Born Out of Due Time, Chapter 14 Part One

Thomas Fleming


December 5, 2018

I am posting this in sections because of limited internet.

Chapter Fourteen

But you are twenty-one!

I’ve jut discovered that I was born in leap year,

And that birthday will not be reached by me till 1940.

By the time the taxi arrived, Anterus was ready for the evening.  He had taken a brief nap, cleaned up, and drunk two cups of cafè.  In one way, he was more bewildered than he had been since he got to Nadir—whenever that might have been—but some things were beginning to make sense.

Caterina had arrived early and met him at the door, with her hair brushed out.  She was wearing brighter colors than usual—a khaki wool skirt with a royal blue silk blouse and a dark green blazer.  She greeted him with an unaffected smile.

“Glad to see you haven’t run off somewhere, or should I say sometime?”

It was a good sign that she could treat the whole afternoon as a joke.

“I’m happy enough in the present.”

“Despite all these crises?”

“Despite the crises.”

The Rosses were in their formal sitting room.  Penny was sitting in a floral wing chair, and greeted him with an only slightly mocking, “Behold, our guardian angel!”  Dr. Ross was pouring madeira at a sideboard.  They might have been in the common room of an Oxford college.

“Madeira, Mr. Smith?  Or perhaps you’d like a whiskey.  The doctors told me to take it easy for a few days.”

“Madeira is fine.  You look pretty well recovered, sir.”

“Yes, I feel almost myself again, though I am just a bit feeble.  I do need to trim down a bit, especially if I intend to do any more sailing, and this little episode is a timely warning.”  Caterina added, “Otherwise, there may be too much of thee in the coming bye and bye.”

They sat down and chatted aimlessly about W.S. Gilbert, a man of outsized proportions who constantly ridiculed fat women in his librettos.  Ross recalled that he had drowned in a pond trying to rescue a woman from drowning.  Smith, thinking of himself, toasted Gilbert:

“A man who got what he deserved for trying to help strangers.”

Ross, who had spent his life Good-Samaritanizing, first looked puzzled and then laughed.  He gulped down his madeira and changed the subject.

”My wife has filled me in on the tampered insulin and monitor.  That was very quick thinking on your part.”

“I am cursed with a suspicious mind.  It’s not something I was born with: It is the fruit of experience.”

“Was it an accident you knew so much about insulin?”

“No, I had a good friend who was a brittle diabetic.  I only vaguely recalled that the other morning, but it came back to me the past few days.”

“At any rate, we are in your debt.  I’m afraid our only way of repaying you is to drag you deeper into this mess.”

“I’ll do what I can.”

“What did Mr. Sottili say?”

“Not too much.  He mostly asked questions—wanted to know where I was that night.  He’s been checking up on me and is unhappy not to be able to find very much.  He warned me he’d be watching me.”

“Good grief, what has got into friend Vincent?  I suppose he means well.  Have you formed any opinions?”

“Not so much opinions or even hypotheses, but if we are looking only for a motive, Benedict Freeman, Justin Wright, and one or another members of board all have possible incentives, but I don’t know enough about them to develop any theories.  If you were to ask me who would be most capable of thinking this through, I’d have to say either Dr. Freeman or Eric Dyson.”

“Why Dyson?”

“Because he is very bright and beneath the surface of his nice clothes and prep school affability, he’s a tough man who is used to taking charge.  He also has a strong technical background.  From what little I’ve seen, I respect him and enjoy his company, and I don’t like to suspect anyone I’d want to have as a friend.  What motive he might have, I don’t know, though for a while I suspected him of still doing work for a government intelligence agency.  A shrewd friend of mine who has met him—a former prizefighter who had dealings both with the mob and with the police—doesn’t trust him, but I don’t know how important such intuitions are.”

  Caterina looked at him: “Anterus, for a man who claims to have no friends in this town, you have met some unusual people.”

“Big Joe Kerry fought his way up from rural poverty in Stephens County to being the light heavyweight champion of the world.  He has learned things you won’t find in books, at least not in any books I have read.”

Ross, losing a bit of his placidity, asked: “Mr. Smith, what do you propose we do?”

“For now we have to sit tight and wait for their next move. By now, they—whoever they are—not only suspect me: They think, only think, mind you, that I may be putting sone of the pieces together.  They’ll have to make some kind of attempt.”

“Such as..”

“Bribery—there have already been hints of wonderful prospects, which should dazzle an impoverished drifter.  I’ll do my best to seem gullible, but when they figure out that bribery doesn’t work, I expect they’ll try intimidation.  In fact, they already have.”

He told them about the mysterious Myra and the man in the park.  He left out Josh and his buddies.  It would be too complicated to explain it all to Caterina and the Rosses.  They thought of him as a learned gentleman and had no idea of the kind of roughnecks he had brushed up against in his travels.  He was only beginning to form an idea of what he had been, and he was still surprised by the alter ego that seemed to pop up when he faced danger.  It was like a comic book hero, whose name he could not quite recall.

  “I have said something to Caterina about my past, and now that Sottili is probing, I want to reassure you all.  I have done nothing illegal or immoral that would justify any government attention, but it’s my impression they think I know things they’d rather didn’t get out.  They don’t really know who I am or what I know.  In fact, neither do I, precisely.  But they are beginning to have some suspicions.  When nothing else works, they’ll have to arrest me on trumped up charges or find some means of getting rid of me.  They’d rather not kill me, because they think I could be a valuable asset.”

Ross was no longer smiling:  “This is more alarming than reassuring, Mr. Smith.  In what way could you be an asset?”

“I’m not entirely sure.  Here is what I do know.  I have strange intuitions.  Maybe it comes from my Scottish ancestors.  I only recall a few things I heard as a boy, but one of them is said to have had a vision that the chiefs of his clan would come to an end, when a black swan came to join their famous flock of swans.  It was not long before his vision was fulfilled.

“Were these highlanders?”

{MacFarlan, it is said, had on the waters of Loch Lomond a famous flock of swans with which the luck of the family was associated. In the time of the last Chief, one Robert MacPharrie, who had the second sight, declared that the days of the Chiefs of Arrochar were numbered, and that the sign of this event would be the coming of a black swan to settle among MacFarlan’s swans. Strangely enough, soon afterwards, a black stranger was seen among the other birds on the loch, remaining for three months before it disappeared, and it was very shortly after this that the barony passed out of the hands of the MacFarlan Chiefs for ever.}

“I suppose they must have been.  I just now remembered the story.   What was the name…Was it McFarlane?  Yes, that’s it.”

Ross interjected: “He had the second sight?”

“That, at any rate, is the story that I was told.  In the hope of understanding these visions, I once made the mistake of volunteering to took part in some kind of mind-control experiment that went badly awry.  Before I managed to get away, some of my memory got erased or at least blurred.  I don’t recall much of what happened, but if they figure out who I am, they will not want me running around on the loose.”

“Smith, I can’t let you run these risks.”

“It’s too late for me to back down.  For one thing, I have to find out what happened to me, which is the only way I’ll ever learn who I am, really.  I suspect that some of the people who want to take over Veritas are the same people who damaged my memory.  I know I am playing with fire, but it’s worth the risk if I can learn something.  Besides, if I try to run, that will only make them sure to run me down.  It’s a little like dealing with a pack of feral dogs.  The best defense is to show no fear.”

The room went silent until Smith turned to Ross.

“Let’s look at this situation calmly.  Someone wanted to kill you or scare you so badly you would abandon Veritas or at least put no obstacles in the way of selling VSET to the government or someone else.  One or another board member was behind it, in all probability, but there had to be local people involved to pull off the stunt.  Who?  The three best possibilities are Justin Wright, Dr. Freeman, and the DA—“
Ross started to protest, but Smith ignored the interruption: “You don’t know Sottili as well as you might think you do. The best approach is to imagine a set of scenarios and test each one, first logically and then by seeing if we can get any evidence.

Scenario One:  The three of them are in it together.

Scenario Two:  Wright is conspiring with Freeman

Scenario Three:  The big villain is really the DA working with the local mob.

I know you don’t like the third scenario, and I tend to agree that, while Sottili may be less straight than he pretends, he is counting on your staying at Veritas.  Besides, from what I have gathered, the Sicilians in this town are divided, and Sottili is not taking orders from any of the factions.”

Penny asked what the Sicilians could possibly have to do with anything.  “Probably very little,” Smith conceded, but I have more than a few hints that they have at least provided some muscle….

“So let’s start with Wright and Freeman.  I don’t like the choices, either. I’m fairly certain that Freeman and Dyson knew each other before coming here, but I think they are working different sides of the street.  On the other hand, unless Freeman is a very good actor, he despises Wright and thinks you are the best bet if he is going to be carrying out his research.  If Dyson and Freeman are not working together, that excludes a triumvirate, a fortiori.

“So, let’s try another scenario: It is Justin, working for one or more board members.  Here the problem is his lack of resourcefulness and his complete ignorance of medicine and technology.  On the other hand, he seems to know Lieutenant Caruana…”

Ross asked what bearing that had on the case.

“Maybe nothing, but Caruana is a bad cop and may have been the man behind Sal Nicosia—the ex-cop they caught here, but the insulin switch does not seem like anything two rogue policeman could have come up with."

Ross agreed, and there was an uncomfortable pause in the conversation, which Smith broke by changing the subject.

“Doctor Ross, how did you come to hire Justin Wright?  You knew him well enough to know what a dullard he is, and, quite apart from being dull, he is more than a little weird.”

“Yes, you’re right.  It really wasn’t right to put him in a position for which he is so manifestly unsuited.”

“How did it happen, then.  I know there was board pressure, but…”

“I was in a bit of a bind.  You see I had hired Karl Johann, a thoroughly decent man, but he turned out to be completely incapable of raising money.  In fact, he could not manage a budget.  I’m afraid he panicked and, to cover up the shortfall, shifted funds around and rather optimistically listed some vague statements of donor interest as actual pledges.  There was nothing illegal or even dishonest—he didn’t take a dime for himself and was scrupulous about his expense account…”

Ross hesitated, as if he was uncertain how to proceed.

“I had to arrange short-term financing to protect Karl, and when Brent Moriarity talked the board into backing Justin, I was not in any position to stand up to them.”

“So Moriarity was aware of the situation and used it to put pressure on you?”

“No, not at all.  They only knew that Karl was not working out as a fund-raiser.” 

  “Then, if set aside the idea that Justin is working with Freeman,  the best bet at Veritas would be Freeman’s assistant Frank Asbury, but Asbury seems slavishly devoted to Freeman.  The only other physician that we know he has contact with is Dr. Yunis, who is only an hour or so away.  Does Yunis have it in for you?”

“No that I know of.  He’s an eccentric—that goes without saying—and prone to see conspiracies everywhere..”

“What kind of conspiracies?”

“The usual paranoid fantasies about the Deep State, the Council on Foreign Relations, and, coming from a Middle Eastern family, he suspects the Jews are behind everything.”

“This may be important:  Where in the Middle East?”

“Honestly, I don’t know.  I’d always assumed his family were Maronite Christians from Syria or maybe Chaldeans from Iraq.”

Caterina had a sudden thought: “Maronites certainly have no love for Israel, and the most violent leader of the PLO—George Habash, was that his name?—was a Christian.”

“It’s also possible that either he or his family are converts with Islamic relatives or have a close relative who  married a Muslim.”

Penny objected:  “But just because he is a former Muslim or has some family connections doesn’t mean he would betray, much less murder, my husband.  He seems to be a decent and kind mand, not the terrorist type at all.”

“That’s an excellent point, Mrs. Ross, especially if he were or is a bad Muslim.  It’s the good Muslims we have to fear.  But—and here I am guessing out loud—if he has had some contact, no matter how innocent, with an Islamic group, that would be a vulnerable point, if someone found out.”

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina