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Tree of Life


 Premiered August 22, 2003

Chapter Three


As Dawn entered the small, four-story office building and began crossing the lobby area, the building security guard, Jerry, stood up from his chair behind the reception console and smiled.  "Good morning, Ms. Riordan," he said.  "You're in quite early."

"Good morning, Jerry.  Just picking up some papers for Mr. Lenki."

"Of course.  I'll activate the elevators."  As Jerry flipped a switch, and looked back up, he added, "Looks like you'll have the building all to yourself.  At least for another hour or so."

"I probably won't be here that long," she replied, as she pushed the elevator's up button.

By the time Dawn had stepped inside the elevator, the telephone in Gil's office had already begun to ring.  As she left the elevator on the fifth floor and began walking the hallway, the office answering machine was recording an urgent message from the hospital.  But the message had finished and the answering machine had ceased making its little noises, when Dawn inserted her key into the door lock.  When she finally entered the room, all was quiet and apparently normal. 

Dawn went directly to the office's built-in kitchen, fairly rushing by her desk where the answering machine was quietly flashing the fact of having recorded a message.  In the small kitchen area, she flung open the pantry door, and began shoving neatly stacked cans and foodstuffs to one side.  There did not appear to be anything at the back of the pantry, until she pulled the two top shelves a few inches out from the wall.  As the shelves slid out, they revealed that the upper of the two shelves had hidden a hinge, while the lower allowed the bottom edge of the wooden panel to remain in place and undetectable without the shelf being moved.  Dawn lifted the panel up to reveal a relatively large wall safe just behind the back wall of the pantry.  Relieved at having been successful in the early stages of her quest, she began dialing the combination of the safe.  Her smile disappeared when it refused to open on her first attempt.

As Dawn looked at the combination lock, momentarily stymied, a black Mercedes pulled up at the front of the office building.  With little fanfare, three men got out at the curbside, and began walking toward the main entrance.  Dawn, meanwhile was dialing the combination for the third time, when the safe finally cooperated by allowing itself to be opened.  With a minimal display of frustration, she flung open the safe door and found the brown briefcase.  Already on edge from the safe's obstinacy, she fairly yanked the brown briefcase from its resting place.  Naturally, in the process of pulling the briefcase out of the safe and across the pantry shelf, she managed to wipe out the cans and foodstuffs on either side, spilling everything onto the floor.

For a moment, she just looked at the mess.  Quietly, but with great intensity, she said, "Shit!"  (It was part of her standard formality in such situations.)  Then she set the briefcase on the opposite counter next to where she had laid her purse, and began removing the evidence of anyone having been in the room.  She closed the safe (causing the panel to fall back into place), lifted the panel back up, spun the combination to lock the safe, let the panel down and shoved the shelves back into place.  She then began picking up the scattered tins and assorted items.  Haphazardly, she stuffed them back onto the shelf.  Then she stepped back, critically eyeing everything.  All the shelves were neatly stacked, with the exception of Dawn's restocked one.  She looked at it for a moment, before she quickly began messing up all of the other shelves.  Satisfied by the new found commonality among pantry shelves, she closed the pantry door, turned and grabbed the briefcase and her purse.

She had started for the front door, crossed by the area where the answering machine was still blinking, when she stopped abruptly and turned around.  As she searched her mind for what she was forgetting, Jerry at the front desk was greeting the three men crossing the lobby area.  The three took notice of him, as one of them approached directly, the kind of broad smile on his face which traditionally told everyone that he was the meanest of the bad guys.  Jerry inexplicably reached down and put his hand on the silent alarm button.

Simultaneously, Dawn was remembering her oversight.  Going immediately back to the kitchen, she opened the freezer door and began searching for four packages marked "CoD AuG 88".  Partially unpacking the freezer and putting the white wrapped, frosted packages on the adjacent counter, she obliquely noticed an uncommonly large number of concentrated frozen grape juice containers.  To herself, she mused, "Why all the frozen grape juice, Gil?  I've never even seen you drink grape juice."  Then her submerged grief momentarily hit her and she stopped.  Quickly, she reasserted her will and kept at it.

Eventually she found the four packages, heavily frosted over and stuffed in the rear most corner of the freezer.  Taking them out, she put them onto the counter as well, and then began restuffing the freezer.  Several of the grape juice containers fell out onto the floor and Dawn had to retrieve them.  When she had finished throwing the frozen grape juice containers back into the freezer, she slammed the door, and started to pick up the four CoD packages.  The inherent clumsiness of trying to carry four frozen, heavy packages, along with her purse and the briefcase, caught her attention immediately and she looked around.  Without the slightest hesitation, she grabbed Gil's deep purple, expandable, fishnet grocery bag from a wall hook, and threw the four, surprisingly heavy, frozen CoD packages into it.  Then turning to bolt out of the kitchen, she inadvertently kicked an errant frozen concentrate grape juice cylinder, causing it to skid across the floor.  With a brief expletive ("Shit!"), she dropped down on all fours and went after the container.  Simultaneously, Jerry slumped to the floor, the silent alarm having sounded.  With his body hidden behind the reception desk, the three men then moved unimpeded to the elevators.

Grabbing the last of the grape juice containers, and without thinking, Dawn added it to her loot.  She leaped back up, grabbed the brown briefcase, and headed for the front door of the office.  There she again stopped with her hand on the door knob, as she tried to recall if there was anything else she had forgotten to do.  The three men entered the elevator and pushed the fourth floor button.

Dawn couldn't recall the nagging "don't forget to..." item, as the answering machine continued to quietly blink its informative indication of having accumulated one or more messages. Dawn shrugged her shoulders and went out the front door, letting it close and lock itself behind her.  She headed for the elevators, and quickly pushed the down button.  The elevator she had taken up to the fourth floor was still there, and she entered.  As its door closed, the doors of the adjacent elevator opened, and the three men entered the hallway.  With a slight hesitation to orient themselves to their location relative to Gil's fourth floor office, they began moving down the hallway.

Dawn was crossing the lobby area (unable to see Jerry's body behind the reception desk), by the time that one of the three men had begun to pick the lock on Gil's door.  As she exited the building and approached the empty street (the black Mercedes having been dispatched for another job), the lock picker was finding himself having difficulty getting the office door open.  The man in charge of the three was slowly becoming irritated at the delay.  Controlled, but very irritated.  By the time the office door was finally opened, Dawn had crossed the street, entered the apartment complex directly across from the office building, and approached the elevator to her fifth floor apartment.  One of the fringe benefits which she had particularly enjoyed about her job was the fact her fifth floor apartment looked down on Gil's office and was immediately across the street.  It made her commute one of the shortest on record.

Inside her apartment, Dawn dropped her purse, the briefcase and the grocery bag on her bed.  She quickly grabbed a larger purse, this one with shoulder straps in the modern backpack style, stuffed her smaller purse inside it, and threw it on the bed as well.  Then an overnight, carry-on bag, into which she began throwing essentials and cosmetics.  She then added some underwear, zipped it up, and threw it on the bed.  It was then she noticed her answering machine blinking. 

Almost absently, she hit the message replay button and then went back to her closet to retrieve a larger suitcase, her ear attuned to the messages.  The first messages were items from the previous day, and she had her suitcase partially down, her arms raised over her head, when she noticed that she smelled ever so slightly odoriferous.  She frowned slightly, threw the bag on the bed, and went into the bathroom to turn on the shower.  Coming back into the room, she began unbuttoning her blouse

From habit, she went over to the window to draw the curtains.  Her cleaning lady had a fetish about leaving the curtains open on the windows; believing it was essential for mental and physical health.  From Dawn's point of view, however, peeping Toms were not exactly unknown in Seattle, even in luxury apartments.  It was then, out of a recently acquired habit, Dawn glanced down and to the right toward Gil's office, and saw the lights on.  The sight completely mesmerized her attention and she stood shock still.  Then she reached back to turn out the light in her own apartment.  Going back to the window, she saw two or more men moving about in the office.  At the same time, her consciousness responded to  the urgent message from the hospital:  "...terribly sorry, but it happened quite quickly.  Please call immediately, and ask for Doctor Chiles, extension 3368.  Thank you." 

Dawn stood still, shocked to the core, realizing that Death had just entered her life.  She wanted to collapse in total, stunned grief.  But the specter of Death was apparently not yet satiated.  She was very much in danger herself.  The men in Gil's office made that fact abundantly clear.

She was still in two different stages of shock, when one of the men in the office moved to the window and looked out.  For a moment he looked toward Dawn's apartment house, as if calculating which apartment might be hers.  Dawn stepped away from the window, turned and ran for the bathroom, turned off the shower, killed the light, and dashed back into the bedroom.  She tossed the large suitcase back into the floor of the closet, and then grabbed her backpack purse, slung it over her head and shoulder, grabbed the overnight bag, wrapped it around her body in the other direction, picked up the brown briefcase in one hand, and latched onto the cloth straps of the purple grocery gag with its heavy, frozen cargo in the other hand.  Turning and beginning to run from the room, Dawn managed to miraculously use the grocery bag as a sling and thereby smash the base of the glass lamp which had been sitting unobtrusively on the dresser by the door. 

Dawn stopped and looked at the mess, her mind working furiously.  It didn't seem wise to leave a broken lamp.  Quickly, she swept the broken debris into a wastebasket at the end of the dresser, grabbed the lamp, and yanked the cord from its socket.  Fully loaded with her purse slung across one shoulder, her overnight bag straps crossing her body in the opposite direction, the brown briefcase and grocery sack in one hand and the broken lamp in the other, she ran from the room.  She could easily have been mistaken for a heavily laden guerrilla, who also moonlighted as a business man and a small appliance repair person.

At the front door of her living room, Dawn stopped abruptly as the doorbell sounded.  She froze in place, and then began to hear the sound of someone beginning to pick the lock.  Very quietly, she set the briefcase and lamp down, and looked around for a weapon.  Then looking at the expandable, cloth grocery bag filled with CoD in her hand, she stepped back behind the door, ready to use it as a sling.  The door opened and a large man stepped into the darkened room.  Dawn did a quick wind up and slammed the man in the back of the head with the heavy frozen CoD.  The man never saw it coming and went down hard.  Dawn watched the motionless body for a second, and when there was no movement, she grabbed everything, including the useless lamp, stepped out of the apartment and closed the door.

Outside, she turned back toward the elevators and began running.  But as she was about to push the down button, she heard intuitively the word, "Stairs!"  The word caught her attention by its tonal quality as much as by its content.  It could have been said by Gil, or a combination of Gil and a woman's voice.  It was a chorus, and almost in harmony.  But the message hit home, nonetheless.

Dawn turned and ran for the stairs at the opposite end of the building.  Opening the door and juggling her carry-ons at the same time, she ducked into the stairwell, and began running down six flights of stairs.  At the basement level, she stopped just before entering the indoor parking garage.  Feeling a need to hesitate, she carefully looked through the small four inch by four inch window.  Inside the garage, she could see the black Mercedes moving very slowly through the garage.  Then it stopped directly in front of Dawn's small pickup, and the driver got out and approached her car.

Dawn shuddered, and then headed up one flight of stairs.  She was about to enter the apartment house's lobby area, when she again hesitated.  Looking back over her shoulder, she noticed the apartment resident's entrance to the adjacent private health club.  Without another thought, she exited the stairwell through the "convenience door" into the health club.

Within the health club itself, she began walking through the weight lifting section, picking up more than one stare from the early morning, macho jocks, already into their healthletics.  She heard several stray comments, but the one about "lighten up" reminded her of the broken lamp.  Dawn quickly dumped the lamp into a too small trash can -- causing it to turn over and spill its contents, including several partially filled drink cups.  Dawn continued on, essentially oblivious to the mess she had caused.

Instead, she transferred the grocery bag to her now free hand, and managed to wipe out a medium sized plant by the front door on her way out.  Somehow she had managed to swing the CoD around the plant's trunk in the opposite direction of her movement, and then pull the plant along with her.  She immediately shook it free -- ripping leaves and branches off the small tree.  The female receptionist at the front door was stunned by the confusion, but Dawn was out the door before the woman could say anything.  As Dawn exited, a taxi pulled up to disembark another of the early morning exercise nuts.  Dawn was into the cab, before the previous occupant had finished paying the fare.  Then with the money transaction completed, and the early morning jock gallantly closing the door behind Dawn, the taxi driver turned to her for instructions.  It took her a moment to gather her wits.  "The nearest auto teller," she said.

The taxi driver looked blank.  Tentatively, he said, “There’s one on the corner of..."

"Fine," Dawn interrupted.  "Take me there."

The driver, accustomed to even stranger requests, turned to face forward and put the vehicle back into gear.  As they pulled away from the curb, she could hear the approaching sound of police sirens (Jerry's belated gesture having had its effect).  Dawn shuttered slightly.  Her first instinct was that the police were already after her.  Then she dismissed the thought as paranoia.  Closing her eyes, she tried to think, and at the same time, not panic.  Abruptly, another thought hit her.

"And then I'll want a drug store.  One that's open this early."

Glancing in his rearview mirror, the taxi driver acknowledged, "Sure lady, whatever."

Dawn then looked down at the brown briefcase.  She still had her purse and the overnight bag slung across opposing shoulders, the grocery bag and briefcase in each hand.  Then she released the latter two, and unslung the overnight bag.  Setting it at her feet, she picked up the briefcase again and set it in her lap.  At first she simply looked at the latches and combination locks.  The combination for both was set at "777", and Dawn pushed the latch releases.  They popped open, and she breathed a sigh of relief.

Opening the briefcase, she immediately directed her attention to the topmost object: the letter Gil had written just before their ultimately fatal excursion to Lake Mach.  The envelope was sealed -- just as she remembered -- and already addressed, something to which she had not been privy before.  In the flashing light of the early morning street lights, still burning even as the first light of day was finding its way into the city streets, Dawn could just make out the addressee:  "Doctor Alexander Dukas, 20884 Redstone Canyon, Fort Collins, Colorado."  Neither the name nor the location carried any meaning for her.  But Colorado seemed far enough away from Seattle to make it very appealing.  She now knew where she was going.  At least, somewhat so.  She did, for example, know where Colorado was located.

When they arrived at the Auto-teller, the taxi pulled up and waited while she took the maximum allowable cash the ATM would relinquish.  Then, a few blocks away, the man again waited while Dawn rushed into an all-night drug store to gather together some theatrical makeup and a black, long haired wig.  She also noted another Auto-teller within easy reach, and quickly maxed it out for cash.  Back in the taxi, the driver asked, "Where to now.  Another Auto-teller?"

Having seen her in the store, gathering yet more cash, the driver was intrigued about the strange lady displaying all the characteristics of a newly created criminal on the lam.  Still, he knew she at least had the money to pay the fare.  She missed the humor of his question and simply said, “Airport!”

The driver also took the terse reply to mean she was not a talker, and thereafter studiously ignored the fact she was doing a minor transformation of her facial appearance as he headed for the airport.  But then as they approached the terminal, and his fare seemed slightly more at ease -- having accomplished a minor league persona change -- he asked, "Where are you heading?"  She looked up at him, causing him to modify his question (and justify it at the same time).  "Which airline?  I can save you a few steps."

Dawn had had just enough time to consider how to answer the inevitable question.  "Chicago," she replied.  "United."

'Still grumpy,' he thought.  Then he turned back to the driving, thinking how he hated early morning passengers.  He had long since concluded they were by far the least civil.

As they began to approach the terminal, Dawn began to be very conscious of the other cars around her and their faintly nefarious occupants.  Everyone seemed vaguely suspicious, as she recalled Gil's admonition not to trust anyone.  Then it occurred to her she was becoming paranoid.  This idea disturbed her until she recalled Gil's opinion on paranoia.  Inasmuch as someone was really out to get her, it was not an illusion at all, and thus she was not suffering from paranoia.  Then she flinched as she realized the solution to the problem of her becoming paranoid was worse than the original problem of being paranoid.  Illusions are generally less dangerous than well-armed thugs.

At the airport, her warrior persona was back in action.  After paying her fare with her Auto-teller cash, and in getting out of the taxi, the CoD sling caught the door's sagging arm rest, and finished the job years of hard usage had begun.  The arm rest came completely off the door, crashing to the pavement and dumping a seldom emptied ash tray onto the ground.  Dawn had just enough life-based experiential training to ignore the minor bedlam she had caused.  She rolled her eyes in frustration, but continued to walk straight ahead.  She was not about to look back, even at the cry of mixed astonishment and fury by the taxi driver.  She knew he had been paid well enough, even a better than usual tip.  She also instinctively knew to just keep walking straight ahead.  After all, look what happened to Lot's wife when she looked back at the ill-fated Sodom and Gomorrah.  The universal rule is: Don't look back!

Once in the airport terminal, Dawn headed for the restrooms.  Her first priority was to check her quick persona change in a lighted mirror situation.  On the way a souvenir clothing store caught her attention and she decided a moderate change of clothing would aid in the disguise.  She ended up with a Seattle Seahawks sweatshirt from a clerk who doubted any amount of clothing would help this woman with the painted, excessive made-up face look all that much better.  'Of course,' he mused, 'she had a nice body.  Too bad she was going to cover it up with an oversized sweatshirt.'

Once in the restroom, Dawn took one look in the mirror and involuntarily stepped back.  It was really a little scary.  She was surprised small children had not screamed as she passed by, or asked their parents if it was Halloween yet.  After a moment of staring in fascination at an excessive make up horror, Dawn got down to business and began repairing her face.  The goal was not to have people remember a particularly ugly woman, but rather to not notice her at all.  Within ten minutes, she had toned it down to the point where most people would not take a second glance at her.  The sweatshirt hid her figure and she felt confident she would attract very little attention.  This constituted something of a challenge in going against a lifetime of trying to make oneself look good and instead proceeding in the opposite direction.  But her experience of acting in the local, semi-professional theater had served her well -- particularly the time she played the part of Laura in The Glass Menagerie.  Looking the part then had been a real challenge for the make up coordinator.  It takes real skill to hide a truly beautiful woman.

Using almost all of her cash from the Auto-tellers, she bought a ticket for Denver, having decided Denver's was the closest airport to Fort Collins.  She also sensed the ticket agent did not seem to notice anything amiss in her appearance, and treated Dawn as he would treat any other customer.  Of course, the moment he heard Dawn's destination was Denver, he did resort to a recently initiated practice among ticket agents and said, "I assume you'll want to carry on your luggage."

Dawn said, "Yes.  I'll be carrying everything."  But then she became intrigued.  "But why..."

"You're going to Denver International," the agent casually noted, "the Twilight Zone of Checked Luggage, where all checked luggage faces the shredders and the rippers of their new baggage system."

"Of course," Dawn replied, recalling the Baggage Saga of Denver International Airport.

The agent smiled with a slight Seattle superiority complex, having been a long time fan of the Seattle Seahawks and thus a long time foe of the Denver Broncos -- it was always nice to feel superior to one's alter-ego's foes.  He was still smiling, when Dawn paid him cash for her tickets.  When he looked surprised, Dawn smiled bleakly and said, "Credit card's maxed out."

The ticket agent shrugged his shoulders, as he replied, "Aren't we all!"  Then he gave Dawn her tickets.  Dawn looked at them, a slight sense of relief at having them in her hands.  But then she frowned as she noticed the seat assignment -- second class, a middle seat.  It had been a long time since Dawn had flown second class -- since starting to work with Gil, she had gotten used to first class flights.  But first class cost more, and Dawn was now suddenly becoming more frugal.  It's one thing to lay out cash in large sums.  It's quite another to hand over a piece of plastic or even a check.  Giving away green folding money has a strange effect on people.  If you don't believe it, try paying for everything in cash, or in the opposite direction, receiving all of your monthly income in cash.  The latter is quite an experience.  Makes one feel positively wealthy.

The last minute purchase of the ticket at full price had also been a consideration.  Instead of any of a multitude of discounts, specials, and rate reductions available to those who purchase airline tickets well ahead of time, Dawn was going to be allowed to fulfill the airline's fondest dream of someone actually paying the mythical full price for a ticket.  Dawn's only recourse, considering her limited ATM funds, was to claim a death in the family.  This reduction in airfare was available only in second class, and Dawn had taken on that karma as well. 

With the Denver ticket in hand, she headed for a separate airline, and using her credit card, purchased a first class ticket to Chicago.  She figured her credit card purchase was essentially free money (she was not expecting to pay it back anytime soon -- one minor advantage of being on the run).  She also smiled at the fact the Chicago flight was scheduled to leave from a different concourse than the Denver flight, which would reduce the possibility of inadvertently running into someone who might be looking for her at the Chicago gate.  The use of the credit card, of course, would be a diversion for anyone with the power to collect information from the credit-card computer grid.  With both sets of tickets in hand, she headed for her Denver gate.


At Lake Mach, in a room referred to locally as the "War Room", a thin, wiry middle-aged man set before a console, moderately alert to the information being displayed on the computer screen.  Suddenly, he sat upright, as two lines of the data screen were highlighted.  Touching a key, the man caused a printer to spring to life, printing out the information.  Then, with the printout in hand, he headed for a small, considerably more luxurious portion of the room, where Nathan and his younger brother, Kurt, sat.  Kurt was in his typically ugly mood.  In addition, there was a hint of antagonism between them, but one layered with a pseudo-polite manner.

"Your quarry not only seems to have escaped your net, but to have taken out one of your strong arms as well."  Kurt seemed to enjoy the momentary one-upmanship.

But Nathan was unwilling to show any weakness.  "Don't fret, dear younger brother.  We're still tracking her with the implant locator.  And we already have men on the way to where she is.  Running like a scared rabbit will not save her."  Nathan then looked up to receive the computer printout from the thin man.  Reading it, Nathan suddenly smiled at Kurt and picked up a telephone.


Dawn was almost to her concourse when she stopped abruptly, her mind yelling for her attention.  After a moment of listening to her intuition, she headed for the Chicago gate.  Cautiously approaching the gate, she began checking it out from a distance.  No one was in the immediate area yet, but the aircraft was already parked at the gate.  She moved closer to the gate, looking for an opportunity to present itself.

Within only a few minutes, she saw a copilot or navigator wheeling his carry on bag and heading for the gateway entrance.  She casually closed the distance to the gate, as he began punching out the combination to the door lock.  Opening the door and without looking back, he went through and headed for the airplane.  Dawn dashed for the door, catching it just before it locked itself shut, slipped in and let the door close itself with a clank -- a clank she knew the man would be expecting.

She then walked down the gateway brazenly.  Seeing no one near the aircraft's entrance, she took off both shoes and without actually stepping into the plane, tossed the shoes into the space underneath the first class front row seats.  Her mission accomplished, she then ran back for the door.  Once back into the concourse and apparently unobserved, she stopped at the first moderately private area, found her only other pair of shoes (tennies), and put them on.  Then she headed once again for the Denver gate.

Once there, she shrunk back and kept an eye on the Denver flight boarding area from a distance.  At the last moment, when the lines waiting to board the outward bound aircraft had all but disappeared, she made her way across the open area, and boarded the airplane.  The gate attendant took no special notice of the last person to check in, and Dawn went aboard without incident.  The stewardesses were already moving back into the cabin, and also didn't notice Dawn.  The fugitive, on the other hand, took particular notice of the attention the stewardesses were bestowing upon the first class passengers.  Grimacing, Dawn worked her way back to the second class cabin.

Finding her seat, she involuntarily flinched when she realized her predicament.  An excessively overweight man sat in the aisle seat.  As the first hurdle, he was particularly unhappy to see her.  He immediately made it clear he had already decided he was going to enjoy the thus-far empty middle seat -- where he had lifted up the intervening arm rest and shed some of his bulk onto what amounted to one and a half seats.  He also was forced to get up in order to allow Dawn into her seat.  To ensure Dawn would be amply aware of his displeasure, he made several comments about people arriving late.  (The fact he had made it a point to be the first person on the plane -- thus ensuring he would be forced to move to let one or two people into their seats -- was not included in his comments.)  Dawn ignored the scene the fat man was making on all counts and began the process of finding space for her carry-ons. 

Being a flight to Denver, the amount of carry-on luggage had effectively doubled, and it required Dawn to crush her overnight bag into an already filled overhead bin, and then wedge the briefcase, her purse, and CoD bag under the seat in front of her.  The latter also required the huge monolith sitting on the aisle to move one of his packages and find new storage for it as well.  Dawn was not making friends with the neighbor to her immediate right.  Finally, she managed to take her seat.  In the process and with a bit more emphasis than necessary, she brought the intervening arm rest down, attempting to establish her territory and to keep the fat man and his bulk at bay.  He frowned heavily, but said nothing.

Then Dawn noticed a very nervous, frail and very old woman in the window seat.  Suspecting the woman was scared shitless of flying, Dawn took pity on her.  But only for a moment. 

"First flight?"

The woman smiled slightly, her eighty some odd years of etiquette training in greeting strangers shifting into gear.  "No, no.  I'm always flying somewhere.  Just don't like it."  Dawn smiled, thinking she could offer some reassurance.  But the old woman was on a roll.  "It's disgusting, but you can't get anywhere without taking the plane.  I can't imagine my trip to India last year, if I hadn't been able to fly!  It would have been torture!  Bad enough to have to put up with all those foreigners begging for money, without having to travel overland or taking a ship, God forbid."

Dawn was surprised in a perplexing sort of way.  "Really?"

"And now," the woman continued, "my grand niece gets married, and I have to fly all the way from Dallas to Vancouver just to attend.  It will be good to get home."

Dawn, trying to be in the conversation, said, "You and your grand niece must be very close."

"I've always had a partiality to my niece.  So naturally, I wouldn't want to miss her eldest daughter's wedding.  It's just that I don't understand why she has to live so far away!  I mean, why Vancouver?  The flight from Seattle to Vancouver is almost as much as the flight from Dallas to Seattle.  It's terrible!  All these kids moving away from their families!  What's the world coming to?"

Dawn decided to decline to answer the last, heavily loaded question.  This was one woman, Dawn was beginning to see, who most anyone would want to move away from.  Far, far away.

The old woman was undaunted by Dawn's lack of response.  "The world is flat going to hell in a hand basket.  For one thing, there's no respect for age.  If it wasn't for the AARP, we'd be getting nothing!  Everyone is out to get whatever they can, with no respect for those who've earned it.  My husband worked hard for a lifetime, but do I get any respect?  Of course not."  Hardly taking a breath, she pushed on.  "You certainly can't trust the government anymore.  Those damn Democrats want to give it all away in welfare programs for the lazy, unwed mothers.  Things like Head Start are a complete waste.  That's why I give generously to the Republican candidates.  At least they make sure my Social Security checks get to me on time!"

Suddenly, the airplane moved, being pushed out from the gate.  The old woman grabbed the arm rests, and said, "Oh, shit!"  Then she braced herself in her typical white knuckle fashion.

Dawn looked at her for a moment in astonishment.  Then she turned to the fat man, who was reading a newspaper and breathing heavily -- a simple act of maintenance in servicing his bulk.  For a moment Dawn just set there, between the fruitcake and the blob.  Silently, she vowed with all of her will, never to fly second class again!  Upon pain of imminent death, it would always be first class, or she would take her chances in the baggage compartment.  Even if it meant being subjected to Denver International Airport's baggage handling labyrinth!  Dawn closed her eyes and decided to try to go out of body for the next several hours.  She failed, but the attempt tended to ease her anxiety.

She was, for example, blissfully unaware of three men racing down the concourse, determined to intercept a flight scheduled to leave for Chicago.


Chapter Two -- The Tower

Forward to:

Chapter Four -- The Hanged Man



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