Tuesday, 28 July 2009

BINARY CODE Chapter 20 A False Talisman

"You remember the time we almost hit the submarine?" I was asking Dewey as we crossed the Cooper River Bridge heading towards Mt. Pleasant and Sullivan's Island. "What was that, dear?" asked Dewey's wife Elisabeth. "You've never told me this one." "In fact it was the same threesome," said Dewey. He looked through the rear view mirror at Tess, who was in the back seat of the minivan along with Elizabeth. His three kids were in the back seat of the Toyota, two rambunctious boys and a little sister momentarily distracted by their books. "Where was Stokely that time?" he asked, not directing his question particularly. "That was the summer he was in Europe, wasn't it Tess?" I offered up. "I think so," answered Tess. "So what happened?" Elisabeth was insistent, used to our detours and sidetracks. I started. "It was August, really hot and hazy, and we decided to go on a sail on Dewey's Hobie from Sullivan's Island all the way into the harbor. We were out there somewhere near Sumter, and ahead of us in the haze I saw what I took to be an island with a flag flying from a narrow building on it. You know how sometimes the sky is blue but around the water it's foggy?" I was turned halfway in the front seat, talking directly to her. She nodded. "Anyway, it was the first time I had been sailing in the harbor, and I didn't really know if there was another island in it or not. I had only heard of Fort Sumter." "I was at the bow and Tess and Dewey were astern, talking to each other. I called back at Dewey. What's the name of that island?" ‘"Island?" he yelled back. Dewey chimed in. "Some island. I looked up and saw this Skipjack class sub bearing down at us. They were still a couple of hundred yards off, but they were steaming straight for us, and us for them. There wasn't a lot of wind, and by the time we headed off they were close enough to yell at. There were a few of them in the conning tower waving their hands like crazy and yelling at us, "Assholes!" or something like that." We laughed with the luxury of those safely recalling the folly of youth. Out on Sullivan’s island at Dewey’s family house, things hadn’t really changed that much since we were teenagers. Of course now there were several rows of houses and not a spare lot in sight, but a lot of the old clapboard houses which I remembered from my youth had escaped the ravages of the hurricane which blasted the coast several years before. His house had been in his family for years, passed on through three generations to him when the elder Mr. Ravanel died several years back. We sat on the porch, looking out at the waves and sipping margaritas while the kids played inside. Dewey read through the Shareholder’s Agreement and what Tess and I had written about our talks with Mary and our theory about MacEnzie and his friend Doctor Riley. Dewey reacted like the calm, reasoning lawyer he was. He had his fingers pressed together under his chin, his lips pursed in thought. “Well?” I asked him. “ And you want me to tell you what to do...or what can be done.” “It would help us...decide which way to go.” I said, looking over at Tess as our eyes met in confirmation . Dewey spoke slowly and deliberately. “What does Stokely think about all this? It will have an effect on your whole family.” Again our eyes met, and Tess spoke up. “Uh...we haven’t told him...” she said, “....yet.” Dewey’s eyebrows arched and he ran his tongue over his lips slowly as he realised that the two of us were in on more than just this discovery. “Oh.” he said, letting this fact float in the salt air, carried by the bouyancy of the sound of waves crashing in on the beach. “I see.” “Well, let me put it this way,” he continued. “There is a statute of limitations which runs out after forty years. What is more, all the people involved are long since dead, and proving anything will be problematic...at best. “ “What about the Shareholder’s Agreement?” I interjected. “Doesn’t that give us...I mean Helmut’s heirs, some sort of leverage?” I caught myself trespassing on territory that wasn’t mine, and looked over at Tess, who seemed not to mind. “Don’t you think it’s possible that Tess’s family still has rights to the ownership of UBI? Especially since perhaps MacKenzie killed their great grandfather just to take away what was rightfully his? Isn’t there some way legally to get back at them?” Dewey looked skeptical. “What are you trying to accomplish?” he asked. “Take over UBI? Become multibillionaires?” Tess spoke up. “Justice, Dewey. The assholes always seem to get ahead in this world. Wouldn’t it be nice if they don’t get away with it for once?” Dewey shook his head. “That particular asshole seems to have gotten away with it quite nicely. He’s long dead and I bet he died rich and happy. Even his family no longer owns the company. I’ve got shares in UBI for Chrissakes. So do you probably, and practically every fund manager and Belgian dentist. Don’t you think this might just be like tilting at windmills a bit?” He looked at us, expecting a reply. The waves crashed in the background, a steady syncopation accompanying a silence that gave him his answer. Tess and I said nothing but just looked at him and then at each other, realising without speaking that we were serious. “Well,” he said finally. “Who would have thunk it fifteen years ago? We were just kids then, weren’t we?” He shifted in his chair, uncomfortable with his role as arbiter in a struggle between his friends and an as yet anonymous foe. “ It was all such a lark back then. Everything was. We never played for keeps.” I realised suddenly that he had quietly been knocking back margeritas twice as fast as the rest of us, and that the calm steady voice of the lawyer masked a tiredness, perhaps the tiredness of upholding a perfect and unsullied life. “What do you want me to do?” he sighed at last. “Can you look into it?” I asked. “Can you see if there is a legal basis for a claim against MacKenzie’s heirs? You’ve got the Shareholder’s Agreement and we have Mary as a witness... even if it will be difficult to prove.” Dewey had a pained expression on his face. He looked over to his wife for guidance. Her words surprise him. “Why not, Dewey? What have you got to lose? At least this beats defending big corporations against product liability suits.” “Okay,” he said finally. “We should tell Stokely though. When is he coming back?” The Brains Trust had never really been disbanded, I thought to myself. There was still a leader of the band, and nothing would ever change that. Not even growing up. Tess spoke in a tone that only a sibling could produce. “Stokely’s in Asia until next week,” she said. Dewey grunted non-committedly. “Why don’t you do a little research before then? “she asked. “That way we’ll know whether it’s worth pursuing at all before we tell him.” This was unassailable feminine logic at its best. “Okay,” he said. “Monday. Monday I’ll look into it... Who knows?” he added. “Stranger things have happened.” Dewey suddenly raised his margerita and said with mock seriousness: “To victory over injustice, villains, and....” He left the sentence unfinished. “And what?” I asked. He reached forward, lightly tapping the glass five times on the table. “Best of luck to you all in this quixotic quest!” He tapped four times more. On the final tap he brought the glass down too hard, cracking it in the process. The snap code had been resurrected from the dead. “And UBI!” Tess broke in, still proficient at the code after all those years. I looked at the glass. The crack ran down from the crusty remains of the salt around the rim, stopping at the frontier of the heavy base. The opaque yellow liquid stayed in, peering out through a curved lens on the verge of bursting. “To victory over UBI!” I repeated, clicking first Tess’s and Elisabeth’s glasses, and then touching Dewey’s ever so gently. He didn’t notice the crack as he picked it up. “Careful,” I said. “Go softly.” “Yeah, softly.” Dewey drained the glass and slammed it down on the table. This time the crack didn’t hold and a triangular piece fell out, leaving behind a jagged edge which sliced the meaty base of his thumb. “Damn,” he said. “Damn.” He dabbed at the blood with a napkin. The triangular wedge of glass had falled inward to the bottom of the glass with its most acute angles pointing like an arrow at me. I bent down to pick it up, and the thought that went through my mind was that this was a bad omen, a false talisman pointing its bad luck in my direction. This thought followed me out to the kitchen, lodging itself in the pit of my stomach while I disposed of the glass. There it remained, a warning that went acknowledged but unheeded.

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