Bec Corelli was craving yellow but strangling in a tightening knot of orange. Candles behind the casket blurred into shimmering amber halos as the pastor started thanking someone else’s father in heaven ‘for Fabiano, what he meant to each of us…’
Bec tried escaping to the yellow squares in the stained glass, but her eyes were sucked back by the orange rectangle beside the cross.
She shook her head, her gaze settling on the cover of the service program in her lap. The face of Fabi Corelli – her actual father – smiling at her from in front of the Taj Mahal. The crossed legs, Panama hat, sandals, shorts below the knees, all oozed relaxation. Vitality. Life.
The photo had arrived by FedEx from India two weeks ago, along with a hand-knotted rug and small bronze elephant. Then six days ago, the snail-mail bombshell landed from a Dr. Peter Casmarenhas saying Fabiano had ‘passed’.
No cause of death, date, place, explanation. No address nor contact details for Dr. Casmarenhas. The only hint was the unusual font on the letterhead. Turned out to be a type of Hindi Sanskrit.
Bec used every investigative journalism technique known to humanity. Tapped sources at the State Department, harangued employees at the U.S. Embassy and American Citizens Services Unit in New Delhi.
Ran up an exorbitant phone bill calling doctors, hospitals, medical centers and registrars in the states, districts, towns, villages within a hundred miles of the Taj Mahal in a frenzied attempt to find out what happened to her father. Nothing.
The pastor droned on. Bec was drawn to the orange vortex in the stole draped round his neck, as he rambled through the motions. She was sure he and Fabi had never met.
‘… praise you today for your servant Fabiano and for all that you did through him. Meet us in our sadness…’
Bec had been against the memorial service but was overruled by her older siblings sitting beside her now in the front row of the church in their hometown of Greenville, North Carolina. They’d always outvoted her, never supported, or tried to understand.
After three days’ funeral leave, no sleep, Aristotle threatening red for the first time in a while, Bec had pleaded, then demanded her editor send her to India to investigate Fabi’s death. The condescending asshole not only refused; he laughed, leading to a stand-up argument in the newsroom and Bec telling him to go screw himself.
That was yesterday. Today, for her sins, she was being forced to listen to this puffed-up pastor glorifying ‘our father in heaven’ and ‘the gospel of our lord Jesus Christ according to Fabiano’.
Bec wiped away a tear that had fallen onto Fabi’s face in the photo. It reminded her of the family outing to Wrightsville Beach when she was seven. Her brother and sister had been throwing a frisbee, wanted Fabi to join in. He made some excuse about a sore leg. Really just wanted to sit beside Bec.
He’d wriggled his feet in the sand, encouraging her to do the same, and told her the phrase his father had passed on to him. Sand between the toes, away with the woes. Whispered in her ear like a pinky swear.
It was about the time she first realized she was different, started lying to the rest of the family and friends rather than admit how she felt.
Fabi knew, and always respected her silence, shielding her as much as a father could. Later, when her behavior and meltdowns and self-harming made it impossible to hide her condition, Fabi supported her. Whenever he’d hear someone say anything remotely judgmental about mental health, he’d speak up.
Through the sodden mist, Bec picked up the words ‘share memories’ as the silhouette of her brother floated towards the pastor, pausing to place a hand on the casket. The empty casket.
Heart thumping, shoulders starting to tremble, Bec forced herself to stop what she was thinking. She squeezed her eyes shut, concentrated on ten slow, deep breaths.
Thoughts are not facts. Thoughts are not facts. Thoughts are not facts.
It wasn’t working.
She stared down at Fabi’s picture, gripped by bones showing white through her knuckles.
What is the most sensible thing I can do right now to keep myself safe?
She took another deep breath.
Then stood up.
Her brother stopped mid-sentence, glared at her, but Bec’s eyes were hauled to the orange Asiatic lilies in the floral spray on top of the casket, taunting her like a tiger stalking its prey.
‘This is such bullshit.’
Intakes of breath, shocked gasps from behind. Her sister’s hand grabbing at her dress, trying to pull her back into her seat.
‘For Christ’s sake Rebecca, you’re making a scene.’
Bec shook off the hand, scowled at the pastor.
‘This is all a sham. I’ll have nothing to do with it.’
She stepped to the aisle and strode through the sea of shock, ignoring whispers of drama queen, attention-seeker, pausing only to give a one-fingered salute to a man with a scar across his face who had the gall to video her on his phone.
Mike Bullard was relieved he’d chosen an aisle seat, several rows back from the grieving family. He rose hesitantly and crept through the astonished silence towards the door, shoulders hunched, treading lightly, gripping his phone, fighting the urge to look at the screen.
The murmurs started as he reached the door and passed into the daylight.
Bec was standing with her back to him under a sugar maple, arms folded angrily, pushing with her feet at leaves scattered around her on the lawn.
Mike had a peep at his dashboard. The piece about the Jersey family terrorized by a hippo in Kenya had dropped out of the top ten. He pocketed the phone, walked over to her.
‘Holy shit Bec. That was dramatic even by your standards.’
She turned, and he saw the torment, exhaustion in her eyes.
‘Screw them Mike. All that father, son, holy bullshit. Not one of them has ever given a hang about Fabi.’
She folded into his open arms, sobbing against his chest.
Mike hated seeing his soulmate, the sister he never had, in so much pain.
‘Where’s Aristotle at, Bec?’
‘Orange. Deep fricken Donald Trump orange.’
Hardly surprising, Mike thought. Orange was high-risk of meltdown, only one notch below red on the color scale they’d come up with all those years ago to help Bec self-manage her borderline personality disorder. Down the scale from orange came yellow, which meant elevated risk. Then there was blue, for on guard, when her emotions were pretty much under control. Bec had long ago accepted the lowest risk category, green, was a pipedream. Unattainable.
They’d named the scale Aristotle. The Greek philosopher’s quote – no great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness – could have been written for Bec. The potential to be such a brilliant journalist, if only she could harness her inner turmoil.
‘So what are you going to do?’
He felt her inhale deeply then breathe out, warming his neck.
Her body went rigid.
‘I’m going to India. Find out what happened to Fabi. Find his body. Bring him home.’
‘Holy shit Bec. Don’t do anything by halves do you?’
She pulled back from the embrace.
‘Come with me.’
‘You know I can’t.’
‘We’re talking about Fabi. He was like your father too Mike.’
She turned away, kicking at a pile of leaves. Orange leaves.
‘That’s not fair Bec. You know I’ve just taken over the special issues desk. This could be the break I’ve been waiting my whole life for.’
‘I need you Mike. I can’t do this on my own.’
‘I can’t just up and leave Bec. I’m a father too remember. I’ve got responsibilities.’
‘Don’t bring that weekend daughter of yours into this, you asshole. All you’re worried about are your precious analytics and leaderboards and hashtags and the rest of that click-driven bullshit.’
Mike stood there, grasping for something meaningful to say, but knew he was on a lose-lose. The dime had flipped.
‘Well screw you too,’ she said.
Then turned, kicked more leaves, stormed off.
The outer door could be unlocked by only one person on earth standing six inches from a retina scanner set in the half-inch steel plate wall. The door snapped open, and Ernst Reiniger stepped from the lobby of his penthouse overlooking Times Square into a vestibule illuminated by a single LED spotlight aimed at the portrait of his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.
Founder of the pharmaceutical empire that could be less than a month from bankruptcy, if you believed that morning’s business section of the New York Times.
Reiniger nodded grimly at the face of Wilhelm I, caressed the silver signet ring on the little finger of his left hand, placed his right hand onto the biometric scanner to unlock the inner door, then stepped into Die Stube, the name he’d given his inner sanctum. The wood-paneled wall to his right was lined with portraits of the chief executives who preceded him.
From Wilhelm II who succeeded the founder in Germany in 1770, to the late Wilhelm IX, whose reckless obsession with the drug Reinox now threatened to bring the company to its knees. If you believed the Times.
Die Stube contained just four items of furniture. Two black leather swivel chairs, a desk with highly customized control panel, and an eighty-square-feet multi-monitor video wall that allowed Reiniger to view up to ninety-six sub windows at a time, all in high definition.
Live feeds would come from services filtering news from social and mainstream media and the stock market, from webcams in buildings and on street corners in fourteen countries, from hidden cameras, tracking and listening devices concealed in the offices and living rooms, mobile phones and cars, cafeterias and kitchens, boardrooms and bedrooms of officials from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the head of his legal team, his stockbroker, executives of rival pharmaceutical companies. Among others.
As well as the next-of-kins of the twenty-four.
Reiniger sat at the desk and tapped the button for Ormond Von Eschen. His son-in-law’s face appeared on the giant screen.
Reiniger had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. Worked for two years to find another solution.
He had no choice.
‘Do it,’ he said.
Von Eschen nodded.
Reiniger turned off the screen and selected Rinaldo, one of his favorite Handel operas. He turned up the volume and leaned back in the chair, allowing the beguiling notes of the overture to percolate the room.
Jedes problem hat eine lösung. Every problem has a solution.
He was ready.
Ready to make the New York Times and other doubters eat their words. Ready for redemption.