Thursday, March 16, 2017

Melody and the Pier to Forever: A Free Chapter from the Fifth Novel in the Series, Due to be Released in May!


The Angel's Guardian
Coming May 2017!

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Fire and Distance

7
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THE JUDGE peered impatiently down at her. “Ms. Finnegan, are you aware why you’re in court today?”

   “Yes, Your Honor,” she murmured.

   “I see that this is not the first time you’ve been confined in a mental health facility.”

   She didn’t respond. Those records were supposed to be sealed and then expunged. The fact that they were brought up again, inappropriately and now publicly, proved once again to her that the US justice system was corrupt beyond all repair. She glared at the man sitting imperiously above her. He caught her glare and added his back.

   “Bail is set at three thousand dollars,” he grumbled. “You will be required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, at which point further charges, criminal and civil, may be filed against you. Do you understand?”

   It didn’t matter if she answered, so she didn’t.

   “Bailiff, please see to it that Ms. Finnegan gets safely back to her hospital room.”

   He slammed the gavel down. They were still engaged in the glaring contest; she quit it when the bailiff approached. “Ma’am …”

   They hadn’t handcuffed her coming here, and they didn’t leaving. The bailiff led her from the courtroom to the waiting room. A uniformed officer motioned impatiently for her to continue towards him and the entrance.

   She walked into bright sunshine and stooped into the back of the cruiser. The cop slammed the door behind her and hunched angrily into the driver’s seat a moment later, and off they went.

   Twenty minutes later an orderly opened her door. “Ms. Finnegan, if you would …”

   He offered his hand; she didn’t take it. The cop came around. “Let’s go,” he grumbled. He grabbed her arm. She didn’t resist him.

   She had spent the past two days locked in a room in the mental ward on the hospital’s top floor. She had spent those days as she had the days in the corner of her kitchen: with a settled numbness that took everything away save the tears, which would invade the impenetrable fog of her despair at random moments. The wound in her soul was so serious that not even pain could touch its depths. It was from its shadows that she huddled against the world.

   She was under twenty-four-hour surveillance by the hospital staff, even though they hadn’t thrown her into a “rubber room.” The red light on top of the camera greeted her crossly as the orderly led her into her room. “We’ll get you some lunch in a bit. For now, sit tight. The mental health evaluator will be here this afternoon.”

   He closed the door behind her, giving her a sympathetic smile as he left.

   Elizabeth didn’t sit on her bed, but went to the chair in the corner. She sat heavily and stared at nothing.






It was impossible not feeling like a sixteen-year-old again while in here. The memories of Owen and her lost baby were waiting in this room, and she wept for them. Inevitably, rage came next: images of her mother and father and the psychologist and his filthy leer made her want to scream and pull her hair and pound on the walls. She’d hold herself together, sometimes barely, and the cycle would repeat.

   The camera’s accusing red light kept her from completely losing it. She knew it wasn’t here to prevent her from suicide as much as it was to gather evidence against her. The American medical industry had no real interest in healing, only profits. Putting her away in a privately run mental hospital, which conservative San Diego allowed, would swell the wallets of half the psychiatric staff of this hell-hole. They wanted her to go crazy and scream and tear at her hair and pound the walls. They wanted it. It would bring that shiny new Lexus or trophy wife closer to reality, however incrementally.

   She balled her fists and closed her eyes. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She couldn’t stop them, but they didn’t matter.

   People were soulless. The insensate gray she perceived all around her: it came from them, not her or nature. People chose non-lives—unlives, really—and expected all to live as they did. Everything was pre-packaged: religion, happiness, sex, food, even death. Everything had to have straight edges and neat corners and be stain-resistant and antibacterial.

   Isao was right. Feeling deeply without the approval of corporations and organized religion was wrong in the eyes of the unliving and would be punished severely.

   Did she really want to kill herself on the bridge? Did she? She screwed her eyes tighter and tried clearing her mind of all thoughts save that question.

   Did she want to die? Did she want to do herself in? If not, why did she stop her car at the summit of the bridge and climb onto the railing? Why?

   She pressed her chin into her chest. Tears dripped and her nose ran. She ignored them.

   The camera watched her hungrily, hopefully.

   Screw it. And screw the soul-sucking monsters watching me through it.

   She was a captured and caged warrior on the side of right and light. To be released, to survive this horrible, endless night, she would have to find the truth and be unafraid of it. She would have to be prepared for it, no matter what it told her. She would have to climb the treacherous walls of her wound and fight for the daylight.

   She sought for the song she had heard in another hospital a lifetime away, and gasped when it came to her immediately. It filled her just as Yaeko’s music did; and when she thought that it could be something Yaeko might have composed had she lived long enough, grief swept her up and away from her quest.

   But then, all at once, it was gone. She jerked her chin up, unballed her fists, and relaxed her soaked eyelids. The music buoyed her up and away, and she found herself once more on the edge of the Coronado Bay Bridge, looking at the Imperial Beach Pier miles and miles away. Her lungs felt suddenly enormous, like she could breathe forever.

   Izumi’s words were like signposts pointing towards an astonishing truth. They burned in her mind’s eye.

   Fire and distance.

   It was there, way, way out there. She didn’t have to go to it; it was waiting for her to look at it right where she was. She need merely look at it and it would come to her.

   While Yaeko’s last album played, she had gotten out of her car at the top of the bridge and climbed up the rail to get a better look. As the traffic behind her honked impatiently, and as approaching cars from the other direction skidded to a stop, and as people spilled out of them to talk her down, she had looked and had seen it and it had come to her:

   Fire and distance.

   Yaeko Mitsaki’s music—her spirit—was destined for them.

   Elizabeth knew it then: so was she.

   It wasn’t an attempt at suicide, no. It was precisely the opposite.

   She blinked her eyes open.

   Someone had opened the door and was standing under the doorjamb.

   Isao.






She sprang to her feet and rushed into his arms, one of which held Blue.

   They exchanged no words. He held her and the blue whale tightly against him as she wailed and hiccupped into his shoulder.

   Minutes passed. The music was still there, still calling to her, still trying to heal her.

   When he pulled back to peer into her eyes, she went to speak, to thank him for coming, but he sternly shook his head.

   “No words from you. Not one. Do you understand me?”

   He appeared as angry as she had ever seen him. She nodded, staring. She thought he might bawl her out, and waited for it. Instead he handed her lifelong friend to her. She took Blue and hugged him closely. He smelled of home and sleep and peace. She went to thank him (she had long ago given him keys to her home, which he used when he visited), but he shook his head, stopping her.

   “I want you to take a personal vow of silence starting right now,” he said. “I do not want you to speak unless I say it is all right to do so. If you are willing to consent to this, please nod your head. If not, then go ahead and speak.”

   She stared.

   “Please understand that I would never ask something like this unless I thought it would do you great good. I am not playing around with you, Elizabeth. This is no game. This, right here, is where you decide who you are going to be from this moment forward. Your future is on the line, right here, right now. Your pilgrimage is over. You have arrived at your destination. It is time to be silent and worship. So be silent and worship. Please trust me. I know exactly what I am asking of you. Let this moment be the rock upon which the rest of your life is built. Let it.”

   After a suffocating minute, she nodded.

   He handed her a handkerchief. She used it and then nodded again, this time more emphatically.

   Something in him had changed. Something inside him … towered. That was the only proper word for it; and it was how she would think of him in the years to come. He looked as though he could move mountains just by forgetfully flicking a finger. The man who appeared mortally frail after suffering a stroke seemed like granite, immovable, a fact. She could anchor her being to him and safely ride out the mighty tempest threatening to capsize her.

   She got the feeling that he was waiting for her to violate her silence, and so nodded one more time.

   “I want you to pay very close attention to what I have to say,” he said. “Do you understand?”

   She nodded.

   “What I have to say is going to be very difficult to hear. Do you understand?”

   She nodded again.

   “Are you ready?”

   She took a deep breath.

   He said slowly, emphasizing each word: “Yaeko Mitsaki is alive.”

   The news rolled over her like a tremendous tsunami.

   Her knees gave out. She convulsively reached for him. She violated her oath then, but it couldn’t be helped.

   “God Almighty!”

   A moment later the world swam in her vision and she fainted.






She opened her eyes. He was staring down at her. She was in bed, Blue peeking out of the covers next to her.

   The stillness of total destruction settled over her. The great wave had receded.

   She gazed into his eyes. He smiled and nodded.

   She turned away from him, curled into a tight ball with Blue, and let the flood come and sweep the destruction out to the ebbing sea.

   Isao did not move or speak, but simply sat next to her, his hand on her quaking shoulder.






Silence.

   She sat next to him on the plane as it roared down the runway. She felt the familiar and happy tug on her innards as it pulled free of the earth and began its hopeful climb.

   Isao sat back, his eyes closed, his hands tightly gripping the armrests. She reached for the hand closest to her and squeezed it. He opened his eyes and gazed at her. She smiled reassuringly. The plane banked left, its wing dipping down, down, down, and she could feel his grip on the armrest tighten. She held her hand over his and looked out the window.

   There it was. The Imperial Beach Pier.

   Fire and distance.

   Yaeko Mitsaki was alive.






Isao initially shared only the sparsest of details of the miracle of Yaeko’s escape from death, how it could possibly be true, how everyone else in the world believed that the Young Master was gone, how the tens of thousands who attended her funeral just yesterday believed her ashes were in the urn.

   Elizabeth was released into Isao’s care after the judge grudgingly declared her mentally fit and dropped all charges upon Isao’s lengthy evaluation. They collected her car where the city had towed it, paid the obscene fee, and drove back to Mission Hills, where he helped her pack. She was going with him back to Lausanne, he declared. He had already cleared it with her supervisor, who told him to assure Elizabeth that her job would be waiting when she was ready to get back to it.

   Only after all this did he offer more news about Yaeko.

   Elizabeth wept when the miracle of Yaeko’s escape from death did not extend to her family or her teacher, or to Izumi. When Isao told her, he couldn’t keep from weeping himself. They held each other for a long time before he composed himself and carried on.

   Izumi, he informed her, had somehow foreseen this disaster and had planned for it.

   Had planned for it all.

   There was never a plan to tour Europe, at least not under Izumi’s watch. It was all a ruse. Europe—specifically, Switzerland—was where Yaeko was to go to recover. She had been crushed in the wreckage and was paralyzed from the waist down and in a coma she might never wake from.

   Izumi had somehow foreseen it.

   He was the one who pushed Isao to take the job in Switzerland, long before he ever became Yaeko’s manager. It was a point of mania for him from the instant Isao mentioned that the hospital had expressed an interest in giving him a position there. Izumi’s eyes had gone blank, Isao reported, when he rather forgetfully told him about the job. When Izumi refocused on him, he said, “It is a job you must take. You must take it, Isao! Do not turn it down! I don’t know why you must take it; I just know you must!

   Isao learned that he was to see to Yaeko’s recovery, both mentally and physically. Izumi had without his permission or knowledge installed him as the head the “network” of people around the world devoted to covering up what really happened to her and to assist those who would see to her recovery and future. Yaeko would want for nothing the rest of her life. From insurance agents to school teachers to career counselors to, even, car dealers, plumbers, real estate agents and carpenters, she would live the rest of her life cocooned safely in anonymity, fully and fiercely protected.

   It seemed too incredible to be true. How could Izumi have foreseen this disaster? It seemed like something out of a dimestore novel! Elizabeth’s repeated blank look of incredulity must have told Isao that, because he nodded emphatically whenever he saw it.

   He told her about “The Blueprint”: the thick stack of manila envelopes so titled which were sent in a digitally locked safe that arrived just a day after the crash. The safe could be opened by a simple password, so a post-it on the safe declared; but Izumi hadn’t sent it along. His first dozen guesses failed; when he finally punched LAUSANNE on the keyboard, it opened.

   “The Blueprint” contained incredibly detailed instructions for seeing to Yaeko and her recovery. Elizabeth, Isao told her, was mentioned explicitly twice.

   She gazed at him expectantly. The plane had long since leveled and lunch served; he took a sip of wine and said, “I memorized what he said. I’ll quote directly. Izumi said: ‘Elizabeth Finnegan must be unforgettable. But she must not interfere with Yaeko’s waking recovery. If she interferes, if she makes herself too known, or known too soon, the great highway will be lost.’ ”

   Elizabeth almost blurted out “What?” but managed to swallow it back.

   He shrugged helplessly. “When we arrive in Lausanne, I’ll show you. I want you to read the entire Blueprint. I need a second pair of eyes, because I honestly don’t trust my own. My disbelief blinds me when I look at it. It truly does.”

   There was tremendous pain in his words, and it made her ache, too. She reached for his hand.

   When a little of the watery shine had left his eyes, he said, “The second thing he said about you was much more straightforward. He said—and I’ll quote directly again—‘Elizabeth must move to Imperial Beach. There is money set aside to help her accomplish this. See to it that she succeeds.’

   “Izumi set up accounts all over the world,” he went on. “Yours has two hundred thousand American in it. It’s the Young Master’s money. I think he wanted you to spend it on a down payment on a new condo in Imperial Beach. Do you know where Imperial Beach is?”

   Elizabeth scarcely heard the question.

   Fire and distance.

   “Elizabeth?”

   She focused on him and nodded vacantly.

   “Are you all right?”

   She nodded again.

   “When I mentioned Imperial Beach, you looked for a moment like you were going to have another fainting spell.”

   She held still. The glorious music was back. She closed her eyes and let it swell inside her. He did not disturb her.

   When she came back, he was looking away and sipping wine. He glanced at her, saw that she was ready for more, and said: “Izumi mentions Imperial Beach quite a few times in the Blueprint. It is clear there is much more about it than he was willing to admit. He writes of it as though it were almost a mystical land, or a magical one. Your face filled with wonder, perhaps of the kind I felt as a boy reading about Narnia. I have never been to Imperial Beach before. Using the words as pragmatically as is possible, is Imperial Beach ‘mystical’ or ‘magical’?”

   Elizabeth laughed before she could stop herself. It exploded out of her mouth in a hiccup, and went on for a long and painful time. Passengers to the right stared, irritated. She worried that she had broken her vow.

   “I take it that means no,” he said in the middle of it.

   She struggled to get herself under control.

   “And yet,” he went on, “I have no doubt that something there is extraordinarily important; and that, at least to Izumi and the premonitions he suffered, that something there is in fact magical, pragmatism be damned. But perhaps all notions of pragmatism should be, given all that has occurred. It is clear that there is something in Imperial Beach that Izumi feels is essential to the Young Master’s future happiness—and to yours. It is a great mystery, that much I am certain. A very great one indeed.”

   He settled in his seat. She went to release his hand, but he grabbed hers tighter and said, “Please. Just a few minutes more. I too am suffering, Elizabeth, and your touch eases the pain.”

   She held his hand and looked out the window at patchy quilts of puffy white covering brown swaths of America far below.

   Fire and distance.


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Look for The Angel's Guardian at all major retailers in May!
Thank you for reading!


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