Oscar Goldman sneezed as the tall grass tickled his nose and his allergies-or so he hoped-kicked in. In the back of his mind, Oscar had seen spying as a glamorous profession. There had been a mental picture of himself dressed in a tuxedo, drinking down champagne with one hand and opening a safe with the other. Eighteen months in the intelligence business had eliminated most of his illusions, and the few still left were rapidly expiring under a deadly combination of frustration, freezing cold and impatient boredom. His contact was late. The field was battered by icy winds. He was so deep in Soviet dominated Eastern Europe that he suspected the location fell off of maps; and he was contemplating killing his superior for the third time in an hour.
“Sir, I was thinking we could use this new technology to communicate with our contacts-”
“I don’t like it Goldman. It’s never been done that way before.”
That was the usual response he received.
“It’s never been done that way before.”
Dear God, Oscar sneezed again. He could just imagine Ludd supervising Gutenberg.
“This printing press idea of yours…I don’t like it. It’s never been done that way before.”
That was Ludd’s favorite response to any new idea. His second favorite was to listen with a scowl to whatever was being proposed, then dismissing it with.
“No Goldman. I can’t begin to imagine how that could possibly help.”
Oscar suspected that was because Ludd had no imagination to start with. Pointing this fact out however, would not have improved his already shaky standing with the man. So, Oscar gritted his teeth, went quietly to the technical department and continued to familiarize himself with the latest scientific advances and applications that came out of that wonderful government toy store.
Sneeze. Oscar revised his hay fever theory; he was probably coming down with a cold, which would be infinitely worse. Damn Ludd. Meeting in the middle of an empty field for the entirely scientific and logic based reason of ‘that’s how I did it, Goldman.”
Given a choice, Oscar would be meeting his informants in the city, were he could fade into the background and there were a hundred vanishing holes in every city block. Or better yet, no personal contact at all-carry on as many communications as possible by coded transmissions. There would have to be advances in communications since transmissions were so easily traced, but if the best scientific minds were concentrated on the problem….
Sneeze. Oscar wondered if Sam’s brief career as an intelligence agent were spent in the same miserable circumstances. Probably not, Sam had been a golden boy and Oscar had no doubt that his brother had been immediately marked for greatness in naval intelligence.
How Sam would have handled Ludd? It was a reflex for Oscar whenever he had a problem; turn the problem over to his godlike older brother.
Sam always had a plan. Oscar could recall a day when Sam was taking him for a whirl in a brand new, bright red convertible. It had been forty degrees outside, but Oscar had loved every moment. For starters, it got him out of the house where his alcoholic father ruled with an increasingly hard hand. Then there was the simple delight of being with Sam who could handle anything. A brief stop at a gas station had turned ugly when an old classmate of Sam’s, a high school bully whose ambition was seemingly focused on being a town bully, had tried to pick a fight.
“Nice car, kike.” He had sneered at Sam.
“That’s Mr. Kike, to you, Hanson.” Sam had shrugged back before vvvvrrrroooommming away, spinning gravel in the man’s face. Not a brilliant comeback and Oscar was curious.
“Sammy, why didn’t you just hit him? You’re a base boxing champ and everything, you could have beaten him up easy, right?”
Sam had cast him a thoughtful look.
“Use that impressive mind of yours, little brother. Would I have changed his mind if I thrashed him?”
“No, you can’t force someone to change their opinion.”
“Could I have beaten him AND his friends?” Sam continued.
Oscar puzzled over that. “I didn’t see any friends with him.”
Sam shook his head. “Hanson always had friends. He’s the type who only feels comfortable in a wolf pack. You have to know your opponent and take that into consideration, brainy.”
Oscar blushed. Sam thought Oscar was brilliant and though Oscar didn’t believe it for a moment, he loved it when Sam called him brainy.
“So, I probably wouldn’t have won the fight against all of them.” Sam continued. “It wouldn’t have changed their mind if I had. And, knowing Hanson, he just would have waited until I left for my assignment and taken it out on you.”
“You could have at least insulted him.” Oscar insisted. “I mean, really insulted him and not just…”
“You thought my comeback was kind of weak, huh?” Sam grinned.
“Well, I ..um..yeah.”
“So does he.” Sam explained. “He doesn’t have a very high opinion of me. I’d like to keep it that way.
I’ll let you in on a secret little brother: Being underestimated is a wonderful weapon.”
Oscar had nodded thoughtfully, and looked up 'underestimated' in a dictionary as soon as he got home. He had not been at all surprised that Sam had a plan. Sam always had a plan.
So, assume Sam was standing in an ice cold field, waiting for a woefully late contact: What Would Sam Do? For starters, a little voice in his head whispered, he would get out the middle of this field and move to an area with cover. With a start Oscar realized he had been standing motionless for a good five minutes, making himself an open target and he immediately dropped to the ground, crawling to the edges where bushes provided natural camouflage.
Less than a minutes later he saw headlights…no multiple headlights approaching the meeting place and he started cursing Ludd, the contact, the Soviet Union and anything else that came to mind exercising the myriad swear words Sam had thoughtfully taught him as a boy. Behind him he heard distant sounds of large military vehicles and realized he was in the middle of a rapidly closing trap.
The vehicles came to a halt. Two men were seen stepping out of the leading jeep. Oscar squinted to make out their faces. One man was clad in a military uniform and the shorter man was dressed in a casual shirt and jeans. Was he the contact? Why was he accompanied by an army? Was it a trap? Oscar’s mind drooled with insinuations. He crouched down as the pair of eyes scoured the area.
Oscar’s mind was misgiving him that Ludd had orchestrated this stratagem to remove him from circulation pending the approval of his project by the Secretary of Defence. Ludd hated when Oscar went over his head with a project he had previously turned down, and was in all probability trying to sway the board’s decision while he sent Oscar on a wild goose chase.
One man pointed in his direction. “There he is!”
Oscar stood in dread of being caught in the middle of nowhere with no credentials whatsoever to establish his true identity. He was cornered with no means of escape.
The young man ploughed his way through the tall grass to reach him. “Mr. Goldman?”
Oscar stood upright, quaking in his boots. “What do you want?”
The young man extended his arm to shake his hand. “My name is Nicolaï Rabinski. I’m your contact.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Normally I would have come alone but we received an urgent message from Washington stating that Colonel Steve Austin had been involved in a horrific plane crash.”
Oscar’s heart leapt to his throat and his blood ran cold at the dreadful news. But was it a hoax? Was he being fed a lie to lure him into a trap? “How do you know this?”
“Lieutenant Carl Ludd contacted the Novgorod Army Base. General Povlov received the call and relayed the message over to my commanding officer,” he explained calmly.
“You’re military?” Oscar exclaimed as he gave the young man a dubious once-over.
“Come.” He beckoned Oscar to walk in front of him to the jeep. “The privates have been instructed to drive you to the base airfield where a military jet is standing by to fly you back to Washington.”
“You don’t mind if I corroborate your story before we take off?”
“Of course not Mr. Goldman. You can phone at the airport.”
Rabinski ushered Oscar to the jeep where he took place in the front seat. Rabinski hopped in the back and tapped the driver on the shoulder to open the throttle toward the airport. Oscar craned back his neck. He was somewhat disturbed to observe the heavy military vehicles deploying in the opposite direction. Had he been standing in the middle of a combat field where the soldiers were about to engage in a war game as part of their drill? Oscar’s qualms about what he was witnessing paled to insignificance besides the ones he harboured for Steve. Was he still alive?
The ride from the field to the AF base took forever as Oscar’s harried mind kept swirling with grim thoughts. He rushed inside the main building to call Rudy in Washington. His heart sank at the confirmation of Steve’s accident. He jumped on the plane that streaked across the sky to land on US grounds. At the airport, an official car awaited Oscar to drive him to the National Medical Center where Steve was maintained on an artificial respirator, hovering between life and death.
Rudy met with Oscar halfway down the hall to Steve’s ICU room. “Oscar, wait!”
“I want to see Steve,” Oscar panted frantically, thrusting Rudy aside.
Rudy seized Oscar by the sleeve and grabbed a firm hold of his arm. “Oscar please wait! I want to prepare you for what you’re going to see.”
Oscar’s head jerked to the right where his pained eyes welded onto Rudy’s forlorn expression, a look that struck terror into every cell of his being.
“Come and sit down, please.” Rudy assisted a distraught Oscar to a nearby couch and sat beside him. He placed a hand on his arm and summoned his courage in a deep breath. “It’s worse than the first time.”
Rudy felt Oscar’s arm stiffen at the harrowing news. His hands balled into fist, his nails digging into his palms. Spasms crossed his puckered face with his eyes pasted shut to retain the tears from streaking down his cheeks. His stomach clenched and fluttered as he swallowed dryly to ask the dreaded question. “Will he live?”
“It’s not likely he will survive the next twelve hours. We did everything humanly conceivable to mend the injuries and staunch the haemorrhages. We are keeping him on an iron lung and are striving to stabilize his vitals. Given the fact that Steve named you executor, we need your consent to…” Rudy broke in mid sentence when Oscar stood abruptly and walked zombie-like over to the window. “If you wish to see him, he’s in ICU room 1, down the hall and first door on the right.”
With hands in pockets, Oscar stood prostrated with grief, staring blankly out the window. He waited for Rudy to leave before he allowed his tears to stream down his cheeks. Why was he plunged into such sorrow over an agent’s sorry plight? Hundreds stare death in the face everyday. It’s an occupational hazard that Oscar has reluctantly learned to accept by hardening his heart to prevent the emotions from seeping through. But Steve Austin was far more than his top field agent, he was a dear and loyal friend. He could not bring himself to openly admit his deep admiration for a man he considered like a son rather than a government servant.
He heaved a heavy sigh and wiped his eyes dry of tears before he straggled on to ICU. His heart pounded through his ribs. He flattened his hand against the door, stopped briefly to inhale a deep breath before he pushed his way inside. He flinched when he caught sight of the zillions of tubes going in and out of his comatose friend. With ponderous steps, he walked up to the bed and plonked down in a straight-backed chair. He cast a sidelong glance up at the heart monitor, beeping a mild arrhythmia and registering alarmingly low vital signs.
Oscar heaved a mournful sigh and slumped against the back of the chair. He stared at the mangled body swathed in bandages desperately clinging on to life, and let his dull mind wander.
“Don’t despair Oscar,” a faceless voice emboldened him.
Oscar swiftly craned his head back at the door as he thought someone had entered the room.
“Over here,” the voice whistled him to his left. There sat in a cushiony armchair Oscar’s late brother Sam.
Oscar rolled his eyes. “It must be worse than I thought.”
“Why? Because you’re seeing a ghost?”
“I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“Ah come on little brother, humor me.”
“Alright, what are you doing here?”
Sam leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, with is fingers laced neatly underneath his chin “You tell me. You brought me here.”
“Let me guess; you’re my conscience,” Oscar sighed with an edge of annoyance.
“Maybe. It’s apparent you need answers. I’m here to help you find them.” Sam turned his gaze towards the dying patient. “So that’s the man you consider as a son.”
“Nothing gets past you, does it?” Oscar said with a look of disbelief.
“Not anymore,” Sam gloated in a toothful grin.
Oscar smiled a sad smile before he returned his attention to Steve. His throat constricted as he dared venture to ask the inevitable question, “Will he live?”
“Your friend’s a strong man. He won’t give up without a struggle.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“I can’t give you a straight answer, little brother because I don’t know myself, yet. Believe it or not, HE,” Sam shot his eyes upwards, “doesn’t tell us everything.” Sam joked to lighten the mood, which he failed to do. He rose from his chair and edged up to Oscar. “HE has a specific purpose designed for him. What it is, I don’t rightly know. We certainly could use a brilliant mind like his upstairs.”
“Surely you can spare him for another few years?”
“That’s not my decision to make, Oscar.”
Silence fell between them while Oscar’s mind churned up a gnawing assumption. “The crash,” Oscar interrupted his thought to look up at Sam with knowing eyes, “it wasn’t an accident, was it?”
“What do you think?”
“Why are you constantly being evasive?”
“Because I told you, I’m not here to provide you with answers but to guide you towards them.”
“Afraid you might be wrong?” Oscar remarked snidely.
“No I’m afraid you might do something stupid,” Sam retorted. He cast a heartfelt smile at his despondent brother and left him with this conundrum, “All I can tell you is don’t look past your nose, Pinocchio.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” There was no answer. “Sam?” Oscar shrunk back with surprise when he realized his brother had vanished. He swirled his head around to comb every inch of the room. No sign of Sam. He closed his eyes and shook his head in bewilderment.
The next day in early afternoon, Oscar grudgingly accepted to meet Ludd at his office. He hadn’t been giving any hint as to the reason for the meeting, though Oscar suspected the ‘Pollux’ project to be the main topic of conversation. Ludd’s secretary ushered Oscar into the office.
“Come on in, Goldman!” Ludd greeted. “Want a cup of coffee?”
“No, thank you.”
“Take a seat. Make yourself comfortable.” Ludd beckoned Oscar to sit in the armchair, but Oscar waved his hand in a negative gesture and sighed in exasperation as he glanced at his wristwatch.
“Ludd I wish to return to the hospital, so if you don’t mind, let’s get to the subject at hand.”
“How’s Colonel Austin?”
Laden with sorrow, Oscar looked downcast before closing his eyes and shaking his head in dejection.
“I’m really sorry.”
“What is it that you want to discuss, Ludd?” Oscar asked in a grudging tone.
“The ‘Pollux’ project.”
“What about it?”
“I wish to apologize for my rudeness.”
“You mean for turning it down flat?”
Ludd flashed him an embarrassing smile. “Yeah. I’m hoping there are no hard feelings?”
“There are none.”
“Good. Don’t take it personally, Goldman, but I didn’t think your project was worth immobilizing a hundred million for.”
“Really?” Oscar answered sarcastically. “The Secretary of Defence begs to differ with you.”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t know?” Oscar asked with a sneer. “The Secretary himself called me this morning to inform me that my project passed the board and had been approved hands down. They are gathering the funds as we speak.”
Ludd’s face flushed with indignation and his lips curled up in contempt at Oscar’s news. He glowered at the man standing before him with a smug hanging on his ears. “You went over my head with this, didn’t you Goldman?”
“Yes I did,” Oscar gloated. “And I will keep going over your head with projects you turn down that I deem promising for our country’s future.”
“Big mistake, Goldman,” Ludd said with a hint of warning. “I am your superior.”
“I’m aware of your status, but you see…lieutenant…” he accented the rank with sarcasm, “I’m not military and therefore cannot charge me with insubordination, specially not when the Ministry of Defence approved a project you previously discarded.” A smirk crossed Oscar’s face at Ludd’s expected reaction. “Good day, Ludd.” He turned and with a nonchalant step, crossed to the door.
That slap in the face raised the devil in Ludd. He twitched the phone off the hook and urged his secretary to contact General Povlov at the Novgorod Air Force Base. While waiting for the call to come thru, he walked over to the bar to pour himself a drink that he quaffed down. He twirled the glass nervously between his fingers before he poured himself another tumblerful. At the buzz sound, he lunged at his desk and picked up the phone. “Povlov, this is Ludd. Proceed with code Charlie, Zero, Four, Nine, Yellow, Seven, Seven. (…) Don’t argue just do it! One’s pigeon’s down and the other flew the coop. (…) No he’s not dead but his doctor said he won’t survive. I’ll get in touch later.” He banged the receiver down and drained his glass.
Oscar drove back to the hospital and sat with Steve. The hypnotic beeping of the heart monitor plunged him into the deep recesses of his mind where he rehashed the harrowing memory of Steve’s parents’ tragic death 6 months ago. In all the years he’s knows Steve, never had Oscar seen him break down and dissolve into a torrential outpouring of tears. He had to literally carry him out of the room when his mother heaved her last breath. Oscar was able to help his friend muddle thru the crisis by offering a sympathetic ear or a solicitous shoulder to cry on whenever Steve felt the urge to purge himself. His caring, compassion and understanding proved salutary for the grieving man and carried him thru the ordeal. He unknowingly filled the void left by the death of Steve’s last living relatives.
Now, Steve’s fate hinged on his decision. A burden he had chosen to bear upon his agreement to be named executor of Steve’s last will and testament. It was stipulated that in the event of a horrific accident, he’d be removed from the respirator, but Oscar was finding it hard, even impossible, to acquiesce to his friend’s last wish before all possibilities had been exhausted.
“Tough decision, isn’t it?” Sam commented.
Oscar stared catatonically at Steve. “I can’t pull the plug, Sam.”
“It’s what he wants.”
“Maybe, but he conferred you the power of decision for a reason; so that you’d make a sound judgement. Rudy Wells told you there was brain activity.”
“Some, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever emerge from his coma.” A deafening silence fell between the two brothers as Oscar pluck up his courage to ask the question he knew would be left unanswered. “Is it time for him to meet his Maker?”
Sam turned to Oscar with a heartening smile. “No, not yet.”
Oscar looked up at Sam with tear-clouded eyes. “He’s not going to die?”
Sam shook his head. “I told you God had a purpose in mind, one that will affect both of your lives.”
“How do you mean?”
“I can’t tell you now or it may influence your decision to maintain him alive before he’s ready to emerge from beneath the surface. There’s one matter you need to address before you assume your new responsibilities.”
“I wish you’d stop talking in riddles.” Sam vanished. “Sam?” Oscar glanced around and sighed in frustration. “I hate it when he does that.”
At the crack of dawn, Oscar threw himself bodily into his work, toiling his way thru a mass of documents relevant to Steve’s plane crash, all bearing evidence of a pilot error but Oscar knew better. He was unyielding in his belief of a sabotage and ordered an inquiry.
“I want a complete report on the data recorded on that black box on my desk first thing tomorrow morning if not sooner,” Oscar stressed on the phone to the head of the National Transportation Safety Board. Since he suspected an inside job, he preferred not to enthrust the Army with the indepth investigation.
No sooner had he hung up the phone that his secretary buzzed his desk with another call. “Oscar Goldman.”
“Mister Goldman, you don’t know me and I’d like to keep it that way. I have in my possession incriminating evidence against an American government official who’s been selling top secret information to your enemy. I’d like you to meet me in the park at exactly eleven hundred hours today. You sit on the bench facing the tennis court. I ask that you come alone. Don’t worry I’ll spot you and I’ll know if you’re been followed.”
The voice spoke with a light Russian accent that bore a striking inflection to his contact in Novgorod, Nicolaï Rabinski. Oscar drummed his fingers on the desk, dithering over whether he should show up at the cloak-and-dagger meeting. Indepth probing into a possible sabotage often stirred up bad seeds, who would go to great length to stifle the issue. Was he heading into a trap? Was that Rabinski on the level or was he acting in collusion with the parties liable for Steve’s crash?
He made his way to the bar and poured himself a drink. He contemplated the glass absently as his mind engaged in a tug-a-war between going to the meeting or sitting still. He glanced at his wristwatch and swigged down his glass before he snatched his jacket off the back of his chair and left the office.
As instructed, he sat down on the bench facing the tennis court, With a furtive eye, he scoured the surroundings for any suspicious-looking characters, He stared intently at a young dark-haired man, clad in a raincoat and wearing sunglasses who fit the profile of his undercover informer. Surprisingly, the man walked past him without so much of a glance. Oscar’s eyes remained fastened on the man until another came to sit by him in a similar get-up. ‘That’s not Nicolaï Rabinski’ thought Oscar, though he suspected he had altered his appearance.
Without uttering a single syllable, the man produced a large manila envelope from his breast pocket and handed it over to Oscar without making eye contact. “It’s all in there.”
“You’re Nicolaï Rabinski, aren’t you?”
Rabinski started to squirm in his seat. “How did you know?”
“Your accent gave you away,” Oscar pointed out as he continued to scan the surroundings.
“Please Mister Goldman. Don’t snitch on me. I’m putting my life on the line.”
“Is this the information you wanted to pass on to me in Novgorod?”
“No. Back over there I was instructed to provide you with forged documents. I was unaware that they were using me to provide you with disinformation designed not to arouse suspicions.”
“Suspicions about what?”
“The ‘Pollux’ project, sir. I was privy to several conversations between my commanding officer General Povlov and one of your high-ranking government officials. Up until now I thought they were fairly routine until I began to do some ferreting about.
“Do you know the name of this government official?”
“Lieutenant Carl Ludd, sir.”
“Yes sir. He sold the project to the Russian government and they were working at implementing it until they got word that your government had also approved the project. They wanted to use the advanced technology to scramble your satellite signals in order to disable your radars when it was decided to launch an all-out war on the U.S. In that folder I gave you, you have many ciphers and the plot to assassinate Colonel Austin who had just stumbled upon their covert alliance.”
Oscar was completely dumbfounded by all those revelations. “Why are you telling me all this?”
“Because I want you to put a stop to it before it’s too late. I am unwillingly involved, my commanding officer being General Povlov. I can’t and I won’t expose him. I value my life too much to throttle a man who holds the power to eradicate an entire country..
“You took an awful big risk coming to America with these papers.”
“I know. But I brought my family along as a decoy. I told my superiors I was going on a vacation. The documents were easy to smuggle thru customs.”
“I’ll see that you get protection.”
“Please sir, I would appreciate you leave my name out of this. I have a family and I wouldn’t want any harm to come to them.”
“I just don’t want to be charged with complicity.”
“You won’t. You have my promise.”
“Good luck Mister, Goldman.” Rabinski stood and left as casually as he came.
Oscar felt the vials of wrath burst within him. Not only was Ludd a quisling, but he was behind the plot to kill Steve. His hunch about the allege accident was founded. He drove back to the office and studied the incriminating evidence before he made copies and forward the originals by messenger to the Ministry of defence. Within two weeks, Povlov, Ludd were apprehended and their network dismantled. They were hauled off to jail pending court-martial.
The week following the arrests, Steve’s condition slightly improved, but the prognosis remained grim. Oscar was obstinate in his belief that Steve would eventually emerge from his coma. Every morning, noon and night, he would drop by the hospital and sit with his friend, all the while sending silent prayers to the Heavens above.
Sam appeared in the room. “I guess congratulations are in order.”
“Thanks,” Oscar said tonelessly.
“You don’t seem happy about it?”
“No, I’m not happy. I’m not at all happy about having to expose as a traitor a man I held in the highest regards despite our numerous conflicts of interest.”
“Ah come on, Oscar! Who are you kidding here?” Sam snorted with disgust. “We all know you loathed that man. You held him in contempt, raring at the first available opportunity to drag him thru the mud, and expose him for what he really was, a traitor to his country. Not only that, he was pulling the strings on the assassination plot against you best friend, here. Admit it, you’re euphoric by the outcome.”
“They offered me Ludd’s post.”
“Are you going to accept it?”
“I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
“It’s a great honor. It’s what you’ve been sweating blood all your life to achieve.”
“I know,” Oscar sighed in dismay. He stepped closer to the bed, hands still in his pants pockets. “Come one Steve, wake up.”
“Oh he will. And when he does he’ll grant you with the wish you’ve longed for.”
Oscar’s brow creased. “I…I don’t understand.”
In exactly five days, that young man will open his eyes and the first person he sees will be you. With his memory wiped out and the mind of a five-year-old, he’s going think you’re his father.”
Oscar jerked his head around and darted Sam with a look of resentment. “A five-year-old?” he snapped, ready to jump down Sam’s throat. “That’s why you wouldn’t tell me before. You were afraid I’d pull the plug knowing what he’d be like? How could you do this? How could you let me go on believing he was going to be alright?” Oscar lashed out in an outrage.
“Oscar, look at me!” Sam riped back. “I am your deceased brother. You are conversing with a spirit. I am a mere reflection of your innermost thoughts. You are listening to your conscience. You wanted me to hold off telling you because you were afraid of the truth buried inside you.”
“If you’re my conscience, than I come you know things I don’t?”
“Your subconscious does. It knows what’s ahead and for the very first time in your life, you are listening to it.”
Oscar inhaled a lungful and exhaled the air in a shivering breath. “I can’t do this to him. If I let him live it’ll be by pure selfishness.”
“Like a mother whose child will be born with a birth defect. Does she choose to abort him or does she bring him into this world to love him and nurture him?”
Oscar’s face crumpled at the difficult decision he’s facing.
“It’s your decision Oscar. You still have time.”
As days streamed by, the insomnia grew worse. Oscar was having a prick of conscience on the question of Steve’s fate. Could he trust a ghost to forebode the future? Was Steve going to emerge from his coma a near vegetable? Rudy spoke of neurological damage but could his mind be re-educated as easily as teaching a child how to write and read? Oscar’s harried mind was swaying on the horns of a dreadful quandary, with his mood oscillating between gloom and rancor. Why was the choice so hard to make?
He flumped down on the sofa and rubbed his strain eyes before he lay back and stared blankly at the ceiling. He soon dozed off.
The next morning, Oscar was back at the hospital. Steve had been removed from the respirator and his EEG results were encouraging. Oscar had been told from Sam, rather his subconscious mind, that Steve would be regaining consciousness today. He scooped a chair closer to the bed, sat, and observed his friend’s chest rise and fall, occasionally glancing up at his eyes for the tinniest flinch that would indicate that he was coming around. His train of thought was interrupted by a familiar ethereal presence he sensed standing behind him. “I was wondering when you’d show up.”
“You’re getting pretty good at this, little brother,” Said commented teasingly.
“I’ve had lots of practice these past weeks.” He paused and sighed. “It’s today, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Sam looked at Oscar who wore a thoughtful smile. “I gather you’ve made up your decision?”
“I have. I’m going to take care of him.”
“In that case, this will be our very last meeting, little brother.”
“What do you mean? You said it yourself I brought you here. I can do it again.”
“You won’t need me anymore. You’ll have plenty on your mind to think about me.” Sam squatted down beside his heavy-hearted brother and smiled as he gently laid his vanished hand against Oscar’s heart. “ But I’ll be right here.”
Oscar felt a warmth on his chest that set his heart aflutter. He turned to Sam with bleary eyes and smiled in gratitude. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcomed, little brother.” He stood and glanced once more at Steve whose eyelids began to flutter. “Take care, Oscar, and good luck in your new job.”
“I didn’t accept Ludd’s job.”
“No, I meant…this one,” he said, pointing at Steve. Oscar stood abruptly when he saw Steve blink open his eyes.
“Hi there,” Oscar greeted with a broad elated smile.
Steve slowly tilted his head to the right and with drooping eyelids, stared impassively at the stranger smiling at him.
“We have a long road ahead of us, but we’ll trudge along together.” Oscar placed a hand on Steve’s shoulder “That’s a promise.”