Sarah and friends were ushered politely into a well-furnished modern office with the name ‘Gerard Poleman’ on the door.
“Thanks for this,” Sarah said, slumping a little ungracefully into a comfortable chair. “Thanks for letting us come up here. I didn’t feel right trying to talk back in the lounge. No offence, Gerard, but it was kinda close back there, and we attracted a lot of attention.”
Poleman stood formally as he watched them settle themselves. “It’s quite alright. I understand. Now, would you like another cup of coffee or something to eat?”
“I’m fine,” she replied.
“What about you, gents?”
The two men shook their heads in tandem as they watched Gerard Poleman walk around to his desk. His office seemed kosher; it was in the right part of the building and had all the evidence of company affiliation.
“So what can I do for you?” Poleman asked as he sat behind his desk.
“I don’t know what your head office people said,” she began.
Poleman leaned forward with elbows on his desk and his left hand wrapped around the fist made with his right. “Not much at all. I was just told to ring your number and to take you seriously.”
Sarah took a deep breath. Well, here goes. “You’re presumably aware of the recent events that Terry, Eddie and I have been involved with, Gerard.”
Poleman leaned back slightly and allowed his hands to slip down onto his desk, but his elbows remained in place. “I certainly am,” he said with some enthusiasm. “Although, I don’t know if I’ve seen everything. I certainly saw last night’s news conference from the aircraft carrier.”
Sarah wanted to groan when he said that, but knew he wouldn’t understand such a reaction, so she suppressed a pressing desire to comment—yet again—on the media circus she’d been a part of. Right now, she needed to keep him focused on her issue, not her unusual responses. “Right. Well, the three of us are now on our way home. For reasons that are difficult to explain, I believe there’s a problem with the plane we are currently booked on. I intend to cancel our tickets and book another flight.”
The airline man was taken aback by her words. He sat fully back in his chair, his hands now grasping the desk as if he needed to support himself. “But, Sarah, Gentlemen, I can assure you…”
Sarah had rehearsed this conversation in her mind several times and didn’t intend to get into a debate about their intentions. She held up her hand, effectively silencing Poleman, but in the nicest possible way. She didn’t want him any further off side than he already was.
Doing her best to keep things relaxed, she smiled her most professional smile and said, “Like I said, Gerard, it’s hard to explain. My reason for asking to see you is not that we intend to jump ship and fly with the competition. We could do that without alerting anyone.” The airline man nodded and did his best to return the smile. “But,” she continued a little more forcefully, “I am concerned that if there is a problem with the plane, then potentially a lot of other people could be at risk.”
A rapidly sobered Gerrard Poleman considered his options and the responses he might have to initiate. A possible threat, dealing with the authorities, head office, families, the public, the media—where to begin? “Do you have any idea what this problem might be?” he asked.
Sarah shook her head. “I’m sorry, Gerard. I wish I did, but I don’t. I don’t know if it’s mechanical or some man-made threat. But I thought it better to bring my concerns to you privately, rather than make a huge fuss down there at the ticket or check-in counters.”
Poleman responded well to that. “Well, I’m very grateful for your sensitivity. And head office did say I should take you seriously,” he said.
“I’m cool with that,” Sarah added. “I’m changing planes anyway. My only concern was not to walk away from the others who may have been affected. I’m happy as long as someone is taking the threat seriously.”
Poleman looked to his computer screen and tapped in some commands. The others looked at one another, waiting to learn what he might find, and then back to Poleman as he said, “The incoming flight is due to land in about 20 minutes. Do you think I should warn the crew?”
Three heads began to look at one another again. Sarah answered, “Up to you, Gerard. I could be wrong, but I took the threat to the aircraft to be realised only if we got on it. And when I say ‘we’, I don’t mean we are the target. My warning was simply to take another flight because ours wasn’t safe.”
“Such events are not as unusual as you might think,” Poleman mused. “Crews know that a lot of alerts are hoaxes or false alarms, so I doubt there would be any problems. But there is always the old maxim: it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Sarah could see where things were heading. There is also an old maxim about leading a horse to water. She could also see no benefit coming from an argument, so Sarah conceded with as much grace as she could muster. “Well,” she said, “all I can say is thank you for giving us your time. I do hope that if there really is a problem, you find it before anyone gets hurt.”
Poleman stood up to signal the meeting was over. “I’m sure we can all agree on that. Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Sarah. I do hope you have a comfortable trip home—even if you are choosing to fly with the competition.” He added the last line with a smile, robbing the sentiment of any condemnation.
They all shook hands and quietly left Poleman’s office, feeling uncertain as to what might happen next. Did it really matter? Hadn’t they stuck their necks out and done what they could? The outcome was now beyond their control. So why do I still feel uncomfortable—even guilty—about changing planes?
* * * * * * *
“Have you heard?” a voice asked from the crowd.
It struck Sarah as a pointless question, not worthy of anyone claiming to be a journalist. Would a response like ‘Heard what?’ help, she wondered.
They were all tired. They had rested well enough on the first leg of their revised flight that had taken them to Sydney, Australia. But that had led to another layover in another transit area, before boarding their connecting flight to Wellington. At least being cooped up in transit meant they could avoid the media. But they knew it wouldn’t last. As expected, the usual crowd of the curious and the curious had assembled in the arrivals hall.
As they eased their way through the crowd with the help of a couple of beefy airport security men, Sarah felt an atmosphere of expectant curiosity and something approaching—was it—fear? The crowd was hushed as if they didn’t know how they should react to seeing these people. Huh, I don’t exactly know how to react to them either.
Sarah never thought she would be so glad to see Dan, who was waving to her from the back of the crowd. “Hi, Dan,” she acknowledged the grinning barrel-chested man who stepped forward to greet her with his best bear hug. But he stopped short of trying the same thing on Terry Gunn.
“Hello, Long. It’s good to see you made it in one piece,” the man said.
As she escaped from his embrace, she said, “Dan, let me introduce our extra team member.” She gestured towards Eddie. “This is Father Eddie Nolan. You know who he is, and now you can thank him on behalf of the company for all he’s done for us over the last few days. Without him the story may have been very different.”
The two men shook hands. “No offence, Father, but I would have preferred to meet her real father—if you know what I mean. Thanks for looking after these two. I imagine they can be a bit of a handful.”
The little priest smiled. “None taken, Mr. Williams. I also would have preferred to meet him, so I guess we’re even.” Both men laughed, but it was hardly heartfelt.
The crowd, which had remained at a respectful distance, began to edge closer. Sarah laughed to herself. They’re not their normal, obnoxious selves. I’ve never seen them so insecure. No, it’s more than insecurity; they’re frightened. Imagine if Daddy showed up with us. That would have really rattled them.
Terry prevented them from being encircled by the advancing crowd by guiding the four of them and all their luggage off in the direction of the car park. “So, Dan,” he said, “what’s the story on the other plane? We’ve heard nothing.”
Terry was far from offended when rather than answering him, Williams turned to Sarah. “You were right, Long. I have to say I’ve had my doubts ever since you started on this whole angel thing. But I have to admit, you were right.” He was both caustic and conciliatory at the same time, which took some doing. But, Dan was something of a master at that.
Sarah’s normal poise and elegance when dealing with her boss was definitely under threat. “Right about what? Damn it, Dan! I’ve had a very long night, and I’m not a happy camper. Tell me. Right about what?”
Dan may have enjoyed the opportunity to re-establish his authority again after Sarah’s independence overseas, but he caught the look Terry threw his way, so he decided to wait. He could play those games later.
“They went over the plane with a fine-tooth comb when it landed. Sure enough, they found some fault. Don’t ask me what, something technical. They fixed it. A couple of hours later, the plane took off and flew home without a hitch. The experts said things could have been very messy. I don’t know how you did it, Long, but you’ve convinced me.”
“And your friends at Air New Zealand are now in your debt, I suppose? You’ll be looking forward to a very pleasant dinner or two?” she suggested, her sarcasm dripping none too subtly through it.
“You never know, Long,” he replied. Her barb had no impact on him. They routinely had this sort of conversation. “They might even offer you one if you don’t speak to them like that.”
She knew she wasn’t handling herself as well as she might. “I guess our friend Mr. Poleman did the right thing back in Singapore, and that’s a relief. I’m sorry, Dan. Thank you for getting hold of the right people. I don’t think I could live with myself if something had happened to the people on that plane.” She paused as they reached the door out to the car park beyond. “I don’t know what you’re planning, Dan, but if it’s okay with you, I need to take a few days off. I want to go back to the farm and take it easy. If Dad shows up, that’s a bonus.”
Dan and the others swirled protectively around her. It was time for Dan to back off and allow her the space to recover, and he knew it. “No problem, Long. You do that. There’s bound to be a flight through soon. Go and see what you can find. We’ll stay here and guard the bags.”
Sarah took a deep breath and followed up with a long sigh of relief. Then she remembered their guest. “What about you, Eddie?” she asked. I can’t promise that Daddy will be there, but at least you’ll get to see some of the country.”
Nolan avoided Dan Williams’ eye as he replied. “What was it they said in Sydney? I wouldn’t be dead for quids?” His attempted Aussie accent wasn’t a patch in his American one. “Well, I wouldn’t miss this for quids either.”
Sarah was very happy with that reply. She knew that somehow Eddie was part of what had to follow, and she needed someone around who would at least understand what she had been through. Terry wasn’t an option. He had a family of his own to think of. Thank God for Eddie, she thought as she silently acknowledged his answer and went off to arrange the tickets.
* * * * * * *
They arrived to a sunny summer’s day, with a fresh nor’wester pushing up the temperatures into the high 20’s. This was home for Sarah. She shared her love of the sights and sounds of the Canterbury countryside with Eddie, pointing out places of interest as she drove their hired car the 45 minutes out of town to the family farm. For his part, Eddie took a great interest in the style of farming so unlike that of his native land.
Her mood changed as they turned into the long shingle driveway up to their destination and saw a cluster of cars and several campervans to one side of the wide space at the front of the homestead. As she drove slowly towards them, people were getting out of their cars to see who had arrived. The sight of the crowd depressed her. Why can’t they just leave us alone? I’m not my father, but even if I was, surely I’m still entitled to some peace and quiet. It’s my home, for God’s sake. Why can’t they just go away and leave me alone?
Nolan must have been reading her mind. He glanced across and smiled the sympathetic smile she’d come to know well, and sometimes depend on, like now. “Hang on, Sarah. Just a little longer, then we’ll be inside, and they can’t do anything to upset you.”
God, this man was a find. Where would I be without him? At times like this, Sarah missed not having someone in her life to share such moments with and to support her. She’d had little time and less inclination to start a serious relationship. At least not since Hamish. Why was that? I mean it’s not as if I’ve deliberately set out to make it that way.
She stopped the car outside the garage, but made no move to go inside.
“I just wish they would leave me alone for a while. Even inside, I’ll know they’re out here. I know that sounds odd coming from someone who makes a living out of camping on people’s doorsteps and demanding they answer my questions. I know these people will have questions, and they’re probably more valid than most of the stuff I used to ask.”
“Possibly so, Sarah,” the priest almost agreed. “People have always wanted to find or know about the untold. You’re part of man’s answer to our native curiosity. If you hadn’t done so, someone else would have.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” she accepted while staring into but not really seeing a trellis covered in yellow roses that was right in front of her. “But I’m learning that we don’t have the answers for an awful lot of questions. No amount of investigative reporting will satisfy these people. They want a whole lot more than a fresh angle on the six o’clock news.”
Eddie tried to catch himself from giving away a wry smile, but she wasn’t in a space to see it, let alone interpret it. “That’s my point, Sarah. They always have. But they don’t know who to ask or what to ask. Some things are taboo in western culture, and certainly the media hasn’t known how to deal with them. At best, they offer a messy scrap between people who will never agree. If you can’t answer the questions of life, then you may as well offer cheap entertainment.”
Eddie suspected she hadn’t heard a word he’d said. “But surely, they know I don’t have the answers they’re looking for,” she said, more in hope than out of conviction.
Eddie could read the signs, but decided to carry on anyway. “I doubt it. At one level, they do, but they know you as a trusted reporter. They’ve been told you’re someone to turn to. You give them the answers and tell them how to think. All media outlets need people like you, Sarah. They sell your credibility to get their ratings up. But you have another problem. Not only are you a trusted answerer of questions, you also know the people involved. You are one of the people involved. Is it any surprise those people are camped out front?”
Sarah gave signs of surfacing. “I know what you’re saying,” she said in a dull flat voice. “For years they’ve been told to listen to us, that we have the answers. So here they are, but I don’t have the answers.” She turned to him with the early indications of tears forming in her lovely blue eyes. “I’d like to help them, Eddie. I really would, but I don’t have anything to give them.”
Eddie smiled that same lazy but understanding smile. “Please, don’t take this the wrong way, Sarah, but a cynic might ask if you ever did,” he said. “And when I say ‘you’, of course I mean the collective you.”
“I know what you mean,” she said. “I’ve been on the receiving end of more than enough of it myself lately. It makes me wonder if we really do make a difference. No, let me rephrase that. I wonder if what we do has any real value or if we’re just marketing a product we call news to hungry and curious people in a consumer-dominated culture. Heavens, what a mouthful!” She punctuated that thought with a cynical laugh, which he took to be a good sign. At least she was able to laugh at herself again.
Eddie reached across to open the door, but paused before doing so. “Don’t be too hard on yourself or your colleagues. No one, least of all me, should doubt the need for a free press in a democratic society. The world would be very different without it, and not for the better. But like you, I can see it doesn’t come without a cost.”
He completed the manoeuvre and climbed out into the warm sunshine beyond. She followed suit, and they walked together, slowly back towards the front door. Oh, God, they’re waving at us as if we were celebrities. They’ll go home and ring up their friends and say things like, ‘I saw that girl today, Mildred. You know, the one whose father was on the TV. I didn’t like her hair much. She should do more with herself’. Should I wave back? Would it make any difference?
Sarah settled for a smile in the general direction of the crowd as they approached the front door. Eddie reached out to knock, but was beaten to the punch by an unseen hand from the far side—a hand that opened the door with a flourish.
“Hello, Sarah. Come in,” said a weather-beaten face that was connected to the aforementioned hand by the usual arm—and other body parts.
“Uncle Henry,” she responded with a tired smile. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
A short round lady stood beside the door opener, with a beaming smile and arms out-stretched in welcome. “Sarah! It’s wonderful to see you again, love. Your dad asked if we wouldn’t mind looking after the place while he went away. Not that he told us what he was up to. We got such a shock when we heard about him, and to see you talking about what happened on that ship. It must have been amazing. But I’m rabbiting on again, aren’t I? Henry is always telling me off for that. Here, give me a cuddle.”
Sarah did so, quite willingly. She had a real soft spot for her Aunt Colleen, who was a ball of energy and had always been fun to have around. For the second time that day, Sarah eventually extricated herself from an embrace and introduced Eddie. Then they walked together towards the sitting room in the old homestead.
“You must be dying for a cup of tea, Dear,” fussed Colleen as Sarah collapsed into one of the big round-shouldered armchairs she remembered so well.
Sarah felt she could finally, genuinely relax around these two. “Yes, please, Auntie Colleen. You never change, do you?”
“And what about you, Father? Would you be wanting that or something stronger perhaps?”
“Tea’d be fine. Thank you, Colleen. It’s a bit too early in the day for the hard stuff. Perhaps a little later if we’re still here.”
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Colleen Long didn’t try to disguise her surprise. “You’re not thinking of moving on already are you? You’ve just got here. You need to stop over for a while, after all your excitement. Now you just sit there and rest while I get the tea.” As Colleen bustled off towards the kitchen to make the tea, Sarah glanced across to her father’s only brother. He caught her glance, but simply shrugged to indicate he also knew some things that never changed, so he wasn’t going to try.
Sarah enjoyed the moment for what it was—family. Then she called after her aunt, “That depends on all sorts of things, Auntie Colleen. What I really want is to spend some time with Daddy if I can find him.”
Henry cleared his throat as he sat a little more forward in his chair and leaned his chin on his fists, his elbows anchored to the armrests. “You’re not the only one who wants that, Sarah,” he said. “Ask any of those people outside. Some of them have been camped out there since we saw you talking about him on the TV.”
He sat back and turned to look out the window, gesturing towards his many uninvited guests. “They’re sleeping in their cars. And the phone’s been running red hot. We got Melissa to come and screen all the calls.”
“I guess that means he isn’t here then?” she asked, more than a little disappointed.
“Right now? No, he’s not here,” Henry replied. “But, as you know better than I do, that could change at any moment.”
Colleen appeared at the door with a tray of cups, milk, sugar and home-made baking.
“Here, let me help you with that.” Eddie needed to feel useful and was out of his chair like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe.
“Why, thank you, Father,” she said, allowing him to take the tray from her and place it on the coffee table that their chairs surrounded. “The tea won’t be a moment.” She scurried back to complete her self-appointed task.
Sarah watched the little drama play out before turning back to Uncle Henry. “Do you have any idea where he might be?” she asked.
“I don’t know for sure, Lass. My best guess is he’s at Max Redfurn’s bach in the Sounds. Last time your father called by, he said that’s where he’d been staying. He just failed to mention some of those little side trips he was taking.”
Sarah wasn’t surprised, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t still disappointed. “If it’s any consolation,” she said, “he didn’t tell me either. Any of it.” They sat in silence, leaving muffled chiming of the grandfather clock in the hallway to fill the vacuum. Then she repeated, “Any of it,” before drifting back to her memories, refreshing them in her mind and attempting to share them. “You’ve no idea what a surprise it was to see him in that village in the middle of nowhere.”
The big, rangy, raw-boned man shrugged his shoulders again and allowed a glimpse of a smile to operate for all of a fragment of a second. Sarah knew that didn’t happen often and appreciated the moment. “That sounds like Sam,” Henry muttered, almost under his breath.
“You wouldn’t recognise him, Uncle Henry.” Sarah allowed her repressed excitement to return for a moment. “I can’t believe how much he has changed. There was no doubt it’s him alright, but he’s not the same Sam Long I knew and loved.”
“Well that’s fairly obvious, Lass. The brother I know doesn’t fly around the world without a plane, and he doesn’t play doctor with people he doesn’t know. You might say I’m not surprised that he’s changed.”
Her aunt reappeared, tea pot in hand until she positioned it carefully on the heat pad in the centre of the table. “Be back in a sec,” she said and vanished again, only to return with dishes of jam and cream for the home-made scones.
Sarah knew these two people well. Colleen and Henry were an odd mix, her irrepressible and infectious good humour, and his dour and staid melancholy. But it worked for them. And it worked for their five kids, the oldest one was Melissa and the one who had been corralled in to keep the phone calls under control.
“Just wait till you see him, Uncle Henry. Then you’ll see what I mean.”
“I’m so looking forward to that, Dear. It’s so exciting, isn’t it?” Colleen sounded like a young girl looking forward to her first pyjama party.
“How long have you been looking after the old place?” Sarah asked.
Colleen answered as she offered around her two large plates. One almost overflowed with scones, the other offered an assortment of cake and biscuits. That’s my Auntie Colleen. Compared to her, everyone else gives country hospitality a bad name.
“Your father came to see us a couple of months ago and asked if we would be interested in coming out here for a while. He knew we were struggling with all the fees for the boys at university, and Henry can convalesce from his accident out here as well as anywhere else, can’t you, Dear?” Without waiting for the reply she knew she wouldn’t get, she carried on. “Sam suggested we rent out the place in town and come live here rent free while he was away. We thought about it for a while and decided to give it a go.”
“And no regrets, I presume?” Sarah asked as she applied whipped cream and jam to a scone.
“None at all, Dear. It’s been wonderful. Henry seems to have healed remarkably well—faster than any of the doctors predicted. You don’t think that…” Both her beaming smile and her voice trailed off as she glanced towards her husband.
He may have looked it, but Henry wasn’t slow. “You mean the bugger was practicing on me, and he never told me? Well I’ll be…”
“Healed is the word, I believe,” Sarah slipped the comment in with perfect timing.
Colleen’s smile returned. “Well, that would certainly make sense, now that I look back over the timing of everything, Henry. Well, what a hoot. You might be one of his first patients, and we didn’t even know it.”
“There seems to be a story here, Uncle Henry,” Sarah said only half joking. “You might end up being in a book, or on TV or something. How about ‘Angel believes in family first’?”
Sarah enjoyed provoking her uncle just a little, and she knew him well enough to know where to draw the line between fun and offence.
“Over my dead body,” he grumbled. “I don’t need your type hanging around making my life a misery. It’s bad enough having to live with Little Miss Happiness here!” said the man who had very happily done so for more than twenty-five years.
“Well I won’t tell if you don’t tell first,” Sarah offered between mouthfuls. Looking at Eddie, she could see she wasn’t the only one enjoying the home baking immensely. “But what about all those people outside? Do they ever come any closer?”
Colleen ignored the muttered ‘better bloody not’ and began to pour tea into the four cups. “Not so far. We rang the police to find out what to do when people began to show up. They said if they didn’t cause any trouble, then the easiest thing to do was simply set some boundaries and ask them to stay within them. We did, and they have. It’s been very civilised and well behaved.” Her pouring duty done, she passed out the cups for each of them to add milk and sugar as desired.
“It’s the bloody media who’ve been a pain in the…ah, sorry, Father,” Henry added with some feeling as he accepted his cup and placed it on the table in front of him.
“Well, that’s us,” Sarah commented with some understanding as she copied his movements in order to add some milk and then take a sip. “We’re good at being a pain in the…ah, sorry, Father.”
Colleen managed to drown out Henry’s barely discernible grunt. “Melissa tells them we don’t know where Sam is and are just as surprised as everyone else about what’s happened. She must have done a good job because they seem to have accepted that. But now that the two of you have shown up, they’ll probably start all over again.”
Sarah put her cup down and slumped back in the old chair. “Believe it or not, it’s the same message I tell them. And it’s true. Or do you know where the bach is, Uncle Henry?”
“I’ve got a rough idea, but I doubt I could find it without detailed instructions or a map.”
Sarah cast a glance towards Eddie, who was busy trying to choose between a slice of something with lots of coconut in it and a fresh farm-baked gingernut. But she knew he had been quietly taking in more than the food and drink. “That might make it difficult to track him down, Eddie,” she said.
Eddie went with the coconut option, which clearly met with his approval. “This is delicious, Colleen,” waving the remainder of the slice towards her. Then he redirected his gaze to Sarah to point out “That doesn’t sound a whole lot like the Sarah Long I saw in action half a world away, now does it? You know all too well how to find people who don’t want to be found, Sarah. Why should it be any different just because it’s your father?”
“Because he probably doesn’t want to be found,” she replied. “And, more importantly, he won’t want us leading half of creation to his doorstep.”
Eddie successfully imitated Colleen’s beaming smile. “Good point, my dear,” he said. “So we have to find him without letting anyone else know what we’re up to.”
Sarah looked to see how her aunt and uncle reacted to that. Only polite interest so far. “That’s a bit tricky, don’t you think?”
Eddie nodded as he worked his way through another mouthful of flavourful coconut and waved his arm appreciatively towards Colleen as he did so. Once his mouth was free from eating, he said, “That’s why I’m hoping he might get in touch with us. He must know where we are. The whole country must know by now.
“That’s the best option,” she agreed. “Short of him showing up here in person, of course.”
“And if you were Sam, how would you get in touch with us with the least chance of other people finding out?” Eddie asked as he took another sip of his tea.
“Probably by cell phone—to yours or mine—Eddie,” reasoned Sarah.
“That way he can call from anywhere.”
“Within the coverage area, yes.”
“And we should be able to contact him the same way?”
“Sure, if he’s taking calls. In his situation, that’s not guaranteed.”
The shrill ring of a cell phone surprised them all, especially her aunt and uncle who had been silently watching their verbal ping pong without really understanding it. “Speaking of phones,” she said, diving into her bag to retrieve the offending device. “This is Sarah Long,” she said.
“How ya going, girl,” asked the familiar tones of her favourite cameraman.
“Terry!” she was delighted to hear his voice. “How are you? How’s Linda? And Steve?
“We’re fine. How are you holding together?”
“Good. Well this isn’t just a social call. I had a message for you today.”
“A message for me?” she responded mechanically.
“That’s what I said. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine, just a bit confused, that’s all.”
“Well, some guy calls me at the office and leaves a message on my answer phone. I didn’t recognise the voice. He said ‘ask her to remember the holiday after School Cert’. Then he said he’ll see you there.”
“Yes, that’s it. I know a guy who knows all the right people, and he traced the call to a call box here in Wellington. That’s it.”
“Did it sound like Dad?”
“No, it didn’t. I re-ran some of the stuff I recorded back in the village, and it didn’t sound at all like his voice.”
“Thanks, Terry. You may have just saved us a lot of effort. I really appreciate that.”
“Don’t lose touch, girl. Keep me in the loop if you can. But I understand if it’s not possible. And take care out there.”
“Thanks again, Terry. Love to Linda from me.”
“Sure, will do, girl. See ya.”
Sarah hit the button to end her side of the call. The elaborate spread of food had been forgotten by the three sets of eyes that she could now feel watching her intently for any reaction.
“That was Terry Gunn,” she said quietly. “He said someone left a message on his work answer phone that he guessed had to be for me. But it wasn’t from Dad—or at least it didn’t sound anything like him.”
“Can you tell us what the message was, Sarah,” Eddie prompted.
“The message said I should meet someone at a certain place no one but Dad and me would know about. This person apparently said he would meet me there, but didn’t say who ‘he’ was. Could the message be from Dad? I just don’t know.”
“What are you going to do?” Colleen asked, breaking the spell and bringing the room back to life the best way she knew. She passed around the plates of food again.
Sarah declined her offer, preferring to sigh and curl up in the big chair. “Life’s gotten very complicated since all this began,” she murmured quietly.
But Eddie wasn’t buying it. “That’s no reason to give up trying,” he said with one eye on her and the other on the plate of scones in front to him. He decided to enjoy one, duly nodding his thanks to its maker. “You have questions, and so do I. The whole world has questions they want answered.” It took some skill, but his training had clearly allowed him to practice the art of spreading the cream and jam while still making his point. “Back in Indonesia, Sam said the story needed to be told. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of the story yet, do you?” He stopped talking, partly because he’d finished and partly because he wanted to taste the delight that was now waiting on his plate.
“No, I don’t.” Tiredness and doubt had crept into her words. “But I’m not sure I want to hear it. Most of it probably hasn’t even happened yet. Who knows what may still be ahead of us.”
Her comment caused him to stop chewing and his arm to freeze in midair. “That’s an interesting observation, Sarah. I’ll bet you’re right.” Eddie Nolan’s eyes had suddenly come to life. Then his arm moved again, allowing him to return the remnants of the scone to his plate where it lay suddenly unappreciated. A very excited Eddie continued, “The story won’t end when the world knows who Sam is. Now the real story begins; the one about what Sam does now.”
Sarah didn’t share his enthusiasm. It was certainly not what she had expected. She looked across to the little priest. What is he on about? Have I missed something? “You’re beginning to scare me, Eddie. I don’t know if I want him to start taking any more risks. He’s not a young man anymore, and I’d hate to…”
But Eddie ignored her excuses and began pacing the floor. “I understand your concerns, but look at this through his eyes. What do you think he wants? Do you think he is doing these things against his will? Do you think he is being forced in some way? Did he seem at all worried when you saw him back on the ship?”
Sarah thought about that for a moment, then she turned to the priest and said, “No, Eddie. You’re absolutely right. I’ve never seen him so alive or so happy. I guess I’m just frightened for him—and for me. There are so many unknowns, and we tripped over some of them, didn’t we?”
“You mean the spooks, the ones we saw on the ship?” Eddie asked.
The question brought Henry out of his hibernation and into the conversation. “What are these spooks you’re talking about?” he asked.
Eddie answered. “We don’t really know, Henry. I presume they’re something like the CIA, some sort of intelligence outfit that worries about things people might see as a threat to the US.”
“Dear God,” Colleen exclaimed, clearly upset. “What on earth have you got yourself mixed up with, Sarah?”
Sarah leaned across and placed her hand gently on her aunt’s forearm. “I don’t know, Auntie Colleen. But men whose opinion I respect say that Daddy is somehow working supernaturally. They think he’s working with God. I’m not sure I even believe in a god. But I saw him doing things no man can do. And I’m not the only one. Now I’ve no choice—I’m involved. And I think Eddie is probably right. We have a long way to go before the real story ends.”
As she gently retracted her hand, Henry asked, “And you think there are people trying to track him down, Eddie?”
“Yes, Henry. I do. And not just the media. I imagine spooks from any number of countries are out here trying to find him, and who knows what happens if they do.”
“But why would anyone want to hurt him?” Colleen cried, unable to hide her tears as she gripped the armrests of her chair as if she might be uprooted from it against her will. “Sam has helped people in need. What’s wrong with that? Why would they hurt him?”
The old priest looked on her with that wonderful Irish smile that said more than mere words could ever say. It was full of compassion and strength, of understanding and empowerment—and love. “I don’t claim to understand what makes people tick, Colleen, especially people in high places. But I know some of them can feel very vulnerable. But I took great comfort from what I saw on that ship when Sam was with us. He was moving in a power much greater than anything man can create. And if Sam is in league with the Almighty, I’m not too concerned about what man can do to him.”
Sarah reached across and took hold of Colleen’s arm again. “I know it sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, Auntie Colleen. But…” She paused to get the words right. “But you should have seen what I saw with my own eyes. It’s not science fiction. It’s real. And for some reason, my father is right in the middle of it.
“But why would Sam work with the Almighty? He doesn’t even go to church,” Colleen exclaimed, searching frantically for something in her early upbringing to help her make sense of Sarah’s words. But she couldn’t find a thing. She felt cast adrift on a wild ocean of claims that defied everything she’d ever believed.
Sarah squeezed her arm gently. “That’s another question we don’t have an answer for. I wish I did. That’s why I want to spend some time with Daddy. Only he can tell us.”
“What are you going to do?” Colleen asked again.
“I’m going to sleep on it,” Sarah replied. “I hope you will all forgive me if I turn in and catch up on some overdue sleep.”
“How about something to eat first, Sarah?” fussed Colleen, at last able to return to normality. “If I know you, you’ve been skipping your proper meals with all the excitement. Let’s have some tea, and then you can have a nice long bath. That will settle you properly, and you can wake up much clearer tomorrow.”
Sarah looked at the two men and then back to the lady of the house. “Sure,” she said in mock surrender. “I must confess I’ve been looking forward to that bath. In all my travels, I’ve never found one as good as that tub upstairs. You should try it too, Eddie. You’ll never be the same. It spoils you for baths anywhere else.”
“In that case, I will risk it,” the priest assured her. “And I too could use some time in a decent bed. But, Colleen, the aromas coming from your kitchen are more than enough to die for. If afternoon tea is anything to go by, I certainly don’t want to miss out. Is it okay if I join you for dinner and then crash?”
His bit of blarney worked a treat on Colleen. She blushed like a schoolgirl and then defaulted back to what she did so well. She passed the plate with the last remaining coconut slice his way.