Lafcadio - Part 5

Part 5: Masks

(Continued from Part 4: Barooom!)

Author: Shel Silverstein

We all landed back in the States at pretty much the same time. When we got leave, our first order of business was to pay Jimmy’s mom a visit. Jimmy had asked us to look after her, and we had every intention of doing that.
Kathleen Flanagan lived outside of Boston in Natick, the town where Jimmy grew up. The four of us met up at Logan Airport and rented a car. As I drove us out the Mass Pike, Carlos asked, “Do you think she knows about Jimmy’s secret life over there in the desert?”
“No,” Ed said, “and we’re not going to tell her. Jimmy ‘was killed by the Taliban,’ and that’s how it will stay. Let’s not make it worse on her.
The visit was a painful one. Jimmy’s mom was so glad to see us, and eager to talk about Jimmy. We sat around her gingham-covered kitchen table, on which she’d spread tea and shortbread cookies, and shared stories about our friend. Jimmy being the clown he was, it was easy to keep the stories light. It wasn’t so easy to look past the pain in his mother’s eyes.
Paulie was in the middle of doing a lousy imitation of Jimmy reciting one of his favorite kids’ poems, when Kathleen Flanagan suddenly exclaimed, ”Oh! I almost forgot!”  
She jumped up and rushed from the room, leaving us looking at each other and wondering what was up. She was back in a minute, carrying a cardboard box.
“There are three more of these. Come on, boys, make yourselves useful.”
We followed her into what was obviously Jimmy’s room, still looking as if he’d just left it yesterday. I suspected it would look like that for a long time. Ed, Paulie, and I each picked up a box from the bed and carried it out to the kitchen.
“These are for you. Jimmy tells me…" She stopped and swallowed hard. "Jimmy told me how much you enjoy his stories. I can tell he was right. I know he would want you to have these.”
I pried open the flap on one of the boxes and, inside, found a collection of children’s books.
“Oh, no, we couldn’t…” Ed began, but she held up her hands to stop him.
“I’ll have none of that. I insist. You boys were his best friends. And you’re young; someday you’ll have kids of your own. Passing these on to you is the best tribute to Jimmy I can imagine.”
She paused to blink back the tears that filled her eyes.
“Besides, I’ll never have any grandchildren to read them, and it’s too hard for me to have them around. So, take them. You’ll be doing me, and Jimmy, a favor.”
How could we say no? Promising to stay in touch, we loaded the boxes into the car, kissed her goodbye, and headed back to the airport.
On the drive, we talked about the plan we’d come up with in Afghanistan. Operation Lafcadio.  We’d each taken on an assignment. Well, let me rephrase that. Ed had given us each an assignment--old habits die hard--which we enthusiastically accepted.
He went over it again. “This stuff is just field prep, guys. If we are going to get to Knight, we need to have our ducks in a row. Once we get all the intelligence we need, then we can refine the plan. The primary target is Knight. But if we do this right, we’ll bring Alcázar down with him.
That sounded good to the rest of us. We agreed to meet in a year or so to compare notes.
“I’ll be in touch,” Ed said, “and give you the where and when."
The redhead sits down in the empty chair, puts her travel bag at her feet, and carefully folds her coat over her lap. Then she turns to me. A 100-watt smile lights up her face. There’s… she seems familiar somehow.
A jolt of something like recognition warms me. I know I’ve never seen her before. No way would I have forgotten this woman. The red hair that frames her face is pulled back into a loose knot at the nape of her neck. Tendrils that have managed to escape curl softly against skin that brings all manner of clichés to mind. I settle on peaches and cream.  The blue of her dress brings out the color of her eyes, which seem to dance with mischief as she leans over and kisses me.
Smiling at me, she says, “Hi, Matt. Sorry I'm late.”
I nearly fall off my chair.
Still smiling, she whispers, “Sssh, relax. We want to look normal, right?”
And then she winks.
Whoa. There is nothing fucking normal about this. I try to smile back at her in some kind of natural way, but I have a feeling I look like I’m grimacing around the pickle in my mouth.

I’m still reeling from the first blow when she winds up and delivers the second one.
“Ed sent me.”
“Ed…Ed Patterson?”

The lighthearted look she's worn on her face slips, revealing something serious beneath as she nods.

Ed fucking Patterson. Of course he did. If I’ve learned nothing through all this, it’s that Patterson is always one-and-a-half steps ahead of everybody.
My shock is so complete, I struggle to keep my mask of nonchalance in place.
I take a deep breath. “OK, I’m thinking there's something going on here that I don’t know about. We should talk, yeah?” I gesture to the crowd of commuters circling the station like fish in an aquarium.  “But not here. Can you leave your companions…?”

A glance down the row to the now empty seats brings me to a halt. Eyebrows raised, I shoot a questioning look at her.
“Stage props, Matt,” she replies. “Ed thought it would be a good idea.”
Yes, I’m sure he did.
“Let’s make our way to the library,” she says, surprising me again “I’ll explain everything on the way.”

Continued in Part 6: Underface.

(Credit, and thanks, to author Shel Silverstein.) 


Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 8, Muse 5: “Alcázar Down


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