Warning: Boring!!! This this chapter contains scenes involving

  • no man-in on-man sex
  • no illegal avtivities
  • no black magic
  • no nauseating pets
  • no fictitious characters that have nothing but name and image in common with people known from the entertainment industry
  • and to top it all off: nerd warning!
Memory failure? You can find a resume of the chapters of the Tail at my site. And if you're really tired of the erratic updates then you can sign up for update alerts.

Response/feedback? Oh, yes. Love it. If you can stay awake.

© Morgenfryd 2004

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Chapter 26 of The Tail of the Tiger

Shift of Balance

I found John by the freezers in the aisle of the supermarket that should not only have been marked with the same signs of dire warnings that are used in chemical laboratories, it should also have had the same highly restricted admission.

John had actually taken stuff from the freezer and placed it in our cart.

I stared - the shock left me momentarily bereft of speech. Having flapped my lips a couple of times, I was finally able to shape speech-like sounds: "Ham-hamburgers? But – there'll be steaks…."

"Man, we can't have a barbecue without hamburgers." John was adamant.

I slipped the carefully selected cheeses into the cart, making sure they did not come into contact with John's toxic cartons. "Okay. But we're not having these." I picked the offending packages up, carefully holding them between two fingers, and dumped them back in the freezer.

"Oh, we can take a different brand, I'm not a fanatic." He was suppressing a grin as if he found something funny. I had no inkling what it could be. "Which one do you prefer?"

"Brand? I don't want a brand – I want food fit for humans. I'll fix the meat for the hamburgers." I took my bearings, and got a fix on my next direction. Luckily, this supermarket sported an actual butcher. The steaks he had given me looked okay, as long as one didn't dwell too much on growth hormones and what else was allowed in industrially produced meat.

"This is easier." John had the gall to reach for one of the packets that I had just exiled.

"Over my dead body," I hissed, and slapped his hand before it could make contact with the offending article. "It's toxic!"

"What's up?" Tommy dumped a couple of huge plastic bags of chips in the cart.

Easy now, easy now, don't scream, Mikkel, don't scream. This is not a nightmare. It's worse. "You are aware that there probably is benzene in the oil that those were fried in?"

Both he and John had been eating lots of the stuff since we got together. And to top it off – they were prime examples of cola-guzzling nerds as well. Bill, the third guy who could make it to the summerhouse, was an iced-tea-and-stalk-celery kind of nerd.

"Sure." Tommy appeared quite unruffled. "They're good." He let the little bags with so called dip fall one by one, suppressing a grin: he knew perfectly well how provoking he was. There were six little bags of concentrated evil.

"Mikkel and I are having a discussion." John snickered. "I want my favorite brand. Mikkel wants to make the hamburgers himself."

"I'm not having toxic, artificial meat products on the table. It could harm the wood if anybody lost a piece. Besides, I make good hamburgers."

Tommy raised an eyebrow. "You know how to make hamburgers?"


"Okay. I can't wait to hear what you've got to say when Bill brings his favorite buns."

They had obviously concocted some kind of conspiracy while I was browsing the cheese shelves. They knew very well that there were enough lunch buns left from the last batch I made.

From the moment they picked me up at the bus station, we had fallen into an easy relationship, talking shop as if we were an old team meeting up. Which we were, in the sense that we had already teamed up to do trouble shooting online several times over the last year.

Still, it was different meeting face to face. For some reason I had imagined John to look like he did – small and spindly, dark hair thinning, and naked scalp peeking through the top. Tommy, big and soft, had the doughy color of a true nerd, but was probably the one of them in closest contact with the surrounding world. The carefully trimmed Bill had been the biggest surprise – which he perhaps shouldn't have been since his looks mirrored the fact that he was the most perfectionistic of us all. It was his insatiable hunger for perfection that had put the final spikes of evil on Loke 2.3. Incidentally, those same spikes were what made it very difficult to come up with a good countermeasure. AntiLoke 1.0 would take a while to finish.

"What about my buns?" Bill asked, and dumped several jars of chemical waste products into the cart; it misleadingly said "sauce" on one of them. A plastic bag with buns followed them. The smooth plastic surface of the buns was sprinkled with plastic pellets resembling sesame seeds.

"They're flat and unappetizing," I answered, and the others laughed while Bill looked like he was unsure whether my double entendre had been intended or not. Bill kept and wore his body carefully, very much the same way I imagined he would a tailored suit. I was sure he was very proud of his buns. He kept staring at me. I blinked, knowing I could do innocent better than… most people.

"Well, I like my buns like that," he said with a hint of threat in his voice. It was quite obvious I wasn't getting my way as easily with him as I had with John. "Do we have any celery-stalks left?"

"Yes." I perused the cart. There was way more in it than we could eat before they left the following morning. "I'll go get the meat for the hamburgers."

Waiting in line, I noticed a familiar bandanna. Chris! The small shock was followed by blooming heat that popped, leaving only emptiness.

It was a pattern I had gotten to know well. The short guy turned – and turned out to be a woman. I had lost count of these incidents. There'll probably never be a fitting occasion to tell him about this one.

Shopping with Chris would leave me a nervous wreck in ten seconds.

It would be fun.

"May I help you?" The woman behind the counter spoke sharply to me, as if she was repeating her question.

I got the minced meat, and met up with the nerdy convention by the cashier. Well buried under the jumble in the cart, a corner of John's favorite brand of hamburgers peeked out, taunting, provoking nausea.

"Now, if this had been a system, and the items had been pieces of code-" I frowned at the cart.

"Then we'd not only be fired for slop, we'd also be blacklisted for life." Tommy piled stuff upon the belt. "And you'd have to fire yourself, Mr. Boss."

"I can imagine quite a different scenario. I mean, we'd be fired, I'm sure." John stepped aside to make room for Bill to give Tommy a hand. "But then we'd all be headhunted by Microsoft, and employed at outrageous wages like that." He snapped his fingers. "Like, we'd be their secret weapon."

"Microsoft, huh? Then this is a security patch." Tommy put a jar with some kind of sauce-like compound on the belt. On second thought he checked the date stamp. "Nah, it can't be – the date is still good."

"Whatever it is – I'm sure it needs another security patch on top." Bill dumped his buns next to it.

I couldn't suppress a wince. "For that one, we'll need a whole cart full of security patches, one on top of the other," I said.

"Ta-dah! For this one we'd have to empty the health food section." Tommy said when bringing John's favorite brand out into the open. It shivered in fright when I sneered at it.

Hit by a revelation, John waved a hand. "Hey – Loke 2.3 can be a secret part of the evil marketing strategy, bringing the competition to the knees by dirty subterfuge-"

The nerdy jokes continued all the way to the car, and long before we were back at the summerhouse, John, with the help of the rest of us, was well into sending several mainframes into orbit in order to evade local juristriction. None of us knew much about orbital law: the rocket-based operating system may all have been for nothing, but it certainly was creative.

It was with Bill at the wheel that the car stopped, and made an inexplicable detour, after a black cat had crossed the road. Bill stood fast on his no-comment policy after having declared the manoeuvre a built-in safety feature of the car.

"Did Kurt call yet?" asked John, when he had given up on cracking Bill. Due to his smaller size John was actually able to lounge next to me on the back seat of Bill's sleek car.

I shifted in the narrow space, poking Tommy in the back with my knees, and got the phone out of my pocket. Somebody had called; it was impossible to say whom: long distance numbers showed the same way that local secret numbers did. "Think so."

John's gaze clung to my face as I waited for Kurt to answer the phone. Tommy had twisted in the passenger seat, and was watching me too.

"Hi, is it up yet?" I asked when Kurt answered.

"Sure, no problem, it's been up a while now." He yawned. "Fuck if I can find out what went wrong." It sounded honest – I trusted he hadn't discovered that there was a secret cabal behind the accidental crash.

Tommy and John didn't understand my spoken language but they understood the grin I sent them. "Well, put Rasmus on it tomorrow. Go get some sleep, man." Rasmus was one of the three New Men.

Kurt grunted, absentmindedly, likely his mind was still ramming the weird problem – I could hear the noise in his head.

"The backup system cut in without a hitch?" I asked, and mentally crossed my fingers. It would be all kinds of nemesis if our stupid game had had serious consequences.

"Yeah. That worked just perfectly…. We're stretched, man. I can't put Rasmus onto it."

"Then leave it. Tackle it later if it's a recurring problem. Say, do you know if Sonja scanned her handwritten notes on the last usability test? I very much want to see them."

"She did. Probably in a gigabyte format – want me to optimize them for you?"

"Please. And then go to bed."

I could hear tapping of quick fingers on keyboard. "We need more programmers," he mumbled as he worked.

"We need to cut down on reprogramming."

"Yeah, that would be nice. A wet dream, man. Did you know that Henry has nightmares about reprogramming?" Henry was one of the Polish guys.

"He told me. I think we can cut a good chunk off it by doing thorough usability tests right at the beginning."

"Huh? Are you saying that the emergency solution is better than the old one?" He didn't sound surprised; he and Sonja had probably already discussed this.

"Yes. That's why I want her raw notes – we're on to something here. Fuck the experts, listen to the users."

"Fuck you?"

"That's what I said."

"I still want more programmers."

"I want paper models of the interface before the programming starts. I want somebody who can ask the right questions, and communicate well with storemen, secretaries, directors, and truck drivers. I want intensive usability testing before we start any programming."

"You want how many non-techs?"

"Well, maybe just two for starters-"

"That's a department!"

"Yep. Sonja and I just don't have the, I don't know, foundation, theory, what-ever. We need an expert on questioning, somebody who's damned inventive, and preferably somebody who has done a little programming. There must be papers on research of this method somewhere, I mean, it's so obvious, somebody must have thought of it." I had done searches but come up empty-handed. Probably I was missing the proper code words of the professional jargon of those who knew about these things.

"A questioner, right. I know a cop. She's-"


"She's really sexy in uniform, though. And she's very inventive."

No cops. "No sex with the employees."

"Oops. Then why don't we send Sonja on a course? Put my uncle in charge of the reception, she just lost her job-"

"We can't wait for Sonja to catch up; besides, she's already too much to do. Don't tell me that Valde was fired again?" His uncle Aunt Valdemar was a very spirited trans and a very principled lesbian.

"Well, she quit. She dumped a bowl of some fruity aperitif on her boss at some major reception-thing and then she quit."

"And now you want her to dump fruit drinks our customers?"

"He groped her and she tried to tell him to stop but he wouldn't listen."

"You know we don't hire family. Company policy."

"Well, we subcontracted Niller, your tailors, your lover, and your dad. Why not hire Valde?"

The list was quite daunting when lined up like that. My tailors? "We subcontracted Kamille and Jane? For what?"

"They're going to spiff up the place after the painter has been in."

"But – Kamille and Jane? The place is going to look like an avant-garde strip joint when they finish. Blinking lights and kitsch everywhere."

"Great. Look, Aunt Valdemar would be good. And she's not your mum. Unfortunately for us all." The last was muttered under his breath. "There, hocus pocus and dadaah, pictures converted."

"Kurt? Kurt – what's going on?"

"I put them in the usual-"

"With my mum, not the pictures. What's wrong?"

"Oh." He hesitated. "Niller didn't call you yet?"

"Maybe. I haven't checked all my messages. The bottom line is that we haven't talked. Why should he call me?"

"He said he would."

"I'm going into cardiac arrest here." I clenched my teeth to keep from screaming. "What. Happened. With. My. Mother?"

"She's been on the phone a couple of times, talking with Sonja, getting bitchy when Sonja wouldn't answer her questions, but Sonja didn't make a thing out of it. By the way, she followed the instructions in your first email, the red alert that you cancelled, and taped all the conversations. She said not to tell you; as long as things didn't get any worse it could wait until you got back. Anyway, tonight she, your mother, came here, in person."

"What did she want?"

"We don't know: her questions were all screwed and weird, but it had something to do with you, your dad, embezzlement, and a lot of money."

"Shit. Shit, shit. Go on."

"Niller threw her out. End of story." He paused. "Are you okay?"

Niller? It was probably the gurgles that alerted Kurt to the fact that I was choking. "Gurgh?"



"Look, it's not like he hurt her or anything. He just told her what she was. He was downright eloquent."

"Shit." I remembered well how Niller talked when he got "eloquent" – he had done it to me a couple of times. "This blows everything back to square minus ten. Or worse."

"Niller expects you to rip his head off. But I'm glad he happened to be here – I would have called the cops if he hadn't thrown her out. It was that bad. She was mean. Scary mean."


"Yeah," he said quietly. "I'm sorry."

"This is so fucked up." My head was buzzing. "How is Sonja?"

"She was pretty shaken up afterwards. So were we all. That's why Sonja said not to call you until tomorrow. Like, she wanted to calm down and think first."

"She wanted to think? Say, do you think she's going to resign?"

"She didn't say anything…. Man – that would be really, really bad."

This is it. Sorry, mother. I gulped air. "The email, the first one-"

"Red Alert, yeah. We laughed at it a lot."

"Well, follow the script in it, okay? Documentation, restraining order – the works."

"We, I mean, Sonja and I, kind of already decided to do that before she went home."

"Have Sonja and Niller figure out which lawyer to use. Niller may have some ideas."

"Isn't that expensive?" Kurt likely could see the baby I had promised him shrinking as it moved further and further away.

"Don't worry, it's on me. Make sure you get a good one."

"Mikkel! You can't pay all-"

"Do it. We'll figure that part out later. Keep a tally on what she costs us – if anybody needs help, a bonus, or a couple of days off because of her, add that to the tally too. And add the time you use on the cursed book keeping."

"Okay. I'll tell Sonja to set up a running Mamma Svendsen account. And we're putting Aunt Valdemar in the reception."

"What? Now, wait a minute-"

"Aunt Valdemar. In the recption. With fruit drinks. She's got superior aim, and takes no shit from anybody – makes us feel safe. We need somebody to take over in the reception, and none of the applicants we've had in so far were proficient."

"Damn it." I had never met Aunt Valde in person. She does sound good on a phone: pleasant voice, nice language. And she's got a quick wit, wicked but – quick. I had no clear impression of the rest of her qualifications. If the speed with which she had lost her astounding array of more or less weird jobs was any indication, then she had no qualifications for anything at all. She makes Kurt feel safe – now, that's a noteworthy qualification. "Okay. Hire Valde – on one condition: Sonja's blue stamp. And before you hire Valde, make damned sure she knows what's going on."

"Yes!" He was waving a victorious fist in the air, I knew. "And a couple of programmers-"

"One! And a sociologist or a psychologist, and somebody with experience as a teacher-"

"Mikkel – I, we, can't. That one's yours."

"Okay." I could take it up with Lars. Hire him to set up the department? If nothing else, he could help me phrase what we needed. Change my plane ticket, is what I should do. Mormor and I had, with the help of her lawyer, worked out our contract; we had still to find out how to transfer the money. The contract would be ready for our signatures on Monday.

Kurt was quiet for a moment. I realized that he was taking notes. "Okay. There's something that you aren't telling me, right?" he asked.

"Later. Just trust me on this – when the new method is properly implemented we'll have lots of less reprogramming to do. I don't want to hire a lot more programmers, we'll just have to fire them again."

"Right. Okay. I get it. Have them work overtime now, and when the new method works, let them have some time off, and since the business is still growing there'll be work once they've had their compensatory time-off."

That was a neat and systematic way of putting the mess. "Yes. Come November or December we'll know which of your babies we can start when." Maybe even come August. But Kurt is so bad at maybes….

He was quiet for a moment. "Is this you telling me that the baby that you promised me is dangling from a thin threat after all?" His heart was getting ready to break, I could tell.

"No! This is me telling you that if we throw everything into developing the new method, then before this year is over we've started a baby for sure, at least a small one, more likely a bigger one."

"When the New Method is on track. In November. Maybe a bigger one. Maybe the Mammoth Baby."

"Yes. Don't forget the maybes, okay? But it's a promise we'll start something. Make sure to keep notes of the ideas that hit you."

"Oh, I do."

"Did he find Loke?" was the first question that John asked me when Kurt and I had finished talking. "Is the server up again?"

"No, and yes."

"You sounded really upset." Tommy was worried. "Is everything okay?"

"Yes. It's just some meddling fool…. Hey, Kurt was okay with changing our organization, I don't think he was surprised that I want to do it." Kurt was tired. Worn. I would have to call him later to check up on him.

"Great." Tommy's enthusiasm for the project was reassuring. We had discussed it the day before, and he had immediately seen the light. I had promised to keep him informed on how it worked out.

"I still say you're gonna mess up your business," said Bill from the front. "Having the customers interfering in the programming right from the start…."

"Not the customers – the users. And they're not going to interfere in the programming as such but the design of the interface. The last things I want interfering are politics and internal warfare."

"Huh? Oh." He knew what I meant. We had shared horror stories about the mess that came from the combination of an imprecise contract, and top people on several levels of the customer's organization wanting to use our product for their own profiling. The problem existed on both sides to the Atlantic.

"Do you mind turning the radio up?" John asked Tommy, who complied, and the smooth sound of country music filled the car.

When the next melody came on, Tommy quickly reached for the buttons. I didn't think it was to turn it up louder: "No! I want to hear that." At my yell Tommy whipped his hand away from the buttons, and turned to look disbelieving at me.

John quenched a laugh. "You like that? It's a boy-band!"

"Yes." My ear had gotten better at finding Chris' voice in the harmonies. Chris! It's Chris!

The only sound was that of the music with a faint underlay of the rumble of the dirt road under the tires. My ears hungrily swallowed the ethereal voice of Chris; the sound seeped into all sorts of aching places. The other three dutifully suffered while I enjoyed my sweet pain. Bill kept sending me searching glances in the mirror; John's smile flickered on and off as if he waited for me to break down in a laughing fit, ending the joke.

It was no joke. "Thank you," I said when the announcer came on again, and Tommy turned the volume down.

The worry was back on his face. "You sure you're okay?"

"They're good. Did you know they're pretty big in Europe?"

"It's a boy-band – it's nothing." John waved his hand as if to keep smoke out of his face.

"Well, I like it. Look, I need to think and to make a few phone calls – do you mind dropping me off, I'd like to walk for a while."

"Alone?" Bill asked, frowning and not slowing. We were on the last stretch of road, surrounded by dunes overgrown by low and sparse vegetation; the summerhouse was just a few kilometers away.


"It's getting dark soon." He hesitantly slowed the car. "Don't go into the dunes. You could lose your way." He liked to know where everybody was, and what we were doing. Also he held a suspicion of any track unpaved or unmarked.

"I'll walk along the beach back to the summerhouse."

Bill let me leave once he had shown me on the road map where we were, and where the summerhouse was, and I had promised not to turn my phone off. I also had to assure Tommy that I really did not want company.

With the sun setting at my back, I headed towards the sea. Once the car and its rumbling cloud of dust were gone, the quiet became very audible. The grass-like growth hissed, and scratched at my legs with its tiny saw teeth, leaving thin, red marks on my skin. The sand was dry and deep; it slipped when I walked up-dune. It was a lot like freedom.

It was odd how reconfirming my decision of putting the business before my mother had made her shrink in my awareness. It feels like… giving up. I didn't quite trust the feeling of ease. Maybe this was what she had done in frustration with me, with the situation, back when I was sixteen. I couldn't bring myself to believe that it had always been like that.

Am I right in doing this? Playing hardball with my mother – when she's obviously in need of help? Overhead several gulls were on their way towards the sea, the soft light turned the white of their wings a soft pearl; as they flew past they screeched their rough sounds of longing.

The sand gave, for a moment I could only concentrate on keeping my balance and getting to the top. By then the gulls were small, winking specks settling on the water. Truth is, the kind of help she needs is not the kind she'll accept. And the kind of help she wants is not the kind I'll give.

Truth is, she'll wear me down, tear apart everything and everybody that matters to me – and even then I'll not get what I want from her.

I had stopped and it wasn't until the wind was swallowing my voice that I knew what I was doing. "Mother! Look at me! See me! I'm a success! You bitch!"

The next group of sea gulls heading out to sea didn't even change their flight path, maybe didn't even hear the puny human who was standing on the top of a dune, waving his fists stupidly in the air, screeching at somebody who was thousands of kilometers away. Suppose sanity isn't our strong suit either, mother. I love you but I sure as hell don't like you.

The wind stilled, and for just a moment it was quiet – or the quiet was inside me, and merely overflowing.

It's okay not to like her.

The realization grew. I hadn't even been aware what had been troubling me. Ah, guilt. Repeat to self: it's okay not to like her. Not because she doesn't like me but. Because I don't.

We're not going to start liking each other even if she gets everything her way. We may never start liking each other again. That was a daunting prospect, right there.

I don't know what would satisfy her craving – likely she doesn't know either.

Hardball it is – there's no other strategy left. Or. Is there?

Ah. Doubt.

While I walked down the last dune to the flat stretch of beach, I checked my messages.

There was a message from my father telling me to call him at a strange number. Apparently he had gotten himself a cell phone.

Niller's rumble held only a little regret: "Kid. Erh. Man, I blew my top at your mother. Just like I've wanted to do for years, but. Yeah, you're probably going kick my ass for interfering. So, I'm sorry, except not really. Call me. Oh – Inga will have my neck if you wake up the kids-" he told me when not to call. I checked my watch. The kids would be in bed, and highly wakeable. But then it wasn't really urgent anymore.

The last message was from Jens Peter. A rather tipsy Jens Peter who had a great business offer on hand, a super investment! He wanted immediate response, the time window of the offer was closing fast; he told me to call at once when I got the message. Which I immediately decided not to do: he did not sound like a person whose judgement could be trusted.

I stood at the edge of the surf. The waves licked my feet, the cool touch of their tongues was like a last kiss before they expired in the sand with a loud hiss. I called dad.

"I'm divorcing Johanne," he said quietly when I got hold of him. The surprise didn't come rushing even though I waited for it. Underneath my feet, the water was washing away the sand. The movement tickled, and my feet sunk slowly in.

"Good," I told him, sad, and immensely relieved that he had decided to save himself.

"You're not mad?"

"No. I'd rather you get out while you're still sane." Which I bet mother isn't. And we can't help her. And I really should stop worrying: she's eaten enough out of us.

He sighed. "I not only told Johanne that we're getting a divorce. I've also changed my will. Everything is to go to charity. I told the girls; I thought that might put a stopper to Karla's behavior but I'm afraid I was wrong. "

"It won't matter what you do."

He sighed. "You're saying I cannot make repairs with Karla."

"Yes." Nobody makes repairs with Karla. Ever! And that was the key to the power Karla held over Lisbeth: as opposed to dad, Lisbeth had always known that about Karla.

I had gotten away from my first clash with Karla with a traumatic reaction to darkness. Exactly what had happened was lost in the jumbled, terrorfilled memories of childhood. I could finally poke at them without panicking and running to hide. And Chris – I owe the Shaman big for starting the unraveling of that rotten knot, don't I? Who knows, I may even come to like darkness some day.

Maybe Lisbeth could see that the choice she, and Karla, had been avoiding up until now was likely to come up soon. So far, when Karla put her in the spot, she had always chosen Karla. But if Karla forces her to that choice – will Lisbeth choose dad?

Dad sighed. "Do you want a copy?

What? Oh. The will. "No thanks. Unless you have some reason for wanting me to read it?"

"I don't."

"What happened? I mean, why divorce mother now?"

"I guess it just took me this long to make up my mind. I want to get out while there is still some of me left-"

Listening to dad's quiet voice, I walked slowly; the water foamed around my feet, and washed the footprints away behind me. "I love you," I told him at some point, wanting to be sure that he knew – he had sounded so lost when he tried to explain how he was doing.

"Oh, god. Kid," he said, and started crying. So did I, and it was okay to be emotional for a while. When we had calmed down enough for us to talk again he said: "It's just like. Maybe, I could've done something, done more. I don't know."

"Done something to make what happen?"

"Make her listen? I don't know. This hit her hard. I don't know what I expected – but I didn't expect her to be surprised." He made a weird noise in his throat. "It's stupid, I know. I've come to the end of myself, and I still wonder. Like, for a while, I actually believed that between us, you and me, we could make her see that she can't just use us all as pawns in her restaurant game when the going gets rough. Like, she was really hit when you left all those years ago. I'd thought she'd learned."

"So did I, but I've given up, too. Look, dad, we can't save her from herself, and nobody's going to gain from letting her get away with wrecking everything. Not her. Maybe least of all her. The same goes for Karla."

We shared a spot of silence.

Behind the sea the sparkling blanket of night rose slowly, more and more stars blinking into existence in the soft fabric. Home was that way. And a bit to the north. Quite a bit, actually. What's due East – some place in Africa, I think, but where? The more I looked, the more stars I could see.

"What are you thinking?" dad asked.

"Looking at the sea. I was wondering where I am. Like, what's due east of here?"

"Africa. Must be Morocco."

"Yes. The stars are coming out now."

"We've got rain. Did you ever think seriously about going to Africa?"

"No. Did you?"

"Yes. Once. I wanted to go a lot of places. Actually, I still do-"

I listened to my dad calling up never-forgotten dreams, soothing both of us. When we said our goodbyes he sounded better than he had when we started the conversation, calmer and larger.

Africa? I felt no pull, well maybe a small one, but it wasn't from any wish for traveling the world. It was a wish for being able to hold dreams like that, fiery dreams, glorious, adventurous, full of colors and mystery. I hope he grabs the chance now. I could easily see him: sunburned face under a safari helmet, mouth stretched in a grin…. If I went it would be very much in order to see that rather than the Victoria Falls. Homeboy, is what I am.

Chris-boy? Now, that sounds vulgar. Sounds just about right. I really wanted a chat with Chris, he should be at home if his schedule hadn't been changed, which it likely had: changes seemed to be the norm more than the exception. I could call him and. What? Pour all my frustrations over his head? How's that for a goodbye and thank you?

It's my turn. My belly cramped at the thought. Does he need me to say it? That I accept….

It would be cruel to call him if I can't… do it. And I didn't think I could do it, not right then – I had broken enough to last me for a while.

Sighing, I called Jens Peter, and got his answering machine. "Here's Mikkel. Sober up, and get out – it's a trap, you fool. Thanks for asking, anyway." I spoke quickly, relieved that I could cut the connection before somebody picked up. I didn't feel like having a discussion with a drunken Jens Peter. Not that I had any fortune to gamble, but that was beside the point. I could just hope for him that he got away before he signed anything.

I passed the first houses; there were lights on in a couple of them. A group of children were digging around in the wet sand by the water, they didn't spare me a glance, busy building a fort and ignoring the woman calling out for them from one of the houses.

A man and a woman walked towards me, arms around one another, their mouths moving – laughing. When they got closer I could hear them joking, though I could not quite catch was it was about.

I greeted them when we met, and they smiled those smooth and apparently open smiles that some North Americans will.

Restless, I started running; it was better than screaming, which might have scared the children. Or maybe not: nobody had listened to the last one, not even the gulls. I dropped the repeat of that particular experiment, and ran, finding a rhythm that I could hold for a while. Slowly my thoughts stopped moving in circles.

The summerhouse came up all too early, I hadn't quite found my center yet, and I continued past it until I, out of breath, was forced to stop and do nothing but breathe, bent over, hands resting on my knees. I can't run from this.

The run somehow had made it easier to change direction in more senses than one. Heading back towards the summerhouse, walking at the edge of the water, I called Tom. "Hi, did you get any phone calls for me?"

"Hi, Mikkel, my cousin." The sarcastic tone told me that Tom was in a good mood. "How are you? Good? Ah, now that's good to hear; we're fine too. Fucking fine. Granny got her cast off, she's in goddamned pain but she's happy. She's gone dancing, on crutches and pain meds."

"Yeah, yeah. I love you guys too. My calls, Coz."

"Calls? There's been a few. Justin called yesterday, Granny gave him your number, Justin said that he'd call you. Niller called today, Granny took it, she left a note saying she'd given him your number, and he's gonna call you. Your dad called a couple of hours ago, I gave him your number, he said he's gonna call you. Let's see…. who else…. Oh, Jens Peter called too, I gave him your number, he's gonna call you. Check your fucking messages, will you?"

"Uh. Thanks? I did. Say, my mother didn't call?"

"Your mother? Now, that's…. It could be. I thought it was mine. Granny has written "bitch", one, two, dum-da-dum, at least fifteen times on the note pad, pushing the pen so hard that it's gone through the paper. And she's made little drawings of lightning, knives, snakes with huge fangs, and something I'm not sure what is. Maybe it's a chainsaw. Ah, no, now I get it – the dots, it's a fucking machine gun. So, the question is: was it your bitch-mother or was it mine? There's a drawing of a note only the head in the center is of, heh, fangs again, it must be a vampire. A ten grand note."

"A ten-grand note with a vampire? That's my bitch-mother."



"What's up with yours, now?"

"She popped up at work and had a hysterical fit, scaring Kurt and Sonja enough that Kurt considered calling the police. Dad's going to divorce her. It's getting really messy."

"Oh, fuck, man. I'm sorry."

"Yes, well…. Tom, I'm going to see if I can change my flight, I want to leave as soon as I can after Monday. I've got to go."

There was a pause. Somebody spoke in the background, and Tom answered: "He's gonna change his flight to an earlier one. Trouble at home."

More talking in the background, then Tom said: "Paul says you're not gonna leave without a party. Granny's gonna say the same, heck, I say the same."

"A party…. No way, that is – only if I can pour liquor down your throat and Paul's without Mormor bashing my head with that mean crutch of hers. A proper party."

"Okay. Promise. Paul can convince Granny."

The boyfriend strategy…. The remaining phone call that had my insides in knots. Chris…. I dried my eyes and asked, "Do you think Maria can come?"

"Not if we're gonna get stupid drunk.... You want me to ask my bitch-mother?"

"Yes, please. You two talk?"

"Fuck if I know what to call it. Like, when I call: "Hi, it's Tom." And she goes: "Maria, it's for you." Do you call that talking?"

"Not really. I may call it improvement, though."

He grunted. Paul was speaking again. I recognized the tone, even if I couldn't hear the exact words – he was letting the teaser in him come out. "Shit, yeah – why didn't you tell us that you got arrested, you fuck?"

"Justin told?"

"No the police came visiting."

"What? Not Barney, Not-Barney and the pay-slip?"

"Say again?" There was a Paulish snicker and a rustle, they were probably pushing at each other to get an ear to the phone.

"You punk," I grinned. "It was Justin. He told her?"

"Yeah, Granny tricked him. Like, when he figured out who he was speaking to, he got all apologetic about your arrest, and Granny asked him for his side of the story, just in case trouble popped up."

"She didn't miss a beat," Paul said. "And that's when we raced into the kitchen and turned on the speaker so we could listen in. You should've told us."

"Well, you got it from Justin."

"Paul nearly fainted when he figured out who it was. Ow!"

"Tom's lying, Mikkel."

"Ow! Will you stop that! Sheesh. If it had been Lance, you would've."

"Yeah, well. But she wouldn't have tricked Lance." It was a rabid fan's firm yet empty conviction – but in this case he was probably right.

"Did Justin say what he wanted?" I asked.

"No. He hasn't called you?"

"Not yet…. Say, can you send me a mail with the numbers on the ticket? I probably need some of them to change the flight-"

He could, and then we talked about his game the following day. Mormor wanted to come, but if she'd gone dancing, as Tom claimed, then she probably would be in bed all Saturday, grouchy with pain. It was just as well that there was nobody at home but the pugs for that. She would be bad company indeed.

When we had cut the connection, I was oddly dizzy.

Going home…. If Morocco was straight east, then home was under the star blanket to the north-northeast. My inner balance was shifting: no wonder I was dizzy; the soul-imbedded compass needle pointing to home swung slowly towards north-northeast, steadied, locked. There.

He's going to have my head for crying at him.

He would just have to live with it. My finger shook as it pushed the buttons.

I got hold of some robot claiming it ruled the South American pizza industry. Swearing I cut the connection, not at all sure what to tell Chris' answering service. A couple of deep breaths later I was able, and called up again to speak to his phone-droid. "Hi, PZ-06. This is Mikkel. Please tell your evil master to call me or turn his frigging phone on." And tell him all the other stuff he won't hear from me.

I'm going home. Soon.

End of chapter

© Morgenfryd 2004