The Cuckoo's Progeny
10: Distressing News

Copyright© 2016 Vincent Berg. All rights reserved.

Al woke as Betty slid away, getting off the bed.

“Morning, Be. Wouldn’t you prefer some additional cuddling?”

She twisted around, covering herself with a pillow, backing towards the window.

“Is something wrong?”

After they’d fallen asleep, Al awoke in the dead of night and things had ... progressed. But as they went to bed, everything was fine. Be said she considered it a beautiful experience, and she was glad it had finally happened, but now ... everything was completely different.

“Look,” she said, edging around the mattress, bending to grab her pajamas. “Last night was wonderful. I’ll treasure it for the rest of my life, but I still have issues about the two of us. I ... I need to process what this all means. I...”

The chirping of crickets interrupted their conversation. “Hold on,” Al said, holding up one finger as he fumbled for his phone, “this might be Eli and Zita. We need to know if they’re not joining us. We’ll continue this discussion in a minute.” She took the opportunity to rush into the bathroom.

“Al here.”

“Good morning, Mr. Collins. This is Philippe Moritz again.”

Al sighed, not pleased to cover the same terrain again. “I’m sorry, but I have nothing to add to my previous comments.”

“Hold on, I suspect you’ll want to listen to this.” As he typically did, Philippe took a deep breath before continuing. “Are you still in Greenville?”

Al sat up, instantly awake. “How the hell do you know where I’m at?”

Philippe chuckled. “After I published the follow-up to yesterday’s article, I did a Google search on my name. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of interest. Out of curiosity, I searched yours to see if the story was being discussed on social media without reference to the paper. Imagine my surprise when I discovered hundreds of posts about you saving dozens of people.”

“It was hardly dozens. No one was injured and I just—”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ve already heard about it. But getting back to my story, I called up the Greenville Gazette, asking about their reporting of the event. They connected me to Peter Maleveck, who wrote a major piece about you, but ... it’s not entirely positive.”

Al lay on the bed, closing and covering his eyes. “Could you expand on that? What exactly did he report?”

“I think you need to read it yourself, I hate spoiling the effect. I’ll call back in fifteen minutes to get your take on it. Oh, and expect a call from Mr. Maleveck. I suspect you’ll want to ... clarify a few things, if you can.”

Betty exited the bathroom in her pajamas as he hung up, hurriedly digging through her bag looking for something to change into.

“Be, we need to discuss this, but something came up. Seems I’m being blamed for saving lives. I have to run downstairs to read the paper. I’ll be back in a couple minutes. I don’t want to—”

“Don’t worry,” she assured him. “I’m in no hurry to discuss things just yet. Take your time. Deal with what you need to. We’ll work out our issues in due time.”

“Thanks, Be.” He struggled into his clothes. “I hate postponing this, but I’ve got to deal with it before it blows up in our faces.” He hobbled to the door, trying to wiggle into his shoes as he buttoned his shirt and rushed out the door.


Al picked up a complimentary copy of the day’s Greenville Gazette at the front desk. Wanting privacy, he headed back to the elevator, where he met Gary and Delilah exiting as he prepared to enter.

“Whoa, hold on,” Gary said, pushing him back into the hotel lobby. “You make it difficult for your security to protect you when you don’t wait around for us to cover you.”

“In that case, let’s head back up to our room where we can discuss this,” Al said, waving the paper.

“That’s a sensible suggestion,” Delilah said, “but Be called, saying we should meet in the lobby. Seems she’s eager to get started.” She paused, glancing around the room. “Have you heard from our newest members?”

“They haven’t called yet. I was hoping to contact them, but before I could I was warned to read the paper before responding to accusations about saving lives.”

“Yeah, Be mentioned that,” she said, “though she didn’t have any specifics. Settle into a quiet corner of the lobby with Gary. I’ll grab you some complimentary bagels while you get caught up. That should give everyone time to organize.”

Gary steered Al towards a remote table. “You need to slow down and compose your thoughts. This requires a calm mind, whatever it is. You don’t want to spout off when you respond.”

They found a seat and Al opened the paper. There, on the bottom of the front page was a small story entitled: “Celebration Potentially Saves Lives”. He scanned the piece, looking for where the criticism began as Gary surveyed the room.

“A nearby tourist, passing through town inadvertently rescues dozens. Yada, yada,” he read aloud. “Here we are,” he said, folding the paper and reading the passage as Delilah approached with their breakfasts. He waited for her to join them.

“Though we applaud Albert Collins for his kind act and the lives saved, we must question his motives. The store’s manager, Bernie Tabor, reports that Albert spoke with a store employee, who he appeared to know. The barista flashed a military salute, crossing his heart with his fist. I researched the salute. It’s not recognized by any organized body, so either these individuals are members of a paramilitary group, some cult or possibly an unidentified terrorist organization.

“I tried contacting the individual, but only managed to reach his parents. They stated he’d left home, hinting he wasn’t planning to return. They said he and his sister, Betty Collins, walked out on the family, claiming they were joining a ‘new family’, though they didn’t know who this group represented. They also said they’d both been acting strangely lately.

“I’m not suggesting this man represents harm to anyone here, but his presence begs the question of what his ultimate aims are. Another of his friends was heard to answer him with a militaristic response of “Yes, sir” before the accident occurred, further suggesting a link to some quasi-military group. The police who interviewed them didn’t uncover any questionable ties, but they never looked into their background. It was considered outside the scope of their limited investigation. I’m hoping to reach out to Mr. Collins today, after the story posts, for his response. I’m hoping he’s got a valid explanation, but his and his friend’s behaviors certainly raise questions about their ultimate objectives.”

“Wow!”

“No kidding. Talk about jumping to the worst possible conclusion. Making that terrorist accusation means we’ll now be the subject of a variety of government organizations. It’ll be difficult remaining hidden with that kind of scrutiny.”

“What are you going to do?” Delilah asked.

“I’m not sure, but I don’t have long to consider it. The Daily Tribune reporter will be calling shortly.”

“What about Eli and Zita?”

“I don’t think we should mention this to Eli. He won’t appreciate his employer making such accusations against him.”

“Except he can hardly remain where he is in the face of this,” she pointed out. “Chances are, he’s already been fired and doesn’t realize it yet.”

“What’s up?” Betty asked, only then approaching.

“You bring her up to date,” Al said, handing her the newspaper. “I’m going to call Eli and Zita so they aren’t caught by surprise.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket, dialing Eli’s number.

“Eli Thead. Is this Al?”

“It is. I’ve got some ... difficult news for you.”

“Well hold on. I’m approaching the hotel now. We’ve decided to join you. Zita requested a leave of absence, and the coffee shop is closed indefinitely for repairs, so I informed them I plan on visiting family.”

“That’s just as well. I’ll explain what’s up when you arrive. We’ve got breakfast covered. We may have to leave town quickly; things are in ... transit.”

Al turned to the others. “They’re on their way in. Show them the paper. They deserve to know the truth. They’ll learn the details soon enough either way. I’m going to evaluate how to deal with this while eating breakfast. If I don’t, I’m likely to get snappy and say the wrong thing to a reporter.”

Al’s phone rang six minutes later. He answered immediately. Eli and Zita read the paper and were discussing it with the others in whispered conversations, not wanting to disturb him.

“Albert Collins.”

“Glad to see you’re so eager to speak to me that you answer on the first ring. I take it you read the article?”

“Yeah, it’s a real hatchet job based on a string of unsubstantiated conjecture.”

Philippe chuckled. “That’s what I told him. If you don’t mind, I provided him with your phone number.”

“Stupid question, but why didn’t my parents give it to him? They told him everything else.”

“You’ll have to ask him, but I suspect they’re afraid of wrecking an already tenuous relationship.”

“Then they shouldn’t have painted me as a wannabe terrorist.”

“To be honest, I doubt that was their intent.”

“Actions speak louder than words. Instead of accepting that we needed space to consider what they’ve hidden from us our entire lives, they’d rather gossip with the press.”

“Getting to the topic at hand, what’s your response to the piece?”

“That it’s all a misunderstanding. There’s no story here. My friends were teasing me. Hopefully, now that it’s blown up in our faces, they’ll quit. It was a poor joke to begin with.”

“I’ll include that in my follow-up article. But I’m intrigued: how do you manage to arrive just in time to rescue so many people in such a short period of time. By my count, this is three rescues; saving a number of lives in only a few days. There’s clearly something here you’re not admitting. No one is that lucky. If you were, you’d be buying lottery tickets by the dozens.”

“I was just in the right place at the right time. I’m as confounded by it as you are.”

“Why do I find that so hard to believe? Would you like to try again, or should I start digging into your history? Whatever you’re hiding will eventually turn up.”

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