Shiva's Messenger

Apron Strings and a Nursing Mom

Chapter 4 of Shiva’s Messenger

Nursing Mom and the Apron Strings

 

Returning from her late night mercy mission, Cindy found her worst fear confirmed. The young man wasn’t alive. She knew on only a glance but wouldn’t give up yet.

“Wake up!” She yelled at his slack, peaceful face.

Cindy pinched his nose and tilted his lifeless head back. Sealing her lips over his, she blew a breath into his lungs but felt the resistance of the fluid inside. Her fingers groped his neck for the pulse point to prove his flat-line. She pounded her fist down onto his chest in a hard pericardial thump.

“Breathe!” Cindy resonated to the newly deceased.

She slapped his face and pinched him. Listening to his chest, she could detect a flutter of a heartbeat. She blew him another life-sustaining breath but this time she forced as much as she could into his lungs to dislodge some congesting phlegm.

“Where’s that will to live?” Picking up the bucket used to wash him, she dashed it over his upper body. The water had now grown cold. He convulsed and the next shallow breath he took on his own. Her fingers found the carotid artery again. The throb of life was there but tentative.

“Show me some backbone.” She spanked his cheeks hard enough to make them pink. “You’re not going to die on my watch.”

Roger opened his eyes wide and struggled to focus. He looked into her face with bewilderment and then clenched his lids shut, as a wrenching pain throbbed in his head. He tried to speak but was interrupted by more coughing and then unconsciousness.

“How long were you out for?” Obviously, he couldn’t know but the question to satisfy her primary concern. Had he suffered brain damage? She wouldn’t know until he was alert.

“The blood needs a richer brew.” After placing the ventilator over his nose, she started the oxygen flow.

“That immune system needs to fight back with reinforcements.” The doctor administered the antibiotic injections.

After performing the active measures necessary, Cindy reclined on the bed beside him. She propped a pillow under her arm and monitored his condition. It was would be a long night but the woman smiled. In taking care of someone, Dr. Cindy Smart was doing the one thing she missed more intensely than a lost childhood pet.

shivasmessenger

A metallic twang of the bottled air flavored John’s first waking breath. His lids flickered enough to see light but he didn’t open his eyes yet. He was surprised at being alive but was uncertain about whether to be happy about it or not. Death wasn’t what I imagined it to be. Casually supposing the end of life would be only a long darkness, he’d been amazed at eternity’s vibrancy. The fledgling assassin’s kittenish condition permitted only a weak smile. I have my own rock crystal. The facets might be cut differently than my Dad’s but mine can bend photons to emit the cutting ray.

“Death so young would’ve been tragic.” Cindy detected the eye movement and took it as indicating consciousness. In response, the patient opened his eyes and focused. The doctor removed his oxygen mask. “Are you back to stay this time?”

“I hope so.” His voice was almost a gasp. Looking at her for almost the first time, John saw her hair was honey blond, cut shorter than mid-length and curled up at the ends. Her appearance still marked her more as a professional woman than a store clerk.

“You are one exceedingly fortunate boy.” She smiled at the gross understatement. His collapsing in a convenience store staffed by a doctor of medicine was somewhat more than just convenient.

“What time is it?” His eyes traveled the room and the sunlight streaming through the windows caused him to squint.

“It’s late afternoon. You’ve slept for over 12 hours.”

When his condition stabilized, Cindy had allowed herself to catch a few brief periods of sleep while remaining close at his side. Now that he was speaking lucidly, she was relieved his brain hadn’t suffered from too much oxygen deprivation. That made a prognosis good for a full recovery.

Cindy made him some more broth but he needed to urinate. After helping him to stand, she supported him on the walk to the toilet. Still extremely weak, he was trembling from the exertion. Being nude, he wouldn’t have to fumble at a zipper but he nearly swooned while reaching for himself. With his one arm draped around Cindy, he needed the other hand against the wall for support.

“I’ll help.” Seeing his inability to perform a vital function, she took hold and aimed him at the bowl. As a medical professional, she wasn’t prone to squeamishness regarding the intimate service. Strangely, the young man didn’t seem embarrassed by it either. Cindy’s mind added another question mark to her growing list.

Her womanly hand holding his masculinity in a supportive way caused him to look and thank her with his eyes. Cindy was bathed in a nearly horizontal afternoon ray and an unreadable expression graced her smile. “You seem a goddess of the sunshine.”

“Uh,” given the current highly intimate touch, the female doctor hesitated at how to respond to such a compliment, “thank you.”

“How can I repay you for everything?” After he was finished relieving himself, John was assisted back to the bed.

“There’s no extra billing on human compassion.” The attending doctor smoothed a cool fresh sheet over his chest with a maternal caress. With the back of her hand against his forehead, Cindy felt that his temperature had dropped marginally.

“It was more than just that.” The touch of her warm hand on his skin comforted John in a manner he had never experienced. “Most people would have turned me away or simply called the police.”

“I almost did.” Cindy stirred the broth and prepared to nourish him again. “I thought you might be either drunk or on drugs. Then I recognized your symptoms. You have pneumonia and I can confirm your self-diagnosis. I’ve seen plenty of Measles before.”

“Luckily, I stumbled into someone who knew what was better for me, than I did.” He stammered. “Were you a nurse?”

“A nurse!” She feigned indignation with a playful slap on his chest. “Why you sexist little wretch! I’m a physician.”

“A doctor?” The patient already knew this before arriving in Creston but this was a good segue into the topic he really wanted to discuss. “Why are you operating a convenience store?”

“This is my job. I don’t even own the store. I just manage it for wages and free rent on this apartment.” How many times had Cindy now explained her situation? “The reason I’m not working as a doctor is a long sad story you don’t have to hear at this moment. Right now, you need chicken soup for your health. The Canadian Medical Association may not recognize the medicinal qualities of natural remedies but I do and I’m the doctor here.”

John’s eyes smiled as the woman helped him to eat it. Her insistence seemed such, that the spoon would’ve gone in whether his lips opened or not.

“Now you’ll get some more sleep.” Cindy collected the last drop from his chin before putting the spoon and bowl aside. “I‘ll nap on the chair. So just holler out if you need anything.”

“That doesn’t sound comfortable.” John budged over. “This is your bed and you can sleep beside me. I’m too weakened for you to fear anything from me.”

“Maybe you’re too feeble to be worth much.” Cindy quipped but judged the space on the bed as much better than a lumpy chair. For a while, she listened to his breathing grow deeper. She briefly dozed and on awakening found, he had rolled onto his side. An arm was draped over her. It felt nice sleeping in someone’s embrace again, not for sexual reasons but for a human feeling of closeness. Doctor Smart sighed. A tenderness of contact and her bone weary tiredness, gave her the best sleep she’d enjoyed in years.

shivasmessenger

Cindy awoke to a masculine scent, absent so long from her life, now it was better than the smell of Honduran coffee brewing.  A naked young man was in her bed and she didn’t even know his name. She giggled but tried to do so without jiggling. With careful movements, she extricated herself carefully to avoid waking him. Sleep was exactly what he needed most. She noted his vital signs then adjusted the flow of oxygen. Mentally the doctor moved her patient onto the recovering list.

After picking up his scattered clothing, she carried them over to her laundry area. As she emptied the pockets of his jeans, Cindy noted only some small change and a set of keys in one pocket. Strangely, the fob just held vehicle keys. Her collection looked like a jailor’s ring and she had no idea what half of them unlocked anymore. In the other pockets, she found a motel key and a wallet.

“Roger Connors.” She peeked at his British Columbia driver’s license. Why had he refused a hospital? Her assumption on that he was an American was obviously false. Cindy threw his clothes into her laundry machine and bustled to domestic duties foregone since his arrival. An employee was manning the store below.

“Wake up, Roger.” Later, the doctor jiggled her patient’s heel. “How are we feeling this morning?”

“I feel like crap.” John rolled onto his back and stretched. He caught the use of his name and thought about his pseudo-identity as fast as his fuzzy brain allowed. “I feel like I died and shouldn’t have been brought back to life.”

“Feeling like crap is a vast improvement over the other night.” Cindy pulled the curtains back, sending a shaft of sunlight into his eyes. “Should I bring you breakfast?”

“No, I want to get up.” He blinked at the dazzle then inched out of the bed to use the washroom. His identity ritual was performed in the vanity mirror with a whisper. “Good morning Roger Connors.”

From his face, his eyes drifted to his chest where the itchy pox pulled at his fingernails like electromagnets. He fought gamely back and restrained the urge with only gentle rubs. His head still ached but not as badly as it had. He coughed hard and the action brought up chunks of lung mucus so big he almost had to chew before spitting. Yuk—there’s another nasty to be pushed out of mind!

“Tell me something about yourself?” Cindy heard his shuffling feet in the nearby bedroom.

“There’s not much to tell.” While he hunted for his clothes, he recited some of the quick ‘facts’ that Roger knew and a reasonable chain of events that brought him here. He ended his monologue with a plausible excuse. “My family are Jehovah’s Witness but I needed my own answers. I guess I’m trying to find myself.”

“Just look in a mirror.” His tale had pre-empted what her next question would’ve been. Not believing in blood transfusions would make someone of that religion leery of hospitals.

“I won’t see a reflection in the glass until I satisfy a commitment first.” Roger offered and then regretted, as the comment made him sound like Count Dracula.

“Are you a vampire that religiously can’t take blood? That’s too funny.” Cindy had her back to him while cooking the ham and eggs. She turned to find a male sitting casually buck-naked in her kitchen. “Exactly what do you think you’re wearing at my dinner table?”

No shirt, no shorts, no service.” He sheepishly quoted his Dad. “My clothes have disappeared and since you’ve already seen me—I just didn’t think about it.”

His father had chided him about not being dressed for a meal but other than that, he had no problem with the preference for being natural. ‘If you’re comfortable in your own skin then everything else fits like a glove.’

“The human body is beautiful,” she couldn’t help laughing, “but surely your mom or at least your minister told you to put something on at mealtimes!”

“All the time but what boy ever listens?” Oops, maybe being too casual was a slip up. Other than that Jehovah’s Witnesses shunned blood transfusions, the only other thing he knew was they worshipped on Saturday instead of Sunday. Maybe they were puritanical zealots that believed they were born already in a diaper.

“You must’ve had a sheltered life.” Cindy was still chuckling as she fetched her pink robe for him. Her knowledge was also limited but it was odd to see a member of any creed quite so unabashed. “You’re fairly old to contract the Measles.”

“We lived in an isolated place.” He went on to tell her about the little girl at the hot spring. Then he confessed about the frosty dips in beckoning lakes and streams. ‘Use truth in liberal quantities where you can with specifics changed to protect the identity and purpose.’ 

“Oh, to have back the immortality of adolescence.” She sighed wistfully. “I know your ID says you’re 20 but your innocence makes me conclude you’re more like ten.”

“Actually, I’m only one day old because having died, I’m on life number two. Cats get nine. How many do we humans get?” He felt reborn but with a new vision from having seen life from both sides. Death is a gift. It was as his father’s promised reward on completing his mission. He wouldn’t focus on it but embrace it when it arrived. Just realizing that was a liberating feeling.

“Then you’ll be about my age before you’re legal to drink.”

“I’ll use fake I.D.” Roger almost gagged a telling such a bald-faced truth on an identity issue. “I think I’m strong enough now to give you back your bed. I’ve got a motel room.”

“No you are not!” Cindy voice left no wiggle room for argument. “You have Measles and pneumonia. Your temperature is still way above normal and you’re on antibiotics. I’m not taking you off the oxygen until I’m good and certain your lung function has stabilized.” She added finger wagging. “You’ll stay right here until you’re well.

“Okay.” The patient meekly accepted her rebuke but his eyes misted over. He knew Cindy was trying to be the doctor but her scolding seemed more as what a mother might sound like.

Over the next few days, Cindy nursed him back to health. She made a steam tent with a sheet and some chairs, to sooth his lungs with mentholated moisture. She kept feeding him antioxidant rich fruits and vitamins.  Interspersed with foul tasting spoonfuls of medicine, they had pleasant conversations. He had magazines by the bundle when she worked in the store. The motherless boy reveled in being coddled by a motherly hand, for the first time.

When she wasn’t working shifts, his proxy parent entertained him with games of Scrabble. Both were pleasantly surprised by the others extensive vocabularies.

What’s that?” Roger laughed as the doctor, who possessed decorum to the point of elegance, placed her letter tiles.

“It’s a legitimate word!” She prickled with embarrassment but the points provided at this pivotal stage of the competition, made it worthwhile. She’d never say this four-letter word out loud but in Scrabble, it was a perfectly acceptable—if it tallied to a good score.

“If you mean the French word for seal, the aquatic mammal, I believe p-h-o-q-u-e is the proper spelling.” Roger refused to let her get off quite so easily.

“This spelling,” Cindy’s cheeks glowed a color of sealing wax, “is an English slang term and it’s in some dictionaries.”

Sometimes he invented some good stories to tell but enjoyed listening to her true ones better. Finally, he begged the ex-doctor to relate the long sad story of why she no longer practiced medicine.

“I had a patient about your age.” Cindy sighed resignedly and repeated the sordid tale. Despite her best efforts, the motorcycle accident victim had succumbed to his major injuries. The parents had sued and an aggressive lawyer used tactics that were straight out of Hollywood scripting. With expert testimony, the litigator won his case and a huge settlement from her and the clinic’s malpractice insurance. Cindy attempted to give the grimy story a bubbly ending. “Bankruptcy and unemployment builds character.”

“The financial loss is understandable but why can’t you still work as a doctor?” Roger mined a vein he’d assayed at the library.

“I’m an unacceptable liability for the clinic.” She paraphrased words the senior doctor had used. “The case set a president and if a tongue depressor hits a tonsil too firmly, I might be back in court.”

“Why would patients be expected to complain to a lawyer?”

“This is a small town and everyone knows what happened. People know the lawyer is ready to pounce at the drop of a scrub cap and the expert testimony set to leap in support.” She resignedly sighed. “A lure of cash tends to overbalance decency and patients might even come lurking for a rich settlement.”

“Can’t you move your practice to where you’re not vulnerable?”

“Creston is my hometown and I like it here. My husband and my father are buried in the cemetery. My mother needs my help. Managing a c-store isn’t as satisfying but it keeps the wolves in the hills. Some friends are still my patients.” Cindy forced a chuckle she hoped would conceal her hurting. “I also have the odd stranger collapsing in my store to keep my skills honed.”

“What would happen if the lawyer left town?” Roger pressed with a feigned innocence.

“That would help but he’s not the only problem.” Cindy had mused this topic before but the question had never popped up in a conversation. “The clinic’s senior practitioner would never approve my reinstatement either. His billing base of patients deepened when I left the practice.” The talk was swiftly overwhelming her attempt to look stoic and Cindy pressed for an end. “I have to be content with my life. Bad things happen and that’s simply the way of the world.”

Jehovah prefers the nasty things happening to bad people.”

“Dream on.” As engaged in the process of getting up from her chair, Cindy missed a sly look on her patient’s face. “And speaking of which, I’m off to dreamland.”

“Me too.” As Roger followed he peeled clothing to sleep in the raw, as usual. They had continued to share the comfortable bed.

“If I got you some pajamas, would you even look at them?” His accustomed birthday sleeping suit wasn’t offensive but as he grew healthier it seemed—slightly disconcerting. Cindy didn’t expect any unwelcome advances. Her modesty just wasn’t as liberal as his.

“Probably not unless ordered.” The young man casually shed the briefs and climbed under the covers. “Why? Are you worried I might be caught unprepared for fending off a wild cougar attack?”

“I know a young buck that deserves a good flank biting.” Cindy chuckled and swatted him on the bare buttocks as sharply as her facing away position awkwardly permitted.

Cindy closed her eyes but a fleeting thought inspired by their earlier conversation gave her an odd memory. She recalled keeling in prayer at her bedside when she was a little girl. The vision was a wisp and then gone but it sent her mind somewhere pertinent.

“Did you,” she turned her head slightly up towards him, “have a death dream on your first night here or were you even aware?”

“Yes and it was vivid. But I really can’t tell you about it.”

“You can’t or you won’t?” Now she rolled completely over to study his face in the dim light.

“That’s hard to describe,” but he was game for attempting it.   “Some aspects were common elements of other reported post life events but there are no words to fit the more important features.” It took Roger a pause to find an example to cite. “Say we are two people with differing languages and we lack the right phrasebook. We point to objects and assign them words but how do we transmit an invisible concept?”

“I think I might understand that. My husband passed away very suddenly from an undiagnosed brain aneurism. We were watching TV and I wasn’t looking at him. I just knew Dale was gone before I possibly could’ve known.” Her eyes widened in a mild surprise as she realized, “I’ve never even told my own mother about that.”

“Your comfort with confiding in me, was it due to an awareness, that I wouldn’t scoff?” Roger began only musing but it turned into a question. Her eyes answered, yes. “Was that intuition even akin to the way you knew of your husband’s passing?”

“I’m not sure,” the woman searched her feeling, “maybe.”

“The soul’s sense of certainty behooves description to those who haven’t experienced it.” Again his further elucidation took a stretch for the illustration.   “It’s like trying to talk about true faith, to a person who can’t find it or to who only pretends.”

“A better description might be describing the sensation of love to someone who has never felt ardor.” Cindy offered.

“Using faith and love as examples still doesn’t cover it because everyone knows what those are. They’re natural to us as children but I think adults can outgrow the capacity for one or both.”

“A discussion on that is far too deep for this venue. We may even have to argue from the same side.”

“Then I just say, no.” He grinned. “I don’t think you’re a wacko for sensing a resonance transposed over life.”

“Talking about things outside the physical realm is inviting a nasty label.” Cindy thought of a groaner to end on. “Given my non-practicing status in my profession and claiming to possess a non-certifiable esoteric ability, I might be called a ‘quack quack’.”

“That was double fowl.” He wrinkled his nose and gave her a small cuff on the shoulder.

“Goodnight.” She captured his wrist and rolled away taking his hand, where she tucked it under her cheek. Remembering the pain of loosing her doctoring career brought a tear before she slept. It rolled too quickly to staunch and splashed on his knuckles.

Roger felt the warm moisture and imagined the astringency of the salt, even long after it had dried. A compassionate and decent person was misused for greed’s sake. The prospect of a few more dollars into bank accounts is not worth her continued misery.

By her breathing, Roger knew she was now asleep. Slumber for him would take awhile longer. In contrast to the strong woman that had saved his life and tended to his recovery, now she felt vulnerable under his bicep. When Cindy shared her tragic story, she had tried to spare his hurting in sympathy. The tear was an indicator of the extent of her sorrow. She works for low pay and free rent when she’s qualified and capable of a career she loves.

“My father left me the means to assist my new mother.” His words were without even a hushed voice and meant only for himself. Roger Connors began formulating his plan.

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“Let me take a look at you.” Doctor Cindy Smart examined her patient. His resilient young body had cast off the pneumonia. The pox marks were fading and with his having rebuffed the compulsion to scratch, they wouldn’t leave permanent scars. As a doctor, Cindy was aware that she had to release him from custody but as a friend, or even as a mom, she really didn’t want to. “I’m declaring you fit enough to start earning your room and board—do you want a job?”

“I can’t stay on.” Roger invented a girlfriend in Vancouver and his mental picture of her was almost tempting enough to drive there. Creston might’ve been a nice place to gather some life experience but a solitary saline droplet washed that prospect away. “But I will repay your kindness.” After hearing his own words, he fumbled for his wallet to cover the small slippage.

“I don’t want money.” Cindy pushed his wrist to set the wallet back into pocket but it seemed like it hadn’t been a full-hearted attempt. She shrugged off further payment by claiming a value was already received. “Sleeping with you reminded me of my husband.”

“If you won’t be a cougar,” the ex-patient’s eyebrows flicked as if a flirt or a dig but his face was thoughtful, “then be a bobcat instead.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know that urban term.” Sophisticated women chasing younger men are often called cougars. Cindy tentatively bit on the doubtlessly lurking jibe. “Dare I inquire after the bobcat?”

“Plenty of bucks have already seen a few ruts. They aren’t the ones rattling antlers and drawing puma from the hills.” His hunter’s hinterland wisdom proved a fitting analogy but Roger’s grin was due to his switchback. Being sagely serious as she’s expecting a witty burn is as enjoyable as is the reverse.   “A linx might seek the well-seasoned stag with velvet fully rubbed off his rack, just nibbling the foliage unaware. Our bobcat’s grown contented with just rabbits but she’s more than capable of bringing down her deer.”

“I will miss you.” Cindy smiled as her mind pictured herself in the pleasant sounding nature drama. “Come back with chicken pox or better still, the mumps.”

Roger shifted his truck into gear and drove off into the night. He wasn’t headed west to Vancouver but east to Calgary instead. ‘Where you’ve been will be seen but don’t be showing where you’re going’. His father told of writing a biography but an encyclopedia could be filled just with his advice and catch phrases.

His route went past the smallish city of Cranbrook. “This will be a better place to stay upon return.” His business in Creston could be done by the one-hour commute.

“I’ll come back afterwards but only long enough to visit Sam.” Even though alone in his truck, he spoke to Roger’s persona in a pre-apology for breaking a rule. He’d make a whole new person with the gear stored in Calgary and a dropped identification should be left completely. The unclosed file took up brain-space but it also made links. He deemed that Roger’s exposure was of minimal risk and it saved a worse one. He only had this one really good set of ID and without, just being pulled over by police for a burned out tail bulb could turn nasty, quickly.

The road rolled under his vehicle’s wheels controlled by the brain’s autopilot while his thoughts drove in the streets of recent events and planning. His father had given him a task to do but he hadn’t been sure he could follow it through. Even with all his love and trust for his father, he had entertained doubts about the ethics of his future life. The post death experience settled that issue.

“I won’t be sending my victim to a mysterious unknown.” He knew what was there. His father’s code even applied to murder—some should go to their better place ahead of schedule to make the world nicer for those left behind. He harkened back to some information contained in Shiva the destroyer’s spiritual brushing. ‘Death is necessary, as life can’t exist without it: just like darkness is, so that light can be.’ Planned and properly executed mayhem is a good thing, in the right context. “My concern for Cindy only struck a match. The Who and why if confirmed, lights the fuse.”

As Roger traveled through the Rocky Mountains the hunter’s moon was low and bright. Snow-capped crags towered beside the highway but one pyramidal form caught his particular attention.

[Mount Kailasa.]

“No it’s not.” Roger puzzled at where that internal voice had come from. He spotted a sign with the peak’s real name on it and it wasn’t even close to Kailasa. He pulled into a road siding and stood outside for a better view.

“The ice at the crown does look like white quartz glittering in the moonlight though.” Roger had read up on the topic of ‘Shiva’ after his father had told him the Kennedy operation was named that. The word ‘kailasa’ meant crystal in Sanskrit and a Himalayan mountain of that name was purportedly the home of Shiva the Destroyer.

“Well, have you any more quartz gems to pop into my mind?” The young man tapped his head several times with the palm of his hand to rattle loose any response. “If so please out with it now. I don’t want to deal with anything while in Calgary’s morning traffic.”

“It was just my tired mind playing a trick.” His consoling words didn’t convince him though. Is it possible that my spirit brought an essence back from the afterlife? Roger climbed back behind the truck’s steering wheel. “I would actually prefer two souls staying on bunk beds in my brain, as being better than having schizophrenia.”

“I’m not converting to Hinduism—so don’t even try.” Just in case, Roger set the house rule for any tenant that might be there. “Organized religions won’t dictate my dharma.” For ethics and right actions he’d stick with his father’s values instead. The soul survivor still couldn’t discount he was already changed in many ways he just didn’t fully comprehend quite yet.

shivasmessenger

Roger Connors arrived in Calgary several hours later and found the large double storage unit his father had leased there. The boy could almost smell his dad’s presence in the unmoving air, it had been untouched for a long time. About half of the space was taken up with stores and a small workshop area. The room left over was enough to park a vehicle. He already had an accurate knowledge of the contents from his father’s inventories but snooped anyways.

There was equipment to print and laminate ID cards, along with a Polaroid camera to make the photos. He created a fast set to buy a used BMW Z5. A car lot just needed a name to write into a blank on a form when the transaction was for cash. Roger drove directly from the sales lot to an auto body shop. With a new paint job and no expense spared on detailing, the vehicle would suit the role.

The owner of a fine men’s clothing store took one look at the long scraggly hair and tried to look too busy at the till to be able to serve the customer. He assumed the boy in the cheap, off-the-rack clothes would take one look at the prices and leave.

Roger however, didn’t bother to look at the tags. He strode to the counter in the back and slapped a GQ magazine down on the desk. Much of his recovery time was spent reading periodicals and had already picked out the look he wanted. ‘Clothing makes the man—whatever he wants to be.’ His father had aphorisms to cover a wide range of topics.

This is what I want,” he announced matter-of-factly. His sweep by the offerings displayed in the front of the store had already suggested that if the clothing he desired was anywhere in Western Canada, then it was here, “and before you try to blow me off, I’ll tell you right now, I don’t care what it costs.”

“I’m Dave.” The shopkeeper smiled with genuine sincerity. It was such a treat to enjoy a fresh new ending to a well-worn drama. He tapped a finger on the magazine. “You aren’t going to recognize yourself when you walk out of this store.”

After spending almost a week in Calgary, he was now ready. The newspaper archive at the public library provided a name suited his purpose. Some Internet searching gleaned some examples of the documents he wanted to duplicate. Then he had set to work crafting a new ID set. The cards he created wouldn’t stand up under any official scrutiny but they appeared genuine.

A visit to a hairstylist had his hair dyed jet black and groomed meticulously into a ponytail. Spending some time each day in a tanning shop had darkened his skin tone to suit the role. Outfitted, as a model stepped from a style magazine’s cover and pampered with a manicure, he now looked the part.

“Hello, Romero Escobedo.” He examined his appearance in premier hotel suite’s mirror and deemed the effect was perfect.

One week earlier, a Caucasian bush rat boy arrived in Calgary with his beat up pickup truck. Now a chic Latino man drove from a temporary base in Cranbrook, in his expensive BMW Z5 sports car.

Having already checked his hair in the car’s mirror and done a fast buff on his shined shoes, Romero tugged at his cuffs to smooth the fit of his charcoal suit. His slightly pointed lapels and the tailored cut of his jacket lent a semi-formal hint of a tuxedo. He took a deep breath on the sidewalk to enter his sphere of awareness and looked though the glass doors at the client service counter.

[The daughter of the mountain is Parvati.]

“Wherever that came from—knock it out of your head.” I don‘t need the complications of a hitchhiking spirit, mooning for his consort from another life. Blocking out any thoughts, Romero found his zone of perception and stepped within. “Focus!”

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