“Mr. Goldman, Barney Hiller is here,” Callahan announced to her boss through the intercom.
“Perfect. Send him in.” He rose from his chair and met Barney halfway to the door. “Barney, right on time.” He extended his hand to shake Barney’s but was met with a glare instead.
“Oscar I’m not here to exchange pleasantries,” Barney snapped as he strode his way to the bar to pour himself a drink. “I had to cancel a weekend getaway with my wife, one I should mention we’ve been planning for months, to get here. Now this better be good.” He quaffed his scotch in one gulp than refilled his glass.
Oscar grumbled inwardly at the man’s insolence but bore and grinned it for the sake of the assignment he was to hand out to the reactivated bionic man. “It is,” he retorted on the same cheeky tone, tossing a folder onto his desk. “Your new assignment, Barney.”
Barney froze, the glass hanging on his lips as he flashed Oscar a fierce look. “I thought we agreed no more missions for the next two months?” He plonked the glass down on the counter and stomped up to Oscar with a defiant stance. He stuck out his chin and spoke scathingly. “ I am not your golden boy Steve Austin to take orders from you.”
“Maybe not from me, but you don’t have a choice when it comes from the NSB. And this one does.”
Barney gnarled his teeth at the man standing unyielding before him. He lowered his eyes briefly to snatch the folder from the desk.
“There is all the information you need. If you have any quarrel, direct them at Hanson.” Oscar rounded the corner of his desk and resumed his seat in his big leather chair. He put on his glasses and casually returned to his own reading without so much of a glance up at the incensed man who marched to the door and slammed it close behind him.
Once Barney out the door, Oscar heaved out a loud frustrated sigh. He dropped his elbows onto the desk and began rubbing his temples hoping to relieve some tension, but the knock on the door resulted in adding to his agony. “What is it?” he barked at who he believed was the thorn at his side returning to prick him up.
Rudy warily poked his head inside and spoke apologetically “I can come back later.”
“No Rudy. Come on in.” Oscar waved him in and heavily leaned back in his chair.
“I just saw Barney leaving. Tornadoed out would be a better word.”
Oscar closed his eyes and shook his head in utter despair. “That man is exasperating. I told Hanson I didn’t want to deal with him anymore. That if he had an assignment for him, to summon him to his own office. Let him bring Barney to heel”
“I heard that Hanson may be kicked out of the organization.”
Oscar’s head jerked up at the news. “What? Where did you hear that?”
“It’s rumour running rampant. Heard it through the grape wine. I can’t tell if it’s solid or not.”
“I should be rejoicing but I can’t for I doubt it’s good news. Might mean more nuisance than we already have.” He propped his head in the palm of his hand and rubbed his strained eyes.
“You okay, Oscar?” Rudy asked with a concerned frown.
“Not really. I need to get away for a while.”
“I think that’s a good idea. Take the edge off the last couple of months. You need a break from all…” The stern expression on Oscar’s face prompted Rudy to cut in mid sentence. He realized it was still a delicate subject to discuss as far as Oscar was concerned. “What are you planning to do?”
“Jim and Helen have asked me to come stay at their farm for the weekend. I’m going to take them up on their offer.”
“I think that’s a good idea, Oscar. I expect they’ll need to be with someone who was close to Steve, this being one year since his…” Again Rudy shut his mouth at the word Oscar dared him to utter.
“I haven’t given up on him and don’t you either,” Oscar seethed with dark eyes blazing with anger.
“You know I haven’t,” Rudy reassured with a strained smile, one that belied his true feelings.
Oscar perked up and veered off to another topic of conversation. “So, I hear you have a hot date tonight?” he asked on a light teasing tone.
“Date, yes. Hot? I doubt it. Not at my age,” Rudy scoffed Oscar’s insinuation of a night of passion with his ladylove. FBI forensic pathologist Dr. Monica Cranberry.
“Ah come on Rudy, your motor may be a little rusty but I’m sure you still have a few more mileage in you,” Oscar hinted with a wink as he stood from his desk to put on is jacket.
“Oscar, I’m shocked. I never thought I would ever hear you talk like that.”
“You never had a steady girl before either.” Then Oscar repented. “Sorry. Guess it’s my encounter with the Grinch that screwed me up. I’m actually making jokes. Odd, isn’t it?
“Yes indeed, you definitely need a vacation,” Rudy signed before turning to cross to the door. “I’d appreciate if you would call to let me know how Steve’s parents are holding up?”
“Will do.” Oscar joined Rudy at the door and both walked out.
No sooner had Oscar’s taxi drove up the driveway that Helen and Jim were hurrying to meet him. Barely had Oscar stepped out of the car that an emotional grieving mother threw herself into his arms.
“Helen, how are you?”
She pulled back from the clench to shake her head; the tears in her eyes telling the entire story. He looked up at Jim and shook his hand. “Jim?”
“Oscar. Thank you for coming. It means a great deal to us.”
“I was surprised to say the least that you would want me here especially on this fateful day. After all I’m the one who sent Steve on this assignment.”
“It wasn’t your fault. You hadn’t planned what happened, did you?” Jim asked somewhat rhetorically, knowing Oscar would never have willingly sent Steve on a suicide mission.
“Of course not. Still…”
“None of that guilty trip, Oscar,” Helen piped up, draping her arm around his waist to lead him to the front door. “Come into the house and I’ll show you to your room.”
Jim paid the cab driver and followed the twosome with Oscar’s suitcases. His wife was putting up a good front for their guest, and he knew it was just a matter of time before the wall erected around her overwhelming emotions were would come tumbling down.
Back in Washington, Rudy escorted his ladylove to the best table in the house. The Maitre D’ seated them and lit up the two candles to set the mood already enhanced by the subdued lighting in the intimate booth that Rudy had specifically asked for. Tonight was the night he would propose to Monica and for that occasion the surrounding had to be just right.
Champagne arrived shortly after. Both clung glasses and toasted to their good fortune. Neither wanted to reminisce on their first date that was made possible through the intervention of a cupid that has been sorely missed for the past year. Many believed Steve to be dead but Oscar refused to acknowledge his passing, listing him as ‘missing in action’ instead.
After taking a sip of champagne, he placed his glass on the table and reached out his hand to take hers. Rubbing his thumb softly over her knuckles he briefly lowered his eyes to muster up the courage to recite the speech he’d learned by rote. “Monica, I think you now how I feel about you?”
She leaned in closer to him and smiled responsively. “I know. You don’t have to say it. You tell me in you loving gazes, your touches, your kisses.”
Rudy gazed tenderly into her eyes, still mesmerized by those fetching twinkling blues in which he often found himself drowning. They were breath-taking. It was then and now that he felt confident enough to reach into his pocket to take out a small velvet box. “Monica, will you do me the honor of…”
“Dr. Wells?” the waiter interrupted, causing Rudy’s blood to boil over. “I’m sorry to disturb you but you’re wanted on the phone. Apparently it’s urgent.”
Rudy glanced at Monica with a suspicious frown. “Who knows I’m here? I didn’t tell anyone the name of the restaurant.”
Monica shrugged. “The government has ways to track you down when there’s an emergency.”
“I hope it’s a darn good emergency,” Rudy groused, tossing his napkin onto the table. “Lead the way,” he said to the waiter who led him to the courtesy phone. “This is Rudy Wells,” he spoke crushingly.
“Dr. Wells, this is Linda.”
“Linda?” he exclaimed in surprise at his secretary’s voice. “How did you find me?”
“You mentioned you were going to the restaurant with Monica, so I called every one I could think of that were your favourites. Dr. Wells, there’s been an accident.”
“Accident?” Rudy stood to attention at the news. “Who?”
“The new NASA recruit, Kevin Finch. His plane crashed. Doctor...he’s in a very bad way. They need you at the Medical Center right away.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He hung up the phone and took a few seconds to collect his thoughts before returning to his table.
“Rudy, something wrong?” Monica queried worriedly, disturbed by the troubled look etched on Rudy’s face.
“I’m wanted at the hospital. Something about a pilot crashing his plane.”
“Oh dear God! Let’s go.” Monica quickly stood from the table, grabbed her purse and draped her arm around Rudy’s as they hurried to the exit.
“I won’t be needing the table tonight,” Rudy informed the Maitre D’ on his way out. “You put the champagne on my bill.”
“Certainly Dr. Wells.”
Rudy and Monica drove in record time to the Medical Centre where a figure from the doctor’s past emerged from the dying patient’s trauma room.
“I don’t believe it!” Rudy exclaimed in bewilderment at the man standing before him. “Spencer, what are you doing here?”
“Dr. Wells, I expected a little more enthusiasm from you,” Spencer replied icily with a baleful expression. “I was appointed the head of the NSB in replacement of Mister Hanson.”
“Why of course. They know I’m the best qualified candidate for the position.”
“Who did you have to bride to get there, Spencer?” Rudy asked, his voice dripping with cynicism.
“I will ignore your snide remark doctor for the sake of the young dying man in there. He needs you to rebuild him.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Miss, would you be so kind to leave me and the good doctor alone to discuss the matter in private?” Spencer requested on an imperious tone that translated into an order.
Monica leaned in to give Rudy a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll be in the waiting room.”
Rudy simply nodded without unfastening his scrutinizing stare from Spencer. Soon as he felt Monica was out of earshot, he lashed out at Spencer, “If you think I’m going to make this man bionic you’re dead wrong.”
“Dr. Wells I don’t think you grasp the reality of the situation. I now am your superior. What I say goes. You have no saying in the matter,” he enlightened with a touch of sarcasm that raised Rudy’s hackles. “With Austin dead and Hiller failing half of the assignments, we need a new cyborg on the field.”
“You are a cold calculated murderer, Spencer.”
“A murderer kills people: I save them by making them superior beings.”
“You’re using them for your own gain. Turning them into robots and exploiting them to fulfill your needs with no regards as to their emotional health. I call that murder in my book.”
“We are wasting time here Doctor,” Spencer said with an edge of annoyance about his voice. “Go and see your patient. Assess his condition then do what you have to do to keep him alive for now until we can arrange for the electronic parts to be delivered. I will be waiting in your office.” Before Rudy could retort, Spencer limped away with the aid of his cane.
Rudy drew in several deep breaths to quell the rising bile within. Spencer had succeeded once again in ruffling his feathers. He struggled to suppress the fury threatening to overtake him as he stepped inside the trauma room where doctors were scrambling to save the patient.
“What have we got?” Rudy asked the attending doctor as he slipped on his surgical glove. As he neared the patient he winced at the ghoulish sight before him. “Scratch that question.”
“We’ve tried everything humanly possible to keep him alive, but...”
“I know,” Rudy smiled sympathetically. “I was ordered to keep him alive at all cost.”
“On whose authority?”
“Let’s just say he’s a high-ranking government official.”
“Might have known,” the young doctor scorned.
“Has his next of kin been notified?” he asked while checking the patient’s corneal reflexes.
“Yes. His mother’s on her way. She’s flying out of Houston. Should be here in a couple of hours.” When no acknowledgement came, the doctor glanced at Rudy he noticed was visibly deep in thoughts. He cocked his head to read the quizzical expression. “Something wrong, Dr. Wells?”
“There’s something familiar about this young man,” he observed as he studied the facial features. “Too familiar. What’s his name again?”
“Kevin Finch. Lieutenant Kevin Finch. A test pilot for NASA.”
‘I thought so,” Rudy mumbled to himself.
“What was that doctor?”
“Never mind. I was just thinking out loud.” The mere mention of test pilot for NASA triggered a flood of emotions within Rudy. He figured he had unconsciously painted Steve’s face onto that young man. ‘Déjà vu,’ he thought.
Surgery lasted until the early morning hours. Rudy exited the OR completely drained, both physically and emotionally. The kid had suffered two cardiac arrests during the course of surgery and both times the good doctor had been tempted to let God claim his soul, but the vision of Steve kept goading him to keep the young man alive. Conversely his conscience was pricking him to do the honourable thing and allow him to die with dignity, recalling what Steve had to go through after his transformation. Emotions were in the midst of a tug-of-war with no sign of a side conceding defeat soon.
He shuffled his way to the ICU Nurses’ station to give them instructions on how to care for the critical patient.
“Dr. Wells,” one nurse called out from the back, “Kevin’s mother is in the waiting room. She arrived about an hour ago.”
“Thank you.” He rubbed his eyes from the overwhelming sleep threatening to engulf him at any minute and drew in a few lungful of air to clear the cobwebs before making his way to the distraught woman sitting on the sofa. “Mrs. Finch?”
Her head jerked up at the calling of her name. She leapt to her feet and stepped up to Rudy. “Dr. Wells?” he nodded. “How’s my son?”
“Sit down, Mrs. Finch.” Once she did as asked, he perched himself on the arm of the couch and spoke solemnly,” Your son is critical, but fortunately we’ve been able to stabilize his condition. We put him on electro-sleep, that’s an artificial coma to allow his body to heal faster.”
“I was told he lost an arm?” she choked, staring into Rudy’s eyes where she hoped to read a different version.
“We had to amputate the other.”
“Oh my God!” She gasped in horror, slapping both hands on her mouth. His legs were badly crushed and…”
“Oh no! Not the legs too?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Mrs. Finch, did your son have a living will?”
“A documents stipulating his last wish in the event of a tragic accident.”
“You mean if he wanted to live this way?” Rudy nodded. “He never spoke to me about it, but I know my son wouldn’t want to live as a cripple.”
“We can discuss about artificial prosthetics for him later but right now I need to know if he has a father or brother.”
“Just in case we might need to do a blood transfusion. At the moment were giving him units of blood in our bank, but I’d feel better if we could have blood from a next of kin.
“We may have to, but only after a thorough examination to ensure you health permits it.”
“He had a father. He was killed during the war. His name was Captain Carl Austin.”
Rudy’s eyes bulged out of their sockets at the revelation. “Did you say Captain Carl Austin?”
“Yes. He was a pilot during the war.”
“Were you married to him?”
“Why? Does it matter?” she snapped bitterly.
“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to pry. It’s just that I knew a Carl Austin.”
“I had a fling with him while he was briefly stationed in Britain. I thought he genuinely loved me and that we would live happily ever after but it didn’t happen. One day he told me he had a wife and son waiting for him back in the states and that he couldn’t leave them. I understood and we parted ways. Later I found out I was carrying his child.”
“And you never tried to get in touch with him to let him know?”
“I loved him,” she quavered with tear-glistened eyes. “I had no intention to break up his marriage. I raised Kevin on my own and gave him my name.” She looked up at Rudy whose face registered sheer horror. “Dr. Wells, what is it?”
“You do know your son has a half brother.”
“Carl told me his wife was expecting but I have no idea who he might be.”
“Colonel Steve Austin.”
“The famous astronaut?” she exclaimed in surprise. “Gosh I…I never made the connection before. I assumed there were a lot of men named Austin.”
“Steve Austin’s father was Captain Carl Austin.”
“Where is he?”
“We think he was killed while he was abroad.”
“Then my son has no chance,” she said grimly, her shoulders sagging onto the floor.
“Doctor, I don’t want my Kevin to live like this, but if you think that you can make him whole again, then do it. He’s a fighter who has a passion for life. If his brain is intact then he’ll want to live.”
Rudy clasped her hands in his and nodded his agreement. “We’ll do anything in our power Mrs. Finch. I’ll make arrangement for you to stay at an hotel nearby so you can be near your son.”
“I’ll greatly appreciate it, doctor. And please, can I ask you not to speak of my son’s identity, especially to Steve’s mother? This would tear her apart and I don’t want to add to her grief.”
“I can guarantee anything but I’ll do my best not to let word get out.”
Rudy released her dainty hand and stood. Laying a hand on her shoulder, he left her with a reassuring smile.
It was early morning in Ojai when Oscar came down to the kitchen in his bathrobe. Helen was already at the stove preparing breakfast while Jim was out feeding the animals.
“What would you want for breakfast, Oscar,” Helen asked as she handed him a glass of orange juice.
“What you’re making is fine. It’s smells awfully good.”
“It’ll be ready in a just moment. In the meantime why don’t you make yourself comfortable in the living room.”
“I will. Where’s Jim?”
“He’s out feeding the animals. He’ll be back shortly.”
Oscar ambled to the sitting area while casually sipping his orange juice. He glanced down at the TV broadcast a documentary on Monks in Tibet. For some reason he became fascinated by the images and without unfastening his eyes from the screen he turned on the volume and sat across from the set. An idea sprung into mind at the sight of that colony of Masters. As he stood to get to a phone, it rang. Helen was quick to pick it up.
“Sure he’s here, hold on,” she put her hand over the mouthpiece and hailed Oscar over. “It’s Rudy.”
“Mind if I take it upstairs in my room?”
“Not at all.” She watched Oscar strode up the stairs and waited for him to pick up the extension before hanging up the phone.
“Rudy? What a coincidence.” He sat on the edge of the bed. “I was just about to call you. I think I know where Steve might be?”
“Do you remember the experience he described while stranded in the Andes Mountains?”
“Well it came to me just now while watching a documentary on Monks. What if he’s with the guy Raj…Rak…”
“Yeah. I know it sounds far-fetched but Rudy I’ve tried everywhere I could think of.”
“Two agents swore they saw him get riddled with bullets and then plunged some two hundred feet to his death.”
“But they never found the body.”
“I know but it’s impossible for someone, even for Steve, to survive such a fall, particularly with five bullets in him.”
“Rudy it’s worth the shot. And don’t tell me I’m insane for doing this.”
“Okay I won’t say it, but you are insane for doing this,” Rudy mocked good-naturedly. “In fact I wish you could find him alive because I really need him right now.”
“Why? What’s the matter?”
“A young test pilot from NASA was brought to the National Medical Center in late evening. When I spoke to his mother she told me his father was Carl Austin.”
Oscar bolted upright at the news. “WHAT?”
“And that’s not the best part. Brace yourself for this. The new head of NSB is none other than Oliver Spencer.”
“Are you pulling my leg?”
“And this pilot? He lost both arms and legs and Spencer just ordered me to fit him with bionic prosthetics.”
Oscar’s blood began to simmer; his face turning red beet and his teeth set in suppressed fury. “You sit tight. I’m hopping on the first available plane to DC.” Oscar didn’t bother waiting for Rudy’s answer that he smacked the receiver down in its cradle and rushed to the closet to take his suitcases. He tossed them onto the bed and began clearing the drawers of his clothes.
Rudy walked back to Kevin’s room but his steps faltered as he neared the door where Spencer was standing, scanning the room suspiciously.
“Spencer, you’re still here?” Rudy quipped.
“Who’s that woman with Finch?” Spencer queried on a sharp accusatory tone.
“She’s Kevin’s mother.”
“Who notified her?”
“I expect the desk did. She has a right to know her son is dying.”
“Doctor Wells, this is a matter of national security and that implies that no civilian should be privy to our experiments.”
“Including his own mother?” Rudy retorted in contempt.
“Especially his mother. We cannot tolerate a grieving kin interfering with the surgery or altogether impede the process.”
Rudy shook his head in bewilderment, unable to grasp at life’s purpose for such a cruel human being. “In the beginning I was a gullible scientist who allowed you to trample all over him, but not this time, mister.” Rudy took one brisk stride up to Spencer and stared him in the eyes. “You may have withheld Steve Austin’s condition from his mother but let me assure you that I will NOT allow you to do the same to Lieutenant Finch. His mother already knows about the prosthetics.”
“WHAT?” Spencer spat with indignation.
“I told her myself,” Rudy replied with poise, undeterred by Spencer’s outburst.
“I will have your job for this,” Spencer warned.
“Good! You can have my resignation right now.” He waited for Spencer to regain his composure before adding sarcastically. “The ball’s in my court, Spencer. You wish me to perform this operation? Then you’ll have to abide by rules,” he ended on a biting tone, leaving no room for arguments.
“Do I have a choice?”
“No.” On this sour note, Rudy brushed past the fuming man to enter Kevin’s room.
Oscar grabbed both suitcases and climbed downstairs to bid farewell to his gracious hosts before heading to his car with Helen and Jim in tow.
“I wish you could stay longer, Oscar,” Helen lamented, her eyes hinting Jim to support her plea.
“I wish I could but something came up in Washington that requires my immediate assistance.” He loaded the suitcases into the trunk, snapped it close, then turned to Helen to clench her in a warm hug. “I promise to give you a call as soon as the dust settles over there. I intend to show Jim my fisherman skills.” He pulled back and kissed Helen on the cheek. “Good bye Lovely Lady. Chin up!” He waited to acknowledge her nod and strained smile before turning to Jim to shake his hand.
“We’ll be waiting for your call.”
The Elgins watched Oscar’s car drive away. Helen leaned her head against her husband’s shoulder, her once melancholic expression suddenly washed by a frightening portent. “Why do I feel like we’ll never see him again?”
“Why do you think that?”
She shrugged as the answer to the question eluded her. “I don’t know. Just a feeling.”
“Men like Oscar Goldman never die. They sent people in their place to do their dirty jobs,” Jim blurted out on a rather scathing tone.
Helen’s head jerked up at the sharp inflection of her husband’s voice. “Why Jim! You sound resentful.”
“I’m sorry, Helen,” he sighed in repentance. “I don’t want to be but I can’t get past the fact that it was Oscar who sent our son on this dangerous assignment.”
“Oscar wouldn’t have intentionally sent Steve on a suicide mission you know that?”
“Wouldn’t he? I mean if some high-ranking official had twisted his arm? Would he have yielded?”
Helen looked downcast as she considered her husband’s observation about Steve’s best friend. “I don’t believe Oscar is capable of it. He wouldn’t have hesitated in tendering his resignation rather than risk Steve’s life.”
“Maybe you’re right, I don’t know. I guess I’m still a bit bitter. I need to vent my hostility at someone.” He chuckled inwardly and winked at his wife as he wrapped his arm around her waist.
Following a bumpy flight that landed thirty minutes late at Dulles Airport, a riled Oscar put the pedal to the metal in direction of the Medical Centre. He arrived in time to witness a fiery altercation between Rudy and Spencer.
“Did I arrive at a bad time, gentleman?” Oscar interrupted mockingly.
“Goldman, about time you got here!” Spencer lashed out, waving his cane wildly about. “My office has been trying to contact you. Where were you?”
“I was with friends, not that I’d expect you to know the meaning of the word.”
“You two are alike, but know that your sarcasms wash right off. You may have appropriate yourself my title at the former OSO but now we’ve come to a complete turnaround. I am now your superior and you will comply with my orders.”
“Does he know about Finch?” Oscar asked Rudy, ignoring Spencer’s idle threat.
“You mean?” Oscar nodded. “No.”
“What’s that, doctor?”
“Something between Oscar and me. It doesn’t concern you.”
“When it deals with Finch it DOES concern me,” he insisted with a grating arrogance.
“When are you going into surgery?”
“Not for another week that’s for certain. We need him to regain some strength otherwise he won’t survive the procedure.”
“Then that gives me time to locate him.”
“What are you two gabbling about?” an exasperated Spencer piped in. “I would appreciate your letting me in on your topic of conversation.”
“Can you handle him by yourself?” Oscar asked Rudy, alluding to Spencer whom he continued to ignore.
“Yes I can. I’ve had practice,” Rudy assured with a wink. “Oscar, I still think you’re going on a wild goose chase but for what it’s worth,” Rudy placed his hand on Oscar’s shoulder, “good luck.”
Less than forty-eight hours later Oscar finally made it to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet in late morning. After settling in his hotel room he got on the phone to several of his close connections for tips on how to locate Rajin.
When his efforts came to a naught he decided to take a break and poured himself a drink from the minibar. Twirling the glass between his fingers he stared absentmindedly at the amber liquid that somehow exerted a powerful hypnotic effect on him. As he raised the glass to his lips, there was a knock at the door.
“Who is it?”
The voice inflection instantly sent Oscar’s senses reeling. He drew in a few cleansing breaths to calm his anxiety before making his way to the door.
“Hi,” spoke the sheepish voice,
“Hi,” Oscar answered with a light quaver. “Come on in.” He opened the door wider and bade his visitor enter.
“How did you find me?” Steve asked composedly as he casually browsed through the room.
“I combed the entire globe looking for you. Then it came to me while I was watching a documentary on Monks in Tibet. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. What about you? How did you know I was here?”
“I sensed you were near.”
“You sensed? Then you are with them.”
“That’s right. They saved my life.”
“But why?” Oscar asked, switching from monotone to vehemence. “Is it something we said? Something we did that drove you to forsake all of us, including your parents? What do they have to offer than we can’t?”
“Freedom, Oscar.” Steve spoke earnestly. Then turning to Oscar, he accented the word, “Freedom. I’m learning so much. I’ve grown spiritually in the year I’ve been with them. I’m still an apprentice but I like the serenity it brings me.”
“Why you insensitive bastard,” Oscar lashed out, taking Steve completely aback. “You couldn’t just let us know you were alive? Do you have any idea the hurt and grief you put us through? Your parents are inconsolable. Your mother cries all the time. And I’ve been raking the globe the past year trying to find you.”
“Why bother Oscar? You knew I was dead. Why couldn’t just leave it at that?”
“Because of the absence of a mutilated body at the end of that ravine in which you supposedly had fallen into with five bullets in you.” Oscar raved, his teeth set in suppressed fury. “What did they do to you?”
“They opened my eyes, Oscar.”
“No, rather they closed them.”
Shame-faced, Steve hung his head and turned to the window. The silence that fell between them was a sign that neither one was ready to concede.
“Okay, I will go back without you if that’s what you want. I’ll tell your brother you don’t want to meet him because you hate it so much out there.”
Steve’s head slowly tilted up at the news. He turned to Oscar with a quizzical expression. “Brother?”
“Yeah. He’s a test pilot for NASA. He’s in a critical condition following a plane crash. Your old friend Oliver Spencer who’s the new head of the NSB has ordered…no threatened… Rudy to transform him into a cyborg.”
“That’s a cruel ploy to get me back,” Steve scowled, his baby blues turning into daggers.
“It’s no joke, PAL!” Oscar spat, putting a sarcastic emphasis on the affectionate word. He grabbed the phone and presented the receiver to Steve. “Here, you can call Rudy to validate.”
“Sure. You’re in this together,” Steve scoffed, though a doubt lingered about the veracity of Oscar’s statement.
Aggravated by his friend’s belligerence, Oscar smacked the receiver down in its cradle and marched up to the door to yank it open. “Go on. Get out of here! I don’t ever want to see you again. As far as I’m concerned, YOU’RE DEAD!” Oscar snarled with a scornful curl of the lip, his nostrils flaring and veins in his neck standing out in livid ridges. He struggled to suppress the overwhelming emotions threatening to wash over him and open the dam of tears he’d been holding since Steve’s arrival.
Steve inhaled a deep shuddering breath and peacefully made his way out the door. He stopped and, without so much of a glance back at Oscar, sighed, “You’ll understand.”
“No I won’t. EVER!” on that bitter note, Oscar slammed the door on Steve’s back.
Inside the room, Oscar leaned against the door and let the torrent of tears spurt out. “Damn him!” he cursed.
Rudy sat in his office in utter prostration. Memories of Steve’s accident were whirling in his mind; taunting him, eating away at his soul. What was he to do? Quitting was not an option for Spencer would find a way to drag him back by hook or by crook. He was trapped in a passage in time that he as impelled to relive.
A knock at the door interrupted his train of thoughts. “Come in!”
An entrancingly beautiful sight appeared at the door. He forced a smile at his fiancée coming to offer some needed companionship and sympathy. “Rudy, you have to let go.”
“I can’t Monica. This is too overpowering to simply sweep under the carpet. I’m reliving a nightmare. What’s worse is I can’t merely blink open my eyes and wish it away.”
She perched herself on the arm on his chair and rubbed a gentle hand against his back. “I’m going to have to do what Spencer wants.”
“Perhaps it’s for the best.”
“You really think so?” Rudy queried incredulously.
“Maybe your trouble is that you keep seeing Steve in that man. You remember how arduous a road it was for him to find stability of mind. I can understand your refusing to walk down that path again but if it hadn’t meant to be, that young man would have died in that crash.”
Rudy fashioned an obliging smile and shook his head in resignation at the wisdom of Monica’s speech. He gazed tenderly into her twinkling blue eyes and sighed, “Where were you all my life?”
“Just waiting for the right time.” She leaned forward to brush a light kiss on his lips. His hands went up her hips to pull her to his lap where he deepened the kiss. A knock at the door quickly pried their lips apart. Monica leapt off her fiancé’s lap to straighten her blouse and smack her lipstick back into place.
“Come in,” Rudy croaked, winking at Monica who blushed.
“Rudy, I…,” Oscar cut in mid sentence at the sight of Monica standing in a corner. “I didn’t know you had company. I can come back later if I’m interrupting anything?” Oscar said, ending on a teasing tone that both Monica and Rudy picked up on.
“It’s okay, Oscar,” Monica assured, walking up to him and placing a friendly hand on his arm. “I was just leaving.” She brushed a light kiss on his cheek and whispered in his ear. “Go easy on him.” Oscar gave a light nod of the head and left her with a knowing smile.
Rudy stood from his chair and met Oscar halfway. “Did you find him?” he asked expectantly.
Oscar bit his upper lip and shook his head ruefully. “That was my last hope. He’s dead, Rudy. No sense dwelling on it anymore. Life must go on,” Oscar spoke resolutely, though his eyes belied his true emotions.
“You don’t believe that.” Rudy said, having deciphered the real meaning behind those lying eyes.
“I have to. I can’t go on searching for a man who doesn’t…” Oscar choked on his statement realizing he was blurting out his secret meeting with Steve. He then rephrased the thought, “a man who is long dead and buried.”
“There something you’re not telling me, Oscar. What is it?” Rudy sounded concerned and somewhat irritated by Oscar’s evasiveness.
“I told you, I didn’t find him.” Rudy cocked his head and squinted his eyes in suspicion. “Rudy, weren’t you the one who kept telling me to let Steve rest in peace? I’m finally heeding your advice. You should be happy, not suspicious.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry. It’s just that a part of me was hoping you could find him, alive. I could have really needed his input right about now.”
“Spencer’s on your case again?”
“He’s already set up the lab for me to begin the work. Finch is still critical but holding his own. His mother’s been at his bedside round the clock.”
“Does anyone else know about Finch’s identity, other than you and me?”
“Let’s keep it that way.”
“Oscar, it’s bound to leak out.”
“It hasn’t before. I don’t see why it should now.”
“Alright, we’ll do as you asked,” Rudy conceded, though not convinced this was a sound judgment. “I wish Steve were here.”
“I would love to see him hurl Spencer out the window,” Rudy chuckled, straining a smile at Oscar who reciprocated with a wistful expression. “I’ll be in Finch’s room if you need me.”
With a doleful mask painted on his face, Oscar watched his friend plod his way out the door. Once Rudy out of earshot, Oscar’s eyes turned to daggers and he snarled, “Damn you Steve!”