Tonight we would host our mid-term party, and the crisp, Midwestern, October evening fit hand-in-glove with our plans. A light snow had begun to fall, providing the perfect covering for our activities. This was our sixth bash, well seventh, if you count the last minute get-together our freshman year that turned out to have more uninvited guests than invited ones. At this point in our “career” we – Paul Eastman, George Karwell, and I, John Truman, collectively and colloquially known as the Beatles - had quite the rep for putting together the ultimate celebrations. Anticipated by the entire campus, they highlighted many a college experience. Every year the population grew by adding new, carefully selected, individuals or couples to our list. Even the majority of those who had graduated made special arrangements to return…a family reunion of sorts.
In addition to managing the technology, my primary duty was to name the event. I liked to think that my Latin monikers helped create a sense of mystery and other-worldliness. In reality, I think Paul and George gave me the duty because it’s not that easy to engage a hyper-sensitive introvert in something that involves hundreds of people shedding their inhibitions. It may have been an honorary thing, but as with everything else in life I took it quite seriously.
I smiled as I remembered that even now my inspired title - Carpe Noctis - adorned the forty by seven foot black banner hanging on the outside of our Victorian dwelling. The residence belonged to my uncle. Living in London most of the time, he offered this place to me for my college home. Elite college and elite home made quite the attractive package.
We finished with the final preparations about an hour ago. Looking at the street below I noticed that our “friends” had begun to arrive. I decided to sneak over to the top of the stairs where I could catch a glimpse, without being detected, of our first guests.
Stationed near the front door, Paul stood ready to greet everyone with his trademark isn’t-life-a-blast smile and the offer of a drink. Never let it be said that our hallowed halls were ever graced by a smoother operator than Paul. Even though I had seen him work his magic countless times before, each new performance reminded me of what an amazing artist he was. Seemingly without effort he could make you feel like you were his one and only friend, especially if you happened to be of the female persuasion.
“Hi, Susan. You look wonderful tonight…as usual.” He followed his greeting with a small kiss on her fair-skinned cheek.
“Thank you, Paul,” she replied. Pushing the strawberry-blonde tresses away from her eyes, she moved up on her toes and returned the kiss.
Don’t get me started on Susan - my first friend, my first crush, and the best person I’ve ever known. She may not be perfect, but after years of being around her, I have never found a flaw…at least nothing that would compare with my many shortcomings. My photogenic memory probably paints a more perfect picture of Susan than reality records - intelligent, beautiful, spiritual, down-to-earth, compassionate, funny, and sexy in a way that isn’t contrived or phony. However, I do believe the word “privilege” best describes my time with her. She made everything better…she even made me better.
“How are you?” she asked.
”Isn’t it obvious?” he retorted with a smirk, nodding his curly blonde head.
She studied him as if analyzing an interesting and yet disturbing painting, and then responded, “Yes…I guess it is.”
Other guests drove up and I could tell Paul appreciated the redirection. Susan made her way into the living room. She wore jeans, a yellow tank top, and black flip flops…she looked good. Paul turned around with her coat in hand and headed towards the closet. I overheard him complaining to himself, “Man, that chick is so damn weird. Why the hell does John have to invite her? I think she’s an alien…she gives me the creeps.”
Jerk. Paul can be a real asshole sometimes, but I have learned over the years to take his unedited tirades with a grain of salt. At least he knows how to express himself. How freeing and simple it must be to say what you feel. I feel things strongly; I process them thoroughly. If I have time to organize my thoughts I can communicate them pretty well, but to just come out and say what’s on my mind, much less my heart? My quiver must have been absent the day they passed out that arrow.
Paul recovered his suave and charming demeanor just in time to greet the next arrivals. The stream of partiers now backed up fifteen deep on the sidewalk and overflowed onto Wellington Avenue. Laughter and energy filled the night air as most of the conversations centered on what happened to whom and how it was no surprise considering…
Still upstairs, I strolled across the wooden hallway and around the corner. On this end, the stairway provided an even better voyeuristic experience. I situated myself right above the landing that connected the upper stairs to the lower stairs. From there I could see George, his long black hair rubber-banded into a pony tail as usual. He stood in the center of the game room already surrounded by a handful of people, mostly men.
Among several valuable Indian antiques, the décor included a solid mahogany pool table, three high-end gaming computers, an ornate, antique sofa, shelves filled with books including hundreds with aging bindings, a wall full of TVs all coordinated together to provide one huge picture, and a stocked refrigerator in the guise of an old Coke machine. It was my favorite room.
The group seated on the sofa and overflowing onto the floor hung on each word, entranced by his dark grey eyes. The adventurer began to describe his latest escapade, “There I was in Smith’s Pub, downstairs by the back door in the corner, finishing off a cold pint of Guinness. I was waiting to see if the meet would happen…you know the one between the two guys who had numbers instead of names? And that sexy brunette waitress with the strange piercings and the nice…uh…personality…what’s her name? Right, Genevieve…she comes up and asks me if I want another pint. I answer ‘yes’ even before I have any idea what she asked me. I mean, how could I say anything but ‘yes’ to her?”
George smiled and gazed up toward the ceiling, lost in a delicious daydream. He loved to tell the story. Moments like these overshadowed any risks associated with his spy games - this was the payoff. I think that all of us envied George’s abandonment of safety and his adventurous spirit. I probably experienced more nervousness as he retold his escapades than he did in living through the actual experience. On many occasions I cautioned him and tried to rein him in, and he always responded with a confident “Trust me, Johnny.”
The crowd quickly grew to a dozen or so listeners as he continued. “Somebody should write a song about Genevieve.” Several of the men in the group smiled and nodded emphatically in agreement; one of the guys received a swift slap to the back of the head and a reprimanding look from the brunette sitting next to him.
George smirked. “Anyway, she shows up with my second pint and I’m thinking ‘hey, I don’t remember ordering that.’ And then I see this black guy that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen before. It’s dark in there and he’s wearing a golf cap that shades most of his face.
“So I’m watching him and it seems likes he’s scoping the place out, maybe looking for someone. I remember saying to myself, ‘man, I bet this is one of the guys’ and I’m starting to get excited. Then I see Genevieve walking toward the bar, that perfect little derriere of hers swaying from side to side, and I’m getting even more excited. My thoughts are racing back and forth between, ‘if she comes back to my table it must be a sign that she wants me…needs me’ and ‘that other guy that just came in must be the other half of the meet’ and ‘man, she must be Aphrodite in the flesh’ and ‘life doesn’t get any better than this’ and …”
I retreated to the safety of my room. I would join the party later, but for now I used my latest software project as an excuse to delay the inevitable. Taking a break from my work, I quickly tossed down two Jack-and-Cokes, more Jack than coke, trying to muster up the courage to make my entrance.
The silver plasma TV hanging on the wall caught my attention when the headline running at the bottom of the screen stated, “As we reported last week, the Federal Reserve Board chairman was found dead from a heart attack in his D.C. condominium. The President, with the consent of Congress, has moved swiftly to appoint and announce his relatively unknown replacement, Jack Timothy. The President pointed out that Mr. Timothy’s experience, Federal Reserve Board of Governors for the last twelve years, along with his impressive Oxford background were primary factors in coming to his decision. Mr. Timothy’s comments were brief, stating simply, ‘Our world is on the brink of an economic new dawn. I look forward to my role as chairman. I want to say thank you to the President for the confidence he has placed in me...’”
If I timed it just right, a few drinks interspersed with a toke here and there could drown out my inhibitions as well as stave off the nagging daymares that forced their way into my mind. Unfortunately, in all the nervous anticipation I had missed that tiny window of opportunity. Sitting there with drink number two in hand, I could sense my thoughts scrambling…deteriorating. Oh shit. I hate this. My mental grip slipped as I once again lost the struggle to resist the latest onset of the recurring vision:
Four men, one whom I thought I should know but couldn’t remember, gathered around a small table in a dark corner of a small room. Their voices soft, almost hypnotic, spoke Latin with English or possibly Scottish accents. They discussed economic systems, political structures, social causes, theological constructs, and people groups as if they were simply pawns on a chess board. At some point in the complex, and occasionally inaudible, conversation the words Necessitas non habet legem would rise above the others, triggering a morbid and sickening reaction in me – I wanted to throw up. I would try to look away, but the more I resisted, the stronger those words held me in their grasp and the further into the room they drew me. Finally, they would look up at me, vacant, zombie-like expressions in their eyes, point to the empty chair, and say, ‘Welcome.’”
The vision ended and, as usual, my transition to unpleasant physical manifestations began. First the cold sweats followed almost immediately by piercing pain that seemed to dance around in my skull – base of my cranium, behind my eyes, top of my head, nasal cavity, inside my ears, and then start all over again. Like every other time, the experience culminated in a single drop of dark red blood falling from my nose.
Man, this really sucks.
Ten minutes later the physical manifestations completely subsided. These episodes started when I reached puberty. After an embarrassing eighth grade incident involving my presentation on the roots of Latin and the drop of blood spilling onto the white, tile floor, I learned to detect the early symptoms and avoid further public humiliation.
A few minutes more and the joint began to have the promised effect. A nice relaxing buzz filled my head as I made my way back across the hallway and positioned myself, once again, at the top of the stairs overlooking the front room.
The party proceeded according to script. Everything necessary for the perfect evening planned and in place - cool people, cool band, cool drugs, all gathered together in a cool place…I was even beginning to feel cool…sort of.
I can do this. I inhaled a slow, deep breath, and exhaled with force and a new determination to join the fun. I had won the battle and I willed my right foot, attired in blue Converse, to take the first step – shaky, but so far, so good. Now, the left one, the right one, the left one…oh shit, I need to sit down.
It seems like I’ve spent half my life waiting for him. When we first met, back in the ninth grade, I just finished up another session with my advisor, Mrs. Gardner. She was a nice lady and sort of sexy in a teacher kind of way. I liked her, but I think she expected more out of me than I could give. She would say stuff like, “Mr. Eastman, if you would just put your mind to it” or “Paul, there’s more to life than girls” or “Mr. Eastman, it’s okay to apply yourself” or “Paul, I believe in you”…
After a couple of years of this, one day she called me into her office. I didn’t think much of it until she went on and on about how she’d tried everything and how I didn’t care. She looked really tired. When she said the words “lack of academic productivity”, she began to cry.
The next thing I knew I blabbered something about wanting to do better and needing some help. Those must have been the magic words, because she acted like she just received an I.V. of Red Bull. Before I knew what hit me, she said she had someone she wanted me to meet…thought we might be good for each other.
A few minutes later she came back in her office, smiling from ear-to-ear, telling me it would be a couple of minutes before my tutor arrives. At that point, I didn’t care what or who or anything. I was just glad to see Mrs. Gardner happy with my situation, for once. I like it when people are happy.
So we waited…and we waited…and she went on and on about how “wonderful” this new arrangement would be. Another fifteen minutes, filled with subtle glances toward the door, passed by. Finally, she got up and told me that she’d be right back. I didn’t mind waiting, especially when the alternative was being in class. I called a few girls, and then I overheard Mrs. Gardner talking to somebody in the next room.
“Come on John,” she coaxed. “It’s okay. Just give it a try. All I’m asking is two weeks.”
He stuck his head just around the doorway and peeked in at me. He didn’t look familiar – intense brown eyes, straggly brown hair, slim, average height, hands sunk deep into his pockets. He looked pretty wound up, so I smiled, and he seemed to relax a bit.
Mrs. Gardner made the introductions: “John, this is Paul Eastman. Paul, this is John Truman.” I stood up and extended my hand. He looked at it, hesitated, and then shook mine. Sweaty…nice touch, Johnny.
“You gentlemen already have four classes together, so that should make this arrangement easier.” Hell, I can’t remember everybody.
And the rest is history: his brains combined with my personality and looks…another unbeatable combo - Batman and Robin, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Hope and Crosby, the Green Hornet and Kato, Guinness and happy, John and Paul. I really don’t think I would have survived high school without him, and vice-versa. Someday I should thank Mrs. Gardner…
Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty used to John’s quirks, like showing up late to anything involving other people. I try to cut him some slack, because I know social stuff seriously freaks him out…especially parties like this one. He’s always had some good excuse, usually about working on something important or not feeling well. But there is such a thing as party momentum, and with or without John, the party must go on.
Maybe if we just start playing, he’ll show up.
I looked over at the band – bassist, drummer, keyboardist and saxophonist all in place. Just behind me stood three lovely ladies looking like a cross between the Supremes and the backup singers for Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” video. Man, they look fine.
Picking up my guitar, I sat down and tuned it for a couple of minutes. I looked back at the band.
“You guys ready?”
Nods all around. I glanced over at the stairs, shook my head, and then stood up.
“Let’s do it.”
Grabbing the mic, I tapped it a couple of times to get everyone’s attention.
“Welcome to…Carpe Noctis!”
The crowd cheered in response.
“A one, two, a one, two, three, four.”
“Doot, du doot, doot, doot du doot, doot, du doot…”
The girls sound great tonight. Our rendition of “Walk on the Wild Side” always went over big. We opened up every party with it. John liked it.
I loved this part: just a minute ago, everybody was doing their own thing, hanging with their friends, drinking, laughing, all in their own little worlds…and then the music started. The conversations stopped, everyone turned my way, and the dancing began. The next thing you know, we were all on the same page, doing the same thing…together. For some reason, it reminded of that scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where Jimmy Stewart asks god to let him live and he suddenly realizes how special life is in boring old Bedford Falls.
We usually stretched this song out pretty long, and tonight it seemed like everybody wanted it to go on and on. So, we did. Six or seven minutes had gone by, and still no John. Come on dude, you can do it. Take a walk on the wild side.
Several minutes later and we’re still playing the same song. Dammit, John! Get down here!
Through the smoky haze, I scanned the audience. They seemed to still be enjoying our extended version - joining in with the backup singers and getting louder each time around…everyone, but Susan. Our eyes met and we exchanged a brief knowing smile. She pointed up. I nodded.
Maybe she could get him down here – Martian to Martian.
She headed out of the living room toward the stairs. Nice ass.
“Doot, du doot, doot, doot du doot, doot, du doot…”
”Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention. We will only detain you for a moment. We are looking for George Karwell. If you will be so kind as to bring him to us, your pretty friend may survive the day.”
He had the look of a seasoned military officer – tall, erect posture, and solid build. His words had been carefully chosen, producing the desired effect. His deep-set, dark eyes expressed the non-negotiable nature of his mission. It seemed clear that he would take every necessary step to complete his task with dispatch. The stunned and bewildered partiers cowered against the walls as he held Susan tightly and kissed her on the cheek. She looked up at the ceiling, her lips moving in silent prayer.
I wanted to jump down there and rescue her. I forced myself to stand; my legs felt like rubber.
Looking back at the silent crowd, he yelled with a slight pause in between each word, “I want him now!”
George was still in the game room at the back of the house, furthest away from the living room windows. I knew he had to have heard the demand, and so I assumed he was weighing his options, maybe even the fleeting thought of sacrificing Susan and making his getaway. If George was anything, he was a survivor. Dammit George; get out there!
I had to do something. My heart beat so strong and fast that I was worried that the men downstairs would hear it…breathing too rapid…stomach queasy…knees starting to buckle. I reached out and grabbed the rail. Get a grip, John!
With knees shaking, I turned around and made my way back toward my room.
“Oh shit,” I muttered under my breath. I stood still, hoping that nobody had noticed. I waited about fifteen seconds and then continued on my way.
Entering my room I reached for the phone to call the police; it slipped out of my sweaty palms. Wiping them on my jeans, I picked up the phone and pressed 911; no dial tone. I fumbled through my desk and found my cell phone. I opened it up; signal strength registered nothing. I briefly reprimanded myself for not following through on my decision last month to install a satellite connection for my Internet work. Probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Kneeling down on the floor, I slowly crawled over to the windows and peered out: several men in dark clothing, roaming the yard with some type of weapons in their hands. They looked well-prepared and well-organized.
“Damn,” I whispered. I decided my best option was to make my way back to where I could track the events as they unfolded downstairs.
Less than a minute later, George made his way forward to the front of the crowd. He looked like he was trying to suppress the urge to throw up the two burritos he wolfed down an hour earlier.
“I…I am George Karwell,” he stuttered with right hand raised.
Fear emanated through his widened grey eyes and sweat dripped from under his arms, showing through his blue t-shirt. I had never seen George frightened before. The leader snickered quietly as George made his way through the crowd. Then like an owner reprimanding a wayward dog, he snarled, “Come here, Georgie!”
George obeyed. Like they had done it a thousand times before, the two other men grabbed George, put his hands behind his back, and cuffed him. A few seconds later they placed tape over his mouth, cotton in his ears, and a heavy wool black ski hood over his head, blocking off all his senses. The leader whispered something in Susan’s ear, kissed her once more on the cheek, and then released her.
Within moments they had exited the house and taken George with them. The only traces of the invasion were the bullet holes in the ceiling, the broken window glass, and the shock on the tear-stained faces of those who remained.
I was the only one who didn’t experience the full brunt of the assault. In shock but yet functional, I quickly formulated a course of action. As soon as the men in the yard disappeared I came bounding down the oak stairs three-at-a-time yelling, “Dammit, Paul! Move! Go next door and call the police! Wait! Hide the drugs first, then call the police!”
Paul broke out of his frozen fear and began to move toward the paraphernalia in the living room. I surveyed the damaged area in search of Susan. She had not moved an inch from the spot where George’s captors left her. I walked with long, quick strides across the room. Taking her by the hand I led her to the Victorian loveseat where I helped her sit down.
“Susan? Susan, are you all right? Are you hurt? Is there anything I can do for you?”
Like someone prematurely awakened in a strange hotel room, she seemed confused about her surroundings. Slowly she turned her head in the direction of my voice. Looking at me she began to smile and say something, but before the words came out, she began to cry. She laid her head on my shoulder and I breathed in her perfume. It reminded me of the sweet, clean aroma of orange blossoms; that steadied me…a little.
I placed my arm around her. “It’ll be okay. Suze, everything will be okay. I promise.” Not! I tried to comfort her…I wanted her to be comforted…I wanted to fix everything.
The police arrived in less than fifteen minutes and began to question everyone. There was little information of any value relayed to the officers. The kidnappers left no trail and no clues; they made no mistakes. George had vanished and no one had any idea who, where, or why. Interrogations concerning George’s disappearance continued into the night. The activity began to wind down; all my pent up thoughts and emotions raced to fill the void.
Shit! My head hurts! What the hell is wrong with me? Why didn’t I do anything? You just stood there and let her suffer. I’m so tired of this…I’m so tired of me. No one should be subjected to a relationship with me, much less Susan. I wouldn’t hang around me if I had a choice. Dammit…my head hurts! I hope I’m not losing it…again…shit, shit, shit.
Four hours after the intrusion, the police wrapped up their investigation for the evening. Still in shock, Susan made her way over to me as I was providing a contrived explanation to the detective about the drop of blood on my Levi’s. The Lieutenant closed up his small, black notebook and walked over to the crime scene photographer, leaving the two of us alone.
Susan approached me from behind and grabbed one of my hands – man, that feels good. I turned around and she took my other hand in hers. Looking at me with a vacant, tired expression, she asked in a voice that seemed detached from her body, “Johnny, what does Necessitas non habet legem mean?”Get a copy at Amazon - Intro price only $0.99!
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