Part 37 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.)
I suppose I should not have been so taken aback, but the new development was a little too close to home for comfort. Until a few days ago, I'd never heard of General Gates.
He had never once been mentioned by name at any of the family gatherings I had attended over the years. I remembered that the two girls differed in how their father was to be regarded, one by choosing not to discuss him and the other by citing him as a war hero. Yet, all references to him were always in the past tense. I had assumed that their father must have been long dead.
At the sound of a car door closing outside all eyes turned to the entrance except for one pair. The general remained seated, at stiff attention as he had been since he'd arrived. His stoic countenance appeared as if it had been chiseled from stone.
I silently vowed to myself that one day when this was all over, Rosie and I needed to sit down and have a long talk. I moved to the door and pulled it open to allow her to enter.
"Faye ?" I yelped in a stunned daze.
The woman stood in the doorway and gazed about the room before reacting to my presence. "Ben? What in the hell are you doing here?" she asked. She didn't wait for a response, addressing instead the man on the sofa. "And Stu. You too?" She studied Susan for a moment and said, "I've heard about you."
Susan shifted and crossed her legs. I stepped between them and interjected, "Faye, meet Susan Powers. Susan, I'd like you to meet the former Mrs. Bering and the current Mrs. O'Day."
Faye ignored the introduction, instead slipping past me. There was a nervous hesitation before she addressed the general, "What's going on? What's this all about?" She waved her arm indicating the rest of us in the room, "Why are they here?"
"They are here because I requested them to be here. You can let your guard down, Faye. They know now that you are my daughter."
She was waving her arm asked, "Why didn't you consult me?"
"Remember that day I warned you about long ago? It is happening," he declared.
She pulled another armchair close to him and sat down. She cast furtive glances at Stu and Susan. Had I not known that the fireplace was blazing, I would have thought that the heat I felt was being generated by the glare of her eyes upon me.
Visibly upset she placed a hand on his shoulder and uttered, "You're not going to walk away? But why?"
"That advice was intended for you and you alone. You thought I was going to walk away? Bah! I'm not about to surrender," he harrumphed.
She snapped her head around and pointed an accusing finger at me, "Benjamin, this is all your fault. You had to meddle, didn't you? And for what, a story with a byline?" She looked at Susan for a moment and turning back to me continued her diatribe, "Is that it? You write a story to expose a government conspiracy and then you ride off into the sunset with your trophy girlfriend?"
Susan's face showed that she was trying to bottle up the anger eating at her. She looked back at me and asked, "You were married to her?"
"Damned right he was, sweetheart!" Faye snarled at her. She stood and struck a defiant pose with her fists on her hips. "They were the best years of his life too!"
"Enough!" General Gates roared. "I didn't set up this meeting for all this caterwauling." He had risen and had begun to pace the floor in front of the hearth. "Faye! Sit down and shut up!"
If she heard his command she didn't heed it, so driven was she with her own agenda. "The company's work is sensitive and highly classified. That story would have given N.I.M.H. a bad name. I for one was happy to hear the story was shut down. You people were a threat to national security!"
The general grabbed her animated arm and with his free hand slapped his daughter hard across the face! "God damn it, Faye. I said shut up!" He let her slump into the chair. Tears were beginning to stream from her eyes which were widened in shock. "You have no idea what really goes on at that company. You are nothing more than an overpaid receptionist. I put you in that job, and I can just as easily remove you from it."
I had risen to my feet when he'd struck Faye. "Uh, General Gates, there really wasn't any need to hit her."
He grinned and said to me, "Are you wearing earplugs? Well, I'm not." He glanced at her curled up in the chair with her face buried in her hands. "Mr. Bering, perhaps if you had learned to put your foot down back then, the two of you might still be together."
He walked over to the bar and picked up the bottle of scotch, "Anyone care to join me?" When no one spoke up he shrugged and filled his tall glass. "I don't mind drinking alone. For most of my life I've been drinking alone." He took a long drink of the room temperature twenty-year-old liquid before continuing, "I've been in a uniform for so long, I don't know how to act like a civilian or how to act around civilians. That should make it clear to the lot of you that I'm as equally inept when it comes to the civilian concept of family. The Army is the family with which I'm most comfortable."
When he raised the glass to his lips again, I took the opportunity to ask, "General Gates, this meeting isn't really about family is it?"
He laughed, "In the bigger picture, no. However, there is the picture within the picture." He waved his arm to indicate everyone present. "In ways that none of you can even begin to imagine, we are all one happy family. Forgive my reference to that television program, but that's why I wanted to keep this meeting all in the family."
Stu who had been listening and observing the whole time cleared his throat and said, "You said you wanted to have this meeting because your daughter was in danger. I don't see where Faye is in any danger, except maybe from your temper."
"Faye? No, she's safe enough in her ivory tower. I'm talking about her younger sister, Rose," he replied. Facing his obviously upset daughter he placed his fingers under her chin and said, "Faye, like our guests, you're going to hear this for the first time. Hear me on this, I will not discuss this matter with you or anyone else today."
She bobbed her head and replied, "I suppose you're going to reveal some dark family secret so you can humiliate me further? You always did favor, Rosie."
"I am not Rose's father. She's your step-sister!"
Her gasp was audible. She opened her mouth to speak but lowered her head to avoid looking at him. It was evident that his cold revelation had struck a nerve. It was a rare moment I thought, to see Faye at a loss for words. For only a fleeting moment, I felt sorry for her.
He rubbed his chin and nodded. "None of this is going to make any sense unless I start from the beginning. Before I do, bear in mind that the key to everything is Rosie. She must be protected at all costs."
The confused look on my face was evident in my voice, "If you don't mind, General Gates, I have a question. If what you're saying is so, then why isn't Rosie here with us?"
"It's quite simple, Mr. Bering. She doesn't know!"
(To be continued in part 38 on Monday, 4/6, with The General's Closets.)