Rick adjusted his weight in the chair.
Over and over again the same questions. Jesus, don't they give up?
It was a scene right out of any number of television shows: A small
back room in an airport terminal; a mirrored wall that's obviously two-way
glass; a rectangular table, two straight-backed wooden chairs; one obnoxiously
intense overhead lamp. Purposefully claustrophobic.
In a shadowy corner, some kind of uniformed officer stood stiffly,
holster and gun quite visible. On the other side of the table, a suit
from Homeland Security, ear phone in place, tinted glasses, leaned back
and fired off another question:
"Do you know Sayeed al-Saber?"
"I've told you. Yes, I do."
"Someone I knew from Starbucks."
"Bayport." This guy already knows, so why's he asking?
Where else? But he played it cool. "Yes."
"Do you know where he is?"
"No." He pushed it: "Why ask me?"
"We ask the questions, Dr. Todd." The officer smirked. "You
seem nervous, Professor."
"Well, this is a little unnerving. I've never been questioned
like this. Besides, I don't want to miss my flight." Shut up Rick;
you'll give it away.
The Hall of Planet Earth. The American Museum of Natural History. Manhattan.
Cool. Dim, moody lighting. The ambient sounds of the planet piped in
over recessed ceiling speakers, creating a complete environment
the deep groans of volcanoes, the shifting of tides, winds in the upper
Rick sits on a bench along the far wall. Straight ahead on the other
side of the room, a large plasma screen displays recent earthquakes
using yellow, orange, and red rings to show quakes within a month, a
week, and today.
Directly in front of him are three massive, vertically-cut slabs of
rock, two of them polished as smooth as counter tops. The display is
called HOW ROCKS DEFORM.
"Do you want the truth or should I tell you lies?" Sayeed
looks away from Rick and down to his powder-blue canvas sneakers.
"Detectives came to my rooming house last night."
"Yes. I was in my room, but my landlord said he had no idea where
I was. He said something about me visiting another tenant from time
to time, but that I didn't actually live there or stay there."
He looks back at Rick with his chocolate-toned eyes. "I could have
kissed the guy."
Do you know how much I love you? But Rick keeps the thought to himself, as he has for nearly twelve, often lon,g months.
"Lying to us is a criminal offence, Professor."
"Then where is he?"
"I told you. I don't know."
"Really? We have reason to believe he stayed in your home after
our men investigated his boarding house in Sayville."
Shit, these guys really know everything. OK, give them a little
more. Carefully. "He comes to my house from time to time when
I have gatherings or to discuss art and literature." He saw no
reason to lie about that, but the more he explained, the more the man
in the dark blue suit smiled.
Does he know? But Rick wasn't worried about telling him where
Sayeed was. No, what worried him most was whether his guilt would show.
His guilt about loving a straight guy half his age. That bothered him
more for that moment than anything else, because in that moment he felt
Old shame dies hard.
Then it was Rick's turn to smile. One of those ironic ones you get
looking at a sandpaper truth.