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Between Truth and Eternity

Summary

Can a tormented secret agent save the universe without sacrificing his humanity?

It’s the year 2115.  Corporations have turned most planets into desolate wastelands and the Galactic government into their own immoral regime.

Secret agent Joshua Boehm finds himself in the most dangerous battles of his career.  He struggles to balance his professional life fighting extremist political cartels and an over-zealous general with his personal life yearning for a more meaningful existence.

Enter Myrra Nirvan, the mysterious woman who holds the key to defeating the enemy and knows the way to Joshua's heart.  Confronting lies and deception from both allies and adversaries, they risk their lives and love to combat evil and, perhaps more importantly, save Joshua from himself. 

Chapter 1

It’s dead. Feeling helpless, Joshua watched as the last people on Earth choked on poisonous fumes and drank parasitic water to keep from dehydrating. “Where are you,” asked the voice of fifteen billion disembodied souls hovering aimlessly like tossed chewing gum wrappers and plastic bags caught in a spiraling wind. Trying to recall the best of times, bits and pieces of his life appeared and vanished, an imaginary childhood friend melting into a dream.

            “Josh, are you ok, hon?” The friendly, attractive, and uncharacteristically tall and thin Dyashan waitress brought him his order. Her soft, blueberry pie skin and lemon meringue, mini-skirt uniform barely stopping her three breasts from unanimously voting to free themselves reminding Joshua of the previous two nights. Ogling the triplets, Josh grew thankful for her companionship, as well as her humanoid anatomy.

            “Uh, yeah, I’m fine,” he answered. Hon, he laughed. Did she learn her trade from the affable blue-haired servers from East Baltimore or is it a greeting of all waitresses throughout the Galaxy? What would Dakoda tell him? Fine - fucked-up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional, he pondered as he ate his bagel with a schmear and a cup of Tastean coffee. Expressing his gratitude by leaving a gracious tip, he exited the diner continuing to his destination.

            After months of working undercover, the most covert agent within the Universal Environmental Agency found the primary hub for warehousing equipment outlawed by the Environmental Protection Treaty of 2105. “The universe has gone to shit,” he told the Director. “The sky on most of the planets is the color of kiln-baked cork and the oceans as desolate as a ghost town. Ecological, political and socioeconomic exploitation pillage whole civilizations. The disease of corporate greed is spreading faster than familiarity can breed contempt. ManusCorp, CDK Industries, and other big companies bribe government officials, clear-cut forests, kill most indigenous life-forms, and enslave dispirited populations. For what? Manufacturing plants, animal agriculture, and drilling for fossil fuels, refashioning each conquered planet into a new wasteland of the universe; space is no longer the final frontier.” The Director told him to wait. He hated waiting.

            Dyasha, a small and, on the whole, a mostly insignificant planet at the far end of the Galaxy, became one of the first off-Earth worlds ready to embrace the plague of corporate greed. With the promise of money and technological advances in warfare, the planetary leaders of other worlds soon followed, like rats dancing to the Pied Piper. The swiftness and ease of the conquests had the CEO’s and Boards of Directors cheering, “We came, we saw, we conquered,” drowning out the cries of societies and ecosystems.

            Reaching the ominous dome shaped warehouse stationed in the center of the city, the agent edged his way toward the south side of the building leading to the underground passageway. Bioluminescent plant life, atoning for the polluted air and fetid waterways of the city, emitted enough light to find the opening. Armed guards covered the east and north entrances. The Vouwrelk River, flowing with the hardship of a blocked artery and filling the air with the stench of a fertilizer factory in midsummer, gurgled to the west.

            Pulling his wavy, gray hair back in a ponytail and contorting his six-foot, five-inch athletic frame, Joshua started his descent below the streets. The experience reminded him of when the Barailian Rainforest Cartel stuffed him into the trunk of a small Italian sports car. Removing a thumb-sized flashlight from his pocket, he followed the morsels of dust frolicking in the splayed beam through the corridor. The silence gave him too much time to regard his plan. Should he do this alone or wait until tomorrow when backup arrived? Alone. The agent had never thought about being alone until recently. Dreams of a different life invaded his sleep; dreams of a life worth rejoicing in the warmness of love instead of dispossessing his soul whenever he went on a mission.

            The operative shook his head to clear his mind and returned his attention to the business at hand. The green glow of the old digital watch, a gift from his parents for his UEA graduation, confirmed the time as 12:37, plus or minus ten seconds. Meandering his way through the labyrinth, he continued until the passageway ended with a set of seven concrete steps leading up and out. Climbing each step as if he was a living mannequin, the agent reached a small overhead doorway. Three muffled voices drifted across the barrier.

            Taking a deep breath, he gave the door a liberal push to gauge its weight. The door yielded effortlessly into a tiny, dimly lit area, plastering the room with a harsh thud. A wooden chair and an electric interrogator with wires that connected to various body parts, paying particular attention to the male anatomy gave the impression of expecting a guest.

        Placing his hands on either side of the opening, he quietly pulled himself up.  Moving beside another door that led into the warehouse, the voices became clearer and more audible.

The first voice, the gravel, baritone of a concrete mortared throat, belonged to Rutt Linghbell, Supreme President of Dyasha. The second, a shrill, irritating rusty hinge screech, he recognized as the head of the local police division, Mix Hockelbumney. A third voice, calm and monotone, spoke in one-word sentences. 

“What time will they be here?” asked Mix, his voice in dire need of three-in-one oil.

            “Three-o’clock,” answered the croaky voice of Rutt. “Will everything be ready?”

            “Yep,” said Mr. Monotone.

            The agent, no stranger to being alone on a distant planet, going into battle with two known killers and a third unknown voice, felt different, alone.  Alone - an unlit match reminding him of his solitude; reminding him of the ever widening gulf between him and his soul. “Get out of your head,” he thought. Holding back his fear by overcompensating with a false sense of self-confidence, the agent dragged himself out of the dark abyss of his emotional state and geared up for his attack. Without warning, the door to the warehouse flew open. Two bodies seized him in the manner of two horny dogs humping his legs.

            Grabbing both heads in the crook of his arms, he lifted them off the ground wedging each one under his armpits like footballs, priming to crack their skulls together. A punch equivalent to an eight-pound bowling ball came from the right causing him to fumble his two prisoners. Spinning around to engage the party on the other end of the fist, he cocked his arm like a slingshot. Gravity surveyed the situation from its copious vantage point. Noticing Joshua’s legs turning into overcooked spaghetti, gravity worked its magic; Joshua wobbled, and then encountered the canvas, face first.

            He awoke, the loser of a one-sided boxing match, naked, tied to the chair, and needing a big slice of false self-confidence. Electrodes, attached to his testicles with alligator clips, sent short bursts of electricity through his body giving the agent an erection worthy of Frank Lloyd Wright. “You think I'm gonna talk? Go ahead. Roast my nuts,” he bellowed.

            Through the open door, Joshua could see the silhouettes of two men in the dim light. His outcry invited a small, round man with pastel blue skin to enter the room. The extravagant bright yellow and orange uniform of a Dyashan military officer, complete with medals of every size and shape pinned to both sides of his chest, clashed with his robin’s egg flesh.

            “Who are you?” asked Rutt.

            “Boehm, Joshua Boehm.”

            Mix, a copy of Rutt without the garish uniform, walked in catching the name. Looking at his partner with more excitement than a boy getting his first blow-job, he squawked, “The General will be elated.  Mr. Boehm, you’ve made my colleague and me incredibly rich men.”

            “The machine to which you are currently attached is used to torture prisoners before we kill them. But in your case, since you are worth much more alive than dead, we will only cause the pain,” explained Rutt.

He nodded to the third person in their party. Joshua turned and looked up at a muscularly built man with hands large enough to engulf his captors’ heads. Raising his huge index finger to the on switch, Joshua closed his eyes and braced himself for a torture and pain he couldn't imagine. He silently wished he was back in the trunk of the sports car.

            With the swiftness of a ninja, the third man swung around and hit Rutt in the head knocking him out cold. Removing a particle beam blaster from his holster, he shot Mix between the eyes, splitting his skull into equal cauterized pieces, exposing his avocado brain. One more blast just above the shoulders threw the remains of Mix's head into the warehouse; the two halves wobbling on the floor like blue ceramic bowls filled with guacamole.

            Opening his eyes in astonishment, Joshua marveled with the intensity of having a private audience with an angel. “Levi Wolf,” the man said, releasing Joshua from the chair. “Director Knightly presumed you would try to go at his alone and could use reinforcement.”

            “Why the hell did you hit me?” Joshua asked.

            “Rutt and Mix wanted to kill you without asking questions. I only gave you a little tap. Do you want your momma to kiss it and make it better?” He asked, calisthenics of humor back springing to a somersault.

            Joshua looked at Levi attempting to size him up. Unclasping the alligator clips from his testicles, Joshua stood up at a snail's pace, not wanting to damage any part still attached to the machine. Getting dressed, he asked Levi, “Who's the General that Mix mentioned.”

            “We don't know, but most believe it is Trapp. That's why Rutt is still alive. Director Knightly received a reliable tip referencing an alliance forming to expand unlawful environmental practices. We knew Rutt and Mix were working for them. That's why Director Knightly asked you to wait. Knowing you wouldn't, he sent me to keep you alive. That shortcoming called impatience almost got you killed tonight. I won't always be around to save your ass.”

            Ignoring Levi's holier than thou speech, Josh asked, “Trapp? I thought we put him away for good. What will happen to him?” Joshua asked, pointing a finger at the Supreme President.

            “He’s going back with me to be an informant.”

            “Suppose he doesn't cooperate?”

            “The Tech and Communication departments have ways to secure his collaboration. Whether he does so willingly or unwillingly, Rutt Linghbell will work for us.” Levi sighed, “You've had a rough night. Why don't you get yourself a drink? I'll wait here for the extraction crew to confiscate the equipment in the warehouse.”

            Joshua smiled and thanked Levi for his help. Remembering the paralyzing feelings and thoughts that made him freeze with uncertainty, a nauseating feeling came over him, like looking over the edge of a bottomless abyss. What did it all mean?

Chapter 2

Raymond Knightly joined the UEA in 2079. Beginning as a field agent, the preceding director acknowledged his talent for analysis.  In three years, he became the youngest lead analyst where he stayed until ascending to Director in 2094.

Five years before his hire, CDK Oil unearthed fossil fuels on nearby planets and moons. Additional companies began invading neighboring worlds in hopes of increasing their profits and manipulating the governments with money and promises of power.

Democratic President Qaletaqa transformed the Environmental Protection Agency into the UEA, appointing it self-governing. The big companies could no longer pay the controlling political party to slice and dice environmental laws. New regulations could only pass by votes of the Director and the presiding Board of Agents.  Retaliating against the new structure, the corporations bought elections to ensure their interests remained in the Galactic Senate.  Circumventing laws, especially in the area of employee welfare and compensation, the violent and often fatal conflict had been ongoing for 41 years.

Under Knightly's leadership, the UEA underwent strategic modifications. One such move split, then diversified, the Technical and Communication Departments. The most radical change came about with his use of on-the-ground field agents. Taking a cue from the 20th century Cold War era, the Agency hired, trained, and used agents as spies, liaisons, and analysts. Combined with the daily advances in the technology division, blending past and present led to the most up-to-date and extraordinarily accurate information in the UEA's history. More importantly, the changes placed personnel into critical positions within their enemies.

            Before the 2105 treaty, wars, unsafe working conditions, and the nonstop oozing of poisonous waste products killed hundreds of ecosystems. As a planet’s waterways dried up and forests thinned to extinction, the corporations shut their factories and moved on, leaving their toxic scum behind. The treaty improved the environmental and working conditions, but over the past ten years, the companies found loopholes and enough corrupt politicians to resume their illegal actions.

            Prior to 2114, the corporations acted autonomously. According to information passed to the Agency, a partnership arose born out of the continual struggles between the exploiting corporate interests and the UEA. The only name mentioned so far was General Trapp, who had many allies in the Galaxy sympathetic to his cause. Ray could take an educated guess of the other names financing the Coalition. The forthcoming battle would be the biggest challenge of his career.

            Now 60 years old, age and stress took their toll. Ray Knightly’s once agile six-feet-four-inch frame developed a paunch around the midsection, his gray hair starting to recede, and wearing his dark-rimmed glasses at all times.

            “Majel, call Joshua and patch him to my office. Thank you,” the Director communicated into his vid-intercom.

Seeing his deep creases contracting with every word, Majel replied, “Right away Director Knightly.”

Joshua did not answer.  Reaching his vid-message, Majel hung up.  She continued calling for fifteen minutes, each time only receiving his vid-mail.  After the seventh try, she called Director Knightly, “There's no answer.”

“Try again and keep trying until he answers. He's most likely in that damn holoconcert.”

“Yes, sir.”

 

.  .  .  .  .  .

 

            Inside the holoconcert attending the Grateful Dead show of March 29, 1990, at Nassau Coliseum, Joshua danced to forget the shattered mirror of feelings that blew through his head on Dyasha. Twirling and bopping with the rhythms, his thoughts shriveled and wilted in an amber wind. Each movement of his body awakened the seasons and songs of his heart and whooshed away the dark star of despair.

            Joshua answered the vid-phone, sweat running down his body like water down a hill. A smile of affection spread over his face when Majel appeared. “What's up?”

            “Which concert this time?”

            “Nassau Coliseum, 3/29/1990 with Branford Marsalis.” Joshua introduced Majel to the Grateful Dead when they started their fling with a brief, but enjoyable, two-week fuck fest following his latest failed love encounter and her divorce. A gentle, teddy bear expression passed over her face like a cloud. The concert quickly became one of her favorites as well.

            “The Director wants to see you.”

            “Tell him I will be there in 30 minutes,” replied Joshua, and he hung up. “Shit! Can't I get any goddamn R & R?”

            Leisurely making his way to the bathroom for a quick soni-shower, he brushed his long, silvering hair back into a ponytail tied with a hairband, then sauntered into the bedroom. Wrinkled blue jeans, a tie-dyed t-shirt, white tube socks, and his new air-cooled, extra padded Ceti IV running shoes would suggest his annoyance. Making a beeline out the door, he turned left to the elevator and down to the parking garage of his apartment building, tramping his feet like a child throwing a temper tantrum.

“God, grant me the serenity...” he chanted. After another deep breath, Joshua boarded his 12-year-old silver FV- 2100 and flew the 10 minutes, weaving through Washington, D.C. airspace, to UEA headquarters.

            Parking his car in the rooftop garage, Joshua took the elevator down to the 16th floor. When the doors opened, he turned right and made a stop at Majel's desk before heading into Director Knightly's office.

“What are you doing for dinner tonight?”

            She looked up, saw his choice of clothes, shook her head and giggled at another feeble attempt from Joshua to anger their boss.

            “No plans. What did you have in mind?”

            “Dinner for two at my place; I'll prepare something special. 6:00 ok with you?”

            “Sounds delightful. I'll see you at six.”

            “Can I go in or do you need to let him know I'm here?”

            “Go on in. He's expecting you.”

            Joshua saw the Director's open door. He knocked and looked in. Ray Knightly sat behind his desk in the rear far right-hand corner of the room, his back turned toward the door.

            “If that's Boehm, come on in and close the door. Anyone else can go away.”

            Before Ray spoke, Joshua inquired, “What the fuck is so important that I have to come in on my day off? Do you realize my nuts were in a position to become the first line of ‘The Christmas Song’? By the way, thanks for the backup. Levi, right?”

            Raymond Knightly stood up, scars of stress peeking through the dark cloud of his face, “I'm sorry about calling you. Normally I’d give you a week or two off. You were right about the universal devastation, but you don't know the half of it. There’s more taking place than just you going against Trapp again.”

            Joshua took a seat in front of the desk. “Then what's it about, Ray? Both Rutt and his now deceased police captain mentioned a General. I naturally assumed that’s who they meant.”

            Ray Knightly responded, “The day before you called in your report, we received information about General Trapp rounding up all of his military and political allies throughout the Galaxy. He is planning an all-out assault on the planets that have signed the Environmental Protection Treaty.”

            “The last time he tried something like that, we stopped him and banished him to Europa,” said Joshua.

            Ray’s face sunk. “He has financial backing from a collusion of big businesses known as the Teapar Coalition. We can safely guess he is in partnership with ManusCorp CEO Hollar Geld, the siblings who own CDK Oil, Choncey, and DeVill Kabos, and others. They’ve greased the palms of enough members of the Galactic Senate, Supreme Court, and other government officials to pass any bill counteracting the treaty.”

            Joshua's face turned the color of polished marble. In the past, the UEA encountered each of the CEOs Ray mentioned and won. He confronted Trapp and beaten him. If this Teapar whatchamacallit did exist, then it would lead to an all-out war.

       Ray read Joshua’s expression, and said, “I met with the Senate leaders to gauge their loyalties. It was difficult getting any answers from them as a group, but Progressive Senators Elberta Willow and Aaron Farrell approached me afterward to continue the conversation in private. I know you understand the importance of extreme confidentiality, but I feel the need to say this. The Coalition is more widespread than we originally believed. Be careful who you trust. By the way, nice outfit.” Joshua heard a snort of a chuckle as he left the office.

            On his way home, Joshua stopped at the organic market for some vegetables, almonds, and free-range chicken, then a quick stop to buy a bottle of Albert Bichot Bourgogne Chardonnay. Even though Joshua did not drink, he remembered it was Majel's favorite.

            At 6:00, the doorbell rang. Majel, a clothed centerfold stepping out of the stuck together pages of a magazine from Joshua’s adolescent years stood in the doorway. Her flaxen hair stood out against the silver and gray skin. The golden flecks in her baby blues danced and shone as bright as the sky of Jerus. A white, opaque blouse accentuated her jutting breasts and two plum-colored private eyes that seemed to wink with every breath. Pink painted-on shorts showing off her wrap around your neck twice legs completed the ensemble. Stepping into the apartment, Majel kissed him, her tongue brushing the roof of his mouth like Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. She continued exploring, her kiss getting deeper as if searching for Joshua’s soul. Wilfully pulling away from Joshua’s mouth, she whispered in his ear, “I’m not wearing any underwear.”

            Picking Majel up, he threw her on the couch; legs and pillows flying as if commanded by a puppeteer. They launched into wild, hedonistic sex, their orgasms leaving them quivering like a vibrator at an orgy.

            Taking a break from their carnal activities, they moved into the dining room, not bothering to use their modern fig leaves to cover their nakedness. Joshua vanished into the kitchen and reappeared moments later with their meals. The dinner conversation stuck mainly to trivial topics like the weather or the newest movies playing in theaters. After dinner, they sat on the earlier exploited couch drinking Tastean coffee.

            “You seemed distant at dinner,” said Majel. “What are you thinking?”

            Joshua remembered the warning from Ray about who to trust. Although he refused to believe Majel could ever be a double agent, he carefully answered, “I'm just tired. I didn't get a chance to unwind after the last mission, and I haven't slept in two days.”

            “What can I do to help?”

            “I think you're off to a good start. Care to continue?”

            Majel grinned dreamily like a woman with a handheld shower massage. She stood up from the couch, reached out her hand, and led Joshua into the bedroom for another round or two, or three.

Chapter 3 (new)

The next morning, Joshua woke up feeling like an old car. The previous night took a lot out of him, but he still had enough energy to putter around and accelerate quickly if necessary. Reaching over to his right, he found his two tabby cats; Reuben a ten-year-old golden with a white underbelly and ringed tail and Cerise an eight-year-old all-gray female. The clock on his nightstand read 9:17. Wondering where the cats disappeared to the previous evening, he thanked his Higher Power they took no interest in the plethora of epicurean sounds originating from his bedroom. He guessed the barking probably scared them off.

            Putting on his bathrobe, he sauntered into the bathroom to relieve himself.  Sliding to the kitchen he made breakfast; a cup of Tastean coffee, freshly squeezed organic orange juice, and a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal with organic walnuts, raspberries, and blueberries. Before he could take his first bite, a sudden hollowness, like an abandoned cocoon, came over him.

            Finishing his meal, Joshua wandered into the living room. The blinking light on his vid-phone notified him of three new messages. Playing back the recordings, Majel’s face lit up the screen. “Last night was mind-blowing. I can hardly sit or walk today. You are amazing. I just wanted you to know, in case you had any doubts. Love you.”

Joshua's emptiness consumed him. “Love? Is that what it was?” Did he love Majel? He knew what it felt like when his hormones kicked in, but could he feel love?

            The second message was from Ray Knightly. “The meeting with Senators Willow and Farrell is tomorrow, 9:00 a.m. at the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia. They will meet us at the Hillside Gazebo at the east end of the park.” Joshua knew the location all too well having once proposed marriage there. He hoped for a better result.

            The last message was from his best friend and sponsor Dakoda Galsten. “Happy birthday, buddy. Don't forget tonight. See you at 8:00.” Joshua’s grin outdid any six-year-old boy hearing Santa perch on his rooftop. Yes, he remembered the celebration. It also meant he would get to see and spend some time with Dakoda.  A spring breeze of relief circled Joshua.

            “I have some time before heading out,” he said to Reuben and Cerise. Clicking on the tele-video to the Universal News Network, a man in a tuxedo appeared looking as impassive and indifferent as a statue waiting for the next pigeon to shit on its shoulder.

A few years back, an exposé on the “Impartial and Objective” news network revealed them making up stories to portray a certain political slant. In response, they remade their presentations to come across more professional and less biased. The other news channels followed their lead for fear of alienating their followers. Joshua thought it made them look more like one of 20th-century author Phillip K. Dick's news clowns. Instead of brightly dyed outfits and a big red nose, the androgynous newscasters dressed in monkey suits and spoke in dreary monotone voices.

The anchor droned, “Senator Massengill of the Southwest United States proposed a new measure. The bill would make it unlawful for any planet to vote against the expansion of animal agriculture, oil drilling, GMO farming, or wood pulp processing industries. Chairperson of the Committee for Commerce & Economic Growth, Janosh Musil of Kenoh, stated he did not know how the vote was going to turn out or how he would be voting on the bill. In sports, the Orioles beat the Nationals in another close low scoring game, 15-14.”

            Joshua leaned back in his recliner. “They’re buying the Senate,” he said to his two feline roommates snuggled next to him. “I wondered how long it will take to secure Musil and his faction. The meeting tomorrow should be exciting. Time for a shower and then off to see the parental units,” he said to Reuben and Cerise. They yawned, uninterested in his plans for the day but yowled their annoyance when he got up from the recliner.

Joshua decided to take a long hot shower, at least as long and hot as the automatic timer in his apartment building would allow. Ten minutes later, Joshua felt as energized as a bunny with new batteries. Deciding not to shave, he took his time brushing his teeth and his long, gray, thinning hair, pulling it back into a ponytail.

            Spring in Washington, D.C. meant warmer weather, rain, and allergies. The outside thermometer broadcast the weather straight into Joshua's apartment; eighty-five degrees with an expected high of ninety-five and humidity of ninety-six percent. Slipping on a pair of yellow and green shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, white socks and his Ceti IV running shoes, he left the apartment.

            “Hey, Joshua! What's up? I haven't seen you in a couple of weeks,” asked his good friend Felipe Cavar.

            “Hi, Felipe. I had to go to Dyasha for business.” Only three people outside the Agency knew his job; his mother, an ex-fiancé, and Dakoda.  Calling Felipe a good friend was something of a misnomer. As far as Felipe knew, Joshua worked as a sales agent for an organic food distributor. Since the pollution made it impossible to grow organics on Earth, Joshua needed to pitch the idea to other planets. Lying to his “good friend” felt as wrong as wearing two left shoes.

            Boarding the elevator, Felipe said, “I saw Majel leaving this morning. Are you two back together?”

            “We were never together,” said Joshua, forming quotation marks with his hands. He explained this to Felipe many times, but like rain on AstroTurf, it didn't sink in. “Both of us were going through a rough time a few years back and turned to the other for comfort. Last night was just an extension.”

            Felipe nodded. “Well, why don't you set me up with her? I'm not seeing anyone right now.”

            Pride and anger crashed through Joshua’s fragile glasshouse of illusions. Intelligent, outgoing and the D.C. Metro Detective, Felipe broke open the case sending Majel's ex-husband to prison, instigating Joshua’s present relationship with her. The bust promoted Felipe to the rank of Detective Lieutenant. Unfortunately, because of his obsession with the case, and in Joshua's opinion Majel, Felipe's wife took their two kids and left him. Emotions whirled inside Joshua like a tornado in Kansas. They would probably be a good match, but he could always turn to Majel when he needed to unwind after an assignment.

            “I'll ask her and let you know. You two might be a good match,” Joshua replied hiding his self-torment.

       The elevator reached the garage, where Joshua said goodbye to Felipe. The lurking vulture of self-hatred asked, “Why can't I love Majel? Am I truly an emotional invalid? Am I that selfish that I only want her for my personal fuck-buddy? Do I not care about other people's happiness?”

            Joshua got in his car and called his parents. At the beep, he said, “Hi, it's your son. I'm on my way. I’ll be there in about an hour and a half. See you soon. Bye.” Setting the automatic pilot for his parent's house in Boca Raton, Joshua leaned his seat back and took a nap.

            A woman's voice jolted him awake. Looking around, he was still alone in the car, five minutes from his parent's house. “It must have been a dream,” he thought. Recalling the vision, he remembered searching for his compassion, terrified he would never feel empathy or love. She appeared from a distant glimmering star as if all the gold in Fort Knox dissolved into beams of light. Disappearing then reappearing next to his left ear, Joshua turned to see her caramel skin, tender as summer hazel-green eyes, and something in her right hand that looked like a walking cane. He cowered, protecting himself, when she bent over, whispering in his ear, “Joshua, where are you?”

            The car landed in front of his parents’ house. The dream shook his sense of reality like a shaken, not stirred martini. Relieved to find Beth El Synagogue of Boca Raton across the street, he walked up to the door and rang the bell.

            “Well, Joshua Boehm as I live and breathe,” said Lailie.

            “Hi, Mom.”

            “I haven't seen you in a month, and all I get is ‘Hi Mom?’” Arms spread wide; she bound her body to Joshua’s. Lailie Boehm, seventy-six years old, but looked ten years’ younger thanks to makeup and hair coloring, had enough strength to squeeze the air out of a fully inflated basketball.

            Are you alright?” asked Joshua. “You've lost some weight.”

            “I'm all right. I don't want to bother you. Come in. Have you eaten?”

            “Not since breakfast.”

            “Well come then. I made a salad with turkey breast and hard-boiled eggs.”

            Joshua's blank expression, as if he pulled his ponytail so tight his facial muscles would not work properly, didn't go unnoticed. “What's the matter?” asked Lailie

            “You know I only eat organic and non-GMO.”

            “What? You think I forgot? I knew you were coming so I went to the market and bought all organic vegetables and free-range eggs and turkey breast. Just don't tell your father. You know he thinks it's a waste of money,” replied Lailie.

            Joshua shook his head and smiled a kaleidoscopic smile. “She's such a Jewish mother,” he thought. “Thank God.”

            Walking through the hallway, Joshua stopped to look at the pictures on the wall. His mother proudly displayed three from his sister's wedding, ten of the grandchildren at various stages of their lives, two of his sister when she was younger and three of himself. His expression, at four years old, at his bar mitzvah, and the most recent, his graduation twenty-three years ago from the UEA, revealed the discouraged face of a boy who lost his passion. Each picture unbound a lengthy scroll of memories.

            “Is that Joshua?” yelled a voice from the den reaching a decibel level above the ear-splitting volume of the tele-video.

            “Who do you think it is? The prophet Elijah?” shouted Lailie.

            “Did dad take out his hearing aids again?”

            His mother put the back of her right hand on her forehead, leaned her head back, and replied “Oy gevalt! He's so stubborn.”

            Joshua turned around to see his father standing at the entrance to the kitchen. Gene Boehm turned eighty years old the previous month and looked every day of it. “I see you still have that verkakte ponytail. Are you still with the UEA?”

            “Gene! Please don't start,” pleaded Lailie.

            He replied to his father as if speaking through a five-foot thick concrete wall, “Yes dad. I still have the verkakte ponytail and yes, I am still with the UEA”.

            “You don't have to yell. I'm standing right here” said Gene. “Aren't you running the place yet? You've been there for what, thirty years?”

            “Twenty-three,” replied Joshua. “Not running it yet. Maybe after Ray retires.”

            After lunch, his mother asked in that concerned, I'm not happy if you're not happy East Coast Jewish voice, “What's wrong mamalah?”

            “Mom please!” Joshua declared. “I'm 50 years old. Do you have to call me mamalah? What makes you think something is wrong?”

            Disregarding his plea, Lailie said, “I'm your mother. I know when something is wrong.”

            “Just tired. I have to go. I'm celebrating twenty-five years tonight.”

            “Mazel tov! We are so proud of you!” She walked Joshua to the door, gave him another hug and kiss; this one more like saying goodbye instead of see you later. “Drive safe. Don't be such a stranger.” Joshua set the autopilot for a slower speed, leaned back and took another nap.

            Joshua's car parked itself in the reserved spot of the high-rise. He rode the elevator up to his apartment on the sixth floor. Feeling like a child lost in the supermarket and needing to chill out after the visit with his parents, he keyed May 1, 1981, Hampton Coliseum into the holoconcert. For the next three hours, thunder shouted from the speakers.  His body danced a Cajun rhythm while all of his confusion rolled away like dew as he listened to the music play.

            The concert ended by 7:00. After a quick soni-shower and brushing his teeth, Joshua put on another pair of shorts, Hawaiian shirt, and his running shoes. He took the elevator down to the lobby, then out the door, walking the few blocks to Washington Hebrew Congregation.

Thirty-five people arrived early to make coffee and help set up the tables and chairs. Balloons of different sizes, shapes, and colors decorated the room. On the back table sat a full sheet strawberry shortcake with “Happy 25th Anniversary Joshua. You Are a Miracle”, written inside a cobalt blue diamond surrounded by a circle. Walking to the front of the room, people stopped to offer their congratulations with hugs and thanked him for being such a great positive power of example. Dakoda made his way over to Joshua and gave him a hug as big as the state of Alaska. Joshua whispered that he wanted to meet with him the next day. Dakoda nodded and took his seat.

            At 8:00 sharp, the chairperson began the meeting, “Welcome everyone to the Dopeless Not Hopeless Meeting of Narcotics Anonymous. I'm an addict, and my name is Alna.”

            “Hi Alna,” came the gratitude and love imbued response from the now full room of sixty people.

            “May we have a moment of silence for the addict that still suffers, followed by the Serenity Prayer?”

 After the opening readings, Alna continued, “Tonight is a special occasion for the home group and Narcotics Anonymous. Joshua B. is celebrating 25 years clean. I turn it over to Joshua”. Applause merged with whooping and hollering, filling the empty spaces of the room.

            “Hi everyone, I'm an addict, and my name is Joshua.”

             “Hi Joshua!” came the jubilant response.