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Article: Down Under Flash Flood: 5 Easy Pieces of Fiction

Second Amendment


Down Under Flash Flood: 5 Easy Pieces of Fiction

by John Kendall Hawkins

I. Ned Kelly’s Last Words

Well, Ned had had enough. Seen enough. And when the coppers finally caught up to him, looking to put a stop to a loveable bush larrikin who had seen many a lad (and more than one lass) raise many a glass in taverns throughout Victoria (“To old Ned,” a harpish brogue would break somewhere in the land of far flung convicts), he was tired of the whole shebang of road piracy, boxes falling off carriages mysteriously and into his pathway, and horse-thieving, all of which had helped make him a legend in his own time and drew comparisons to Robin Hood that Ned dismissed as too effeminate. You’d never catch him in tights. He saw himself more as a knight errant and drew distressed damsels by the numbers. He’d meet them riverside, push aside the crocodiles, fling off his armor and iconic helmet, drop his daks and join nature in its effervescent coos and calls, his woman of the day musically succumbing to his lavin’ and lovin’ by the hours, promises made never meant to be kept, pregnancies never meant to be wanted. No, Ned was a free man. You could say that much and never be wrong.

But he grew weary, even at age 25, tired, tired of the damn debate, bar after bar, goofy, but manly farmers shouting him stouts to keep him there just a little longer to tell just a few more tales of the bush and eluding the law on horseback. Yeah. They loved the eluding part.

But one night, in one new skanky Vic bar, the loquacious Ned watched come on the telly a film version of his life, starring Mick Jagger. “Well, f*ck me sideways,” he goes, to a great wave of guffaws. But he wasn’t laughing. He went straight to the payphone and called the coppers to turn himself in. “Mick Jagger? Not even the half-breed Mel Gibson?” The coppers, shocked, and angry, too, to have their poker game interrupted, said they’d be there after the next hand, when all would be decided anyway, and to have another one, Ned, they’d shout when they got there.

He just wanted to turn himself over to the coppers arrived when they arrived. But his mates convinced him (“pleeeease?”) to put on the gear (he’d taken off his armor and hung it all a hook when he arrived) and have an iconic shootout to remember for the ages. He accommodated their needs. He went out with smoking barrels. The law was shocked and shot and old Ned was pierced and down, kicked around until foam issued from his oratory promenade (his “dancing tongue,” as one sheila put it to the papers afterward).

There he was up on the gallows. His trial, a mere formality that he affirmed with a curt “Yep” to every charge. They put the rope around his neck and, before they tightened the noose, asked if he had any last words for the townspeople who had gathered or maybe the Lord above who would judge him next. Ned looked down at Nelly, a 16 year old girl with a bulge in her belly who looked up at Ned and smiled, not a flat world for her anymore. He smiled back, winked. And then he began a long winded exposition of word play that dazzled and confused, like the first time folks encountered Jerry Lee Lewis and his foot fetish ways with the keyboard that time he was touring with Buck Owens to acclaim (though someone said that Buck had “lost” his wallet among the locals). Ned just lost it. All the pent-ups came eruptin’ out — you know, fate, fissile materials, women, cryptocurrency requirements. On and on, until one mid-sentence the gallows man just tightened the noose and pulled the lever. To much acclaim. They’d come for spectacle and understood nothing of what he’d exclaimed, and when they read in the paper the next day that his last words were, “Such is life,” based on an interview with the gallows man, a learned fellow, they all remembered it that way, too. It made sense, some nodded, given the totality of his bush experience, and, of course, it was true.

Closure.

II. The Real Story of Waltzing Matilda

Marisa and I were snuggled up on the sofa watching On the Beach, the classic 1959 film that depicts the last days of humankind on Earth, starring Gregory Peck, Tony Perkins, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire. Nuclear war and its winter coming.

“Who’s Gregory Peck?” asked Marisa, the dark-haired cuddle bunny, 30 years my junior, next to me. She wore classic minis that drew attention to her gams, and had a flair for historical nuance she’d deftly display in the Film and Communications class I led at the local college, where I was an adjunct gig professor without bennies — not even Obamacare, for chrissakes. Marisa was an office-hours affair I’d started when Gerrie, my third wife, was still my main event in the sack, and my suave confidante — up until the moment she threw China at my head, plate by plate, our marriage caving in, like the San Andreas fault, or, actually, my fault, because I’d just owned up to having another affair with a student. After the second visit, it was Marisa who locked the door of the office. Now she sat next to me in the same spot Gerrie had occupied, head on my shoulder, her Rive Gauche woodiness wafting to my nostrils, adding a strange dimension to our viewing of the world’s end.

“Who’s Gregory Peck?” I was incredulous. “Just the finest actor I have ever seen on screen in my lifetime.”

“Well, who other’s lifetime would it be, if not yours?”

“Who other’s?”

“What was he in?”

“The Omen. To Kill A Mockingbird –“

“Is that the one where they almost lynch the N-word but Gregory gives them a CRT lecture and gets the community to see that they’re as guilty as sin and thry let the man go and promise to make the book part of core curriculum –“

“Yeah, that one. And probably my favorite: The Snows of Kilimanjaro. He’s a writer on a cot dying from gangrene, past flashing through, Paris, Ava Gardner attending to his wounds — leg and heart –“

“The same Ava Gardner that’s in this movie?”

“Same same. And anyway, he dreams of Paris and bullfights and hunting and grace under pressure and virtues of manhood and getting shitfaced often and writing when not drinking and, some say, death wishing his way through life –“

“And Ava?” she said, touching my thigh.

“His dead love interest that haunts all the days of his life, as if love were a beautiful lioness who needed shooting by Hemingway, their mutual need resolved in her leap and his shot and the consummation of their love in the death they shared together.”

“Hemingway sounds like an a**hole,” she said, removing her hand. “What about the other people in the movie? Who the f*ck is Anthony Perkins?”

“Another American classic. He was psycho Jimmy Piersall of the Boston Red Sox who flipped from the pressure of greatness and tried to beat the sh*t out of a teammate with a Louisville Slugger. True story. Fear Strikes Out.”

“What’s Louisville Slugger?” she asked, touching his knee.

“A baseball bat.”

“What happened to him?”

“He was taken away in an ambulance.”

“And then what?” her hand sliding down or up (I can’t remember).

“Then he got released and opened a motel with his mother acting as the guarantor and things were fine until a femme fatale checked in and we discover there’s a hole in the wall of her room through Tony peeks at her naked in the shower and all hell breaks loose in libido and he’s dressed in his mother’s smock and a wig and maybe shucking corn and his mother’s f*cking dead in the fruit cellar of the house they share and she’s sitting in a rocker and he;s channeling her hurtful Victorian psychosexual principles and he’s off his rocker and stabbing violins start in when he sees her lather up in such a way and –“

“Yeah, okay, I get it. Then what?”

“Oh, they take him away in an ambulance and he doesn’t get out again until there’s a casting call for Les Miserables and he plays Javert, the co[[er who just won’t quit.”

“And Fred Astaire?”

“Just a singer in a rock and roll band.”

We watched the film, morose, melancholy, once in a while turning to each for a kiss, passionate, like it was the end of the world right here right now on this sofa in Cairns, at the edge of the disappearing rainforest, our lips two pythons interlacing beneath the canopy. On the Beach is slow-paced film, b;ack and white, lots and lots of silence, only human language, withdrawing into its shell, is left. When they take the submarine to San Francisco, and up the periscope and see no movement on land, and reconnoiter, and find a ghost town, boy, it’s something, and you feel a lump rise in your throat. Of course, it reminded me of Operation Sea Spray, the time the CIA released a supposed harmless mist of evil to see if it would spread and what the result would be, in case the Russians decided to do it, and we need to be ready. It killed a few people and made a lot of people sick. Marisa seemed to take shelter from the storm pressing deeper and deeper into my embrace as we watched.

Yep, Damn you all to Hell, like Charlton Heston said at the end of The Planet of the Apes made about 10 years after the current classic, damn you all to hell — you did it! — you blew it up. Heston had been gradually losing it, after playing Moses in the Cecile B. DeMille version, him holding up the decalogue, Number 1: Don’t Kill. Then after the ape-man movie he’s in Soylent Green — goddamn, he cried, we’re eating recycled people. By then Charlton was slipping on the slope and became head of the National Rifle Association, normally associated with the right wing, but Baal, apes, and Big Cannibal had taken their toll, and when Michael Moore showed up one time for an interview, Heston looking feisty and defensive and worn out, Moore temporarily assuaged his animus by telling Heston, “I’m a member of the NRA.” I thought Moses would cry a Red Sea of gratitude. “Good for you,” he said, touched, a smile opening up through which Charlton was inviting Moore — either as Israelite or Egyptian, it was up to Mike what happened next. Mike being Mike reminded Charlton that the 2nd Amendment wasn’t part of the Mosaic decalogue. I don’t know where I stand on the issue. Probably the nation doesn’t 425 million guns floating around, but, on the other hand, they’ll come in handy during the coming uprising against tyranny. At least, that’s the vibe. The zeit poltergeist.

Tony Perkins is a sorrow-laden dad-to-be. You wonder: Did he ever catch a break in his career, always deeply submerged in some psychic trauma nobody could really do anything about — except institutionalize him? Sorry, Tones, your heart went out, the straitjacket’s for your own good. And once in a while a postcard he’d made in recreational therapy showed up at home — Monet meets Artaud — touching but you knew he still had a way to go.

The film was featuring that eerie part when they introduce the soundtrack, “Waltzing Matilda,” the winsome Aussie homage to sentimentality so prevalent to a white nation far flung by Mad King George to these fatal shores, as some wag has it.

“I always liked this tune, but it’s sad,” Marisa sighed.

“Yeah, murder suicide is sad.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t you know the story of Waltzing Matilda?”

“Some old guy dancing around with the ghost of his sweetheart. Sad.”

I patted her hand patronizingly. “Well, there’s more to it than that.” Dramatic pause. “They lived out in the bush by a billabong — real dags — and got in a fight, as you do, and she accidentally stepped on his guitar and a string snapped and twanged. Well, the rest of the instrument was alright, but something snapped in Banjo, who was high-strung, and he said, ‘Come with me,’ and they mosied on down to the water, where she said, ‘Banjo, I want a divorce.’ ‘Granted,’ he said, grabbed her, and held her head under the water, yabbies giving her the once over as she burbled her displeasure. Then she stopped burbling. And he sat himself down, as if by the waters of Babylon, and wept out the tune we know. Some people say he killed her in order to write the tune.”

“What a psycho.”

“True, but, you have to admit, a great choice for this movie.”

When the finale arrives on the TV screen with its message of the inevitability of doom if we choose madness, and we’re flashed a bit of a hope in the form of a closing shot of a Salvation Army banner that reads: There is still time. Marisa and I look at each other and move to the bedroom and make slow, passionate love on the water bed, our undulating forms, up and down, our loving like the Ra expedition (at least for me: I can’t read her mind: she’s on my raft), and we go and go, yeah, like there’s no tomorrow, and we look at each like if only we could string together days and days of such looks and loving, we could make a small eternity out of the hell that is the human condition. Then I came, and ruined everything. A quick glance at Marisa told me she mighta got there. I fell asleep on the beach, afterglow washing over in waves. Marisa presumably feeling same-same, her curves like dunes carved by a Muse.

III. The Battle of Brisbane

I was watching the NBA on CBS the other night, the 76ers versus the Celtics, in what I hoped would be a classic match up of two storied basketball towns. The 76, of course, referred to the American Revolution, Constitution, reluctant Bill of Rights, freedom. The Boston Celtics were owned by the local Irish-American neighborhoods. And it was interesting to watch over the years how the townies handled having a colossal talent, like Russell, a Black man lead them to the Promised Land of 11 world championships in 13 seasons and then they’d go home and use the N-word prolifically. Russell retired in 1969, and it took until 2013 for a statue honoring his accomplishments to go up in Boston. But basketball ain’t real life. You can probably feel bitterness.

Over the years I’ve watched some amazing clashes and stars — Moses Malone, Dr. J, Wilt Chamberlain, Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney, on one side; Russell, Johnny Havlicek, Larry Bird, Cornbread Maxwell, DJ, on the other side. Hot potatoes, what fun! Now, I was watching a new generation, some commentators already pegging them as future hall of farmers before they’d earned dime one of their $30 million salaries. I wanted to get a look at this new guy for Philly, who was from Australia, Ben Simmons. Interesting story. His father is an African-America who moved to Australia and married a white Aussie. The Aussies don’t really count him as an Aussie; the Americans kind of don’t see him as American. But he’s a dual citizen and, boy, can he play ball, they say.

Yeah, Oz can be a funny old place. Lots of contradictions. You’ll hear that in Australia they have to vote, but you won’t hear: a $10 dollar fine you can pay online makes the sin go away. They crow about not having a death penalty, but they are a land of vigilantes and mafia. Shhh. When old Gough Whitlam made tertiary education free, folks shrugged. There’s rampant nationalism, but the two-flaggers are blind to the Union Jack that takes about a quarter of the flag. They have one Jew, Robert Manne, and no ex-slave Blacks, and despite the TV apology the prime minister issued to the aborigines a few years back, it led to a self-pampering indifference to the native lot. A plebiscite introduced gay marriage, but you hear mumbles in mall food courts about the vote having been ‘rigged.’ Aussies made sure they got themselves on the UN Human Rights commission to force nations to be free, but have no Bill of Rights and that fact shows up regularly in dealings. Sometimes it seems that Australia is in a footrace with America to see who is most contradictory.

Simmons just went paint and stuffed the ball through the hoop in such a way that Celtics big guy Al Horford invited him to try the same move again. Simmons, the Australian, did, and proceeded to get knocked on his ass for his efforts. “This ain’t Gallipoli, punk,” said Horford. There was a mixed response from the Philly crowd. Salt in the wound: Horford went down the other end and stuffed the ball so f*cking hard the backboard seemed to tremble in fear. To his credit, Simmons, the American, came right back and popped a J over Horford, cracking the big guy up. “You’re alright, man,” he said to Simmons.

In 1942, during the war, US GIs were stationed in Brisbane. But that’s not all. The US GIs were having racial problems, with Black GIs segregated — separate but equal, even Down Under in wartime. Local Aussies had to tolerate this influx of American GIs, as they were there to help defend the country against a potential onslaught of Japanese imperialists who might want to do to Oz what they’d done in Korea, raze Aussie pagodas, rape sheilas, turn Holden into a Toyota factory. It was tense in Brissy. On the night of November 26, a riot broke out between Aussie GIs and American GIs, and it began what would later be called the Battle of Brisbane. It lasted two nights. Aussies and Yanks beating the snot out of each other. Reportedly one American sargeant came upon the scene and was said to be amazed to see “Americans flying up in the air.”

Speaking of Yanks flying up in the air. Jason Tatum just did one of his magical dribble things involving knee-breaks and dekes and ending with his doing a reverse dunk statement thing topped with a cherry-ass smile to the crowd. Who boo. But Tatum knows he’s got their respect. Which is more than the Aussie seems to have. Damn. He can’t seem to buy love with that $30 million contract. I could see him being traded. Horford’s warmed up to him and I fantasize that the exchange of words they’re having now includes the big guy telling him to come play for Boston.

Yeah. Old Brissy was never the same again. Some say. On that second night, it got really bad with blades slashing and guns blazing. Hundreds, some say countless casualties, piled up at emergency rooms. They wouldn’t report the events back in America. The Aussie press mostly laughed it off as the work of lovable larrikins. It all came to a head as Aussie nasal met Mississippi nasal, twang slang versus drawl scrawl. Two guys on each side beating each other to guava jelly, ready to collapse, holding on to each other, then one of them notices that the Black GIs are making off with the Aussie women, the Digger and the GI gobsmacked. They hear a Black GI say,”That ain’t all the sugar I got, honey,” followed by her squeal of approval. The Digger and the GI turning to each other. “Beer?” The Aussie going, “My shout, mate.”

Think West Side Story. The Sharks and Jets going at it over Maria. Next thing they know she’s driving off with some svelte Latino greaser in a silver Barracuda. Vroom.

At halftime I ordered a pizza from Domino’s. It’s not the same as American Domino’s; they chintz on something, but it beats adapting to their Vegemite culture, that bottom of the barrel sh*t they wipe across crackers and toast. When Mandy came home some time after the delivery, we made muscular love and agreed to watch the cricket later. In all our time together, she’s never once referred to me as an N-word. I respect the hell out of her for that. She’s a Brissy girl.

IV. The Harold Holt Swim Center

Two young blokes were sitting on towels at an isolated end of Bondi Beach. One American, one Australian. They were just shooting the sh*t in the sun and watching the waves roll in. Dave, the American brought up the subject of Harold Holt, the prime minister from 1966 -1967, and whose career and life were cut short when he went swimming one morning in late December 1967 and disappeared. Mike, the Aussie, let out a sucky sound.

“He was a lap dog for the Americans, Sorry, Dave, I don’t mean you. It’s just that he was in love with your president LBJ. And someone said that LBJ, who liked to expose his penis, went ahead and did so while Holt was there on a visit.”

“Do you mean like a Paul Hogan thing happened?”

“Whaddya mean?”

“You know, Holt showed his first and Johnson then whipped his out and said, “Now, that’s a noif.”

The Aussie laughed. “Maybe. But he disappeared swimming and nobody knows what happened to him.”

“Nobody?”

“Well, there was speculation of a riptide. Some say a shark. Some say the CIA took him. Some say the Chinese kidnapped him with a sub and he defected to China and Kevin Rudd, who speaks Mandarin, is the only one who has a clue where he is in China.”

“Well, what I don’t get,” said Dave, scratching his head, “Is why you guys named a Swimming Center after him. Bizarre humor.”

Mike laughed again. Then whispered, “Mafia humor, Dave.”

“You mean?”

Mike held a finger to his lip. Then he stood up and ran for the water. Dave watched him swim out farther and farther, riding the heaves. After a minute or so, he stood, intent on joining his Down Under “mate.” But he couldn’t see Mike in the water. He grew anxious. And after a minute he ran the long distance to a lifeguard. A small rescue army arrived. A helicopter flew overhead. People came at Dave, one after the other, wanting to know what happened. Something, an instinct told him not to mention the Holt conversation and he never mentioned it again to anybody. And soon it disappeared as a memory from his oceanic consciousness.

Mike never existed.

V. Bringing Home the Ashes

In an email exchange, Martin had agreed to meet Chris, the father of Bill Croft, on arrival at Heathrow, at a tavern in the International Departures section. Martin wanted to fly in and fly out, handing Croft his son’s burnt remains, with a few rehearsed sentences of consolation for his loss and without much explanation of what had happened in Abu Dhabi. So, when he arrived at the airport from the UAE, a couple of hours before the meeting in order to go over his consolation speech again and to hit the Duty Free for some Johnny Walker Black and to find a more appropriate burial container for Bill Croft’s ashes, he immediately went through Immigration and Customs and found the shuttle back to Departures.

We agreed to meet at the Darwin Pub in Terminal 3. Martin sat there at the table looking out over the runway, re-reading his consolation blurb, channeling Kevin Rudd’s “Sorry” speech to the Australian Aborigines for the tough luck of it all, which an Aussie pal of his, back in Abu Dhabi had shared with him after Martin accused the Aussie culture of being heartless to the Native Titlists. In Duty Free he’d purchased a 4.5 liter “party” bottle of Johnny Walker Black and had found what he thought was a marvelous vessel to house the kid’s remains. It was a Hardys wine bottle in the shape of a cricket bat. He poured the wine down the drain in the restroom, a handwashing Scot looking at him askance and muttering something angry he didn’t catch in Star Trek Scottie English. Martin just muttered something back that sounded like “Sassafras.” And when he made a funnel out of some thick paper and used the hand dryer to blow hot air into the bottle to evaporate the remaining liquid the Scotsman said, “When the dram’s inside the sense is ootside. But ah see sobridee’s worse.” And walked out shaking his head. Martin used the same funnel to pour the ashes into the bottle. He then placed the bottle back in the special display box with a glass cover it had come in. Martin was quite pleased at his own thoughtfulness.

As it so happened it was cricket season and the Aussies were in town for the famed Ashes Series, which the two sides had convened for since 1882, alternating every two years between Australia and England. That accounted for the coverage on TV, two “blokes” jawing about the “storied” history of the event. Martin ordered a G and T with a twist of lemon and nursed it while he waited. He couldn’t really follow what the commentators were saying about the game’s history. His Aussie pal told him it was like baseball, so he developed a general concept of the game — ball, hit, run, score, most runs wins. But there was way more to it than that his Aussie “mate” told him. For the time being, Martin took his word, as he didn’t really give a sh*t and didn’t want to suffer through a long yarn about nuances, silly points, and sixes.

By and by, Bill’s Dad showed up in casual clothes highlighted by a “jumper” and jacket. He was a late middle-aged man, well-groomed, and quiet. Martin wrote that he would be wearing a Red Sox baseball cap and probably (pending availability) sitting by the windows. Chris looked flat as he approached, but he managed a small smile and that soothed Martin’s nerves a bit; he had been terrified that the Dad would pounce on him angry, demanding answers, maybe threatening to stick one of the bottles of Johnny Walker Black right up his ar*e. But, no, he was a gentleman, who sat quietly, as Martin bought him a drink and they both watched the cricket pre-game show quietly for a second.

“I’ve got to catch the next flight back to Abu Dhabi,” Martin began, “But I did want to offer my deepest condolences for your loss. Bill was an excellent language teacher and his colleagues admired his methodology and tenacity — some of the Arabs are thick as Jethro Tull’s bricks, if you know what I mean — and, um, ah, he, his colleagues had the highest regard for his character and work ethic. They said, he will be missed.” And with that Martin revealed the cricket-themed bottle with his kid’s ashes in it and added, “We know much he liked cricket, so””

“Thank you, Martin.” He sat looking at the bottle with the ashes for a long time.

On the “telly” the commentators were going about the origins of the Ashes. Back in 1882, blah blah, and then someone decided to light some bails on fire and place the ashes in a perfume bottle (wouldn’t you know a woman was involved, thought Martin), blah, blah, and then they were jumping ahead to the 1930s, showing Don Bradman in his prime, routinely scoring “double centuries,” driving the English to foamy Maddogsvillle, with the commentators describing the rage and hatred for the colony of “convicts” who kept “sledging in the crease” without surcease, referring to the English cricketers as “poms,” an esoteric insult only the cricketers seemed to understand. When they’d had enough of the Aussies and Don Bradman, the English side came up with a way of bowling that aimed the ball on the bounce directly for the batter’s head, and called it “bodyline.” The Aussies shut their yap in the crease after that. When Martin saw the “technique” it reminded him of Red Sox baseball star Tony Conigliaro getting smashed in the face with an errant pitch that dropped him and almost killed him.

Chris just sat there exploring the gift bottle. Martin began to tense up, and fear that Chris might do the worst thing possible: Ask him what happened to his son. In his phone call of notification and follow-up email to Chris he’d been vague about details, saying the Emeratis wouldn’t give him all the information he’d “demanded from them to no avail” and had horrifically allowed his body to lay in an aluminum on the tarmac in the sun for two days, while an argument among military types (Bill taught EFL at a military academy) erupted over who should pay for the repatriation of his remains — the Emeratis or the Americans — until someone suggested that his body be cremated in Dubai and the ashes placed in a container and delivered to relatives in England. It was the cheapest option.

How could Martin explain that his son had been beset upon by his fellow colleagues — EFL instructors with master’s degrees in linguistics! Why? his father might ask. Because they coveted his coordinator’s position with its higher salary and longer contract commitment and took great interest in the fact that the program director was a homophobe. Rumors were spread about Bill’s profligate gay activities in Abu Dhabi. It was a black magic bullet that could get you killed. And by the time Bill caught on to the backstabbing doings of his colleagues, Emirati officers were beginning to threaten him. One morning another teacher offered up, with delight, his having witnessed an officer nearly running him over on the road as he crossed to an administration building. He endured taunts. He began to drink heavily. When he showed up at work in the morning reeking of alcohol, the Emerati’s grew savage in their remarks (in Arabic) and his colleagues seemed to rub their hands. Until he just didn;t show up one morning. He disappeared, it turned out, into a previously unknown underground gay community. Living nights here, nights there, among expats from America, from Sri Lanka, from India, and from England. Unable to leave the country because his passport was in the possession of his employers, the military. After he’d been gone two months, the lead jackal of the conspiring group moved into Bill’s vacated office as the new coordinator. Then one morning, word came down (or up) that Bill’s bloated body had turned up and now needed to be dealt with.

Martin cringed when he thought about delivering such details, followed by more questions, deepening anger, outrage, violent uncontrollability. What would he do? Here in a tavern at an airport in London? The thought of the police being called in to take this man away terrified him with its injustice. Chris had a right to be outraged. What’s more, what if Chris asked him the name of the “evil” coordinator and he had to own up to being that man? That man who had laughed his son into a horrific ending.

But Chris looked from the bottle of ashes to Martin’s nervous demeanor and said, “You’ve got a plane catch. I won’t keep you. Thank you so much for bringing Bill home.” He touched Martin’s hands, gathered up the bottle, and walked away. Martin blew a sigh of relief.

At the gate, however, his Duty Free Johnny Walker Black bottle was confiscated. You couldn’t bring alcohol into Abu Dhabi, he was told.

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