I lined up the two shot glasses in the best strategic location on the bar in front of me. The first receptacle containing Jack Daniels was six inches from my right hand, and the other topped with Crown Royal was ready to be grabbed by my left.
The concoction was of my own creation. I had invented it two summers ago when my wife and I were going through that knock-down drag-out divorce. Ever since, it has become my crutch for whenever I am having trouble dealing with life and all of its detours. That particular night was a night replete with detours and roadblocks. So it was that I found myself bivouacked at Foley's.
There is a certain savoire-faire one needs to partake of that libation. With even fluid motions the shot of Jack Daniels must be emptied into the mouth with one's head tilted back without swallowing until the shot of Crown Royal is added. I can only describe it as gargling molten lava. The path of the fire is felt as the liquid courses down the gullet and into the stomach. Finally there is a detonation - the anti-matter of the booze coming in contact with matter that lie in the stomach.
For obvious reasons, I had originally called the drink an Atom Bomb. However, it was Jake the bartender who gave it its current name after observing me down three of the things in a span of five minutes. A woman about my age and somewhat attractive had been sitting across the bar from where I was parked. My impression of her was that she'd not only been around the block a few times, but her odometer had rolled over too. It was she who had paid for the third one.I sighed and shook my head. That was two years ago. I didn't find it funny then and I still didn't. In the batting of an eyelash I placed the empty shot glasses on the bar and nodded to Jake for another.
I had saluted her and downed the drink in a hasty but seamless motion. By the time the fire was burning below she was standing next to me. I cannot remember her name or anything we might have said to each other, and if not for Jake I would've never known what transpired between us that night.
Before the night was over I would unwittingly author my own anecdote, and as long as Jake poured the drinks at Foley's, the story would become one of legendary status. I was never one for fast dancing, but apparently my would-be paramour had been very persuasive. According to Jake I was as limber as a scarecrow that had fallen from its post. The second verse of the song blaring on the jukebox had just started when I stepped on her foot. When I lost my balance and fell forward I took the woman with me, the two of us ending up on the floor in a heap of flailing arms and legs.
A couple of months later when I felt I needed to drown my sorrows, I returned to the 'scene of the crime' and ordered an Atom Bomb. Jake laughed and told me that he had renamed the drink as a Jack and Jill. In reaction to the quizzical look on my face he reminded me of the incident on the dance floor.
"Remember that nursery rhyme?" he asked me. "Jack and Jill went up the hill, right? Then Jack fell down and Jill came tumbling after...?" He was trying hard not laugh, the memory of incident vivid to him. "Well, that's what you two on the floor that night reminded me of ...So I christened your drink 'Jack and Jill.' You get it don't you?"
I kept replaying every little detail of what had happened less than an hour earlier. My story, my byline ... gone! Michael Black had been right. They would stop at nothing to prevent any knowledge of their experiments and discoveries becoming public. I shook my head, they certainly weren't about to let the Constitution of the United States of America get in their way - freedom of the press and freedom of speech be damned.
I heard my name somewhere in the distance. "Ben? Ben! Are you still with us?"
"Huh? Oh yeah. Sorry, I was just reflecting on something that happened a while back." I wasn't about to tell him the story of my last experience with pornography of any kind. Once, before my wife and I were divorced, I had brought home a XXX video I'd rented. I had been hoping that it would help to spice up our bedroom activities in both intensity and frequency. What a mistake that had been! She'd gone ballistic on me. She'd even accused me of getting the idea from the sluts I had been sleeping around with when I was supposed to be working.
"Are you ready for the steamy stuff, as you so succinctly referred to it?"
My face as flushed as I answered, "Uh .. Yes. I didn't mean to sound so ... so sophomoric with my comment."
"No problem, Ben. If our positions were reversed and I were in your shoes, I'd have probably said something to the same effect."
The images on the screen were in living color and were considerably sharper than the black & white VHS productions I'd seen earlier due to the high resolution of the digital recording. Michael and Michelle could be seen in the foreground of a much larger facility than the one they'd occupied previously. They were checking the connections on a pair of headphone-like devices.
"While they are setting up the experiment, allow me to bring you up to date. By this time, not only had we received a grant to continue our work but a mysterious benefactor had started pumping money into our project. We were allowed to move into a larger lab and our original equipment had been replaced with high-tech gear, all of it state-of-the-art."
"Mysterious benefactor?" I queried.
Michael nodded, "We didn't learn until later that not only did this man have connections in high places, he was at or near the top of those certain high places." He pressed a button on the remote freezing the pair on the screen.
"I've learned in my line of work that "high places" usually equates to Washington, D.C.," I said. "I'd guess your experiments caught the attention of someone there. I'll pull a Shirley McClain here and go out on a limb and suggest that this someone saw benefits in your research not envisioned by the two of you." I paused for a moment and saw in Michael's face that my conjecture was right on. "That limb might snap, but I'd dare say that a group of someones got together and discussed the possible military applications of your work."
"I like the way you think out the box, Ben. If only Michael and I ... uh ... If only we had had such foresight," he said and abruptly turned his head away as his right hand was raised to his face.
There was ... something about his response but I let the thought pass. If I hadn't known any better, I would've sworn that my host was wiping away a tear. I cleared my throat and asked, "How long was it before you began to notice unfamiliar faces around the lab?"
"Almost immediately," he answered, "the day the lab was set up and we were ready to go."
"...And from then on you and your work were heavily monitored?"
"Well, yes. We couldn't even go the restrooms without being watched. Now that you mention it, I always had the feeling we were being followed whenever we left the building. Several times I thought a car was following me when I dropped Michelle off at her apartment building. It even appeared that another car was tailing me on the way to my own home. I thought my imagination was getting away from me."
I interlaced my fingers behind my head and looked up at the ceiling. I turned and faced him, "Two questions. This is not the same place you were calling home then, is it? The e-mail to my office, was it sent from here?"
There was a perplexed look to his countenance as he answered, "No, to the first question. I didn't feel safe there. As for your second question, I sent the e-mail from one of those coffee/cyber cafes over on Newberry Street."
I lowered my arms and pounded my right fist into the palm of the opposite hand. The suddenness and the force of my action seemed to startle Mr. Black. I jumped to my feet and walked around the large television. I pointed a finger at him and raised my voice a few decibels, "You've been so careful to keep your location a secret, what with the twenty-mile cab and truck rides to deliver me here, to a building not quite three blocks away from where I was sitting, reading your e-mail!" I drew in my breath hard and exhaled in a slow release of tensions. "You're not Michael Black, are you? If you were, then you wouldn't have been so damned stupid as have your real name on the call panel downstairs!"
He shook his head and whispered in response, "No. I'm not Michael Black."
I ran my fingers through my uncombed hair and let loose once more, "You do know that those who exist in that rarefied air of high places have unlimited resources, don't you?" I observed his nod and continued with my tirade. "You sent that e-mail from Newberry Street which I'd estimate it to be seven or eight blocks from here. Seven or eight blocks is a postage stamp to those GPS spy satellites that our government insists do not exist. As for your e-mail from Michelle, it will be tracked down eventually, if not already. Sure, they were deleted - but with the flash of a badge or an official ID, the ISP will be able to recover it with no questions asked."
His head was buried in his hands while he spoke, "I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking. I was so desperate. I thought I'd planned everything so carefully. I hired a couple of NU students, Susan and a friend she'd enlisted ... I never heard his name. He hot-wired the pickup truck for her to drive. He did the same thing to obtain the taxi cab he used to take you up on Route 1."
I eased my demeanor, "Honestly, your plans were well thought out and executed almost flawlessly. I assume that the cell phone must have been registered to a bogus account." His nod confirmed that. "Instead of using e-mail, I would've had one of your students leave a note disguised as an advertisement flier on my windshield under the wiper."
He stood up and faced me, "As for my true identity ..."
I shook a finger and responded, "Never mind. For the sake of argument and as far as I am concerned, you are Michael Black, for now."
I moved back to the sofa and sat down. I motioned for him to take a seat. I studied him for a moment as he made himself comfortable. If the government lurking in shadows wasn't bad enough, there was something else at stake. There was something else powering his resolve.
"Mr. Black, I think some of the answers I want are on that disc in that player. I think it's time that I had a look at that steamy stuff!
(To be continued in part 5 Friday 12/12 The Steamy Stuff.)