Currently at 90,000 words, 215 typewritten pages, and almost done.

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Artist, writer, visionary and head of Azotus Consulting and

Thursday, February 23, 2006

AZOTUSLAND Chapter 102

Jim lay in his large bed, alone with just a few candles lighted down by the fish grotto. He was deeply distraught by the loss of the child. He wondered what the point of so much striving was. "Death inevitably comes," he thought. And for him he reasoned it might be anywhere from tomorrow till some 25 years. But it would come.

"The bell tolls for thee" he muttered aloud, then took a swig of wine and tried to sleep.

That night he had a series of dreams that were once again disturbing by morning.

In the main one, he was trying to buy a car. It was unusual Thunderbird that was a sort of conglomerate of all the best ones, except bigger...much bigger. In the driver's seat it had gyros and gadgets and a playful instrument panel like a 767 built for a teenager. The outside was sleep, full-bodied and curvatious like a woman.

The owner, an older Hispanic man, had led him through the garage of cars to this very one and given him the keys for a test drive. Jim felt like a kid in a candy store, or more accurately, Charlie with the Golden Ticket. He took the big cruiser out on the highway and opened it up. It was a marvel!

When he got back the man walked up and had a piece of paper in his hands. It showed the blue book value at $18,000. But he had crossed that out and written $9,200 in it's place.

"There," he said. "I will give it to you for this..but just you. And only today."

"I don't have it" Jim said, even though he knew he had plenty of money. The man looked up at him sadly and said "You have a poverty of spirit."

Then Jim woke up.

Four weeks later Jim sat down with Matisse and they took their shoes and socks off and dropped their feet into the fish pond trench.

"What's the matter?" she asked straight up.

"You always know, don't you?" he said looking straight ahead. "Well daddy is going away from a short while."

"Why?" she asked. "Where would you go?"

"I need some time with God," he said. "It's a lot like the time you need with me, which is what makes this hard."

"Where will you go?"

"Not far really," he said. "It's just a few hours North of here and it is not like you will not see me at all."

"Have you lost yourself?" she asked.

"Yes pumpkin, that's a good way to describe it. Yes. How did you get so smart."

"Momma says it's your fault," she grinned then laughed. Jim laughed too.

"Will you call me?"

"I won't have a phone," he said. But promise I will send you letters, one every week."

"How long will you be gone?" she asked tearing up a bit.

He put his arm around her. "I dunno honey. As long as it takes."

After that they got up and watched a movie cuddled up on the couch in front of the big screen, then they went tot he table and folded origami animals till ten p.m. when Matisse got tired. They placed the small snimals on the mantle in a long line, then Jim tucked her into bed and marveled at her features. She was as keen and brilliant as her mother, but had Jim's vision and sweetness. It made him feel happy for a moment, then he walked into the big room and plunked down on the bed and wondered how he could possibly pull this off.


In reality, it was not so very hard because he had Maugham. They took a Saturday and rented kayaks and rowed across Tomlaes Bay to the old Boat Works. After some exploration they sat on an old log with their toes in the sand, had a glass of wine and some crusty old bread and soft cheese and talked about their lives.

"She makes you happy?" Jim grinned.

"I'm embarassed by how happy she makes me," Maugham said. "It scares me sometimes Jimbo." he said looking out serious as the water lapped into the small cove.

"What's the one word that comes to mind for you when you think of Martine?"


"No, serious."

Maugham thought for awhile and twisted off an other hunk of bread. "You know we should have gotten a jar of Johnson's"

"You know I don't hit that way," Jim said. They laughed then settled down.

"I guess," Maugham said after a time and a swig of wine, "I'd have to say 'grateful'."

"Word." Jim said.

They smeared more cheese on the bread and sat for awhile before Maugham said "so Jim, you never do anything without three or four reasons...why are we out here today."

"That obvious huh?"

"Yep. I can read you like a novel...just wish it wasn't Tom Clancy."

"I'm leaving Azotus One in your capable hands for a period of time, maybe for good. Your's and Martine's. We will renegotiate whatever deal we need to to make it fair and right."

"What if we don't want it?" Maugham said.

Jim looked at him like he was a hair found on a fresh sweet roll.

"okay, okay...but why?"

"I'm going away for awhile, maybe for good...I dunno."

"Don't be an idiot," Maugham said.

"I've been one, and for a good long while Maug," he said.


Six weeks later Jim pulled the Mustang into a small sheded area on the North Coast and pulled out his three bags and hiked up the hill. There was a note pinned to the door. "Welcome Jim" it said "I'll call on you in a week or so." and it was signed "Fr. Bill"

There was no lock on the door or need for any key. Inside it was sparse, white and cold. No phone, electricity or gas, just an old woodstove that Jim immediately set to lighting up. The front room had one long window overlooking the mountains. A small bedroom had a single bed hardly long enough for Jim, but He'd make do. Jim had brought warm clothes, a cell phone, which he turned off and a satchel of books including The Book of Common Prayer, two books by Merton, Bonhoeffer's Ethics, a Bible, a book of Zen Koans and the latest Sports Illustrated edition on the upcoming baseball season.

In the last satchel he had some food supplies and utensils, candles and a bottle of brandy. He took out the brandy and measured a small cup and drank it down as the woodstove began to heat the small house. Jim sat down and looked out the window as it started to rain lightly. He opened the window a bit to get some cold wet air mixing with the hot harness of the woodstove. Then he flipped to the chapter in Bonhoeffer on the diffeence between the Ultimate and the Penultimate.

An hour later he felt perfectly at home.


Book Two : Azotusland East & West

Thursday, January 19, 2006

AZOTUSLAND Chapter 101


Renata was beginning to push and Rand was doing all he could to encourage her. Outside, in the waiting room Jim, Ted and Hans all paced. The end of the pregnancy has not been easy and there was some sign that one of the children had an irregular heartbeat. Jim finally sat down and stared away in space and started to think about ad known Renata and what they had shared as friends. In some ways she was like another duaghter to him and he liked the way that she and Mattisse and always read each other.

Jim respected Renata because she lived out her own faith quietly and with love and dignity. Now she was in there fighting for her life and also her babies.

Ted slumped down next to Jim and closed his eyes. Jim figured he was praying.

"You figure it does any good?" he said two minutes later.

"What? Prayer?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, you're a Heretic...I figured you would know."

Jim smiled. It had become a joke between them, often working in the same room on their various projects. Ted called Jim "Heretic" and Jim would often answer "Well you're no Fundie anymore,' or just call him "Fundie".

"I dunno Ted." Jim said quietly. "It does seem God has given us a terrifying freedom and that our lives, while possibly pointed at His Life are also totally our own here and now." How else do you explain all the bad things that happen to people who love God..or for that matter, those who don't...given grace.?"

Hans continued to pace in a straight line exactly 20 paces each way.

Ted pondered, then said, "You never really answered the question."

Jim did a gallow's chuckle and said. "Well, some people believe truth is paradoxical. In that case both would be true. We have a terrifying freedom, but God does answer prayer...sometimes...I guess God has an even more terrifying freedom than we have."

Then Jim grinned at Ted and leaned in quietly. " know how people complain about God wanting to be praised and thanked all the time."

"Yea..I have heard some good comedy acts on that," Ted said.

"Well maybe it's because God has the most thankless job."

Just then the docter came out looking grim faced.

"Are you her father?" he asked Jim.

"Close enough." The doctor looked at Ted.

"Brother," Jim said quietly.

"We lost the first baby. Her heart was just too frail and undeveloped."

Jim head slumped and he started to cry. Then he caught hold as Ted put his hand on his back.

"Go is she and the other baby?"

"She is going to have some complications, but they are not life-threatening," the doctor said. It was just then that Jim focused on his name tag. "Steven Hurley."

"Dr. Hurley," he said . "how is the second child?"

"She is well. Strong and in good health. She is a little small at 5 pounds, but that is not unusual for twins."

"That is all I can tell you for now."


It was a Saturday and Ward was running most of the place. Roo was off in New England working on the final plans and designs for the Azotuscafe there. Martine and Maugham were also helping and Manfred was scurrying about even though he really did not have to anymore.

Over the many months Manfred had kept investing and re-investing his money into small companies that bank-rolled Mexican soap operas that Manfred was catalogging on his Tivo and then tranferring to DVD via Andy's hot new tower down in the IC. The stocks rose gradually until, at one point four of the seven programs he had invested in were bought out by a huge American congolmerate with over 37,000 stations nationwide and several deals for overseas and Internet rights.

Manfred might as well have bought mass quantites of Google stock at 4.

None of this stopped Manfred from still pilfering Jim's ice cream, nor did it deter him from bringing the car around for Jim. In fact, on New Year's Day of that new year Jim came out expecting to find the Jeep and Manfred drove up in a brand new 2006 Yellow Mustang GT soft-top.

"That your's?" Jim asked him.

"No Sahib" said Manfred grinning wildly "It 's yours!" Then he got out of the car and left the door open for Jim while the husky engine blabbed on.

Jim settled into the seat and smelled the leather. He looked up at Manfred and said "sometimes Manfred you overwhelm me."

"Oh I saw that movies!!" Manfred said clapping his hands. "Only's it did not make very much sense Sahib because they switching of the adversarial to the wonderfulness and dog was much too sudden. I mean, they ignore him all the ways homes and then whammy! Suddenly he is overwhelm-med?"

"It's a point well-taken Manfred. Thank you for the car. I assume I cannot convince you to take it back?"

"Oh no Sahib! It would be like all your other directives in their utter uselessness."

With that Manfred turned and skipped up and down around the outer path of Azotus. But he stopped when out of sight and walked slowly. He loved Jim and it made him happy to see him happy, if only for a few moments because he sensed Jim's deep sadness.


Martine and Maugham had been married for four months. Maugham, a life-lonmg bachelor, could no longer conceive of a life lived out without her. She seemed to reveal new things every week than made them more One and despite his own dark side he decided he was always safe with her and he truly was.

It was a mystery as to how she became this way. How she had kept her sense of self, honesty and inner strength while also being vulnerable and compassionate. It just any force of nature.

So, in November of the previous year they hiked up Mt. Tam and Jim and Rich co-lead a service for them in the presence only of close friends and family. On Maugham's side that was no one except Jim in front of him. Martine's mother was there and sister. The Azotus was closed down for the day, or better yet, being outfitted for a very large and exclusive party.

Maugham looked pensive but handsome and sleek. Martine was radiant and funny.

More in a bit!

Monday, December 26, 2005

AZOTUSLAND Chapter One Hundred

Three nights later, or rather in the middle of that night, so it was actually very early Satuday morning, Jim had another series of dreams that, to him, seemed related to the others. Jim was a rational man, but he knew enough about himself to see that what might really be going on inside was not only mysterious, but was bubbling up past his own considerable internal defenses. He also sensed his own resistance to what it might mean, yet could not deny its truthfulness.

Like all of life, it was what it was.

In the first dream he was in his mother's house. He did not realize in the dream that she was long since dead or that his mother had never lived in such a grand an sun-filled house. It was near the ocean because you could hear it and the notable point was the entire long house was boardered seaside with nothing but white wooded greenhouse paneled windows. Inside it was roomy and also simply opulent.

Jim was, for some reason, unemployed and he knew it. He was poor and needed money. He noted when he came in the back door into the greenhouse area that the door itself was heavily damaged and needed replacing and some heavy carpentry. And one whole panel, perhaps fifteen feet wide and twelve feet tall where also ruined and would require considerable work. Jim thought to find his mother and ask, perhaps even beg, that she let him find a room in the house somewhere and just be treated like a hired workman and make some bank by doing these fairly substancial repairs for a few weeks. As he walked down the long sunlighted hallway he called out "mother?" and was also thinking of all the wood, glass and supplies he would need for the job so that when he found her he would have facts on hand and not just be "a dreamer".

When he got to the end, he found the shower room and all three big nozzles were full on. He thought that very strange. He kept looking for her around the big house but it was abandoned. The insides became like storefront and as he walked by he saw one of his old bosses whom he liked very much. He walked in and there was a very small woman at the counter asking for a job. And the man was eyeing her skeptically. When she turned away Jim recognized her and said "do you remember me?"

"Of course," she smiled "who could forget you?" Then she hugged him. He turned to the man and said. "You can trust this one. She will do you well," and he hired her on the spot.

In the second dream he walked into a restaurant and saw a woman friend who was happily married. She was a Christian, but not of the "check-your-brain-at-the-door" or judgmental types. No, her faith simply added an almost "seventh sense" to her life. She was sitting with others and she invited him over and he went and sat next to her and she started to tell him about a man who was driving by her house and would park outside and wait in case she came out and when she did they would talk for hours. Jim did not like the sound of it for her own safety and whispered to her "what does your husband think?"

She laughed and said "Oh he doesn't know, but it's fine." Then she and others picked up and all of them walked to a rectangular table in the center of the restaurant. Jim followed out of curiosity. The sat down and started to talk about how weird the journey of faith was. The humility required, and openness and they were laughing at themselves and each other as the food came. It was good hearty heart-attack inducing breakfast foods like stacks of pancakes, big waffles with slabs of butter, thick syrups, sausages and lots of eggs of various ways.

When it was all laid down the other five stopped and all smiled at Jim.

"What?" Jim asked innocently.

"We are waiting for you to pray, if you would." He searched their faces and every one of them was warm and relaxed, even curious back.

"Er, okay, but I haven't done this publically in a long while," he shrugged then took their hands and prayed aloud a first. Then it turned and his mind opened up like a vision and as he spoke he described the beautiful cold fresh air of Tamalpias in early morning, he saw how beautiful and glorious people when unadorned, and how precious life was and that the love of God was both ethereal and organic...and to this he spoke to God in a reflected poem that was not entirely just Jim. It was as if he and God were praying together or like Jim was in God's lap on a swing and he was 7 year's old yet also 52.

Then others came into the restuarant and they started to sing and they joined hands, perhaps 250 people as the room expanded in a large circle and he saw several people from his youth, and a man he had befreinded in his own 20s who had been in a wheelchair and he now stood. His friend grabbed his hand and they all started to walked to the left still holding hands. Then they went faster and faster and the ring of people would break apart but they would grab new hands as they went faster and faster and the circle playfully came togther and broke apart in a free but connected dance.

Suddenly they were outside but still running and laughing. Still in an ever-opening and expanding circle. Jim was grabbing new hands and running faster and faster and soon his speed was incredible and he noticed that he was not tired and that he could use burst of speed or lay back and meet others as they ran alongside or in hand. Then he decided to test out his legs and he put on a burst where he blew past a whole pack of people and he could see each cobblestone underfoot perfectly so that each foot placement was perfect, almost art, yet he was moving faster than he ever had.

Then he woke up.

Both dreams made sense to Jim in wildly different ways. One was about his past and the other, it seemed to him, might be about the future, which was really his current question.

Jim knew he would get no more sleep, so he got up threw on some sweats and a longsleeve pullover and some old socks and tromped into Silo2 and sat down at his desk. Then he got up and walked over and looked behind the petition and saw Ted snoring at his desk. Jim smirked and hoped the young man would work it out on his own.

Jim was still working it out at twice his age. he knew he had the clear option of getting major venture capital for the new Azotus Cafes, and that it was just the beginning. Jim could simply be the CEO. He could travel. Maybe he would find the right woman and settle down in a nice quiet house just up the mountainside. He'd get a dog and maybe cultivate a hobby that was simple and personal. He'd keep in regular contact with the other Cafes but let them have all the hassles.

He'd run both dreams by Rich and Dan, but he already knew what they meant. Now the question was, did he have the guts to act on it and make such major changes to his own life?


Martine placed herself in Maugham's shoes, not as a man, but as a scared little boy in that room. Suddenly the whole story tipped upside-down for her.

So she spoke it.

"Sweetheart," she said softly. "You see yourself as your step-father, right?"

"Yes, who wouldn't?" he said head down.

"Had you been drinking?"


"Did you come meaning to demean or do harm?"


"What was your motive?"

"Just to protect Jim and make her go away."

"Why is it so important to protect Jim?"

"Because I love him and he's like my only family, well...except you now."

She liked the sound of that, but let it pass.

"Do you mind if I ask some more questions? I am going somewhere with this, just trust me, okay honey?"

"Okay. I do," he said.

"There are three people in each story....when you were a boy, who was being threatened and attacked?"

"My mother."

"Who is being threatened and attacked in this current story?"


"Who is the attacker in the first story?"

"My stepfather Brian."

"Who is the attacker in the new story?"


"You threatening Jim?"


"Who is the attacker in the dark?"


"No Maug. You are a seven year-old scared out of his mind in the dark trying to make the attacker stop."

Maugham said nothing. He sat with it.

Then Martine got on her knees and came over to him and cupped his chin in her two small hands and lifted his head up and with tears coming down her face she said "Candice is Brian, not you."

He blinked and searched her face.

"Don't you see Maug. It doesn't matter that you are a man and she is a woman. It doesn't matter you are stronger physically. You are just that scared little boy in the dark who wants the heartless attacker to stop hurting someone you love. To stop hurting your family. I don't know why I couldn't see it earlier. I guess I was just shocked by how physical you had to be and the element of rage that was there. But if it had been Brian naked in that bed attacking your mother, and you handled it the way you did, we would not be having this conversatuion would we?"

Maugham thought about it. It was foreign to him. He was so full of shame it was hard to see it through her eyes.

"Let me think about it, okay?"

"Okay honey," she said then curled up next to him and under his long arm.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

AZOTUSLAND Chapter NInety-Nine

Ted was down in his new "office that Tuesday afternoon and doing a lot of work on the Internet with a new site, and experimental one of Jim's devising called "Spoke" which was very difficult for him to wrap his mind around.

"How am I supposed to do serious theology with real depth on Christ while also publishing, alongside Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Athiests and God knows who else?" was the question he kept coming back to.

Jim had kept telling him that "Depth Pluralism" would advance the quest for truth more than any polemic that shut down real dialogue, but Ted just was not sure. "Should we be open to everything and anything? Was this the same old crap about all roads leading to God when in fact they most often lead to whoever was currently the Roman Empire or wanted to overthrow them?"

Jim had warned Ted that he would largely be on his own but that Jim would help where he could. To begin with he had suggested Ted review C.S. Lewis' views on the pursuit of truth and its many variations and also the poetry of T.S. Eliot (with a few suggested poems) and also the writings of the Dalai Lama.

Jim confessed he did not know much about Islam and that he lamented that since it was a faith which also has common roots with what he and Ted shared.

"Why do you not come out with what you believe in your deepest places?" Ted had asked.

"Because it is just my personal experience and belief. I have often been largely mistaken and this is a place for real community and dialogue, not the imposition of my ideas or ideals," Jim said.

"But you impose your idealism of dialogue and community," Ted answered.

"True enough. What's the alternative? Alienation and quiet hatred and suspicion?"

"You are a Pragmatist," Ted said.

"And you are a very smart and bright young man to say so," Jim said. "But whether you choose to believe it or not, I also have faith that God can take care of God's own self and that despite all appearances often, God is love and love prevails."

"Does love prevail for you?"

"In some cases, yes, often no," Jim answered. "But we have been handed freedom to an almost terrifying extent. Often when love does not prevail it is because of that terrifying freedom we all possess."

"So God is just the Grand Watchmaker who winds it all up and leaves," Ted said.

"Maybe exactly the opposite my friend," Jim said quietly. "Sometimes what is reality is just the most opposite thing we could ever believe. We just do not have eyes to see or ears to hear it"


Martine and Maugham made a point to wolfing down their gorgeous breakfast, then Maugham sent Martine up ahead to the room with the rest of the champagne and orange juice and two fresh glass as he tore into the dishes in the kitchen.

It was not thirty minutes, it was forty but no one had shown up except Jack and he seemed to be please with the progress in the kitchen and said nothing more.

Maugham finished and was tired and a bit woozy. It had been an uncanny series of events, like something a farcical novelist would make up. Just too much in too many days.

He slugged upstairs and hit the bathroom on the second floor and splashed his face with cold water and then turned up the thin stairs to the top room. When he got there Martine had lighted three small candles and she was sitting on the floor right where she had been earlier before leaving.

As he sat down she poured him another drink and he said "You trying to get me drunk?"

"It's my truth serum," she said not unkindly.

"I told you the truth," he said directly.

"Yes, I know," she replied. "Now tell me more."

"What else is there to tell. I'm a scumbag and a violent man," he said.

"No, you are not," she said. "I've seen you in twenty situation at the cafe and you handled each one with a calm firm care. So it's not that."

Maugham took another drink.

"Do you love me?" she asked.

"I adore you," Maugham said. "And in my book that is beyond love."

"Do you trust me?"

"Yes, I trust you."

"Well I spent a lot of time in that marsh thinking it through and I have some questions," she said.

"Okay baby," he said, feeling a bit more tipsy.

"You said it was the dark that set you off, right?"

"Yes...definitely the dark and her damned rustling in there."

"When have you been most scared in your life?"

He thought about it and kept going backwards until it hit him like a bomb and he would have reacted with anger to anyone but her, even Jim.

He started to weep and she reached out her hand and placed it on his leg and let him cry.


That afternoon, with Jim's permission, Roo made reservations for herself and Telia to Boston.

"We have reservations this friday and will land at Logan International at 8 p.m. their time," she told Telia. "We'll stay the first night at the Bulfinch Clarion, and I've setup a rental car for the next day to drive down from Boston. We'll stop in Plymouth and Barnsdale before reaching Provincetown."

"Don't we want to stop in Sandwich and Orleans?" Telia teased, batting her eyes.

"Sure Baby," Roo cooed back, "we got four days and nights and plenty of ground to cover. I'll take ya to Orleans anytime."


Ted was reading Eliot's Choruses From the Rock when he came across this:

Let me show you the work of the humble. Listen.
In the vacant places
We will build with new bricks
Where the bricks are fallen
We will build with new stone
Where the beams are rotten
We will build with new timbers
Where the word is unspoken
We will build with new speech
There is work together
A Church for all
And a job for each
Every man to his work.

What life have you, if you have not life together?
There is not life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of God.
He did not know what to do with this except it matched his own dissatisfaction and also his desire.

He kept reading, and wondering how this man of the twenties and thirties could forsee the modern world and the Church?

He kept reading.


"I know what it is," Maugham said slowly in a quiet agony.

"What is it honey?"

"I told you my mother was abused by my stepfather."


"Well it always happened at night when it was dark in the house, or at least dark in my room," he said quietly, his face still a smear in his large hands. "I felt so utterly helpless in the dark hearing him beat her and call her "whore" and "bitch" and I wished to God, I prayed to God to become a man so I could stand that man down and kill him, man to man, face to face. But it was like everytime I heard him assault her it mingled with the darkness."

Then he broke down again.

She listened and did not try to make it better for him.

"Worst was when he would assault her sexually. It was a small house and I would hear him wrestle with her in the bed to have his way," he said. Then he looked up at her with tears down his rugged face and said "have I ever mistreated you in any way?"

"No," she said. "That's why I am still here. You are a very kind man and yet strong. It's why I trust you."

"Trusted right?"

"No, trust.," she sighed.

"Have some more champagne," she said.


That evening Sabine dropped Matisse off with Jim and they went down to their room. Jim had long noted Matisse's supurb artistic eye as he had none whatsoever. He had bought her an easel and some acylic paints and had asked Hans to come down and explain how to use and mix them as well as what brushes to use. This happened, of course, after she and Hans had done the drawer game in the gallery and he had taken her around to show off new paintings.

"I like this one Hans," she said.


"The colors make it pop in my head!" she said looking up and smiled.

Hans smiled and then the three of them walked into Silo 1 and Hans gave instruction and Matisse set to work while Jim ordered some Thai food to be delivered to the Gallery and this time he insisted Hans join them for dinner. Jim left twenty minutes later and went and sat at Hans' desk and waited looking at the paintings and marveling at the gift of human imagination added to true skill.

As he waited he also thought about the dreams from the night before, He had been feeling for some time like he needed a new venue, like things were both collapsing and also opening up at the same time and he could not make rational sense of it. He remembered Kierkegaard's saying "Life can only be understood looking back, but must be lived forward."

"Ain't that the truth." Jim said to himself as the food was delivered.

Jim paid for the food and tipped the young man and then walked down through the darkroom and to the left and down the stairs. He could her Hans fawning over Matisse's work and knew it was no act.

Jim set the table and pulled around three chairs then jumped over the trough and peaked his head in Matisse's room and she and Hans turned and said "Out!" He closed the door and yelled out "dinner in ten minutes!"

AZOTUSLAND Chapter Ninety-Eight

Maugham drove around town in her car looking for Martine and finally found her, probably only because there are only five businesses in town and two trails. He had no idea what to say or do. He parked the car and walked down the marshy trail and found her sitting on the top of an old worn picnic table and looking out at the bay in a distant way.

He simply sat down next to her and looked out as well.

Finally he said "I don't have a lot of answers now, but I could sure use some help finding some."

She turned her head and looked at him hard and he kept looking out. She was always good at reading him...his layers, and she could see some inner torment and a confusion that she had not seen in him before. It was one of the reasons she always felt so safe because he was so clear. Now he was as muddy as the shallow marshlands in front of them. She thought that and it made her want to laugh a bit. She studied how his jaw clenched and the gravity in his cheeks and brows.

"Let's go make some late breakfast," she finally said. Then she grabbed his large paw and guided him back down the trail and into the store where they bought eggs, butter, chicken apple sausages, some locally baked croissants, some fresh spinach and a fresh lemon. She also picked up fresh orange jiuce, a bottle of champagne and a copy of the Chronicle.

Then they drove back to the retreat house and set up camp in the big kitchen.


That afternoon Jeremy marched the kids up from the Batcave up to the Library and they did an extended story time with some of the kids reading from books they had made for the class and which would be bound into the yearly collection for the Azotus Library, was published online, and which Andy would layout online in a private "published your own book" site so parents could order one created one by one. It had been a project that Jeremy, ever resourceful, had devised. In the meantime, he had met a young woman named Nadine who was quirky and fun. He liked her and was hopeful she would not become another story in his ongoing chronicle.

Meanwhile Alice was putting the finishing touches on the small hillside that was framed by the pools on the North side. At night the cystals would light up and during the days the light him them at various times through the trees and the plants she chose were done with great forethought and care for longevity and beauty.

Just up the hill Hans had sold three major paintings in as many weeks and the Gallery was starting to gain a reputation as a place for both afforible and high-end art.

Uptairs, Manfred had cut down a great deal on his American soap opera watching and was concentrating on both the stock market and was watching Mexican soap operas.

Up in the top Cafe it was full all afternoon with a line and a lot of newcomers. At 2:30, Renata, Ward, Dirk, Ian and Jim relented and asked Andy to open the IC and Jim went down to help with overflow. On the way down Jim started thinking he needed more staff.

Maugham was grilling sausages because it was easiest while Martine was washing and prepping the spinach. For the time being they only talked about what they were doing. The kitchen was big enough to feed a small army and the kitchen had a big old Wolf gas range with eight large burners, plenty of worn pots, and every utensil on earth that any retreat group had left behind, as well as every spice.

"You do the eggs and sauce last," Martine said. "So when you get the sausage done cover them and put them in the oven on warm. "She dropped the spinach in the shallow boiling water, gave it a stir, and covered it. Then she said "Wanna see the easy way to get the yolks?"

"Sure, who wouldn't?" he said snidely.

Martine cracked the first egg over one bowl then parlayed the yolk like dice in a broken cup back and forth allowing the white of the egg to keep slipping off with each motion back and forth until in one half of the egg shell there was only an unbroken yolk, then she slipped that into the second bowl.

"Hey, let me try that," Maugham said.

"Sure Big Man, give it a shot."

He took the egg, cracked it perfectly in the middle and grinned, then he started to sluice it back and forth and there was soon scrambled egg yolk all over the counter.

"Maybe you should do this part?"


Ked-woman had not been around Azotus for awhile. Then she showed up that day in the late afternoon and had herb tea and hot chocolate in the upper cafe. Dirk took notice of her immediately and liked the way she interacted with her son. he had actually been raised by a very nurturing father and an absent mother so he could tell. He also thought the Keds adorable and her look classic. He wondered who she was and asked Renata in the back and Renata just said she was wonderful but a but mysterious.


The spinach was steamed and Martine had asked Maugham to prepare a medium pan with hot water as she began to make the Hollandaise sauce, dropping the big chunks of fresh butter and then turning down the heat so it would simply liquify, then as she started to beat the egg yolks she asked Maugham to retrieve the sausage and start preparing the plates.

"Ya'Voll Mein Commandant!" he said.

She whipped it then added some cayenne pepper and fresh sqeeezes of lemon and some salt.

As she poured the warm butter into the mixture she said "No please crack four eggs into the hot water without breaking the yokes."

"Hey this cooking stuff is hard," he said. But he complied. The first one broke apart and while she was distracted he fished out the remanant as best he could into a bowl and tossed it. Then got four in a row.

As the Hollandaise mixture was returned to the saucepan and place on low she grabbed a large slotted spoon and said "watch this."

She "coddled" the eggs like a master, keeping each one separate yet folding in upon itself in the hot water as it turned whiter and whiter.

"Now here is the trick," Martine said. You cannot overdo them, but if underdone they will fall apart when you try and get them.

"They look a little like oysters," Maugham said.

"Just get the plates okay? Oh and give the spinach very light salt first."

Maugham brought them over in both hands like a waiter and she spooned up the eggs onto the fresh hot spinach and then grabbed the saucepan and ladeled the warmed and thickened light yellow sauce onto the top making sure there was plenty down one side for the bread and the sausages, which were alread on the plate and still warm. Then she had him take them out to the table on the deck and she followed with the orange juice, champagne and a small bottle of Tabasco.

They sat down, looked down and laughed.

No utensils or glassware.

Maugham leapt up and sprinted and and came back in moments with both and napkins under his arm.

"Hey, I don't wanna be a spoil-sport but are we suposed to have alcohol here at a retreat house?" he asked. "I mean I hardly ever drink anyway."

"I dunno," she said, "but yer a pirate...just make it happen."

He was a little hurt by this because he had lost a lot of his swagger over the last few days, but he did as she said and popped the cork under the table and mixed two Mimosas.

As he did, Martine dropped three small dots of Tobasco sauce on the top of the Hollandaise sauce which made the plates even more beautiful.

Just then Jack came out the back door onto the deck and said "Uh, er...we have a group retreat coming in an hour."

"Oh we're sorry jack," Martine said earnestly. "We promise the entire kitchen will be cleaned up in 30 minutes, okay? I'm sorry."

Jack thought about it, and agreed. "Okay...thirty minutes, right?"

"Yes," they both said together.


He went back inside, and Maugham said , "Come what may, Thank you Marty."

"You are quite welcome Maug. " And they started into their large breakfast and Martine made sure to keep Maugham glass full as he ate.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

AZOTUSLAND Chapter Ninety-Seven

That night Jim had a series of dreams that were derived from High School times some 30 years earlier.

In the first, they had all gotten back from a field trip very late and he and his girlfriend had slept out under the stars. She was also suddenly his ex-wife, but younger. At one point he removed his own pants because he wanted her, but she was asleep and he felt kindly towards her and just nuzzled her neck and rested a hand on her breast.

In the morning he was supposed to shower and there was a line if you wanted to roll under the doors of the shower stall, get up from the wet floor and shower, or go around and try another way. Jim had gone straight for the other way and found the walkway into the stalls broken and collapsed, with only a few inches intween, impossible to squeeze through. But then as if he grabbed the shiny steel wall and pushed to the left he could get through. The others still waited outside and he went into the shower stall and found it was open air on the other side and that people were walking by. Still there was a long row of magazines in slanted display that came up a good five feet so he started to shower. The water started to splatter on the popular magazines and ruin them but Jim figured, in the dream, that some idiot had build the shower system this way. Still, his shower was short.

When he was done, he dressed and walked down the left until he was on and along a thin strip of land with a pond in front of him. He stopped, looked at the lake and said to it "You're my subconscious I suppose?" The pond did not reply. "Well you should put in some Koi." Then he walked down to the small bridge that lead onto the campus.

The dream shifted, or perhaps Jim did in his large bed. Now Jim was being taunted by the gym coach, a man who looked like Mike Ditka and who threw the football way too hard on purpose and wanted Jim to run away. Jim didn't and the coach yelled why not, and Jim said "because you are faster than me by far so what's the point?"

Then he went to get some water and there were only two people at one spiggot, three at the other side. He got in line. But the line kept growing which became exasperating. Finally he was in a line of about 200 plus people and they kept shifting to the left, and by the time Jim noticed he had lost his place and went farther back. They moved again with the same result. Jim was patient, but when they got to the far left, and the wall leading down, there were clearly about 300 people waiting in line and the same down at the bottom for the other spigot.

"You people are fucking insane goddamnit!" he yelled out and everyone turned and there was very hostile murmering and a teacher looked down from the wall and said "we don't talk that way here."

At first, Jim was self-conscious of the teacher, then he thought, "fuck him, what's he gonna do shoot me?" He felt they hated him and he felt ambivalence. He turned and there was only one kid behind him, and he did not look angry at all and quite happy to be last.

Jim thought of how bad his grades were, how he seldom went to class, and that he could find water elsewhere. He also realized that his parents were gone and that he was free to move anywhere and enroll in a different school. But which school? Well, anyone would be better than this, but he figured he could research them and find agood one and start over. He knew he would be alone, but he started down the hill to find a different place to live and be.


Martine walked slowly down Sir Francis Drake towards the small town. She sifted through what Maugham had said and what the three of them had discussed before Maugham left. She was relatively certain that the woman would have shot Maugham and that she was responsible for the bomb and also the death of Jacob. She remembered that Jim always said "context is everything" then she thought "Fuck Jim! Fuck Jim and his secrets and how he puts him in danger. Asshole."

It was still early and the store was open so she went in an bought a large coffee and then walked out behind the store to the marsh and found an old table looking out over Tomales Bay. It was so peaceful and she looked out and saw the heads of two seals bob up and down in the bluegreen waters and she wanted Maugham there with her arm around her. But then she didn't.

What had happened to him? Couldn't he have just turned the light on and told her to get dressed?

Back at the retreat house Maugham finally slumped downstairs and sat in the chapel. It was dark wooded and simple. There were some candles lighted but no one else was there. He looked up at the figure Christ on the cross and muttered, "what are you looking at?"


When Roo showed up that afternoon in the IC, Andy was excited.

"Hey, when Cara was down here she saw that the screen next to hers had all this information on Boston. Guess what?"

"She's a Red Sox fan," Roo said flatly. "Who isn't given the Yankees?"

"No Roo. She's from Boston. Just moved out here three years ago with her husband. So we got to talking and she made some suggestions...but I like this one best." Andy clicked on a bookmark and a host of information on Provincetown, Massachusetts came up.

"Have a look," Andy said smiling and Roo smirked and started in.


When Jim came into the Upper Cafe he spied Dan reading a book and Rich sitting next to him. The two had, over the last few months, attended each others presentations at Azotus and enjoyed each other's quiet company.

Jim got some coffee and walked over and asked if they were willing to sit out on the deck, even though it was a bit warm.

"What's up Jim?" Rich asked.

"Well I had a dream last night and I wanted to ask you two what you think of it...I mean its probably just the Kung Pao Chicken I had last night."

They agreed and moved their drinks and books and journals out on the deck and admired the view of the valley for a few moments then Jim recounted the dreams as fully as he could.

"Well, what do you think?" he finished.

"What do you think? Really," Dan said. "It's your mind and dreams are part of mind, as is experience."

"Well, the common denominator is water," Jim said, "in three instances yet somehow related, right?"

"Well you have the shower, the pond and the impossible fountain," Rich chimed in. Seems like you named the second one right in the dream to me, so what do you make of the shower?"

They talked for an hour about the inaccssibility of the shower, yet Jim had found a way to be refreshed and cleansed despite odds against it and the sheep-like mentaility of others. When it came to the pond they quickly moved on, although Dan said that the desire to see Koi in the pond might be the desire to see and experience beauty and wealth on a subconscious level.

Given what he had already cerated externally and hoped to in the future it made sense to him that some inner work was being avoided.

"I think your not running from the menacing coach is telling," said Rich. "But is there some despair in there?"

"Probably," said Jim. "But I also stood up to him, answered and didn't let him shame me," said Jim.

"Yes, that's obvious."

"Why do you think you keep getting jostled back in line waiting for water?" Dan asked.

"I dunno," Jim said, "No one was being mean, they were very unconscious of their acts and did not seem to even know that they kept moving and that the line was getting bigger."

"So no one was actually getting any water?" Dan asked.

"Ahhh...said Jim. "I never thought of that. The whole time I never saw anyone walk away after drinking. The line just got bigger and longer."

"Yes you were the only agitated one, right?" Rich asked.

"Yes, I thought all of it was bullshit, so I said so," said Jim.

"But not at first?" asked Dan.

Jim pondered. "No, I went along for awhile and accepted the herd mentality, but eventually broke away with a new plan and started walking toward that alone."

"No there was one kid behind you, was he part of the pack as well, just behind you?" asked Dan

"No, he was about five feet back just looking at me," said Jim. "Who do you think he is in the dream?"

"I dunno, they say everyonein your dream is an aspect of you, but I think that is a load of crap. But in this case, maybe my more passive side who is always just a little behind. What about you two?"

"It's the Buddha," Dan smiled.

"It's Jesus," smirked Rich and they laughed together.

"Hey, hey hey..." Rich then said, "he is last in line. 'The first shall be last'...huh, huh?" and they cracked up again.

When they stopped Dan asked, "When you went walking down, did you pass the pool again?"

"No, I woke up before I could see what came next."

"Damn!" Rich slapped his leg with a grin, and they all sat back and had a sip of what each was drinking and once again admired the valley.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

AZOTUSLAND Chapter Ninety-Six

When Jim and Maugham got back they parted quietly with a hug and Maugham slung his bag over his shoulder and started up the hill. Jim diverted to the North side and swung through the Gallery. Hans was still sweeping up.

"Hi Hans, how are you?"

"Just Perfuckt," Hans said gruffly.

When Jim entered Silo two he was tired. He walked to his desk but on the way called out down the way to Ted "Big enough desk?"

Ted started to protest and explain and Jim held is hand up and said "It's fine Ted...I told you to pick out what you wanted. Looks fine. Now I am tired. Please do stay but I'm gonna watch the news and have a drink.

He had a glass of Bordeaux and slumped into his chair and grabbed the controller and made HAL dish up CNN.


When Maugham walked into their place Martine came and hugged him and he felt awkward. She could see his troubled sadness and she tried to be upbeat "Hey Jim wants us to take some days off and go to the coast." Maugham slumped back on the bed and said "could you just come lay down next to me and hold me?" Then he fell asleep for an hour and she lay there wondering what had happened to her man and what he had possibly done.

The next morning they got up early and packed quietly and got in her Cabrio without talking to anyone and headed for Inverness to a place Rich had mentioned to Martine while Maugham was gone.

Martine had been with other men but not one as good but also complex at Maugham. She tended to let him come to it on his own. So they just drove.

In the morning Jim came into the Big Room and asked Manfred to meet him for lunch and said that Dirk would fill in. Then Jim went down and visited with Andy for awhile just lounging.

Ted showed up early and enjoyed that he had a key. He went through the books and started to stack a bunch on his new desk and setup. He brought in his laptop and setup his wifi connection in a secure fashion.

Templar showed up after a week's hiatus and was soundly greeted. He had been in the Bahamas on a "case" and all had worked out well, so he was back now. Jonathan came by and Templar agreed to come and see him on Saturday at the Comedy Club with a date.

Hans walked out of the gallery, which had not been visited much lately and went and sat on the cement wall and smoked a cigarette. Then he took some croquet balls and started to roll them down the ramp. He wondered what it was he was looking for. He liked Azotus and his job, but he felt unfulfilled on other levels. Just then Jonathan walked by and in a perfect impersonation did both Bond and Q "Balls Q? Bollos 007, bollos."


When they got to the retreat house in Inverness it was still early and foggy. Martine and Maugham walked in the bottom door and she went and used the bathroom that was made of stone.

Maugham walked around and a lot of books were on the shelf. He looked at the titles and they seemed pretty boring and of no real interest. Jack, the caretaker came in and introduced himself and Maugham told him they had been sent ahead by Rich and that seemed good enough. They asked for the room above the chapel that Rich had recommended and when Martine returned jack walked them up past the "quiet floor" to the top room. It had too beds and once Jack had excused himself Maugham pushed them together.

She shut the door and looked out what was like a captains cabin of an old pirate ship. Hardwood, glass windows all around. Maugham looked at her hungrily and she came over and lay on top of him and kissed him. "Don't you mind we are over a chapel?"

"Jim says God invented love and sex," Maugham said, then kissed her hard and wrapped his long arms around her and she moaned. Then suddenly he stopped and fell back and looked up with some torment.

"What is it? Talk to me Maug."

"Yer not gonna like it," he said, "cuz I hate it."

She got up and sat on the floor and said "I'm here."

He got up and sat on the floor to the side of her and he groped for words.

"It was ugly Marty," he said finally. "She was laying in wait for Hart and I showed up, only she had turned out the lights. She didn;t know it was me at first. I freaked out in the dark. I mean I did and I didn't. I don't do well with the dark, you know that. You know how we always argue about leaving the candles on?"


"Well this was like being in a dark, very dark place with a malevolent confronting your own death or I knew from Hart that she had a gun nearby."

She took his hand and stroked it lightly. "What happened?"

"I pretended to be Hart for a moment." he said looking off.

"What does that mean? Did you sleep with her?"

"No, I didn't no way. But I felt a rage well up inside I do not understand and it's fucking me up in the head."

Maugham noticed that Martine had not removed her hand. This gave him more courage.

"It was dark and she wanted "Steven" (he did the quotes motion) in bed and she was obviously naked. I had expected her clothes in the light but I had Hart's gun so I pretended to be him and slipped the gun under the bed."

"You got in bed with her naked?"

"I had my shorts on," he said quickly.

"Well thank God for that," she said and took her hand back.

"I didn't say this was easy," he said defensively. Look I am deeply disturbed by this, so can I just finish? I just need you to be my friend for awhile, okay?"

"Okay," she said wiping away a tear.

"Things went bad once she knew it was me. I switched on the light and held her at bay."


"Yes...look she came that way."

"Here is the worst part," he said sadly.

"Twice she tried to bite or fight back in a violent manner. The fiorst time I had her arms and I gave her a warning shot with my forehead. The second time I kinda lost it and game her a real knock."

"So you were on top of her while she was naked and you head-butted her?"

"Yes. But it gets worse."

Martine got up and paced the room and started to cry. "How could you?!"

Maugham started to cry as well and held his face in his big hands.

"Can I just finish and get it over with? If you like I can take you home afterwards but I love you and I need to tell you the truth. You can do with it what you will!" he said in a moment of self-pity.

"She looked at him in anger but then softened and sat down. He tried to wipe her face "Don't!" she said. "Just talk."

"I know she had the gun but not where it was in the room, just in her purse. I knew if she got it she would simply shoot me. So I rolled off and got to mine first. I have no idea if I could have shot her but my whole demeanor had been somewhat savage."

"I'll say."

"I had to deliver the message so she would go away for good," Maugham said tersely. But she was still dangeous...very dangerous and the gun was still in the room. I could not afford a mistake, so I tied her up."


Maugham felt that best to clean it all out and let it be. I she was gonna hate him then so be it.

"I pointed the gun at her and ordered her to roll over then I used my belt to tie her hands behind her back and used a long pillow case to gag her."

"Well aren't you fun on a Sunday plans for me?"

"This was serious...she would have shot me if I made the least mistake...that what you want?"

She bite her lower lip and said nothing.

"Look once I had both guns it went a lot smoother," he said.

"Right, naked tied up woman who has been head-butted twice and you have two guns. I could see why you felt you had the upper hand," Martine said. She, somewhere sensed she was being unfair, but she was hurt.

"Then I negotiated with her and untied her and asked her to get dressed, which she did."

"Then what?"

"There was a heated exchange, then she tried to come on to me."

"Yes, well some women like that stuff a lot...just not me."

"I told her she was like death, then what we had all agreed upon before hand and she bought it. Hart had everything cancelled and we left her with no options as agreed. I was not dealing with a total human being...more like a dangerous know that."

Martine stood up and said "You're a pretty dangerous animal yourself," and left out the door and down the stairs.

AZOTUSLAND Chapter Ninety-Five

After Manfred brought the car around for Jim he went to the back lot and examined his new prize. A black 2002 Toyota Tundra. Jonathan met him in the lot and said "You maniac!" in his best Bill Murray voice and Manfred beamed. "It is a wonderfulness is it not?!"

"It's a beauty Manfred, how much, it looks pretty souped up?"

"Oh wells Mr. Clusky was asking sevens thousands dollars and by jove I could not do that! So I went back to his shop every other day in the afternoons and put $4,000 on his desk."

"What happened?"

"He was laughs at me at first and called me silly. Then after a weeks he was getting red-faced when I saw heem and all I was doing was explaining to new friends on his lot his utter resistances to give me the truck for real moneys. So's I went in yesterdays for...oh, say maybes 33rds times and revanquished heem and we transacted our dealings."

"Wow...nice job," Jonathan said.

"Yes, and I gots heem to do free undercoating and fills up the tank!"

Jonathan got into the passenger seat and took a look. "Man, this is way cool! Look at all this room and the back you got a steal on this one."

Manfred fired up the big truck and slapped in a CD and Tom Petty's Don't Come Around Here No More came on. "Oh I loves the sitars and Pettys!"

"Yeah, me too," Jonathan said, "and as usual, your timing is impeccible, now let's go get this thing."

"Stops walkings down the street...." Manfred was singing to the music, "or Manfred's whose you'll meet..." and Jonathan just looked out the window and shook his head.


Whe Jim pulled up at SFO Maugham was waiting out front with his bags.

"Sorry, traffic!"

"No biggie," Maugham said "I've been here maybe four minutes."

Maugham stowed his stuff in the back of the Jeep and got in.

"What would you like to do Maug?"

"Let's drive back along the Pacific Coast Highway and maybe hit the Cliff House," he said looking quietly ahead. Then he lightened a little and said "Haven't you lost like every woman you ever took there?"

Jim laughed a bit sheepish. "yeah, I think I am 0 for 7 there." Maugham grinned and said, let's go there.


The desk Ted had picked out from the catalog turned out to be a monster and barely fit in Manfred's big truck. They needed the help of four at the office store to get it in safely and rope it down.

As the drove back Jonathan looked over at Manfred and said "how are we gonna get that thing up and around to the office?

"Oh peoples will helps," Manfred said interrupting his mangling of "Free Fallin'".

When they got there Ted was waiting at the steps and his eyes kinda bugged out. He was embarassed. Jonathan got out as Manfred backed the truck and he directed him in. Then they got out and looked.

Just then Dan Palmer walked up with a friend. "What's up?"

"Not the desk," Manfred said quietly. "This your desk Ted?"

"Yeah, it looked smaller in the catalog," Ted said.

"C'mon," Dan said motioning for Ted to come with him. "Then he draped an arm over his shoulder and said "Here's a new question you can ask us."

When they got to the top they went in and took a look. Before Ted could object Dan said aloud "This young man needs some assistance! Tell them what you need Ted."

Ted shot Dan a quick glance and Dan nodded.

"I could really use some help, I er...well I made a mistake..." he trailed off. "What'd you do misplace something you were looking for?" Jeremy said aloud. There was some light laughter. "No," said Ted. "I just got too big a desk and we need some real muscle on this one, and maybe a tool set."

To his surprise several men, three of which he did not even know stood up and two women, Sex and Alice. So a minute later there were ten of them walking and talking down the steps toward the big truck and behemoth desk.


As the Jeep swung down the hill , passed the Zoo and along the stretch of freeway Maugham said "Boy, I sure miss that Mustang. Remember the time we took it down to Half Moon Bay in the middle of the afternoon?"

"Yeah, that was sweet," Jim said. "I miss it too. I miss a lot of things I once had. How about you?"

"Not ready to talk yet Jim," Maugham said seriously. Let's get some oysters...those little lame ass ones from Seattle they have up ahead and a couple Bloody Mary's."


When they all gathered around the truck and finished untying it the twelve of them looked like stumped apostles. Finally Alice said "oh this is ridiculous," and she popped the top of her small truck and grapped two tool buckets with powered tools and said "Take it apart and let's get the damned thing going."

The men grabbed tools and started looking for where to attack. Alice rolled her eyes and laughed with Sex standing next to her. "You four each take a corner," she said pointing "and put the screws and bolts or anything else in your left pocket," she ordered. "The rest of you get ready to haul the pieces up as Ted directs and put them down in a similar order to how you grabbed them."

"What are you gonna do?" Dan asked with a grin (he liked Alice).

"I'm gonna sit here and watch your cute ass get working," she said.

Ted went up the stairs to start clearing a way for pieces and Jeremy hiked up after him and helped.

"Hey Ted," Jeremy said. "I didn't mean anything with my crack upstairs. I actually thought about your sermon or whatever the hell it was a couple times this week. It was good, really."

"Thanks Jeremy," Ted shrugged. "If I'm gonna do this stuff for Jim I am gonna have to grow a sense of humor anyway."

They entered the Gallery and Hans stood up at attention sensing impending chaos. "Vat is going on boys?"

"Uh, 'lighten up Francis' Ted said and Jeremy laughed and Hans looked bewildered.


At the Cliff House they grabbed a table overlooking the ocean and ordered some fried calamari, a dozen oysters, and a jumbo shrimp cocktail and drinks.

They sat for awhile and finally Maugham said "Jim, I feel pretty fucked up from the whole experience."

"What happened?"

"As I said, message delivered, but it was more violent and dark than I expected."

"Did she attack you?"

"No," Maugham said. "If anyone attacked anyone it was me."

"I don't believe it," Jim said. I've seen you handle a hundred situations with finesse.

"This one was different," Maugham said taking a big gulp from his Bloody Mary. "And you don;t need to know it really...but I have to tell Martine."

"Was she harmed?"

"Physically, nothing major, and in a sense it was self-defense at the time. But I doubt a judge would see it that way...and I sure as FUCK don't!" he said kinda loud.

That got some stares.

Jim could see Maugham was wound up tight. "Well tell me what you feel comfortible saying and tell the rest to Martine. I'm sure she will understand."

"I doubt it. I sure as hell don't."


Wave after wave of men came tramping through the Gallery tracking in dirt and dust and hans was beside himself. Finally Alive and Sex walked up and through the Gallery and down into Silo 2. Sex went "Wow!" and Dan looked over at Alice and said "what now?" in a mocking tone and she laughed and said "just get to it. All you guys reach into your left pocket and no funny business."

Within 25 minutes the desk was reassembled and manfred showed up with beers and sodas. Ted flopped up onto his new desk and said to the group "I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you all. Thanks so much." A couple of the guys left right off and others lingered to look at books and make small talk.

"So this is Jim's underground lair," Sex said to Alice and Ted. "I suppose you are the new Number Two."

"I felt like it earlier, but not so much now."


When they finished and got back in the Jeep Maugham asked, "What are your plans now?"

"I'm not sure Maug. A lot has changed the last few months and I am not done making changes. I have actually thought of retiring and doing something else after the new cafes are established. Maybe I'll learn to sail or write a book, or go back to school. I dunno. I'm kinda lost right now."

"What happened to the girl?"

"Same thing that happens when I come here. My fault really...always is."

They drove along the coastline past Baker Beach and the Presideo and dodged under the freeway at the Golden Gate Bridge and twisted around and headed North. On the bridge Jim said "I'm sorry Maugham. She was dangerous to everyone but I never thought you would get hurt and you obviously are."

"Well at least she's gone," Maugham sighed and looked out at Alcatraz.

AZOTUSLAND Chapter Ninety Four

Hart took Maugham to the airport at 5 in the morning, gave him a bear hug at the gate and said "That was rough, but it had to be done."

Maugham smiled but as he turned to go through the security check his face became grim. He was at war within himself and feared the ramifications when he got back.


Back in California, four hours later, Roo opened up the Big Room with Martine and Manfred. It was now moving into Summer so they left the windows open at night to cool the place off. They had air conditioning, but rarely needed to use it. Roo was still pondering a move across the country to a city that actually had season...real ones. She found that exciting as well as being on the Atlantic.

Since their dinner, Roo spemt the mid-afternoons down in the IC with Andy who was excited for her.

"Look here Roo," he said. "I have a great history of mechanical enginering that covers the whole Boston area up through Essex and down to Barnstable. Oh, and I have a new file of available buildings with pictures and on Station Four their are bookmarks for properties that have virtual tours."

"I'm impressed," Roo said. "Maybe when I go you should come with me."

"Oh, I couldn't do that," Andy said. "But I wanna see pictures when you get back."

Roo settled in and started clacking away. She wanted to find an area that would be a true melting pot and not dominated exclusivel;y by a university or a business district. It wasn't going to be easy but she just kept at it.


Ian, Thomas and Ben had taken a roadtrip to Santa Cruz, or rather Capitola which is just to the South. They met the property manager, an affable man named Mr. Thompson and they toured the building. It was at the North end of the street on the main drag along the beach with windows that faced out onto the inlet waterway. The outside was brown stucco. They walked around the oputside and there was a tall seawall about 30 feet from the back of the building and plebty of patio space. Ian looked at Ben who smiled. Then Thomason took them inside and Ian looked at the L-shape of it and started to do the math on the various areas. The long large room to the right could be walled off and soundproofed for the larger benue. Where he was standing would be the Library area opening back toward the front door where the main cafe would be and the front doors from the street. He liked that it had lots of windows and an open airy feel. The ceilings were also a good twelve feet high.

"Okay Mr. Thompson, can we see upstairs?"


Jim and Martine had argued a bit about who would pick Maugham up from the airport but Jim had prevailed.

"I don't like the sound in his voice," she said sternly.

"Well this is our business Martine."

"Oh, really. I just sleep with him and love him..what do you do?"

"Fair point, but I love him too. "

"Which is why you send him to do your dirty work?"

"You know darn well he wouldn;t let me go and he sees it as his job, and frankly, that is part of it. You may have noticed that Maug pretty much does whatever Maug wants around here. Security is his show and he's damned good at it."

Martine frowned.

"I just want to debrief with him on the way back, then you can have him as long as you want. Take a few days off with pay. Please."


The upstaits was just empty space with pipes for plumbing in the center and back against the far Northern wall. But iot was enough space for an apartment with three small rooms, a kitchen and a nice open area, On the south side they would have to dual purpose the IC with Ops. There would be no Batcave and the Theater would have to be part of the Big Room downstairs.

As Thompson talked about a contractor he knew Ian, Ben and Thomas walked over to the windows on the North end that looked out to the West on the Pacific and on the quiet inlet in front of them. They were stoic but exhanged silent glances in a long established communication. It was good, very,very good.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

AZOTUSLAND Chapter Ninety-Three

Maugham cursed himself in the parking lot and hailed a cab back to the hotel. In the bar he found Hart looking well but he felt like shit.

"You look like shit," Hart said.

"I feel like it," Maugham said with some sadness.

"What happened?"

"Well message delivered, but it was ugly and I feel dirty," Maugham said.

Maugham ordered a Rob Roy and slugged it down.

"Never known you to drink," Hart said.

"I generally don't. But tonight I'll make an exception. Let's go back to your place. I don't wanna be alone tonight if you don't mind."

"Alright Maug. No problem."

On the way back to Hart's place they stopped at a nearby lake and he tossed her gun deep into it. Then told Hart what had happened in brief overview without specifics.

"You're too hard on yourself," Hart said. "I saw the merciless animal in her eyes...she would have killed you, or your friend Jim...and you know she killed Jacob."

"Doesn't matter. I have never treated a woman that way before and I feel fucking sick."

They went back to Hart's place and he poured Maugham a scotch neat and he knocked it back and then went in a turned on the shower very hot and got in and cried slumped his long body in the bottom of the tray.

Maugham's mother had been abused both emotionally and sexually by an alcoholic step-father. Maugham had been too young to defend her and she died when he was twelve of throat cancer. From there Maugham had been in foster homes for a long while until he ran away to Sacramento from the Bay Area and started working in a restuarant long hours and was befriended by one of the managers who had an extra room. Maugham also began to grow in stature through his late teens and hit the weight room where he grew into a man. But he always felt chivalrous towards women and despised the cruel usury of men. That was one reason he trusted Jim so much.

As the hot water and steam came down around him he held is face in his hands and asked God for mercy if God existed. His prior childhood had precluded God because he never rescued his mother. But God wafted around the edges of Azotus and Maugham knew it.

When he finally got out he felt tired and depressed. He dressed and went back into the kitchen where Hart had laid out another drink for him.

"You wanna call them?" Hart asked.

"No," Maugham said. "But I suppose I must."

It was only 9:30 PST when Maugham called Jim and told him it was over.

"Did it go as planned?" Jim asked.

"No," Maugham said. "Does it ever? But she won't be heard from again. Pretty sure."

"You wanna talk with Martine? She's right here." asked Jim.


"Maugham how are you? I was worried?"

"I'm okay but also not so okay," he said.

"What does that mean?"

"It means I love you," he sighed deeply, "and I am raw and a bit ruined from tonight. I did okay, but I'm not well after it. I need you to trust me. I will tell you everything when I get home...but I am not well," he said.

"Are you hurt?"

"TYou mean do I have bullet holes? No."

"Okay honey. I understand. Maybe we could go to the coast for a few days and just have some down time?"

"Yes, that would be good. I love you."

"I love you too."

And they rang off.

AZOTUSLAND Chapter Ninety-two

As soon as the door closed behind him he snapped open the cellphone and buzzed Maugham. Maugham had become antsy and had simply walked down and found Hart's car and sort of hid in the shadows.



"Game on bro."

"I'm at your car."

"Good. Seeya in two."

Snap. Snap.

Maugham came out of the shadows when he was sure Hart was alone. There was no taking chances with this woman. A man had died and she was serious business.

Hart came up casually and lighted a cigarette and Maugham loomed up from behind and said "those things will kill ya."

"Yeah, well so will she Bro," he said then unlocked the car door and gave Maugham the gun from under his seat.

"She has a gun in her purse," Hart said.

"Doesn't surprise me at all. You know I hate guns..but I'll take this one and meet you back at the hotel in an hour. If I am not there by then...or let's say two hours, call the police and give then this card." He handed Hart Volosky's card and Hart handed Maugham the red card key to her room.

"I'll see you in an hour!" Hart said as he walked off.

"Not if I see you first Bro."

And Hart laughed.


Maugham was not laughing. he steeled his mind with the loss of Jacob and how this woman had tried to terrorize his best friend. He remembered to blazing eyes the night she wanted him to bang her while she was still ostenesibly with Jim. She was a sociopath and only understood power and threat.

Maugham and Jim had run over the options. They had called Martine down to review the final plan to get a more feminine perspective. She made some slight alterations, looked worried at Maugham who feigned it was no big deal.

That night Martine came down to Silo 2 to be with Jim and be by the phone.

"Could be awhile," Jim said. "What would you like to watch?"

"Anything funny," she said .

"I suppose Love and Death is out of the question?"

"Very funny Jim. How about Intolerable Cruelty?"

"Even better." And he cued it up on the large screen.


Maugham slided the card key into the door and it blinked open. Whe he got inside it was dark. This was unexpected. He had to modify the plan and it unnerved him.

She called out to him from the bed because he could her rustle in it. He knew the deal.

Then Maugham smiled. When he and Hart had been back in college one of their tricks was to immate each other's voices. Hart's was more distinct. It was emphatic, crisp and swift.

"Steven, please just come to bed and hold me okay?"

"Yes," Maugham mimiced. "I'll be right in just let me prepare."

He heard a big sigh from the room as he dropped his coat in the long hallway leading in. He tied his hair back quickly and stripped down to his shorts. He took the gun and under his coat slipped off the safety and moved like a panther into the room and slided the gun down under the bed near the nightstand. Then he pulled back the sheets and was on her.

He kissed her nipples and held her full breasts and she moaned and then she wrapped her legs around his body as his hardness began to rub up against hers but as she moved her hands down his back and found he had shorts on she stopped.

"Surprise" Maugham said in his own low and steady voice. Then he switched on the light and grabbed her wrists and spread out her legs with his own and said. "Fuck you Candice."

She struggled at first and even tried to bite him but he gave her a quick warning butt to the forehead and she settled back.

Her nostrils flaired with fury and death. "No, fuck you Maugham."

"No, fuck you Candice," he said with spite.

"NO fuck you Maugham."

"Well I suppose I could have fucked you Candice," Maugham said more angry. "But that's like fucking the Grim Reaper. You make me sick."

She spat in his face and he simply bit her nipple too hard and she moaned.

"I have a message for you," Maugham said as he smeared the spittle back onto her body.

"You are done in California. The police have your prints and know about Jacob and are investigating. We have all your phone, home and account information from this little junket thanks to Steven, who is not even from here. He's already gone."

She raised her head up again to bite him and he gave a her a more serious head butt. "Settle down Candice. If you play this right you may escape prison though we'd love to see you either there or a zoo."

She tried to move her legs but Maugham's body tensed and he moved them even farther apart.

"Now let's get this over" he said suddenly as he rolled off, hit the floor grabbed up the gun and had it leveled at her head in seconds. She never even got near her purse but was trying when Maugham said "Move and you are dead!"

She turned in the small yellow light and saw the gun trained on her head. She was hardly conscious she was naked and only wondered what it would feel like, or not feel like, to have a bullet enter her own brain. It's how her brain worked even when it was threatened. She looked closely at Maughams eyes to see if there was any weakness or sentiment. There wasn't.

She slumped down on the bed and Maugham walked around and grabbed her purse, opened it, keeping a sharp eye on her, and found the gun.

"I want you to lay down, face down, on the bed," he ordered.

"What, you wanna do me from behind?" she asked harshly.

"Do it."

When she did he climbed on top bearing his weight down and slipped off his belt and pulled her arms back and belted them together.

Then he took a pillow case and used it to muzzle her. As he did, she cursed herself for not having screamed earlier, but he had been utterly unexpected.

"Don't move or I will either hurt or shoot you," he said. Then he got off the bed and went and dressed. He wanted to wash his face and shower but not with this one around even tied naked on a bed.

When he got back she was still laying there. Maugham sat in the chair an explained things to her.

"You have no soul Candice, so nothing can be done for you," Maugham said flatly. "Jim is a compassionate man and I am not. And you exploit compassionate men for your own purposes but you will not ever come near Jim again. In fact you will not return to California. The police have your fingerprints thanks to Brian Cox in Seattle."

With this news her eyes got wide and she trashed a bit.

"See Candy we are onto you completely and so are the police. They have the prints, the pictures from Seattle that I took and also all your personal information. So if you go back to California you will find yourself in the middle of a murder investigation for which they will finally find evidence and you will go to prison."

Maugham let this sink in a bit and walked over and grabbed a beer from the bar.

"Personally I think you are an animal who should just be shot. I know the way your mind works. You were simply curious when Jacob died and you just watched. I have no doubt whatsoever that had you gotten to this (he held up her gun) I'd be stone cold dead in an instant. That's the way your twisted brain thinks."

She calmed down more.

"Unlike my brain because I don't wish you dead, just a faded memory. Make no mistake, I will shoot you if need be. Not a question. So are you ready to talk because we need some agreement here if I'm gonna let you live."

Candice nodded in agreement. Maugham climbed on top again and undid the belt and laced it back through his jeans. Then he took off the gag and told her to get dressed.

As she did he wiped down the room keeping her in sight the whole time. Then he told her she should get a drink and she did and sat back on her bed.

"I hate you," she said.

"I know, so I don't take it personal. But then again fuck you."

"No, fuck you Maug," she said.

"No fuck you Candy," he said.

And she laughed and said "you should have fucked me. Angry sex is great."

"No it's not Candice."

"You could still fuck me Maug," she said, undoing her top and exposing her breast.

Maugham resisted the temptation to torture a lost soul and simply moved to the particulars.

"Your plane reservations back to California have been cancelled, as are your next two nights stay here. So you are without a home to go back to, airfare or a place to stay here."

Her nostrils began to flair again and Maugham lifted the gun up a little higher.

"Let's be rational about this," he said. I am leaving you the card of the detective who is looking into Jacob's murder and he would love to hear from you. They got a search warrant for your place while you were gone and have found evideince that would directly link yoyu to the murder of Jacob.

In the meantime, all of your credit card information is also being tracked as you are a major suspect in a homicide, so if you try and use them you will no doubt be arrested and extradicted back to California and end up in prison the rest of your life. Any questions?"

She pondered the options for awhile and Maugham sipped his beer. She thought about cutting his throat somehow, but he had both guns.

"So what do I do?" she asked finally.

"If I were you I'd do more research on the name and nature of another woman named 'Alabaster' and do likewise. Otherwise you're on your own."

Then Maugham got up and took one last look around the room, pocketed his beer bottle in his long coat, said "If ever see you again you get two in the forehead with your own gun and they'll call it suicide, which is another option for the already damned." Then he left.

AZOTUSLAND Chapter Ninety-One

Jim lead Ted down to Silo 2 and Ted went "Whoa" when they walked in and he saw the large library.

"Go ahead," Jim said quietly, "Take your time and look."

Ted walked down the bookcases taking it all in. He knew some of the titles and was shocked that Jim owned them. He picked ou a copy of William Law's A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life and opened it toward the back. Most of the pages had yellow highlighting and detailed notes in the margins. He picked up another one, a book by John Meyendorff called Christ in Eastern Christian Thought, It too had the same distinct notations and were quite detailed. It had long arguments about issues like "hypostatis" and the implications of Incarnation on Soteriology. To Ted it looked fascinating but he wondered about Jim even more.

Finally he came over and sat next to Jim who offered him a glass of wine. It was 3 p.m. but Ted wanted to relax and was anxious to hear what Jim thought of his presentation. Just then Manfred came down with a large plate of spicy chicken wings and various dressings.

"Well, thank you Manfred," Jim said looking up in surprise. "Would you like to join us?"

"No Sahib, I was just wondering what Mister Ted's was lookings for and thought he might be hungries."

Ted smirked a bit but thanked Manfred who then left.

"So Jim is this what people are looking for? Chicken wings?"

"Some of them are," Jim said "But let's talk first about your presentation this morning."

Ted was nervous in his seat. Six months earlier he wouldn't have given a damn what Jim thought on anything. But time and experience at Azotus had changed him.

"I was a bit stunned by it Ted," Jim started and Ted recoiled a bit steadying himself for the stream of accusations or criticisms that the older man might render. "And I was quite frankly deeply moved by it."

"Ted, one of the key things is it made me think and really look at my own life," Jim added. "I suppose that was your intention?"

"Yes, it was. But it did the same to me first." Then Ted told Jim what he had learned from Tanka, and also about his experiences out at Bolinas and how he had opened up his soul to God on a deeper and more vulnerable level and started to listen more and he had just heard that message in a personal way for him.

As they talked, with Jim mostly listening, they ate the chicken wings, deeping them in the ranch and BBQ sauce and having some wine together and at times laughing (Jim went "Whoa!" when told about the boat incident), and at other Jim would hunker down and listen intently to the man without comment.

"So you just wrote it down on one sheet of paper?" Jim asked.

"Yes," Ted said. "It just came in a flash of clarity."

"That was gutsy Ted," Jim said seriously. "And then doing it without notes even more so."

"Thanks Jim," Ted said. "But let me ask you Jim, as I was preparing and asking myself that question I also was curious about you. You seem to be scattered all over the place and sort of looking for everything at all at once and I wonder about your own personal faith as you have wondered about mine from time to time."

Jim sat back in his big cahir and looked almost glum. Then he spoke, "This is confidential, just between you and I correct?"

"Yes, it is Jim. I promise."

"Well then I would say your assessment is accurate. In fact I have learned quite a bit from you today and I spent some time alone after your presenatation thinking along some similar lines but I had not seen what you just said. So I thank you for that."

Ted relaxed in his chair and had another short sip of wine. Months earlier such an admission would have made Ted giddy. It did not today.

"What specifically?" Ted asked.

"My you have a quick mind," Jim said. "Er, um...well that I can be scattered and, well, the core of your question is what am I really looking for. I mean you were talking about a core passion right?"

"Yes, I think so. You could put it that way."

"Or maybe core passions?" asked Jim.

"No, I was looking for the passion behind all passions, the others being least that's what it felt like and feels like."

"Ahhh," Jim muttered. Ideas where crackling and rippling through Jim's mind but he found they were for other people.

"I don't know Ted," Jim said finally. "Maybe that's why the question affected me so. I don't know what I am looking for but there is no denying that I am."

They sat there silent and Jim sighed. "But I sure will let your question linger and we'll see."

"Now can I ask you some questions?" Jim smiled.

"Sure, it's a free country," Ted answered.

"Use to be," Jim countered and Ted rolled his eyes.

"Okay, did it feel when you were doing it?"

"Well, at first I had a hard time getting past myself, but then I started seeing the faces of the people and it just kinda took over...I guess God took over because I was both doing it but it was beyond me."

"Yes, that makes sense. I have had that happen."

"Really? When Jim and why do you have so many theology books down here and why are they down here and wh..."

"Hold on cowboy," Jim said. "All in due time."

Ted sat back in his chair.

"All in due time. But in the meanwhile Ted, you are welcome to use or borrow any book down here and if we can come to agreement on "Spoke" then I'd actually like to setup an office area for you down here."

Ted could not help but look around the larfe room and wonder what that would be like.


Hart finished his espresso and finsihed explaining, with a straight face, the intricacies of his multi-million dollar business and how he might be very interested in investing in hers. He paid the check and asked what she would enjoy doing next. She gave a slight yawn and said "I am tiring perhaps I should go to bed."

Hart knew it was a ruse as she had reverse jet-lag and it was only 7 p.m. PST. He played along. and walked her to the center rotunta of the Ritz-Carlton and kissed her hand and said "Well it was a wonderful evening and I'd like to see you again."

"Do you have to go right away?" she purred in close.

"Well, you are tired. I understand. You should get some rest."

"Well why don't you come up and tuck me in," she said.

Hart thought that he suddenly hated Maugham but then recomposed himself.

"Okay, I'd like that Candice." They started to walk towards the elevators and then he stopped. "Oh! I'm sorry...but I brought you a gift and left it in the car."

"It doesn't matter," she said, "let's go."

He smiled at her the most sincere (yet unsincere) smile of his like and said "No,'s special...I ordered it special. But I'll be right up."

She slipped her hand into her large black purse and pulled out an enevlope that had an extra red key card and gave it to him. "Then I will see you in a few."

"Yes," he said. Then he kissed her deliberately on the cheek (as Maugham had requested), smiled and walked out toward the parking lot.

Friday, December 16, 2005

AZOTUSLAND Chapter Ninety

Ted stood in the Big Room in front of a crowd of about twenty. Jim had made sure to promote the young man's first presentation at Azotus to many he felt might appreciate it, or at least be gracious if it was a bomb. Alice was there, Dan, River, Rich, Templar, Sex and her Dan, Cara, Martine, Maurice, Ian, Whispah, Jonathan, Manfred and some other locals. Behind the counter Roo and Dirk worked hard with some volunteer help from Hans.

Just before it started Rand and Renata came in and Jim went over and asked how she was feeling.

"I think the initial morning sickness is pretty good."

"How you doing Rand? Ready to be a father?"

"Ready as anyone I suppose," Rand replied.

Jim turned, walked up the ramp and spoke to the group.

"Thank you all for coming, you are most welcome."

"Most of you know that we are open and inclusive. That is what Azotus is all about. Well we have an exceptional young man in our midst who feels very passionately about his own beliefs and views and he wishes to share them with us." Jim said. "As always, we do not have to be in agreement, but live in respect and mutual concern and try to be open. I have asked, or rather, he asked me...well it's a long story, but Ted and I have been in negotiations on a new project called "Spoke" that he will be heading up. But one of his demands, er....requests, was to start being more vocal about his own views but in a more open and gracious manner than some of the ways he has done it in the past." Jim looked at Ted and smiled and he smiled back as if to say "fair enough."

"So this morning Ted has a short presentation, more of a 'homily' if I understand it right that he wishes to share, and in the background on the screen is a matching video he has put together for his words. So without anymore boring talk from me, I give you Ted Armstrong."

As they passed each other Jim leaned in and whispered "You'll be great."

"I have more questions than I have answers these days," Ted started with no notes whatsoever. "But they are also leading me to new answers and onces that I find vibrant. Many of you know me to some extent and I have argued with many of you on many points.

"Well, I apologize for my attitude and would like to start again fresh if you will allow me. You see I missed something very essential to all of us and that is simply what we want."

As he said these things various images flashed on the big screen...the birth of a baby, two lovers holding hands, an old man playing an accordion, a weightlifter in a gym, children riding bicycles. There was one big laugh in the middle when there was a shot of Manfred making an omelet and he flipped it three feet in the air and caught it perfectly.

"It's my signatures moving," Manfred said quietly to Jonathan next to him.

"We all have longings, deep ones," Ted said. "And the question that keeps coming to me lately is what is it we are looking for? You see we are always looking and searching for something. I sat in the library around the corner there one day and looked at all the books and thought of how much energy and time went into each one of them and how many copies were sold and how many people they touched and I wonder 'what is it we are looking for?'"

As he said this more images flashed interspersed with words on a black screen. A couple kissing (Longing), two kids chasing each other (Friendship), A Sting Concert (Music), a doctor examining a patient (Healing), an old woman praying in a large empty church (Faith).

"What was it you were looking for?' he suddenly said a bit like a preacher. "When you saw the first woman you loved smile? When your baby was born? when you walked along the ocean alone and felt good?"

Ted asked other questions about family, friends, nostalgia, old homes and baseball card collections, favored stories and odd smells that brought back distant memories of longing. Jim was stunned as he watched and listened to the young man pour out his passionate vision. He almost started to cry because he felt it so beautiful. But he held back and simply beamed as Ted wrapped up what was, in essence a 15 minute sermon. At the end Ted just sat down on the small stage as the black screen held the words "What was it YOU were looking for?" and Ted just asked the same three times and was done.


Maugham and Hart drove down Peachtree Road to the Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead and Maugham hopped out before at the Bluepointe restaurant and waited for the call from Hart.

Maugham walked into the clean restaurant and got a crisp table by the window and ordered a plate of oysters and a diet coke. He decided he would order one drink after a light dinner so he was clear but relaxed. He was slightly concerned with Hart but remembered how Hart handled himself. He was actually more savvy than Maugham.

Hart enetered the Ritz-Carlton and waited at the bar for Candice. When she showed he was, admittedly a bit stunned. But he sensed she knew this and remembered atll Maugham had said.

"How was your flight?" he asked as he hugged her. "It was fine," she said and she smelled good and a bit hot. She kept close to him as they walked to the restaurant and looked up at him admiringly. Hart cursed Maugham under his veneer.

He got her chair and they admired the room and each other. Like so many restaurants in Atlanta a mixture of old world and new. Usually dark-paneled walls and established decor mixed with progressive new cuisine.

"You look stunning," Hart said with a smile and she warmed. "So do you Steve," she said . "It looks like you have been here before." Just then the waiter came up and said "It's nice to see you again Mr. Hardstedt," and Hart once again thanked Maugham in his head for his attention to detail.

"Yes, the medallions of beef are wonderful as is the lobster tail with the Rib Eye," he said to her then looked up at William and asked for a '78 Claret and an order of stuffed mushrooms.

"You'r a bit of a mystery," Candice said to him. "I've read up a bit on your business but I'm not sure I really know you."

"Well I am a romantic at heart," he said. "I love art and fine wine and I try and remain close with my friends."

"Tell me about one of them?" she asked.


Maugham was just down the way. Having polished off the oysters he asked the waiter what he should order and Brad replied that the grouper crusted in peanuts was an unusual local favorite, but also that the spice rubbed rib-eye was exceptional. Maugham ordered the ribeye medium rare with fries and thousand island dressing on the side and a Tom Collins. He wished he had hit the gym in the hotel earlier as he felt a little lethargic.


As they finished the mushrooms, Hart said "Tell me about your business. Investment banking is a risky business isn't it?"

"Not if you know what you are doing," she said cooly looking away.

Hart looked at her and could see why Maugham had warned him. Her blond hair fell down around just above her breasts and her lips were full and moist. He had, as men do, had opportunity to quickly see the line of her.

He took a sip, almost a gulp, of his Claret and continuued to flirt with her. But he also noted that she was doing a background check on him as she spoke. It was obvious, but only because he knew ahead of time it was coming.

Dinner came and she laughed as the lobster meat drenched in butter and lemon dripped down on her plate. He smiled and said "are you having a good time? Are you glad you came all this way?"

She smiled and said "I am so very very glad."