Three blocks east of Odera’s condominium, I stood at the trunk of my stolen vehicle and changed into dark camouflage-patterned cargo pants, black gum-soled boots and pulled on micro-thin gloves obtained from the Army Surplus store. I swapped the licence plates on my car with the one behind me and then applied black grease paint to those parts of my face that a balaclava did not conceal, reminded of another life. A life where I would have been part of a team on a shared mission with shared values instead of running solo with no one to watch my six. Right there and then I promised myself that I would harden my mission objectives. A solo operator did not have the luxury of kindness. My error margins were nearly non-existent. Same as Odera’s. They had kidnapped my woman and ruined the life we had begun to build, so, by definition, my adversaries were not civilians. They were outlaws. Unrestricted rules of engagement. When I pulled the balaclava over my face, I became part of the night, orphaned from light, just as I was orphaned from societal restraint. The balaclava and the dark clothes let me move around with some level of covert confidence.
Having cut several backyards and hopped over half as many fences, I reached the street where Odera lived. Her building lay less than twenty yards from my position. Up the street, the movement inside a parked vehicle drew my attention. Two heads encased in shadows stirred in the dark four-door sedan parked across from and several doors up from Julia and Odera’s duplex. Criminals would not have been that obvious.
I imagined the cramped, smoky interior. Picturing the stale sweaty odours, empty Tim Horton coffee cups, sticky donut boxes and the inevitable cellophane sandwich wrappers strewn at their feet made me smile grimly. Sentry duty was boring beyond belief. It was the weakest link in any security scenario. A person could only stay alert for a few hours until the mind became mired in distracting thoughts. Those two cops pulling stakeout duty were not a major concern. They were a known element and therefore predictable.
I studied the crime scene tape that marked Odera’s front door in the typical X-pattern and replayed the news anchor’s editorial to acquire a feel from the outside. I noted nothing to alter my belief that Odera’s abduction had been hurriedly put together. The abductors had committed themselves to simultaneous front and rear assaults. The smarter play was to have allowed Odera to exit her condominium in the morning and then hustle her into a vehicle pulled up alongside her vehicle. Thirty seconds at worst to start and finish the play. Potential eyewitnesses could have been accounted for and controlled. Busting down her front- and back doors and discharging a weapon attained maximum exposure. Too many unknowns instantly existed when they entered her home. She could have had company. She could have been upstairs with access to a safe room. A firearm may have been accessible. Haste and a degree of ineptitude had played a role.
And then there was the computer element.
Maybe they had to go inside to use the computer for some reason, which jived with my growing theory.
To assuage myself that the unmarked sedan was not a clever lure, I carefully checked the gardens, doorways and rooftops on each side of the street for other crouched or hidden figures. Meticulously, one-by-one, I studied and scrutinized each neighbourhood window for moving curtains and looked to identify shadows that came and went. Five minutes elapsed, and then ten. Still nothing. Even then, I allowed an additional five minutes to tick by. The stakeout cops in their dark sedan parked beneath a streetlight that projected a bright yellow halo onto the ground between us were blind to an approach from the rear of the building. Keeping the duplex between us, I slid up to the corner, eased my head around it performing the same window and curtain scanning exercise for anything out of character.
Nothing jumped out at me, which made me suspicious and edgy. The antsy feeling persisted. The air felt wrong. It was too quiet. I chalked up my discomfort to cops pulling surveillance and maybe too much caffeine. Their presence must be unnerving me at some level. I could not wait outside forever. Eventually, I would have to move. Each minute increased the likelihood of discovery by a neighbour who came downstairs for a glass of water and looked out their kitchen window to see me crouching in darkness. Yet, the small hairs on the back of my neck refused to lie down. It was the same feeling I had in prison when I was being watched. My back brain was trying to speak to me. Had the hostage crisis team placed people inside Odera’s condominium?
Time to find out.
Architects had designed the condominiums in sets of twos and threes. Odera’s unit was located on the north side of a two-condo unit. Julia occupied the south side. Their homes shared a common wall. That’s how Julia had identified the ruckus. The sound had travelled through the common wall.
An alley cat yowled from somewhere distant. A skunk waddled confidently across the lawn, not ten feet away. It paused to eyeball me before continuing to whatever skunk fest he held tickets to. That niggling feeling at the back of my neck continued to needle my senses. Maybe the cops had tasked a surveillance satellite outfitted with infrared imaging gear, which made me shake my head at that paranoid thought. A crapped-out-armed-forces-good-for-nothing did not warrant a satellite eyeball.
Having secured one end of the black nylon rope that I carried in my backpack to the eyelet of a grappling hook, its tines wrapped in leather to reduce noise, I gave the rope a few hefty tugs before swinging the hook in a circle and letting it fly, aiming for the brick chimney. Up and up it arced, banking gracefully over the soffit. When I pulled on the rope to set the tines, it fell back to the ground. On the third throw, the leather-padded tines grabbed the corner of the chimney. I ascended the knotted line, climbing hand over hand, using my feet to thrust me upwards. The roof edge came under my glove.
Crouched upon the roof, I gathered up the rope before peering over the peak to check the status of the surveillance cops. No movement. Not a shadow was out of place; so why did it feel as though my presence was expected? I moved toward the bathroom’s dormer and the barn door-styled window that opened inward, tiptoeing across shingles so as not to announce my presence if anyone waited inside. I reached the bathroom window and squatted down beside it. Even if it was unlocked, I couldn’t risk opening it.
Odera’s condominium had an alarm system that could have been armed. Fine, I had come prepared. Staff sergeant Murphy, one of my NCOs, was fond of quoting, ‘Victory loves preparation; don’t disappoint victory.’ I dug into my pack, retrieved a suction cup from beneath a water bottle and secured it to the glass beside the latch. Using a common glasscutter, I traced a circle around the suction cup’s black rubber edge. Dull scratches filled my ears. A second and then a third pass deepened the groove.
A small electronic butane torch, its nozzle shielded with a cone to prevent light leakage, popped to life with a click and a hiss. I heated the glass to a critical temperature. Heated it until the suction cup’s soft rubber bubbled around the edges before squirting a heavy stream of bottled water onto the fault line. Glass hissed and cracked and broke free, granting access to the alarm’s magnetic contacts. When the window opened, the contacts separated. Separated contacts produced infinite resistance. Infinite resistance tripped the alarm panel into trouble. So I needed to maintain continuity. The easiest method was to introduce a large wire loop with an alligator clip on each end and bypass the contacts. One clip attached to each side of the two contacts. Since the wire’s resistance did not decrease significantly, the alarm should not sound. I opened the window. When the alarm did not sound, I released the breath I was holding.
Ten seconds later, I stood inside Odera’s bathroom letting my senses spread throughout her condominium, free to move around. Her home, silent as an avalanche shelter during a snowstorm, welcomed me. Ten minutes ticked by. Not so much as the furnace or the air conditioner kicked on. No sound at all but my own breathing. Maybe my paranoia was bullshit after all. Maybe I was the only breathing human inside the home. Still, I crept downstairs quieter than a kid bent on surprising Santa. I checked the status of the alarm keypad when I reached the first floor. It was not armed. To appease my paranoia, I low crawled to the big front window.
No street movement. Nothing but two heads bobbing up and down from time to time as if they traded stories about the pussy they had banged or hoped to bang, or the beer they had drunk at some cop bar, or some other macho cop crap to battle the boredom found in observing a dull street in sleepy suburbia where even the skunks were pleasant. Every now and again the driver glanced into the rear-view mirror. He probably scanned the front yard of Odera’s condominium and farther down the street. Their behaviour felt natural. Assured that my entry had gone unnoticed, I wormed myself back from the window and soaked in the shambles that had once been a neat and tidy living space.
Chairs, tables and lamps were flipped upside down and tilted sideways. They were scattered helter-skelter as though a college frat party gone-wild had exercised fraternity easement rights. I took in a smashed vase, noted two sliced paintings, the slashed sofa cushions. They had come for Odera, obviously, and for something else, equally obvious. But what else?
Ambient streetlight leaked through half-opened curtains. It let me discern that dried blood caked the living room’s snow-white carpet in shades of brown and rusty orange. The vertical blood smear on the wall and on the carpet adjacent to the front door marked the area where Julia must have been shot; no other bloodstains showed anywhere else.
Julia had undergone surgery to repair the damage to her shoulder if the media report could be trusted. Which meant that the hospital would administer strong pain medication. Another day or two and I planned a visit. Investigating detectives never released all information. They kept back key pieces for verification purposes. Standard procedure. There wasn’t a reason for the detectives to keep a police presence at the hospital. Julia was collateral damage. She was a random event to the abduction. She and I needed to have a face-to-face. Which should not be a problem from Julia’s perspective since I was not present that night. And we were acquainted.
The front door’s splintered jamb with its twin deadbolts and two chains, sundered cleanly from the frame, confirmed it had been a forced entry. Someone strong had burst through that door, blowing out the frame, cracking the doorjamb all to hell in the process. One of the dining room chairs lay on its side by the front door, but the table and the other three chairs were more or less in place. That wasn’t the case with the kitchen table and its chairs.
The kitchen table, the platform where we had shared food and laughter, where we had embarked upon debates that would never end because they were so much more enjoyable to continue, was pushed halfway across the room. It looked to be where they might have cornered Odera. She had apparently fled from the living room into the kitchen, away from intruders who had entered the front door. The backdoor suffered similar damage as the front, but that was about the extent of the damage. Odera had likely hoped to reach the heavy metal underground parking door controlled by an electronic lock that she could have put between herself and her assailants, which might have bought enough time to reach another exit and to call 911. But that did not happen. Not even, close. Which made my blood surge as I imagined her frightened and alone, trapped in the kitchen, unable to free herself from terror.
Presumably, a driver had waited outside while the others executed the tactical assault. No less than two people for each point of egress. No less than a five-person team. The scene strongly suggested invaders had executed a coordinated entry. That meant they were in communication with each other and had executed previous tactical operations. Tactical operations required repeated drills to iron out wrinkles, to learn each team member’s strengths and weaknesses and to mesh as one unit with one agenda from which you never deviated. Deviation was a stone-cold bitch that could instantly render your team dead-bang goners instead of hard-ass chargers. No mission ever went exactly as planned, not ever, so you could not train for it, but you did anyway, which meant sticking to your assignment and covering your zone, no matter what because the person on your shoulder was covering their zone for you. Discipline and nothing else, except for maybe a bit of warrior luck, kept death at bay.
The cops had to have recognized all of this and more, but they had their sights dead-zeroed on me. The Armed Forces screw-up. Ex-convict. They had blinded themselves to other possibilities, which made me madder than hell. Not because I was a person of interest and would end up back in jail, but because focusing on me kept the investigating detectives from distinguishing truth from conjecture. Tunnel vision kept them from using vast departmental resources to locate and to rescue the woman I worshipped and wanted to be with for as long as I drew breath. It was always a surprise when I discovered people who were even bigger assholes than I was, but it felt reassuring just the same.
Why hadn’t the intruders come when I was here?
I wondered at the unfairness of it all, at how cruel events could happen to a kind person who had done nothing to deserve being kidnapped and possibly raped and maybe worse. And then I realized that if I had been present to champion her, I would be dead. No way in hell could I have stood against four or more armed intruders with maybe nothing more threatening than a kitchen knife. Now that would have been unfair. Unfair because I would not be here trying to solve the riddle of her whereabouts. That last thought lessened my anger and focused my thoughts.
Fleeing arrest had centred me on law enforcement’s radar screen. An ex-convict made things neat and tidy. Who didn’t like tidy? Cops loved tidy. Less detecting, less legwork and less paperwork. It was easier to make circumstances fit the person than to acknowledge the significance behind the scenario which I perceived as consisting of no less than a five-man tactical team infiltrating the premise for reasons unknown. I needed to stop asking myself why and stop feeling how unfair life could be. Rage and worry could come later, in any proportion they wanted, but not now, not at the expense of failure. Failure was a lascivious mistress that could never be allowed to raise her head.
While the multiple entry points were coordinated, they were hurried. The infiltrators were not bunglers, but semi-pros doing something rushed. There was a definite amateur quality at play. Why shoot Julia? A pro would have stayed calm, which meant someone ordered the shooting or an element of panic had entered the equation. Experience would have put a man at each door to watch for concerned neighbours and random heroes. It made no sense to put an unarmed female neighbour down. Julia should never have been able to gain entry. This was amateur hour gone badly and at least one of them was a cold-blooded psycho-macho dick who hurt people for no reason except that he enjoyed doing so. Too many scenarios were popping up for me to calculate accurately. Stick to the facts.
Coordinated multiple entry points. They must have used a driver and perhaps another person to monitor police bands. Money and resources. Aside from shooting Julia, it had a paramilitary feel. They performed a tactical entrance but had no data on Julia and they had neither researched their objective nor the terrain. They would have known about Odera’s alarm system otherwise. By all accounts, they were here too long if Odera was their lone objective. Supported by evidence of a quick and dirty search. Now that was an interesting thought because it meant Odera had something they wanted, and it aligned itself with everything I had learned, which wasn’t much except for a bunch of deductions, gut feelings and some conjecture.
What necessitated Odera’s abduction?
That was the money question. Solve that one, and everything pulled together. I went to the demonstration computer, turned the monitor away from the picture window and fired it up. When the boot-up routine finished doing its thing, an error message flashed:
Non-system disc error. Insert system disc and press any key.
I slipped a thumb drive into the port. Five minutes later I learned the hard drive was blank; each sector filled with null characters and erased again. It was possible to undelete files, to restore lost file allocation tables and to unformat a formatted hard drive. But once a person deleted a file, overwrote those sectors with null characters, deleted it again and then reformatted the hard drive, the magnetically stored contents were lost forever. They had shut down the computer, erasing data I might have gleaned from memory caches, dynamic random-access memory and higher memory addresses. They had covered their tracks, which made sense, because of the hacker who had injected a mathematical cure at Hidden Oaks.
Curiosity and desperation sent me down into the basement. I knew it was a long shot, but I wanted to be thorough, even if that meant that I had to sift through each room for little oddities. I stood in the centre of the room to let the surroundings sink in, to see if anything jumped out, which it did not, besides heavy boot traffic that deposited carpet imprints and dirt scuffs. Normal wear and tear for a house full of constables and investigators, though not a stick of furniture was out of place. Familiar tendrils of perfume lingered in the air. Deep longing stabbed at me. It was almost as though Odera would bounce downstairs, enter the room and everything would be fine. I pushed my low feelings aside, seated myself at her personal computer and lifted my balaclava partway. Her diskette box lay empty. All music CDs, DVDs and portable thumb drives were missing as well.
Odera’s personal computer, the one I had used previously was running, but the modem cable had been disconnected. I clicked it out of energy saver mode and plugged in the cable. A red and black email flag revolved slowly in the middle of the monitor. A computer-generated voice repeatedly chimed, ‘You have mail.’ The intruders had taken everything but had left the computer intact, yet the modem cable had been pulled. Odd. Cops were nosey. They would have opened the email had it existed when they were here, so it had arrived after they had finished investigating before the cable was unplugged. Strange. I wondered if the email message was relevant. Who could resist opening your girlfriend’s mail? One of life’s devilish pleasures. I clicked on the email icon conveniently forgetting that a person generally paid a sin tax for larcenous joy.
A virtual heartbeat monitor, complete with dials and buttons and an X- and Y-axis filled the screen. Undulating left to right, a green wavelength flowed smoothly across the virtual oscilloscope, beeping at each simulated heartbeat, peaking strongly and then going flat for a period before the green blip peaked and beeped again. Each blip was slightly shallower than the previous blip, its peak not quite so high, as though it moved toward eventual extinction like a flat-lining heartbeat, degenerating in equal time increments, as though a terminally ill patient was fading into oblivion, as though their life force was slowly running out.
Or like a timer!
A tiny red dot travelled smoothly across the wall, homing in on my position, capturing and holding my attention. Mesmerizing. I should look away.
Red dot? Spellbinding.
Kendo reflexes sent me lunging out of the chair, diving for the floor, rolling until I came up against the wall. The half-sized basement window behind me and the monitor exploded into flying glass slivers and pieces of plastic. No sound of gunfire. Crackling orange, red and white sparks sprayed out of the monitor. I rolled in the opposite direction, away from the angry red dot. The dot tracked me across the floor, kicking up wood splinters and tiny plumes of carpet dust. The short spacing between shots meant the shooter used a semiautomatic rifle, not the bolt-action variety that would have decreased his rate of fire. I kept rolling until I was out of line of sight. Very faint, sickly sweet odour, an odour similar to rotten eggs, tainted the air. Distinctive smell.
Either opening the email triggered the gas, or the shooter had a remote ability. Now that I had found temporary refuge beneath the basement window, I recognized a whistling sound. It sounded like someone blowing really hard through a straw. It originated from the furnace room’s open door, from where city gas pipes entered the condominium. Gas poured into the basement at an incredible volume, I realized in the next breath.
Ingenious manhunters, these guys. Sophisticated, but arrogant to have provided the virtual heartbeat monitor. I replayed the rhythm of the beeps and the height of the peaks in my mind to acquire some sense of how much time remained until flat-line. Not very much was the number I arrived at. Their arrogance granted opportunity. When the wavelength flat-lined, when the gas had had a few minutes to increase concentration, there was going to be an explosion. Shooting me was the primary execution method; incineration the secondary tactic. Snipers possessed military training. The basement was poorly lit. The sniper must be using a night scope or thermal imaging. Thermal imaging turned everything green and was sensitive to bright light, whereas a night scope collected light and magnified it ten thousand times. Each was expensive and difficult military gear to obtain. Knowing that I had correctly deduced the paramilitary part of the operation just before I died felt uninspiring. If I did not smarten up, my headstone would read here lies a dumbass who deduced danger too late.
The presence of the unmarked police car barred a frontal escape unless I wanted to go to jail or to place myself in prime position for a slug in my brain basket as the stakeout cops cuffed my wrists. And of course, the sniper had eyes on the backdoor so that exfiltration route was out of play. Now what?
Where had the sniper hidden when I had checked the alley?
He had waited for me to enter, had been the reason for my anxiety, which I had failed to put together because I ignored my niggling back brain. I headed for the roof wondering if this was another day that I paid the price rushing into danger. I hoped Odera would not lose her life because her boyfriend failed to use his wits. Concentrate on moving, I told myself. Odera’s condominium was about to emulate Mount Saint Helen. Instead of belching ash, parts of me mashed and gashed would gush out, incinerating the condominium quicker than Pompeii vanished.
Dull chinking noises sounded.
It felt as though someone had dragged a rusty knife across my shoulder cap as I entered the kitchen. Supersonic slugs popped the sound barrier, smacking and stabbing into the wall on my right. I dropped to the floor and wormed sideways. Two additional soft chinks and dull thunks told me two more rounds had been squeezed off. Neat round holes magically appeared in the window. My hand traced the shallow groove across my shoulder and came away red, wet and warm. Flesh wound, more like a crease. Hurt like hell just the same. Jagged and sharp pieces of broken glass fell into the sink, clinking merrily when they bounced off stainless-steel. Only the tight angle of the sniper’s position had prevented him from attaining better line of sight.
Fortune and luck. I’d take all I could.
Sniper asshole had clear line of sight into the living room. Lots of ambient light from the street shone through the picture window for his rig to capture and magnify. As soon as I moved between him and the light, moved out from behind the wall, I would outline myself. Someone had opened the blinds and curtains that Odera and I had shut. Cops. Who else?
I was ringed by them.
I must pass through the kitchen and the living room to reach the stairs. Using my foot, I hooked a kitchen chair leg, one of those chrome-legged jobs with casters, pulled it closer, lifted it chest level and launched it at the kitchen window while moving in the opposite direction. Thunks, tings and thwacks, announced sniper asshole’s effort to perforate my hide as I crossed the kitchen and rounded the corner. It seemed to take hours for me to race upstairs.
Lining up the open bathroom window like some crazy Russian gymnast named Ivan, I charged towards it, used the toilet seat as a springboard and launched myself up and off, super-manning it, arms fully extended, only slightly bumping my knees off the sill on the way through. Sharp shingles shredded my sweater, scraping and gouging shingle roof rash into my hide. To top it off, the asshole had repositioned himself, had correctly anticipated my point of egress. The red dot was there to say hello.
Damn, this guy was persistent, like Royal Canadian Mounted Police who never quit until they caught their man. Scrambling left and right, avoiding predictable straight lines, I snatched up my grapnel and rope. Slugs perforated the rooftop all around my feet and waist, throwing up glittering pieces of shingle. Dogged by nasty lead hornets, I sprinted up the incline and threw myself over the apex of the roof, out of the line of fire, desperately clawing to stop my slide before I went off the downslope.
Now, how did I evacuate a two-storey roof without breaking my back, without the stakeout cops seeing me and without granting sniper asshole line of sight? And do it all successfully before the gas exploded? I looked to the roof flanking Odera’s unit and came up empty. The absence of light translated into an uncertain berth for my grapnel. The night, my friend, had turned foe. No time for multiple throws. The building was about to whisper kaboom!
Desperation attacked my confidence.
My limbs trembled and my mind raced impotently for ideas.
Miyamoto Sasamori’s voice echoed in my head, ‘Focus on task, gai-jin. Prune away all thoughts but one.’
I pictured myself plucking one of Miyamoto’s wild chin beard hairs out. My perspective altered. Fear and anxiety faded. In a single heartbeat, a mad idea was born. Chances were that I would be jackhammered into the pavement, but if I stayed put, death was certain. With nothing to lose, except my life and every bone in my body, I swung the grapnel over my head lariat-style and let fly. The electrical distribution lines on this side of the street were my target.
The grapnel crossed the power lines.
I walked to the edge of the roof taking up the slack, gathering up rope so the grapnel’s padded tines caught the aluminum, triplex power lines and pulled them taut. I increased the tension until I resembled Wyle E Coyote about to launch himself from an Acme slingshot. After bunching my legs and taking three deep breaths, I leapt gigantic.
Qi and adrenaline surged through my system as I climbed up the rope madman fast.
I needed additional height.
Lots of it.
The ground waited a shorter distance down than the electrical lines were located from the house. Seconds into my circus act, a tremendous explosion rocked the sleepy suburban community with a similar effect as a volcanic eruption. Walls and windows for three square blocks in every direction shook, rattled and cracked. A warm percussion wave buffeted my back. For a breathless eternity, fiery orange death hounded me, cocooned me, and then I swung free with the scent of scorched eyebrows and balaclava wool stinking up my nose.
On the heels of the blast wave came the debris storm.
Glass shards, parts of walls, wood, bits and pieces of plumbing and everything else that went into building a furnished home, whizzed past me. Bulging orange, a Hiroshima fireball mushroomed out of Odera’s condominium, folding in upon itself as though avarice yearned additional life, sucking in added fuel. That fiery orange-red globe illuminated the stakeout cops inside their vehicle. Suddenly, as though I reclined upon a bed of nails, a thousand porcupine quills stabbed my unprotected shoulders, lower back and legs. Every fibre of my being wanted to shout, to scream, to let go of the rope and to curl into a protective ball. A death grip glued my fingers shut, and that’s how they would find me if this went wrong, still clutching the rope, too dumb to have saved himself, they would say.
Stuffed with equipment, the backpack I wore protected my major organs from flying knifelike wood splinters and glass- and steel shards. But I would not thank that saviour until later. Right now, black asphalt rushed toward me. The rueful gladness I felt to have survived the explosion, dwindled as I braced for impact, knees drawn high, willing my swinging height to be adequate, as if thought alone could levitate me.
My height was perfect.
Perfectly suited to drag me over the pavement.
Perfect to grind sand and pebbles into my legs and backside.
I let go of the rope, tucked myself into a ball and rolled stop-sign smooth, as if I rode a bicycle along train tracks, thumping and bumping until a leaf green, thorny hedge arrested my head-over-heels voyage of pain and humility. Bruised and battered, I pushed myself upright where I staggered once, and then twice, fighting dizziness.
Miraculously, my limbs functioned to one degree or another. Odera’s home, now a hollowed-out shell, blazed brilliantly. Whatever had initially survived the volcanic-like natural gas belch, leaping flames now consumed. Part of Julia’s roof and the entire adjoining wall was gone. Bits of debris and ash floated groundward like tiny grey and black kites blown free of their tethers. It required every shred of willpower and energy I could muster to move my feet, to remember I had a mission to complete and something as trivial as pain must not interfere. The correct mindset permitted the body to accomplish tremendous physical feats, or so Miyamoto claimed. Stubbornness was the only reason I had not fallen to the ground whimpering like a mangy mutt.I cut through a backyard. Somehow threw my body over a low fence and forced my legs into something that nearly resembled a jog. Torn up muscles screamed prickly anguish. Only one more fence to climb. One more yard to cut. No pursuit that I could detect. I needed a doctor before my shrapnel-filled lacerations became infected and turned septic. Sarah, the only trustworthy doctor I knew, happened to be a chiropractor with an MD’s licence. Since I impersonated a pincushion, I almost wished Sarah had been an acupuncturist. That last thought caused me to grin, then wince in pain and then to do it all over again before laughing outright as I recalled Odera crying, hiccupping and laughing. So that was how different emotions expressed themselves simultaneously. Overwhelmingly.