Episode 2: “Wishes”

Created & written by Marrton Dormish

Powers: The Serial is a fictional series based on true stories. With the exception of recognized personalities, locations and institutions from the past and present, all characters and places depicted in this series are fictional.

Addis Tola got her Christmas wish. In spite of her pain-racked body, in spite of the local health clinic’s “shortage” of the medicine she needed, in spite of how she had been forced to provide for her family for the last fourteen months, Addis got to enjoy January 7 with her children.

The many who were too weak to join the meager celebration in the abandoned quarry near the great cathedral watched hungrily, their eyes full of memories, as the few with enough strength chanted and sang and danced.

“Melkam genna! Merry Christmas!” chirped her two kids Ayala and Amare happily as they plopped onto the worn and dirty blankets beside Addis.

“Melkam yelidet beaal. Happy holiday of the Birth,” Addis rasped in return. She smiled weakly, “Shall we finish our meal and share baraka? Shall we share this third cup of coffee together?”

“Ah! Yes, please, Mami!” said her kids.

It had taken every santim and birr Addis had so carefully saved for months, but she had managed to perform a Christmas miracle. Arrayed before them were three handle-less cups balanced on a piece of scrap metal with the edges turned up. Next to them were a handful of burning incense, a small stove where she had roasted two handfuls of green coffee beans, and a mortal and pestle she had used to grind the beans. A black clay coffeepot called a jebena held their remaining sips of coffee.

When six-year-old Ayala reached for the cracked jebena, Amare wailed, “Ay! I am the youngest, ‘yala. I get to pour!”

He grabbed for the pot, but Ayala held it out of his reach. “You got to pour last time!”

“I am four! It is tradition!”

Addis extended her hand and rested it gently on Amare’s arm. “Handsome One, come sit on my lap and let your sister pour this time.”

Amare folded his gaunt arms over his protruding belly, and turned his face away. “Amare…” crooned Addis. “Come here and watch with me.”

He still wouldn’t look at his mother, but he crawled onto her lap all the same.

Ayala raised her chin as she poured. “Tell us again, Mami. What is the coffee ceremony for?”

Addis closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She savored the lingering scent of roasted coffee beans and incense. “The coffee ceremony is very important. It transforms your spirit, who you are on the inside. To share coffee is to offer friendship and to deepen your connection as a family. It is traditional for the woman of the house to perform the ceremony three times a day.”

“Why don’t we have coffee three times a day, Mami?” asked Amare, as his sister raised the jebena above her head and poured the dark liquid into the cups.

“Don’t stop pouring once you start, Little Flower,” Addis warned.

“I won’t,” Ayala said. She spilled some coffee onto the metal tray. When she glanced up in remorse, Addis reassured her, “That’s okay, just don’t stop pouring.”

Ayala filled the cups halfway, then set down the pot. “Very good, Ayala!” said her mother. Amare forgot he had been pouting. He clapped, “Good, ‘yala!”

His sister smiled shyly so that the dimple on her right cheek showed.

Addis held up three fingers, “In the ceremony, three cups of coffee are served to everyone present. The first is the strongest, remember?”

Ayala stuck out her tongue, “I didn’t like that one.”

“I did!” Amare said.

Addis laughed. “Yes, sometimes it takes time to like the taste, Ayala. The second cup is not quite as bad, right?” Ayala nodded. “But it is the third cup that blesses those who drink it.”

“This is our third cup!” Amare said.

“Yes, it is, Ayala,” said Addis. She handed Ayala and Amare each a cup and lifted one for herself. “Drink, kids! This is my gift to you for Christmas. This is my blessing.”

“Want me to get you another pillow, Ma?” Nathan Patrick reached past his mother for a plaid throw pillow. “Here you go.”

“Thank you, honey,” Kathleen Patrick said. She patted Nathan’s hand, but didn’t look at him. Her eyes were fixed on the big screen TV in the “recreation room” of the Park Hill Retirement Community in Denver, Colo. Oprah came on in two minutes and she didn’t want to miss anything. “Now, tell me, Nathan. How are things at the newspaper this year?”

“Oh, they’re fine. I’m keeping busy. You know how it goes.”

“I read your story on Tunisia. Did you really watch that man set himself on fire?”

“I’d rather not talk about it, Ma.”

“When I worked at the Post before I married your father, God rest him, I wrote a story on unsafe conditions at a garment factory. Guess they’d call it a sweatshop today. Lots of undocumented workers got injured. Gruesome stuff. But I never saw it actually happen.”

“So is the food here any better than before?”

“Okay, fine. I get it. You don’t want to talk about it. Oprah is coming on, anyway.” Kathleen took Nathan’s hand. More residents shuffled into the room, leaning over their walkers. Others rolled up in their wheelchairs, attendants in tow. One not-so-elderly-looking man walked in with a young attendant on his arm, as if they had just arrived at a high school dance. Their animated conversation turned heads. A few of the previously subdued early arrivals brightened. “Hi, Zeke. Hi, LJ.”

“So has the staff here gone casual or what?” Nathan asked, his eye on the unusual couple. I know I’ve seen that guy before, he thought. Salt and pepper hair. Strong chin. Dark eyes. Reading glasses perched on his head. I know I’ve seen him somewhere. “Why are all the attendants wearing white button-downs and jeans?”

“It’s supposed to make us feel at home,” his mother said.

“I thought you liked it here.”

“Would you let me out of here if I said I didn’t?”

“Come on, Ma.” Nathan fidgeted on the couch. Just the smell of the place made him uncomfortable.

All eyes welcomed Oprah onto the screen.

“They ever try to disinfect this place?” Nathan asked, shifting positions again.

“Why would they? Does it smell too old in here for you, Nate?”

Nathan folded his arms. “You know that guy, Ma? The one over there with the perky girl?”

“If I did, I wouldn’t tell you.”

I am so glad I came here to visit, Nathan thought, barely able to suppress a sarcastic remark.


Oprah came on and Nathan tuned out. Then half-way through the show, it hit him. Nathan leaned over to his mother and whispered, “He’s that guy! That guy who was so tight with the district attorney.”

“And now you think you want to interview him.”

“A bunch of reporters tried to talk to him, Ma, even before the DA’s accident, but this guy never granted an interview. Ezekiel something or other, right?”

Nathan had noticed right away that Ezekiel and LJ were the only ones whose eyes were not glued to the big screen. Instead, they teased each other over a chessboard. Zeke had to shush her every time her running commentary got too loud, which was a lot of times.

Does she ever shut up? Nathan wondered.

After Oprah, when the residents drifted back to their rooms, Nathan moved to stand up. “Please don’t leave me, Nate,” whispered his mother, reaching for him.

“I’ll just be right over there, Ma.” Nathan pointed to the chess table. He gently disengaged his mother’s hand from his forearm. “I’m not leaving.” He stood up, stretched and sauntered his way over to the odd couple focused on a dwindling number of chess pieces.

“Looks like he’s got you, White,” Nathan said, pointing to LJ’s cornered white king.

“I know! I thought I had him like 10 moves ago, but then he worked some sort of magic trick and now I think I’m stuck! Zeke, how did you do that?”

“Well, you might have noticed if you’d done more looking and less talking.”

“Very funny. If you only—”

Nathan jumped in, “Excuse me, sir. I couldn’t help but ask. You were a friend of District Attorney Ellis, weren’t you?”

Zeke’s head shook slightly as he lowered his glasses. He offered a tentative smile as he peered at Nathan. “Did you know him, young man?”

Nathan felt the dark eyes boring into him. “No, sir. But I covered him when I worked for the Post.”

“Uh huh. I see.” Zeke raised his glasses and turned his attention back to the game. “Your move, LJ.”

“It’s been five years since the accident, sir. I’m sure that must have been very hard for you, but I was wondering if you would be willing to talk—”

“I don’t do interviews, young man.”

“It’s just that there were always rumors that you were the real force behind DA Ellis’s success.”

“I’m just a barber, young man. A retired barber whose only wish is to be left alone.” Zeke’s fingers shook as he nervously tapped the board.

“So you deny that you were a guiding force behind Ellis becoming one of the most respected DA’s in the country, and—”

“Umm, I’m not sure who you are,” interrupted LJ. “But I think you need to leave Mr. Thomas alone now. Anyway, aren’t you here visiting another resident?”

She nodded toward Kathleen rocking gently on the couch. “Is that your mother?”

Although he was annoyed at being put off by a girl who barely looked old enough to be legally employed, Nathan knew when to retreat. “Yes, that’s right. I’m very sorry to bother you, Mr. Thomas. Have a good afternoon.”

He walked back to Kathleen as if talking to Zeke had intruded on him, “You ready to go back to your room, Mom? I’m going to need to get going soon.”

Kathleen looked blankly up at him. “Mom, can I help you back to your room before I have to go? Or do you want to stay here and watch TV?”

“I want to go,” Kathleen said. Nathan pulled her to her feet and hooked her hand through his arm. As they headed down the hall toward her semi-private room, she patted his arm and said, “Now tell me, honey. How are things at the newspaper?”

“What was that all about, Zeke?”


“Shoot! Are you sure? I can move here, oh wait, no. Well then, here.”


“Ah, crap. You beat me again! I’m a liberated woman and all, Zeke, but can’t you let me win at least once?”

Ezekiel chuckled. LJ grabbed the chess box from under her chair and scraped her pieces into it.

“So…What was that guy talking about?”

“Oh, nothin’, LJ. Nothin’ to worry about.”

“I’m not worried, Zeke. I’m curious. I didn’t know you knew District Attorney Ellis, let alone powered him to fame.”

“I didn’t.”

“Well that guy thought you did.”

“So what?” Ezekiel yawned. “You wanna have some tea? Gimme a chance to use that fancy stove in my room.”

“Actually, I need to check on Millie. She didn’t come watch Oprah today, and I’m a little worried about her. You know how down she gets sometimes.”

“Alright then. You let me know if I need to drop by and talk her down.”

LJ nodded. “Okay, but don’t think this is the end of our conversation about you being some puppet master or something.” She made a “V” with her fingers, pointed them at her eyes and then at Ezekiel. “I’m on to you, Zeke Thomas.”

Ezekiel just smiled and shook his head. He and LJ walked in opposite directions. Just like he did first thing when he woke up in the morning, and last thing before he went to bed at night, as soon as Ezekiel got back to his room he checked his e-mail. There was one new message. “Lessee here…Lord, did he finally send me a message?” He clicked on his inbox and right there saw his godson’s name: “From: Ben Ellis…Subject: Okay”.

Though his hand shook as he clicked on the message, Zeke felt calm.

The message said:

Hi, Uncle Zeke. Your last message was a little melodramatic, but no, I don’t hate you. I did, which is why I sent back your letters, but I guess it’s true that time heals wounds. I don’t hate you, but I don’t understand why you did what you did.

Anyway, I’m proud of you for tackling the email thing. I know you’re not a huge fan of modern technology, but welcome to the 21st century! (Or at least, welcome to the end of the 20th century.) I’m not sure what you mean about “secrets,” but I am willing to come see you. Right now it will be tough because my schedule barely allows me time to send you this email. I will be in touch.


P.S. My mom sends her love.

A line of bundled humanity with its variegated luggage stretched outside the front door, down the sidewalk and around the corner of the downtown Denver homeless mission. Four full lanes of traffic inched in the opposite direction in a futile early attempt to beat the evening rush hour.

Cars and humans alike exhaled into the dusk, as the sun retreated ahead of a merciless February cold front descending from the north. The air crackled, though no breeze blew.

Near the front of the line waited a stocky man who went by the street name, “Coffee.” Unlike the others, who moved around, stamped their feet and pounded their hands on their sides, he stared at the sidewalk between his combat boots. He stood perfectly still, his face hidden inside the hood of his blue, oversized Denver Broncos sweatshirt.

Coffee focused on the sidewalk because the sidewalk was safe. There were no memories in the sidewalk. As long as he did that, he could block out the sight and smell of the crush of men waiting for a warm bed, and the sound of engines warming in the road beside him. The cracks in the sidewalk were his friends.

“I g-grew up in the “U-P.” In Michigan,” said the leathery man in front of him to no one in particular. “I been in real cold. Yessiree. Made your spit freeze before it hit the ground.”

He spit into the gutter. “Did that pop? I think I heard a pop,” he said, surprised. He looked around at his line-mates. “D’ya hear that?”

“This ain’t nothin’,” said a man loudly from behind Coffee. His furry beard peaked out from under his multi-colored assortment of scarves. “I was working a pipeline in the Yukon with a guy who took off his gloves to pee. Ever’thing he uncovered got frostbit.”

Those within earshot chuckled, but not the man from Michigan. As the traffic next to the line started picking up, he argued, “You n-never been to the Yukon, Rainbow Man.”

“Says who, P.U.?”

“It’s U.P. As in ‘Upper Peninsula.’ I bet you don’t even know where the Yukon is.”

“I worked up there ‘fore you were born, P.U. Who the—”

A tremendous clap of slamming, twisting metal cut off their argument. Tires squealed. When Coffee came to himself, he was in a crouch, hands covering his head. His heart raced. Images of a far-off place swirled before his eyes. Before he knew what he was doing, Coffee was running toward the accident.

Alaska yelled after him, “Hey, you! What you goin’ do? We ain’t giving you your place back!”

Horns honked somewhere in the distance. A few cars in the right lanes snuck past the wreckage, then traffic came to a standstill. Facing the wrong way in the near corner of an intersection a block from where Coffee had been in line was a black BMW sedan with its back half driver’s side crushed like a pop can. Just beyond it was a formerly pristine silver Toyota Highlander. It’s front hood looked like a tent. Steam from its mashed radiator hissed into the air.

The driver of the BMW popped out of his car, overcoat swirling, as he surveyed the damage to his car. “My baby! Oh, my baby. Look what he did to my baby. He ran that light and look what he did to you!”

He flipped open his cell, hit speed dial and started ranting to whoever was on the other end. Then the Highlander’s driver’s-side door opened slowly. Out stumbled a well-dressed man wearing a heavy sweater but no coat. He left the door open. Coffee slowed to a jog, then a walk, until they were face-to-face in the middle of the intersection. He blinked in surprise. It’s the guy from New Year’s Eve. The guy who wouldn’t let that nice lady give me a ride. “You okay?” he asked.

“What do you want?” retorted the dazed driver. “I…I don’t have any money.”

“I don’t want your money. Did you hit your head on the steering wheel?”

The driver glanced at his audience on the sidewalk and groaned. Sirens wailed in the distance. “I guess so. Yeah.”

“What’s your name?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“So I can steal your identity and marry your pretty wife. Are you kidding me? I’m trying to figure out if you have a concussion.”

“O-o-oh…” Howard stammered, recognizing Coffee for the first time. He shivered. “Howard…Howie…Howie Jones.”

“Look at me for a sec…Your pupils look ok, but you better sit down. We don’t want you wandering off and hurting yourself.” Coffee steered Howie to an empty spot on the sidewalk. “Just sit tight until the sirens get here. Can I grab you a blanket or something from your car?”

“Uh, yeah.”

Coffee jogged to the Highlander, popped the rear hatch and grabbed the thick, plaid blanket that probably had been, but was no longer, neatly folded. When he jogged back, Howie was muttering to himself, “Dear God. I’m going to miss it. I’m not going to be there in time. I have to call Erika. No, wait. That would make it worse…”

A police car and an ambulance finally laced their way through traffic into the intersection, and since Coffee could tell Howie was going to be okay, he eased his way back down the sidewalk.

“What was that? You tryin’ to be a hero?

“You looking for a tip or something?”

Coffee ignored the comments. When he got back to his former place in line, he stared Alaska down. “Alright, fine. You can have your place back. At least we got a little entertainment out of it.”

“That’s what I’m talking about,” said Michigan.

Coffee dropped his head again and stared at the sidewalk. Then the line started moving, and with more sirens heading toward the accident, Coffee ducked inside the shelter.

Nathan Patrick glanced at his watch. He groaned when he saw it was already 4:30. It had taken him and two attendants an extra 45 minutes to calm his mother enough for him to leave the rest home.

Gently, he turned the knob at the back of the small lecture hall. As he slipped inside, he looked down the darkened rows of auditorium-style seats and was greeted by a larger than life image of Leonardo DiCaprio dying on the long white screen at the front of the class. He slid into a seat in the back row. Thirty seconds later, the video clip stopped, the lights came up, and a woman in blue jeans and an oversized green sweater stood up. Nathan slouched down in his seat, but her eyes found him all the same. She shook her head slightly.

“How many of you have seen Motorcycle Diaries, Hotel Rwanda or Blood Diamond?” she asked. More than half of the fifty or so seated students raised their hands. “And what do you think was the moral of this video montage?”

Several hands went up. “Yes?”

“That development work is hell?” Some students laughed.

“Well, yes. Chris, isn’t it? I can vouch for that first-hand,” said the lecturer. She pointed at another raised hand.

“That a situation is more complex than it seems at first.”

“Bravo, Sara! But what is the Catch-22 of that development truth?…Kareem?”

“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something. When people are getting slaughtered, the situation is kind of simple.”

“Right. And where we will live and engage in this class is in between those two dilemmas. Say good-bye to black and white, ladies and gentlemen. And say hello to gray. Lots of gray. These movie clips don’t tell the whole story, but they do succeed in sketching the basic problem of development practice. By the end of the semester you might be wishing things in the real world are as simple as they were for Leonardo in Blood Diamond.”

“But he died!” said Chris. The auditorium echoed with laughter.

“Exactly! He took the easy way out…In all seriousness, this class is about blood and guts and sweat and work and tears. This class is about the real world where people are suffering from poverty, corruption, conflict, prejudice and exploitation, and where other people are largely unaware of, unconcerned about or uncertain how to help those who are suffering.”

‘Development Practice’ is not about applying a mathematical formula to get the right answer. It’s complex and full of paradox. Why? Because it involves people, who are complex and full of paradox, and it involves societies and customs and entrenched systems that are really difficult to understand, let alone navigate in practice. ”

“FYI, this is probably the last lecture I’ll give this semester. This class will be all about engaging with the readings in your syllabus and with the issues and case studies we’ll discuss. That’s “Discuss,” with a capital “D,” as in no one watches from the sidelines. I want you to learn to feel these issues, not just regurgitate facts. I want you using our class message board. And most of all, even if you disagree with each other, I want you respecting each other. The only prerequisite to this class is an ability and willingness to respect your co-learners, which includes me. I might have some initials after my name, and a boatload full of student loans to go along with them, but I will be learning right alongside you in this class.

“Okay?” The class grunted its assent. “Great! That’s it, then. Have a great evening and I’ll see you next week.”

Nathan descended the lecture hall steps slowly as the students chattered their way out the door. “I have an appointment with Professor Avery Cohen-Tate,” he said, as Avery closed her Powerpoint presentation and shut down her laptop.

Without looking at him, she said, “Hello, Nate. I thought we were meeting for coffee at the Daily Grind.”

“Well, I thought it would be fun to see you in action. I actually meant to be here for the whole lecture, but I was unavoidably detained.”

“Is that so? Well, I’d tell you I don’t like surprises, but that wouldn’t really be true.” She slid her laptop into its sleeve, shrugged on her overcoat and flipped out her shoulder-length hair.

“Good. I only have a few more days in town, and since this is only the second time I’ve seen you since the New Year’s Eve party, how ‘bout I take you out to a nice dinner?”

“Dinner? This just keeps getting better and better. My ex never took me anywhere nice. He judged restaurants by how good their French fries are.”

“Big mistake.”

“In more ways than one, Nate…So, where to?”

“You’ll see,” he said offering his arm. “I know a place that has some great fries.”

Sister Rosa Avana Paredes walked briskly across the convent’s sunny courtyard, summoned once again to the austere confines of Mother Sofia’s office. To her surprise, just as she prepared to enter the convent’s receiving room, the tiny head nun appeared on its threshold. “Estás aquí, mi hija,” said Mother Sofia. “There you are, my daughter. Thank you for coming so quickly. Let’s take a walk through the cloisters instead of sitting inside. We shouldn’t waste such a beautiful day.”

“Buen idea, Madre,” said Rosa. “That’s a good idea, Mother.”

“I love to feel the warmth of the sun, don’t you, mi hija? It’s like I’m a plant and I’m soaking in the life that sustains me.”

Rosa nodded. She knew this interview would have something to do with the email that had plagued her thoughts for the last month, but as she imagined herself a flower soaking in God’s light, she relaxed.

They strolled in silence for a time. Eventually, Mother Sofia led Rosa to a shadowed, stone bench resting against the concrete wall of the courtyard.

She patted Rosa on the leg. “So, mi hija, I have given you time to pray and consider this electronic mail message. I brought it with me so we could read it again, together, and decide what to do.”

She unfolded a white sheet of printer paper and handed it to Rosa. “Read it, child.”

“Yes, Mother.” Rosa cleared her throat. “To: The Sisters of Charity and Mercy. From: RicoSolo6. Subject: My salvation?” When she hesitated, Mother Sofia squeezed her leg. “I hope to God someone reads this message! I have gone to a priest, but when he found out who I was, he wanted nothing to do with me. I feel I have nowhere else to turn.” Rosa’s voice cracked. “I have money and power. People fear me. But I am tired of being surrounded by death. I want out of this life.” Tears welled in Rosa’s eyes. “I ask you, ‘Is there any hope for me?’ When I chased Rosa away, I chased away my only tie to real life, to sanity. I have not seen her for four-and-a-half years, but I beg you to please forward this message to her. Rosa, I am sorry for everything. You asked me to help you escape this life many years ago and I did not. I have no right to ask you to help me now. But please, light a candle for me. If you are able, send a message to this new email. It is safe. Rico.”

Rosa lowered the paper. Mother Sofia produced a handkerchief from under the folds of her habit and handed it to Rosa.

“Tell me about this man, Rosa.”

“Yes, Mother…He…was my older brother’s best friend…I…I had a crush on him, but he always treated me like a sister…Until after my quinsiniera, my fifteenth birthday.” Rosa blushed.

“Está bien, mi hija,” said Mother Sofia. “It’s okay. Go on.”

“Our families were very poor. Our parents worked at a resort in Mazatlán. You know, mostly vacationing Americans. But Rico, and Ernesto, my brother, they…they started selling drugs. We had money after that, but…”

“Then Ernesto was killed. Rico swore revenge…He followed Ernesto’s killers to the city. And I went with him. That’s when he started working for the cartel.”

Mother Sofia reached for the message. “Why did you go with him?” she asked gently.

“I thought I was in love with him. And I was so tired of living in a slum. I wanted to really live! I wanted the people who killed my brother to pay for what they did…But then Rico never did find them, and he became one of the cartel’s ‘enforcers.’ He changed…He was so angry all the time.”

“Then one day I saw him shoot this kid. In cold blood. He couldn’t have been more than 13 or 14. I will never forget that as long as I live. Rico tried to explain it away. He said he had to do it. He promised me all kinds of things if I stayed, but I knew I had to get out. That night I snuck out and took the bus home.” Rosa bowed her head in shame.

“Rico’s parents disowned him. Mine almost disowned me, too. That’s when I  agreed to go to Mexico City to enter the order. I had been on a few Sister of Charity and Mercy retreats before Ernesto died, but because of Rico I hadn’t been so interested…After everything that happened, the shame of it and Rico shooting that poor boy in front of me, I wished I was dead every day. I’m not sure why they let me become a postulant. At first I was just hiding and feeling guilty and wanting to make my parents happy. But the longer I stayed, the more it fit…”

Mother Sofia wrapped her wiry little arm around Rosa. “Thank you, Sister. That helps me understand a little better. Don’t think you are any less worthy than any of the rest of us here. Because you are not. We are all in need of grace, mi hija.”

“The problem is this is not the only message we have received from this man.”

Rosa’s head popped up in surprise. “What?”

“Yes. Our Mother Superior sent him a message assuring him of our prayers, and asking him not to pursue contact with you. But since then we have received six more messages from him.”

“Dios mio!” said Rosa, hastily making the sign of the cross. “My God!”

“There is the matter of this man’s soul. I assure you we don’t take that lightly. There is also the matter of your past relationship with this man and the danger it would put you in to re-establish contact with him. Ultimately, however, our main concern is for your safety, and for the safety of our sisters and those under our care.” Mother Sofia nodded toward the orphan’s quarters adjoining the convent. “He seems desperate, this Rico, and he seems like the kind of man who is likely to turn violent when he does not get what he wants.”

Rosa nodded sadly. “That is his life now, Mother.”

“Have you any thoughts from your time of reflection on this matter?”

“I don’t know, Mother. I can’t seem to concentrate well enough to do anything.”

“Yes…I’ve noticed. No, Sister, don’t apologize. If I were you, I’m sure I would be distracted, too…Our questions, mine and Mother Superior’s, are, ‘What is the best way to satisfy this man while at the same time keeping him far away from us and those under our care?’ If we do nothing, he is likely to grow angry for not hearing from you, and take out that anger on some poor soul, maybe even someone connected to our order. ¿De acuerdo? Do you agree?”

“Yes, Mother. Once he sets his mind on something he thinks of nothing else.” I remember when he set his mind on me, thought Rosa.

“Very well. You may write this poor man a brief, very generic message, and we will pray that will satisfy him. Please write it today when you are done putting the children to bed and bring it to me right away. We will go over it together.”

“Yes, Mother,” Rosa said, rising with Mother Sofia.

“Come along, mi hija.” The tiny nun glanced at her watch. “Midday prayers in the chapel in five minutes. We will take this matter before the Lord.”

Samuel Cronus, III, power-walked out of the boardroom, leaving dazed board members in his wake. In his thirty-three years at the helm of Cronus Corp., he’d come to relish annual board meetings as an exercise in the projection of willpower. His willpower. Every time his vision won over reluctant members of the board, he felt like he and his family were vindicated. As he liked to say, “My granddaddy built it, my daddy launched it, and I’m going to bring her safely home.”

He liked to think of Cronus Corp. as a ‘she’ because he’d spent four years in the Navy before taking over the company from his father. Cronus Corp. ran like a ship at battle stations, because for Sam Cronus, his company was at war—with a poor economy, with unemployment, with ‘bleeding hearts inside’ and outside the federal government, and with the enemies of America worldwide.

“I have a zero tolerance policy on laziness and inefficiency,” he was fond of saying in television interviews. “But my 5,000 employees love me for providing the best benefit package in corporate America—medical, dental, life, matching retirement, pension—the works. To me, my employees’ families are my family. And I take care of my family.”

Sam stormed into his office, loosened his bold red tie, and called to his personal assistant, “Get my wife on the phone, will you, Ms. Wilkins?”

“Right away, Mr. Cronus.”

He grabbed his personal cell phone from his pocket, punched a few buttons and placed the phone to his ear.

“Booth here.”

“You have an update for me?”

“They’re at happy hour together right now. It’s a little hard to hear with the noise, but I’m still getting their conversation.

Ms. Wilkins poked her head into the office, “Mr. Cronus, I have your wife on the phone.” He held up one finger, turned and took in the view. From his 52nd floor window, he could see to the Denver suburbs.

“And?” he prompted Booth in a whisper.

“Courtney, I mean Ms. Adams, hasn’t mentioned work yet. She looks more agitated than last week, but I don’t think he’s noticed. Airdrie’s too busy looking at her—”

“Just keep listening. And don’t speak that name to me again.”

Booths voice grew sarcastic, “It’s funny, because Michael is supposed to be this big-shot government agent and all, but man, is he ever blind around attractive women.”

“That’s enough. I don’t want to hear any more. You just keep on top of this and make sure there are no revelations. Clear?


Sam hung up his cell phone, and picked up his office phone.

“Virginia? Hello, dear. I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Business you know. Thanks for understanding, dear. I have a surprise for you for Valentine’s Day. Do you want me to tell you now or find out later? Now? Ok, well pack an overnight bag because I made dinner reservations at that little seafood place in Seattle that you love!…” He held the phone away from his ear while Virginia squealed in delight. I’ll send the limo to pick you up and I’ll meet you at the airport, okay?…I love you, too, dear. I’ll see you soon.”

Ms. Wilkins beamed at him when he strode out of his office. He winked. “That’s how you keep the fire burning for 38 years, Ms. Wilkins.”

She offered him the handle of his rolling carry-on.

“Yes, sir. Have fun in Seattle.”

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