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The sunset cast rainbow-like orange, crimson, and rose rays west to east through the sky. He heard guidebouys clang in the harbor and gulls squawk on the roof above and in the streets and alleys below. Soon the breeze would change and instead of riding the temperature gradient from sea to land they would ride one from land to sea.
An hour and a half by time zone changes away, Ceilly and Leila would be singing Hungarian Gypsy tunes as they walked home from school. Almost half a world away, beyond where night became day and day became night again, Coyne, Kawahara, Sekiely and Emilikoff were freezing and being eateny alive by mosquitoes.
He lifted a cup of thick, strong, almost burnt coffee to his lips and sipped, wiping off the drops which collected on his dark, walrus mustache, taking a moment from the present conundrum ISU had handed him – the bones of a white man discovered in Washington Sound. Not unusual, no, except the best dating for the bones put the caucasian in Washington Sound circa 9300BC, long before any caucasian had a right to be in the New World, let alone Washington Sound, and chronologically right between the Na-Dené and Aleut-Eskimo migrations, as if somebody had an extra white man they had no use for and dropped him there rather than have him continue on.
He shrugged it off. Leave it for a another time. He sipped his coffee and kept his eyes on the few gulls aloft, waiting for the brief moment of anxious flight when the thermals changed. It was a little thing, he thought, yet so much science took place in that moment of transition. Somehow the universe flipped a switch and the direction of airflow changed. Somehow the gulls knew it was about to change and started moving their wings slightly in preparation. Somehow turbulence caught them but only for a second or a little more and then their directions were set, their courses laid in anew, and they continued as if nothing happened, this was the way it was suppose to be, this was God’s Master Plan and they were only players doing their small part in it. There was nothing mystical about it at all, but deep inside he knew there still had to be the mystic. The mystic was in his blood and in theirs.
Only they didn’t know it.
Or did they?
The phone rang and he knew it had already rung in his kitchen an hour and a half time zones away, bouncing off the pink formica countertops and pink refrigerator and pink stove and pink dishwasher and pink everything that Momma and Ceilly had picked out for him when he bought the house twenty years ago and hardly lived in since, had already rung in his Jaguar XKE classic, forest green with black leather and wood panel interior, would next find its way to his office at the Institute for Psychology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, where blackboards and greenboards stood heavy with equations which might be solutions to problems he’d heard a Mr. Fernberg ask his brother when both he and Tommy spent two weeks at a special school which never existed, and if he didn’t answer the phone on this desk in this room by the tenth ring it would begin shaking the mobile cellular in his breastpocket and then, as a last ditch effort to find him on a planet growing constantly smaller, chirp the pager on his hip.
He had another cellphone but only the ISU had the number to it and they called him thrice in all his time with them; once when the Martian bacterial spores had been found in the Antarctic meteor fields, once when the SME satellites’ imaging systems detected something moving on the far side of the sun, and once for the white man’s bones.
The first two turned out to be natural anomalies and didn’t concern him. The third? Ehh. Who knew?
He kept his eyes on the gulls and absently reached for the phone, letting it ring while waiting for the gulls to change.
Eighth ring. The turbulence began but only noticeable to those who knew to look for it.
Ninth ring. The gulls opened their wings little more and flapped once, twice.
Tenth ring. Winds changed. Wings filled. Gulls twisted. a little thing, unnoticed by most, but the universe had slightly changed and he had witnessed it.
He lifted his coffee. It tasted good and he licked off the drops clinging to his mustache.
The phone stopped ringing. He lifted the receiver and tapped a starcode in. Somewhere a computer recognized that he’d answered just a little too late and rerouted the call back to the now silent phone. When he heard the line become active he said, “Ayers.”
“Roland?” It was Ceilly and she didn’t sound good.
His heart sank into his stomach. What was wrong? Why hadn’t he picked up the phone on the first ring? “Ceilly? What is it?”
Cold silence answered him on the phone.
“My God, Ceilly, no. No.”
Her voice broke. The phone shook in his hand. She couldn’t talk, only hysterical screams and sobs made their way through the lines.
“Ceilly. ” How could he calm his sister against their greatest fears? “Where are you now? Are you home?”
Two sobs. An old part of him remembered a joke he and Tommy use to make when Ceilly was upset: two sobs for yes, one sob for no. It was hell but maybe an old joke joked best for her now?
“You are home?”
She shrieked words he hadn’t heard since Poppa touched the hot electric ground coming into the house when he strung the Feast of Magda lights. “Goddamn you, Ro , ” she finished.
Okay. Not now. “What has happened, Ceilly?”
“She hasn’t come home from school , ” she sobbed.
He checked his watch and added the time difference. “How long?”
“An hour, maybe two.”
The ISU phone chirped in his pocket.
“Ceilly, I — ”
“Ro, little Leila. You don’t think…”
The ISU phone chirped again. First all of Poppa’s family in the Camps, then Tommy gone when he was a boy, Uncle Reynard five years later, then Poppa, then Momma, and now…
It was too much agony now. He couldn’t do this over the phone. “Ceilly, I’m calling up a plane. I must go.”
She interrupted him with another barrage of hysterics that struck him like cannon fire over the phone.
“Ceilly, Ceilly, you give me an hour and a little more and I will be there with you. have you called the police?”
“What will they do? They will do nothing unless she’s been gone for a day or more.”
“No, no. Ceilly. I don’t want you to call them.”
Slowly her sobs abated. Ro kept his eyes on his watch and counted the cell-phone’s chirps. He didn’t know what would happen if he didn’t respond to the ISU. He always had before.
All three times.
Each time as soon as it rang.
That’s what the SPD’s Chief Investigator was suppose to do.
Ceilly, the words still stopping in her throat, said, “You don’t want me to call the police?”
He dropped his watch hand. It had taken a full minute for Ceilly to calm enough to speak. The ISU phone continued chirping. “No. I’ll take care of it. I’ll be there soon. ” All the friends and neighbors would be mobilized by the time he got there, he knew. Ceilly would stop men and women in the street to ask if they’d seen her daughter.
“Okay, Ro. I’ll be waiting.”
“Ceilly, I have to tell you to do something. It’s very hard, I want you to know.”
“I want you to do nothing. Stay home. This is something you must do.”
“Roland — ”
“Ceilly, it is something you must do.”
She paused. How much longer would the ISU phone chirp?
“Okay, Roland. You know what’s best.”
“I do, Ceilly. I do. Now good-bye. I will be there soon.”
He dropped his office phone without looking to see if it hit the cradle and snapped the cell-phone open. “Yes?”
The line pulsed with static. He couldn’t recognize the voice and barely understood the words. “Roland? You okay?”
“Yes.” The ISU didn’t use such dirty lines. He ran out of his office and up the access stairs to the roof. Pigeons and seagulls scattered and cawed at his approach.
Strange. ISU phones used a satellite based priority acquisition, line-of-sight mapping technology, not standard cellular methods. The line couldn’t be this dirty.
Was it possible there were no satellites passing overhead?
“Roland, this is Emilikoff.”
“What are you using? The line is dirty as hell.”
“Same as you, ISU cell-pack. The dirt your hearing is why I’m calling. We ran into something and we think you should see it before we go any further.”
He forgot to ask Ceilly if she’s told her husband, Yves, about this. No matter, he’d be there soon and make amends. “Can this wait a day?”
“A day? Roland, it’ll take you that long just to get here and that’s flying suborbital.”
“Yes. It can wait two days, then?”
“It’ll have to.”
“Then can it wait three days?”
“What is this, God talking to Lot? Roland, something has happened. Something you should see.”
“Yes, yes. I understand. I will be out there soon. I will need a day to deal with something else.”
“Roland — ”
“It is important.”
“Okay. It’s your call. We’ll shutdown ’till you get here.”
“Three days. That’s all. ” The ISU phone signalled off.
His strength was the understanding of mysteries, he knew. So did the ISU, which is why they hired him. Like the mysteries of stationary gulls effortlessly riding the winds of flight, gulls seemingly stationary until you knew how to look and what to look for, it seemed Ceilly and Emilikoff’s calls were related.
Connections were wonderful and he was good at finding them. They made understanding easier. Tommy’s gift to him, he knew, the ability to understand mysteries, to recognize connections.
Perhaps their time in the womb together caused some of Tommy’s genius to rub off on him?
But he could think like Tommy when he had to. He couldn’t do it long and he couldn’t do it hard, the way Tommy could, but for a few seconds he could have insights like his brother, insights leaving him weak and exhausted for days with a mind hellishly in fugue, fighting for his sanity amidst the möskeström of chaos.
How Tommy lived there day in and day out Ro didn’t know, although he muchly appreciated the hell his brother must have lived in all those years, seeing things and understanding things no one would know or understand for years, maybe centuries even. Fortunately, his thought processes didn’t make themselves known for several years after Tommy’s disappearance.
But now, here, as he listened to the gulls and watched the setting sun’s rainbow burn itself out like a too hot photograph across the sky, he felt the tweak and twitch in his left eye, the weakness along his rightside, and knew that mysterious connection engine inside his head at work again.
He spread his arms and asked God to help him fly.
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