In Washington DC, Hesser’s second in command watched the crime scene, grinding his teeth. The forensic team worked quickly to finish before dawn to keep a lid on this. They had not prepared for a tourist with insomnia who wandered the streets of the Capitol taking pictures with his phone. A week later the man and his family were back home in Flint Michigan where it would take another several days for him to review the shots of their vacation.
The pictures were sent to the Washington Post where they were forwarded to the CIA without printing them. They were also sent to a popular political vlogger who devoted a ten-minute stream showing the pictures and sharing his guesses like they were facts.
An unmarked van pulled up to the tourist’s home in Michigan and held the family at gunpoint while six other men removed every cell phone and computer in the house. They threatened the man within an inch of his life and piled all of their electronic devices into the van and drove away. The vlogger was spared the rough treatment but every platform he used on social media was closed and his content was deleted. Gab, YouTube, twitter, Instagram, and numerous boards, went black. One hour after he posted the pictures he was out of social media, lost his lively hood, and had absolutely no recourse.
Little Maia was a gossip junkie and that included the conspiracy channels that whipped her mind into a tornado of awful scenarios coming to the world. Darius teased her so badly about it she started watching her saved videos when she was alone. The Washington crime scene was in her downloaded videos which she watched some days later. When she mentioned a murder in Washington, supposedly at the CIA building, Jamie launched from his chair and pulled Maia out of her seat, almost dragging her upstairs. They all gathered in front of her laptop and watched the vlogger show pictures of a late-night crime scene.
“Jamie, do you think that’s Hesser?”
“I know it’s Hesser. Thank Christ."
“Does this mean we’re free?”
“Of Hesser, yes. He said no one in the government will know us, so we can hope.”
The days ahead were kind to the four of them. Jamaica’s perfect weather, great fishing with rods and spears, gorgeous water to swim, snorkel, and treasure hunt made the days speed by with nary a care. Jamie spent time in his studio each day and occasionally all night. There was still an aggressive edge to the way he made love and Claire tried to be patient until he wanted to talk about it.
After spearfishing with Darius one afternoon, Jamie asked if he would come with him to the island the next day.
“I can’t live with this thing in my arm anymore, it’s driving me crazy not knowing if they will be coming for us. Nor can I forget your warning the ping might be keeping us alive. I have to do something.” Jamie looked around at the beautiful surroundings and then focused on Darius. “I’m going back to the doctor to have it removed tomorrow. I want you there, just in case.”
“In case you die, is that what you mean? Before you take the ultimate risk, maybe look for an expert in this technology or super-spy stuff that you can talk to.”
“I’ve already done that and learned even more that terrifies me. Apparently, it takes a fair amount of energy to be an RFID and even more for the sonar pulses. The battery will go dead at some point and the pinging will stop. We have no way to know how long the battery will last.”
“Yes, I spoke to him yesterday, he said he would do it.”
“What kind of a partner does that?”
“One who loves the other more than anything in this universe Darius.”
Claire lowered the aft deck and sat with her legs in the water, deep in thought. Adso sat next to her waiting for something interesting to happen and then left to find a soft seat in the saloon. Claire hardly noticed. Jamie seemed distant the past week, spending nights in his studio, and days with Darius or hiding with his laptop. When she walked into the bedroom the previous day she saw him click off the website he was on and slam the lid down. He was hiding a secret, and with every woman and girl fawning over him on the island she wondered if she should be worried. She missed him and hoped she was wrong.
Later, in the evening, a time the four of them usually sat on the foredeck and played cards or watched a movie, Jamie was painting, Darius carried Maia upstairs, and Claire sat by herself and cried, contriving multiple scenarios of Jamie cheating. She wandered into her bed and fell asleep with her clothes on.
Jamie wanted to write a note to Claire, just in case he didn’t return from the island the next day. He knew they were well into a movie above deck so he took his time. He tried over and over again and the trash can filled with balled-up paper. When the words wouldn’t come he gave up trying and climbed the stairs to a dark and lonely saloon with no one in sight. He laid down behind his Sassenach, filled with sadness this might be the last time to hold her while she slept.
The next morning, Claire poured coffee into a mug and asked Maia where Jamie was. When she heard he and Darius had tendered to shore the tears came tumbling down her cheeks, leaving Maia speechless. Claire shared her suspicions that Jamie had hooked up with someone on the island and Maia’s eyes became slits of anger.
“So Darius is helping him? Or maybe she has a sister? Oh, hell no. We are going after them so get your suit on and bring something to wear into town.”
“Maia, we don’t even know where they are, we can’t start knocking down doors.”
“I know exactly where Darius is every minute of the day.” She held her phone up and punched one of her apps that opened to the streets of the island with a glowing red circle in the middle. “He is here. Let’s go.”
Maia tied her flipflops and waterproof canister to her waist and Claire did the same. From their mooring, the island looked very close but as they swam toward it Claire was getting tired. Maia looked around and waved at a tender with a big smile and let’s-party eyes. Soon after, they were helped onboard by two very hopeful young men. She dismissed them on shore with a kiss on the cheek and pointed to someone else’s yacht while blowing kisses. Claire looked at Maia’s phone over her shoulder. They headed in the direction of the red circle.
“This can’t be right Maia, it’s the doctor’s office we visited before.”
“There is no mistake, Claire, at least Darius’s phone is in there.”
The doctor had closed his office while he performed the extraction, just in case. He heard pounding on the front door and motioned for his nurse to check on the commotion. She glanced at the monitor behind the front desk and recognized the woman who sneered at her the previous week. Quickly she unbuttoned the top of her nurse's uniform and pulled it open so her push-up bra could display her ample bosom, then she tossed her hair pulling stray pieces of her updo into her face. She grabbed a nail file from the pencil holder and rubbed it savagely against her lips making them puffy and red.
Maia pounded on the door again and both women gasped when the nurse pulled the door open five inches, enough to see her bouncing breasts and disheveled look. She was panting and whispering she was at lunch and they had to go away.
Claire looked at the hair in the nurse's face, her breasts pouring out of her loosened uniform, and her lips that looked ravaged. It was the same nurse that waited by the door to watch Jamie leave. Her heart dropped into her stomach and she turned around and walked away while Maia was arguing with the nurse. She was almost to the water’s edge when Maia grabbed her arm.
“Have you condemned Jamie already?”
“What else would he be doing there during their lunch. Do you know how to drive that thing?”
“Yes, I’ll get you home.”
The nurse put herself back together before taking her seat next to the doctor. She looked at Jamie’s beautiful face, relaxed from a shot of Valium, and watched him strip her in her mind.
She jerked out of her daydream and held the instrument tray for the doctor. He teased the tissue back exposing the RFID chip and locked the forceps on it.
“Mister Smith, do you want me to pull it out?”
Jamie turned his head from the window and said yes, then he smiled like he had not a thing to worry about.
“Wait just a minute.” Darius sounded angry and closed his hand on the doctor’s arm. “He is high as a kite and you’re asking him if he’s ready to die?”
Jamie looked at Darius and his eyes cleared suddenly. He recited the navigational terms he learned and named the doors on the yacht that closed with a watertight seal in case they were sinking. He looked at Darius, “I love my wife more than my next breath and this will save her.”
Darius released the doctor’s arm and watched him pull the chip out of Jamie’s arm. They waited, silently, while the tension crushed them. One minute, nothing happened, two minutes, then three. Sweat rolled down the doctor’s temple as he pumped up the blood pressure cuff on Jamie’s arm and then pressed a stethoscope to his chest. He repeated the procedure at five minutes, ten, and then fifteen minutes while Jamie dozed from the Valium. He pulled his equipment away and slumped in his stool.
“I do not know if there is some kind of poison in the second object, but if it was strong enough to kill him, he would have a reaction already. I am too old for this. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve and started suturing the incision.
Darius smiled and handed the doctor five one-hundred-dollar bills before helping Jamie stand up and walk toward the door. They both watched the sky as they walked to the beach and half expected black SUV’s to come screeching around a corner, but there was nothing out of the ordinary.
When Jamie saw the ocean in front of them his smile was huge. It felt foreign to him and he realized there hadn’t been much smiling for the past week. It was time to make up for all of that. If he didn’t drop dead in the next twelve hours they were completely free…and rich…and in love.
There was a strange vibe in the saloon that was uncharacteristically quiet. They both felt it and went in separate directions to find the girls.
Claire was breathing hard from the heavy suitcases she carried from the closet. She looked up at Jamie and jumped back, pushing the hair out of her face. He could see she was completely undone and wondered what had happened.
“What’s this then?”
“I think I got all of it. There was more than I thought so I gave you my new suitcases.”
Her voice was so quiet he could barely hear her, so he got closer and she backed away.
“Thank you, love, that was a lot of work, and very generous to give me your cases. What am I to do with them now?”
Jamie took another step toward her, and another until she was pressed against the wall, still looking at her feet. Something huge had happened to Claire and it was not based in truth so he acted authentically until she found the strength to tell him.
“Do you love her?” It was no more than a whisper.
He was standing toe to toe with her, looking down on the top of her head, there was no room for Jesus between them.
“Oh yes, more than the air that fills my lungs,” he whispered. “I am fascinated by her mind, and soft coiled curls, not to mention her body that steals my soul. He ran his fingertips up her thigh as she shook with the confusing arousal caused by his touch. He pulled her chin up so she was forced to look at him. “Mostly, I love her whisky eyes because I see all of my tomorrows in them.”
Claire was under his spell so he brought his mouth down on hers and tasted her fear, her love, and her growing passion. He studied her eyes and her confusion. Clearly she doubted his love for her and that hurt her deeply.
“I would give my life for her,” he whispered, “and I did, today.”
Jamie’s large warm hand covered her globes before inching up her back. She was fighting her need to touch and claim him so he continued his soft touch that came closer to her heat making her exhale into his chest. There were noises upstairs, shattering glass, and tumbling furniture that threatened to break the spell so he kissed the sounds from her mind and let his tongue dance with hers. He moved with her toward the bed, like a dance that she followed. He grimaced when he laid down and quickly moved to her other side so his good arm could support his head.
Claire was in a love stupor and she asked why his arm hurt. Her eyes were foggy with lust and pain from her broken heart. Jamie pushed the hair behind her ear and studied the tragedy on her face wanting to carry her away to a world without threat or danger to erode her faith in him. He dragged his fingertips up her thigh and under her sundress. His warm hand covered her abdomen from side to side and moved slowly toward her breasts.
“Unbutton my shirt love, help me out of it.”
When Claire pushed the shirt off his shoulders she looked at the bandage that circled his arm and he could see her confusion.
“Like I said, she is my everything, her love is so honest and sweet, how could I not give my life for hers.” He kissed her deeply and she could feel his need. In her tortured mind she decided something was interpreted wrong and she opened herself up to his body as he covered her. She felt drunk from relief and gave herself over to his unrelenting soft hand and his power between her legs. The remaining clothes fell away and he pushed into her while he kissed her face, neck, breasts, and mouth. It was a soft, slow build of passion while their eyes affirmed what was in their hearts.
When they came back to earth, Claire held him tightly and buried her face in his neck. He could feel her slight puffs of air as she fell asleep. He held her and let himself truly rest for the first time in days.
Claire’s eyes opened and her stomach growled from the smell of food. Jamie watched her mind clear and then she looked around and gripped his arm. She expected to wake up alone, that was obvious, and he felt shame for leaving their bed so many nights. She smiled at him and he pulled her close. `
“I plan to have a bit of fun loving you back to me.”
“What do you mean?”
“We are truly free Sassenach. It’s over, forever. I know you’re confused and I am so sorry about that. I smell lobster, your favorite. How about a nice dinner while Darius and I clear things up.”
Jamie and Darius went into battle with an invisible foe and won the day. Claire and Maia were brought to their knees but rescued by love in the end. Their story came out over a delicious meal that provided enough distraction to soften the shock of what had transpired.
“We realized a new threat with removing the chip. Maybe it would cause the second object to release something deadly.”
“I found experts online who were more concerned with the battery dying because sonar takes so much power.
“I thought he was nuts to take the risk but he was determined, with or without me.”
“It looked so obvious she had been kissed senseless and her boobs were overflowing her uniform.”
“I grabbed the doctor’s arm before he could pull the chip out. I didn’t think Jamie was capable of giving him the go-ahead. Then he listed the navigation definitions and watertight doors on the yacht and I knew he was clear-headed.”
“I took Claire back in the tender, then returned it and swam back to the boat. If I hadn’t been so pissed at you Darius I never would have made it.”
“I thought you went to her and she did nothing to change my mind, that fluzzy. Coming to the door with her hair in her face and puffy lips.”
"So all those nights and closed doors with your laptop was researching the chip?
"I was looking for proof they could not kill a person with it and found just the opposite. The CIA has studied mind control and building the perfect soldier for forty years. A chip that costs ten cents to make solved both problems."
"So you had it removed, why?"
"So you could turn yourself in and force them to remove it. You would be out in your early fifties and still have decades to live."
Jamie put his arm around Claire protectively. It was over, all of it. They had been on the run for so long and now they were free. Two people, complete strangers at first, had given so much to see them safe were now trusted friends. It was overwhelming.
“I suppose I’m next to get this thing cut out of my arm.”
Jamie kissed her neck, “right, tomorrow it’s your turn.”
”Well, I say we have drinks on the deck and enjoy the beautiful evening. By the way, Maia, will I need to order a new bedroom set?”
“Not all of it.”
The breeze touched her skin like a whisper, so soft and lovely. She dropped her head back on Jamie’s arm and sighed. Looking in his beautiful eyes she asked for a kiss and when his lips were millimeters from her she jumped at the sound of a boat horn.
They looked at the superyacht getting ready to drop anchor beside them with the crew running around on every deck. They almost missed the small woman waving to them.
“Hello, neighbors! I don’t want to intrude but might you come and bring me over so we could have a chat?”
Darius raised his eyebrows at Jamie who asked the woman if she was ready to come now, and they went to fetch her.
“I like people who are straight forward, I suck at subtleties. Sut-el-tees,” she said slowly, “is that the right word?”
“Yes, although depending on the person hearing it, you might want to skip the suck part.”
Claire never realized how little Maia actually spoke because she had grand gestures that made it clear what she was thinking. A bit of encouragement and she was trying out her growing English vocabulary regularly. They went to meet their guest while Maia practiced the word under her breath.
Claire held her breath while Jamie and Darius helped the elderly woman on board and then led her into the saloon and offered her a seat.
“This lovely saloon is entirely comfortable for a chat but weren’t you all sitting outside before I butted in?”
“Of course, let’s sit on the deck and get to know each other.”
The woman seemed so happy to meet new people and sat with a warm smile on her face. “I believe you were drinking, is that right?”
“What can I get for you?”
She looked Jamie up and down, “You in fifty years perhaps, for now, I’ll have beer if you have it.”
Jamie smiled at her, “we never run out of beer.”
The woman looked around at the young faces and healthy smiles, “my name is Sepora. My mother insisted and my father could not pronounce it so he called me Danny and that is the name that stuck to me. It’s just me and my crew, sailing around the world, looking for something to do.”
“I’m Claire, this is Maia, Darius, and Jamie.”
The old woman watched Claire’s face when she said each name and knew Jamie to be loved like no other. He was a special man, she could see that and wanted to know more. But first, she turned toward Darius, “You are the captain, and you love your first mate.”
She touched Maia’s skin and smiled at her. “I see you at the United Nations, telling men what they have come to hear. You are desperately unhappy surrounded by concrete, bricks, and glass. The sea calls to you but you have left it behind. Don’t do it Maia dear, money won’t make you happy.”
Looking back at Darius she smiled disarmingly and told him to take the honest path and leave his family behind.
“When you doubt your path is the right one you have only to look at the picture. It is the real you, and honestly shows your strength.”
The four friends were stealing looks at each other, wondering who this crazy old woman was, but fascinated, hanging on her every word. They didn’t speak fearing they would miss something.
Darius did not believe in seeing the future but couldn’t help his curiosity about some picture. “Ma’am? What picture shows the real me?”
“It’s downstairs dear. Let it guide you toward your path.”
“Jesus,” Jamie whispered and moved from foot to foot.
Danny looked at Jamie, “the dusty old masters could not bend paint into emotion like you can Jamie dear. Paint your world authentically, from your heart, like, the conversation. The world will beat a path to your door.”
Jamie was entranced by her, “how could you…”
“The next one will see you remembered as one of the masters, you will belong to the ages, but the conversation will see you better.”
Jamie’s eyes bored into the woman’s, “How…how could you know my paintings?”
“It is time for me to go home. Could I trouble you boys for a ride back?”
Suddenly she looked pale and tired so Jamie and Darius helped her to the tender and took her back. Five of her crew were waiting on the aft deck to help her aboard. She nodded and smiled at them and then batted at their over-eager hands to assist her. She turned and looked into Jamie’s eyes as they waved, “she is still a mystery that thrills me.” He heard every word and felt the hair on his neck stand up.
Jamie and Darius were arguing when they joined the girls on deck. Darius was begging to see the painting of him and Jamie was saying his paintings were not shared with anyone.
“How in God’s name did she know about those paintings Jamie, and what painting is called the conversation?”
Jamie turned a strange look on Claire as the old woman’s words came back. There was no denying she knew what she couldn’t possibly know and if her suggestions were a gift to each of them he had better get out of the way of the message.
“I’ll be back.”
Jamie invited them into the saloon where his paintings were propped up on chairs and couches. They walked through the huge room admiring his talent and use of color but mostly looking from one to another.
“Darius! Oh my God, it’s you. Oh my God,” she whispered and blinked her eyes to clear her vision.
He stared at the image of the man he aspired to be and felt a shiver go up his spine, “someday…I hope.”
From behind him, Jamie said, “I have a photographic memory, and that is the man on the bridge the morning of our wedding. You are him, my friend.”
“What a beautiful place, it’s how I see Scotland in my mind.”
It is Scotland indeed, my boyhood friends, Ian, Rupert, and Angus,” pointing to each of them when he said their names. “The painting is for Rupert, in a few years.”
In her mind, Claire heard boys laughing, twigs snapping, and screams of glee as they dropped from the rope into the ravine. It was rare when a painting pulled her to another place where she felt the emotion of the scene. She looked up at Jamie with wonder and he pressed his forehead to hers for a moment.
There were a dozen more canvases in some stage of completion and all were commented on. Darius was trying to remember all that Danny said.
“Where is The Conversation?”
Jamie blushed and looked at the floor shaking his head side to side. “It is private and it is in our bedroom Claire if you want to see it.”
Claire looked up at him and took his hand, leading him into their room where she gasped and stood rooted to the ground. She was stunned by the life-like tones of her skin, the clear eyes of Adso watching her like he was listening to something profound. Claire was painted naked, laying on her side in their bed. Her one finger was under Adso’s chin so he would listen. Her naked breasts looked lifelike as did her ample butt and flat stomach. Her black coils spilled across her shoulders and down her back and her mouth was open in conversation with the kitten. Adso’s body was stretched out but his eyes were fixed on hers. There were so many emotions conveyed in the picture. Sweet, parental, sleepy beauty, enticingly sexual. Claire’s chiseled features were perfectly painted, full lips, loving eyes, playfully serious. The colors were muted giving the viewer an almost voyeuristic experience.
“My God, Jamie, have I ever looked like that?”
“Every morning love,” he breathed in her ear.
“I keep feeling different things, happiness, love, teaching Adso how to be a good cat, our bed in the morning awe, sexual energy, Adso’s worship. It’s absolutely marvelous Jamie but if we don’t let them see it, I fear they will search for it every time we leave.”
“It is your beautiful body mo chridhe, do you mind them seeing it?”
“I don’t mind, besides, the cute energy between me and Adso is predominant, they won’t even notice.”
Jamie got control of his spontaneous laugh and looked at his wife, as you wish Sassenach.
Claire walked Darius and Maia into their room and apologized for being in her birthday suit. Not a word was spoken from the mouths that hung open. Jamie watched their eyes move around on the canvas, delighted in the exchange between adorable cat and owner being the central focus.
Jamie dropped a sheet over the canvas and blushed at the comments. When they walked out on the deck Maia had grown quiet and pensive. When Darius asked about the new painting she tried to act interested and push down her hurt feelings because she was the only one he didn’t paint.
“What is the subject of your new painting Jamie? She said it would make you famous as a master painter, so what is it?”
Maia stared at her toes, trying not to cry when she heard, “it’s Maia.” She jerked her head up and her heart jumped to her throat.
When Jamie heard Danny comment about how famous it would become, he closed his mind to her abilities to see the future. It was just sweet Maia being iconic and would never be a promoter of his talent. He kept that to himself because the others were having so much fun with the predictions.
“Bring it up! Let us see,” Darius was about to bust with his desire to see the painting. Jamie was worried Maia would be offended after the seriousness of the other paintings.
“Maia, last month I walked into the galley when you were baking, remember?”
Maia was smiling and shaking her head no.
“Come with me and I’ll let you decide.” She followed Jamie into his studio and watched the covered canvas with anticipation as Jamie exposed the picture. She didn’t smile, or bounce around, nor did she make a sound as her eyes flicked all over the canvas.
The painting was life-sized showing Maia from the waist up leaning forward to exert force on the rolling pin over dough. Her face looked like beautiful determination punctuated by the tip of her tongue sticking out the side of her mouth. Her bikini could be seen under her white shirt and her long ponytail had slipped to the front of her shoulder and was covered with white floor. Adso was in the foreground shaking flour off of his fur. “Morning” was painted in a lower corner.
“Oh Maia, you sweet baby girl.”
Darius pushed into the studio and wrapped his arms around Maia while he studied the picture.
“I walked into the galley, early in the morning, and this is what I saw. It was cuteness overload when Adso shook flour all over her. It’s a very intimate picture Maia, I hope you like it when it’s done.” She turned her happy face to him and Jamie was relieved.
Darius looked at every line and shadow in the painting feeling weird about her floppy white shirt exposing part of her bikini-clad chest. One nipple pushed against the fabric and Darius smiled to himself. Maia’s nipples didn’t look like that, they were much bigger, so it was creative-license and not Jamie memorizing his girlfriend’s breast. He turned a knowing smile on his friend.
Jamie felt self-conscious with all the attention and covered the canvas before ushering everyone out. The evening had been extraordinary and the day, a roller coaster of highs and lows that suddenly felt exhausting.
Jamie slid into bed and turned the last light off before pulling Claire to him. He thought about all the crazy things that happened since morning and felt overwhelmed. He cuddled with Claire.
“Life is a journey Sassenach and there are no absolutes except one…me.”
He pulled her close and felt her let go of her conscious world. He would ride the night next to her, a happy occupant of that sacred position.