Human Phoenix
Chapter 12

Copyright© 2012 by Refusenik

Friday, March 9, 2007

Scott arrived early at Mr. Piotrowski's. His suitcase was already at the house, packed and ready to go. Mr. Piotrowski was dressed and ready, standing with a cup of coffee in his hand.

"A little eager are we?"

"Very!" replied Scott.

"You might as well relax and have a good breakfast."

Scott moved toward the refrigerator, "How does scrambled eggs and toast sound?"

"Just toast for me, please."

Jobe bumped his leg as he passed through the kitchen headed toward his doggie door.

"What about Jobe?" he asked, suddenly worried that he'd forgotten all about the dog.

"Already taken care of. Jorge Delgado is going to come by to make sure Jobe has fresh food and water."

After a quick breakfast Scott dragged both of their suitcases down to the porch. He took a look around and made sure that the house was secure. He rubbed Jobe's ears and told him to be a good boy for Mr. Delgado.

"Got your photo ID?" asked Mr. Piotrowski.

"Yes, sir," Scott replied as he patted his wallet.

"Good. I've got the tickets, and our itinerary, plus my authorization to act as your guardian while we're out of state," Mr. Piotrowski said as he pulled the paperwork partway from his pocket. "How are you fixed for cash?"

"I've got a little, and my debit card."

Mr. Piotrowski handed him a small wad of bills, "Here, put this in your front pocket."

"Mr. Piotrowski," Scott grumbled.

"You need spending money. If you keep it in your front pocket then you'll still have something if you get your pocket picked."

Scott felt his wallet, "Do you really think that could happen?"

"You never know in crowded places. Better safe, than sorry." Mr. Piotrowski handed him a set of keys with a fob, "These are my spare set. Why don't we hit the road?"

Scott put the bags in the back seat, and climbed into the truck. He let the big diesel warm up. Jobe sat on the rear steps watching them. The big dog yawned, and decided something on his paw needed licking.

"Chicago, here we come," Mr. Piotrowski said as Scott backed the truck out of the driveway.

They arrived at the Midland airport a few minutes before eight. Scott slung both bags over his shoulder and walked around to Mr. Piotrowski's side of the truck.

"You don't have your pocketknife do you?" he asked Mr. Piotrowski.

Mr. Piotrowski turned back around and dug his pocketknife out.

"It's not like I'm going to highjack an airliner with my pocketknife."

"You and I know that, but the security people will take it away from you anyway," he chided the older man.

He went to give the keys back to Mr. Piotrowski.

"Keep them. You might as well put your house key on it too."

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"No arguing. Let's go see if they remembered to put the wings on our airplane."

They checked their luggage and went through security. Scott noticed that Mr. Piotrowski was walking a little slower than usual.

"Is your leg bothering you?"

"Scotty, at my age a lot of things bother me," he said as they arrived at their gate.

The flight would leave on time the gate agent informed them. They found seats by the big windows in the waiting area, and sat down. Scott looked out at the airplanes on the tarmac.

"Do you feel up to this trip?" he asked, concerned about his friend.

"I'm still buying green bananas," Mr. Piotrowski replied.

Green bananas? Scott laughed to himself when he figured it out.

"I have to take it easy when I can, and I get tired faster than I used to," Mr. Piotrowski explained.

"Maybe you should see your doctor when we get back?"

"I'm not the biggest fan of the medical profession," he groused.

"Mr. Piotrowski, if I have to get yearly checkups then there's no reason you can't."

"We'll see."

It wasn't long before the flight crew arrived and boarded the plane. After about fifteen minutes the gate attendant announced general boarding. From a quick glance around it looked like there were only about twenty people on this flight. Scott found their row, and let Mr. Piotrowski take the window seat. He listened intently as the stewardess gave the safety instructions. His sense of excitement increased as the plane taxied to the active runway for takeoff. Scott looked at Mr. Piotrowski with a grin that lit up his face as the thrust from takeoff pushed them back into their seats.

"Enjoying your first airplane trip so far?" asked Mr. Piotrowski.

"I've flown before."

"Really?"

"It was a long time ago," he explained.

'Hmmmm, ' was Mr. Piotrowski's only comment.

The first leg of their trip was a one hour hop to the Dallas - Fort Worth airport. Scott waited until he saw one of the friendlier looking stewardesses standing near the rear restroom before he excused himself.

"Going to the bathroom," he explained to Mr. Piotrowski.

"Don't get lost."

He used the sink in the small bathroom to wash his face and hands. He exited and almost bumped into the stewardess.

"Having a good flight?" she asked perfunctorily.

"Yes, can I ask you a question?"

She looked at him, "Certainly."

"Do you know how people get one of those electric carts between gates at the airport?"

"Oh," she paused. "Do you think your grandfather needs one?"

He didn't bother to correct her, "His leg is bothering him, but he's too stubborn to complain."

She nodded sympathetically, "I know how that is. What's your connecting flight?"

He gave her the flight number and gate.

"I can take care of that for you. Don't worry about a thing. We won't even have to mention it to your grandfather. The cart will be waiting when you disembark."

"How can you arrange that?"

She leaned in and whispered, "We have a network that lets us communicate with the airline, and our supervisors. I'll call ahead and arrange everything."

"Thank you."

"You're so welcome."

He made his way back to his seat.

"Get lost?" asked Mr. Piotrowski.

"Took a wrong turn," he explained.

They landed at the much larger DFW airport and taxied to the gate. The stewardess gave Scott a subtle thumbs-up as they exited the plane. When they emerged from the connecting tunnel there was a cart waiting for them.

"Mr. Piotrowski?" asked the gate attendant.

"Yes?"

"Sir, we have a cart here to take you to the next gate. If you'd like to take a seat?" she directed him toward the front of the cart.

"Now isn't that nice?" Mr. Piotrowski said in wonder. "This is real first class service by the airline."

"It's our pleasure, sir," said the older black man who was their driver. "Now hang on, we'll have to make our way through this crowd."

Scott climbed on to the rear seat and they were off. The driver beeped the cart's horn to help them get through the crowd. There were an amazing number of people in a hurry to get to their destinations. He enjoyed people watching as the cart sped away. There were families with worried parents trying to keep track of their children, and harried business people who pushed their way through the crowds. Weary travelers of every imaginable description shuffled here and there. Groups of uniformed flight crews ambled along sharing laughs about things he couldn't begin to guess at.

He wondered what it would be like to travel to far flung places. With a start he realized that for this weekend at least, he was one of those people. They arrived at their gate and thanked the cart driver. The wait for their next flight was short. The gate agent called for early boarding.

"Come on Mr. Piotrowski, that's us."

"I'm not pregnant," he grumbled.

"No, but you are a senior citizen. Besides, this way you won't have to stand in line waiting to board."

"Oh, alright."

This time Scott sat by the window. Their jet was third in line on the taxiway. He watched a massive Boeing 747 speed down the runway and lift off into the air. Mr. Piotrowski was flipping through one of the magazines from the seatback in front of him.

"What are we going to do after we arrive in Chicago?" Scott asked.

Mr. Piotrowski looked up, "We'll have to check into the hotel. After that it's all free time. The major thing is to figure out where we want to have dinner. I'm supposed to call and check in with the museum folks to let them know we've arrived safely. We can do some touristy type stuff if we want. In the morning I suppose it's up to us. The big reception isn't until early evening, and Doctor Yoshida wants to take us to late dinner after the museum function."

Scott perked up at the mention of Doctor Yoshida, "I wondered if we'd get to see him again."

"You just want to see his pretty assistant," teased Mr. Piotrowski. "What was her name again?"

"Makepeace, Lauren Makepeace," Scott said. "She was nice."

"I noticed," Mr. Piotrowski said slyly as their plane took its position on the runway.

The seatbelt sign finally went out when their plane leveled off at its cruising altitude. I wonder how far up we are, he thought to himself. Thirty-two thousand feet at five hundred and eighteen miles per hour flashed through his mind, and a new map popped up in his mind's eye.

He gulped and looked around nervously. He shouldn't be able to know this information, but the flight map was pretty cool. He examined it closely before quietly telling it to go away.

"Got anything good to read over there?" asked Mr. Piotrowski.

"Let me check," Scott replied as he dug through the seatback.

When they landed at Chicago's O'Hare airport, there was another cart waiting for them. It took them to the baggage claim area. They got there before any of the other passengers did. Scott was amazed at how quickly the baggage from their flight started spilling out onto the carousel. He spied their two bags and grabbed them.

"Good eye," Mr. Piotrowski complimented him.

"What do we do now?" he asked.

"There's supposed to be a car for us. Let's go find it."

As they exited the baggage claim area Mr. Piotrowski spotted a man holding a sign with 'Piotrowski' printed on it in big letters. He raised his hand and caught the man's eye. "They even spelled it right," he commented.

"Mr. Piotrowski?" the man asked.

"That's me, Alex Piotrowski."

"Right this way, sir. Is that all of your luggage?" the driver asked.

"It is."

Their first impression of Chicago was how much colder it was than back home. Fortunately, it was a short walk to a nice, black Lincoln Town Car. The driver popped the trunk and took the bags from Scott.

"Do you work for the museum or the hotel?" asked Mr. Piotrowski.

"I'm a hired driver for the museum," the man explained.

The roads around the airport were clogged with traffic, but they eventually made it out of the airport property. The ride into town was an interesting experience. The driver pointed out some of the highlights including the impressive Sears Tower. The tall buildings were a sight, but Scott really marveled at the four and five lanes of traffic that they encountered. Four lanes for just one direction!

At one point the wide road went completely underground. Scott looked around in confusion, but they quickly reemerged into the sunlight. The buildings were getting taller the closer they got to their destination. They were in a canyon of 20 story buildings.

"There's the hotel," the driver said as they sat at a stoplight underneath an elevated railway.

"Where?" Scott asked in confusion. He had been looking up at what he knew was Chicago's famous 'L' transit system.

"Right there," the driver pointed at a large building just ahead on the right. "It looks like two buildings from here, but that's the Congress Plaza Hotel right in front of us."

"It's huge," Scott exclaimed.

"It certainly is. The Congress has almost eight hundred rooms. I'm certain you'll enjoy your stay."

The Town Car pulled right in front of the hotel entrance on Michigan Avenue. Scott was so busy looking at the sights that Mr. Piotrowski had to bump his arm.

"We're here," he said.

Inside the richly appointed lobby, Scott and Mr. Piotrowski looked around curiously. The large room was filled with marble and had a gold decorated ceiling.

"Checking in?" asked the friendly looking woman at the front desk.

"Yes, my name is Alex Piotrowski. I believe you have a suite for us?" he asked as he showed the woman his identification.

"Of course, Mr. Piotrowski. We have your party in a lovely suite with a lakeside view. If you'll just sign here, and here," she indicated toward a document on the countertop. "How many key cards will you need?"

"I think we better have two."

"The Field Museum Foundation is taking care of your bill. Please sign with your room number for anything here in the hotel ... and we have a message for you," she said as she passed him an envelope.

Mr. Piotrowski opened it and read through it quickly, "It's a copy of our itinerary, and a reminder to call when we get settled in."

The clerk behind the desk pointed toward a man walking toward them, "George will take you up to the suite, please have a pleasant stay."

George insisted on taking the luggage from Scott, and escorted them to an elevator. The man smiled as Scott's head kept swiveling back and forth trying to take it all in.

"First time with us?" he asked.

"Yes, this is a fantastic place."

They rode the elevator up several floors and walked to their suite. Mr. Piotrowski watched carefully as George used the keycard to open the door.

"I've never used one of those cards," he said.

George showed him how easy it was to use, "Just don't forget to take one with you when you leave the room."

The suite had a sitting area with bedrooms on opposite sides, each with their own door and bathroom. They thanked George, and were left on their own.

"Scott, come take a look at this."

Scott walked over and was transfixed by the view. "It's so much bigger than I thought it would be," he said softly.

"I suppose that's why they call them great lakes," Mr. Piotrowski commented. "I'm going to call the museum, and let them know that we got in okay."

Scott stayed by the window and looked out over Lake Michigan. For a brief moment he wondered what his friends were doing back in Pecos County. Mr. Piotrowski was speaking with somebody on the phone; reassuring them that their flight had been fine, and that the hotel room was nice. Scott walked to the desk and found a map that he took back to the window. He was examining it when Mr. Piotrowski got off of the phone.

"Are we lost again?" he asked.

Scott smiled at the old joke. "We're in a really good location. The museum is to our south by about eight blocks," he pointed toward where the museum should be. "Up to our north is Navy Pier, and about a mile behind us is Sears Tower."

"Our welcome packet has tickets for the observation deck at the tower. How about we get a quick lunch, and then go take a look at it?"

On their way to the hotel restaurant they stopped at the gift shop and paid too much for a couple of jackets. They had some quick sandwiches, and caught a cab the front desk called for them. A lot of other people must have had the same idea, because the elevators to the observation deck were crowded.

"Are you afraid of heights?" asked Mr. Piotrowski.

"I don't think so," he replied. "I guess we'll find out."

The elevator took off with a lurch. It only took about a minute to reach the 103rd floor. They had to swallow to adjust the pressure in their ears, the change in altitude was that rapid. The view from the observation deck was spectacular. It was a beautiful day in Chicago, and they had a clear view all around.

"There's the hotel," he pointed out to Mr. Piotrowski. "And look, there's the museum. It's a lot bigger than I thought it was."

"What's that other building near it?" asked Mr. Piotrowski.

"That's the aquarium, and out closer to the water I think the building with the dome is the planetarium. You can even see the edge of Soldier Field. It's partially hidden by those buildings."

They worked their way around the windows.

"This city just stretches out forever ... all those people," Scott said more to himself than anything.

"Seen enough?" asked Mr. Piotrowski.

Scott could probably have spent the entire afternoon looking at the city, but he agreed it was time to go. They returned to the hotel, and Mr. Piotrowski quickly fell asleep in a chair while watching the television. Scott stood at the window for a long time watching traffic go by. He decided that he should go and explore the hotel. He left a note for Mr. Piotrowski, and took his card key with him.

The hotel had a decent workout room with several different machines. He was pleased to see that it was open at all hours so he could get an early morning workout in. He curiously followed the noise of some game machines, and found a couple of boys near his age playing a video arcade game.

"Wanna play?" asked one of the boys.

"I'm not any good."

"That's okay, I'm not any better. I'm Wade, and this is my brother, Boyd."

Scott introduced himself, and put a couple of quarters in the machine. They played for a while, but it got old quickly.

The brothers were from Baltimore, and their dad had been recently transferred to Chicago. They were waiting for their house to be 'opened up' so they could move in. They hated the hotel.

"It's so boring," groaned Boyd. "There's no pool, and they only have these stupid arcade games."

"How come you're not in school?" Scott asked.

"We have a tutor instead. Dad says we'll start going to a private school next year," Wade explained.

"What's that like?" he wondered.

"It's not bad. So, where are you from?" the boy asked.

"Texas," Scott answered.

"Cool, do you have a cowboy hat?" asked Boyd.

"No, but I know a few people who wear them."

The boys were disappointed, and they parted ways shortly after. Scott made his way back to the room. Mr. Piotrowski was awake and looked refreshed.

"Find anything interesting?" he asked.

"They've got a decent workout room that's open twenty-four hours a day. Other than that, there's not a lot to do in the hotel. I did find a bunch of brochures about different sights to see, but I don't think we're going to have time to see them."

"Well I have some news, some people from the museum are going to come by tomorrow and take you out sightseeing," Mr. Piotrowski said.

"Just me? What about you?"

"That museum shindig is going to be long. You're young and indestructible. I plan to take it easy, and stay off of my feet."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'll read the paper and watch television. Don't worry about me. We'll be plenty busy tomorrow night."

Scott decided then that no matter what Mr. Piotrowski said, when they got back home he was going to see a doctor.

They decided to play it safe and ate dinner in the hotel's restaurant. They retired early.

At 5:30 a.m. Scott was up and hit the hotel gym. He had the place to himself thanks to his early morning start. Taking advantage of the equipment he did a vigorous session of circuit training. The hard work out helped center him, and he felt relaxed when he got back to the room.

Mr. Piotrowski was awake, and had the coffee maker in the room brewing. "Breakfast after your shower?" he asked taking a sip of his precious caffeinated beverage.

"Sure, won't be long," Scott replied.

Downstairs in the restaurant they looked over the breakfast menu.

"What's a continental breakfast?" asked Scott.

"Usually it's breads like pastries, toast, that kind of thing. You're probably better off eating a hearty meal with our schedule today."

Scott ordered banana pancakes, and they came with a light dusting of powdered sugar which he found odd. Was syrup not sugary enough? He finished breakfast and excused himself to get a paper for Mr. Piotrowski. At the little gift shop inside the hotel he bought two papers, and a few magazines.

Mr. Piotrowski was sipping another cup of coffee when he returned.

"Look at the size of these papers. Chicago is so big that they need two."

The older man looked at the papers and magazines that Scott had selected, "Good thinking. You didn't spend too much money did you?"

"No, and I've got plenty," he patted his front pocket for emphasis.

"Well I'm heading back up to the room. Your tour guide won't be here till nine so you've got time to explore if you want."

Scott decided to follow Mr. Piotrowski up to the suite. He read the papers, and then went for a walk. Shortly before nine he stopped by the room.

"What time should I be back by?" he asked.

Mr. Piotrowski looked thoughtful and replied, "I'd say no later than four? Now go have fun, that's an order." He was smiling as he said it.

Scott went down to the lobby, and found a chair with a good view of the front doors. Mr. Piotrowski had said that he would recognize his guide so he shouldn't have been surprised when a hand swatted him on the shoulder.

He turned around and then stood up, "Lauren, where did you come from?"

"My god, you've grown a couple of inches since the summer," exclaimed Doctor Yoshida's assistant, Lauren Makepeace. "How tall are you now?"

Scott looked her in the eye, "I don't know. How tall are you? Hey, you're a blonde now."

"Five foot, seven," she said with a shake of her hair. "Like it?"

"Sure," Scott mumbled. He felt slightly tongue tied.

"You're right. He is cute," said the slim, dark haired girl next to Lauren.

He blushed.

"Scott, meet my roommate, Donna. We both work at the museum ... wow," she said as she felt his arm, "It feels like you've put on twenty pounds of muscle to boot. They must be feeding you good back in Texas."

"Hi," Scott said shyly as he held his hand out to the other girl. They were both attractive young women dressed casually for a day out on the town.

She took his hand, and looked him over closely, "How come you don't speak like a cowboy?"

"I take English at school. I'm fluent even."

"Ha!" Lauren said. "You two will get along famously. Donna is known for her wicked wit. We're going to Navy Pier. It's such a nice day that I thought we'd walk. Where's Mr. Piotrowski?"

Scott pointed up, "He's staying in the suite. His leg has been bothering him so he's going to take it easy before the big event. Did you park out back?"

"No, we took the 'L' from our apartment. The Van Buren Street stop is just behind the hotel," explained Donna.

He had wanted to get a good look at the elevated train system, but doubted there would be time. Maybe he could make another trip to Chicago some day.

They left the hotel through the main door, and walked toward the lake front. They passed a big fountain, and were soon right at the water's edge. He stared out at the enormous lake, enjoying the sounds of the lapping water.

"First time seeing water?" asked Donna.

"Not a lot of it in West Texas," he replied.

"Ah," she replied. "The Chihuahuan Desert." She launched into quick summary of the geological features of the desert region.

"She's a paleontology doctoral candidate," Lauren explained. "Their degree path runs through the geology department. Mention something about rocks and we'll lose her for a good half hour."

"I'm not that bad," Donna complained.

"Are too," replied Lauren.

"So, English speaking cowboy. Do you ride a horse to school?" Donna asked.

Scott looked at her, "Not to school, no. I do ride a motorcycle sometimes, but mostly I take the bus."

"You have a motorcycle license?" asked Lauren. She held her hand out demanding to see proof. Scott handed her his billfold so she could see.

"So you do ride horses?" persisted Donna.

"I live on a ranch that has horses. So, I ride every now and then."

"Do your parents have an oil rig on the back forty to pay for the horses?" Donna wanted to know.

"I can't believe you're only fifteen," interrupted Lauren handing his wallet back.

"It's a boys ranch, and no, no oil wells."

"Fifteen," Donna mused aloud. "That makes you a freshman? Goodness, you're going to be trouble. What's a boys ranch anyway?"

"It's code for orphanage out in the country," he explained.

"Oh god, I'm sorry," apologized Donna.

"Why, were you going to adopt me?" he asked with a grin.

Donna's mouth dropped open.

"I think he got you," crowed Lauren. Donna just shook her head.

"Foster kid humor. It can be a little rough," explained Scott. "So, you're going to be a paleontologist?"

"Yeah, I'm a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago," she answered, grateful for a change of topics.

"What was your undergraduate degree in?" he asked.

She explained that she'd gotten double degrees in biology and geology, "It's a lot of schooling; add another two years to finish your masters after your undergraduate years, and three, or maybe four more years to finish the doctoral degree."

He was impressed, "And you did that all here in Chicago?"

"Oh no, I was an undergrad at Stanford," she said.

"In California? What about you Lauren?"

"Asian languages and art history at Vassar in New York," she offered.

"Neither one of those schools are cheap," he said.

The girls chuckled in agreement. They were approaching a bridge that passed over the start of a branch of the Chicago River. There was a pedestrian walkway under the bridge.

"So are you thinking about colleges? It's a little early for your freshman year," Lauren said.

Their voices were echoing under the steel bridge, mixed in with the noises of traffic and the water.

"I took the SAT last month. It's something I've thought a little about."

"You mean the practice SAT?" asked Donna.

"No the full SAT."

"What did you get?" asked Lauren.

Scott mumbled, "twenty-three ninety."

"Say that again?" asked Lauren with a big smile as they emerged from under the bridge on the other side of the river.

"A twenty-three ninety," Scott said.

"Ah ha!" Lauren said. "Good looking and smart too. You're right Donna; he is going to be dangerous."

Donna put her arm through Scott's and asked, "So, got a girlfriend?"

Scott tried not to turn neon red. "No, I don't have a girlfriend," he stammered.

"Been on any dates?" asked Lauren taking his other arm.

He cleared his throat, "I had a date for homecoming, and I got asked to a dance recently."

"But no girlfriend?" Lauren said with a lilt in her voice.

The girls were tag teaming him, and enjoying his discomfort.

"No, I live about thirty minutes outside of town. That limits my social opportunities. Besides, I stay pretty focused on school work, and my job."

Donna licked her lips, "Hmmm, if your social opportunities don't change look me up in a couple of years."

"Down girl," Lauren said.

They had arrived at the pier. The threesome spent the next couple of hours browsing the shops, and seeing the attractions. For lunch the girls convinced Scott to try a big slice of Chicago style, deep dish pizza. It was good, but sat heavily in his stomach. Of course they had what he would normally have eaten, a salad. They hit a few more shops looking for a Chicago souvenir.

"Why not get this Jake and Elwood Blues poster? It's a classic," suggested Donna standing in front of a black and white poster featuring two strange men wearing fedoras.

"Who are they?" he asked.

"How can you not know who the Blues Brothers are? Haven't you seen the movie? I think this is the problem with the younger generation, no appreciation for the classics," teased Lauren.

'Tsk, tsk, ' Donna joined in. "It's the education system these days. They don't cover the fundamentals."

"It's a movie I'm supposed to have seen?" he asked.

"Yes, in fact I'm giving it to you as an assignment. I'll give you my email address, and I want a full report after you've seen it," Lauren insisted.

"Yes, ma'am," he replied.

"Come on," she tugged on his arm. "Let's go ride the Ferris wheel."

The three of them had a gondola to themselves and enjoyed the spectacular view. It was a beautiful day and the March weather was crisp and clear.

"You know, I've lived here for three years and this is the first time I've been up in this thing," remarked Lauren.

"I know what you mean," replied Donna. "There are so many great things to do here, but we get wrapped up in school and work."

She patted Scott on the knee, "It's too bad you won't be here for Taste of Chicago. It's a wonderful summer street fair with great food from all of the best Chicago eateries."

They strolled easily back to the front of the Navy Pier where there was a line of taxis waiting.

Scott looked at his watch. "Are you guys going to be at this museum function tonight?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Donna. She took his hand and spun him around, "Too bad there won't be any dancing."

"Why don't I spring for a taxi back to the hotel?" he offered.

Lauren looked at the time, "That's a good idea. Can you afford it?"

"How much can it be? Don't worry, I've got cash."

The group climbed into a taxi, and Scott told the driver their destination. It was a quick trip back to the hotel where Scott paid the driver. Scott walked the girls through the lobby, and out to the steps up to the 'L' station nearby.

"Thanks for playing tour guide this afternoon. I had a really good time," he said.

"You're welcome," replied Lauren. "We've got to go pretty ourselves up for the big do. Don't forget us little people when you're hanging out with the museum big wigs tonight."

"I don't think that's going to be an issue," Scott replied.

The girls waved goodbye. Scott returned to the hotel, and rode the elevator up to the suite. He unlocked the door, and found a relaxed looking Mr. Piotrowski in the sitting area reading a book.

He looked up, "Have a good time?"

"Yes, it was fun. We walked along the water front all the way over. At the pier they've got one of those giant IMAX theaters, and tons of arcades. I think we went into every little shop they had. I had a big piece of deep dish pizza. We also rode on a large Ferris wheel. It was nice. I paid for a taxi on the way back. Apparently the girls need a lot of extra time to get ready for this event."

"Girls, plural?"

"Oh yeah. You remember Doctor Yoshida's assistant, Lauren? She brought her roommate. She's going to be a paleontologist. How cool is that?"

"Sounds exciting."

"How about you? Did you get to rest?" Scott wanted to know.

"I had a nice, quiet time. Read all the papers and magazines, and got our clothing for tonight pressed. Yours is hanging in your room by the way. I took a walk, and spent a little time in the lounge downstairs. They made me a real tasty roast beef sandwich. Which reminds me, do you need to eat? We're not going out for dinner until after this thing at the museum."

"I'm good. The pizza filled me up."

"Why don't you rest a bit? The car will be here for us at a quarter till six," Mr. Piotrowski suggested.

Scott put his bag of goodies from the pier on the table in his room, and stretched out on the bed. He closed his eyes and took a nap. He woke with a start, and quickly moved to the shower. His clothes, as promised, were hanging nearby. Mrs. Delgado had selected dark grey slacks, a white shirt, black blazer, and a bright light blue tie. He dressed and tied his tie. Winding his Omega Speedmaster, he saw himself in the mirror. I'm a long way from Texas, he thought.

He walked out into the sitting area, and saw Mr. Piotrowski adjusting his tie.

"Where did you get that?" he asked.

"Had it shipped up from Meritt's Corner," Mr. Piotrowski explained as he adjusted the slate grey Stetson on his head. It was a handsome fur felt cowboy hat with a tasteful black hat band set off by silver conchos. "Sometimes we have to play the part. Keep these northerners on their toes," Mr. Piotrowski said with a pronounced drawl.

"Doctor Yoshida has already heard you speak. I don't think you'll get away with the accent."

"I wish I had brought along my string tie," Mr. Piotrowski complained.

"Sir, you look sharp. I'd say the hat adds just enough panache for the occasion."

"Panache, huh? That's a good word. Let's go find our ride, and show these museum folks what a couple of fine Texas gentleman we are."

Scott was happy to see Mr. Piotrowski in such a good mood. They made their way downstairs, and immediately spotted their driver from the airport. He complimented Mr. Piotrowski on the hat, and escorted them to the car.

It was a quick trip to the museum. As they made their way to the impressive front entrance, there was a long line of cars and limos waiting.

"We could get out and walk," observed Mr. Piotrowski.

"It will just be a minute. Besides this is curb to curb service, sir."

In short order it was their turn. An attendant opened Mr. Piotrowski's door. "Enjoy your evening at the museum," the driver said. "I'll be picking you up Sunday morning to go back to the airport."

They thanked the driver, and exited the back seat of the Lincoln.

"May I have your tickets please?" asked a pleasant young woman.

"They're supposed to be waiting for us," replied Mr. Piotrowski.

"Your names, please?"

"Piotrowski and guest."

"Of course. Would you come this way?" the young lady pointed toward a side door.

"Mr. Piotrowski and guest," she said to a woman Scott assumed was her supervisor.

"Welcome to the Field Museum. If you would follow me, please?"

She led them past throngs of elegantly dressed party goers, until Scott saw Doctor Yoshida.

"Ah, the man of the hour," the doctor cried when he spotted Mr. Piotrowski.

Doctor Yoshida turned to the small group gathered around him and said, "I have the great pleasure of introducing Aleksander Piotrowski of Texas, who is responsible for our fabulous new addition, and his aide, young Scott MacIntyre. Although at the rate he's growing I'm not sure how much longer we can call him young."

There was appreciative laughter at Scott and Mr. Piotrowski's discomfort at being in the spotlight.

"Welcome to the Field Museum my friends," Doctor Yoshida said as he shook their hands. "These people are museum trustees, and some of our biggest donors," he said in a quieter voice.

"We call them whales," Lauren Makepeace whispered in his ear. She had snuck up on him again.

He turned to look at her. Her eyes sparkled, and she was wearing a simple black dress. Scott thought looked better than all of the fancy gowns he had seen. Her hair was fixed elegantly, and she had a delicate gold necklace around her neck. She looked good and she knew it.

"You look very nice," he said.

"Thank you. A lady always appreciates a compliment," she said as she reached to adjust his tie. "You look very handsome tonight, but how come you're not wearing a cowboy hat like your boss?"

"I don't think I can pull it off like he does. What did you mean by 'whales' anyway?" Scott asked.

"The term comes from Las Vegas, I think. It means high rollers. They're people with lots of money and the museum likes to keep them happy. We better hurry. I think Doctor Yoshida is moving toward the exhibit area."

"Where's your partner in crime?"

"Donna? She's with the paleo group. They're trying to land their own whales at this event. There are different types of big money donors. There are the artsy types like we're after, and the big dig, dinosaur lovers that her group is after. We'll see her later on."

They hurried to catch up with the group.

The collection of donors with Doctor Yoshida had joined with a group of Japanese men and women. Lauren explained that they were from the Japanese Consulate. Doctor Yoshida introduced Mr. Piotrowski to the Consul General of Japan at Chicago. The two men shook hands. The combined group continued on until Doctor Yoshida stopped at the entrance to a small exhibit hall. He looked around and spotted Lauren. The doctor gestured for her to join him. Scott walked over to stand with Mr. Piotrowski.

"Consul General, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman, on behalf of the Field Museum I'm proud to give you a first look at the largest collection of Japanese netsuke in the western world."

Lauren flipped a switch and lit the room. The crowd filed in and spread out.

Doctor Yoshida motioned for Scott to join him. He pointed to a length of cloth on the wall covering something, "Help Lauren take that down when I tell you."

Scott went to one end of the cloth, and Lauren went to the other. The small crowd gathered around. Doctor Yoshida nodded, and they pulled the cloth away revealing a long brass plaque. It read, 'The Aleksander and Verna Piotrowski Collection.'

The crowd clapped politely.

Scott saw that Mr. Piotrowski was looking a little misty eyed when he returned to his side, "Are you alright?"

"Verna hated these things you know."

"I bet she'd change her mind if she could see them now," he suggested.

Mr. Piotrowski laughed quietly, "I don't know. She could be pretty stubborn. I know she would have liked the party at least. Let's go see what these good folks have done."

The display cases were brightly lit. Netsuke are small which makes showing them at their best somewhat difficult. The museum had solved this with a series of enlarged high resolution photo displays, and multiple ingenious video screens. A couple of screens showed live macro shots of netsuke rotating on a platform, while other screens ran through a collage picturing the netsuke from different angles. There was a voiceover narration, and Scott recognized the speaker.

"That's you," he exclaimed when he saw Lauren watching him.

"You wouldn't believe how many takes it took to get right."

"You're famous," he replied

"My name isn't on the wall," she replied. "Come take a look at the rest of the exhibit." She held his arm as she explained, "Mr. Piotrowski's collection increased our holdings by a good quarter which means we've got some very nice examples you haven't seen."

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