider and come home with us. You're still healthy and my children would love to have you around. We have plenty of room at the house and are more than willing to take care of you."
Eric glanced at the room television Sandra's children were watching. The images of violence and death appeared to only have gotten worse since the last time he was pulled out of the fantasy realm. It was clear that this reality held nothing for him, even his love for his granddaughter paled at the disgust he felt for this world. "No sweetie," he said grabbing her hand, "put me back in the system, in there I am happy and useful and can dream about the world I wish existed. This world has no place for me or my kind."
The last time he saw his granddaughter she was kissing his cheek as the nurse began preparation to return him to the nursing home fantasy realm. The lights went out again as they wheeled back to his compartment.

The lights flickered back on and Eric was in the conference room, still strapped into the chair aboard the Galileo feeling slightly dizzy for no real reason he could figure out. The avatar face of the ship's AI was smiling at him again on the terminal view screen. "I am sorry Commander Connor," it said, "you were correct, the message was coded wrong and is now being redirected."
Eric unstrapped himself pushed toward the door wanting to meet Adrika in the galley before they went back to his small cabin. "I have logged you out of the system Commander Connor, this type of message will never bother you again." The AI said as he floated out the door.
Eric quickly looked back and fought to remember the name of the AI. "Thanks Sandra, you're the best." He said then pushed off thinking of Adrika and dreaming of what they would do tonight.

Author's note: Got hit with this idea suddenly and it has been crazy at the house today with both Dragonwife and Miss Wiggles home because of the Memorial Day holiday. So forgive me for my usual excessive typos, I will correct them as time allows.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oily American Chernobyl

There is really nothing I can say at this point that would accurately describe my rage at the mindless corporate greed, my frustration at an uncoordinated government response, and utter sadness seeing a vital ecosystem and way of life being killed in slow motion. However, I can talk about the ignorance amongst the flotsam and jetsom of the uneducated masses who in many cases still scream out "Drill Baby Drill" or think the ocean will take care of this on its own.

One of the Marching Morons I am around on a regular basis said just a few days ago he did not see what the fuss was about since it was just a "swamp" and back before all those tree huggers they just use to fill such places in. Given his position I had to hold my tongue, I need to keep my job. Another fine example of intelligent citizenry commented on a local radio talk show that I tune in every now and then that he believes this is all some grand conspiracy to further push the country into socialism.

Such intellectual giants give me real warm fuzzies over the future of the country but there are other things I'd like to mention.

If I had a couple of more beers in me and really felt like pissing my time away I guess I could look up articles about how BP is said to own massive oil tankers equipped with pumps that can suck in contaminated sea water and separate the oil from the water which is pumped back into the ocean. These tankers were supposedly used to help clean up a spill in the Persian Gulf or Arabian Sea several years ago but people I feel reliable on one of the cable news networks say BP has them already filled waiting for the price of oil to go up before off loading them.

Also while I am no fan of Governor Bobby Jindal it has been reported that he has been begging the federal government for permits to dredge up sand to create barrier islands between the open ocean and the marshes to at least prevent some of the oil from getting in. Why the federal government is dragging their feet on this I have no idea. Give the current situation while creating these islands will not solve the problem they sure as Hell can't make things any worse.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that while the Gulf area is blasted with another epic disaster President Obama has been making the political rounds fund raising for the Democratic party. Hey I'm cool with that on a certain level but unfortunately perception governs reality, even more these days, and the cool detached Spock persona is being replaced with one more akin to Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

Greenpeace marine biologist Paul Horsman inspects oil washed ashore on a Mississippi River beach this week.
History suggests marshes don't easily bounce back from oil. For instance, the 1991 Gulf War spill—which occurred when the Iraqi military intentionally spilled up to 336 million gallons (about 1.3 billion liters) into the Persian Gulf—was most toxic to Saudi Arabian marshes and mud flats.
Up to 89 percent of the Saudi marshes and 71 percent of the mud flats had not bounced back after 12 years, according to Miles Hayes, co-founder of the science-and-technology consulting firm Research Planning, Inc., based in South Carolina. (See pictures of freshwater plants and animals.)
"It was amazing to stand there and look across what used to be a salt marsh and it was all dead—not even a live crab," Hayes said last week.

It gets even worse:
If the Gulf of Mexico oil spill kills just three sperm whales, it could seriously endanger the long-term survival of the Gulf's native whale population, scientists say.
Even now, that killer whale population has yet to recover and will likely go extinct in a few decades, Matkin said.

Real questions are also being asked about the toxic chemical dispersants being used to break up the oil. They may end up causing bigger problems in the coming decades effecting every lifeform up the food chain.

Unprecedented, untestedIn the Deepwater Horizon accident, the response team has used more than 670,000 gallons of chemical dispersants as of Fridayfar surpassing any previous use in the United States. Most of it has been sprayed from airplanes, but the Deepwater Horizon response team also has applied at least 55,000 gallons in a completely untested way — injecting it at the well’s leaking riser, some 5,000 feet below the surface.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Miss Wiggles dancing at the recital

Saturday was the annual ballet recital for my daughter, Miss Wiggles, and her friends that signifies the start of summer for me in many ways with the biggest being that the school year ends less than a week later. Like every year since my daughter was four years-old it has been my duty on Tuesdays to rush her from daycare to ballet and tap dancing practice. The recitals are always sort of sad for me since they provide a clear marker for how much she was grown over the year.
As far as fatherly duties go, its not that bad as long as I could quickly leave the dance studio after dropping her off. If I have to stay, I will be the only dad in a sea of moms who broadcast uncomfortable vibes at me because of my presence which bounce off the walls like thunderous sound waves.
A few times over the last year, if I didn’t get out fast enough and to the nearby library it was possible for me to overhear some aspect of female conversation that guys just do not ever need to know about. Moreover, if I have to stay for some reason I can tell I stifle the resulting conversation, which was almost as bad resulting in the bad vibes. Anyway, that is thankfully behind me for another year. I would let Dragonwife take her but she prefers to take our son to piano practice which is at the same time.
This year an old college friend of Dragonwife’s and her boyfriend, down for a visit, joined us for the recital and I am thankfully we arrived as early as we did because it was soon standing room only for the first half of the performance. I couldn't imagine forcing Dragonwife's friends to go through the recital having to stand up. They have been together for several years but do not have any kids and I could tell they felt more than a little alien around all the other parents and kids. At least sitting down they seemed a little more comfortable and out of the way.
Before the performances started I saw the usual collection of suburban drones complete with desperate housewives scoping out both what the other women were wearing and any guys that looked single. The gossip among these ladies flew at supersonic speeds with Dragonwife in the middle of some of it. It was also easy to see frustrated dads on various smart phones and blackberries tapping out what must have been important messages. When the curtain finally went up and the lights dimmed a welcomed hush sweep over everyone.
The second half brought the ballet portion of the recital and a little more breathing room in the auditorium since many people hauled ass if their child had no other presentation. Before anyone gets any ideas I realize that my cinematography skills hover somewhere in the negative realm but since I was sitting inside a crowded auditorium using an old digital camera with a rinky-dink video function that in all honesty barely works I feel pretty good with what I recorded. The first little girl you see is not my daughter but since at the start of the routine she is still behind the curtain I focused on who was on the stage. My daughter will be the one in purple outfit trying to keep up with the bigger girls. Miss Wiggles and the other girls had a great time and are looking forward to the start of a new year of dancing in the fall. I am too as long as I can continue to flee the scene after dropping her off.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Grand Old Party Delusions

Legends are material to be molded, and not facts to be recorded.
Hervey Allen

During the recent weekend trip down to Charleston, South Carolina while my wife, daughter, and I were enjoying the culture and history of the Holy City I just happened to catch a glimpse of a strange sight. In the window of some store along Meeting Street was a Twilight Zone-like painting of several Republican presidents sitting around a table playing poker. I found myself amused at the sight of it because while I mean no insult my first thought at seeing the picture was its likeness to the series of schlock paintings collectively entitled "Dogs Playing Poker" by the early 20th century artist C.M. Coolidge. The second thought, which I found even funnier, was that with this being South Carolina this painting is high art if not an actual religious icon.

The eight men in the picture are all in good health and in obvious good humor enjoying each other's company, in the background appears to be some sort of a mural of a city with a podium above it. While the appearance of First and Second Bush complicates matters given that everyone else has long since passed away they appear to be in some form of Republican afterlife and are having a party later with a high-powered speaker attending. To the question of their actual supernatural location and the possible high-powered speaker I will leave that to the reader, especially with Dick Cheney not hovering somewhere nearby snacking on the bones of some tortured soul.

As for these men even with my liberal leanings, I consider Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt great presidents. Only the deluded and bizarre would consider anything other but such small and narrow minds do exist. Ike ranks right up there with them, he truly was a great warrior and leader of men and his years as president held their own unique and difficult challenges. They were not perfect men even in their own ages and today all three would be castigated in some manner for things accepted as normal in their times. However, they were without a doubt honorable men and the country was damn lucky to have them.

I will have to include President Ford in the ranks of a good president for his efforts in restoring the confidence of the nation and building bridges of trust after the nightmare of Watergate. Although his pardon of Richard Nixon, while saving the country from having to go through another nightmare none the less allowed his immediate predecessor to escape the full measure of justice. I agree with those that say allowing Nixon to essentially get away without fully being exposed set the stage for other presidential misadventures. As far as I am concerned, even having Nixon in the painting insinuates that the person who created it is separated from reality to a great degree.

As for Reagan and First Bush everyone has their own opinion of them and even mine is complicated. In an attempt to avoid digressing into the predictable political degradations I will only say that they were just normal men, full of faults and weaknesses that we all share but many of their actions hurt the country with only its innate strengths allowing it to move on. However, the damages they inflicted have festered and edged the country ever closer to disaster.

I save special condemnation for Second Bush whose incurious leadership and illegal behavior has killed untold thousands overseas and who by himself took the country from a budget surplus to doubling the national debt by the time he left office. He left such a mess that President Obama may end up saddled with the greatest part of the blame for the chaos he created.

My biggest issue with that bizarre painting is how the arrangement of presidents suggests a certain pecking order with a nod to current Republican ideology. Instead of it centered on Lincoln and Teddy who are undeniably the greatest men in the bunch, Reagan and Second Bush appear dominant, huddled close together while Ike is set apart and behind them. In fact, all we see of Lincoln is his back with him appearing to be telling a joke. Teddy, relegated to second tier status, is position uncomfortably close to Nixon for me. First Bush is so close to the edge that it seems he could almost fall off, of course he was only a one-term president who raised taxes. Its a wonder he even made the cut at all when you think about the cardinal sin he committed. For me President Ford is in the best position, Lincoln is still a great hero in my eyes and if such a place as heaven actually exists and I am lucky enough to get there, finding Abe and talking with him would be high on my list of things to do.

I have no doubt that this painting is a piece of pure propaganda, meant to reinforce a view of self-centered righteousness and superiority. That American greatness can only come from one narrow political viewpoint instead of a mix of views and ideas. If this painter wanted this picture to represent a true American spirit presidents from other parties would be sitting at the table enjoying the humor of Lincoln. I am sure that somewhere some Democratic painter has his own sanctimonious version with Jefferson, Jackson, Truman, Kennedy, and Clinton gathered around Franklin having their own good time. However, for me the problems that the country faces right now are too damn great to wallow in petty self-justication that only polarizes the nation further.

It is a disturbing tendency in this country to view any one that opposes you as the enemy and to paint them as evil. Which is very sad since I am certain that there is at least one man in that painting who would be the first to stand up and proclaim how such behavior is totally un-American.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Baja Sunrise

Author's note: Years ago a country singer named Eddie Raven came up with a sad song about lost love and Mexico that I have always liked. This story is inspired by that song. Can't describe what genre it belongs to, but its something I have been playing with for a long time. Listen to the You Tube video at the bottom.

The rain falling on my head and the breeze cutting through my soaked clothes was a welcome relief to the storm I had just navigated my sailboat through to safety. The two giant granite pillars, relics from some past geologic age, sticking up from the depths of the Pacific ocean largely shielded the small cove where my boat now rested reducing the tempest that still raged on the other side to a whisper. Only a near miraculous lull in the storm had allowed me to spot the two outcroppings before crashing into one of them. I was able then to redline the diesel engine and get us behind the pillars before the storm renewed its fury. Once in the cove and floating in its calm waters the old cement dock that stretched out from gravel beach was a very beautiful sight. Despite my exhaustion, I came alongside the pier and joyfully brought her to rest.

My sailboat was a 38-foot Pearson sloop and the closest thing I had to a home now. I fought a sudden surge of resentment at the person that had forced me to endanger it, enough that I pondered actually turning her over to the thugs she had stumbled upon the night before. That person was my ex-wife who was on the shore looking off into the distance.
The woman had a real knack of screwing up my life and when she appeared in the small tavern I frequented I should have ran out of the place leaving some other unlucky fool to deal with her. Since coming to the small town on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur the pieces of my life had started to fit together, imperfectly I admit but at least I did not feel the same sense of loss since my marriage had so disastrously ended. My life now revolved around fellow American expatriates, a fine collection of misfits, disillusioned dreamers, scoundrels, and broken lovers that called the tavern Casa de los Perdidos home. But her appearance was so unexpected and unlikely the first thought that popped in my mind was a dizzy euphoria that maybe, just maybe, she had come to find me.
It was the usual collection of fellow exiles sitting at the bar and tables that night with the owner, Luis, in his position behind the bar glaring over his sorry clientele and protectively over the ladies that waited on them. Abby had slipped in unnoticed by everyone caught up in me tossing an obnoxious middle-aged American tourist through the doors of the tavern and into the small harbor outside. The guy had tried to grab Maria, one of Luis’s waitresses, after she embarrassed him in front of his wife and everyone else in the tavern. Maria and I had an ongoing relationship that I purposefully kept ill defined much to her frustration. Maybe that’s why she stormed off looking mad instead of thanking me for throwing the guy out who tried to touch her.
When the excitement died down I settled back on my barstool only to have the guy next me comment about the newcomer sitting across the room. My first thought was that I was hallucinating, the second was that with a big world to travel what in the Hell brought her to the tiny isolated spot I now call home. Really not believing what I was seeing I walked over to her table.
“Abby, what are you doing in San Miguel?” I asked feeling as nervous as a teenager standing in front of the head cheerleader with her friends listening.
“Daniel?” She said in disbelief looking small and fragile sitting at a table alone. “I’m lost, I can’t find William, and after walking the streets all afternoon looking for him I see these evil looking men stabbing another man in some alleyway. They came after me and I turned and ran until I saw people coming out the front door to this place and prayed it would be safe.
It was then that I knew I should walk away and leave her to her own devices. Hell, I was in good enough with the owner of the bar that I could get him to throw her out back on the street if I asked. As I was about to turn and walk away, the feelings I thought buried froze me in place and made me sit down with her.
“All right Abby,” I began, “take a deep breath and calm down, then start from the beginning.”
As Abby composed herself, I explained to the small crowd that had gathered around who she was. Both the expatriates and the tavern staff knew about Abby from our long evenings trading stories about what had driven each of us into exile. Still Luis and Maria looked astonished to have the very person sitting before them. When Abby looked just about ready to tell her story Maria saw fit to get her a drink, the idea of having my ex-wife and the current lady in my life so near was enough to occupy my mind despite the strange circumstances of her arrival and the danger she was in.
Abby and her husband William were staying at the newly opened resort called the Crystal Palace located to the south of San Miguel. As the day began Abby and William had gone their separate ways with her scheduled until noon in the resort spa and William playing golf. They were to meet again for lunch but when that time came Abby found herself alone in the restaurant. After learning from one of the resort staff William had left for town alone Abby caught the last bus of the day and began searching a steadily descending order of bars and nightclubs hoping to find her husband.
While walking up a side street Abby saw men jump out of a dark car and assault a man walking by. Instinctively, she jumped into some shadows and watched the man tortured for information then after he broke another man emerged from the car. The new man Abby described was huge with a bald head, wearing a white suit and took great joy in humiliating the poor soul covered in his own blood.
With tears rolling down her eyes Abby said when the man in the white suit finally shot the other guy in the head letting him fall to the ground she could not stop herself from screaming. That attracted the attention of the other men who started walking toward the shadows she was hiding in forcing her to run.
“Did any of the men actually see you?” I asked knowing that I could not be that lucky with her getting away before they saw her.
“Worse,” she whispered finally looking at me, “I dropped my bag with all my identification in it.”
Something about Abby’s story just did not make sense but it was clear that during her wandering she had stumbled into the dangerous part of town and witnessed one of the local crime lords, a lowlife named Spider eliminating a rival. Spider was a newcomer to the area and was in the middle of a small war with other crime bosses building his own underworld empire across the entire Baja peninsula. He was utterly ruthless and by coming into Luis’s bar Abby had made us all targets.
Luis quickly rushed Abby out of sight and into his apartment located on the second floor above his bar. If one thing could be said of the regulars that came to Luis’s tavern, it was the fact that we all were loyal; Luis would not tolerate a person’s presence otherwise, so Luis and I felt safe trying to figure out how we could save Abby and ourselves from Spider’s wrath.
As the night dragged on with Abby asleep in the spare bedroom Luis came up with a plan. I was hesitant, the plan was dangerous and not completely thought out. “Daniel, my friend,” Luis said staring at me. “I know you still have feelings for that woman but this is your home now and we are the closest thing you have to a family. You must decide which is more important.”
Several hours later during the dark and early hours of the morning Luis promised Abby that he would locate her missing husband and get him to safety. Her distraction over the subject of William and his location was great enough to have me wondering despite the dire circumstances we found ourselves. I didn’t have time to think about much as we made our way down the eerily quiet streets. Once on my boat we slipped out of the small harbor and quickly met the storm.

By the time I had my boat secured to the docks and locked up the storm that had been such a pain had passed on leaving a bright sunny day in its place. Stepping off the dock and on the gravel beach carrying my backpack I gave one last look at my boat, I had named her Fool’s Errand when I bought her years ago and hoped my choice would not come and bite me in my ass.
“Shouldn’t we be safe here, no one can see us from the ocean.” She said pointing behind me to the rocky pillars that completely hid the small cove from any passing ships.
“No Abby, the bad guys will be looking up the Baja coast all the way to San Diego for us. With San Miguel in the middle of nowhere the first place they will look is the resort and with no place to hide in town your only option is on someone’s boat. Spider has crossed too many lines and the federales and others are out to make an example of him so he will move heaven and earth to find and eliminate you and anyone else close by.”
It was easy to tell the weight of Abby’s inadvertent adventure was bearing down on hard on her. “So what are we going to do?” She asked.
“Well, see that dirt road leading away from the docks and going over those hills? About three miles further east is a nice place for us to hide while Luis makes a few phone calls, all we have to do is lay low.” I said not feeling quite as confident as I hope I sounded.
Abby’s eyes grew large when she saw my M-4 assault rifle slung over my shoulder and the holstered pistol at my side. “Yes we will need these,” I said walking past her, “it will take Luis some time to organize help, and the bad guys may get lucky and find us first.” She quickly threw her own backpack over her shoulders and caught up with me. While we needed the weapons for protection I double-checked the satellite phone I had stored in one of the cargo pockets of my pants, for Luis’s plan to work it was the most important item.
Our destination was an abandoned copper mining complex situated in a small valley with empty trailers and other buildings that had served as barracks, offices, stores, warehouses and recreation rooms for the miners that were bused out to the site. After cresting one last hill the complex and the road leading to the actual mining pit in a neighboring valley were visible. With her in shock of our final destination, I fished out a pair of binoculars and scanned the hills surrounding the complex and the main road that semis had used to haul the ore back toward civilization. The place looked like a latter-day ghost town, empty of all human habitation.
A walk through the complex confirmed the place was still deserted and after nightfall, she and I sat on an observation deck mounted to the top of the main office building eating army field rations by moonlight. Much to my discomfort, our topic of conversation stayed on our marital misadventures.
Abby and I met in college and quickly fell in love. Like most couples, our first couple of years were a struggle but we managed easing into a comfortable life. The problems came with Abby's constant desire for more; she wanted a bigger house, newer cars, and a lavish lifestyle that I thought was more trouble than it was worth. She became more ambitious, relentlessly pursuing her own career goals so she could get the things she wanted while I took satisfaction in what was around me. Almost as quickly as we fell in love, we drifted apart to the point our marriage evaporated into nothingness. William, who she had dated before me, reentered her life at some point leaving me to enjoy my simple life unencumbered by her desires; the trouble was I still loved her.
Even now, with Abby sitting across from me illuminated by moonlight dressed in a t-shirt, and shorts Maria had left on my boat I felt a familiar but uncomfortable desire. “Daniel,” she suddenly said looking at me, “why did you wait two years after our divorce to leave town? It surprised everyone including me.”
If she wanted honesty, I would give it to her. “What was I suppose to do Abby? I couldn’t walk ten feet in town without bumping into you, William, or his family. But the main reason was when your father-in-law dropped by my apartment all smiles telling me that since I had control of my dad’s land after his passing I needed to get over the part of the grieving ex-husband and work with him to develop the land or sell it to him outright. So I sold it to his competitor for half the price, left town, and eventually found my way to San Miguel. “
“I’m sorry Daniel, when things went bad for us I didn’t realize what I was doing many times until it was too late. I wish there was some way for you to forgive me.” She said, with the moonlight in her eyes and me feeling things I had tried so hard to forget. I don’t know who was the first to reach for the other but neither of us turned away and we made love under the stars.
Later a warm breeze blew across our spent bodies as we lay holding each other. The steady breathing I knew so well from our married years told me she was asleep. I did not want to move but the faint rumble of my satellite phone forced me pull away and dig it out from the cargo pocket of my pants. It was Luis calling to tell me all the pieces were in place and to expect visitors tomorrow afternoon. He also filled me in on certain other elements that would ensure our visitors would behave themselves. I looked at Abby after putting the phone away and hoped she could forgive me for putting her in such danger.
As Abby and I fled San Miguel, the plan I explained to her had us hiding out until proper authorities could eliminate Spider allowing her and William to return safely to the States. The real plan required Abby being bait to draw Spider out of town, away from his safe territory and eliminated. Luis had all sorts of contacts both above and below the law and got word out that a witness held at a secure location had seen Spider murder someone recently. A ransom would guarantee her turnover and any material that would also implicate Spider in the murder.
Knowing Spider’s desire to be involved in the cleaning up of all messes it was a certainty he would be along with the group that would drive out to claim Abby. If Luis’s plan worked a team of snipers in the hills surrounding the mining complex would take out Spider and his bodyguards.
The biggest problem was when I leaned from Luis's phone call that his prime contact in all this turned out to be Spider’s second in command, a guy who went by the name Rafael. Luis somehow knew Rafael did not like Spider’s extreme activities and wanted him out of the way before he jeopardized their more mundane but profitable business practices.
When Abby learned of the plan, she slapped me hard and began crying uncontrollably, I grabbed her by the arms and almost had to slap her back to calm her down. “Listen Abby, no one asked you to come to San Miguel and you’re coming to Luis’s after witnessing that man’s murder put everyone at the bar in danger, not to mention William and your family back in the States because if that bastard can’t get you he will get the people you care about.” Abby froze and looked at me as if I was insane, which given the trust I was putting in Luis’s contact, a criminal in his own right, I very well could have been.
Hours later Abby and I watched a civilian hummer heading our way down the old desert road that had once connected the mining complex with the rest of the word. As part of the ploy, I had talked her into allowing me to tape her wrists together and place a gag over her mouth. With her standing in front of me facing the oncoming vehicle, I tightly held her arms feeling her entire body tremble in fear.
The civilian hummer was all glossy black except the grill, which was polished chrome that to me looked uncomfortably like a grinning skull. It pulled to a stop twenty feet in front of us and for several seconds Abby and I watched the desert dust settle on the vehicle. At one time all four doors opened and Spider and three of his goons stepped out scanning the surroundings before settling their unnerving gazes on us.
“Is this the lady who mistook my actions with a business associate the other night?” Spider asked in English that was without a hint of accent.
“Yes it is and you and she can discuss what actually happened after you hand over the money.” I said holding Abby tighter for my own sake. Spider slowly raised one arm showing off a gym bag with the pay-off money for Abby inside.
“Okay,” I said trying to sound far cooler than I actually was, “I’ll walk ten feet with the lady and you then throw the bag. I’ll grab the bag and leave you the lady. After I’m safely away you will get the tapes where she talks about you killing your business rival’s son. That way we all can avoid needless bloodshed.”
Just as I was wondering if something had gone wrong four shots rang out and like puppet strings being cut Spider’s goons fell to the ground dead. Spider moved the wrong way at the last second and the round meant for him hit the hood of the hummer. For such a large guy Spider rolled to the ground and was up and running far faster than I thought possible to disappear amongst the abandoned buildings.
“This really sucks beyond belief.” I said to myself while pushing Abby the other way and into a nearby storage shed. I quickly cut the tape that bound her wrists and pushed her into the shadows. “Stay here,“ I said handing her my pistol then moving my rifle into my arms that had been slung across my back during our meeting. “Unless I yell first shoot anything that comes through that door.”
After moving the firing select lever to semi I stormed out of the shed hoping that Luis and the rest of the cavalry would arrive before Spider killed Abby and me but until then I had to try to kill him first.
Mainly following the vague footprints Spider had left in the dust and dirt on the ground I moved cautiously but quickly, my rifle raised to eye level, scanning side to side for movement, the rifle butt pressed hard against my shoulder and my finger on the trigger. Taking advantage of the cover and concealment offered by the neatly aligned abandoned buildings I did my best to stay low and pressed up against the metals walls. Moving out into the open between the miniature streets and avenues was a big worry I tried to solve by attempting combat rolls I was taught long ago during my enlistment in the army. Whether my Drill Instructors, long since retired, would recognize them was in serious doubt.
After maneuvering through the dusty streets for what seemed like hours, I took a moment to pause up against a corner wall of one of the abandoned barracks. While listening I heard the faint sound of gravel crunched under someone’s feet as that person moved. The sound hopelessly echoed off the metals walls all around me but I did catch sight of dust drifting from behind a building nearby. With absolutely no wind to speak of I took the chance that it was Spider stirring up the dust with his movements. Getting as low to the ground as possible I sighted my rifle at a point I thought would be center of mass for Spider and hoped the bastard would not double back.
With my finger on the trigger I waited, a bead of sweat took that moment to roll down the side of my face disturbing me enough that when Spider’s huge bulk appeared my shot hit him in his right arm blowing blood and meat in his face and over his suit. Still the bastard held onto the large caliber revolver he had in his other hand and after jumping backwards I could hear him scrambling away again.
By the time I was able to get up and safely to the other side of that building wanting to avoid a possible ambush Spider was long gone but finding him this time only meant following the trail of blood.
Given the amount of blood Spider was leaving on the ground, I figured I must have hit an artery in his arm. The trail was clear and solid for such a distance that I began to wonder how much blood the man had in him. The trail finally ended at the busted door of the last barracks trailer with him just inside, propped up against the far wall. With my rifle aimed straight at his head I slowly walked up the small set of steps and inside.
Spider’s normally white suit was drenched red in his blood while his face was deathly pale. Still he was alert and watched me enter the trailer, his good hand still clasping the nickel-plated revolver by his side.
“I knew it would end up this way, those bastards said deep cover would be an adventure, that I would not be held accountable, that they would pull me out before things got too intense,” he said to me smiling slightly. “I guess you should go ahead and finish the job. I won’t be a scapegoat for those Washington assholes.”
“I don’t think so, I’ll let my friends handle you.” I said since I was not about to kill a man in cold blood.
Spider just laughed and in a flash raised his revolver to his head and blew the top off.
When I returned to the location I left Abby I found her being held by a man who looked exactly like Fidel Castro but dressed in tailored khaki pants and lime green polo shirt standing next his own hummer that brought him and his bodyguards. The only thing missing was the cigar, AK-47, and a set of golf clubs. I figured it was Spider’s second-in-command, Rafael, and I carefully avoided raising my rifle since I figured his own bodyguards gathered around him would shoot me instantly if I looked threatening.
“Is the hijo de puta dead? He asked his face deadly serious while clutching Abby very closely.
“Yeah, he blew his own brains out after I winged him seriously, said he would not be taken alive.” Was all I said figuring I best keep the other stuff to myself. “What’s left of him is four rows over in one of the old buildings, just follow the blood.” I added figuring they would want to see the remains.
Rafael visibly relaxed and smiled, so much that his likeness now made me think of a laid back Fidel that sold ocean front condos in Miami. “Very good my friend,” he said gently turning Abby around and kissing her hand then releasing her, luckily Abby kept her mouth shut and ran over to me. Two of his bodyguards broke off to check the body while Rafael whipped out a similar satellite phone to the one I carried and made a phone call. After someone answered, he jumped back inside his vehicle so we could not hear.
Minutes later the two bodyguards returned, one was carrying Spider’s revolver, and the other what looked to be a ring that I somewhat remember him wearing. Rafael inspected both and images on a camera phone carried by one of the bodyguards.
“Here my friend," Rafael said tossing me the gym bag full of money Spider had brought, “you earned this. We need to be leaving now but tell my brother Luis not to be such a snob, he hasn’t been a cop for years so he can dirty his hands and come see me sometimes. Please join him, bring Maria as well I haven’t seen my cousin in long time either.” With that, he jumped in his hummer and they drove away, taking an overland route well off the only road.
One hour later the complex was swarming with police from a bunch of different agencies including two disgruntled Americans who had DEA written all over them. Different agents interviewed both Abby and me countless times but never did the two Americans say a word, they hovered like weak wraiths unable to affect what was going on. Luis finally showed up in the second wave of arrivals and it was clear that my friend who had mastermind of this plan was still a force to be reckoned with among the police. I never knew any of his real history in all the years I had known the man, much less that Maria was his cousin. It was quite a day for learning things but the final revelation would wait until we returned to San Miguel.
A police helicopter flew Abby and me back but my boat, Fool’s Errand, was sailed back by employees from the marina, as a favor to Luis, where she was docked. Her absence forcing me to bunk with one of my expat friends whose sailboat was usually docked close to mine. Abby in turn was driven back to the resort and the next day Luis informed me about the fate of William, Abby’s missing husband. She and I discussed that on the patio outside Luis’s bar the following morning.
“Abby, what were you really doing in San Miguel? Luis found out that William is back home in North Carolina, if fact he was looking for you, something about you disappearing after a misunderstanding.”
Abby looked away from me, with the breeze coming off the ocean blowing her blonde hair in a way that it was all I could do to keep my mind on the answers I needed. “Some misunderstanding,” she finally said, “caught the bastard with the wife of the couple that lives next door to us. I went crazy and left the house with him chasing after me naked, I’m sure the homeowner’s association will have words with us eventually about that.”
“Okay, but why did that bring you to San Miguel?” I asked knowing the answer but feeling completely different from the moment I first saw her in Luis’s tavern.
Abby looked straight back at me grabbing my hands. “Even before I saw William screwing Marsha I was doing a lot of thinking about us. I was so wrong about you and our marriage. After I caught William, I figured I had nothing left to lose so after speaking with a few of your old friends I found out where in the world you finally settled and came looking for you. I made up the story about William and I being on vacation so I would not look so pathetic in case you rejected me outright. Although I realize now I should have come clean after I stumbled across Spider. But Daniel I know we still have something after that night we made love on the deck, so how about it, can we go home and try again?”
Like an idiot, I had willingly put my life on hold for Abby for six years hoping she would take me back. Had she come to this realization sometime earlier I would be flying back with her and feeling like the luckiest guy in the world. However, the last couple of days had convinced me that even with its faults I had truly found my home.
“Abby, I’m so sorry you but you should go back home and figure things out with William, I realized now things have changed far too much between us. Its all far more complicated than I can explain but it boils down that he’s got you and I’ve got Mexico and I think that is best for us both.” We both knew it was over after that so Abby and I kissed like long lost friends, which in a way is what we are but she was soon in a van traveling back to the resort.
A few hours later, I drifted over to Maria who arrived at the tavern to begin her night and who was in a storeroom checking off a list of items. She looked at me angrily still suspicious of my intentions but the smile on her face after I opened the small box containing the ring I hastily bought that day gave me my answer to the question I was about to ask.

Monday, May 10, 2010

High Society Smack Down

The hot spring afternoon was compelling the group of well-dressed Charlestonians into the small waiting area of the swanky East Bay Street restaurant forcing a jovial but uncomfortable closeness so everyone could escape the heat outside. The leaders of the group, a good-natured, middle-aged man wearing a tan cotton suit and his wife in a purple cocktail dress hovered over the podium used by the hostess discussing seating arrangements with the young girl busy scribbling notes and talking with the lead waiter next her. Behind the middle-aged man was a slightly younger version of himself dressed in a simple black sports jacket with a green polo shirt and khaki pants that would alternately make a joke at his older brother’s expense or be pushing his very young trophy wife up against the wall to whisper something in her ear. When the trophy wife was not giggling at whatever her husband had privately said she was checking the position of her strapless dress and pulling it back up to a more respectable position. Given how short the one-piece dress was the repositioning was a careful balancing act between showing too much on top or below.

After several minutes the lead waiter, who had walked back into the dining area, returned informing the hostess that the group’s tables were ready. Right after the podium the restaurant’s bar began narrowed the passageway to the main dining area and forced the group to walk two-by-two giving the impression of people walking down a fashion show catwalk. The patrons seated at the bar and sipping cold drinks watched the finely dressed men and elegant ladies pass by wondering what sort of celebration had drawn such a crowd out in the heat.

At the other end of the bar the restaurant opened up into the dining area allowing the group to fan out and take seats at the hastily arranged formation of joined tables in the center of the room that still had various waiters and waitresses adding silverware, napkins, and other table items. The precession of high style had interrupted the normal flow of the wait staff but with them seated the waiters and waitresses quickly returned to their coordinated dance of beehive efficiency centered on the counter situated close to the bar where the food and drinks were picked up to be brought to the tables. Two chefs worked behind the counter making last minute corrections to the items placed on serving trays oblivious to the fire raging in the brick oven behind them.

Most of the idle curiosity the other patrons had about the group were satisfied after they raised their newly arrived glasses of mixed drinks and ice tea in toast to one young lady sitting at the far end of the joined tables congratulating her very recent college graduation. The young lady thanked everyone for their well wishes and the number of pricey gifts and only hoped that a job would soon appear so she could put her expensive degree to some use. After the laughter died down and the young lady returned to her conversation with the people seated close to her the group sank into shared anonymity with the other patrons. That was the case until one last couple appeared escorted by the hostess that once again had drawn the attention of most of the people in the restaurant.

The late arriving man and woman, both in their early twenties, cut an even more eye-catching entrance than the rest of the trendy group. The man was dressed in an US army uniform and was still wearing his black beret inside the restaurant which was arranged on his head in a slightly out of regulation manner making him appear more striking and dangerous. Pinned to the shoulder tabs of his uniform were brand new bronze colored bars signifying a newly minted Second Lieutenant and attached to the lower portion of the lapels of his army green jacket were the crossed rifles showing he was an infantry officer. The high point of his young military career were the highly polished airborne jump wings positioned above his left pocket and overwhelming his two minor ribbon awards attached between the pocket and the coveted silver wings. On initial observation, the young soldier looked calm and confident but anyone taking a longer look could see that his eyes betrayed him showing a hint of the insecurity and nervousness about being around a group of people far more use to the rules and procedures of high society.

The blonde woman walking by his side was dressed in a blue silk dress with a tiered skirt cut short. The modest cut in front showing little in the way of skin was offset by the bold plunge in the back that had every man in the place staring as she passed. Just looking at the stunning woman the first thoughts passing through an observer’s head would be just as wrong as they would have been on her soldier companion. While she presented an air of refinement and breeding looking into her eyes and watching her graceful walk, you would have seen something akin to the beauty of a shark swimming through the water alert for prey. The gorgeous woman scanned her surroundings as confident and powerful as a queen and was not afraid to stare down anyone who looked at her a little too long.

When the young couple arrived at the tables both the middle-aged man and his wife in charge of the fashionable group jumped up and greeted the two enthusiastically. The young blonde-haired woman addressed the middle-aged man as her dad and gave him a big hug then greeted and kissed her mother on the cheek. Once his female companion took her seat the young soldier grabbed and shook the hand of the father, mother, and finally the uncle before sitting beside his girlfriend. After another round of informal banter prompted by the couple’s arrival the table soon quieted down again as waiters and waitresses began serving the meals. The returning quiet was only a brief respite from the main event that would shock everyone in the restaurant.

As the group was nearing the end of dessert, the lieutenant cleared his throat and banged his butter knife against the side of his water glass then carefully standing after moving back his chair. That had the result of silencing not only the conversations at the joined tables but attracting the attention of most everyone seated nearby.

“This seems,” the young officer said addressing the group he was a part of,” to be the best time to do this with Sally’s family all around.” With the smooth movements of someone who had practiced the maneuver countless times he pulled a small box out of his pants pocket, bent down on one knee, and opened it before his shocked girlfriend. “Sally,” he said looking with all earnest at his girlfriend, “we’ve been a part of each other’s lives since our first year in college. I have loved you from the first minute I set eyes on you and have known all along that we would spend the rest of our lives together. Please do me the honor and marry me.”

All around the restaurant the spectacle had brought smiles to most, gasps to several older ladies, and tears to a few for reasons known only to them. The air in the restaurant was electric as the moment hung heavy waiting for what everyone expected would be the happy ending as the beautiful young woman said yes to the handsome soldier. The tension only increased as the young woman cradled the rugged face of the man who had just professed his love in her soft hands and smiled at him as only an angel could.

“Jeff my dearest,” she said sweetly with everyone expecting a positive answer, “there is no way in Hell that I would ever marry you.” Silence had dominated the room with everyone anticipating a different answer but now a heavier stillness reigned as everyone could tell the hammer was about to fall with her explaining why she had crushed the man in front of her who was frozen worse than any marble statue. “Jeff I have known about your insipid social climbing ambitions since we first met, you only saw me as an avenue or tool to family riches and influence. For those reasons alone I would be a fool to marry you but your little fling with my best friend last summer alone ended any chance we had together all by itself.”

Jeff, not one to go down without a fight returned to his chair and looked at the woman who had just embarrassed in front of everyone listening. “If you thought I was only after your family’s money and social standing why did you keep me around for so long?”

“Sweetie,” Sally said looking at him like an owner might talk to a pet dog, “You were nothing but meat to me. Good in bed and fun to be around but nothing more.”

Anger began to well up in the spurned man with his face turning red and his hands shaking. The silence in the restaurant had gone on for so long that everyone knew something bad would have to happen to break it. At Jeff and Sally’s tables, most of the group was trying hard to look some other place while Sally’s dad stared at the boyfriend worried what he might do next, only the uncle was smiling enjoying the unfolding drama.

As Jeff’s hands continued to shake with his mind someplace far away and bloody Sally gently touched his shoulder. “Jeff give up the dramatics,” she said. “You are making a scene and if you do anything stupid your life will never recover. You and I can walk out of here soon and you can go your own way and be the injured party with any number of like-mined social sluts eager to take my place.”

Like a deadly storm that had changed course to disappear over the horizon Jeff’s face cleared and his hands stopped shaking. After everyone was finished and the check was paid, the group left almost as regally as they arrived. The young officer departed first and alone with his head held high. Sally left with her sister and a few friends laughing about the whole affair and openly talking about a young lawyer she had met the week before. For the rest of the people in the restaurant still stunned at what had happened, a slow realization crept in their minds that you could not pay for such high quality dramatic entertainment.

Author's note: Spent Saturday doing some sightseeing around Charleston and while having lunch with Dragonwife and Miss Wiggles at an excellent restaurant this event took place. Now understand I added a great deal of "color" to the story but the basic premise of a dude associated with the military going down in inglorious flames after asking his obviously high society girlfriend to marry him in front of everyone was real. I changed many things just to avoid any possible legal issues like names and descriptions of people in the story but anyone with a little knowledge of Charleston restaurants should be able to guess the place we were eating. The food was fantastic and I will return whenever I am lucky enough to get back down to the Holy city.