The Moving Finger
"Detective Montoya, please." "One moment sir, and I'll transfer you." The line clicked as I was put on hold, the voice of the receptionist replaced by a string ensemble playing old Beatles' melodies. I stared out my front window, watching the picketers pacing on station beneath a leaden sky. During the trial there had been a dozen or more out there, along with TV crews and newspaper reporters. One evening they'd burned me in effigy, right out there in my driveway. A lot of excitement was generated that night, especially after kindly old Mrs Baca had joined the party with her fierce Yorkshire terriers and her shotgun full of rocksalt. That was shortly before the police arrived and took what was left of the show down to the station. The reporters had loved it. Now there were only two left, shuffling aimlessly, carrying signs reading "Butcher Kavanagh" and "Justice for the Penan", and they looked bored. They kept glancing up at the threatening clouds, muttering to each other. Perhaps they were hoping for rain, so they'd have an excuse to go home. It was a hell of a way to spend a holiday weekend. The music cut off abruptly. "Detective Montoya speaking." "This is Mike Kavanagh, detective. My wife mentioned you'd called." "Yes, Mr Kavanagh. We need you to come down and swear out a complaint for the shooting." "I see. I've decided not to press charges on my own, detective." "Are you sure about that, Mr Kavanagh?" Montoya did not sound greatly surprised. "Yes sir. What will happen to...what was his name?" "Ah...Datak Shamon, near as I can make it out. He is some relation to Ms Pagang." "What will happen to him?" "He'll be charged with discharging a firearm in a public place, and with reckless endangerment. Under the circumstances, I doubt that the prosecutor will charge him with assault or attempted murder, without your specific complaint. Probably he'll be deported back to his country, and the matter will end there." "Well enough. Thank you, detective." "Good afternoon, sir." I hung up the phone, went into the kitchen, and put the kettle on to boil. I had the house to myself, at the moment. My wife and kids had gone down to Carlsbad to visit her folks for Thanksgiving. Lacking the proper mood, I had begged off, and the rest of the family hadn't been too insistent about my coming. Rain began to peck at the kitchen window. By the time I'd finished brewing my tea, it was flowing across the glass in rippling sheets, highlighted briefly by lightning flashes, punctuated by thunder. I imagined my sign-waving lawn ornaments pretending dismay while joyfully scrambling for their car, but when I carried my mug back into the living room they were still out there, hunched miserably, wrestling with the wind for possession of the signs they were now using as umbrellas. I watched for a minute or two, sipping my tea, while the rain gathered itself in the street and began flowing along the curb. Probably someone had dropped them off this morning, and they were stuck where they were. I pulled a jacket and an umbrella from the hall closet, stepped out the door and crossed my front yard to the street. They watched me approach, as motionless and fascinated as deer speared by headlights on a lonely country road. I stopped in front of them, and took a moment or two for appraisal. They were a young man and woman, probably students; decently clad, but under-dressed for the weather. The man was tall, slender, with Amerindian features. The woman was short, slight, and blonde. "If you'd like to get in out of the rain for a while," I said, "you are welcome to come inside." The young man blinked, licked his lips, looking uncomfortable. The woman drew an audible breath. "If it wouldn't be an imposition..." she said in a rush, then blushed. The man winced. I managed to suppress a smile. "Not at all," I said with grave courtesy, "It would be my pleasure. Please." I waved them toward the house and led the way, drawing first the woman and then the man hesitantly in my wake. My front porch is little more than an afterthought. I helped them tuck their signs away behind the single, heavy wooden chair, which caused the woman's blush to deepen, and the man's jaw to lock, and ushered them through the doorway. I hung my jacket and umbrella in the hall closet, led them back to the kitchen, gestured at the chairs around the kitchen table. "Make yourselves comfortable," I said, filling the kettle. They hesitantly took seats. "We can't stay long," the young man blurted in a surprisingly deep baritone. "Quite all right," I said easily, as I put the kettle on the stove and lit the gas burner. I turned, leaning back against the counter. "May I ask your names? I'm Mike Kavanagh, by the way." "Oh, yes!" said the woman. "My name is Sarah. Sarah Winter." "Pleased to meet you, Ms Winter." I looked at the young man, raised my eyebrows. He scowled, said grudgingly, "Jimmy Pete." I nodded at him. "Mr Pete. You two attend the college here?" They both nodded. "What are you studying?" "I'm in pre-med," said Sarah. "Jimmy's studying civil engineering." She hesitated, glanced aside at Jimmy, then asked, "Why are you interested?" "I hope you don't mind my curiosity," I said. "I wondered, first of all, why a pair of young folk like yourselves would spend their holiday weekend picketing me, instead of visiting their families." An awkward silence. "I board here," said Jimmy, finally. "And besides, my family doesn't celebrate this particular holiday. And Sarrie's family..." he broke off and looked at her. She looked down at the table. "Let's just say I haven't much reason to visit my folks," she said. I looked from one to the other for a few moments. "That's it?" I asked then. "You're here because you've got nothing better to do?" Jimmy's jaw tightened again, and Sarah looked up sharply. "We're here because we're committed to the BLF," she said. "BLF?" "The Borneo Liberation Foundation," she amplified. "Ah." The kettle began its rising wail at that point. I turned to the counter, opened the canister in which I kept my teabags, tossed two into the teapot, poured in the water. I set some sugar and mugs out on the table then, putting out a new one for myself rather than leaving the kitchen to retrieve the one I'd been using. Rain rattled against the window as I did these things, and the winds pounded the walls. "Were either of you here during the trial?" I asked. "We both were," said Sarah. "And were either of you with the group that stood outside my children's school with loudspeakers, advising them that their father was a mass-murderer?" Sarah flushed, "No, of course not," she said quickly, as Jimmy stood, his expression eloquent of righteous anger, his jaw working back and forth. I wondered how his teeth stood all the strain. "We don't have to justify ourselves to you! Let's get the hell out of here, Sarrie..." I held up my hand. "Please," I said. "I'm not putting you on trial. I was just curious. And I have only one more question, if you'll consent to hear it. I don't insist you answer." Both were still for a moment. Jimmy looked at Sarah, who had not risen, then slowly resumed his own seat. "Thank you," I said. "My question is this: do either of you have anything that you want to ask me?" Sarah blinked, exchanged glances with Jimmy. "I'm not sure what you mean," she said, uncertainly. I rolled my tea mug slowly between my hands on the table. "Over the last four months you've spent at least some of your spare time standing outside my house. And unless college students have changed greatly since my own graduation, you've spent substantial time discussing the case. In all of that time, I'm sure you must have considered some question you might wish to ask me, if you had the opportunity. I'm curious to know what that question might be, so I'm giving you the opportunity to ask it." Sarah spoke reflectively. "You're right, of course. We've wondered about you a lot. We've never cast our speculations in the form of questions, because it never occurred to us that we'd ever be talking to you like this, or that you would answer." Jimmy nodded, essayed a sip of his tea. "I don't guarantee I'll be able to answer now, but I'll do my best." "I guess what I'd most like to know," said Sarah, "is how it feels to have...to be accused of vile crimes, and not remember them." I stared at the leaf fragments in the bottom of my mug. "Surreal," I said. "Like being in a dream, where things seem to happen without making sense, but while you're in the dream, it doesn't matter that they make no sense. Sort of like Lewis Carroll crossing Washington Irving and Franz Kafka." I looked up at her. "You're pre-med," I said. "How much do you know about the psychology of memory loss, and how Replay Therapy works?" "Very little," she admitted, with a slightly embarrassed shrug. "It's hard enough keeping up with my assigned reading. Jimmy knows something about it, though." "Do you?" I asked him. He nodded shortly. "My brother was in the war. He ended up taking Replay Therapy. He wouldn't talk about it, and I was curious." "Um. Then you are aware that most forms of amnesia leave a gap that the mind is always trying to work around. The victim is left with a recurring nagging feeling of something misplaced. Replay Therapy isn't like that; when it is finished, there aren't any blocked memories. The memories simply don't exist any longer. "When they made my initial recording, they put me into an electronically induced sleep. When I woke up, more than two years had passed. I felt a little like Rip Van Winkle, except that I had been a part of things everyone knew about but me. My wife was in tears, because I'd been in pretty bad mental shape, and at last she had me back the way I was." I looked at Jimmy. "Was that how it was with your brother?" Jimmy stared at me a moment, then shrugged. "Pretty much," he said. "He hit bottom pretty hard when he got home. Got drunk all the time, when he never used to drink at all. We had a Ghostway sung for him - that's a sort of curing ceremony - and it seemed to help for a while. But he'd never talk about what had happened to him, and after a while he started getting drunk again. Then he got beat up pretty bad in a bar-fight in Gallup, and he finally decided to have the Recall Therapy done." I stared at Jimmy Pete for a moment, tempted to ask where he thought my case was different from his brother's. Then I figured he'd already justified the whole matter to himself, and getting into an argument about it wouldn't help. "So how's he doing now?" "Normal. No problems." "Glad to hear it. Anyway, a year after I had the therapy, the Borneo War ended. A couple of months after that, I'm being accused of war crimes by Leena Pagang, her family, and Human Rights Watch. And, of course, the BLF. That was when the dream that made no sense started becoming a nightmare." I drank the last of my tea. "Which is where I am now," I finished. Sarah started to say something, but just then the doorbell rang. "Bide a moment," I said. I went to the front door and opened it. A short guy in an army-surplus field jacket and a knit cap, both slightly streaked with rain, stood on the porch. Out in the street sat an old Chevy Suburban, its motor running. "Uh, are Sarah and Jimmy here?" he asked. "Just a minute," I said, and closed the door. I walked back to the kitchen. Sarah and Jimmy looked up at me. "Your ride's here," I said.