[Author's Note: I wish to apologize for getting things out of order with the last chapter. Book 3 actually concludes with this Interlude. I will begin Book 4 tomorrow with Interlude 4 and a re-posting of the removed chapter.]
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The door to my office swings open and hits the wall hard.
Karl's presence seems to fill every nook, blanket every surface, as he stalks across to my workstation. The bunched and rolling muscles under his dark-mahogany skin strain the thin fabric of the tee shirt, threatening to split the sleeves. He had to duck to get under the doorframe, and his long hair, I notice, is plaited in thin dreadlocks. Black eyes snapping, he plants both massive fists on the center of my desk, leaning down until his nose is two centimeters from mine.
His voice chillingly low and controlled, he growls, "Would you mind terribly explaining to me what you think you're doing?"
This (to craft a masterpiece of understatement) is unexpected. I am not able to form a cogent response immediately, but after swallowing a few times I say, "It would help if you could tell me what specific incident has you … upset."
He doesn't move back, but mouths one word: "Wendy."
I can no more take my eyes from his than a feather can withstand a blast furnace. "Ah." I shift a little in my seat, rolling it back a bit. "Um … what about her?"
"I'm in love with her."
"That's … um … not exactly a news flash. You've been in love …"
He raises his right fist perhaps five centimeters and slams it back down. I absolutely can not help flinching badly. The heavy wood top splinters and buckles. I note in passing that the desk no longer sits parallel with the floor. He rumbles, "I want to know why."
I find myself wishing he would just let loose and shout. This low, even tone stands in jarring contrast to his body language. My back prickles as the sweat springs out all over. Shakily, I sigh what I hope is a convincing sigh and reply, "Initially it was because she replaced Phoebe in that part of your mind. But the two of you have grown close for other reasons. Plus there's the physical attraction …"
"I want to know why you let it happen."
Now this bothers me. "Excuse me? Why I let it happen? Give me a break! More often than not I've been nothing more than a glorified stenographer! Don't give me any crap about why I let it happen."
"You could have stopped it. You could have done something about my feelings before it got this far. You knew there was no way we could …"
"Oh, right. Like I got any help from you in that regard."
"What's that crack supposed to mean?"
"Pleeeease! Every single time I tried steering you off, you jerked the boat back around. I couldn't have written you two apart if my life depended on it! Emotionally, I mean."
He seems to ease up the tiniest fraction, which I would like to encourage. "Well, what about … well, then … well why is she so stubborn, then? She won't even talk to me about our differences! If I so much as mention God or faith or religion, it's like this gray wall clamps down over her face. Can't you do something about that?"
"No more than I can do anything about your approach to your faith. If Wendy comes to an understanding with God, it will have to be on her own terms. Don't think you're going to argue her around to your position."
"But, dammit, Clint, you're the WRITER!"
"And you'd be amazed at how little control that affords me."
He seems to … deflate; he slumps back, turns, and walks over to lean his face against the wall. "Then there isn't anything I can do?"
"You can be her friend."
He says nothing for such a long time that I think he's forgotten where he is. But finally, he whispers, "I don't know if I can do that."
He turns back to me. Tears track his face. I can see where several of them have left spots on the front of his shirt. "You know what I've been through. You know more than anyone what living has cost me. You said yourself you didn't know how I'd managed it." He wiped his eyes with the back of one hand. "And now you want me to 'just be friends' with the woman I love? The one who fits perfectly that hole in my heart? The one femme with whom I know beyond doubt I could grow old happily? You want me to watch as she finds someone else to love? To pretend I'm okay with that?"
I relax a little. Just a little. "I'm not asking or expecting you to do anything. You'll do what you make up your mind to do. Just as she will. If you two could find some kind of middle ground to work from …"
"I told you. She won't discuss it."
"Then you'll have to find another way. If it means that much to you. If you think she's worth it."
He comes back over to the desk, and from his expression I am afraid I have pushed too hard. Scowling, he says, "I'll not sell my salvation for temporal happiness, if that's what you're getting at."
"No! Not at all! But don't you see? If you want her to come around to your way of thinking, she will have to want it! She'll have to want what you have, what makes you happy, what makes you the confident and successful fur … um … that is, um, person you are. She will have to realize that she's missing out on something, something you have and can share with her. And that is not going to happen overnight."
He stares at me for a stretch, then pulls a long sigh and says, "Life's about changes, isn't it?" He shakes his heavy head and walks back to the door. He stops then and turns back to me, an odd expression on his face. "You know, I read a volume of Ella Wilcox's work once."
I reply, "Yes? Something applicable?"
He nods. Staring up at one corner of the room, he recites,
"So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
While just the art of being kind
Is all the sad world needs."
I smile in approval. "That's nice. I like it."
"So do I." That seems to make some sort of connection in his mind. He nods decisively to himself and leaves.
I realize I am trembling. The thought crosses my mind that it's just possible that this whole project may be getting out of hand. I look at my poor desk. The center drawer is quite stuck, the desktop collapsed into it, and one of the legs is broken. Definitely time to get a new one.
And, I think to myself, it's time I did something about that Portal. I don't need any more incidents like that one. If he can fake out the security systems and use it, so can the others. And there's at least one who has absolutely no business on this side of things. For the moment, though, just shutting it down will have to suffice. I'll have Lawrence take a look at it tomorrow.
I go to the wall and open the panel to the Portal's control unit, executing the power-down sequence and shutting off the grid. Then I place the call to my assistant's pager.
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Here Ends Book 3