A Look Inside Megan’s Cure. The Authors Collection.
October 19, 2014
(Megan’s Cure is the latest Enzo Lee mystery thriller. It involves a Big Pharma conspiracy and the action moves from corporate boardrooms and southern bayous to Las Vegas casinos and, of course, hospitals. Here is a chapter. – Robert B. Lowe)
WALTER NOVAK DROVE into the Presidio through the gate just a few blocks from his home. He left the shops, interior design businesses and cafes of Pacific Heights behind as he began the curving descent down Presidio Boulevard through a thick grove of eucalyptus trees. It had rained in the early afternoon, heightening the fresh, piney smell that wafted through his cracked windows.
He passed by a row of tidy Spanish-style homes on his left – small apartments really with red-tile roofs, white stucco walls and long concrete walkways. He guessed they were built in the 50s, each large enough to house three or four military families. Anyone assigned to them must have felt as if they’d won the lottery.
After passing through the cluster of buildings that had been the headquarters of the old military base, the road wound past the cemetery. Endless rows of identically shaped white headstones ran up the hill in geometric perfection. Novak had an image of a thousand soldiers lying side-by-side beneath the earth attired in immaculate dress uniforms. They would be in exact alignment as defined by a team of surveyors, a formation more precise than any they had formed on the parade ground. An underground army at well-deserved rest.
He took the shortcut past more 50’s Spanish-style homes and then parked in an empty lot. He walked the quarter mile down the hill and through the two-lane tunnel that passed beneath the Golden Gate toll booths. He emerged at the tourist lot for the bridge. Bypassing the café and visitor center, he walked up the crushed granite path to the walkway that ran along the east, city side of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The rain had driven most of the tourists away. The traffic – still busy after the evening rush hour – was just a few feet away heading north toward Marin. It kept up a steady rumble accented by the metallic staccato of cars hitting the metal plates that joined the sections of roadway every 50 yards or so. After a while, the sound just became background, a steady loud buzz on his left.
After eight minutes, Novak stopped at a turnout that jutted a few feet out from the walkway just past the first gigantic tower in the middle section of the bridge. He faced east. In the waning sunlight, Alcatraz was in front of him. To the right was San Francisco, the beaches and the Marina district just off the water and the high rises further back.
Novak leaned against the rail. He could feel the vibrations of the traffic passing from the roadbed, through the bridge girders and into his body. It felt like the growl of an empty stomach, although he wasn’t feeling hungry in the slightest.
Far below, the gray ocean was alive. White caps came, lingered and disappeared. Broken lines of surf moved slowly inward, pushed by the flood tide. It was still light enough to see a line of birds passing below, each one followed by its shadow just behind it on the water’s surface. They were only a few feet above the sea.
After a long glide with wings outstretched, the birds took on an elongated shape with skinny necks outstretched, legs trailing behind and wings flapping hard to the sides. Ducks? No. At this distance they had to be larger. Geese then, probably passing through on the way to Canada.
The height made the tableau below surreal. It had a dollhouse quality. A toy world. It would be windy, cold and wet down there with the ocean and the force of its swells dominating everything. But he had no sense of that from the bridge.
Another line of geese flew out, just skirting Alcatraz. As they reached the bridge to pass underneath, Novak saw the last bird in line suddenly tumble into the ocean. It disappeared for a moment and then popped to the surface, flapping its wings and shaking to get the water off. It floated for a time. Then a wave broke over it and the bird disappeared only to surface after a few more seconds. From above, it looked like just a splash of water. Novak knew that down there, it would be a sizable wave perhaps even four or five feet high. He remembered how it had been when he passed under the bridge in the Oblique. He was seeing a life-or-death struggle.
Another half dozen geese were coming through. Novak could see the one in the water trying to get into the air and join them. For a few seconds, it matched the flapping of the others. Then it hit the water with a small splash, maybe using its feet to help propel itself forward. It flew a few more yards and then hit the water for a final time and remained floating helplessly.
Novak wanted to somehow reach down to help it. Dry it off. Give it a rest out of the tumult of the ocean. Maybe whatever was wrong could heal. It just needed a break from the incessant flying and, now, the chaos of the sea. How could it recover when its mission was traversing the thousands of miles between Latin America and Canada? That instinctual drive. The imperative. It was driving it to its death.
Then he saw the bird try again. It was alone this time. It flapped, got some air and headed west toward the open sea. It splashed a little again but kept going. This time it didn’t stop. The wings kept moving. It continued flying until it disappeared from his view underneath the bridge.
Novak smiled. One day at a time, he thought. One mile at a time. Keep going and maybe you’ll make it.
Novak lifted his eyes and scanned the horizon. It suddenly occurred to him why the bridge was such a magnet to jumpers. He knew the end-of-the-land theory. That looked at America as a box tipped westward. Those without roots or purpose holding them down rolled to the west coast. Once there – having run out of land, dreams and hope – only the ocean remained. The bridge became their gateway.
But he saw something else, too. It was mesmerizing on the bridge, almost mystical. The cityscape. The natural beauty. And the miniature ocean world below. It was God’s view of the world. How easy it would be to seduce yourself into thinking that you could climb the railing, drop over the side and tumble down into that fantasy below. So easy. Become part of the toy world.
How long would it take to climb over the rail? Five seconds. How long to get your footing on the thin platform on the other side and take a deep breath. Nothing between you and the void. Three seconds. Close your eyes. Wait for her to come. A last time to say good bye…or hello. And then fall.
But the face that came to him this time wasn’t the pig-tailed blonde girl. It was the girl with short black hair, bangs and an irrepressible smile. It was Megan.
It shocked him into opening his eyes. Suddenly he could feel the danger. His feet were on a beam four inches wide on the unprotected side of the railing. Had he just climbed over? A sudden gust would be enough to send him down. His legs shook. He staggered to the rail and clung to it, only then becoming aware that a half dozen people were staring at him from the safe side, their mouths wide open.
He pulled himself back over. His heart pounded like he had just run a race. He was covered with sweat, even in the cool wind.
It took him time to regain his breath. A minute or five. He wasn’t sure. Then Novak reached into his jacket pocket. He pulled out the end of a pigtail – five inches long and held together by an elastic band. It had been yellow-white more than 30 years earlier. Was it his imagination or had it somehow faded? It seemed darker now.
Composed again, he looked at it closely, rubbing the hair between his thumb and fingers. He tried to remember how it had felt before it had been cut from the head of his dying sister. He slipped off the band and held the loosened hair in both hands, one palm pressing down on the other. Then he lifted his top hand and extended the lower one out past the railing, tilted downward.
Separating into strands, the hair slid down to his fingertips and then was caught by the strong ocean breeze. The hair swirled up, away and then down until it disappeared. When his hand was bare, Novak closed his eyes and tilted his face up to where the sky was losing the last of its brilliance.
A sound – almost a moan – escaped from this throat. It started with pain, became a sigh of release and ended with a shout thrown up to the heavens. Slowly, Novak opened his eyes. He shoved himself away from the rail, found his balance and began the walk back to his car.
Please click the book cover image to read more about Robert B. Lowe’s Megan’s Cure.