Part 36 of an original tale that delves into the unexplored realms of the human mind. Hired by her lover to find a raven haired beauty, Benjamin Bering must avoid the local police as well as the agents of a nonexistent government agency who are after him and the woman. There are just two problems. The woman is in a coma and her body has been stolen. (Part 1 can be found HERE.)
The diner was ten minutes and several miles behind us as we turned off I-95 North onto the old U.S. Route 1. The narrow winding road would soon deliver us to Hampton Beach, a seaside playground popular with those who lived north of Boston and those who wished to avoid the arduous drives in choking traffic to reach Cape Cod.
Although Stu and I had attempted to make smalltalk to brighten the gloomy aura that Susan had wrapped about herself, our efforts had nonetheless proven fruitless. She had cocooned herself into an impregnable shell, that aegis allowing her to be alone with her thoughts and long suppressed inner demons.
It was with a start that she emerged from the self-imposed asylum. A series of sobs wracked her body and she threw herself trembling into my arms. For such a strong willed woman, she was unable to deal with a vulnerability that she had never known existed within her.
"Tell me! Please tell me he's not my father! Oh God,Please!" she screamed. She said nothing more and then grew limp. The poor girl had cried herself to sleep in my arms.
"Is she going to be okay?" Stu asked.
"I think so. The thought of the general being her father awakened some long pent up emotions within her. She never knew her parents and as a result spent over half of her life in foster care."
"...And what if he is, Ben?" Stu queried.
"Now that she's let it out of her system, I think she'll be able to deal with it."
"Then if it isn't Susan, that would leave Michelle," Stu said. I could see in his eyes in the rear view mirror that he was uncertain.
"I know that it's an inaccurate gauge to go by, but the considerable age differences involved trouble me. He's in his eighties. If he was Susan's father, he'd have been fifty-five or so when she was born. Subtract three for Michelle," I said confirming to him my own uncertainty. "I would expect any daughter of his to be about my age."
"You have no other ideas? You're going to let that analytical brain stop there?" he asked more as a challenge than a question.
"Look, I might rely on hunches, but I don't like to stack my eggs in one basket of conjecture," I responded sarcastically.
Stu held open the door to the cottage as I shuffled in carrying Susan out of the bitter cold wind blowing off the Atlantic Ocean, not five hundred feet from the property. I laid her down on the sofa facing the large fireplace while Stu set about trying to ignite the kindling beneath three previously stacked logs. After spreading my coat over her, I looked down upon her face and brushed aside the hair on her cheek.
"You really care about her, don't you?" Stu observed.
I looked over at him. He was leaning on the mantle and I said, "Yes. Yes I do."
"And that age thing? It doesn't bother you?" he asked in return.
"No," I professed. "Look, I haven't known her that long. You've already got me walking her down the aisle?"
She stirred and murmured, "Ummm, I like the sound of that!" Her arms circled my neck and she pulled herself upright. Then in an incredible show of athleticism she deftly swung a leg over my head and twisted her body until she was sitting facing me astraddle my lap. "That wasn't a proposal I heard a moment ago, was it?" Her lips pressed hard to mine and I responded in kind.
I pulled away and whispered, "No, it wasn't. And we're not alone."
She glanced over her shoulder to see Stu by the fireplace and playfully waved at him, "Hi, Stu."
He smiled and replied, "Hello, Susan." He twisted his head toward the door and announced, "I hear a vehicle approaching. It must be him now." He hurried to the door. "I'll meet our guest outside while you two assume a posture more conducive to receiving guests." With that he winked and stepped outside.
She rested her forehead against my shoulder and sighed, "You don't have to say it. I know, it's not the time or place."
He walked through the door with a military swagger, that certain cock-sureness possessed by high ranking career officers in the various branches of our armed forces. He stopped and stood rigid while looking about the room of the cottage. When he saw Susan and I standing against the backdrop of the blazing fireplace he relaxed and stepped forth.
"Ah. Mr. Bering, we meet again," his nod was barely perceptible. He turned to Susan and performed a cursory touch of his fingers to the brim of his cap and said, "Good afternoon, Miss."
His posture stiffened as he eyed the fireplace poker she was brandishing. She raised it in his direction and snarled, "Go ahead. Tell me that you're my father!"
His eyebrows arched and he snapped, "You? My daughter? Not likely!" With cautious enunciation he said, "Honey, you're barely old enough to be my grand daughter!"
He remained emotionless and watched as Susan let the poker fall from her hands onto the floor. "Thank God!" she muttered to no certain ear and moved closer to me.
"You really wanted to strike me with that?" he asked pointing at the discarded weapon. His eyes focused on me, "And you were going to allow her to do so, Mr. Bering?"
Though I had been forced into a position to afford him a measure of trust, I could not refrain from showing disdain in my voice, "If you'd said you were her father, I would have grabbed another poker and joined in on the fun."
The twitch at the corner of his lower lip was the probably the closest thing to an emotional response the man had ever allowed his face to display. "I suppose I deserve that," he said turning away.
Stu entered from outside and closed the door. "You came alone, General Gates?"
He nodded, "I gave my driver the afternoon off. I left instructions that I was not to be disturbed under any circumstances. I shan't be missed before 1700 hours."
I motioned at the sofa and arm chairs positioned about the room and said, "Why don't we all have a seat and get comfortable." The general sat down in an armchair nearest the fireplace while Stu and Susan settled on the sofa. I spread my arms and addressed our guest, "Could I get you a drink, general. Rosie keeps a well stocked bar."
"That she does," was his smug response. "I'll have a scotch straight up in a tall glass." He must have sensed the curious look on my face and said, "In the lower left hand cabinet, behind the ice bucket you'll find an unopened bottle of twenty-year-old scotch."
Sure enough as he had directed, I produced an unopened bottle of scotch and placed it on the bar. I eyed Susan and Stu, both whom returned my blank stares. "You've been here before?"
He was sitting rigid, almost as if the man was more comfortable at attention even when seated, and he responded, "I needed a safe place for us to meet. I chose a place with which I was familiar. This is one civilian residence in which I am most comfortable."
Stunned, I was having trouble to formulate words. I shook my head and finally was able to mutter, "All the years I've known her ... Rosie's never once mentioned you."
From outside there was the sound of an engine followed by the blare of a horn. He turned to me and said, "That would be my daughter now!"
(To be continued in part 37 on Friday, 4/3, with All in the Family.)