Past episodes Reader's Guide to the Nostrum Universe Nostrum Correspondence Corner
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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?
Cartier Diamond's cell phone rings.
"Hello?" Cartier has been resistant to the idea of cell phones as being somehow too déclassé. The only people you usually see chattering endlessly into their hands are business people who live on the road -- a substratum of the American service economy that Cartier places somewhere between ship's steward and garage mechanic -- and Gen Xers trying to stay that most important of things: connected. "As if connected is of some positive value," Cartier once put it. It is, Cartier thinks, being disconnected that is the true goal. If everyone is plugged in, it is then somehow preferable to be unplugged. If even your lawn guy is gabbing into his hand while driving across the yard on his batch mower, it is hard to continue thinking that this is the defining appliance of the modern age. If no one has something, the truly upper class distinguish themselves by having it. If everyone has something, the truly upper class distinguish themselves by not having it. If Cartier has never read The Theory of the Leisure Class, she nonetheless lives it.
But at some point, she simply had to have a portable phone. For times like this, when her father needs to talk to her. The rest of the time it sits at the bottom of her bag, completely forgotten.
"You're on your way to the City?"
"I'm about halfway to the train station."
"Good. I caught you in time. I'm afraid I have to cancel tonight--"
"I'm sorry, Princess."
"We were going to see Rent."
"No. We were going to see Rent again. There's a difference."
"It's the Japanese clients. I just couldn't get rid of them."
"You're taking them to see Rent, instead of me?"
There is a sigh at the other end of the line. "As a matter of fact, I am. They really wanted to go."
"You owe me, Daddy."
"We'll do it next week. You're not going off to one of those tournaments, are you?"
"You know the team is disbanded. I told you they ran out of money."
"You did? I don't remember. Okay. That sounds fine."
"It sounds fine that they ran out of money?"
"No, that we'll go into town next weekend to make up for this one. Maybe Margaret can join us instead of having to work herself."
"Yeah." Cartier's voice is less than enthusiastic.
"She's your stepmother, Cartier."
There is a pause at the other end of the line. "All right. I'll be staying in town tonight. I'll see you tomorrow. Love you, Princess."
"Love you, Daddy."
They both sign off. Cartier tosses the phone next to her on the seat of the Miata.
"Damn," she mutters as she looks into the rearview mirror. The road is clear. She executes a quick u-turn.
Cartier is dressed to the nines for a night in the City with her father. Her outfit is her usual black suit, but it is her best black suit, in the softest silk. She seldom gets her father alone, and she was planning on making the most of it. To say that she has mixed feelings about Margaret Habanera, her stepmother, does not begin to address the situation. Neither of the two women is unaware that they bear more than a passing resemblance to each other, while Cartier's real mother looks completely different, dark and short and Mediterranean to their tall Nordic blondes. What this says about Cartier's father, Cartier and Margaret have never discussed, and probably never will.
A smile crosses Cartier's face. If she can't have Daddy, she can at least have Braun. She reaches over and picks up the cell phone again, and punches in the number.
"Damn!" again, and she tosses the phone back on the seat.
Where can he be? She looks at the clock on the dashboard. 4:45. She doesn't want to go home. Mrs. Bridges has the night off, which means that there will be nothing to eat, and no prospects except staring at the television all night eating microwaved popcorn.
She picks up the phone again, and punches in a number.
"Mordred? It's me. We're going to the mall."
"My parents were talking about going out to dinner tonight."
"Mordred. We're going to the mall. I want to go to the movies. We can get something to eat there."
"I thought you were going out with your father tonight."
"It fell through. I'll be at your house in about ten minutes."
"Okay. I'll be ready."
"And dress nice. I'm not going to change. No denim. No sneakers. No hat."
"Ten minutes. Ciao."
She tosses the cell phone on the seat for the last time. Maybe she isn't a phone addict like some people, but there are time when the damned thing does come in handy.
"Do you come here often?" Margaret Habanera asks, circling her finger on the base of her frosted margarita glass. When she had ordered it Braun Saxon had wanted to make some sort of joke about Margaret and margaritas, but it seemed too lame even as it had appeared in his mind. Cartier's stepmother seems to have that effect on him.
Braun is sitting next to Margaret at the bar of the Mexican restaurant across from the Veblen mall. "I've been here, oh, a couple of times," he tells her, without adding the word "today."
"Is the food any good?"
"Are you hungry?"
"No. Just wondering. It seems like every new restaurant that opens today, if it isn't Mexican, it has Mexican dishes. Most of them aren't very good."
"Are you an expert on Mexican food?" Braun asks.
She tilts her head. "I'm half Mexican. Maybe that makes me half an expert."
"I didn't know that."
"That I was Mexican?"
"Yeah. What does that make Cartier?" he asks, the words tumbling out of his mouth before he has a chance to stop them.
"She's my stepdaughter, so I guess that makes her anything she wants to be. I thought we agreed not to talk about Cartier, or her father." Margaret's purple eyes, so like Cartier's, are burning into Braun so hotly that he starts to stutter.
"It just… came out," he says. "I'm sorry."
She lowers her eyes as if holstering her weapon, and takes another sip of her margarita. "I don't think I want to eat here tonight," she says. "Not that I'm hungry now, but I don't want Mexican food tonight. Is that all right with you?"
Anything that changes the subject is all right with Braun. "Sure. We can go anywhere you want."
"I know an excellent Italian restaurant in Port Chester. All the Mafioso families eat there."
"You know Mafia people?"
She nods. "They're big cigar smokers. For a lot of people, cigars were nothing but a fad, but for the Mafia, they smoked cigars before the fad, they smoke cigars after the fad. They probably don't even know the fad happened."
"If the fad really over?" Braun asks.
"You're thinking of the Reno account?"
He smiles sheepishly. "It is a good account. But if the numbers are going to work against us, we might have some troubles from the outset. I mean, I know that people aren't smoking as much as they were five years ago."
"They're hardly smoking at all. But Long Olympus Limited doesn't care. They like the idea of Reno's, and cigars, and that's all they care about. And they like me." She pushes an errant strand of blonde hair away from her right eye. "Or at least Profiro Profumo likes me."
"You've met Profumo?"
"He has a pied-a-terre around the corner from Reno's. It's his favorite part of the city."
"Hard to imagine a big beef magnate like him interested in clothes and cigars."
"LOL is interested in everything there is to be interested in." She raises an eyebrow. "Including the Mafia," she says softly.
"LOL is connected to the Mafia?"
"Profumo is connected to everything. As far as the local Mafiosi, Proscenio Vitelli is on the board of Long Olympus."
Braun whistles softly. "Long Olympus isn't legitimate?"
"Of course it's legitimate. Every part of the business is perfectly legal. It just happens to be run by some people who maybe have different histories than, say, Ben & Jerry's. Besides, the Mafia isn't what it used to be. There's a few Italian criminals still floating around, trying to make a dishonest dollar however they can, but most of the rough businesses like drugs and extortion have gone away from the Italians to newer immigrants. Latinos, Russians, people like that. The old line Italians that aren't still taking orders from John Gotti's prison cell are doing their best to stay on the right side of the law."
"How do you know all that?"
"It's my job," she says.
"What exactly is your job?"
"Whatever Mr. Profumo asks me to do."
"And recently he asked you to launch his cigar line?"
"Not exactly. The line was being launched. I asked to work on it. Because of you. Mr. Profumo agreed."
"So are you part Argentian too?" Braun asks.
"Argentine. Yes. My mother is Mexican, my father is Argentine."
"Where do they live?"
"They're long divorced. My mother lives in Mexico."
"And your father?"
"He works for Mr. Profiro. He lives wherever Mr. Profiro lives."
"That is so interesting. Profiro's like the most powerful man in the world, and you work for him. You know him."
She shrugs. "It used to be interesting. You get used to it after a while." She finishes her drink. "Why don't we drive down to Port Chester? I'll call and make sure they have a table for us."
She reaches over and touches Braun's knee. "I'll be back in a minute." She kisses him lightly on the lips. "We'll drop your car off at your place and take the Boxster. It's more fun. Okay?"
"Good. I'll be with you in a minute."
She slips off her seat and heads for the rest rooms.
Cartier Diamond and Mordred Prentice are sitting at a table at the Mexican restaurant across from the Veblen mall.
"I don't like movies with subtitles," Mordred is saying.
"The movie we just saw was in English."
"My point exactly. When you see a movie in English, you understand it all that much better than when it's in a foreign language. Except movies like that probably ought to be in a foreign language in the first place, that way I wouldn't have to make up excuses for not liking them."
"What do you mean, movies like that?"
"You know." He looks around to make sure that no one can overhear them. "Chick flicks."
"What do you expect us to go to together? Arnold Schwartzenegger films? I mean, really, Mordred. That was a good movie."
"It was a lot of chicks moping. If they're going to mope, they might as well mope in French. At least that way you could read the subtitles and feel as if you were doing something intellectual."
"I don't know why I go to the movies with you, Mordred." Cartier sits back in her chair as their fajitas arrive and the waitress noisily goes through the process of laying down plates of meat, plates of sauce, plates of tortillas, plates of condiments, and, finally, empty plates front and center to put it all on.
"I love fajitas," Mordred says, laying a tortilla on his empty plate and piling it with a little bit of everything.
Cartier shrugs. "I'm not all that hungry."
"You're never all that hungry. That's why you're so skinny."
"And you're always hungry. That's why you're not so skinny."
"Did you just ask me out here to argue?" Mordred asks. "I can do that with my parents."
She shakes her head. "I'm just off my stride," she says. "I had expected to go into the City with Daddy and he dumped me, and then I couldn't find Braun. My day is off."
"At least I'm always there for you when everyone else isn't," Mordred says as he bites into a burstingly filled tortilla.
"At least you're always there for me," she agrees. She looks at her watch. "I want to drive by Braun's again when I drive you home. Maybe he's back by now."
"You could always call him up."
"You know how I feel about cell phones. They're so… common."
"Then call him from the pay phone."
"That's even more common. No, I'll drive by his house. It's not that far out of the way from driving you home."
"Is your father coming home at all today?"
"No. He's staying in the city."
"And your stepmother?"
Cartier rolls her eyes. "Who cares?" She starts building her own tortilla, about a tenth of the size of Mordred's.
"You know," Mordred says, "I'm really going to miss the Speech team."
"Why?" Cartier asks. "You never actually performed anything."
"I know. But I was going to, sooner or later. And I did like watching the other people. Do you think the team is really dead?"
"As dead as a doornail. Although what makes a doornail dead, I couldn't tell you."
"Aren't you going to miss it?"
Cartier takes a tiny bite of her tortilla. She waits until she has finished chewing to speak. "I don't know. I used to like it, when I was younger. This year it's been sort of a drag. Mostly just a way to get out of the house."
"It wasn't a drag when you were with Had Fleece."
Cartier makes a bleech sound. "Had Fleece. What an idiot."
"You didn't used to think he was an idiot."
"Well, he's a cute idiot. I'll give him that. But he was all screwed up."
"That's why you dumped him?"
Cartier's eyes narrow. "That's why I dumped him. Why are you asking me this?"
"Just making conversation. We'll never see him again, anyhow, with the team gone and all."
"You're probably right."
"Do all chicks like chick flicks," Mordred asks as he begins to build another fajita, piling everything in sight onto the tortilla except for the salt shaker.
"Probably not," Cartier says. "They just use them to get back at men for the Schwartzenegger films."
"Do all chicks hate Schwartzenegger films?"
"All except Maria Shriver. And maybe Janet Reno."
Mordred raises the stuffed tortilla to his mouth and takes another big bite while Cartier looks at her watch.
No matter where he went, Braun will definitely be home by the time this meal is over. Cartier takes another small bite of her own fajita. She had not been expecting to see Braun again so soon, and while she had been looking forward to being with Daddy, she has no trouble looking forward now to Braun in his stead.
"You going to eat all that?" Mordred asks, having devoured everything on his side of the table.
She pushes her meat platter over to his side, daydreaming about where the rest of the evening will take her.
There ought to be something different about it, Tarnish Jutmoll thinks. The last bus ride home from the last tournament ought to somehow be different.
It is ponderously the same.
The bus driver has the radio on at just enough volume to make you aware of its existence but low enough that you can't make it out, like the hangover pain of an amputated limb. It might be playing Meat Loaf, or it might be playing Britney, or it might be playing Mahler's Fifth. There is no way of telling. The driver may or may not be aware that the radio is on, but discussing it with him will inevitably cause him to turn it up louder, in which case it will inevitably be Britney, and Jutmoll would rather live in ignorant bliss.
Tarnish Jutmoll is sitting in the front right seat, staring out into the dark night. Reading is out of the question, and for the millionth time he wishes he owned a laptop computer so that he could spend the time doing whatever it is that people endlessly do on their laptop computers. Instead he allows his mind to wander pointlessly over past debate trips with and without the present team. He can remember all the way back to the beginning, and he can imagine a procession of all the kids he has coached, each one special to him in his or her own way. There were good ones, bad ones, easy ones, troublesome ones. He can recall them all, their looks, their sounds, their problems, their joys.
Ah yes, I remember it well…
In the rear of the bus, the debaters are arguing about Rage Against the Machine. For all Jutmoll knows, the radio is now playing Rage Against the Machine, but he doubts it. Griot Goldbaum is declaiming that they are the best group making music in America today. Buglaroni is holding out for bringing Tupac Shakur back from the dead, or else listening to old Doors albums. Unlike everyone else draped sideways across their seats, the Maru sisters are together in one seat, both of them staring forward, saying nothing, and definitely not joining in the heated argument about American popular song. Jutmoll is tempted to suggest that the best group in America today is under the baton of James Levine, but he doubts if anyone would have the slightest idea what he is talking about. And then, come to think of it, Levine is hardly the person Jutmoll would propose as best conductor, or the Met orchestra as best ensemble.
Can that one.
The bus drives on through the night. It is a little too cold next to the windows, a little too hot everywhere else. Jutmoll predicts that someone will announce that they need a pit stop within the next fifteen minutes. But they should be home in another hour, and he'll tell the little bugger to hold it for the rest of the trip.
It has always been thus.
And it will never be thus again.
At some point, certain things have to be acknowledged. Except sometimes certain things are so complicated that they are beyond acknowledgment.
Braun Saxon is in the kitchen stooped down over the cabinet in which he and Brett store the liquor. Not that they drink all that much alcohol, aside from wine, which is kept in a small rack over the refrigerator. Seven or eight bottles have always more than sufficed as their cellar, such as it is (and where it is). But there are also a few random bottles of liqueurs and single-malt stored away for those rare moments when something a little more heady is called for. Now Margaret is in the living room, and Braun has promised her an after-dinner drink, a Drambuie. He thinks there's some Drambuie in there somewhere, but he's not sure. He gets down on his knees to examine the back reaches of the cabinet more closely.
But he is not really thinking about liqueurs. Or aperitifs, or digestifs, or any kind of tifs. What he is thinking about is confusion.
Sometimes certain things are so complicated that they're beyond acknowledgment. On this one day Braun has reunited with his wife, not broken up with Cartier, and entered into a liaison with Cartier's stepmother. Not in one month, not in one week, but in one day.
Talk about your hat tricks!
But the complications are starting to tie his brain in knots. His wife was filing for divorce over Cartier, and then he was going to break up with Cartier when he met Margaret, and then Brett rekindled their marriage before going off to Barcelona (he shakes his head -- Where you going? Barcelona -- That sounds familiar, but how much archaeology is there in Barcelona? He closes his eyes tight for a minute. He's already had enough to drink for one day, starting with brunch and working straight through dinner at Margaret's wiseguy hangout, the provenance of which Braun would believe in a second given all the pinky rings he saw in that restaurant, but now he can't even remember where Brett went off to, so does he really need a Drambuie to wash this all down?), and now he hasn't broken up with anyone and he's given no indication that he intends to break up with anyone, so the question is, if he hasn't broken up with anyone, and he's going out with everyone, who exactly is he cheating on? Or put another way, who isn't he cheating on?
Aha! Drambuie. As far in the rear of the cabinet as it can get without being in the backyard.
He pulls out the bottle, stands up, and puts it on the counter, his head spinning slightly. Now the glasses. He knows there's liqueur glasses around here somewhere. He could find them if he was relatively sober. He opens one cabinet door, then another, then another.
Aha again! There they are. Hiding with ice cream sundae glasses. Even though he can't for the life of him remember ever eating an ice cream sundae in this house. Oh, yeah, he remembers. They were a wedding present.
A wedding present? That's right. He's married.
Thank God they took Margaret's Boxster to the restaurant, and Margaret drove back to the house. Braun never would have made it. He wouldn't even have tried. They'd still be down in Port Chester, maybe spending the night with the Corleones or the Vitellis or somebody. They'd make a man out of him. They'd make a made man out of him. Not to be confused with a maid man--
"What's going on out here?"
Margaret's voice is velvet against the quiet of the kitchen.
"I just found the Drambuie," Braun says.
Margaret gives a tiny smile. "Excellent," she whispers, coming up close to Braun as he fills the two glasses. When he finishes he hands her one of them, but she immediately puts it down with a little shake of her head. She moves closer to him, and then her lips are on his, and he tastes the combination of someone else's wine and lipstick and warm breath…
At some point, certain things have to be acknowledged. Except sometimes certain things are so complicated that they are beyond acknowledgment.
They sit in the car, and say nothing. It is dark on their side of the street. At the house across from them there is one exterior light on over the garage; otherwise, the only illumination is coming from a soft glow from within the living room. A nightlight maybe, or candles. Or maybe the red warmth of a fireplace.
Mordred Prentice has no intention of being the one to break the silence. He knows trouble when he sees it, and even in the deep shadows inside the Miata he can see trouble thundering across Cartier's violet eyes.
The only other vehicle in sight is a Porsche Boxster, parked in the driveway of the house under that one exterior light.
Cartier's father's Boxster.
Except Cartier's father is in the City. Which means that it must be Cartier's stepmother who has driven the car here. To Braun Saxon's house.
Mordred Prentice definitely has no intention of breaking the silence.
"I'm going in there," Cartier says finally.
"You really think you should do that?"
"Why is Margaret's car there?"
Mordred shakes his head. "Maybe she's delivering something."
"Delivering something? Like what? Girl Scout cookies?"
"I don't know what she's delivering."
"Well, I think I do. And it's not something you get from the local Girl Scouts. I'm going in there."
She opens the door and climbs out of the Miata.
"You want me to come with you?" Mordred asks, bending over the driver's seat and looking up at her, his expression hopeful that her answer will be anything but affirmative.
"Stay here. Watch the car."
He sits back up in his seat. "No problem," he says as she gently closes the door.
As they pour out of the bus for the last time, Tarnish Jutmoll expects someone to say something. Never again will they return from a debate tournament to the little band of waiting parental vehicles to chauffeur them home in the night. Never again will they burrow under the bus to find their luggage. Never again will at least two of them forget their backpacks. Never again will there be the combined smell of diesel fuel and Burger King and Mountain Dew meeting the cool air of the night in the open doorway.
"Good night, Mr. Jutmoll," they all say as they pass him on their way out of the bus.
"Good night," he replies.
Outside, none of the parents says anything to him, although one or two nod at him. They are not actively unfriendly, but few of them have ever been actively friendly. The debate coach is the person who takes the teenagers away for what is probably the last weekends the parents could have had their charges in their presence before they're totally out of the nest. In that, he is something of a kidnapper, albeit an honest and productive kidnapper. But the parents all suspect some version of the Stockholm effect has made their kids loyal to Jutmoll first and the parents second, and they resent that Tarnish Jutmoll spends more time with their kids than they do.
But not anymore.
There is a final skirmish of moving luggage and slamming car doors and the bus driver scouring the aisles for forensic flotsam and jetsam, and then everyone is gone, and Tarnish Jutmoll is alone, standing beside the door of his car in the dark parking lot of the old yellow high school.
He cannot go home now. His brain is too tied up in knots. He couldn't sleep if he wanted to. He wants to go somewhere, to do something. He has to commemorate the moment, although commemorate isn't the correct word. Acknowledge the moment -- that's better. He has to acknowledge the moment, which will never come again, the moment that is a turning point in his life, and his career, and also a turning point for Nighten Day. The end of the Speech and Debate team.
He opens the car door and gets in. The car is cold and damp for sitting over twenty-four hours unattended. He switches on the engine, and gives it a minute to warm up.
A long time ago, there was a place Jutmoll liked to go to have at the problems that were bothering him, a thinking place where he could be alone but also be a part of the world, where he could see the universe and the universe could see him, and the sense of scale of man versus the rest of creation could bring things into perspective.
He will go there now. He needs perspective. Badly.
There is no traffic, but Cartier waits for the perfect moment as if she is playing automobile Frogger. She darts across the road, stopping next to the high shrubs at the end of the driveway.
No one saw her. She is sure of that. She looks at her watch, and can just barely make out the time in the glow from the bulb over the garage. A little after eleven o'clock. No one in this neighborhood has been awake for the last two hours.
Except the occupants of this house. Braun's house.
She edges her way toward the house, staying close to the shrubs, dark enough not to be seen, but illuminated enough so that she doesn't fall and break her neck. That would be all she would need, to do anything that might get her caught out her. The thing is, she has changed her mind. She is not going to barge in on them. First, she is going to make sure that what she thinks might be going on, is, indeed, going on. The last thing she wants to do is make a mistake about something of this importance. This is her stepmother, for God's sake. And her boyfriend. She can't afford to make a mistake about this.
When she is at the garage, standing at the left front bumper of the Boxster, she faces the last, most difficult stretch, in the direct light of the overhead bulb. So far she has been inching her way forward. This last stretch requires biting the bullet and making a dash for it. The odds of anyone seeing her are small, but still… It only takes one.
After a deep breath she pauses, and then she quickly pads across in front of the garage to the edge of the house. She waits. Nothing happens.
She's made it.
She begins moving slowly again. It is dark here, and there are all sorts of bushes and shrubs in front of the house to provide cover. She is right next to the house now, and the window of the living room is right ahead of her. The glow coming from within is shimmering and flickering, definitely from a fire source and not a bulb.
Carefully, as slowly as she can do it, she lifts her head up and peers into the living room, with only the corner of her eye visible to anyone within who might catch sight of her.
But no one inside is paying any attention to the window.
There are four candles on the coffee table in front of the couch, the only light in the room. On the table are two brandy glasses. Two cigars are burning in an ashtray in the center of the table.
Two people are on the couch. They are not drinking. They are not smoking.
Or let's put that another way. They are not drinking liqueurs. They are not smoking cigars. They are drinking in each other, and they are definitely smoking.
And they are definitely Braun and Margaret.
Cartier quickly ducks down, her worst fears confirmed. She looks across the street at the Miata in the deep shadows. She looks to her left at the Boxster in the bright light. Miata. Boxster. Mordred.
Cartier is inspired.
As slowly and as carefully as she approached the house, she makes the return trip back to the Miata.
Tarnish Jutmoll sits on the rock and looks up at the sky. The night has gotten progressively more chilly, but his view of the stars is clear, stretching above him for all eternity.
The rock is on a ledge overlooking the Hudson River, a hidden nook above a twisty road not far from Nighten Township, offering panoramas of water and land and sky in every combination, an all-inclusive landscape that seems to exist to affirm the boldest concepts of creation. No wonder artists have been drawn here for generations, to try to capture on canvas the broad scope of unfolding nature. The beholder is struck by both deep awe and deep peace, and the sense of perspective that Tarnish Jutmoll needs so badly. At night, when the mountains are hulking shadows above the reflective glimmer of the river, it is the sky above that commands attention. Here, far from the glow of the big cities blocking out the light of the heavens with their own lights of the streets, you can see planets and constellations and nebulae, and with the moon not yet risen, all of it is painted above you in its sharpest clarity. The words play in Jutmoll's mind in no particular order -- Ursa Major, Antares, Betelgeuse, Orion, Jupiter, Castor and Pollux, Cassiopeia -- a stew of associations and meanings stretching from the dawn of time to the dawn of man to Tarnish Jutmoll to the end of the universe.
The rock is twenty feet above the road, which is suitably quiet with only an occasional vehicle groping its way along the winding curves. Jutmoll's car is parked to the side below him, hidden among some trees. A scenic turnoff is directly below him, carved out so that during the day drivers might pull off the road, stopping to confront the awe-inspiring landscape that they have been driving through. It is empty now; this is the time of day when people are home, or trying to get home. They don't stop now to pause the clocks of their lives to gain a moment's deeper peace.
In the distance to the west, a blinking light is slowly approaching over the horizon, an airplane of some sort making a human intrusion of mechanics and technology into a sky of otherwise unmoving, or at least apparently unmoving objects. Jutmoll watches its path as it moves toward him, then takes a turn to the south. It makes no sound that he can hear. Heading for one of the New York City airports, probably, filled with business people and tourists and family members on their way to reunions and lovers flung apart, a hundred or two human stories, each unique, each familiar. Jutmoll imagines them one by one until the plane has disappeared from view.
And then he is alone again with the sky.
"Give me the keys," Cartier whispers into Mordred's open window.
"I said, give me the keys."
Mordred reaches over and takes the keys out of the Miata ignition. Cartier fumbles with them for a minute, then curses in frustration. She walks over into a little more of the light so that she can see what she is doing. After a minute, she comes back to the car and hands the keys back to Mordred.
"I want you to drive the Miata," she tells him.
"All right!" he says, making a small raise-the-roof gesture.
"You'll follow me."
"What do you mean, I'll follow you?"
"I'll be in the Boxster."
"I can't drive this alone. I don't have a license."
"Mordred, you've driven it with me a dozen times."
"I've driven it with you twice," he corrects her, "when you were too tired to drive yourself, and if you remember correctly, I only have a learner's permit. I need somebody else in the car with me or else I'll get into trouble."
"You'll get into trouble if you get stopped, and you'll only get stopped if you do something stupid. You're going to be driving behind me, and you're not going to do anything stupid."
"Are you telling me you're taking the Boxster?"
"That's exactly what I'm telling you."
"That means you're stealing it, right? And you're telling me not to do anything stupid?"
"It's hardly stealing. It's my father's car."
"Yeah, right. Whatever."
"Start the car now and wait for me. Be ready to go when I am. You understand?"
"What are you going to do?"
"You'll see. I'm going to make a point. But first, you're going to follow me. Get ready. Now."
Mordred pops out of the passenger side of the car and goes around, opening the other door and slipping in behind the wheel. He puts the key back into the ignition and turns it on with loud vroom.
"Try not to wake the entire town!" Cartier hisses at him. "It's in neutral. You don't have to do anything."
"Sorry," he says sheepishly, taking his foot off the accelerator. "I haven't done this in a while."
"Just wait," she tells him. "When we go, we go. Get it?"
"Good. Just wait."
"You look nervous."
"I just don't want to get stopped. I don't want to lose my license."
"You don't have a license. Don't worry about it."
Cartier dashes back toward the driveway, and once again creeps along the hedges, trying her best to keep in the dark. This is going to be the hard part, because the Boxster has electronic locks and a security system. This will have to be fast, because they're sitting right in the living room, and maybe they won't notice but then again maybe they will, and once the car is out of the driveway she'll be fine, but until then, this is Mission Impossible without Tom Cruise to help out..
When she reaches the back of the car she bends lows and runs in a crouch behind the car to the driver's side door. Taking a deep breath, she presses the button on the Boxster key in her hand. The headlights blink on and off, and the car makes a sharp prink-prank sound. She quickly opens the door, and has the key in the ignition before she's even closed the door behind her, and making as little sound as possible she starts the engine. Without pausing she throws it into reverse and backs out of the driveway, not too fast, not too slow.
She has no idea if they've heard or seen her.
Once in the road, she turns on the headlights, goes into first gear and heads off down the street. In the rearview mirror she can see Mordred coming up behind her. As they put more distance between themselves and Braun's house, Cartier starts to feel as if she can breathe again. After five minutes pass, and there are no sirens, no flashing red lights, nothing to indicate that this is anything other than a normal Saturday night, she flicks on the radio. You've got to love that twelve-speaker sound system. Mordred is still right behind her, probably reveling in driving the Miata, much as she is reveling in driving the Boxster.
Or, more to the point, driving the Boxster for the last time.
"What are we doing her?" Mordred asks, getting out of the car.
"End of the road," Cartier replies.
They are standing between the Miata and the Boxster. They are parked on a scenic turnoff on the twisting road overlooking the Hudson outside of Nighten Township.
"It's cold out here," Mordred says.
"That's because you're standing here in just a tee shirt. Anyhow, you can get back in the car again in a minute."
"Am I going to drive again?" he asks hopefully.
"I'll drive the rest of the way."
"What about the Boxster?"
He can barely see the curve of her smile in the dark. "We're going to take care of that now," she says. "You ready?"
"For the fireworks."
"What do you mean?"
She gets back into the Boxter and starts the engine. She backs the car up to the edge of the road, then wriggles it around a bit, back and forth, until she has it exactly right. She leaves the engine running as she engages the parking break.
"Come here!" she calls out.
Mordred comes galumphing over as she gets out of the car.
"Now listen. We've got to make sure there's no other cars."
They stand together for a minute. The only motor sound is the purr of the Boxster.
"All right," Cartier says. "Now!"
"Now you push," she says, reaching into the open window of the Boxter, stretching in almost as far as her waist to reach the parking break and release it. She draws back. "Now!" she says, grabbing Mordred's arm and running to the back of the car. She starts to push, and the car begins to move slowly. Mordred is next to her, and he's pushing too, and in a few seconds the car has made enough speed to go off on its own.
The overlook is about a hundred feet long and there's a slight incline toward a three-foot high rock fence at the edge to prevent cars from going over. But Cartier has pointed the Boxster so that it is aiming to the right of the fence, which almost brings it back onto the road again. At this point in the corner of the turnoff there is no barrier over the edge. Instead there's a foot path leading down to the river.
The Boxster keeps picking up speed. Cartier's aim is perfect, and instead of getting caught on the retaining wall the car goes down the footpath, suddenly disappearing from view as she and Mordred watch it roll.
"That's it?" Mordred asks, staring off into the darkness.
"That's it," Cartier says with a shrug. She had expected something more than this. "Well, time to go home. Back into the--"
The flash comes first with a ball of red light that seems to rise up at them through the earth itself, and then there's a roar that begins with a whooooosh and tops itself into a crack that practically knocks them off their feet. Two or three minor explosions follow, and then all that's left is a glow coming from down below.
They rush over to the edge. Below them, the Boxster is a flaming ball of metal, surrounded by burning trees and bushes.
"I think we better get out of here," Mordred says.
"I think you're right," Cartier agrees.
And the two of them run up to the Miata. This time Cartier drives. She screeches out of the overlook and off along the road in the direction away from Nighten Township.
The glow behind her remains.
Tarnish Jutmoll scrambles back to his own car.
He has seen it all, from start to finish, and he doesn't want to be here when the officials arrive. He doesn't know why, for sure. He just knows it. He doesn't want to lie, and he certainly doesn't want to tell the truth. He just wants it to go away.
As he drives in the same direction as Cartier and Mordred, he can't imagine the cause of what he has just seen. He is suddenly shivering with cold, even though he's been wearing his coat. He turns the fan up high, hoping that soon warm air will start coming into the car. For a second he wonders if maybe there was a body in the trunk…
This is the way the team ends, he thinks to himself. T. S. Eliot got it all wrong. Not with a whimper, but with a bang. A big bang!
Welcome to the Bahamas.
Is this the longest Nostrum episode ever written (aside from the legendary and perhaps apocryphal Myra Moon story)?
Is this really the beginning of another Nostrum off-season hiatus?
Is Nostrum being broken up by the Federal government?
When we regroup in the Fall will Bill Gates be impoverished?
Was there a body in the trunk?
Enjoy those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer until we return with our explanation for everything in the universe since the creation of Bakelite: "When you Wish Upon Ishtar."
Go to the next episode due in the Autumn of 2000.