Monday, January 13, 2014

Sins of the Father: Excerpt

Here are the first 7 chapters of 'Sins of the Father,' my WIP. Please note I have had no time to edit, and have been entering it using a tablet (Nook!). so it will contain typos and other errors. Enjoy!

Note this is just the introduction to the main characters. The meat of the story is yet to come.

Edited: The formatting was so bad that I just copied it to Notepad and then copied it from Notepad. So no formatting!





Soul Survivor

Sins of the Father

By Michael Harrison Fox

Preface

    In the grand scheme of nature, there are a few turning points, where mankind evolved or devolved so that, ultimately, it became better. Homo Ergaster spread from Africa throughout Eurasia and evolved into different races of humanoids. Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens merged, leaving the best of both species in Europe. Man built the Pyramids, a testament to their progress in engineering and man’s devolution into slavery, a process, repeated frequently, that continues to this day.

    Rome rose and fell. The Dark Ages held us back, while solidifying religion. The Renaissance sprung into being. The ages of kings and queens, and the feudal way of life turned into revolutions, then dictators, then world war, then democracy and communism. Communism fell, but so did the stock market, and housing crashed. Yet we recovered from all that.

    Certain individuals had profound effects on society: Julius Ceasar; Jesus and Mohammed; Napoleon and Lincoln; Hitler, Stalin and FDR; JFK and MLK; Osama bin Laden and Barak Obama. All these people have brought out the best and worst man has to offer. Because of their actions, because of their words; because of the love and fear, respect and lack thereof that they brought out in normal everyday men and women. All have been idolized and adored by some, hated by others.

    Were these people guided by some force of nature - good or evil - to do the things they did; to drive history? When they died did they get their just reward? What happens when such a ‘guided’ soul lives on beyond death? As the owl said in the Tootsie Pop commercial: ‘Let’s find out.’


Chapter 1

    John Smith felt tired, tired to the bone; no, more than that: tired to the soul. He sat back from his desk at Henderson Electronics and stared at the ceiling. He drew a deep breath and looked around his office. Prototypes of his inventions lay all over the office. Electronics was his life and he had designed and programmed everything from analog sound systems - turntables and cassette decks - to the smallest MP3 player in the world. If it could fit on a chip or a printed circuit board, he could make it work.

    But 35 years of hard work had taken its toll on his body. He was 55 years old, but felt 90. He was overweight, had slowed down and lost his hair, but his mind was as keen as always. His body just didn’t always cooperate.  He shut down his computer, stood and stretched. Out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw a child running past his door, even heard laughter. He shook his head and walked to his door. As he peeked out he saw what he would normally see: A noisy factory floor, the employees under his charge running around, but no children. The floor was too dangerous a place for such young people.

He shrugged and walked to the office of the president of the company, Tom Henderson. He knocked on the door, saw Tom look up and see him through the window and waved at him. Tom waved him in, smiling. Tom was on the phone, something John hated. He preferred to use email as much as possible, and had picked up the nickname ‘Silent John’ because of that.

John looked around Tom’s office while waiting, noting that instead of prototypes, his office was filled with pictures: of his family, of friends and places he’d traveled. It brought to mind - unwillingly - the solitary life John had chosen. No, chosen was too strong a word. He had not chosen this life, but something had made him socially awkward, wanting to be by himself more than he wanted to be around people. He sighed.

Tom hung up the phone. “Hey John! How’s production today?”

“Fine, Tom, we’ll get that order out by midnight. There is something I’d like to talk to you about, though.”

Tom smiled at him. “I’m all ears!”

John smiled, ignoring Tom’s unusually large ears. “I’m tired Tom. So tired that even a vacation won’t cure it. I think it’s time to eq
!” John could hear the concern in his voice. “Have you seen a doctor?”

John licked his lips. If there was anything he hated more than socializing it was doctors and hospitals. “I don’t think it’s just physical, Tom, or not as much as it is…” He paused, trying to put his emotions into words. “...spiritual. Don’t get me wrong, I love this job, but I get a feeling that if I don’t break away soon that I won’t accomplish - something greater.”

Tom smiled. “You’ve done some great stuff with us, John. Thirty-five years with my father and me isn’t a small accomplishment. But I understand. You’ve been harping about having time to write that book and I’ve never stood in your way.”

John smiled. “Maybe not, Tom, but there has always been a deadline, and it seemed like it was never met if I wasn’t there to supervise. Well, I’ll train whoever you want to take my place, but this old body is worn, and this old soul wants something - different.”

Tom nodded. “We’ll give you a good send-off. A retirement party.”

John shook his head. “You know what I’m like at parties: You’re the life of the party, I kill them.

Tom laughed. “Well good thing it’ll be the last.” Tom came out from behind his desk and reached out a hand. John shook it firmly.


John looked out of the window of the condo at the Chicago skyline. It had a view of Wrigley Field, one reason why it was so expensive. Still, he had money and no one to spend it on. May as well spend it on himself. He turned to the real estate agent. “The price is a bit steep, don’t you think?” She shrugged. He shrugged too and started to walk out.

“Uh, the owner might be persuaded to lower the price,” she said.

He stopped and smiled, his back to her. “I’m a reasonable man, Mrs. Hopkins. People have called me a hard-ass at times, but I really hate greedy, self-centered people.” He turned to her. “Don’t confuse being a loner with being self-centered, by the way, and don’t being rich with being greedy. All my money was hard-earned. I expect people to push to earn their money. I’ve done my research on this place. The owner bought it at a foreclosure auction for a hundred thou 5 years ago and now wants 500 thou for it. To me, that’s greedy. But I know what property is worth here and I’ll pay what it’s worth. Tell him my offer is 300 thou firm and in cash.”

Mrs. Hopkins frowned. “I can certainly pass that on, Mr. Smith, but I am entertaining offers of over four hundred thousand dollars.”

John smiled at her. “Cash? Because with today’s credit finding a mortgage of over 400 thou on a place worth considerably less might be hard. But you have my number.” He turned and walked out the door.


John carried his tray, filled with two hot dogs loaded with condiments and a large soda, to his seat behind the backstop of Wrigley Field. Yeah, season tickets for this one seat had cost him a fortune, but he had the money - even after paying 300 thou for his condo. He still had half a mil in the bank, 4 mil in a 401(k) plan, a pension worth 10 thou a month and royalties from his inventions that provided 500 thou a year.  Money was the least of his worries.

As he approached his seat, he saw a young girl sitting next to his seat. She had dark brown hair and pale skin. She looked to be about seven. She was sitting alone, wearing a Cubs hat and jacket. He had an aisle seat and he slipped in and smiled as the girl looked at him.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hi. What’s your name?”

The girl smiled. “Bonnie Wilson.”

“Hi, Bonnie. I’m John.”

She looked him in the eyes. “I know. My family is coming.”

John began to eat his hot dog. A moment later five people came down the aisle and moved past him. The last in line, a boy of about 10, sat next to him. He started, looked at the boy, then around for Bonnie. He could not see her. “Where’d Bonnie go?”

The boy looked at him quizzingly. “Who?”

John shook his head. Was he going crazy?


Chapter 2

John gazed out at the city of Paris, his second stop in a European tour. London had been crowded and smoggy. Paris wasn't much better, but the view of the Seine from his vantage point almost made up for it. The top of the Eiffel Tower had been an interesting ascent. He had foregone the elevator and had been left breathless.  He leaned heavily on a rail and looked out over Paris.

His background was electronics, but he had given serious thought to Engineering in college.  He looked at the architecture of the tower with a sense of amazement, that men from the nineteenth century had designed and built this structure. But such men also built cannons, then eventually tanks and bombers. He preferred his inventions be used for peaceful purposes.

He felt dizzy and found a bench to sit on. Something tried to cross his mind and he could make no sense of it: an hourglass shape, only blue on the top and white on the bottom.  The vision lasted only a second, then it passed and he felt better. He drew a deep breath and gazed into the clear fall sky of Paris.

He made his way down the tower and found a sidewalk café. He sat and set up his laptop. The waiter approached him and said something in French that John couldn't understand. He assumed it meant 'May I have your order?' He pulled out a French guidebook with common phrases spelled phonetically. He found what he wanted but it sounded so... foreign in his head. "Zuh voodray oon tass de café oh lay."

The waiter scowled, but nodded and left. John glanced around and saw a family of 3 at the next table: a mother, a teenage girl and a young boy. The boy waved at him. John pretended not to see him, which was just as well, as when he looked again, the boy was gone. John rubbed his eyes as his coffee arrived and lay a large bill next to it. The waiter smiled broadly, maybe hoping this tourist would leave a large tip for his coffee run.  Bon chance with that.

John began to work on his computer, opening the file that held his book. He'd had the idea for years: a compendium of everything electronics in one volume, from theory to practical applications. He wished he had such a tome when he was in school. He even threw in a few jokes he'd heard over the years. It was the summation of his life, boiled down to zeroes and ones in a computer file.

He began to read it from the beginning, then paused. Was this really him? Was he that dry? That predictable? Had he lived 55 years only to have this...this dictionary sitting before him? He tried to think of different ways to put what he had already written. He shook his head. There were only so many ways to put Ohm's Law, and he'd used his quota.

He stared at his computer screen, willing fresh words to come. They refused. He had fresh ideas in his head, but the words that came into mind were the same stale - boring - words he had learned as a college student, words that served him well enough in a world where television was still in relative infancy,with black and white screens and tinny, monaural sound.

But the world today was not black and white, not one tinny speaker, not 3 stations that came through fuzzy in the best of conditions. Today even high definition was quickly evolving to beyond life-like. Today even stereo sound wasn't enough. Surround sound was a generation behind. He had even help to set some of the ever-evolving standards. Was he so far behind the times - or worse- so unbending in his ways that he could not adapt his language to meet the internet buzzword-laden language of today's youth?

He pounded the table with fist. "Why won't the words come?"

The patrons of the café jumped, and he immediately regretted his outburst. The waiter came to him and said something in a stern voice, then left.

"I don't understand," he said.

The teen girl at the next table looked at him. "He said 'don't hit the table, it's glass."

John looked at her, a pretty redhead with a British accent. "I know it's glass. I work with it all the time. I know how hard I can hit it without breaking it."

The girl raised an eyebrow, then turned away from John. He wasn't sure if she felt like he was talking down to her or if he was some crazy old coot. He felt himself go red. He tried to soften his voice. "I'm sorry. Do languages come easy to you?"

The girl turned, half-smiling. "My mother's French and my father Welsh. I grew up speaking 3 languages."

"Geez, I wish I had that gift. English is hard enough. Romance languages: I'll never understand those."

The girl swivelled in her seat, fully facing him. "Have you never been in love?"

John blushed again. "That's not what I meant." He paused, reflecting. "There have been times where I thought I felt love, even had a few one night stands." Now the girl flushed, embarrassed. "But it wasn't love that I felt, only...well, bodily needs. But I guess the answer is I've never truly been in love. I - I have problems showing my emotions. And there was always something that needed to be done. I had no time for...romance."

The girl stared at him. "And where has that got you?"

John broke from his reverie, looked at the girl and smiled. "I'm sitting with a pretty girl in a Paris café."

The girl turned her back away from him and her nose into the air. "I don't date fossils."

John laughed. Old coot it was.  "I actually wanted to be an archaeologist as a boy. The next Leakey, digging up human remains in Africa or dinosaur bones in Montana."

"That's paleontology," said the girl, her nose still pointed at the clear Paris sky.

"Oh, a smart one, eh? And what do you like to do?"

The girl began to play with her portable device.  He chuckled when he saw that it was one of his. He decided it wouldn't be prudent to mention that to the girl, who had clearly had enough of the angry fossil. Geez, what I know about girls. He shut his computer down and packed it up, his muse nowhere in sight.

He stood, bowed to the girl and her mother, and to the empty chair where the ghost boy had sat, then walked away. Lost in his thoughts, he didn't watch where he was going and turned into an alley. He felt a hand grip his throat and his back slam into a wall. Two men glared at him. He struggled for freedom as the men laughed at him and systematically took everything he had on him. They left him with just the clothes on his back when they let him go. He sat slowly on the ground and sobbed. "I can't even defend myself."  He crawled back to his hotel and called the police.

He lay on his bed in the hotel and stared at the ceiling. His entire life's work was in the hands of thieves, probably wiped by now. Sure, he had backups, but he felt so violated and helpless. He fell into a fitful sleep, and bits of his life visited his dreams: his work with electronics; his awkward experiences with women and girls. His sense of accomplishment now seemed unfulfilled, despite his inventions, patents and money. He felt like he was destined for more than what life had given him so far, yet he didn't feel like he had the energy to start over, to take control of his destiny.

The image of the hourglass came back to him, blue and white, but he could not determine its meaning. Did it mean time was running out? He woke with a start. His chest felt tight. He took several deep breaths and the feeling went away. He got up, went to the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror: fifty pounds overweight, balding and gray before his time. A fossil indeed.

He sighed. "I'm having mid-life crisis, but I'm well past mid-life, aren't I? So what should I do?" He shook his head. "I'm not one to socialize. No bingo with the old folk for me. If I hang around with younger people I'll get strange looks, like I'm a dirty old man or something. Too late to start having kids, and no grandkids to make me feel younger." He raised an eyebrow at the mirror. "I could try adopting, or even teaching." He scowled. "Why am I suddenly so concerned about kids?" The images of the children he had 'seen' came to the forefront of his mind. "Is that my destiny? Teaching?" He closed his eyes. No, it was more than that. But children were a part of it, he was sure.

The 'talk' with himself made him feel better. He slept soundly for the rest of the night. In the morning he found that his traveler's checks had been replaced. He visited the Louvre and in addition to viewing masterpieces, he watched groups of children being led around the museum. He tried to imagine himself leading such a group, but instead saw it from the child's perspective. He shook his head and blinked. Several children smiled at him, and he was pleasantly surprised when they did not disappear. They were all so energetic, and he felt tired just watching them.

He waved back at them and smiled himself. If he was going to teach, he'd not only have to match their energy, he'd have to be nice. He remembered his own school days, with several gruff teachers no one liked. He couldn't treat them like employees, but he could teach them better than others. The kids he'd teach wouldn't be average. No falling between the cracks for his kids. He heard several of the children whining. None of that in his classroom. He would take advantage of technology, even if he had to spend his own money. Yes, a private school, where he had control of every aspect. Start 'em young, mold 'em in his own image. That made him chuckle, 20 overachieving, workaholic kids. No. They would work, yes, and play, and create. He would spark their imaginations. He'd teach them to cooperate, to communicate, even in different languages. He'd have to learn them himself, first.

He'd have to go back to school too, to get certified. Maybe that would make him feel younger. He chucked at the very idea that he could teach children, and wondered if he'd survive long enough to get them to college. Could this old fart make that big a difference? He laughed at his folly as he left the museum.

Chapter 3

The lady in charge of the foster care program in Chicago, Mrs. Blanche Dewitt, looked over the paperwork John had submitted. She looked at John and frowned. "You understand, Mr. Smith, that children in our program tend to have special needs of some sort, and also tend to be, well, energetic?"

He nodded.

"Your physical suggests that you are not energetic enough to qualify, though I might say that getting a teaching certificate at your age is pretty impressive. May I suggest a mentor program like Big Brothers or something     along that line?"

"I really had my heart on raising a child from a young age, Mrs. Dewitt. If it's energy you need, I can hire a nanny to help out."

Dewitt frowned. "We're really looking for two parent families here, Mr. Smith."

John smiled. "So you put too many kids in one home and no one gets the attention they deserve and I can give?"

The woman's mouth was so open it could have attracted flies. She pointed to the door. "Your application is denied. Get out of my office!"

John sat at his desk and read his email. The ad he had place had certainly drawn attention, but the wrong kind. His phone rang and he picked it up. "Talk to me, Larry."

Larry Tisdale's voice sounded weary. "Next time you pull a stunt like this leave me out of it. We have a thousand messages from women that we haven't answered, none of whom speak English, all of whom want to carry your baby - for a price. It was a stupid thing to do. There's no way a surrogate contract is binding, at least not the way you want it. I'm pulling the plug on that line and putting a stop to it. You want to find a woman to carry your child, do it yourself!"

John heard the line click and hung up on his end. He smiled. "Nothing ventured... Besides, they're not smart enough to bear my children." He sat back and stared into space. "But how's and old loner like me meet the right woman?" Maybe he was going about this the wrong way. Ideas came to him, but even his moderate wealth would never be enough to cover the costs. He needed to finish his book. He felt that was the key to unlocking his dreams.

He pondered the last year and a half: going back to school to get his teaching certificate; half a year spent in underfunded classrooms learning the ropes of corralling children, rather than teaching them; hiring a dietician to help him lose weight, and finishing the rough draft of his book. He had elicited comments from writers groups only to be told it was difficult to read. One suggestion stuck with him, though: hire an assistant to help him with the proofreading; someone with an English background. He leaned forward and placed another ad.

The first 20 people who called got interviews. The next 40 got ignored. As he worked his way through the first 20, he found he could put them into one of 3 categories: pretentious, undereducated, and inexperienced. He was willing to pay for those who were educated and experienced, but damned if he would pay for snootiness.

The pretentious ones got on his nerves from the outset; English majors who knew nothing about electronics, but made the samples of his writing that he had shown sound like so much babble. The undereducated had a little English background or a little electronics background, but not enough of either to make an impression. The inexperienced had background, but no real-world experience. Still, we all had to start somewhere - even John.

He had two in mind for callbacks as he answered the doorbell. He found his final interviewee adjusting her panyhose as he opened the door. Her dress was low-cut and her cleavage as she bent over was ample, but she looked so young to his eyes, barely out of high school.

She smiled and stood straight. "Hello, Mr. Smith, I presume?"

He gave her a quiet smile and motioned for her to come in. Her smile brightened and she walked past him. He had a hard time averting his gaze from her derriere as it wiggled by. Come on, John. You are not a dirty old man.

The girl turned to him as he closed the door. "My name is Karen Foster. Thank you so much for seeing me!" She held out her hand and he took it. She certainly had - enthusiasm - and manners.

"Thank you, Miss Foster. Follow me to my office. He turned and walked to the second bedroom of his apartment, which he had converted to a home office.

"You work from home!" Said Karen. "I've done that before, mostly proofreading papers for other students."

He turned and smiled, then motioned for Karen to enter his office. She smiled and walked past him. He kept his eyes on the back of her head, with its nicely done hair. "Have a seat, Miss Foster."

"Call me Karen, please." She waited for him to come in and sit, then sat herself, unconsciously revealing more of her bosom as she bent over. At least, he was pretty sure it was unconscious. He really hoped there was more to this one than manners and a prominent chest.   

He glanced at her resume. It was very concise, but it was lacking experience. He could work around that, if he could only sense a flicker of intelligence. Not just smarts, but the ability to use what she learned. She brushed her curly, dark brown hair off her shoulder, and adjusted her circular, wire-rimmed glasses. "Have any problem finding the place?"

She shook her head and her curls fell back into place.

"Good. Let me first describe what I'm looking for in an assistant and we'll go from there." She nodded. She's very eager. "First, I'm not one for a lot of talking, so you should have the ability to read my mind." She raised an eyebrow. Well, better than most applicants so far, who never seemed to expect such humor. "Second, you should speak, read and write English like a native." A smile touched her lips. He returned it. "You'd be surprised by the number of applicants who can't do that. Third, you should be able to understand what I've written. It's not enough to proofread it for grammatical and spelling errors. You should be able to understand the math and formulae involved, in case I've made mistakes. Fourth, you should be able to work with me in this cramped office, 8 hours a day, five days a week. The hard part of that is I'm not always an easy man to work with. So if I seem a bit grumpy, I apologize. I'm not used to interviewing - well - women."

Her eyes lit up, a slight touch of anger. "Um, did your last company not hire women?"

He smiled. "I'm sure they did. I saw them on the factory floor, but I never interviewed them. I'm not very comfortable around women." He paused. "Or men for that matter. I'm what you call socially awkward. But I'm friendly enough once you get to know me." She half smiled, half frowned, an interesting reaction. "The bottom line, uh, Karen, is that I need someone who can take my manuscript and make it into something that's publishable. Can you do that?"

He pulled the thick, bound copy of his manuscript out of his desk and put it on top. She eyed it greedily, then looked at John and nodded.

"All right," he said, "the preliminaries are over. Tell me about yourself."

She took a deep breath and straightened her body. John noticed a slight jiggle of her chest as she swept her hair back again. "Well, I've just finished a dual Bachelor's Degree in Statistics and English at the University of Chicago. I'm looking for a Master's program, but until I find that I'm looking for work to help pay the bills. I've been on my own since I was 17. I've had straight A's since high school. I spent my Bachelor years earning money by taking part-time jobs at school, by helping students with their term papers, but not writing them for them, and by substitute teaching for an elementary school close to where I live. With school over for the moment, I'm in between jobs and yours looks like it's right up my alley."

She smiled throughout the monologue. He looked her in the eyes. "Any experience working on a book?"

Her smile never waned. "No, but I like to read, and with my statistics work, I've become very familiar with the kind of formulae you referred to."

He smiled gently. "Why statistics?"

She tried to hide a grin. "Everyone asks that. It started in junior high. I was in an advanced algebra class, one of 5 people - the rest guys, and we got into a little bit of trigonometry - sine waves and such, and I was able to see the patterns certain equations form without graphing them." She pointed to her head. "Up here. Of course teachers made us show our work, but that's when I realized that I have a gift for seeing things that others had to work harder to get. I'm really hoping to be able to use this gift for the FBI or CIA someday."

His eyes widened. "Ambitious. References?"

She opened her briefcase, pulled out a sheet of paper and handed it to John. He glanced at it and fought back a laugh. "High school references? Nothing from U.C.? Nothing from your teaching experience?" Karen frowned but said nothing. "So you've got degrees in English and Statistics. Any coursework in electronics?" She shook her head. "No experience with writing a book or getting a book ready for publication?" She shook her head. "Even the least pretentious interviewee I've seen had some experience helping a professor write a book. And you don't even have a reference from a professor? A straight A student with no college references?" It didn't feel right.

"I'd rather not discuss that," she said.

John drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. Something about the kid shouted at him to hire her. He had hoped physical attraction wasn't the source. He looked up and saw that her eyes were red and she was visibly fighting back tears. He handed her a tissue. She took it and dabbed her eyes.

"Look," she said, "it's becoming increasingly obvious that I'm not going to get this job, but just because I don't put it down on my resume or my references doesn't mean I don't have the experience you want. Let me tell you about the kind of life I've had since the end of high school, and then I'll leave you to your book.

"When I was 17, freshly graduated from high school, my parents decided to treat me to a trip to Florida. My mother, father, baby sister, all of 8 years old, and I were scheduled to fly there. Before the flight,  though, my father and I argued over, well, a boy and a late night out. He grounded me, literally, but he and the rest of the family took off without me. They were on a chartered flight, touring the Everglades when their small plane crashed. They all died.

"I was devastated, of course, and I probably overcompensated with the boys... That followed me into college, where I began an affair with a professor. I helped him write a book - while we were in bed together. But somewhere along the line someone found out, and maybe they thought my grades were a product of that affair. They weren't. I earned every grade I received. But soon his bosses found out. I had just finished my Bachelor's and was preparing to start my Master's. I was kicked out of the program. Word got around and I wasn't asked back to substitute teach. To make matters worse, he sued me for lost wages when he was suspended for 30 days. So I'm stuck with an education that I can't use as a reference, a job that I can't use as a reference, a judgment for 10 thousand dollars and an unpaid student loan of about 100 thousand dollars that is about to go into default. I'm not in school because I can't find a Master's program. And to top it off, I don't have a job!" Karen stood, her face red. "And now, if you've been sufficiently titillated, I'll excuse myself. I know the way out!" She began to move swiftly toward the door.

John smiled and shook his head. "Wait." She stopped at the door, panting in her rage and exertion, then turned to him. "What did you learn from your mistakes?"

She gave a half-hearted laugh. "Don't trust a married man."

John laughed. "No problem there." He pointed to the manuscript. "Can you read fast?"

She looked at it, a thirst for knowledge burning in her eyes. "Yes. I speed read and I have a perfect memory. I can also do math in my head."

"Geez, I wish I could do that. I have to use a calculator. If you can read that by 5pm and give me a summary, the job is yours."

She licked her lips. "That has to be over a thousand pages."

"One thousand one hundred and twenty-three."

She sidled up to it. "I like a challenge." She caressed the cover. "Can I use your office?"

"Use the entire apartment if you like. There's a couch in the living room. Help yourself to the refrigerator."

She picked up the manuscript and dashed out the door. John drew a heavy breath and began to check his email again.  He was still getting emails from prospective surrogates. One had a picture of a voluptuous naked Russian girl. He indulged himself for just a moment. The phone rang and he picked it up. "Yes?" He listened a moment. "The job's taken." He hung up the phone with a finality he hadn't felt in years.

All through the rest of the morning and into the afternoon he balanced his workday by writing letters to the other applicants, thanking them for their time, preparing paperwork for Karen to sign, and answering calls from other applicants who were treated the same as the first. As he went through his daily routine, he heard pages being flipped. When he came out to use the bathroom, he found Karen laid out on the couch, shoes off, sipping a soda or sucking on a Tootsie Pop, eyes glued to the manuscript.

He was grateful that she took her task seriously, but even so, he ran a background check to be sure he wasn't hiring a homicidal maniac. She came out squeaky clean. He looked up her academic record, then searched for information on her parents. He cringed as he brought up her credit report. Everything she had told him was absolutely true, but she didn't tell him about the debts her parents left behind. He hoped living beyond their means wasn't hereditary. Still, he could help her there.

He stopped for lunch, a premade meal made by his dietician - at a cost, and went for a walk around the building. When he got back Karen was sitting in an easychair, about halfway through the book. He didn't say a word to her as he passed, and neither did she. Geez she's desperate enough to try it. I should tell her she got the job. But something made him go into his office. Both of them had to know if she could really do it.

At 4:30, she knocked on his open door and he nodded her in. She laid the manuscript on the desk, and for the next half hour gave him highlights to each of his chapters. He was about to congratulate her when she did the unexpected. "It's a very technical tome. What's the target audience?"

John shrugged. He hadn't thought of it. "Everyone. I'm not prejudiced."

She half-smiled. "Well, I understood it. It is concise, I'll give it that much. I even laughed at the in-jokes,  but I'm afraid not many people will bother with it, even as a textbook. The bottom line is I don't think you'll be able to sell it to a publisher in its present form."

"Oh, I see. You realize that's why I want to hire someone."

She smiled. "Of course. But you want someone to help you turn this into something publishable. How thick-skinned are you?"

He rolled his eyes. His writer's group hadn't thought much of his ability to accept criticism. "I can take it."

"Good. You obviously know all there is to know about electronics, and you put it very succinctly in your book. But what I'm going to suggest that you simplify your language so that a ten-year-old can read it, and start from there."

He looked at her. It was the first time anyone had made such a suggestion, and his work with children lately gave him just the tiniest of clues on how to write it. "You think there's a market for an electronics book for kids?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. I can research it." She paused. "If I get the job."

He waved his hand at her. "You had it when you took the challenge." She turned red. "Welcome to the company. You know where the kitchen and bathroom are. That was your orientation." He pulled out the stack of paperwork he had been saving. "Take that home, fill it out and come back at 8am tomorrow." He wished he had a camera to capture her face. It went from livid to surprised to utter confusion in a matter of seconds. Her jaw almost hit the ground. She accepted the paperwork.

"Um, thanks. May I ask what the wage will be?"

He smiled, his biggest surprise about to be sprung. "There's a contract in your paperwork. I agree to pay all your debts - student loans, judgments, a place to live, a living wage, even your continuing education at a different school. You agree to work for me until the book is published. Any money it makes - less what I'll pay for your debts - is shared."  He didn't think her jaw could drop any further, but it did.

"But - but why?"

"I've got money and you don't. Besides, I hope to make more than enough to cover your expenses." He stood and reached out his hand. She put the papers in her briefcase and reached out her own hand. Instead of shaking, she flew into his arms and planted a very passionate kiss on his lips. His body told him to hold her, his mind was terrified and he pushed her away. "Geez, didn't you learn anything from the last old guy?"

She turned beet red, grabbed her briefcase and sped out the door.

"8am tomorrow," John called after her. He leaned against the office door as she scurried out the front door. "Geez,  what I know about women." He held his fingers up in the universal sign for zilch.


 Chapter 4

John lay in his bed that night, staring at the ceiling. He tried to remember his previous sexual experiences: 19 in the hands of a hooker, supplied by college roommates. Geez, I was lucky not to catch anything; at 20 by way of a coed who practically forced herself on him in an electronics lab; nothing after that until 30, when an older co-worker at Henderson convinced him to spend a weekend with her. The weekend ended, and so did the 'relationship.' So many bright spots in an otherwise dull workaday existence. He felt passion for these women, and felt it back from them, but he never felt the way he had felt after just one kiss from Karen.

It was more than lust - from both of them. He couldn't explain it and stopped trying. It simply felt right. It felt right with his body at the time, and after its initial overanalyzation, it finally felt right with his brain. But he felt it would slip away if he didn't act. He realized that every act in the past had been initiated by the female, just as it had been with Karen. And now he was in danger of losing even that. He hoped that she could overlook both their errors and show up in the morning.

He fell into an uneasy dream, of the hourglass, always blue on top, never seeming to run out. And he dreamed of children - his unborn children, and yet set in motion already. He woke with a sense of purpose. During breakfast he tried to rehearse what he'd say to to her. It never came out right. At 8 o'clock sharp he heard a knock on the door and opened it.

She was wearing a low-cut dress again, and he felt the awkwardness and averted his eyes as she came in. "Come on in," he said. "I'm just finishing breakfast. Help yourself." Her smile turned into a frown as she saw what he was eating. He sighed. "It's a premade meal containing everything I need to stop my stomach from growling. Over the last year my dietician has helped me lose 30 pounds."

She half-smiled again, and he braced himself as he sat down. "Yeah, I saw all the ready-to-zap packages in your refrigerator, which is a mess, by the way. Would you like something freshly cooked that's good for you?"

He smiled. "How can I say no?" He watched as she began to move around the kitchen, collecting ingredients.

"I finished your paperwork," she said. "By your own formula, you'd pay one hundred and fifty-two thousand dollars in debt and another $37,000 a year in expenses and wages. Are you sure you want to commit to that? I'd understand if you said no." She bustled and jiggled around the kitchen.

"How old are you, Karen?"

She smiled. "You're not supposed to ask, but I'm 23."

"So in less than 6 years on your own, you've accumulated enough debt to pay for a mortgage on a small house. How did you plan to pay for all that and still eke out a living?"

She paused in her efforts. "I'm young, as you say. I have a lifetime to pay it back."

He saw her cracking eggs and mixing ingredients she had gathered. "I've never been more than a few thousand in debt, and even then it was paid back quickly. I don't believe in paying to use someone else's money."

She turned from her cooking and grinned. "That's fine for someone of your advanced years, who paid probably a quarter of what I paid for my education."

"Yeah, society really screws itself, raising an entire generation who are either undereducated because they can't afford to go to school, or educated and so deep in debt it will never dig itself out. That's why I'm willing to help you." He smelled something cooking. His stomach rumbled, despite his earlier breakfast. "What are you cooking?"

She smiled. "Omelets. Healthy omelets."

She can cook too. He'd better act fast or he'd lose her, but he had to know something first. "So, I've been thinking about what happened yesterday, reflecting on paths not taken. I need to know: Do you have a fetish for older guys?" She stopped cooking for a split second, her back to him, then began to plate her creation. "Because if you do, you need to leave it out of the office. I can't be distracted by, well, distractions." He forced himself to say what he rehearsed. "But if it's not a fetish, if there was something more to that kiss than gratitude, well, I'm not opposed to it." There. He said as much as his overworked mind would let him.

She brought the plates to the kitchen table, set one in front of him and poured herself a glass of orange juice. He could see she was building to something and braced for an explosion and a resignation.

She looked at him over her glasses. "It's not a thing for older men, and for the record, he was only 40, and not - whatever you are."

"Fifty-seven."

Her eyes opened just wide enough to show the shock. "It's not age that drives my passions. Maybe it's power or authority, I don't know." She began to eat and he followed suit. The omelet was perfect. She stopped eating for a moment. "It's just that ever since my family died and I didn't I've felt like I was saved for a purpose. I just haven't found that purpose yet."

He stared at her, unwittingly, but he couldn't stop. "I've felt the same way about my life lately. Like I have a destiny, but I could never put the pieces of the puzzle together." He looked down as she looked up, unable to meet her gaze. He concentrated on the food before him and found the plate empty. He looked up and caught her looking at him. He tried to read her expression.

She licked her lips. "You want to finish what we started yesterday?"

A thousand thoughts crossed his mind. He fought them back and smiled. "The manuscript?"

Her expression turned cross. "No, silly. I mean..."

He held out his hands and laughed. "I know what you mean." He stood and took her by the hand. "One of the nice things about working from home is the bedroom is only a step away, and there are no prying eyes." He led her to the bedroom and shut the door.

They lay side by side, each staring at the ceiling. "I can draw pictures," said Karen. "If you can put the words to it."

John felt her warm body next to him. "It shouldn't be a picture book. Well, not just pictures."

Karen rolled to face him. "Kids today are bombarded by images. You won't win them over with words." One of her breasts landed on his chest. He caressed it then her face.

"I could program a game - with Sparky the Wondervolt!"

She giggled. "Now that's the spirit. See, you do have an imagination."

He sighed. "There are plenty of kids in this building to try it out on." He paused, ideas flowing through his head. A big one caused a fleeting image of children to pass through. "Marry me." He nuzzled Karen's neck.

"Yes."

He rolled to face her. "Just like that?"

She nodded. "I've had sex with so many boys and men that I've almost lost count. This is the first time that everything felt so - right, and not just the sex, everything in between. I don't want to lose that feeling. So yes, I will marry you, John Smith. But I should warn you, I want 12 kids."

John wanted to laugh, but he knew she was serious. "That means you've got to keep me alive long enough to father them."

She rolled over and straddled him. "I'll make sure you get plenty of exercise, plenty of good food and lots of practice making babies." She kissed him and lay her head on his chest.

John let out a soft laugh. "I should warn you that I'm a workaholic, and if my job is to father kids
 I'll work overtime to get it done!"

They both laughed.

Chapter 5

    John sat in his office and faced 5 children. They all lived in his apartment building and ranged from 5 to 10. They had tablet computers and played the same game.

    The 5-year-old boy grimaced. "I can't do the math, Mr. Smith!"  He looked at John with pleading eyes.

    "That's okay, Jack. Start at the beginner level. There isn't any math there."

    Jack tapped his tablet and smiled. "I like this better."

    John smiled and turned to the 10-year-old. "Ariel, is it too tough for you?"

    The pretty blond shook her head. "Not as hard as the book, Mr. Smith. At least there are fewer words."

    John sighed. "Yeah, we edited the book to take away the hard words and add more pictures. Did you understand the concepts?"

    Ariel glanced up from the game. "Oh yes. Sparky explained it very well. A resistor slows him down, and a capacitor holds him until he's needed."

    John grinned. "Well I'll be... that's almost exactly right. I'm glad you got that much out of it."

    Ariel frowned. "I still haven't gotten past the diode level, though."

    John tapped the comments into his computer. "Well, glad to see there's some challenge. Transistor level is a real killer, according to my wife. Why don't you 5 take your games home to play them and I'll see you tomorrow. We'll talk more about what you like and don't like then, okay?"

    They all nodded absently, stood and filed out of his office. As he watched them leave his apartment,he felt a tightness in his chest. He took a deep breath and it faded. Karen came into the apartment as the children passed her. She waved and grinned at them, then put her book bag on the couch.

    She turned to John and smiled. "Good group today? They seem entranced."

    John nodded. "I think we're ready for a publisher now."

    Karen's jaw dropped. "I'll get to work on the proposal right away..." She giggled. "...Boss." She put her textbooks on the living room table and pulled out her laptop. She sighed. "I got my period today."

    John shrugged. "So much sperm wasted. You still seem chipper."

    She turned her head and looked at him sideways. "I like to think of the time spent as having fun, increasing our intimacy, getting some great exercise for both of us, and now we have a clean slate for next month's try."

    John sat next to her and kissed her. "I've lost 20 pounds in 3 months of marriage. I'll waste away soon."

    Karen grinned. "Oh you wish. I'll be pregnant before you know it. And again, and again... Pitter patter, pitter patter, wah, wah, daddy pick me up or I'll scream! Oh then you'll get exercise, my love."

    "I'll be more like a grandpa to them."

    "Well you're rich enough, so yes, take them to Cubs games, take them to the zoo, while I study hard for my Master's and maybe my phd. There should be at least one Dr. Smith in this household."

    "Oh, a 'Lost in Space' reference. You're making me feel older still." He grabbed her by the waist and drew her close.

    She laughed. "Not now. Too messy and almost pointless."

    "I still need exercise."

    "So walk around the building."

    He feigned a shocked look. "And get mugged?" He laughed. "No, it's a safe neighborhood. I think you're right, though, a walk would do me good."

    "And give me time to work on this proposal so we can sell this book."

    He stuck his tongue out at her as he left the apartment.


Outside,  he strolled down the street, greeting passersby as he walked. A young Latino boy tipped his Cubs hat to John, then vanished. John reeled a moment, then bent over as his breath almost failed him. He took several large gulps of air and moved to a bench. He spent several minutes simply breathing hard. "What's wrong with you, John?" he said. "Why are you seeing these children?" He felt a presence next to him and turned to see a girl of around ten, with raven hair and pale skin. She looked somehow familiar.

"There's nothing wrong with you mentally," she said. "And I should know, I'll be a doctor someday. You'll know the answer soon, but it won't be easy. Be as patient as you can." The girl vanished.

John drew a slow breath. "Just what I need, an imaginary girl telling me I'm not crazy."

Chapter 6

John slammed down the phone. "Dammit, Karen! We have to do a rewrite!"

Karen came running into his office wearing a pair of shorts, but otherwise topless. She jiggled madly as she came to a stop at his desk. "A rewrite? On a Saturday?"

"Yes, dammit. They said the last chapter needs a little more oomph, and the last diagram had a typo. 'Transistor' is spelled with an 'o', not an 'e'."

"Oops!" Said Karen. "I'll work on that. What did they mean by 'oomph'?"

"Damned if I know. They need this by Friday to make it ready by Fall. Maybe I'll think of a future use of electronics, like lifelike robots or something. Can you draw a mechanical man?"

Karen giggled. "Another 'Lost in Space' reference?"

John turned to her, staring at her bare bosoms. "Did you forget something?"

Karen crossed her arms, covering herself. "I was in the bedroom, recovering from last night's 'play'. I would think a wood nymph would be given a little leeway."

He smiled gently. "That was fun." He frowned. "Not with the number of kids that seem to come and go at will here. Besides, playtime's over! We have a deadline."

John stared at his computer screen. The last 5 days had worked his last nerve, and he hadn't even taken the time for his stress-relieving walks or the comfort of Karen's arms. "One more paragraph," he said to the screen, pleading it to write for him. "How can I sum up the entire book in one paragraph? So that kids will understand that electronics are the future of a comfortable life." He shrugged, and began to type: "You can make the future. Someone like you grew up to make a smartphone, a computer, a video game and a tablet. Take the time to learn and you can make history too!"

He sighed. A feeling of relief passed through him. The door to his office opened and Karen came in carrying a flash drive. "I've got that last picture you wanted."

He continued staring at the screen. Maybe there was something else he missed, some other way to get his point across. Karen's hand flashed before him. He rolled his eyes. She moved behind him and began to rub his shoulders.

"You are so tense!"

"I have an ending but I'm not sure it's good enough. And we don't have time for another rewrite." He grabbed the drive from her, a bit rougher than he intended, and popped it into his computer. The image of a man appeared, with obvious synthetic skin and joints. "That's good, but it could be more lifelike." He added it to the end of the book.

Karen nuzzled his neck "Any more lifelike and he'd be human."

"That's the point, though. Imagine a mechanical man that could pass for human."

Karen read over his shoulder. "I like the ending, so optimistic."

"Let's hope the publisher likes it too." He saved the file, and started a spelling and grammar check.

"Hey," said Karen, "that's my job. But the idea of a robot that could pass for human is creepy. Next thing you know you could transfer a soul to one and live forever."

The spellcheck finished and he saved the file again just for good measure. "Nah. Who'd want to live like that? I'd rather move my soul to a real human body. Maybe even a girl so I'd know how you feel during sex. Sounds like something good is going on there."

Karen laughed. "I can't argue with that."

John opened his email and attached the manuscript. "I'm going to send this to the publisher because it won't wait any more." Karen resumed rubbing his shoulders. "That feels too good." He added a message to his publisher, drew a deep breath and hit send.

Karen hugged him. "I sometimes think you're obsessing too much about this book." She kissed his balding head.

He turned his head up until he could see her smiling down on him. "It's like when we first met and we told each other that we had a destiny. This book is a start."

She bent down and their lips met. He felt the familiar tingle of lust. She released him gently. "It's a book about electronics for kids and you're treating it like a bible, like a sacred text. You're being too serious about it." She stopped rubbing and moved to his side, then pushed his chair away from the desk and sat in his lap, her arms around. He felt her soft lips on his, hungry, then she pulled away. "I may have some news." She rubbed his nose with hers. "I want to confirm it before I say anything more, but I need you to be relaxed." He buried his nose into her neck and felt her pulse quicken. "No, no, not now. Not that way. Talk to me. Open up a little. Unbottle all the emotions you've kept under wraps."

He squeezed her tight. "You know I don't like to talk."

"Oh I know, worse than pulling out teeth. But I remember a time a few months back when you told me all your dreams and aspirations. Tell them to me again."

He took a deep breath. "I want to write well, not just non-fiction for children, but fiction for both kids and adults, so they can understand and be entertained; mystery, science fiction, drama. I want to invent things that are better than the day to day electronics you see - true innovation. I want to teach the children  how to take charge of their lives. I want to cure poverty and homelessness. I want to learn to be a doctor so I can know what the hell they're giving me."

He swiped out at a pile of medication that stood in one area of his desk and they scattered to the floor. "I want to explore the universe in a ship of my own design, go faster than the speed of light and visit other solar systems. I want to learn how to be a diplomat and politician. I want to learn how to play and write music, and then sing it. And I would dearly love to be able to do math as easily as you." He smiled at her. "All before I die."

She giggled. "Don't want much, do you? Stephen King, Dr. Kildare, Stephen Hawking and Captain Kirk all rolled into one? You'd have to be 4 or more people to accomplish all that in one lifetime."

He smiled at her. "Not a bad idea at that, being more than one person. I could be a young buck to service you."

She giggled. "You do just fine the way you are, though the thought of having a pool boy handy might keep me warm on a cold night."

John nuzzled her. "We don't live in the penthouse. We don't have a poolboy."

"Maybe you can make one!"

John laughed.

"Ah, now that's better." She got up and tugged his arm. "Now that your 'baby' had been put to bed, let's do something." She paused, mischief in her eyes. "Let's recreate our second day."

John smiled. "I'll get the eggs."

Karen giggled and tugged at him until he got up.

The world became a blur to him. His chest seized and the room spun. He thought he heard children giggling, the he heard the sound of his heart beating, rapidly, erratically, then suddenly it stopped. He felt lighter and floated up. He looked down and saw his own body.

It was in an operating room, with doctors and nurses scurrying around him. His chest was open, exposing his heart. He somehow knew that he was not dead, that he was hooked up to a bypass machine.  He took a moment to 'catch his breath' and a sudden calmness surrounded him. The face of a girl, one he'd imagined before, with raven hair and pale skin, appeared before him.

"My name is Rachel Wilson," she said. "I'll be the first of many of your children. Not genetically, but yours nonetheless, if you take the time to study the schematics we'll show you." She grinned. "If you build it, we will come." She smiled and several other children that he recognized from before appeared before him, all smiling. They faded away and a figure appeared before his 'eyes': a revolving hourglass, blue on top, white at the bottom. Schematics flashed into his field of vision, one labeled 'Soul Catcher', another labeled 'Nanosoul', which was under the hourglass. He finally had a name for the vision that had plagued him for two years. The visions fascinated him until he saw the Soul Catcher in action, drawing a faint soul from a living man. The man collapsed, apparently dead, but a bright nanosoul entered the head and the body rose again, a zombie, he thought, but the body bowed to him. He felt repelled by it.

He heard the words 'clear' being spoken by his cardiologist, and felt himself being drawn into his body. He fell into darkness.

John opened his eyes and looked directly into Karen's soft blue eyes. He tried to smile but found that a breathing tube covered his mouth and extended down his throat.

"Don't try to talk," she said. "You had a heart attack. The doctors did a triple bypass. The doctor said he'd remove the intubation tube once you woke up." She smiled down at him, glowing. "I've got some more news for you. You really need to work to get well, because a baby needs a daddy who will be there." She patted her tummy. "I confirmed it while I was here. I'm pregnant!"

Behind the tube he really did smile.


Chapter 7

John stared at the hospital room ceiling and took a deep breath. He still felt like a weight was on his chest, but at least that damned tube was gone. He glanced to his side. Well, one tube anyway. The chest tube remained, and an IV punctured his arm. The doctor had told him his life hung by a thread, yet somehow he doubted that. The visions stayed with him, especially the schematics. He burned them into his memory so that when he left this accursed place, he'd be able to duplicate them.

The door opened and Karen came in, grinning from ear to ear. She carried his tablet computer and silently placed it on the table that reached over his body. "Go ahead, read your email," she said, a joyous look on her face.

John raised an eyebrow, but picked up the tablet with his free hand and accessed his email. After a few uninteresting emails, he came upon one from his publisher. He looked at Karen, who grinned and nodded. "Yup, they bought it! A million down and royalties!" He smiled and Karen hugged him gently. "They want a book tour - after you get better, of course, both of us, over the Fall and Winter."

She let go and he looked at her belly. "With you pregnant?"

"Oh don't be silly. I won't deliver until March. And I'm not fragile."

John smiled. "No, not at all. I've got something to tell you, too. While I was in the operating room, after they stopped by heart, I had an out-of-body experience." He knew her skeptical look, and she wore it now.

"Really?"

He nodded. "Oh nothing like lights and tunnels, I saw my body being operated on. I saw other things too." He paused, unwilling to think about the possibilities of the 'Soul Catcher'. "Like a vision of the future. There will be kids."

Karen patted her belly. "Prognosticator of prognosticators."

He laughed, felt chest pain, and drew a long, painful breath. He leaned back. "Well, that's all in the future. Let's celebrate our good news. I'm alive, you're pregnant and we're published authors!" She grinned and hugged him again.

Karen slept lightly with her head on John's IV arm. John opened his eyes a crack, then picked up his tablet and started a schematic app he had written years ago, then entered the schematics from his vision.

His hospital stay felt like an eternity, but after a month of rest and therapy, he was allowed to leave. His doctor wheeled him out himself, and turned to Karen at the exit. "Mrs. Smith, he needs 4 things to survive: He needs to take his meds when he's supposed to; he needs to get the correct balance of rest and exercise; he needs to keep from getting too excited, and that includes this book tour; and most of all he needs that TLC that only you can provide. His own stubbornness kept him alive this time. Now it's up to both of you." He shook John's hand, then Karen's, then wheeled him out to John's waiting van.

Karen did the driving. Outside their building, John moved slowly, Karen holding one arm, a cane supporting the other side. At the entrance they passed the girl named Ariel, carrying a backpack. She smiled and gently hugged both of them. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the vision of Rachel Wilson. He was not surprised when she smiled at him, then vanished.

John went straight, if slowly, to his office.

"You are not working," demanded Karen.

"No. I'm not, but I do want to load something into my computer." John stepped inside the threshold and scanned his office. He'd need a workspace. He chose one wall and mentally conjured up how it would look with a bench, a soldering station and electronic parts. He smiled, satisfied. He loaded his diagrams onto his computer, then went back to Karen.

He sat heavily on the sofa, and let his wife pamper him.


Chapter 8

    John felt exhaustion creep up on him as he deplaned at O'Hare.  Karen kissed him, her six-month swollen belly touching him lightly.

    "You take your time getting to baggage claim, mister. Let me get the bags and the porter and the taxi. We'll be waiting for you, okay?"

    John nodded. The rush of New York City in December had been too much for him, and a crush of children and parents at one bookstore had sent him to the hospital because of trouble breathing. He took his time, but really felt like sitting down for the rest of the day. A few minutes into his walk, a man drove up in a cart and stepped in front of him.

    "John Smith?" John nodded. "Get in, your wife is worried." He thanked the man quietly and climbed into the cart. As the cart sped toward baggage claim, he reflected on the fact that in his prime he had been known to run down the hallway of O'Hare with a carry-on bag bouncing at his side. Now he felt simply old and tired and he didn't like it.

    He saw Karen and she started to wave. The cart stopped and John slowly stepped out. He thanked the driver again and took his wife's arm as she led a porter with their bags to the taxi stand.

    Fifty dollars and forty minutes later, they got out of the taxi in front of their apartment building. The doorman helped Karen get the bags out of the taxi and onto the elevator. When they reached their apartment, John went straight for the couch, dropping his coat on the floor, then lay completely on the couch before the doorman even left. John closed his eyes as the front door closed and drew a deep breath. He felt Karen remove his shoes and tug at his socks.

    "Come on," she said. "I don't want those clothes to get too wrinkled." Soon she had him down to his underwear, but he was still too tired to move. "They really beat you up, didn't they?" John groaned. He felt Karen pull a pair of shorts onto his body. "Hey, you've lost more weight!" She snapped the shorts.

    "I think the woman in the maroon coat shoplifted it."

    Karen giggled. "She gave new meaning to the term 'steal this book,' that's for sure. I checked book sales in the taxi. Number one in non-fiction! And number one in game downloads too! Up. Shirt."

    She helped him lift enough for her to pull a T-shirt over his head. He looked down at his chest as the shirt came on. His chest scar still stood out. He was glad when the shirt covered it, a reminder of his frailty. "Dead tired, in body and mind."

    She pat his leg. "I'll get your blinders so you can tune the world out for a little while. We may have to get food delivered, depending on what's fresh in the fridge." He grunted acknowledgement. A moment later he felt Karen put his blinders on his head,  a combination of eye covers and ear covers designed for people with migraines. "What type of music today?" She asked.

    "Classical - Beethoven." He felt her pressing buttons on his 'Thinking Cap,' his own invention,  and then heard Beethoven's Ninth churning in his ears. He drew a deep breath and bathed in the darkness and music.