Changing of the Guard By Tina Crowe’s Point Disclaimer: The following story has been written with no intention

of claiming ownership or solicitation, nor does the author claim the movie character(s) as his/her own. The movie character(s) have been borrowed solely out of a love of the particular movie and is not intended for any other purpose but amusement and entertainment. It was the best of times, It was the worst times, It was the age of wisdom, It was the age of foolishness, It was the epoch of belief, It was the epoch of incredulity, It was the season of Light, It was the season of Darkness, It was the spring of hope, It was the winter of despair,
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We had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. The Opening of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens March 2013 John had been listening to the tapping of the boot heels across the office floor for the last ten minutes, the sounds occasionally quickening, then slowing down to a hesitant pace. He imagined her drifting to the windows overlooking front lawn – that was when the steps would momentarily pause; perhaps folding her arms over chest as she stared out at the teal green grass, the perfectly trimmed hedges, and the beginnings of spring flowers all carefully tended by a caretaker who constantly surprised them. Then it began again, the walk, perhaps this time behind her desk, then towards the door as though preparing to exit, but moving away as though another thought had hit her and required additional consideration. It had been the same at home. It had been the same for the last few weeks. But tonight was supposed to bring an end to it all – in a way. “Is she all right?” “Hmm?” John glanced at Arthur Baskin who was seated behind a desk in the reception area. As general manager of the Hotel for a number of years now, it was an unexpected but challenging promotion he had capably and happily filled. “The Boss—” Arthur had affectionately called Tina that since she had become the sole Keeper of the Point. “Is she all right?” Biebe attempted to remain expressionless, something he had long ago learned when he was in active law enforcement and attempting to garner information during an interview or interrogation. “She’s been okay. Just – busy, that’s all, as usual.” “As usual,” Arthur repeated, his head cocking to one side so that he looked around his brother’s body and at the door. Sighing he added “She’s been pacing in there forever. Well, not forever, but – you know what I mean.” “I know.”

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“I only thought she might have something on her mind, something more than just the usual, and – well, I don’t like thinking she’s, maybe troubled. I don’t usually hear her pacing that way unless she’s troubled, I mean really, really troubled, and she hasn’t been that way in ages.” “Yeah, yeah I know.” He was thinking back over the time since New Year’s Day which was when the discussions first began. “So – is she really all right, John?” He eased a hand to John’s closest arm. “John?” “She’s been thinking about things and—” “Is that why she’s called for the meeting tonight?” John smiled. “It’s always been hard to hide things from you.” Arthur shrugged. “Its intuition, that’s all, and speaking of the meeting,” and he stood as she spoke, “I guess I should start over there myself. Make certain everything’s organized – one less thing on Tina’s mind, right?” “Right and uh – thanks, thanks Arthur.” “You don’t have to thank me. You’re my brother and she’s my sister-in-law and I know it sounds clichéd, but we’re family and if there’s anything I can do to help, all you have to do is ask.” “Well, I know you don’t want to hear it, but – thanks, and I mean it.” Once Arthur had left to give a few final instructions to several of the managerial staff before he headed to the Tavern, John moved to the office door and gave it a few taps, not opening it, wanting to give her a second or two. “Arthur?” “No darlin’ – it’s me.” “Come on in.” Biebe entered, immediately noticing that his wife was standing before her desk, her hands behind her and resting on its’ surface. “I just figured it was Arthur,” she admitted, laughing slightly as John walked over to take her in his arms. “He’s been trying to take care of me without acting like he is: tea, tea and more tea. I don’t think I could take another cup of Earl Grey, but I appreciate what he was trying to do.” “That’s why he’s such a great guy,” and he gave Tina a gentle kiss on the forehead. “You okay?” “Yeah.”
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“Just – yeah?” “Just yeah. Nothing’s changed.” Tina reluctantly moved out of John’s embrace, the pacing beginning again a few feet away. “I’ve been going over and over and over it in my head, and practicing it the way I used to when I was teaching a recruit class, or testifying in court, and I kept going over things and talking out loud like I was rehearsing my lines, as if I was back in drama in high school— And you know what? I realized this is like testifying in court because they’ll come at me like a friggin’ defense attorney: cross, re-cross, hammering at every single thing I tell them.” As much as he hated to admit to it, John knew quite well that what she said was true, and for him to deny it, or pretend it might not occur was being unrealistic. But it would still help to let her know. “They won’t all be that way, darlin’.” “I know they all won’t be, but even the ones that seem receptive are going to have questions and Lord knows I don’t blame them.” The toe of her right boot kicked at an imaginary stone before she twirled on her heels. “I’d have questions too, I mean, if I was them, and they ought to ask questions; I expect them too. I don’t want them to fall lock, stock and smoking barrel behind me just because—Well, just because.” John nodded. “Is there anything you need me to do? Prepare them or—” “No, no, that’s okay.” She paused again, one hand drifting to her mouth, and John knew that – no matter how much she attempted to hide the fact from him – her mind was figuratively going a hundred miles a minute, her mind tossing back and forth with options, potential questions, possible replies, practiced lines and ad-libs. “No, I just need to tell them. I can’t put this off anymore. There’s already too many little rumors running wild around here so we need to do this.” “And it’s funny, but it’s probably coming at a pretty good time anyway – considering.” “You can say that again.” “It’s probably coming at a pretty good time anyway—” and he stopped on seeing that Tina was laughing and shaking her head, even as tears began to fill her eyes. Once more, Biebe took her in his arms as she eased her face against his broad chest. “Go ahead, darlin’. Go ahead – you have a good cry. Get it all out; then go in there, make your case, tell them why it needs to be done; listen to the arguments and questions and lay it out for God and them no matter how long it takes. And if after all of that, if they don’t understand and want to argue just to hear themselves talk, then tell them to go screw themselves. They don’t want to understand.” Sniffing, Tina looked into her husband’s face. It often seemed that there had never been a time when he wasn’t there in some form or another – as friend, lover, companion, husband, confidant, and advisor. She would occasionally think back to the evening they had first met or the events which immediately followed, and not thought – as Bud White often did – that it all seemed
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inevitable if one considered all the evidence. Now more than twelve years later, he was here, having already asked his own questions or expressed his own trepidation, but in the end, realizing that yet again, there was a type of inevitability to where this was going. He had faith in this and that helped. “Then when we’re done,” John continued, “we’ll go somewhere, have a few shots of Camarena; maybe see if we can bum a Partagas off Terry or Chloe or Cort. That’ll take the edge off.” All he heard in reply was “Mm—hmm,” which as far as he was concerned was absolutely fine. *************************************** “So would you mind telling me – us -- who or what put this fucking bee up your arse?” Johnny gave the proverbial glare which would cause Hell to freeze over, but despite this, neither Andy nor Jack Corbett backed down. “See – this is what I was talking about,” Andy told the lieutenant, trying not to get too irritable despite his annoyance. The former waiter and current Tavern manager had attempted to approach Johnny as casually as possible, exactly as he had the last week or two, only to find that each time, his brotherly friendship was returned with the same cold shoulder, the same brusque answers, or the same disinterest in any concern. However on this occasion, after confiding in the usually calm and measured Corbett (whom he felt was the most stable of the younger brothers, despite them all being about the same age), he decided to take yet another shot at finding out what had left Johnny so withdrawn. Andy and Jack had discovered him lingering under an oak near the front driveway outside the Tavern, watching as the many siblings arrived for the meeting. His annoyance was obvious when the two walked in his direction – likely hoping that they were actually heading towards the nearby Jeffery Wigand and Jim Braddock. In fact, they all did welcome one another in passing, but that was it – in passing, and before Johnny could find a good place to duck and hide, the Aussies were at his side. Their ‘G’day’ and ‘How’s it going Johnny’ were met with a grunted “Humph” which took even Jack by surprise, even as Andy gave him a ‘what did I tell you’ peek. It was finally after several minutes of similar small talk that Andy had asked his disgusted question about bees and arses, and received the response he had regrettably expected. Jack was about to speak when Johnny cut him off with a wave of one hand as he said, “Look, I’m sorry, mate. I’m sure you mean well. I’m sure Andy meant well, but Jack – you don’t— you don’t—” “We don’t…what? Understand?” Johnny rolled his eyes, but at least it was a calmer reaction than what they had figured they would get. Arms crossed, he shook his head. “Sorry Andy wasted your time, Jack.”

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“I wouldn’t say it was a waste of time, no matter what he might think--” and he gave Andy a sideways glance, “or what you might think. See, I’d like to think that if something’s gone wrong, you’d know enough to come to any of us and talk it out – exactly the way we always have.” Johnny nodded emptily as he moved aside. “Exactly the way we always have. Well you know, Jack,” and his voice did not rise above the soft tone it had maintained during their conversation, “maybe all of our problems don’t get solved by talking it out with each other. Maybe some of us would like to think things out on our own because the brotherly talks don’t help. Maybe they never helped and do you know why? Because nothing we do, nothing we think, nothing we hope or talk about in here – it don’t mean shite out there.” His voice dropped even lower, as though he was talking mostly to himself. “It don’t mean shite, not in the end. We just don’t fucking matter. I don’t think we ever fucking mattered.” Andy shrugged and gave Jack a nudge. “See? This is what I’ve been dealing with. He’s been saying the same thing for a month.” “And you haven’t heard a damn thing,” Johnny replied as though singing a tune. Andy raised his hands. “Done, I’m done. I don’t know what else to do. I’m sorry I involved you in this Jack.” “And I never asked you to get involved, Andy,” Johnny growled under his breath, looking aside. Andy was already beginning to walk away, but Jack hung back, still surprised that no one else had overheard the exchange, but very grateful they had not. Despite fully appreciating why Andy felt as he did, and wondering if leaving Johnny alone was the best route, there was still something in those soft, bitter words that caught his attention. No matter how irate Johnny was, he had not fully exploded as many of them might have, or even as the old Johnny might have. Instead – incredibly – he was still holding most of it inside despite it eating away at him little by little. “What’s happened Out There?” Jack asked, the question causing Andy to stop and turn back. Johnny faced Corbett. “What?” he whispered, all other responses catching in his tightening throat. “I asked: what happened Out There that’s ripped you up this much?” Johnny leaned back against the tree around which he had been pacing, shaking his head as he ran a hand through his hair. Chuckling hollowly he finally asked, “You don’t know?” “Tell me.” “I don’t want to play patient to your psychiatrist, Jack.”

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“And I don’t want to play psychiatrist to your patient,” the lieutenant firmly replied, crossing his arms. “I’d rather hear about things brother-to-brother – if you’ll tell us.” In the background they could hear the various accent reflecting not only regions of Australia, but those of the United States and England as well, the range of voices a cacophony of tenors and baritones; youth and maturity; the better educated; the worldly, those for whom language was a gift of great eloquence. All of them so different and yet very much alike and it was following that brief silence in which Andy, Jack and Johnny listened to the gathering that the latter quietly announced: “Do you know how it feels to watch people piss it all away and know you can’t do a damn thing to stop it?” He angrily swiped at the tears threatening to spill from his eyes, and momentarily his mind swept back to that night a lifetime in the past – Meg, Sam, him, everything rushing headlong to that cataclysmic end he tried so hard to shove away. Andy gave Corbett a puzzled glance before he turned back to Johnny. “What are you--” he started, genuinely surprised that Johnny was finally being open, but uncertain as to what he meant. “What people are pissing what away?” “You don’t know?” Andy shook his head. He usually had the greatest patience but if he was not already at the edge, this was about to push him over it. He continued to speak in a low tone, but the frustration and the need to understand was in every word. “Damn Johnny – can’t you stop talking in riddles and tell us what—” “It happens you know, mate – life. It happens.” The lieutenant’s composed interruption caused Johnny Ryan’s attention to return to him. Meanwhile, Andy’s exasperation subsided once more on realizing that Jack’s words had obviously rung true. The tension in Johnny’s features started to lessen although that sense of loss Andy had seen in those eyes all these past weeks was still there. Johnny shook his head. “That’s easy for you, Jack. You finally found someone; you’ve got Adalia.” “And look how long it took me to find her. It wasn’t easy, Johnny, you know that – it took years.” “But you have her now, and Andy, you’ve had someone too, someone who came here and was meant for you, even for a little while, but me – it’s not so much me wanting; me wanting someone for me but—” He struck the tree trunk with his left foot, thankfully stopping before he followed that action with a right cross that would have resulted in a very painful lesson. “I lost my sheila. He got his. He finally got her and now it’s all getting pissed away and I don’t understand why.”

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“Shit.” And now Andy finally understood, just as it had come to Jack moments before, and he was ready to give himself a swift kick in the ass for being so stupid. “Johnny – Johnny, I’m sorry.” “It’s not your fault, is it? It’s not Jack’s fault or mine or anyone else’s ‘round here. Like you said Jack, its life – shit happens, right? But do you know how much it’s been killing me inside watching everything fall apart Out There and me wanting to leave here and make it all right.” “And what would you do if you did?” Andy asked before Jack could, the same thought crossing both their minds. “I don’t know,” Johnny replied, frustrated as he moved in a slow circle. “I don’t know. Something – anything. Wouldn’t any of you try to do something? Shouldn’t we try to do something? I – I keep thinking back to when we had the party, remember, to celebrate, and I went back to my flat and was watching the entertainment shows on the telly, and they were showing—” He swallowed hard, not wanting them to know how close this was to breaking him. “They were showing these clips, these little clips when they were leaving the chapel, and I was sitting there with my drink and I gave this little toast and you know what I said? I said ‘You finally got her. You finally got your sheila. Good on ya mate.’ It was almost like – I’d finally won too. I knew it wasn’t Meg – but it didn’t matter. It was her and he got her.” “We all felt the same,” Jack finally said. It was a bittersweet memory recalling that at the time, no one serious had entered his life, and he almost doubted anyone would, especially when one was a minor entity only a hardcore fan would recognize. Seeing those moments online and on television, having the celebration at the Point, it had been a way to share in the festivities, even when part of your soul was collapsing. At the time, even feeling remotely romantic as all of them had, Jack could never have imagined Adalia coming along – even if he had, he would never have thought of her being for him. So if Jack had felt as he did, what must Johnny be thinking as one of the things he pinned his dreams on was now imploding. “But did it matter? In the end I mean, did it matter?” Johnny shook his head, his voice still low. “I guess there weren’t any still small voices in the night, whispering in their noggins – and if they did, what the fuck, it’s all in the imagination anyway. Just fuck it all to hell, right? Fuck away – what? Twelve, thirteen years or more, like it never happened?” Andy grunted, unsure of what to say or what advice to give in a situation such as this. In fact, was there little that could be said which might make the wounds heal more quickly? He suddenly heard himself say, “Mate, look, we might be part of the Creator, but that doesn’t mean we can climb inside anybody’s head and tell them what to do. I can’t even do that with you or Jack or Arthur or any of the rest.” Jack nodded. “And we’re brothers – or we call ourselves brothers at any rate, but every one of us has our own life to live. We don’t all think alike and we sure as hell don’t act alike. So if we don’t or can’t, why would we think we could tell them how to run their lives?”

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“Because—” and Ryan paused. He hesitated with what was going to follow ‘because’ although “we were made in his image so he ought to listen” briefly came to his lips. That, he decided, would be way over-the-top. Instead, his right foot connected with a rock, which was then sent flying across the road. It was obvious neither of them fully comprehended all of this, even if they were trying, and he was exhausted by all the effort of explaining. In fact, the last thing he wanted was to be suffocated by the brothers, watching them behave as though the awful matters outside the Point had no bearing on them. Once they saw him, those that cared would question him and possibly figure things out as Jack did, and then would come more of the ‘I’m sorry Johnny’ and the sage words – more of the same sage words. “You know what? Tell Tina I’m sorry, but this isn’t a good time. I – I can’t deal with whatever it is she wants. I know she wants us there and I planned on being there, but I--” “You’re not going to do that Johnny Ryan.” Jack’s statement was so authoritative that Johnny nearly thought it had been shouted, but no, on looking into the lieutenant’s features he saw that Corbett was very much under control. It was all that military discipline, the ability to make one’s self command respect without being a bully about it. Jack moved closer until he was now face-to-face with Johnny, and Andy – who had been about to confront him – stepped back, knowing that the situation was in hand. “If you even think you’re about to run away from here you’re wrong,” and he used an index finger to punch his brother’s chest. “I will drag your ass into that meeting whether you want to go or not.” Better than I would have been, Andy thought as he watched. I’d be dragging his arse in there. “Like hell you will!” Johnny answered with gritted teeth, shoving Jack’s finger away. “Like hell I won’t,” Corbett replied, his temper still under complete control. “Now you’re going to quit your whingeing. I understand what’s going through your head right now, but you need to put it aside for an hour or two. Tina needs us all at this meeting – I repeat all of us. You don’t have an excuse mate.” “You—” Johnny started to say, but on seeing Jack’s quiet stare he closed his mouth. He never thought a pair of eyes could make him squirm as the lieutenant’s did. “You don’t have an excuse. Now, Tina doesn’t call meetings like this unless something important’s going on, and if Ben and Egan traveled clicks to be here, you being a dipstick about something none of us can control isn’t going to fly. Now if you want to tell her you can’t stay, fine. But you’ll do it yourself. I’m not going to do it; Andy’s not going to do it—” and Andy shook his head as though to punctuate what Jack had proclaimed, “and not another brother here is going to do it. You’ll be a man, look her in the eye and say ‘Sorry Tina – wish I could stay, but

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I’m going to hit the turps1 and drink with the flies2. Hope you understand,’ and you figure she’ll go ‘Oh no worries, Johnny’ and then she’ll be apples.” “But she won’t be apples,” Andy added, now stepping closer to the pair. “Not really, no matter what she says to make you feel better. You’ll have cut her to the quick.” “And remember one more thing Johnny Ryan,” Jack continued. “She’s The Keeper – you owe her that, or maybe you don’t,” he said with a shrug. “Anyway, I came because Andy was worried about you, and we’ve tried to listen and talk to you, but that’s obviously been a failure, so – you ready?” The words were directed to Andy, who finally turned away from staring down Johnny. “Ready.” Andy gave Johnny a final glance. “You’ll be coming inside to make your excuses to Tina, right?” *****************************************

Part Two
“So nobody has any idea why we’re here, huh?” Bud asked no one in particular as he dispensed coffee from the large urn which – along with other refreshments – had been set up on three side tables in the Tavern’s meeting room. The space was only occasionally used, and that was for those times when the brothers needed to gather for matters of importance pertaining specifically to them and especially when some type of privacy was required. That evening, in response to the Point Keeper’s request, they were finding themselves there again, arriving alone, in pairs, in threes and quartets, each one wondering why they were there and why the appeal had been worded almost as a plea, indicating that this was not a small matter or an option. “As far as I know,” Alex replied, standing to Bud’s left; he snatched up a couple of sandwiches, but was already eating one-half as he put the other slices on the paper plate. “You’d think this was the mystery of the century.” Steve, who was behind them, gave a low chuckle. “Mystery of the century, my ass.” Alex rolled his eyes, moving aside to permit Jack Aubrey and Dominic to squeeze through to the layout. “So wisenheimer, what do you know that the rest of us don’t?” “I’m not saying I’m privy to insider information, but—” and Steve’s laughter increased after taking a swig from the plastic soft drink bottle he held in one hand. “—you can bet your bottom dollar one person around here knows.”
                                                                                                                         
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 ‘go  on  a  d rinking  binge’    ‘drink  a lone’  

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“John,” Bud gruffly answered as he stepped out of the food line, and fought the desire to stare down the photographer. There were times when the man still got on his nerves, even after all this time, if only because he had that annoying style which – to White – was typical of many from New York City. “Of course I’m talking about John,” Steve continued. “You know he knows. He knows everything when it comes to his little darlin’. She doesn’t make a single move without telling him, and half the time he doesn’t make a move without telling her.” “’Cause he’s a fucking pussy,” Ben Wade jokingly interjected as he walked by, not stopping even after his words drew the attention of those within earshot. Jack Aubrey turned so quickly in response that Dom had to juggle his plate to keep from dropping it. “Therefore a man deserves to be called that offensive term because he is an honorable companion to his wife?” The question – spoken as though it was being called from the quarterdeck – boomed across the room, so that even those who had not heard the exchange now paid attention. Even Terry and Wigand, just entering and greeting Max Skinner who was standing at the entrance, stopped in mid-sentence. Wade, however, kept walking. As far as he was concerned, he was there out of curiosity and a tiny amount of obligation, but nothing more. If he owed anything to anyone, it was that Tina was the Guardian of sorts over this place and as such, deserving of some small respect on his part. That was the only thing which had brought him from his cabin. The sooner this was over, the sooner he could leave, and therefore the bombastic fat man could have his say. Jack had not expected any response – he knew the gunman better than that, but it did not stop him from continuing the defense. “He is Tina’s husband after all. They converse with one another; share their ideas, their fears. John is as much a friend and confidant to her as he is a spouse, so why would it be atypical or the brunt of some joke for him to know what she is thinking?” He glared at Steve, who shook his head, muttered ‘Whatever’ and moved away. The captain then turned his stare in the direction Ben had taken, knowing that Wade had heard but would pretend he had not. Despite these expected reactions, Jack continued: “Or for us to feel that because he is our brother he should come to us, gossip, and break his word to her? That doesn’t make him weak; that doesn’t make him a clown, and it most certainly does not make him a – fucking pussy.” Jim Braddock gave Zach a nudge to the arm as they stood on another side of the room. “You gotta hand it to him. When he gets fired up, he’s a pistol.” “Jack? Hell, yeah. I wouldn’t any more cross him than I would a Denebian slime devil in heat.” On seeing Jim’s puzzled expression, Grant smiled and shook his head. “You know – The Trouble With Tribbles? The space station? That Klingon mocking Scotty?” And in a dreadful Scottish accent, Zach began to quote “’And if I think that Kirk is a Denebian slime devil, then that’s my opinion too.’”
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“Oh. Oh!” Informal courses in the history of the numerous Star Trek incarnations had been a pleasant pastime for the old boxer, especially since Zach made it so fascinating. Besides, it had been a way for Braddock to get his mind past other things in that first year after his arrival. “What were you getting ready to say?” Max asked Jeffrey as the room and the chatter returned to normal. “I—” Wigand smiled apologetically. “Sorry – I forgot. Whatever it was went clean out of my mind.” “Don’t worry about it. Jack has that way of doing that to people,” Max replied, slapping the older man on the back. “And how are you doing, Terry?” and the two shook hands. “Well, Jeff and I had to take an early mark off the course to be here, but other than that, can’t complain.” Thorne carefully studied the surroundings – who all was present, who was still missing, as well as the attitudes taken by each individual: some casual, some tense, some waitand-see, and a few I-don’t-give-a-damn. “So – no idea why we’ve been asked here, eh?” “That seems to be the main topic right now,” Skinner said, “and that is why Jack was going off the way he did over Ben’s little commentary; Steve’s too. Everybody’s pretty sure John knows something but he’s not saying.” “Wouldn’t expect him to,” Wigand agreed, and then nodding towards Max’s glass asked, “What are you having?” Skinner chuckled. “Cranberry juice with a splash of club soda and I’ll warn you ahead of time. There’s nothing alcoholic over there – not even beer.” “Not even beer?” Terry raised his eyebrows and whistled. “She either doesn’t want us having a few before she makes this announcement—” “Or she knows we’re going to need to tie one on when she’s done,” Jeffrey finished, articulating exactly what was on Terry and Max’s minds. Each one took a deep breath as they proceeded to the buffet, greeting others along the way, and after preparing the first cup of coffee for Thorne, Wigand mused “Do you think it might have something to do with, well, you know?” Max nodded, swirling the juice about in his glass. “That’s what I figured, but then again—” His voice trailed off. “What?” Terry asked once the answer did not quickly come. Max shrugged. “I was just going to say, well, you might be right, but why would Tina wait this long to bring it up? This is March and didn’t all that happen last autumn? Christmas?”

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“Late last year at the least,” Terry agreed, recalling what snippets of entertainment news he had heard and how he decided to avoid it afterwards. Entertainment news. How the hell can you consider something like that entertainment? “Exactly, and I’m not sure why we’d need to have some kind of special meeting to clear things up. Just send out an announcement or email.” Jeffrey shook his head in response to Max’s comment, stirring his coffee as he did. “She would never be that impersonal, and let’s face it, the rumors are flying all over the place. Maybe that’s why she’s doing it this way. Sort of a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting as they say; lay it all out on the table and put an end to the damn gossip.” “Well, I don’t think we’ll have long to wait,” and Max casually pointed towards the double doors as John Biebe strode inside, his appearance capturing everyone’s undivided attention even as various discussions continued. Several brothers moved towards him for a brief interaction as he quietly greeted them, shaking hands with a few, easing his arm around the shoulders of a couple, or simply waving across the room to those like Max, Jeffrey and Terry. “Seems pretty calm doesn’t he?” Wigand pointed out. “I was thinking the same thing,” Terry replied, using one hand to motion towards several still empty chairs. “Are these all right?” The men settled into their seats, continuing to observe everything going on around them as Jack Corbett, Johnny and Andy arrived, and that Arthur – after appearing to do a quick count – shut the doors.“So if we’re lucky – well, maybe it’s not as disastrous as we thought.” “Keyword being ‘maybe’,” Max muttered, glancing again at his glass and wishing it was something somewhat stronger. Jeffrey chuckled. “Max?” “Hmm?” “No amount of staring at it is going to change it,” Wigand joked. “I know,” and he sighed, glancing at his watch. “Isn’t it about time we started?” Meanwhile, knowing that Tina would be waiting for the text message indicating that everything was ready, John Biebe finished a few words with Maximus, and after giving the room a final once-over to make sure that all those invited had arrived (and even more importantly, that there were no uninvited present), he called out, “Hey – everyone. Everyone!” Although a few still spoke, albeit in lower tones, the majority began to quiet as their attention shifted to where the Alaskan stood. “If everybody wants to start finding a seat or someplace to stand; get your drinks or snack or whatever, we’re going to be getting started in a few. And thank you all for coming too. I know some of you had to come a bit of a distance to get here so we appreciate that.” He noted that while Egan nodded, if Ben Wade reacted it was completely imperceptible.
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“Well, what’s this all about John?” It might have been slightly rude, but Cal McAffrey’s old journalistic instincts had impatiently sprung into action, partly from his own natural curiosity and partly from his dislike of being kept in the dark about anything he felt critical and of a ‘need to know’. Sometimes old habits died very hard, even after nearly four years in this existence, but he figured at this time in his life, he would never completely erase that suspicious nature which had been so important in his previous career. “You’ll all find out in a minute,” Biebe assured him, knowing that this was unlikely to satisfy the reporter. “Everything?” John managed a slight smile, although Cal’s eyes were silently interrogating him. “Everything. No cover-ups, no hidden agendas – everything.” Lachlan gave a low whistle, getting the attention of East and Colin as he had intended. “Did your stomach just turn over?” East nodded as he put his semi-filled plate on the nearest empty surface. “Lost my appetite too.” Colin mumbled, “Like it’s the end of the world.” He had rarely felt that nauseating emotion before – perhaps a few times in the life he possessed in the Real World, and most definitely on several occasions since his arrival at the Point, but it had involved events that had been the most life wrenching, when he was ready to surrender to the deepest part of his soul. Perhaps this was the way it would end here, with the Keeper making the announcement so that they had time to prepare for the cataclysm to come. Considering what had been happening on the Outside in the last six months or thereabouts, this entire gathering had pushed him to the edges of pessimism, and he knew – almost through osmosis – that the others were feeling the same. So if it was the end, spare him all the platitudes and let them know what they had to face and when it might come about. He was tired of waiting. ************************** They’re getting anxious – you know they’re tired of waiting, and some of them might not openly admit it, but they’re afraid, some of them for the first time in years. Especially the ones who died in their old lives. They don’t understand why you’ve called for them this way, and face it; a few are fearing the worst. Tina stopped her pacing as the thoughts pressed upon her, the emotions of those in the room rushing over her and shaking her from her own inwardness. She had been so concerned with the thousands of questions and arguments they might throw at her that she forgot the invitation might be seen as a pronouncement of some coming Point Apocalypse.

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“Good Lord I never meant them to think that,” she scolded herself out loud, just as she felt the Smartphone vibrate in her hand, and scanned the text on the screen: We’re all here. <3 “You all right, lass?” The Scottish accent brought her out of her reverie and she nodded, smiling at Gerry Montgomery as the groundskeeper approached, a look of concern on his attractive face. “I’m fine. Just – just butterflies, you know. I still get them when I have to testify in court, even after all these years. Isn’t that crazy?” “No – just means you know you have something important to explain and you want to make sure you do it right. Often times, you don’t get a second chance to make yourself clear.” Tina nodded, smiling. “That’s a fact.” “So you’re all right? Where’s John?” She motioned towards the meeting room’s closed doors. “He’s already inside.” “And you’re organizing your testimony to the jury?” he asked with that brilliant smile which never failed to make the women melt. “Pretty much. Oh – that makes me think. I wanted to thank you.” “For--?” “For keeping the others occupied while—” “Ach that? Like I told your hubby, it’s nay a problem. Glad I could do my part in helping out. To be honest, I don’t think they even know what they’re missing so that’s half the battle, and the one or two that seem suspicious, well, I’ve managed to get their thoughts elsewhere.” “Well, I know you weren’t obligated, I mean, you’re not one of the Brothers--” “Didn’t matter. John said you needed a favor. That’s all I needed to know. Now – I’ll leave you to the lions’ den,” he added with a wink. “Oh thanks for that,” Tina chuckled as Montgomery went on his way, but the analogy was enough to make her realize that no matter how important the matter she was presenting to the men now awaiting her, she had to see this for what it was. It’s a transition, not a test of my beliefs, not a test of my faith. I just hope and pray they’ll understand. Oh Lord – let them understand. We need this. She imagined she was in a witness waiting room, either sitting at a table with her case file in front of her, or walking back and forth in the small space, until a deputy sheriff or the victim’s
15    

advocate for the Commonwealth Attorney opened the door and said “You’re up – go get ‘em.” The butterflies would vanish; the nerves diminish, and knowing all eyes would focus on her from the second the courtroom doors swung open, she would stand straight, moving towards the judge and the witness stand with all the confidence and assurance she could muster as she prepared to be sworn in. “We need this,” she said firmly and with a calm determination, she grabbed the brass knobs and threw open the doors, realizing that the room immediately went silent upon her appearance. She half-expected them to jump to attention as the recruit classes she used to teach would do, the class leader announcing ‘Officer on deck!’ as she took her place in front of them. But no such declaration was thankfully made, and all she could hear were greetings of “Evening Tina”, ‘G’day Tina,” “How you doing, Tina?” or simply “Tina” as she smiled in response and stood before the front row of seats. Unlike the sea of unknown faces belonging to a group of young men and women preparing themselves for a career in law enforcement, she saw the faces of those familiar to her; some known better to her than others, and she was grateful that for every look of skepticism worn by a Ben Wade or a Kim Barrett, there were encouraging expressions from Jack Aubrey, Cort, Bud White, Maximus and especially John Biebe. Even those who were uncertain tried to show some sense of confidence in what she might have to say. “Good evening!” she finally managed after a deep breath. “And I’ve summoned you all here tonight to announce that one of you is the murderer,” SID called from the back of the room, his words followed by his trademark giggle. “Shut your pie hole!” several of the Aussies shouted simultaneously, earning the agreement of the majority of the others and causing SID to offer a look of pretend astonishment. Great – that’s just what I needed, Tina thought, but rolling her eyes and briefly focusing on SID she said, “You’re right – it does feel like I’m going to tell you that Captain Mustard killed the butler in the study with the fireplace poker. I’d probably think the same thing if somebody invited me to a mystery meeting like this, because Lord knows, that’s how it usually happens in the movies or on TV, right? CSI, Colombo, Sherlock Holmes, Poirot – let’s get all the suspects together and let the killer know where he or she screwed up. It’s either that--” and she dramatically stepped forward and uttered in a suspenseful manner, “or you’re brought together so that all the guests will be done away with one by one by one – until…there…are…none.” Silence. And then the room filled with laughter, and a few brothers even managed to direct a deserved snide comment or two in his direction. What do you know? He tries to be a smart-ass and it turns into an icebreaker. Thank you Lord – I needed that.

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Once the group had quieted down, Tina shifted her weight from one foot to the other, slipping her hands behind her back as she began again. “Seriously though—” and she was glad her voice was missing any tearful shakiness she feared would reveal her tension, “I want to thank all of you for coming – that means a lot to me. I hope you know me well enough to realize that I wouldn’t have asked if it wasn’t important.” “Excuse me Tina.” John Nash raised a hand so she would notice it was him. “Yes John?” “Should we start before the others arrive?” His inquiry caused the men to mutter as many began to look about to see exactly who was missing. Only now did they realize that not only was Javert not present, but Hostetler was absent, and even Brennan and Longstride were nowhere to be seen. I figured SID would be the one to say something. I should have known Nash was counting and calculating— Biebe was about to step forward to answer the question, but Tina responded first. “Everyone here right now – you’re the only ones I asked. I’ll explain more in a little bit, and I hope it’ll be clearer once you know why you’re here in the first place, but there’s a reason why I specifically wanted all of you and I hope it’ll make sense, okay?” I hope – I hope. Did that sound like nonsense or what? Talk about ad-libbing. “So – let me thank you again for showing up, and I’m not going to beat around the bush or keep you in the dark all night. You deserve to know what the mystery’s about – I owe you all that.”

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