The Foggy Bottom area was getting crowded as college students and working people started breaking for lunch. I actually felt more comfortable in a crowd and tried to lose myself in it ... that is until I spotted Eye Patch leaning against a corner wall two blocks down, spying on people with his good eye.
I threw myself against a shop window and caught a few odd glances. Eye Patch’s arm was in a sling and he looked pissed, but he always looked pissed. Anyway, he didn’t react as if he’d seen me so I threw myself in front of a gaggle of George Washington college girls and walked the opposite direction. I crossed at the corner and although my journey took me several blocks out of the way, I eventually doubled back and stepped into Dr. Marconi’s building, unnoticed.
The edifice was old and refined. The walls and floor, both made of large slabs of marble, glistened as slivers of light streaked through the entrance façade. I also noticed it was very quiet, which added to the mystique. The elevator dinged and I stepped toward it like a trained dog.
Inside was a man, who the moment our eyes made contact, averted his gaze as if trying not to be noticed. He was old, maybe not as old as my dad, but certainly not far behind and he dressed nicely. He was also heading to the same floor as me, but something told me I should ride one extra floor, so I pressed the appropriate button. I guess we were both incognito or at least wanted to be. I knew the odds were small that he would know me, but something about him rang a bell. I couldn’t place it though and no sooner than the thought escaped my brain, he stepped out of the elevator.
I got off on the fourth floor and made my way to the stairwell. As I hopped down the steps, forcing myself to slow down, it dawned on me who the man was – a politician of some sort whose face showed up everywhere. The November election was around the corner and he’d already barraged us with a plethora of campaign spots. It was annoying because he wasn’t the only one. Who needed to see another add about some chump asking for my vote when I couldn’t even vote yet? I don’t know if he was the mayor, a congressman or a senator, but I had sure placed him and instantly wondered what he was doing here.
I cautiously stepped through the stairwell door and located Dr. Marconi’s office. Before entering, I fixed my hair, took a few deep breaths and swallowed, making sure I had enough saliva to talk without choking.
The door opened smoothly, silently, and just as I stepped in, the secretary spotted me and hurriedly announced, “Mr. Smith, you can go in now.” I glanced at Mr. Smith’s back and chuckled to myself. I guess the doctor did have high-end clients if that politician was an indication of things.
“Can I help you?” the secretary said, showing her disapproval at my sudden appearance.
“Yes, I was hoping to see Dr. Marconi,” I replied. “It’s really important.”
“Are you a patient of his?”
“I guess so.”
“What do you mean ‘you guess so’?”
“Well, I’m not a patient that sees him at this office.”
“I see,” she said with an arched eyebrow. “Well, I’m sorry, but as you can see, he just started with his eleven-thirty, so it’s probably best if you contact him or see him at your usual spot.”
I didn’t like her attitude. I especially didn’t like it when old people felt they could brush you off because you were a kid.
“No, I’d really like to see him now, if you don’t mind.”
“Young man, this isn’t a negotiation. The doctor cannot be disturbed when he’s with a patient. I’m sure you can understand. Besides, shouldn’t you be in school?”
Shouldn’t you be on better medication, I thought, but said, “Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to take away time from that politician…” I let the insinuation linger.
Would she call my bluff?
She stared at me in much the same way that cat in the window had and I almost stepped back. Instead, she rolled her eyes and rose from the chair.
“And who should I say is calling?”
“Is that all or do you have a last name?”
“Trenton is fine. He’ll know who I am.”
“I’m sure he will,” she snapped in a low voice and poked her head in the doctor’s office. A moment later, she closed the door and turned. “He can see you in a few minutes ... Trenton.”
She returned to her work and made a point to not notice me until Dr. Marconi came out.
“Trenton,” Dr. Marconi said with a curious expression. “I’m surprised to see you. Is everything all right?”
I exchanged glances with the secretary and threw Dr. Marconi a suggestive look to which he opened his door fully and motioned me in.
“Thanks for seeing me. I really appreciate it.”
He shut the door and I immediately noticed the second door in the opposite corner that the mysterious politician must’ve used to leave. So it’s a secret passage for the high profile clients, I thought ... pretty cool.
“Have a seat,” he said, directing me to the soft, leather recliner. I fell into its warm embrace and wondered how many political careers this emotional vault might end if it could talk. He continued, “This is an unexpected surprise. I thought we had an appointment tonight at my house.”
“We did and I’m sorry to intrude, but so many things have happened since we last met that it just couldn’t wait.” I calculated whether I should tell him about my father, but decided to see how the conversation went before hitting him with that whopper.
“You make it sound like it’s life or death,” he said, working his way into his own leather chair. “What’s going on?”
I decided to lay it on him and told him about Number Nine and the numbers he provided that led to my getting a better understanding about my birth-father.
“Colonel Mendoza, you say,” he reflected. “Yes, I certainly remember the name, but the details of his story evade me.”
“He was accused of treason and then disappeared along with my birth-mother.”
“I see. However, that doesn’t mean that’s your life.”
“I know, but that’s not the main reason I came here today.”
“Okay, tell me about it.”
“I found out my friend Matt is somehow working for Number Nine’s company, but in what capacity, I don’t know. Anyway, Number Nine and the government lady have been trying to recruit me for an internship with their organizations. I was surprised because my aptitude test scores were not good enough ... or at least that’s what I was led to believe.”
“What do you mean?”
“Someone, and I think it was Matt, doctored the letter I received.”
“How do you know that?”
“The government lady and Number Nine told me. They’d known all along that my scores were higher and put me in the running for a scholarship.”
“Interesting ... what else?”
“Allison, my ex-girlfriend, started her internship with the Library of Congress and was picked to observe Crimson James as part of the TTOP program, which is great because she’s in love with the guy; however, Number Nine then tells me that her life might be in danger.”
“How? Did he provide any details?”
“No, but when I told him I wasn’t interested in a scholarship with his company, he gave me an ultimatum.”
“Yes, he told me that he actually worked for the Chinese government and that if Allison and her TTOP friends were close to coming back with Crimson James’s wormhole theory, then she would be killed back in time.”
“To prevent her from bringing it to the present, right?”
“But why would she matter since she’s just an intern?”
“He said Allison was Crimson James in a past life, which is why she was selected for the project.”
“Okay, but what in the world could you do about it?”
“I could convince her to not go back.”
“What if you can’t?”
“The Chinese have sent an agent back to make sure she doesn’t succeed.”
“But again, it would seem out of your control if she does go back.”
“That’s the kicker, he told me he would send me back in time so I could stop her there.”
“Using Chinese technology?”
“Exactly and we all know that would be –“
“Right … I don’t know what to do.”
“What did your father say?”
I hesitated. “I haven’t been able to talk to him yet.”
“Okay, sounds like you’re in quite a pickle – a catch-22 of the worst sort.”
“I know, I can either do nothing and lose the love of my life, if I haven’t already, or try and save her and befall the same fate as my father.”
Dr. Marconi breathed deeply as he brought his bended leg down to the floor and replaced it with the other one. He studied me for a moment and I could sense him struggling with something.
“Have you ever heard of the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre?” he asked.
“Only that I could never remember how to pronounce his name correctly.”
“You’re not the only one,” he said, showing a slight smile. “Anyway, he had a student come to him with a catch-22 of his own. This student had a brother, his only brother, who had recently been killed in war by an evil regime. The student felt it his duty to go off to war and avenge his brother’s death. However, his dilemma lay in the fact that he also felt obligated to stay home and protect his ailing mother, who didn’t want him to go because she might lose both of her only sons.”
“Duty and love,” I replied, trying to understand how this story related to my situation. “So what did Sartre tell the student to do?”
He readjusted his legs and continued thoughtfully, “Well, Trenton, he basically told the young man that since he had a free will, he had to choose.”
“That’s it? He didn’t give him an answer?”
“The choice is yours and I cannot decide for you. I’m sorry.”
“Well that’s a kick in the shorts, but I don’t blame you for not wanting any part of this.”
“It’s not that. I am here to help, but we all have to make our own decisions in life. Unfortunately for you, the tough ones have started at an early age.”
“You know, Number Nine did say if I had opened my Past Lives Letter then everything would be much easier and clearer for me.”
“What do you think he meant by that?”
“I hazard to guess, but it may mean that I was somehow associated with Crimson James or, on the flip side, I was somehow associated with the Chinese government, which would only make things more difficult. I don’t think I really want to know.”
“Have you had any blackouts since we last met?”
“Yes, and that worries me too.”
“In what way?”
“When I came to it felt like I’d been in a death match. I had bruises all over and I was really sore.”
“Hmm ... what do you say we try the controlled regression technique we employed last time?”
“If you think it will help, I’m game.”
“Okay then, let’s get started.”
Dr. Marconi took me back to the beaches of planet Romulus and had me count the gentle waves trickling in one at a time. Before long, my subconscious had taken front and center allowing my conscious state to nap for a while.
The first few minutes, which for all I knew could have been longer, passed by serenely and without notice. It was when the questioning began that things got confusing. The peacefulness I had experienced last time didn’t occur and I felt something inside resist the regression, as if trying to prevent a door from opening and letting in the wolf … or maybe letting it out, in this case.
Unlike the first hypnosis, I could feel what was going on this time, although none too clearly. It was as if I were deaf and blind, caught in a tornado, not knowing which way to escape. It was all very confusing and frantic. I was a prisoner in my own subconscious, aware, but helpless.
Then I felt the force, a strong one, emerge and consume the whole of my physical being ... what was going on?