Before she could look back at the stage, she heard a collective gasp, a whoosh of air inward, lungs being inflated involuntarily. At first, all she saw was a notably handsome man, dressed in a dark blue suit with crimson tie, striding confidently toward the outstretched arm of Chairman Waterson. The man was smiling, in a somewhat familiar, asymmetrical, but endearing way. He had full, dark hair swept backward across his head, hair that was groomed and combed meticulously, giving the impression of something…. “Damn!” she exclaimed out loud as her memory jolted her into comprehension.
This time Ronald Reagan reacted. “Please, Jill,” he said softly, patting the couch beside him. “Sit down and talk to me. No one will ever take you for granted. I promise you. I think what Ted was trying to say is that you are a person to whom I can tell my story rather than have a reporter dig it out while getting it wrong or purposely putting it in the wrong perspective. You look like someone I can trust. Can you trust me, is the question?” He reached for her arm and gently pulled her down beside him. The smile he gave her would have melted nearly any woman and certainly softened Jill.
“The first thing you should know, Jill, is that I think of myself as a very normal person, not as a prior president or a movie star or the governor of a large state. I only claim to be ordinary and just like everybody else except for one thing…I look like a famous person. So I want you to look past my appearance and try to see the real me, and when you do, I hope you find something of value.”
“Ron, are you trying to make me fall in love with you? If you are, it’s working.”
“I thought about that last night at dinner. You were lit by candlelight, dressed in that marvelous white gown, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of you. It’s the way you move, the little change of expression around your eyes, the breathless way you speak. All of it. Sure, I’m trying. I can’t help myself, and I guess I want you to share that emotion.”
“So, as an investigator, a representative of the Joint Commission, and a licensed physician, I cannot be allowed all the facts regarding a possible contamination in a medical institution?”
“I’m not sure. That’s our policy, however.”
“Here is what I insist you do, Nurse. While I review this first chart, you are to go to your superior, discuss this HIV case and bring me back a fax from your hospital appointed attorney indicating your legal position. Am I clear?”
“Very clear, Doctor.” She left abruptly, anger darkening her face.
Beckman slowed, watching the house numbers go by, getting closer by the block. The particular house, he calculated, had to be on this block and on the right side. He swung to the curb, turning off the car motor, planning to walk the remaining distance, partly to size up the neighborhood. It seemed safe enough, but Beckman never really worried about danger, only getting away after the gunfire started. He was not a large man, wiry by some descriptions, and no longer young, but he was experienced, trained by the best and willing to use deadly force in a split second. One look from his hard eyes was enough warning for anyone but the most foolhardy, and those who didn’t see it in time paid the price.
Burns thought about his investigator and the willingness of his old pal Duffy to help out. He actually hadn’t seen Duffy in person for years, and when he remembered Duffy, it was with an M16 in his hands, several grenades hanging from his belt, his skin brown from exposure, and wearing the constant sardonic grin he always carried. It was an old yellowed memory of Viet Nam that played over and over in his mind. Those times never changed for him, some of it good, most of it bad, but always frozen in time, suspended permanently in that fog which could never be altered, never relived. Somehow he had survived, but so many others didn’t.
Larry started clicking away. Burns watched him in wonder for a few moments. The kid was part of a different world, one that was vastly too intellectual to understand, and he found it hard to imagine that this skinny kid could manage to actually break the law from his mother’s basement. After all, he looked frail and malnourished as well as unkempt. After a bit longer and more observation, Burns became aware that he was wrong. This boy was a master, a genius of sorts and a huge force of some new type. A thing which had grown up out of games and bits of code and become the size of an army and just as dangerous. Burns was looking at the future, and as a man of the past, it took his confidence and left it on the floor.
Bobby held up a five pounder and waved it around while she watched, then extended it toward her. It was snatched away, disappearing behind the door. His foot quickly blocked the swinging door before it closed. She took another look and saw a thickset man with longer reddish hair and a three-day growth on his chin. The scowl on his face said it all, a man not to trifle with.
“You took me money, now you answer me questions.” His voice was stronger and less accented this time. The door swung fully open. She was still in her full-length nightgown, a wrinkled, faded, soiled one. He could tell that she was going to be more cooperative this time.
Beckman stopped and watched as Sommerlyn Crosby walked away without looking back. He felt sorry for her in some distant way. He had seen photographs taken when she was young and full of dreams. A nice little package with puffy lips and long gorgeous blonde hair, innocent and wild, a thing of dreams for a young man. Beckman lit up a cigarette as she slowly disappeared into the night, wishing when he was young he could have known what he now knew. A dish like Sommerlyn should have been put on a pedestal, worshiped, respected and given the world. Instead she was used and thrown aside, just like he himself had carelessly done to girls just like her.
In the dim light, Jill took another look at the boat before stepping aboard. It was a husky twenty-one footer, twin hulls up front, two gleaming outboard motors at the rear. A small three-sided glass cabin enclosed the minimal electronics and controls. Juan had turned the running lights on, and they reassuringly glowed at the four corners of the craft. She silently took a deep breath and was about to step on the gunnel as an unexpected blast of wind pushed her back onto the dock. A steady wind, strong enough to flap her jacket open, was accompanied by occasional strong puffs coming from the north and the black waters of the bay. She looked at Ron, wondering if he actually had enough experience to attempt a crossing under these conditions.