Chapter 15: IT TAKES A VILLAGE

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Northern California

May, 2025

Days before Manny Garcia’s release, two FBI agents in San Francisco scrolled through video-feed on monitors in a windowless room, T’hodd, about 30 years old,  clicked through pictures on Michaela’s phone: selfies, Charlie, George, other teenagers, media figures, web pages, animals, fashion, shopping lists, emojis and homework.

He stopped at one picture that showed the Pandolf campus map, marked with thick black arrows that led to its oldest section. Another hand-drawn map inside one building showed a rectangle labeled “Arjun Jagdishwar Bhattacharya,” in neat lettering with six numbers below it.

“So the girlfriend took a picture of this map.” 

KaLisa, a woman with short grey hair in her late 40s, leaned back in her chair. “ICE will release Garcia — now that they know his arrest was a mistaken identity case. Still, I do think we’re missing computer files that he denies saving. It’s not plausible he would destroy all his hard work.”

“I gave you everything that the Indian medical chain said they had,” T’hodd said.

Mentoring young agents was hard work. 

“True, but Pandolf isn’t giving Garcia his job back. That’s suspicious, T’hodd. If he goes back to Argentina, we may never know everything.”

“KaLisa, Garcia doesn’t do anything but work unless he’s in a relationship with that resident doctor in his lab?”

“T’hodd, there’s nothing on any woman in Garcia’s life except that bit he wrote in his lab notebook: ‘Amber’s heart finally melted with mine. Now she’s back to stony and cold.’ It sounds prettier in Spanish.”

The two munched on leftover sandwiches from the office party. T’hodd went to the water fountain and refilled their styrofoam cups.

When he returned, another picture from Michaela’s phone was on the screen: Livingstone glared at the camera. 

“Cat does not like the girl,” KaLisa said with a smile. “But seriously, they send aliens to The Camp for less than what Garcia’s in for. I’ll ask ICE to hold him a little longer and see if this map guides us someplace? If it had been the FBI, he would never have suspected anyone was searching his apartment and hid everything.”

But the ICE contact was impatient with them. “Now if you guys had figured out sooner that the dead illegal was stealing Garcia’s identity, he wouldn’t be here in the first place. OK fine, just a couple more days, but we’re crowded, you know, just ripe for another disease outbreak.”

He added, “So this rich trust fund friend of Garcia’s just bought Garcia a ticket from Argentina to travel to Greece in a few days.”

“But why?” T’hodd exclaimed.

“Don’t know, that’s your job.”

The next day, accompanied by Pandolf security, they located the locker with the long Indian name. T’hodd put his mask on.

“This place stinks.”

“You’ll get used to it,” KaLisa said.

The six-number code did not work, so they broke the lock. There was nothing inside. 

One of the security officers said that she knew Garcia’s son. 

“My partner and I already visited them once,” Bobbie said,  “after a tenant complained about these two kids living alone and a girl always over.

That evening, the three teenagers eyed Bobbie suspiciously. After her last visit with Andy,  the social workers had arrived. Shelly had been questioned, George’s aunt in Chicago was called and Lucky had to claim responsibility for Charlie. Michaela’s social situation was still under review in Family Services.

The cluttered living room smelled like pizza. “How’re you guys doing?” Bobbie asked. 

“Fine,” Charlie said.

“Well, George, we’re trying to get some information to help your dad get released. It looks like there was a map?” Andy asked.

George smiled happily. “You mean he could be home soon?”

Andy shook his head. “I don’t know. But about the map?”

“Of course, yes, the map of Pandolf. It was in my suitcase. I’ll go find it.”

“I also have a picture of it,” Michaela piped in.

The paper was located under some empty Chinese take-out containers.

“George, has anyone besides the three of you seen this map?” Andy asked. 

“My dad, he drew on it.”

“How long has it been in your suitcase?” 

“I don’t know.”

With the map, Andy and Bobbie left with barely a goodbye from the teenagers who looked relieved to see them go.

“I think they picked a black police officer because she might relate to me,” Michaela said.

“Who’s ‘they?’” George asked.

“Guys, are we going to talk about this again? I’ll go work on my statistics project,” Charlie protested and left the room.

Manny Garcia was released from ICE detention the next day. He called George immediately. “I’ll meet you at school tomorrow afternoon. We’ll take everyone — who wants to come —  out for a thank-you dinner.”

“And Dad, when you come back, I’ll move in with you?” 

“I hope so, George” Garcia said to the anxious-appearing boy on the screen. 

After Garcia hung up, he looked down at the scuff marks on the worn vinyl floor of the holding center, marks of many life journeys. What had happened to the child who once told him that when he heard his dad’s voice, he knew everything would be fine? How would he thank David? What kind of gift would Shelly enjoy?

The next day after the meeting with Dr. Nepski, he waited for George outside Pandolf HIgh School.

“Hi, I’m Charlie, George’s house-mate,” Charlie first greeted him. “I’m so happy you’re back. Sorry I can’t join up for dinner. I have a late practice. Oh here is George.”

He tightly hugged his son, a different body than the last time, and then they walked back to the apartment building.  

“Sorry, George,” Garcia said, “I have bad news; I don’t have a job at Pandolf anymore. I’ll have to return to Argentina and then maybe go on to a project in Africa.”

He paused and added, “But don’t worry, I’ve worked it out so that you can stay here and finish out your school year.” 

After a stunned silence, George said, “Mom’s watching over us, you always say. But I don’t believe in that anymore.”

Garcia patted his son’s bony shoulder. “In life, we have to sail with the winds, isn’t that what I always tell you? And that the truth in our dreams is more important than our broken reality. We’ll work it out.”

Once inside the apartment, George told him about the map that the police had taken from them. 

“Why..?” Garcia mumbled.

Then their meal at The Palatine was a shrunken affair, just Garcia, George and Shelly coming late.

“Everyone else had scheduling conflicts,” George said. 

“Or people smell trouble in our family and run the other way,” Garcia said under his breath.

“What was that?” 

“Muttering…” Garcia said, “maybe you can join me for the summer. If it’s Africa, maybe Charlie would like to come. We can meet in Athens first and explore it together.”

George was silent. “Dad, I don’t want to return to Chicago in the fall. Uncle Max doesn’t like me.”

“OK,” Garcia said. 

When Shelly arrived at the table, Garcia rose happily, switching to English. 

After she sat down, he handed her a gift bag. “This is a little token for helping George out while I was gone.”

“You didn’t have to do anything.”  She opened the card. “’Time — may its passage bring much happiness.’ 

“Thank you,” she said and unwrapped the gift. It was a crystal Swiss clock.

She grew grim as Garcia detailed his plans for his family of two. 

“So it’s true that you won’t be returning to the lab. What are you going to do next?” she asked.

“I’ve a couple of opportunities,” he replied vaguely. “George will stay here until the end of the school year. Then I don’t know.” 

“I’ll miss you, Dr. Garcia,” she said sadly.

“Please call me Manny.”

“I still need to talk to you about my new research project,” she said.

“I’m around, text me a good time.”

She nodded. Her phone lit up. Shelly patted George on the back. “Good night, back to the hospital.” 

Garcia walked a downcast George back to his apartment building. 

“Dad, I was hoping … well that this time we would be together for a while.”

“George, I’m always there for you,” he said. 

Garcia returned to his place, still turned upside down from the ICE search, to start packing, ordering boxes and scheduling storage.

Shelly returned to her apartment from the hospital and leafed through mail. After tossing the junk mail into the recycle bin, she went to her bedroom. Above her desk, there was a Dr. Seuss’ world globe with its oceans painted a dark blue, a childhood gift from her South Dakota grandmother. Thick black lines neatly divided countries depicted in bright colors. 

“‘Oh the Places You’ll Go,’ George,” she said softly.

She called home and gave her mother the latest news. “Dr. Garcia has to leave. These kids, George, Charlie and Michaela, they’re growing up with little guidance.” 

“They’re fortunate to have good people like you around,” her mother said.

“That’s why they’re making A’s in school,” her father said off-screen.

 “For now,” her mother said.  “Can someone threaten to take away their phones if that changes—  like we did with you?”

“Boys are different.” Her father now popped into the screen. “Take Lucky’s tomcat — .” 

Her mother put her hand on his mouth. “We’re people.”

“Mom, I wanted to hear what he was going to say about Livingstone.”

“Never mind that.” Then her mother surprised her by announcing a visit in a few days.

“I wish Dadi would also come,” Shelly said.

Dadi, Shelly’s Indian grandmother, did not travel. Instead, she gave long monologues on video-calls. For the “deficits in parenting,” of the three teens, her targets for blame were numerous: from broken Western families and selfish parents to AnnaMaria’s negligence of her nephew. 

“It’s her artist-husband, a self-centered man, leaving his first wife and kid for some fun and then getting a poor young Latina to marry him by bringing her to America.” 

 “What are you thinking about when Dadi starts talking like that, Papa?” she once asked him.

“Mama means well. Maybe you’ll hear some wisdom in her strange words and ways from another time and place in a language that’s not her mother tongue.”

Or Dadi sent long e-mails, formal missives with words distinctly British like “humour.” 

She had theories about Garcia’s disappearance and the mysterious things that she suspected the American government did in the shadows, warning Shelly to keep her distance from ICE. 

“They don’t teach you children history anymore. But let me tell you. This system started with ancient Rome two thousand years ago. If you were a citizen of the state, you were privileged. But the rules were different if you were a slave from the top of Europe all the way down to North Africa, or if you were a Jew or any foreigner who had no protection from the government. 

“Because that’s what imperial powers do.

“But we’re citizens now and they have to treat us as citizens.” 

Dadi’s cheeks had sunk until the bones jutted against her skin, and her hair had faded to thin and white, foreshadowing the day when the colorful old woman would fade into a memory.

At first, Shelly had been more relaxed about George. He was voracious about his prized “American” education. When Charlie had moved in, he absorbed that attitude. She happily concluded this was another example of how immigrants fuel America’s engine. 

Livingstone would include the boys’ apartment in his nightly rounds on the building’s balconies before heading to the wooded hill. She saw them on the fire-escape at sunset or heard the low roar of their music late at night, now softer after a neighbor complained. At 4 AM when she drove away to the hospital, she saw the faint glow of their computer screens through the windows.

Then Lucky had casually mentioned one day, “Oh, Charlie is dating a girl who lives in the building next to us. She’s in their grade. Her mom works at the hospital.

“Michaela. You’ll see her.” Lucky winked at Shelly. “Now, don’t worry, I met Harry at her age.”

“I hope you’ve talked to Charlie,” Shelly said dubiously. “Your parents have been wrapped up in their own problems. We don’t want anyone getting pregnant.”

“They have Health class,” Lucky said, “And Mom bought Charlie a couple of books. You’re right, I’ll make sure. What about George? Who talks to him?”

At the Golden Griddle one evening, Shelly broached “that” subject with George. “OK this is awkward… 

“George, about dating, I think it’s important to treat all human beings, no, all living creatures with kindness and respect.” 

Tensing, George dropped his eyes and picked up his fork to poke at the hill of spaghetti and meatballs in front of him.

Forging ahead, Shelly added, “There are consequences to our choices in relationships, like pregnancy, diseases, hurt feelings…”

“Shelly, thanks,” George mumbled. Finally, he met her eyes and dabbed tomato sauce from his lips. “Dad talked to me. Also, they have classes in school…so yeah, Biology, Psychology…” 

Now soggy with ketchup, his onion rings evaporated next, followed by a stack of syrup-soaked pancakes. The waitress told him to say “hi” to his friends. 

As he showered an omelette with salt, pepper and even more ketchup, he stabbed his fork into the air and explained scientific concepts: dark energy, black matter and the expansion of the universe.

“Is that what you’re going to study someday, George? Astrophysics?”

“I dunno.”

“Maybe a seminary and search for God?”

After a silence, George explained, “See, I believe our world has an engine. Think about a spider. It’s spinning its web, growing our universe, extending it further and further, faster and faster.” 

George opened one large hand to demonstrate. “Accelerating. There could be more spiders, other worlds, alternate dimensions… .”

“In religions,” Shelly mused, “salvation means to escape this physical world of suffering.”

“Hmmm.” 

Like romance, religion was another topic that George shrugged off. 

But Charlie was in love. With green eyes and a brown afro, Michaela reminded Shelly of a classic painting of Aphrodite emerging from a golden seashell, this time in an American ocean, born again in a beautiful woman’s infinite variations through the times and tides of humanity. 

With fading vestiges of embarrassment about her changing body, wearing clothes too big for her frame, Michaela’s concession to spring fashion was a lace headband. She did not fit in with the other girls, not tuned into the white, black, Hispanic and other tribes of her school, finding a niche instead with George and Charlie.

Other high school girls went nameless, until Carrie Mather caught Shelly’s attention as George mentioned her by name. Often seen in front of the school building talking to her friends, she confidently sported as much naked skin as the school rules allowed, skirt barely at the tips of her fingers on her sides and shirts dipped so low that Shelly wanted to look away. 

Carrie’s boldness reminded Shelly of another old painting she had once seen in an art volume, a portrait of a young mistress of a French king. 

To take George to a much-needed dentist appointment, Shelly had stopped by his school one day.  As he walked out of the building, Carrie walked past him with her friends, oblivious to his tentative “Hi.”

“She wears a lot of makeup,” Shelly sharply observed once George was inside the car. 

He had frowned. 

Carrie was a “popular girl,” and her father was a prominent heart surgeon at Pandolf. How could George hope for her notice?

At a school drama production that Shelly had attended because George was in the tech crew, Shelly stood in the back just in case the hospital called. Michaela sat between Charlie and George one row ahead. 

Michaela’s mother sat separately, fat, forty-ish, frumpy, a “typical” female patient with gallbladder disease in old medical textbooks. 

Carrie had the lead role in the play. Afterward, Shelly watched the girl greet her friends. Slender ankles atop skyscraper stilettos, she glided to her proud family and their crowd.. 

Shelly studied Mrs. Mather as the group passed by: a woman of an uncertain age, botoxed with an ever-surprised smiling face, styled, coiffed, manicured, pedicured and gym-figured,a younger version of Dr. Nepski’s well-preserved mother. Had she had that surgery, big toes lopped off to fit into those pointed Italian high heels?

Why did Michaela have no rules, no curfew or other oversight? 

Before he had left for Saburia, Campbell was not helpful. Besides, what help would he be halfway around the globe in Africa?

“I think Charlie’s a lucky guy to be dating Michaela,” he had said.  

What did that mean?

Lucky only said, “Harry and I have also been together since our teens. My parents were high school sweethearts” 

Her voice became plaintive. “Shelly, I just don’t get the idea of a divorce for my parents. Neither does Dad. Maybe it’s menopause with Mom. You’re the OB/Gyn. Do you think that could be hormonal? 

“I think it’s hard on Charlie. Michaela is sweet. She makes him happy. Why should anyone say anything?”

Opening her refrigerator door, Shelly was livid to find that those feral teenagers had raided it: bare white plastic shelves, no staple foods, just many colorful bags of salad and cut vegetables. In the freezer, all her organic frozen dinners were gone. 

On cue, a not well-domesticated Livingstone strolled into the darkness so quietly that she did not hear him. He crunched his kibble. Golden eyes took stock of her, then he meowed his orders to open one of his cat food cans. 

They kept a stack of “Lost-Cat” flyers to post every time he disappeared. The rules were irrational, but there were no better ones. In theory, Livingstone was not allowed outside. But when he howled incessantly at the back doors, both homes put him out and on pleasant nights he just prowled the woods. 

No one noticed unless he did not return the next day. Then the blame game began of “who let Livingstone out, who saw him last?” Everyone denied guilt. The teens were blamed first. 

Two of Shelly’s cats had disappeared when she was a child. Were her lost pets one of the reasons she did not like people in general? Humans seemed to be the main danger to Livingstone, malevolent or merely careless with fast cars, pest poisons and traps.

“I feel sorry for Lucky’s cat,” George once told her and Charlie. “I forget how sneaky he is, always waiting for someone to open a door. But I don’t blame him for feeling stuck in these apartments. He’d probably never come back … except for food and maybe our company. 

“In other countries where I’ve lived, they wouldn’t have fixed him saying spaying and neutering is cruel. Maybe we should get him a girl-cat, good for his psychology even if there’s no biology.”

 Charlie agreed.  “Lucky’s birthday is coming up.” 

Dubious, Shelly went with George, Charlie, and Michaela to the animal rescue for a second cat. She trailed behind the teenagers who excitedly discussed Apocalypse ’50.

Campbell had given George a credit card before he had left for Saburia, which was also now an app on Shelly’s phone. At Mather Market (Campbell would rhyme the two words with a comic Boston accent), she loaded the cart with items the app suggested for a healthy adolescent. 

Guiding her through the aisles, the program let her tap her way through picking up organic milk, free-range eggs, protein powders, nutritional yeast, whole wheat bread, cane sugar granola and finally highlighted items in the fruit and vegetable section. 

A lone attendant waved her in and out while she paid with the app. Still, George and Charlie rarely thanked her. Not caring to shop or cook, they preferred take-out or dining out.

SABURIA

May, 2025

In Saburia, Campbell joined Elise Sheraton for the road trip from the military base to the local town’s airport to pick up Mary. She had not wanted to go alone. 

“Michael should get it fixed so patients can directly helicopter in from Ramses,” she protested. 

He had brought sunscreen for the short trip, a large tube of the white unscented Chinese brand from the campus store. Their highest SPF block, it stung as he liberally applied it on his burnt skin over ridges of muscle. He was also wearing a hat, sunglasses and long sleeves with new respect for the Saburian sun.

“Glad summer hasn’t arrived yet even if Mary will find it a lot hotter than New York,” he said.

In the vehicle, dust rose up along the wheels. Elise delightedly pointed out a herd of elephants, with a lecture on their endangered status and the cruel ivory industry, followed by praise for the king’s conservation efforts. A passionate remembrance of the many extinct species of African wildlife followed.

Late afternoon at the airport, the air blurring in the heat, their Humvee came to a grinding stop followed by two jeeps that had caravanned behind them. Elise walked briskly to a petite figure waiting next to a stack of luggage in the shelter. The elderly woman introduced herself as Mary and said no more. 

Two other women stood with her.  Olive-skinned with dark hair, they spoke British-accented English that Campbell guessed originated in India. A Saburian assistant stood next to them, organizing the sorting and loading of luggage by two airport workers.

Water bottles were passed around, and then the groups went to their vehicles. Elise now traveled with Mary and the other women in an armored limousine. Campbell rode in the lead Humvee with its driver. 

Before running to her car, Elise whispered into his ear, “David, those women are doctors too, working for Soria. They said King Mohammed is coming to visit the base.”

Riding back to the base, Campbell wondered what the women in the tank-like car behind him were saying. Were they discussing their trip? Hopefully, Elise had sensibly muted her lectures on endangered species because Mary looked like she needed some peace, quiet and heavy-duty air-conditioning. 

Mary was their first patient, and then would there be Matthew, Luke, John and Mark? Garcia would also be coming soon. 

A cryptic note from Kochanski had appeared on his phone this morning with instructions to bring George to Saburia to visit his father over the summer.

Kochanski was also reimbursing Campbell for all his spending on the teenager. Why bring the boy to visit his father in the middle of Saburia’s hottest season? It was unlike the Pole to be sentimental.

Campbell slipped Elise a paper note after they returned to the base. “After dinner drinks and honest conversation tonight? Pretend it’s a romantic beach rendezvous, two lonely Americans abroad, I’ll find a picnic basket and a blanket if you’ll show up. Also I think our rooms are bugged.”

Their electronic communication was monitored as were the long hallways with ubiquitous security cameras, making this paper invitation necessary to begin a daring dance to connect without minders. She wrote back a time to meet her and a location midway in the complex. 

After her dinner with Mary, she met him at the dark end of a carpeted passageway in the Chinese quarters. They exited toward the beach under a doorway camera that blinked and turned to follow their movement. Its twin on the outside watched as they made their way toward the dark ocean.

Awkwardly, they held hands and put distance between them and the building until they could talk freely, yelling above the deafening waves which pushed up hills of sand.

“How easy it would be,” he shouted, “to drown someone on the murky knife-edge of this ocean.”

 She looked worried. He followed her eyes to the lighted guard towers up and down the beach.

“I’m sure it’s happened already, an inside job,” she said into his ear.

The line between theatre and reality blurred as their worlds shifted even more to this alien frame on the Saburian base. Using a flashlight to analyze the waves and the distance from the water, Campbell laid down a thick blanket on the sand on which she simply sat down.

Years ago, there had been another beach picnic. He had kissed his girlfriend at the time, folding back curtains of long dark hair behind dangling drop earrings. His friends came by to cheerily wish him “Happy Birthday, Goodbye and Good Night.” 

Later, he took her back to her sorority house. She still sent him Christmas photo cards, showing that she was now married and had birthed the next generation of young dark-haired troublemakers like herself. 

Now in a different time and on a different beach, Elise gazed up. “I’ve never seen the Milky Way so clearly, David. Can you imagine our ancestors millennia ago? Unable to read or write, they had star maps, stories about gods and goddesses, battles and mythical beasts.” 

“They were nomads,” he said.  “When clouds and storms hid the skies, how did they find their way? Did the sun tell them the time? And the winds and the seasons tell the way? So they spread out all over our planet. Where will we go next? Traveling through space, time and other dimensions?” 

“Still, here we are,” she said, “back to where it all started thousands of generations ago, no longer even looking or acting like these Saburian folk who stayed behind. I am not just pretending to be a lonely American abroad —  I am.”

She opened the picnic basket. “Are you lonely, too?”

Looking inside the hamper, she exclaimed. “Oh David, what a feast! How?”

Campbell smiled proudly. “I tipped our minders well after yours brought me this stocked basket and blanket.”

“Tip, David?” Elise whispered again, close to his ear. “It sounds more like a bribe.”

“Elise, those are our Western values, I like to say that around here it’s more like trick-or-treat. I’d rather be giving out treats than be at the receiving end of their tricks.”

“David,” she said wryly, “I hope you’re not being condescending to the local people like you accused me of recently.”

She reached into the hamper, pulling out hard and soft cheeses, from French Brie to American Wisconsin, crackers, nuts and dried fruits. There were also plates, cutlery, a cutting board and a knife. 

“Oh my God,” she said. “Almost a second dinner.”

There was her white French Loire as well as a decent Kentucky whisky for him (not Kochanski’s Dew). Campbell had borrowed crystal goblets from the Egyptian attendant with whom he was flirting and some shot glasses from the young Chinese fighter pilot.

“Point noted, Elise, there is nothing Saburian in our picnic basket,” Campbell said. 

He rolled the shot glasses between his fingers, admiring the Chinese etched calligraphy and delicate paint patterns.

He had met Yi by wandering into the public section of the military campus karaoke bar. The host was a courteous Chinese man in his 20s, assisted by two slender older women, their heads dyed a matching blonde with pink rose highlights. 

The host’s girlfriend had sat on a stool at the corner, a pale sprite, her hair dyed white, with a tiny white matching poodle. Among the group, there was a black-haired child with her pencil and workbooks, sometimes helping the grownups or playing with the dog. 

None spoke English. The music was Chinese and the large television had Chinese entertainment, fun to watch even without subtitles.

Shut out of the private karaoke rooms, Campbell was about to leave when the pilot had walked in. Yi spoke fluent English and he wanted to practice it. He invited Campbell to follow him into a private room where alcohol was served. 

Was it a stroke of sheer luck that the Chinese soldiers had let him come in, an American? Or was it because Yi had invited him? Or was it  only because they did not know what to do with their American visitor and did not wish to offend him by turning him away? 

When he mentioned Yi to Elise, she wondered, “Michael said that a Chinese fighter pilot was caught with the wife of a senior officer. Juicy gossip for this base. Is this the same guy?” 

She added, “It boiled down to the fact that the pilot’s flying skills were more valued than the pride of her husband. So the wife was booted home. When the king comes tomorrow, we’ll all be back to smiles, harmony and international cooperation.”

“Yeah, I heard,” Campbell said, laughing. “His friends like to tease him about the affair. He wanted me to understand the joke and so he translated their ribbing. 

“At their best, Elise, bars are places where different tribes remember their shared humanity, both profound and profane.” 

Elise looked at him sharply. 

A self-help book had once coached him that people enjoyed talking about themselves. Changing the subject, he said, “But Elise, tell me more about what brings you here?”

“I’m not done,” she scolded angrily. “That sounds like male-bonding. Do any women ever come to this military bar?”

“Yes and no,” Campbell replied, “I mean that they have private karaoke rooms that I see women sometimes go into. But no, honestly, I haven’t seen a woman in the room that Yi and I drink in.”

“Whatever,” Elise said, “OK, to answer your question, AJ and I go back a long way. We first connected at a medical conference.”

“You did say that Dr. B. connected you to Soria Clinics.”

“Yes I’m here because the medical research is novel. Manny’s vaccines may cause less collateral damage to the cancer patient. I mean what’s the point of living longer if your life quality is crap? 

“Then the money Soria is paying me is good. It’ll  pay for my kids’ college education and some left over for my retirement.

“My ex- is unhelpful, his second wife is evil, they deserve each other,” she went on. “But I’m not bitter, David, I don’t love men any less for it. One of my kids is male. So was my dad. He called me Hell-ise when we fought. 

“So I end up making excuses for men and absolving them anyway.” 

She added thoughtfully,””Still, you seem like a decent type, David.”

“Thanks, Elise. So do you think our scheme is working? Do we make a handsome couple for their cameras?”

She turned around toward the distant building. “Now that camera is looking at us so come closer to me, you handsome fellow.”

He put up his binoculars. Sure enough, at the Exit door, the odious red light was still moving and blinking.

“Handsome is as handsome does,” she said. She pulled his hand and drew him to her. “No worries. I’m not interested in you that way either but let’s put on a show for the camera.” 

Laughing and cuddling close, she said, “Well, the Loire helps me with this charade. I was surprised when you said you don’t have anyone in your life.”

“At the bar, they say Michael’s your boyfriend,” Campbell teased her.

Stunned, she pulled back. “There’s really no respect for women around here. This is a medieval place. These Saburian women are little shrouded, subjugated creatures. OK, what do they think of me being out here with you?” 

Her voice was slurring. 

“Elise, you can show them you are a liberated woman,” he said. “Come hang out at the bar with me.” 

She made an incredulous face.

“All right, that was a stupid thing to say.”

“Yeah it was, as if I don’t already hate the sexism here.”

“Elise, I have a question,” he said after she relaxed, “There’s a Drukker data file that’s in a sixth case that I brought here from San Fran. I want to know what that’s about. Because there are only five cancer patients who have been offered the Soria trial so far.”

“What?”

“I brought six drives on the plane where we met,” he said, “five for cancer patients that had Bible names and a larger purple one. Traditionally, purple is the color for royalty.”

“I don’t know,” Elise wondered. “I’m only here to work with the cancer patients and surprise, I just found out that I’ll also get to meet the Saburian Queen No. 3 during the royal visit. She’s planning to get pregnant and has questions for me as a pediatrician.”  

She shrugged. “I’m sorry, David, if I find out more, I’ll tell you. But why don’t you just ask Michael?”

Campbell shook his head. “No, I think that what is in the purple Drukker case is some kind of secret, maybe royal. It may be best, Elise, if you don’t mention what I told you to anyone.”

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