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Terry gave Sarah no time to process what their boss had said. As soon as she hung up, he demanded, “Well, what did he say?”
Sarah understood his impatience, so she made allowances for his abrupt question. “He said it wasn’t the first time the news media wanted to move people quickly, and they had ways to help make that happen. I don’t know how they do that, and I don’t really care as long as it works. Then he said for us to wait by the phone, and he would get back to us as soon as he could.”
The two of them had progressed through customs quite easily because they didn’t have to wait for any luggage and were now wandering somewhat aimlessly in the main concourse of the airport. Then Sarah added, “He did suggest we check out available flights, even if it meant going direct from here.”
Her answer mollified Terry, but only slightly. “At least that sounds hopeful,” he said. “There should be options for outgoing flights for tomorrow, but connecting flights to the US? I don’t know. But there’s not much point in leaving the airport. It’s the easiest place to get tickets, even if it’s the most expensive.”
Sarah gazed around, but barely saw the scene which confronted them. Her mind was somewhere else, somewhere many thousands of miles away, somewhere so dramatically etched onto her mind’s eye.
“Not even a lot of point in seeing if we can get a rental car, I suppose?” she murmured.
Terry was still a man on a mission, focusing on what he needed to achieve it. “It won’t hurt to check. If we can’t get out till tomorrow, we may still have time to do what we originally planned. We might even get a few hours of shut eye. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, eh? Who knows what else you’ll come up with?”
“It’s a mixed blessing,” she said. “Part of me wants to go to bed right now and hope like hell I get another dream like I had on the plane. The other part of me doesn’t like all the weird stuff. It wants me to play it safe and go back to the way things were before all this started.”
Terry parked Sarah and himself in two vacant seats. He had heard her doubts, but something nagged at him.
“I’m no expert on any of this,” he said. “I’m only guessing because I’m not getting what you’re getting. But I don’t think you can go back. It’s too big for that. I don’t mean you couldn’t choose to walk away right now, but there must be forces at play here we can’t begin to imagine. I’m not talking about a few spooks watching us drink coffee and record the happy moment for some gnomes at Langley or wherever they come from. No. The angel is doing things that are way beyond our ability to comprehend. That’s what these people fear. And what about your dreams? Where are they coming from? Will they suddenly stop if you decide to go home?”
“I’m hearing you,” she said. “But I just don’t know. I’m not sure I want to know.”
Terry nudged her again, albeit gently. “Don’t ask me why,” he said, “but even if we’re figuring this out as we go along, even if we’re running on intuition, best guesses and a company credit card, it seems to be working. If it’s worked so far, we must be doing something right. So why stop now?”
That’s easy for you to say, you great lump. You’re not the one who’s living out the dream—except it’s more like a bloody nightmare. “Yeah, why stop now?” she asked no one in particular. “Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps because strange men in trench coats want to watch my every move? There’s nothing odd about that, is there?”
Terry heard the pushback, but largely ignored it. He knew Sarah well enough to know how far he could go. “Most women would love to know a whole bunch of James Bonds were watching their every move. What’s the matter? Losing your sense of adventure?”
His challenge failed to perk her up. “No, not much,” was her best effort at avoiding the advancing quicksand of misery threatening to envelop her. “And you’re not helping. I hate just sitting here waiting for the damn phone to ring. It reminds me of my social life when I was 16. I hated it then too.”
He had gone far enough, so he elected to keep his peace. “Let’s try for a rental then,” he suggested.
Sure enough, Phuket boasted the ubiquitous Avis counter. Yes, cars were available. But no, they made no commitment to hire. Everything depended on the all-important phone call.
For a change of scene, they decided to step outside into a mild 22 degrees and a gentle sea breeze that drifted in to keep them company and what looked like a hundred taxi drivers waiting in the forlorn hope of one decent fare before they knocked off for the night. Nothing much was happening in town, perhaps because there was nothing much left for it to happen in.
“If we do go down the coast, why not take one of these guys,” she suggested. “It can’t cost much more than a rental, and we won’t have to drive on these roads at night. I think they need the money more than Mr. Avis.”
Terry agreed. He wasn’t keen on driving into the unknown in the dark. “Yeah, why not? Where is the place you stayed?”
“Have you still got yesterday’s paper? I can’t remember the name. It’s Ban something, but so is every village along that coast. I only remembered it on the map because of the shape of the island. Oh, Terry, I’m not sure I would recognize it in the dark either.”
“Well that’s a big help,” he wanted to say. “All this way, and no further ahead.” Was Sarah coping? Was her memory lapse real or a reaction to the pressure she was under? Instead, he said, “Well, until we get Dan’s call, it doesn’t matter. Let’s check flights to Los Angeles and then find somewhere where we can get a decent cup of coffee. I need one.”
At the Thai Airways International counter, they learned a flight to Bangkok was leaving in a few hours’ time, with seats available, and an onward connection to LA early the following day. But whoops, the only seats were in first class. What a shame, they agreed. They might even manage a bit of sleep on the long haul over the Pacific. Terry hoped so because he wasn’t likely to get much of it tonight.
A few minutes later they were seated in the restaurant on the 3rd floor. He had ordered a good-sized steak while Sarah opted for a salad that she picked at timidly as if afraid it might fight back.
She was startled when the call finally came. She grabbed the phone and almost shouted into it. “Sarah Long.”
“What are you sounding so stressed about, Long? Up there enjoying a holiday in Phuket on my money and my time, yet you’re sounding stressed? What do you think I feel like right now?” Vintage Dan Williams.
She quickly recovered her composure. “Hi, Dan. What have you found?”
“Probably what you know already. There’s only one flight out that will connect you with an early flight to the US tomorrow. It’s Thai Airways and it goes through Bangkok. A guy from the embassy will meet you with all the paperwork you need when you get in tonight. Apparently, the government appreciates the media’s interest at least some of the time. And I hope you appreciate that it cost me a few favours.”
“We appreciate that, Dan.” And then, grateful he couldn’t see her, she added, “There’s obviously no truth in all the rumours we hear about you.”
“What bloody rumours,” he snarled back into the phone.
She ignored his predictable reaction. “Have you booked at your end, or do we need to do it?”
“You’ll have to do that; it’s too late for us to do anything on line. And Long…”
“Be careful. You and Gunn look after yourselves.” For a moment, she thought he was actually being thoughtful and did care about what happened to them. But the moment didn’t last long.
“You’d better bring back the story of my dreams, or you’re both in brown smelly stuff for the rest of your careers—if you dare still to think of them as careers.”
“We love you too, Dan.” She replied, almost sickly sweet. Then she reverted to her normal tone to say, “Thank you. For everything. I really mean that.”
“See you, Long,” And the line went dead.
She looked across to Terry who had the obvious question all over his craggy face. “Relax. He’s done it. Go book the flights. We’re off to the happiest kingdom of them all.”
“And the visas?” asked Terry.
“It’s all under control. Someone from the embassy in Bangkok will be there to meet us with all that. I wonder what the embassy person will think of all this?”
Terry wasn’t wasting any time. “Who cares?” he said as he stood up without finishing his steak. He held out his hand and added, “Give me your passport and then finish that salad while I go get the tickets.” She obliged as his chair scrapped back to allow him to mooch off to the Thai Airways counter once again.
Sarah felt a whole lot better and attacked her salad with much more enthusiasm. If he doesn’t come back soon, she thought, he’ll lose the last of his steak as well. Things were definitely improving.
* * * * * * *
They say one day is a long time in politics. It’s also a long time to be sitting in an aeroplane, even in the incredible luxury provided in Royal First Class.
A guy in his mid to late 20’s, who introduced himself as Con Butler, met them as they emerged from the gate in Bangkok. He seemed a nice enough guy and remarkably pleasant, given it was eleven o’clock at night. It must be one of the perks of the diplomatic service—running around after half-clad television hacks who decided they wanted to disappear to the USA and didn’t have the necessary paperwork.
Sarah and Terry simply crashed in the airport lounge. But they didn’t forgo the chance to pick up a few extra items of clothing, so they could look reasonably respectable among the high rollers in first class. After all, what choice did they have? You can’t let the side down, can you? And besides, they knew they would need something to wear when they arrived in California.
Just after three in the afternoon, they landed in Osaka, Japan. It was a chance to walk as far as another lounge. By that time during the trip, exercise was definitely needed. An hour later they trooped back to their gilded cage and settled in, hoping for a decent sleep. Now they were thousands of feet high somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Both of them had dozed off in their elaborate comfort, but neither really slept soundly for any length of time.
After checking his watch and realizing a day had passed since leaving Phuket, Terry lay back to continue watching his personal video player. He sensed Sarah stir and removed his headphones while waiting to see how long she would take to revert to full consciousness—95 seconds.
“Welcome back, sleepy head. Been far?”
Sarah shook herself and stretched out to speed up the process of waking up. “You might say that.” She took a few moments to remind herself of her surroundings. This was definitely the way to fly. “Where are we now?” she wanted to know.
“Sitting in first class on Flight TG7…”
His smug response earned him a firm fist on the shoulder, followed by an abrupt, “You don’t work for Bill Gates, do you?”
He tried to sound offended, but it didn’t really work. “Not so’s you’d notice. And he certainly doesn’t seem to be working for me either if recent experience is anything to go by. You look like you could use some coffee.”
He knew her too well. She nodded. “Sure could.”
Terry pressed the call button, and the roving attendant appeared and took their order, departing just as quickly and silently.
Sarah raised her chair back into the sitting position and gazed out the window to see a whole lot of nothing. “I’ve lost track of all the time zones. How long to LA?”
“About five hours or so. I guess that would put us somewhere near Hawaii.”
“Oh, yes,” she said sleepily. “I could use a day or two, or more, on the beach.” She closed her eyes again and pictured herself lazing on the golden sands of Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head in the background. It felt warm. It felt good. But just as she was getting into it, she was rudely awakened by the reality beside her.
It said, “So no dream about our angel going to Hawaii any time soon?”
Her tropical paradise rapidly faded. Once the last palm tree and sun umbrella were gone, but not fully forgotten, she felt compelled to open her eyes again if only briefly. “I should be so lucky,” she said. “Sorry, no joy on that front. It’s still California. But I suspect I have some future options tucked away in the back of my head.”
“You’ll have to explain that one, girl. I’m just a simple guy who still struggles with Microsoft. You seem to have gone a long way further than that.”
She rested back into her seat and closed her eyes again. “I’m not sure I can. I get to a sort of half-way house where I think I’m still asleep, but I’m awake enough to know I’m dreaming. I can see things and hear what is happening. Although it’s not a coherent whole, it is a mix of different things: pictures, stories, even understanding—if that makes any sense.”
“No, but go on.”
“The problem is that as soon as I try and figure it out or hang onto it, I lose it. I’m fine when I roll with it. It’s when I try to control it. You know, it’s when I want to stop and start things or make sense of them that everything fades.”
As if by magic, a steaming cup of coffee appeared on the rest between them. She nodded her thanks to the attendant, who smiled and disappeared again. Sarah brought the cup to her mouth and sniffed the aromas. It was a sensational sensory moment. Finally, she sipped, and yet another of her senses came to appreciate it.
“So can you remember anything of the last one?” he said, giving her the opportunity to take another mouthful, which she did, surrendering her senses to the amazing brew before answering him.
“I saw flashes of different places. One was an aboriginal community out in the deserts of Australia, another looked like a slum shanty town somewhere in Asia, I don’t know exactly where. There was a horrible picture of a prison riot. I don’t know why, but I think it was somewhere in South America. There were others too, but I really can’t remember them.”
“What do you think they mean?” Terry probed gently.
“I wish I knew,” she replied. “When I ask those sorts of questions, things began to fade. It’s frustrating—if it’s possible to know you’re frustrated while you’re in the middle of a dream. If I stop to record what I’ve seen, I lose the rest of it. If I stay with it, I don’t get it recorded, and I lose it anyway.”
Terry mirrored her position, relaxing back into his seat with eyes closed, hoping he would see something of what she could see. It didn’t work. He tilted his head towards her and said softly, “Don’t beat yourself up, girl. It’s probably something you have to learn how to work with. I mean it’s not like anything you’ve done before, right?
She lowered her cup to its saucer and said, “You know, that’s very understanding of you. You can be quite perceptive on a good day, can’t you? When did you learn that?”
“You might be surprised,” he said, quite poker faced.
“You’re right; I would be.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to overload your surprisary, girl.”
She burst out laughing. “My what?”
“You mean you women don’t know everything about everything?” His tone reflected his phoney surprise.
“Be careful what you say about us toads,” he warned. We might be a prince in disguise, just waiting for a fair princess.”
“Don’t hold your breath, Kermit. It’ll be a long wait before you get that lucky.”
“If we call a truce here, I shall refrain from any obvious references to Miss Piggy. Agreed?”
“Okay, I guess so.” She acceded but did add, “Just when I was getting into the spirit of things.”
They sat quietly digesting what had been said, and in her case, another mouthful of coffee. Then Terry said, “You know, your comment about getting into the spirit might have been on the money. Could you be getting some sort of spiritual connection?”
“You know I’m not into the flaky stuff, Terry. I don’t even bother with horoscopes. Just a waste of time if you ask me.”
Terry gave his usual nod of agreement.
“Sure, and I agree with you. But some things are a bit harder to write off. I mean, how does the angel do what he does? How come you’re getting all these strange dreams? Can you think of any other explanation?”
Normally, Sarah was good at finding explanations, but in this case, she had tried, but came up dry. She decided to give up trying, long enough to swallow the last of her coffee.
“Maybe the answer will come to us in the next 24 hours,” she said wistfully. “And if nothing happens while we’re in Uncle Sam’s backyard, we might look a bit stupid. But the good news is that all these gnomes who are apparently interested in our every move will look pretty damn stupid too.”
Terry wasn’t so sure. “Maybe, but none of that helps to answer my questions about this guy. Who is he? Where does he come from? How does he do what he does? And then there is the biggest question of all for me. Why?”
Sarah was still fighting her way through her own more personal questions. “Nor does it tell me what all those dreams were about,” she added. She stopped long enough to consider a new possibility. “Perhaps they are places where he’s been before, or he plans to go to them in the future.”
Terry could live with that possibility and thought it could be useful to explore it further.
“The places you described to me had a common denominator. They all involved people in what we would call squalid conditions—the sort of places the angel goes to, brings comfort and then moves on.”
His voice petered out, not knowing where his exploration might go next.
Sarah wasn’t much help. “Just think how many places on the planet would qualify,” she said only half aloud. “Even the angel couldn’t hope to help everyone who needs it.”
“So why does he bother?” Terry asked. “That’s part of my big ‘why’ question.”
“Good question,” she replied. “And I’ll bet we’re not the only ones asking it.”
They reverted to silence, both sensing they were no further ahead. And neither of them was happy about it. Eventually, Terry broke the deadlock. “Well, we still have a few hours. Why not see if you can find your way back to your half-way place again. Who knows what you might find out this time?”
“Not a bad idea. I’m actually quite looking forward to these naps. I never know what will come out of them.”
“I’ll leave you to it,” he said, unbuckling his seat belt and standing up. “But don’t get lost in there. I’m kinda used to having you around. Meanwhile I’ll go and help myself to the buffet. See you in a while, girl.”