First three chapters….
I was sitting on the leather couch, the one I always gravitate to when visiting Tom’s house. I was just settling in, as if a stranger to the group, to observe a few of my dearest friends whom I have known, for all intents and purposes, all of my waking days. This is a little game I play. It gives me a different perspective on my life and theirs.
I observe the bantering that comes with the confidence of familiarity. Regardless of the person targeted the verbal wars that flare up over nothing are part of the friendship that has been tested over time. The barbs are thrown out not to hurt, but to probe and find common ground. They are kind of a dependable reference in facing the fact of getting older and while none of us would ever admit it, we take comfort in the fact that we are all aging together. Lately, this seems to be the main underlying theme on our “get together”.
I have always gone out of my way to attend Tom’s spur of the moment parties when I’m in the Seattle area. He throws these parties to offset the predictable corporate world he has created as head of a major investment firm. He said it helps him escape the day-to-day trap he has made for himself. However, tonight there is a new person Tom has invited to “hang” with us. I suddenly realize it is his uncle or is he his cousin? I was not really paying attention to the introductions. My curiosity was piqued when “Uncle Roger” nodded to me in a prim and proper manner, that of an English gentleman who meets someone for the first time. He sat down on the couch without paying any real interest to the group. As usual they were trying to steal the center of attention by seeing how much they could push the envelope by measuring our new guest’s reaction to their antics. I saw this act time and time again. Joy and Amber would act as if they were a “couple”, while Larry, Joy’s husband of twenty some years, would start a conversation with Amber’s spouse, Corbin, head of the National Pilots Association, whom one would think was the most level headed man on the planet if they saw him at the office he governs. Larry, or rather Lawrence as he was called for this bit, would launch into a stereotypic gay fashion diva with hand gestures that should be trademarked. These four have cleared gatherings from PTA to town hall meetings with their little theatrics. They justify these acts as an initiation to “our” group. The reactions range from discomfort to mild amusement. But, not to worry it is all in good fun and in the end everyone has a good giggle.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Uncle Roger’s reaction to their antics. His reaction was like mixing water with oil. Some things just don’t mix. I either imagined or saw him respond in amusement; as if on cue he knew this was the expected response. When the players felt they had scored the reaction they were seeking, they took it for homage due. They began to introduce themselves and tried to engage Tom’s relative into a conversation, but the steel curtain in his eyes showed “move on.” Seeing they had not made a mental connection, they made a hasty excuse to drift over to another group where they would receive a warmer “well done”.
The man sat there not caring of his acceptance by the partygoers. I asked myself just who this person was, as I tried to remember his introduction by Tom.
He turned to me and said, “This setting,” making a sweeping gesture of the room, “reminds me of a story.”
Without waiting for a cue whether I was receptive to his remark or not he started.
“I too belonged to a close group of friends. One night, at party much like this, I ran into an old acquaintance, Richard Lansing. I knew Richard from the University. We had a couple of classes together, but we were never really close. We tried to stay in contact after we graduated; however, we drifted out of touch when he joined a group of exporters and was more out of the States than in.”
“I found it awkward to find something to say after the usual, ‘How have you been’ exchange. I stumbled to fill in the gap of some twenty years, but stopped as I watched Richard remove from his safari jacket pocket a red silk handkerchief and unwrapped a glass that looked like a regular, thick, water tumbler, about 4 ounces. He held it level to my face and asked me what did I see.”
“I thought to myself, what was I supposed to see with a glass blocking my view? I tried looking at him through the glass to see what sort of reaction Richard was looking for. I noticed his silhouette was refracted and colors around him seemed to swirl. Or was this just the light distorted by the glass?”
“Light seemed to come from the glass, but there was no light source in the room that was bright enough to produce the intense hues I thought I saw. Richard did not give me time to answer. He simply laid the glass on the table and said to watch it. I tried to think of a diplomatic excuse to bail out because I thought Richard was about to put on a magic show. I wondered how drunk was he that he did not realize that he looked or acted like he had just escaped from a mental home? I thought should I humor him? Before I could answer my own question, I heard Richard say, ‘If the glass travels up and down, the answer is ‘yes’. If the glass moves left to right, the answer is ‘no’. Now, the question. Is there a murder being committed?’ Too shocked to frame a response, my eyes saw it happen. The glass moved up and down.”
“My mind knew the glass could not have move unaided, but my eyes saw the glass moving. The movement of the glass did not register because my brain was still locked on the question. How can one ask such a question as a party trick? One has to be insane to ask for a response to that kind of question.”
“Jeff, I can see by your blank stare that none of this makes sense to you. Much like the reaction I had. So to make an impossible story believable let me show you.”
While my mind tried to retreat to a sane place, I looked at the man beside me more closely. The first impression that snapped into my mind was that he resembled Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, the character from the late 1960’s TV program.
Roger then slid closer to me and laid the glass on the table, on its side, just as he had described in the story and without looking at me said, “Ask the question.”
I always felt that I could handle most situations, but this was rapidly slipping into a wide-awake nightmare. Just the idea that a murder was being committed I should have asked the eternal question ‘why’, but instead what came out was, “Where?”
Before I realized I had even spoken, I saw the glass begin to spin on its axis and come to a stop pointing to the right, as if it were a compass needle.
“It’s in tracking mode.” Roger scooped the glass off the table and pocketed it. Then rising off the couch, he headed for the door. He glanced back at me and with a nod of his head, more as a command than a request, “Let’s go Jeffrey. Come with me.”
I don’t remember how, but I found myself standing next to a green, two-door sports coupe.
“You drive,” said Roger as he handed the keys to me and slid into the passenger seat.
He reached around to the back seat and grabbed a wooden tray and placed it on his lap. It looked like just a regular serving tray, but then I noticed the sides were about two inches high and it was quite battered and a faded oriental pattern dominated the center of the tray. I recognized it as a Tibetan motif but any further reflection on the symbol was broken as he placed the glass on the tray. He said, “I’ll guide, you drive.” I pulled out of the space and glanced over at the man sitting next to me with the glass on the tray. As I pulled into traffic, the glass swayed to the left. Roger snapped out for me to turn left at the next corner.
I was just about to ask him what the hell that thing was and what were we doing when he said, “It’s too late.” He nodded down to the glass that had just started to roll back and forth like a glass would if left unattended in a moving car.
Roger said in a monotonous, detached voice, “Drive back to Tom’s party and I will leave you to tell Tom that I went back to the hotel. Tell him I’ll call him in the morning.”
I spun the wheel and pulled to the curb. I killed the engine and glared at him, “Will you tell me what the hell we were doing or going to do?”
“If I tell you, it will turn your life upside down. I have no problem with telling you what this is all about, but I have no proof. Now, I am giving you an opportunity to just walk away and chalk it up to the ranting of a crazy old man or you can hear the rest of my story and draw your own conclusion. The decision is yours. Here is where I am staying. No, I am not staying at Tom’s. I like my space. Give me a call if you want to hear the rest of my story.”
He wrote down his hotel room number and phone number on a gas receipt. He reached across and pushed the door open and extended his hand for a handshake and slipped me the piece of paper. As we shook hands, I felt a light jolt of energy. Something I did not expect from a man I judged to be in his early sixties. I opened the car door and got out.
“I will be in the area over the weekend. After that, Tom will know how to reach me. Go back to your life and enjoy the goals you have set. If I have caused you confusion, remember it was meant to be.” With that he slid behind the wheel and gunned the motor to swiftly merge into traffic.
My mind was a blank until I pressed the intercom button.
“Who is it?” asked a quizzing voice.
“It’s me, buzz me in Tom.” I muttered.
“Jeff? When did you leave?” A question echoed back.
I decided to cut the question short and responded that I needed some air so I walked Roger to his car.
“Yes. Are we going to play telephone quiz? Hit the buzzer your doorman is starting to look like he’s going to pull rank.”
As I rode up the elevator, I tried to make sense of the last half hour. My major question was what did just happen? Why did he choose me to tell his story to and then turn an interesting tale into a weird drama? And, finally, just who is Roger Highborn? I made up my mind to find out more about “Uncle Roger” from Tom.
Tom saw me as I pushed open the unlocked door. He was standing at the balcony rail and following the progress of a faint siren getting louder and then fading as it turned the corner on the street fourteen stories below. I passed through the same crowd of faces I had seen about an hour ago. A nod here, a “Hi” there as I walked toward the patio door and stepped out onto the balcony.
As I had not seen or talked to Tom for over a year, to break the ice I said, “Tom, got a minute before you jump?”
“Only if you join me.” He turned with a smile.
“Just what is Roger’s relationship to your family? I thought you said he’s an uncle? On whose side? He’s too smart to be from your side of the family.” I grinned and waited for his answer. My old friend had not changed much since our last meeting. Maybe a couple of pounds heavier due to less time for sport, but otherwise not much on the surface.
“You know what I told you about Roger because he has asked us not to share a lot of details about his life with anyone outside the family. Roger is a bit of a loner, however he was there when dad was in the last stages of his illness. Roger not only looked after Meg and me, he took control of the business when we could have lost everything. He just appeared one day and stayed for about a year, until things got back to normal. Then he left. The last thing I remember him saying to me was that ‘the slate is now clean’. He didn’t take a penny and he did not explain what he meant.”
“He has always stayed in touch. He always remembers us on birthdays and holidays. He is a consultant of some kind. He has authored a few books along the same line as yours, and he stays out of the limelight. Lately, he’s been uneasy. Maybe he’s just getting old. Anyway, he called the day before yesterday. Funny, he asked me how you were doing. I didn’t know that you knew Roger that well, but then we’ve been out of touch as well. So I assumed you and he were working on something together because you seem to share the same viewpoint on life.”
“What do you mean?” I cut in.
“You know that Eastern outlook you have. Well he has the same leaning, always has. So I thought you may have met him through Meg. Roger was the one who introduced me to marital arts and Eastern philosophy long before you started to talk about that theory you wrote about. He helped us see the bigger picture. Meg stays in closer contact with him than I and makes an effort to meet up with him whenever possible.”
Just then Meg called out, “Hey you two. Is this a private party or can anybody crash it?”
We turned to widen the space between us to invite her in.
“Where have you been Jeff? It’s been about a year since anybody around here has seen you.”
Before I could reply Tom said, “Meg, have you told Roger anything about Jeff?”
She turned to me, “Roger and I talk a lot. We are real open. After your book came out, we talked about your theory that Eastern philosophy can answer emotional questions better than Western psychiatry.”
Laughing she continued, “I told him you two should meet sometime, that was a few years back. When we spoke last, Roger wanted to know what you were up to…. Say, did you finally meet Roger?” She asked with a wide smile that spread a glow across her face and made her look twenty years younger.
“Yes.” I replied still in a fog because I was still trying to sort out the earlier encounter with Roger.
“Oh,” Tom blurted, “I was under the impression you two had already met before tonight; that’s why I just left him with you so that I could see to the other guests before the unholy four got a hold of them. I am sorry if it seemed like I just thrust him on you. Did you hit it off? You must have if you walked him to his car.”
This information was helpful in forming my answer. I did not want to upset either of my life long friends by telling them that their uncle was a raving lunatic.
“No. Uh, we had a nice chat about the supernatural.”
“I knew you two would get along,” said Meg with a triumphant smile and positive nod of her head directed towards Tom. But, then I noticed a veil come over her eyes and she would not meet mine. She was saved by Tom’s comment that he had to get back to playing host.
Before he moved off, he leaned next to my ear and said, “I am glad you met Roger. He’s bit strange, but so are you. Come over to the old house this weekend, he may be there. Also, it will be more comfortable, less people. Please come by. Talk to you later.”
With that said he was off to greet the new arrivals from his office. I saw him step in between Joy and Amber and quickly introduce them before they could start in on their new victims. Meg tried to slide away, but I reached out to her.
“What do you know about this murder glass of Rogers?”
“He told you about the glass?” She looked shocked.
I was on a roll to vent after being set up. “No, he showed it to me,” I hissed back.
This news hit her like a cold pail of water. She inhaled deeply and shook her head, “Not here. Not now, later. Lets meet at your place and I will tell you what I know about it, but he never showed it to me.”
She continued with a bit of envy, “He once told me he was not going to get me involved in something that would change my life, at least that was then. I must go now. I can see you around 10:00 tonight at your place. Okay? Jeff, one other thing, he told me that women are not meant to deal with some of the courser levels of reality that the glass can reveal. It made me angry and astonished that he would say something so sexist. It’s not like him. Well, I must go. I will see you tonight.”
I nodded in agreement and turned to look at the skyline. I knew I would never be able to drift comfortably around in the world I had created for myself, and Meg had just now reinforced the reality of what I had just experienced. I said my goodbyes on the way out, to whom I really don’t know.
I merged the 1956 Vintage Porsche onto the expressway and shifted up to 70 mph. I feel alone, like a bird flying across the ocean. I am driving home on instinct. I need to think and prepare for Meg’s arrival. She has been to my house only a couple times. The first time was for an “after the fact” party. Jane and I ran off and got married without telling anyone, but then felt we owed everyone a party. The last time Meg was there was when Jane died. Meg and Tom showed up and took over the arrangements for the funeral. This gives you a sense of how close, but how separate our lives have been. We could always jump in and out of each other’s lives, just as if it were only yesterday that we had last seen each other, when in reality it had been at least a year. When a crisis struck, we could always count on each other, just like a blood family, or maybe even closer come to think of it.
As I pulled up to my driveway I said, “Open,” and the garage door quietly obeyed. I snapped open the three-prong belt holding me in the seat, switched off the ignition and then it hit me. It was at a book signing party at the publisher’s office to announce my book, “Reflection Of All Realization.” Roger’s publisher compared it to Salman Rushdie’s books because it was a big risk to criticize Western and Middle Eastern cultures the way I had in my book. The publishers wanted to control the release of my book to a few trusted channels “to get the word out” so they said. Roger Highborn was not formally introduced to me, but pointed out by Stanley. He explained Roger was the ghostwriter to one of the best sources on which I based my book. Yes, I remember wanting to meet him. Stan told me he would set it up. Later, Stan said, “Mr. Highborn sends his apologies, but he just stopped in briefly. However, he would like to meet you. He asked that I call him with your schedule for next week.” Well things took off and we never scheduled a meeting.
I met Stanley Milenick after one of the first lectures I gave to feel out the climate for a book on religion and culture. He came up to me afterwards and told me to write a book based on my lecture. “It’s about time the world was put on its ass with a new way of thinking.” Break the mold is the way he put it, “I believe you could do it. If you have a minute, I’ll buy you a coffee at the Starbucks on the corner.” Over coffee he convinced me the time was right. Since that day, we have been through hell and high water.
I will call Stan. He can fill in the blanks. I got Stan’s answering machine and left a message for him to call me as soon as he picked up my message. Then I walked over to my computer and sent an email to him to call me ASAP and that it was about Roger Highborn. First a shower, then another call to Stan’s office just in case he really was in and hiding in a manuscript.
Half hour later still was no answer at Stan’s office or to my email. I glanced at the clock it was 8:30 PM and I hadn’t eaten anything since noon except for a hand full of snacks at Tom’s place. I could start a quick dinner or wait until Meg arrived, then we could go out for a late dinner. No, she will probably have eaten by then, so back to a quick snack of the old standby peanut butter and apple butter on sourdough bread. The phone rings.
“Hello, Stan?” I said as I lifted the receiver to my ear.
“Hello? Is this Jeffrey Porter? It’s Roger Highborn. Meg just called and told me about your conversation at the party. Could we talk tomorrow, early before you start your day? For now I ask one thing, please do not involve Meg anymore than she already is. You know a bit more than anybody. You will understand in the morning. Listen to what Meg tells you. After your conversation with her, if you feel uncomfortable and do not show up at my hotel by 8 AM, I will understand.”
I was just about to lay into him when I heard the doorbell ring. I turned toward the TV and clicked it on. Megan Highborn was waiting in the doorway. I glanced at my watch it was 9:15. She was a bit early. I pressed the com line and buzzer and told her to come in.
“Roger, you will have to excuse me. Meg is here.”
“We will talk in the morning. Remember, she is in the dark about this. Thanks. ” He talked to me as an equal. No threat or condescending tone. “Good night, Jeff. Until tomorrow morning,” and he hung up.
I walked into the living room and saw her looking out the window.
“I’m a bit early, but I thought we could go to that great pizza joint you’re always raving about. If that’s okay with you.”
“Sure, I could use a bit of food. I’ll drive or do you want to follow since it is so close to the expressway?”
She looked at me a bit self-conscious, “I’d like to come back here and talk about the glass, if that’s ok with you.” We walked out the front door.
“Lock,” I said.
“Locked,” echoed back the detached computer voice.
Meg stopped and looked back as the door lock clicked. She turned to me with a smile.
“You still have this place wired to your command? I remember now. I had to have a voiceprint even to open the oven. Is mine still on file?”
“Try it. It’s like an elephant, it never forgets.”
We walked down the path leading to the garage, the lights turned on as we passed the sensors.
“Open,” she said with a laugh. Nothing happened.
“Try it again, but without the laugh.”
She took a breath and calmly commanded, “Open.” The garage door obeyed and she tossed her head and chuckled.
“Do you want the top down?”
She looked at the sky for signs of rain and said, “Ok by me. It’s your car that will get wet. Remember, you’re in Seattle.”
I said I would risk it as I snapped the top down and clicked on the seat belt. I took the curves down the hill just enough so the tires would squeal without picking up too much speed. Meg sat with ease knowing that I knew every twist and turn of the road. She had fun exaggerating the turns, leaning as if we were going to tip over any minute.
I pulled into the main drive of the little restaurant. After a quick glance around the parking lot, I noticed no empty spaces near the door, so I pulled in front of the door to let her out.
“Tell the hostess you’re with me and ask for a table in the small room. It’s quiet in there and we can talk freely. The hostess is to the left, just inside the door.”
The valet, in another car, honked at me just as I noticed a safe space. I gunned the engine and drove to the end of the parking lot, put the top up and locked the car without glancing at the boy who would never get a chance to park the bathtub.
As I walked into the small dining room I was just in time to see Meg being seated at a table next to the California stone fireplace. This was a cozy area, next to the bay windows overlooking the hills toward my place.
“Hi, Dee. How are your studies coming along?”
“Great,” she answered with a coy smile. “I have finals next month, then I start an apprentice program. I’ve finished reading the book you gave me. It has given me a lot to think about. I just changed my major to philosophy instead of photo journalism.”
Just as I was about to comment, her father frantically waved from the other side of the room. “I have to go. The slave master beckons.” Dee was off with a wave. “Hope you enjoy your dinner. Fish is a good choice tonight, Mr. Porter.”
Meg looked at me curiously and asked, “What book? Did you write another book, Jeff?”
“No, it’s the same one. Dee told me she was taking a philosophy course and remembered that I had written a book on the subject. Her father has been such a good friend and has kept me well fed since Jane’s death, I gave Dee a copy never thinking it would be more than just a tool to help her through a boring course requirement.” I used the waiter’s arrival to end the conversation.
When the waiter left with our order of the seafood special of the day, Meg leaned across the table. “I know what you’re about Mr. Porter. I grew up with you remember? So let’s not be Mr. Modest here. The book you wrote caused a total panic with the powers that be in established religions. You had to drop out of sight for a couple of years. You still get death threats from Christians, Muslims and occult followers. Every critic has all but banned your book, but yet it’s been read by almost everyone. You’ve also developed a following that will defend you to their death. The power elite of the Blacks hates you. The Israelis have banned you from conducting any further research in their country, which, of course, they say is for your own safety. But we know they’re really afraid of what you are looking for and how you will use it once you find it. That information could topple their way of life. You are the 21st Century version of Martin Luther. Now young girls change their majors after reading your book?”
She paused for a second and accusingly shot out, “Now you know about the glass and how it works, don’t you. I have known and loved Uncle Roger since childhood. He meets you for the first time and tells you, no shows you the glass! He’s always been vague whenever I mentioned the glass to him.”
She was getting louder by the second so I broke in, “Meg all that you say is true, but what am I to do? That was then, this is …”
Between clenched teeth she finished my catch phrase, “Now.”
“I do not know any more about the glass than you,” Jeff offered. “I was hoping we could find some common background on what we do know. Why don’t you start with Roger?”
She looked down at her wine glass and traced her index finger around the rim of the goblet.
“I’m listening, Meg.”
“What do you know about Roger?”
“Not much, just what Tom has told me. He explained how Roger kept your family and the business going while your father was dying. Until this weekend, I did not know to what extent your involvement was with him. Yes, Tom said ‘Uncle Roger’ was a big influence on your family, but I assumed that was an honorary title because of what he did for your family. But, now I know he is a blood relative, your father’s side?”
“He was dad’s older brother. Roger had a falling out with Old Roy, as my Grandfather was called so as not to confuse which Roger one was referring to. I was very young when Uncle Roger went away after having a big fight with Old Roy.”
“Grandfather sent Roger to India to set up a subsidiary trading company. When Roger returned from India, he told Grandfather that he wanted to quit the business in the U.S. and remain in India. He told Grandfather that he had met a girl, Helen, in India and wanted to go back there and settle down. He proposed to Grandfather that he continue to run the trading company in India. However, all these years, Old Roy had been grooming Roger to take over the whole Company, not just the subsidiary export part. Well, you can image how Grandfather was filled with rage and told Roger to leave and never come back. Roger went back to India, got married and started the new company division. Unfortunately, my father was forced to take over the parent company and Old Roy never was the same.”
“It was said he hated Roger for not stepping in and taking command of the Company. A year later, my father had to extend Roger’s credit line to help him keep the trading company solvent. Roger said it was still the Company’s business and that he would run it until everyone calmed down. We met Roger and his wife once over school break. We were sent to India just after Mom and Grandmother were killed.”
She raced ahead to avoid the details. “I was about nine. I remember that Helen was a wonderful person. She was studying the history of yoga in India and that is how she met Uncle Roger. It was a fantastic tale and it made me realize just how extraordinary Uncle Roger really is. To make a long story short, she had been studying with this one particular Yogi who was really a Lama, so she figured out later. Anyway, he let her tag along with him throughout his travels in India. One day she was walking with him outside of a train station on the outskirts of Calcutta when he took her by the hand and said, ‘Daughter, here is your life match.’ With that he led her to where Roger was seated studying a map and glancing up at a train schedule.
The Yogi stood over Roger and said, ‘This is what you seek,’ as he placed Helen’s hand into Roger’s hand. Helen told me she felt a flow of energy draining from her hand to his, but when the Yogi rested his hand on her left shoulder, a jolt twice as strong filled her. Then the Yogi removed his hand from her shoulder and the force became stronger. Helen said when she pulled her hand away from Roger’s she felt a longing for the energy that had been created. She put her hand close to his and felt the warmth she knew of only through study. She believed in this flow of energy, but it was only a theory because she had never felt it personally. Roger later told me that he felt drawn to Helen like no other woman before.”
“They stood in the noonday sun outside this little railroad station not wanting to leave each other. Helen said they acted like high school kids talking and making excuses to keep touching each other. As the train pulled into the station, they both knew that if they parted they would regret it for the rest of their lives. The Yogi gave Helen a ticket and told her to ride with Roger. If she wanted to come back, he would meet her at this station in two day’s time. He went on further to say that it was her just reward from her past lives to know happiness and to seek it in this life, but that she must recognize this for herself. The Yogi handed Helen her backpack and told her to go before they both missed the train. The Yogi turned to Roger with a bemused smile and in a soft voice, just barley above a whisper, told Roger that Helen was his power and to protect her well. Helen was precious to all who knew her. He said that with Helen by his side, Roger would achieve all that he wanted. The Yoga’s final words were, ‘Now go for this is both your reward.’ He turned away and never looked back as they boarded the train and never saw him again.” Meg sat still lost in her memories of Helen’s story.
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