The two Beasts of the Revelation walked among us for nearly half a century, but no one knew them. Then millions of people simply Disappeared from the earth, and the Beasts decided to make themselves known. Can anything or anyone save the world –now that they have arisen?
Daniel Goldman is among those who have tried for the past thirteen months to ignore the world-wide Disappearance. Consistent with his life-long commitment to rigid self-determination, he has pushed the matter out of mind and become even more fanatically focused on his work as an international investor.
But on a Monday morning in late September events outside his control begin to chip away at his self-imposed ignorance. Everywhere he goes he finds himself hotly pursued and people wanting things from him he’d never contemplated. As he travels the globe negotiating the largest oil deal on the planet—and as an ancient empire gradually re-awakens—he meets and falls in love with a beautiful Israeli woman. She, together with her family and their rabbi, help Daniel discover he has never really been the “captain of his soul.” Instead, all his life unnoticed “voices” have guided him to a single decision with eternal consequences. The Biblical Apocalypse is upon them and, one way or another, Daniel is destined to play an important role in prophesied events.
Voices is the first of a series about the end times—which refer to the end of our age, not to the end of the world. The series looks to the Bible for its framework and presents a plausible picture of the end times according to a literal reading of its prophecies.
“Today it begins, Danny.”
Knowing the male voice he’d just heard was real and came from above his up-turned face, Daniel Goldman instantly abandoned the dream he’d been having. He hesitated to open his eyes, suspecting no one would be there when he did. When he finally opened them, no one was. He rolled up on one elbow so he could see into the heart of his bedroom and remained unsurprised when he saw no one fleeing into the dim light beyond his sleeping alcove.
He lay back and stared up at streaks of morning sun across the ceiling, reclaiming consciousness and listening to the silence throughout his master suite. When he was sufficiently awake, the thought came to him that this was the first time he’d been asleep when it happened. The first two times he’d heard this voice he’d been wide awake. He spent the next several seconds pondering whether there was any significance to that distinction. When he could think of none he drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, then twisted around to his left so he could sit up with his feet over the side of the bed.
His phone lay on the nightstand beside him where he had placed it before retiring the night before. He disconnected it from its charger, cancelled its wake-up setting and headed to the bathroom. All the way there, past the fireplace with its sitting area and thick Persian rugs and the floral arrangements Mrs. Harper fussed over, he didn’t once bother looking around for the source of the voice. Despite its reality there was no reason to pretend he was anything but alone.
He relieved himself, pulled on his robe, and walked back to the reading nook across the room from his bed. It overlooked his private lake. The first thing he saw after pulling back the drapes was sun glinting off the slate and copper roof of the Sperling estate on the other side of the lake. The estate was vacant, had been for the past thirteen months. There was very little wind. Nothing moved but bass or perch breaking the surface of the lake in several places simultaneously as they rose to grab breakfast. At least over his seventy-five acre lake, this Monday morning, September 28, 2020, woke in the usual fashion.
Several minutes later Daniel found himself still staring out at the lake and his missing neighbor’s empty house, having reached only one conclusion. Ignoring an audible voice from empty space was getting more difficult with each occurrence, whether it came to him when asleep or awake, and he had to do something about it.
He let the drapes fall back in place over the windows, crossed over to his bed and the nightstand beside it. He tucked his phone into the pocket of his robe and headed toward the back staircase.
On the ground floor, on his way to his office, he passed through a commercial quality kitchen with enough stainless steel appliances and hanging copper pans to serve a dinner party many times larger than any he ever hosted. Just beyond the kitchen, he glanced down a twelve foot hallway toward a closed door behind which lay the suite of the live-in couple who cared for Daniel and his property. He satisfied himself the total stillness meant they were still asleep. He stepped quietly through the open walkway that marked the division between his two-story entrance hall and his great room and turned left toward his office. On his desk lay an old-fashioned business card holder. Daniel extracted a card given him by the psychiatrist he had met by chance a couple of months ago in Manhattan. He keyed in the phone number, all the while doubtful. More and more people seemed to need therapists these days and the man was probably enjoying a professional bonanza. Would have no time available in the next few weeks, let alone today. The office was probably not open yet anyway and he would have to leave a message. He was nearly speechless with surprise when a live female voice said, “Good morning. May I help you?”
“Uh, hello, my name is Daniel Goldman. I know this is extremely short notice, but I happen to have a meeting not far from the doctor’s office later this morning, and I was wondering if he may have an opening in his schedule.”
After only a short pause, she said, “Well, Mr. Goldman, you’re in luck. If you can be here within the next couple of hours, the doctor can see you. Will that work for you?”
“It will. I can be there at, say, 9:00?”
“I’ll put your name on his calendar. We look forward to your visit.”
She hung up as Daniel stood looking at the phone in his hand. What were the odds?
He immediately called his limousine service to move ahead his previously scheduled transportation downtown. In light of increased security concerns since the Disappearance, he limited the number of times he drove himself, but since hiring a full-time chauffeur had seemed ostentatious, he had contracted with an independent limousine service.
Back In the kitchen he quietly made a breakfast of toast, shredded wheat with raisons and tomato juice. He was just finishing when Mrs. Harper emerged from her corridor at the entrance to the kitchen, hands on her hips. While Daniel swallowed the last bite of cereal, she rushed toward him so quickly the bottom of her bathrobe flared out behind her. Daniel thought of a linebacker crashing through the line to sack the opposing quarterback.
“Mr. Goldman, just what do you think you are doing?”
He smiled at her. “Eating breakfast.”
“Daniel Goldman, haven’t I told you how happy Mr. Harper and I are with the position you’ve given us here on this lovely estate? I’m sure you realize you pay us very well compared to current market conditions. So if you don’t allow us to perform the services which justify such excellent compensation, I’m afraid you may decide you don’t need to keep writing those generous checks. Can’t you see what this does to the sense of security in this old woman?”
Daniel laughed, joining in with Mrs. Harper’s game. “And haven’t I told you how irreplaceable you and your husband are? Your jobs are totally secure.” He knew the real source of her insecurity had nothing to do with failing to make his breakfast.
Mrs. Harper began clearing away the dishes. “Well, alright, if you say so, Mr. Goldman. But you must let me make it up to you at dinner tonight. What would you like? I can have our east coast supplier fly in fresh lobster in time for dinner at seven if I get the order in by 8:30 this morning. How does that sound? Or, I could have our local supplier deliver fresh quail. That might be the ticket. I know how much you like my grilled quail with pomegranate-orange BBQ sauce and tabouli with quinoa and shredded kale. Much better than that box of shredded wheat, I would think.”
“Mrs. Harper,” he said, “I’ll make a deal with you. Pick either of those mouth-watering dishes and that will completely make up for the indiscretion of allowing me to assemble my own breakfast. Deal?”
“And the fine salaries for Mr. Harper and me—they are to continue?” Despite the smile-wrinkles decorating her face, there was little mirth in her eyes.
“In perpetuity, Mrs. Harper.”
“Then yes, deal.”
“You need a contract, or will a handshake suffice?”
“Neither. I want a hug.” She started toward him again. “If Mr. Harper and I no longer have the privilege of serving Mr. and Mrs. Sperling across the lake, then working for their almost adopted grandson is next best—no offense—and I expect hugs from almost grandsons.”
Daniel swiveled on his stool to allow Mrs. Harper to place her plump arms around his neck. He patted her back and said, “Where is your old Irishman?”
“I saw him pulling on his dirty work clothes and rushing into the garden so you wouldn’t discover he was still in bed when you came down to breakfast. The shame was apparently too great.”
“Dirty work clothes?”
“His poor attempt at subterfuge, I’m afraid. Dirty clothes might convince you he’d been at it for hours. I look for him to come lumbering in any minute. He’ll expect a real breakfast, I presume.”
“You two add a great deal to my life, Mrs. Harper.” Daniel studied her for a moment. “Now, now, don’t cry on me. But you do know that, right?”
Mrs. Harper turned away quickly, muttering as she went, “Yes, sir. And back at you. We still have a piece of our old world, don’t we?” Daniel heard her sniffle.
Rising from his stool, Daniel said, “OK, I got to run, Mrs. Harper, but I’ll expect an exceptional culinary surprise this evening. Only fair, given how much wealth I lavish on you.”
Apparently still fighting tears, unable to speak, her back toward Daniel, Mrs. Harper waived her hand over her head as if dismissing him. Daniel stepped over to her, kissed her on the back of the neck, patted her shoulder, and then returned to his bedroom to get ready for the day.
After showering and shaving, still in his underwear, he stepped out of the bathroom to answer his phone. It was Brian, his front gate guard, calling to say Daniel’s limo had just been allowed through and was heading for his main driveway. Daniel thanked him and disconnected.
He entered his closet and considered what to wear. Normally he dressed casually—except for formal or first-time business meetings. Later this morning he was to meet with Spears, Cramer and Moss, investment bankers he had worked with many times before. About some new oil deal in Israel. Such familiarity meant formality in dress was not required there. Not knowing how to characterize his meeting with a psychiatrist he’d met only once, he chose informality and put on Kaki’s and a light blue sweater.
From the drawer of his nightstand he withdrew his Smith and Wesson 38 Special and flipped open the cylinder to confirm the five hollow point rounds were still in place. He slipped it into a pocket holster and shoved the whole rig into his right front pants pocket. The general chaos may not have been quite what it had been at first, but he was still unwilling to leave home without his pistol.
He headed out into the corridor and hurried toward the main staircase. There was only one way to deal with the phenomenon of the voices: it was time to confront it head-on.
As he emerged from his front door, Daniel froze at the sight of the limo driver. He didn’t recognize him. This mildly concerned him in itself, but the fact that the man holding open the limousine door and smiling at him appeared to be Middle Eastern made it even worse.
He glanced past the limo toward the gate house, where his guard Brian waved back at him, relaxed and friendly as usual. Everything appeared normal there. Daniel slowed his pace anyway so he could study the limousine and its new driver as he covered the fifteen yards or so of cobblestone surface between his front door and the heavy black vehicle. The driver’s Metropolitan Limousine Service uniform appeared authentic. Based on the fleet ID number on the license plate frame, the limo was the one regularly set aside for Daniel’s exclusive use whenever he was in town.
“So where is Harold?” Daniel called, still several yards from the open limo door.
“He called in sick early this morning, Mr. Goldman. My name is Assam, and I will be your driver today. Here, you are welcome to review my license and company ID.” He held a bundle of papers out for Daniel’s inspection.
Daniel took them and flipped through each page, certificate and photo. Everything appeared to be in order.
“How long have you been with Metropolitan?”
“This will be my fourth week. The owner of the service, Mr. Hogan, helped me emigrate from Kuwait. I had been trying for many months. His help speeded things up. His business is growing and he needed more drivers. I guess not so many Americans want to drive themselves these days, and not so many home-born Americans want this job. I don’t know why. It’s an excellent job, don’t you think, Mr. Goldman?”
“All honest employment is excellent in its own way, Assam. By the way, your English is flawless.”
“Thank you. I studied English for many years in my home country. I have a degree in Business Administration from an American college which offers on-line courses. I always hoped to come here, and I wanted to sound right when I did. Do you detect much accent, Mr. Goldman?”
“Hardly any,” Daniel said, as he climbed into the back seat.
Assam closed the door, walked around to the driver’s side and got behind the wheel. After firing the engine, he drove slowly down the quarter-mile driveway toward Missouri Highway 92 which ran past the northern edge of Daniel’s estate. “Did you know Mr. Hogan plans to sell his business in a few years?” Assam asked.
“No, I did not.”
“Yes. He says he is getting old and tired. He has no children who would be interested.”
“He told me he would prefer to sell it to an employee but he will need at least half of the price in cash. He cannot afford to take the whole price in installment payments over long years. He says he is too old for that.”
“After being there only a few weeks your boss told you all this?”
“Actually he had told me before I came to work for him.”
“He trusts me. We have communicated for many months, since my consulate first introduced us on-line. He says he helped me emigrate because he could tell I would make a good American businessman. He would like me to be the one who buys his business. I am flattered, I tell him, and I will try hard to save the money. And if I am successful to buy his business, I tell him, I will run it as he himself would have done. For example, ‘the customer is king,’ right, Mr. Goldman?”
“That’s still good policy for a service business. And good for you, Assam. I have a feeling you will make it here in America.”
“Thank you,” Assam said.
Assam stopped the limo at the end of the driveway while the gate motored open and Brian waved at them. “Aren’t you early, Mr. Goldman? When this meeting was added to your calendar yesterday afternoon, the entry said it was not for another two and a half hours. Are you still going to One Main?”
“Yes, but not immediately. I have an earlier meeting that just came up. Do you know the loft apartment buildings on Eighth Terrace, just west of Broadway?”
“Yes. So, I think I should still go east, toward Highway 169, as I had planned?”
“That’s right. You already learned your way around a metropolitan area with this much geography—in such a short time?”
Assam turned onto the nearly deserted highway and slowly accelerated. “I study maps every night. And I usually review each day’s schedule the night before. So I can be professional. Also, my vehicle has GPS.” He grinned in the rearview mirror as he touched the display screen mounted on his console. “I had only a short time to review your schedule this morning, Mr. Goldman, because I did not know I would be taking Harold’s place until a short time ago.”
“Well, you seem very professional. We’re going first to a converted industrial building which has commercial and professional offices in it—instead of residential units like the rest of the buildings on the same block. The one we’re going to is the building farthest to the west on that block of Eighth Terrace.”
“No problem. Shall I raise the privacy glass?”
“No, Assam, leave the glass down. I want to ask you about your country. I haven’t been to Kuwait in several years. Is it as crazy over there as it is everywhere else?”
“I think yes.” Daniel could see him nodding his head. Then Assam moved to his right again to bring Daniel into focus in his rearview mirror. “Maybe not at first, but I think it is equally crazy now.”
Daniel thought Assam’s eyes were questioning, as if he thought Daniel may have an explanation. He didn’t. His phone buzzed.
“Excuse me, Assam. I need to check on this. He held up his phone for Assam to see.
“No problem. You need privacy now?”
“No. It’s just a text message.”
Daniel opened the encrypted message. It was from his regional manager in Canada about the new pipeline company recently added to the portfolio. His man wanted to speed up one of the projects which had been in the works when Daniel had acquired the firm.
Daniel began crafting his instructions the slow way, character by character. He could have used the voice recognition feature, but then he would need Assam to raise the privacy glass. In his text response he told his manager he had no objection to speeding up the project. In fact, that had been his intention all along. Daniel didn’t elaborate, partly because of the limitations of manual texting and partly because he wanted to challenge him a bit. His assistant’s earlier proforma’s on the expected results from the increased investment had been a bit shallow. He wanted him to think for himself, not just try to guess what the boss wanted.
When finished, he looked up. They were just coming to a stop where Highway 92 met Highway 169. They were on the northern outskirts of one of the several small towns which surrounded Kansas City proper and which, together with the main city, comprised the Greater Metropolitan area. Even here there were political activists. He watched a group of about a dozen people marching in the grass strip between the highway and the parking lot of a convenience store, carrying signs. From the hand-scrawled messages, Daniel concluded about half were in favor and half were opposed to the military disarmament being debated in Europe and the United States.
Assam obviously noticed the signs also. “What do you think about military disarmament, Mr. Goldman? A good idea?”
“Nice idea I guess—but it won’t work. Human beings don’t come equipped with claws or deadly teeth, so they make weapons. I don’t expect that to change because a bunch of politicians sign papers to control munitions.”
Assam brought Daniel back into focus in his rearview mirror and pantomimed surprise with his eyes. “You don’t think man is fundamentally good? That all he needs is the right environment and he will live in harmony with his fellow man?”
Daniel smiled, surprised somewhat with Assam’s sarcasm, expressed so succinctly in a non-native language. “I’m no philosopher, Assam. Not a sociologist, either. But, no, I don’t think mankind is capable of getting along, regardless of environment. That doesn’t make me a misanthrope. You understand that word, misanthrope?”
“Yes. One who hates mankind.”
Daniel was impressed. “Right. I don’t hate mankind, and I don’t look down on them. But I am a realist. Thousands of years of history must prove something. Has mankind ever gone more than a few years without war? Has there ever been a society where the subjects, or citizens, don’t kill each other and those of other societies for the same handful of reasons—love, sex, religion, money, power?”
“I see your point.”
They drove in silence for a while. The marchers reminded Daniel of an incident years ago, when he had first entered military school. Shortly after arriving at the school, he and the other cadets had been on a long march in the hot sun. Despite being young and in excellent physical condition, Daniel was rapidly becoming exhausted—probably less from physical reasons than from the aftermath of his parents’ recent funeral, followed in mere weeks by going off to this strange school. By the fourth mile, he had been able to keep himself going only by concocting a plausible and face-saving explanation he could sell the drill master for dropping out. After a while, he gave up on that approach. It had begun to sound sissy…and since he had no one but himself to depend on, he could not afford to be sissy. For the final mile, he’d kept going by reminding himself how soon it would be over. Just a hundred more steps…just fifty more.
In many ways, that long-ago march had never ended.
“Many things are falling down, that’s for sure,” Assam said. “I just thought most Americans were in favor of disarmament. But you know, maybe crazier than these people who want disarmament—which, as you say, has no possibility of making a difference in the world—maybe even crazier are those who try so hard to carry on as if nothing has changed, you know?”
“I guess they don’t see any alternative, Assam. And I didn’t realize you were such a philosopher.”
“I’m not. I’m just carrying on as if nothing has changed.” He laughed at himself. “You are right about not seeing any alternatives. I’m curious, Mr. Goldman. Do you not believe the words of the prophets, that peace will one day reign over the world? Especially with a name like Daniel, you should believe that.”
“OK, I’ll bite. What’s my name got to do with anything?”
“You know. Daniel was a prophet, in the Bible.”
“Oh, right. Are you Muslim?”
“No. I’m chauffer.”
Daniel laughed. “OK. You’re from Kuwait, so it would be not be likely you are Jewish or Christian. If you are not Muslim either, then how do you know about Daniel from the Bible?”
“I’m a well read chauffer.”
“No doubt you are. Well, I’m sorry I can’t shed any light on mankind’s ultimate destination.”
They drove quietly for several more miles as Daniel texted another hint to his Canadian manager about the pipeline. When finished, he leaned back and started thinking about the psychiatrist he was about to see. The voices hadn’t convinced him he needed a psychiatrist, but they had certainly convinced him he needed to talk to this particular psychiatrist. An unknown psychotherapist showing up out of the blue in New York wanting to share a cab? And then intimating Daniel would have a need for his services soon? And he happened to have an office in Kansas City? Now these voices? He definitely needed to talk to this man.
The limo had exited the freeway and was entering the surface streets of Downtown Kansas City when, from his left, Daniel saw a burnt-orange dump truck screaming toward them. It ran a red light and seemed to speed up. Assam screamed. Daniel realized they couldn’t stop in time to avoid a collision and neither could the dump truck, but he remained strangely unconcerned. Somehow the truck did miss them, passing just off their rear. It skidded and nearly turned over as it sped off in the opposite direction from the limo. Daniel was still unshaken.
After a few seconds, Assam caught his breath and said, “Are you OK Mr. Goldman?”
“How did we miss that truck? Maybe I should say how did it miss us?”
“I don’t know, Assam.”
“There couldn’t have been more than a coat of paint between us.”
“I’d say that’s about right. One coat.”
“I’m not sure that was an accident.”
Until now Daniel had focused exclusively on the phenomenal aspect of the voice coming to him three times from empty space. For the first time he actually considered the messages: “A test is coming, Danny”; “Soon, Danny”; “Today it begins, Danny.” Maybe that was why he’d been so calm as the truck roared toward them. He had been warned for the past two weeks.
He entertained that for only for an instant. He was not about to give credence to a voice that didn’t exist.
“No, Assam, I think that’s all it was. An accident. Probably the driver was just drunk. More and more people start their days that way lately.”
“With all due respect, Mr. Goldman, I don’t think so. That driver had to be targeting us. You, that is. I’m nobody.”
Not being inclined to believe in coincidence any more than Assam, Daniel couldn’t conjure enough enthusiasm to continue the debate. Instead he changed the subject. “By the way, Assam, what were you shouting back there—when it happened?”
“I was praying to the Prophet.”
“I thought you weren’t Muslim.”
“I was for a minute there.”
“OK,” Daniel chuckled. “I like your attitude, Assam. You seem…I don’t know…circumspect.”
“Ah, another good word, Mr. Goldman. And before you ask, yes, I understand the word. I am indeed a careful man. That’s why I believe in keeping all my options open. So I say, why ignore the Prophet, you know, just in case?”
“There it is, Assam. I shouldn’t be long. Why don’t you find someplace to wait for me. I’ll call you when I’m finished.”
Assam pulled to the curb in front of the building. “You got it,” he said. He climbed out of the driver’s seat and looked around as he opened the rear passenger door. “I see no-parking signs everywhere I look, Mr. Goldman. But I noticed a small parking lot behind this building. I’ll wait for you there. Just call when you’re ready.” He recited his personal cell number so Daniel could key it into his phone.
Daniel climbed the exterior concrete steps to the entrance and entered the open lobby. He could tell from the directory that the floor he was on was the ground floor. Since he’d climbed several steps to get here, there must be a basement of some sort under him. There were only three suites listed and only two had company names beside them. He assumed the third unlabeled one, suite one hundred, was the one he wanted because it matched the suite number on the card the doctor had given him in Manhattan. He wondered why the suite had not been labeled, since the psychiatrist had been here at least two months. Low budget, he thought.
He entered the suite. No one was in the reception area. Already uneasy about the visit, as he stared at the unoccupied desk facing him and the emptiness of the room he became further unnerved. He turned in a slow circle, studying the room, finding it to be a jumble of antique furnishings vaguely suggestive perhaps of the 1920’s.
After a bit he cleared his throat to announce his presence. In moments, the doctor he had met in New York entered from a door behind and to the left of the receptionist’s desk.
“Hello, Daniel. Very nice to see you again.”
“Nice to see you, Dr. Michaels.”
“Actually, it’s singular. Michael.”
Daniel glanced at the business card. Sure enough. The card said only “Michael, psychotherapist.” He had obviously misread it before.
“Michael is the only name I use,” the doctor continued. “Never saw the need for more than one. Like Liberace, Cher or Madonna. And I have no need of a flattered ego by making you use the title ‘Doctor’ every time you address me. Just call me Michael, and please come in. I see you’re looking at the receptionist’s empty desk? She could be out running an errand.”
Daniel was directed to a straight-backed wooden chair facing Michaels’ desk. Almost immediately after dropping his weight on the hard wood he wished for the ubiquitous soft couch. As Michael walked around behind his desk, Daniel’s gaze fell on an ornate grandfather clock in the corner of the otherwise sparsely furnished office.
“From our conversation in New York, I think I know why you’re here, Daniel. So let’s get right to it, shall we?”
“That was two months ago. You remember me that well?”
“I do, and I’d like to begin by reviewing what I already know. I do this with many of my people. It serves as a kicking off point, so to speak. Does that sound reasonable, Daniel?”
“Good. So let me start by showing off my powers of observation if you don’t mind. I find it builds confidence right off.” Michael turned around, facing away from Daniel. “You are 5’11”, a hundred eighty-five pounds. I’d say thirty-three years old. Am I close?”
Still facing away, Michael said, “Your hair is jet black, thick, cut about an inch in length and combed forward—although it’s not really combed at all. It just wants to go mostly forward. You are dark complexioned with an almost rosy undertone to your skin. Eyes are brown-to-black. Eyelashes long. Lips a bit thick—also with an under-lying rosy hue. Your nose is thin and a bit longer than your typical Gentile, because you aren’t a Gentile. Overall, Daniel, you have the striking, classic appearance of a Jewish man. And you are handsome, if I may say, so much so some could almost say you are pretty—but in a way not to impugn your masculinity. You are obviously athletic, with a noticeable spring in your step. How am I doing?”
“I never thought of myself as pretty,” Daniel said.
Michael turned back to face Daniel. Daniel remembered the man’s smile from their shared taxi. He had interpreted it as shyness then. That still seemed accurate.
“I remember you play tennis, Daniel. You fence. Shoot handguns with competitive skill. You have since your days in military prep school. Your favorite poem back then was Invictus. What do you think so far?”
“I’m impressed with your memory. I don’t remember telling you all that.”
“I’m good at eliciting information without seeming to, Daniel. It’s my job.”
“Like I said, I’m impressed. But I have a question I would like answered. Why did you come up to me to share that cab? You seemed to have picked me out specifically.”
“You think it was not just random?”
“I thought so at the time. Now…I’m not so sure.”
“Why would you think I picked you out of all the hundreds on the street that day?”
“I see what you’re doing, Michael. Professional technique—offer little and get the patient to talk. Ok. By your question you seem to suggest I jumped to conclusions—about your picking me out. So, what do you think that means? Do you think that makes me overly self-centered? Like maybe I see everything as relating to me personally when in fact it has nothing to do with me?”
“Who’s the therapist here, Daniel?” His smile was friendly, still shy. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. All your questions will be answered in proper order. And don’t worry about any fee for my services. All such matters can wait. Let’s see if I can help you first, Ok?”
“If you say so.”
“Good. Let’s continue laying our foundation. First, as I recall, your father worked for an extremely wealthy Kansas City family named Sperling. The Sperling business was organized as a private equity fund, which your father helped them create. Am I right so far?”
“Your father was second only to Henry Sperling, the source of most of the fund’s capital. The Sperlings eventually came to devote much of their time to charitable work, which left your father Joshua to handle the details of investing the funds. Then your father and mother were killed together when a ski lift in Switzerland collapsed, plunging them to their deaths against boulders more than a hundred fifty feet below. Since you are an only child, you were then profoundly alone. You were fourteen at the time.”
Suspicion had begun to squirm through Daniel’s mind, but he couldn’t define it. “You are very good at your job, Michael.”
“Thank you. Shall we continue?”
“Sure, go on.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Sperling were childless, and while not legally adopting you, they fully assumed your care. Since your father Joshua had been more or less Henry Sperling’s surrogate son, you became his surrogate grandson. They sent you to a military prep school in a small rural town in Missouri—not to prepare you for a military career but to prepare you to take your father’s place. And your unquestioned loyalty to the private equity fund during your subsequent employment more than justified his confidence and investment in you.”
“You’ll have to excuse my bluntness here, Michael, but I did not tell you all this.”
“Perhaps you told me more than you recall. May I continue?”
Daniel wondered why he didn’t just put a stop to this foolishness, but he wanted to get to the bottom of it. “Go on.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Sperling were caught up in the world-wide Disappearance thirteen months ago, and since then you feel…chased. Am I correct?”
Understanding, faint and distant, flickered in the back of Daniel’s mind at the word chased, and then just as quickly faded. He simply looked at Michael. “Are you about finished, Michael?”
“Almost. The Sperlings were sincere Christians,” Michael continued. “Your father was, shall we say, a secular Jew—which is to say he occasionally attended synagogue and kept Hanukah instead of Christmas. Judaism was not a theological issue for him. It was an ethnic one. His real religion was investing. And he was an exemplary practitioner of that religion—he personally made the Sperling family more than a billion dollars and was himself richly rewarded in the process.”
“Who are you?”
“In time, Daniel. This summary is an essential part of your therapy. It sets the stage. May I?”
Daniel considered walking out. If he got to his next appointment with the investment banking house early, they wouldn’t turn him away. But he didn’t get up. He nodded.
“Your father and Mr. Sperling politely debated religious issues from time to time but had long ago agreed to disagree. Henry Sperling accorded you the same patience and respect he had granted your father. At times he endured personal pain from your responses—or lack of them—to his effort to witness to you. Especially this was true the last time he attempted to talk to you openly about his Christian faith.”
Mystery and intrigue gave way to impatience and maybe even fear. Daniel brushed his hand over the steel lump in his right front pocket. “OK, Michael,” he said, “what gives here? Have you been hired to…what…extort me? Kidnap me? What? I’m not the easy target you may expect.”
“No one has hired me, Daniel, and I do not consider you defenseless.”
“You can’t know all the things you know about me.”
“Is not your argument logically inconsistent, Daniel? Does it not imply I could have known all these things simply because someone hired me to do you harm? Could I not have learned these things through careful research whether hired or not?”
“I guess you could have, but why would you?”
“So I can better help you, Daniel.”
“Help me what?”
“Choose the correct mission.”
Daniel wanted to force him to admit he was a fraud. He also wanted to uncover the man’s angle. But he couldn’t think how to do either. So he said nothing and waited.
Michael quickly filled the silence. “Where was I? Oh, yes. You have not had good fortune with members of the opposite sex. Few girls were around during your years at the military school. Then, shortly after entering college, you became engaged to Amy Jordan. Then your fiancée was lost to you through unspeakable violence before the marriage could be consummated. This led to years of self-imposed isolation from women while you hoped against hope she would be found alive. So as much good fortune as you have had in business, you have failed equally in your personal life. Only by staying relentlessly focused on your holy mission—investing—are you able to avoid being furious and despairing at the same time. But now you wonder if maybe there is more. Am I right?”
“I didn’t get where I am being gullible, Michael. You are not what you appear to be, and I’m not willing to waste any more time hearing things I already know. And things you can’t possibly know.”
“Hearing your life summarized this way gives you the needed perspective. It provides the frame.”
“For what comes next.”
“OK. Quickly, Michael. You need to wrap this up.”
“Then I will do so. Since you never ask anything from God—assuming He even exists—you are not disappointed in Him for what has been given you: emptiness in your personal world and chaos in the world at large. But lately you have a new problem which is much more difficult to ignore. You have begun hearing Henry Sperling’s voice warning you of some crisis in your immediate future. This obviously escalates the pressure you already felt from your sense of having missed out on something important last year.”
Rising from his chair, Daniel said, “Who are you? No research could have provided you this information.”
“You recognized the voice was Henry Sperling’s from the first, didn’t you, Daniel?”
Daniel ignored the question. “I will ask you this just once more, Michael. What is going on here?”
“At another time I will tell you. Eventually all your questions will be answered. But now you must leave this office immediately.”
“Because it will be most deadly right where you are standing. If you did not move, you would be killed. You cannot die before you choose.”
“Choosing…being killed…what kind of nonsense are you peddling, Doctor?”
“No more time, Daniel,” Michael said.
He was suddenly beside Daniel, guiding him forcefully toward the reception area. Michael’s strength startled him as he shoved him into the outer office. The receptionist area was still empty except for all the old furniture. In the second or so it took Michael to bum-rush him through the outer office toward the entry hall, he registered the distinct impression there was never any receptionist. It flashed through his mind that all this old furniture was not fashion statement reproductions but original pieces, left here by tenants long gone. He found himself wondering why such speculation should cross his mind just as he was shoved into the hallway and an explosion rocked the building.
Instantly deafened by the blast, the sounds of falling debris seemed to come through thick wads of cotton. He felt himself falling and he saw massive wooden beams splintering and plastered walls collapsing. Michael’s powerful grip on his shoulder suddenly ceased. He came to rest in a heap of debris, in the floor below the lobby. He felt no immediate injuries. He was lying on his back on the padded bench from the corridor leading to Michael’s office. Old growth timbers not used for nearly a century stacked about him like massive pick-up sticks, blocking him from moving forward. The wooden back of the bench pinned him from behind. He couldn’t rise, couldn’t roll off the padded bench. Could barely move at all.
Through breaks in the dust cloud, he saw daylight through the rubble where the brick outside wall had been blown open. He shouted for help and noticed his hearing was starting to return. He heard no answer. As he struggled to squeeze out of his timbered prison, the bench collapsed under the effort. This left him below the stacked timbers, allowing him to slip under and out and crawl toward the light. He squirmed over and around debris, noticing bits and pieces of what had apparently been a heavy vehicle at one time, as he inched toward the void and daylight beyond. He could see that the area he was in was a private parking space in the basement, and that the color of the vehicle parts was the same as the dump truck which had nearly smashed into him earlier.
Then he saw blood dripping. The source became clear. Barely recognizable body parts literally pasted the brick walls and portions of the ceiling in a spiral pattern surrounding the crater in the concrete floor. Those body parts had to have been blown out from the epicenter of the explosion—the crater in the floor.
Before he could make sense of this, he heard Assam shouting outside the hole in the wall. His normal hearing had returned. Then he saw his driver. He pulled himself through the rubble and through the hole. Outside, he stood, discovering he was not injured. Not even scratched. His clothes were not torn or soiled. And Michael was still nowhere to be seen.
“Are you injured?” Assam asked.
People from surrounding buildings had by now entered the street to see what had happened. As Daniel looked at the terrorized faces, he heard a siren whoop and subside. A patrolman stopped his car askew in the street a few yards from Daniel and Assam. As he approached, his hand on his holstered revolver, Daniel heard more sirens, coming from farther away.
The patrolman, eying both Daniel and Assam, asked “What happened here?”
“There was an explosion,” Daniel said.
“A large one,” Assam added.
“Were you two outside when it happened? Did you see anyone?”
“I was inside,” Daniel said. “I saw no one other than the man I was meeting with.”
Assam said, “I saw no one except Mr. Goldman.”
The patrolman suddenly seemed especially wary of Assam.
Daniel said, “I was in a meeting with a man named Michael. The building exploded. I fell into the basement parking area and managed to crawl out of that hole.”
“Is that how you saw it?” the patrolman asked.
“Yes,” Assam said.
“Neither of you saw anyone else? No one running away or anything?”
“No,” Daniel said.
“I didn’t see anyone running away,” Assam added.
“Who are you?” the cop asked Assam.
“I am his limo driver.”
“OK. And do you have a Concealed Carry Permit, Mr. Goldman?” Daniel saw him pointing to the bulge in his right front pocket.
“I do.” He removed the permit from his wallet and handed it to the officer.
“Ok,” the officer said, as he handed the permit card back to Daniel. “I didn’t think a man who could afford a chauffeur would risk carrying illegally.”
Seconds later a cacophony of dying sirens accompanied the arrival of additional police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck. These vehicles rounded the corner from Broadway onto Eighth Terrace and formed a growing cluster of emergency vehicles in front of the building. Throwing open their doors and jumping from their stands these late arriving cops and firemen cautiously approached the front steps of the building. The ambulance backed into the curb and sat with its emergency lights flashing.
The first cop said to Daniel, “You don’t appear hurt, but if you were inside when this building blew, you should go have yourself checked out.”
“I agree, Mr. Goldman,” Assam said. “St. Luke’s is not far from here.”
“I’m fine. I don’t need a hospital.”
“I would really prefer you to go anyway, Sir,” the cop said. “Could be something internal.”
“He is right, Mr. Goldman.”
“You can take this ambulance,” the patrolman said, “unless we find someone who is really hurt.” He looked around, watched his fellow officers carefully entering the building.
“I won’t need an ambulance. Assam can drive me.”
“That’s up to you,” the cop said. “Let me take down your info.” He pulled out a note pad. “Full name?”
“Daniel Joshua Goldman.”
“I am Assam Mustaphani.”
“Mobile number, Mr. Goldman?”
Daniel gave it to him.
“And you?” he said, looking at Assam.
Assam gave the cop his business number.
“Ok. You guys can go. We will want to talk with you later. You say you’re going to St. Luke’s?”
“Yes,” Assam said.
“OK,” the cop said. He turned his attention to the hole, approached it cautiously and peered at the rubble inside. Over his shoulder he said, “I need to see if there are any other survivors. We’ll probably have someone meet you at the hospital, to get a full statement.”
Daniel and Assam got in the limo. Daniel placed his revolver in the door boot of the passenger compartment. It obviously wasn’t as concealed as he had thought, and he didn’t think you could carry in a hospital. Assam fired the engine and worked his way slowly through the growing congestion of emergency vehicles.
After only a few blocks, Daniel’s heart slowed toward normal. Apparently recent history had inured him to trauma. “Assam, did you see anyone else in the basement when you looked in at me? A man a little taller than me, maybe…hard to tell, really, but…maybe sixty years old? Wearing a sweater and slacks about like mine?”
“I saw no one, Mr. Goldman. Of course, I was not looking anywhere except at you and the hole in the wall where you eventually came crawling out.”
“Unscathed…” Daniel said.
“I was unscathed, Assam. That means…”
“Yes, Mr. Goldman. I know the meaning of the word. I thought you were asking a question rather than making a statement. Since I am obviously unhurt physically, I thought perhaps you were inquiring after my emotional condition. And that would have required use of a different word.”
After making Daniel wait ten minutes before huffing into the exam room, the over-weight ER doctor needed only another ten minutes to verify Daniel was indeed physically unhurt from the explosion. Daniel thanked him and pulled a business card from his wallet as he got dressed. “I already gave my information to the people at ER check-in, but just in case, I’ll give you this. You can send your bill here, doctor. I’m self-insured and I’ll take care of your fee myself. And thank you again.”
“No problem, Mr. Goldman.” He pulled a pad from his pocket and scribbled on it. “Here.” He handed Daniel the piece of paper.
“A prescription for a mild sedative. You show no physical effects from your ordeal, but sometimes the emotional impact can come a bit later. This is mild. No side effects to be concerned about.”
“You know, Mr. Goldman, I’m not familiar with the particular building you were in, but I do have friends who live in one of the converted residential buildings on that block. I’ve been there several times. All the buildings in the area appear to have similar construction. And, you know, the distance between floors in those old buildings is huge. I’d guess sixteen feet or so. It’s amazing you fell that far and don’t even have any bruising. You must be living right.”
Daniel had just finished cinching his belt. “I guess so. Have a nice day, Doctor.”
Daniel had gone only twenty feet or so down the corridor when he saw two men approaching him. The shorter of the two said, “Daniel Goldman?”
“You were in the building when it exploded?”
“I’m Detective Casey; this is my partner, Detective Bradley.”
“Nice to meet you both.” He shook their hands.
“So, are you OK?” Casey asked.
“I am. Thank you.”
“Remarkable. Well, we’d like to ask you some questions about the incident.”
“Sure. I don’t know much, but I’ll tell you what I can.”
“Let’s go to the cafeteria, have some coffee,” the taller man said.
“Detectives, if you don’t mind, can we skip the coffee? I have another meeting I need to attend. Can we just step over to those chairs by the window?”
“Sure, no problem,” Casey said.
They pulled three chairs into a semi-circle. Daniel sat with his back to the window.
“Mr. Goldman, why don’t you just summarize the incident as you recall it?” Casey said.
“Well, I had a meeting in that building. Started about 9:00 this morning. It lasted maybe forty minutes. As I was leaving, this huge explosion went off. It apparently occurred in the basement. Tore a chunk of the ground floor out and the rest just collapsed. I fell with it into the basement. At first, I couldn’t get loose from the rubble, but a bench I landed on eventually crumbled and allowed me to crawl out a hole in the outside wall. One of your patrolmen saw me climb out. I came here for an examination, just to be safe. Doctor says I’m fine.”
Daniel noticed Casey’s partner, Bradley, making notes. He had the feeling something was troubling the taller detective.
“That bench was a lucky thing, don’t you think?” Casey said. “Must have broken your fall. Good thing you don’t carry in your hip pocket. That might have broken your hip when you hit the bench.”
Daniel looked questioningly at him.
Casey indicated Daniel’s flat right front pocket. “Officer Beaman told us you have a CCW permit and that you carried your revolver in your right front pocket.”
“You’re not carrying now.”
“I didn’t think it was appropriate in a hospital.”
“I see. Do you always carry or were you expecting trouble at that Eighth Terrace building?”
“I always carry—when it’s appropriate. I wasn’t expecting trouble this morning.”
Everyone was quiet for a moment. Bradley quit making notes and looked down the hall. His mind appeared suddenly to have moved on.
“Your clothes aren’t even soiled,” Casey said.
Daniel said nothing.
“Now you told patrolman Beaman you had been meeting with a man named Michael.”
“What happened to him?”
“I don’t know.”
Bradley started making notes again.
“No one can find this Michael,” Casey said.
Daniel said nothing.
“And you were with a Middle Easterner, a man named Assam?”
“He’s my limo driver, yes.”
Bradley quit scribbling. He appeared suddenly more interested. “Your Limo driver?” he said, emphasizing the first word. “Like personal driver?” He emphasized the second word.
“Assam works for the limo service I contract with. He’s not really my personal driver.”
“Ok,” Bradley said. “That agrees with what he said when we spoke to him. What do you do for a living, Mr. Goldman?”
“I run a private equity fund.”
“Does your fund have a name?” Bradley asked.
“Sounds really important,” he said.
Daniel said nothing.
“Actually,” Casey said, “I’ve heard of that fund. It’s local. I read an article about how the head of the family and most family members were taken in the Disappearance.”
“Yes, they were,” Daniel said.
“So now you’re the head of the company.” Bradley stated this. It was not a question.
“Why were you in the building today, Mr. Goldman? Business?” Casey asked.
“Personal business, yes.”
“Can you elaborate?” Casey asked.
“I had an appointment with Dr. Michael.”
“Doctor,” Bradley repeated. “So Michael is a doctor. That’s his last name?” He appeared ready to make another note.
“He told me that was the only name he went by.”
“That’s what he said.”
“There was only one other occupant of the building who was not seriously hurt, Mr. Goldman—and he had some noticeable cuts and bruises—and his name is not Michael,” Casey said. “What kind of doctor is this Michael?”
“That’s a personal matter.”
“I see.” He looked at his note-taking partner for a moment and returned the eye contact with Daniel. “You said you have another meeting you have to get to. Can you tell us what that is about?”
“It’s about a potential oil deal.”
“Oil deal?” Casey said. “Sounds important. Here in the States?”
“No. It’s in Israel.”
“Ah; Middle East,” Bradley said. He looked at Casey as if that last revelation meant something.
Casey said, “My partner and I are struggling a bit to get a clear picture of the incident. So far, we know of seven other people who were injured by the blast and one dead. So far. And only one unscratched—you. And you were with a Middle Eastern man. And you’re chasing an oil deal in Israel. And so you can see why we have all these questions.”
Daniel said nothing. He assumed, because he insisted he fell through the floor and suffered no injuries—and because no one could locate Michael, and because he mentioned a foreign oil deal—that he was under some kind of suspicion.
“Just seems odd, you know,” Casey added. “Did you know your driver, Assam, is from Kuwait?”
“Yes; he told me.”
Casey said, “We just heard from the forensic team before we began our interview with you, Mr. Goldman, and they found the remains of a motor vehicle in the basement. A dump truck. We’re thinking this was a car-bomb. Looks like a terrorist act. You know much about this driver of yours? This Kuwaiti?”
“I just met him this morning. He said he came here about a month ago.”
“You see any dots to connect, Mr. Goldman?” Casey asked. Bradley quit making notes and looked at Daniel.
“No, Detective, I don’t. Assam seems trustworthy. If he chooses, I’d expect him to be a good citizen one day.”
“Did you look around the basement as you crawled out? You see the truck and body parts?”
Casey nodded. “From what we hear you couldn’t have missed them. When we spoke with Assam a few minutes ago, he said a dump truck tried to run you down on your way to this meeting. That right?”
“A dump truck did almost hit us, yes.”
“Was it the same one you saw in the basement?”
“Did you see who was driving the truck when it tried to run you down? Get a license number? Notice any insignia that might identify it?”
“No, I was looking at my phone at the time. I didn’t see the driver. Certainly didn’t notice the license number or identifying marks on the truck.”
“But it was the same color?”
“Yes. Burnt orange.”
“The one that tried to run you down?”
“I don’t really know if it tried to run us down. Could have been an accident. Maybe the driver was drunk.”
“Same truck, though?”
“I don’t know that, either. I said it had the same color, was also a dump truck. I don’t know if it was the same one.”
“You have legal training, Mr. Goldman?”
“Nothing formal, why?”
“You seem to parse your words like a lawyer.”
Daniel realized what might be fueling the distrust. It was his need to avoid disclosing most of the details of his discussion with Michael. He was not being as open as normal. Maybe by behaving contrary to his norm he gave off some kind of vibration the detectives could decode. “Detective Casey, if I knew more, I would certainly tell you.”
Bradley asked, “You think there is something odd about this one-name man, this Michael?”
“Odd in what way?”
“Other than a couple of celebrities, how many human beings do you know with only one name?” He emphasized human beings.
Casey jumped in. “Marvin, maybe we don’t want to go there.”
“I’m your partner, right? I can ask questions, too,” Bradley said.
Casey stood. “I know that, Marv, but…”
“Just because you don’t want to ‘go there’ doesn’t mean I don’t.” Bradley also stood. Both men kind of huddled up.
“Let’s step over here, Marv. Let’s catch our breath a moment.” Casey tried to guide his distraught partner away from Daniel and toward the main corridor.
“I’m not out of breath, Mark. I’m out of patience. What’s the matter with you people?” He looked from Casey to Daniel. “Don’t you see what’s happening? Mr. Goldman—I know you know what’s happening.”
“Apparently I don’t, Detective,” Daniel said.
“This Michael is obviously not human. He’s one of them.” Bradley pointed to the ceiling. “The same aliens who took everybody last year.”
Casey placed his hand on his partner’s shoulder and tried to guide him away. Bradley resisted, wanting to confront Daniel. “Admit it, Mr. Goldman. You’re in on it, aren’t you? The Disappearance made you a really big shot over night. Right? They would certainly want to enlist the big shots, the politicians, the mega-rich—right?”
Casey said to Daniel, “I think we’re finished here for now, Mr. Goldman. I guess things are falling down everywhere.”
Bradley began to pace away from the two men and then back toward them. He whispered to himself as he paced.
Casey said to Daniel, “Mr. Goldman, you can go. Go have your meeting about some oil deal in Israel. But please stay in touch. We may need to talk to you later. Here’s my card. I carry my phone all the time. Unless it’s an emergency, I’d prefer you not call me when common sense might suggest I’d be sleeping, but other than that, call me if you think of something.”
Daniel put the cop’s card in his pocket and headed to the lobby. After a few paces, he glanced back at the two. They were talking quietly to one another. Casey had his hand on Bradley’s shoulder as if consoling him. Casey noticed Daniel watching them but he did not interrupt his conversation with his partner.
Read/Review/Recommend on NetGalley