Nightwatch - Year Two, August:
Absent Friends
[Just Another Movie]
An Excerpt from Nightwatch: Fly By Wire
By Dan L. Hollifield

6:42 AM, August 29th

    As Simon paused to buy a morning paper at a news stand he'd passed on an earlier walk that week, a small-town paper in the same rack boasted a headline that caught his attention. As soon as he had scanned down the first section, he stopped reading as if he'd been hit by a brick.

    "Damn," he said. "It's just as Callow predicted."


    "Oh, sorry,” Simon said quickly as he reached for his wallet.  “Got distracted. These two, please."

    "Sure thing. That'll be two seventy eight."

    "Thank you. Keep the change."

    "From a fiver? Thanks, Pal. Have a good one."

    Simon nodded politely, but absent-mindedly, and left with his two newspapers. Later on at home, he read the article in the small-town paper several times through.

 Belleview Herald
 -August 28th-

Belleview, W. Virginia
Child Saved From Fire
Hero Gives Life To Save Little Girl
Contributing Writer: Zeb Carter

  The fierce flames of August 27th that threatened the lives and home of a
local family did not hold back the stranger in our midst. When a little girl
was trapped in an upstairs bedroom as her family home blazed up around her,
this knight errant appeared as if by magic. Our office has learned that the
hero, Tom Darby (age 77, of Center Junction, Kentucky) was only passing
through Belleview because he took a wrong exit off the interstate.
 Little Kathy Morgan and her family will always be thankful that Mr. Darby
got lost that day. Though they morn his passing, from injuries sustained in
the rescue attempt, they will always be thankful that he risked his life to
save little Kathy- A total stranger to him.

    Witnesses report that the local firefighters had been driven back by the
flames at Tod and Judy Morgan's house at 483 Bullfinch Terrace. Police and
firefighters were readying themselves for a final effort to brave the inferno,
when Tom Darby rode his motorcycle up to the scene. He is reported to have
thrown the motorcycle and his helmet to the ground as soon as he heard that a
child was still in the house. Without hesitation, he ran for the burning
front door in an effort to burst through, climb the
flame-wreathed staircase,
and find the child in the smoke-filled confusion. Medical teams at the scene
report that the two policemen and the fireman, who were injured while attempting
to restrain Mr. Darby from entering the burning building, will be released from
the ICU with a clean bill of health later today. Witnesses report that Mr.
Darby exited the burning home within minutes, holding the uninjured child in
his arms. She was wrapped in his leather motorcycle jacket. The back of his shirt
was ablaze, witnesses reported. Rescue workers took the child and immediately
extinguished Mr. Darby's burning clothing. He received emergency medical
treatment at the scene, and later at County General in their ICU's Burn Ward.
   Mr. Darby passed away five hours after he arrived at the hospital, despite
everyone's best efforts to save him. Cause of death was listed as 3rd degree
burns over 70% of his body, smoke inhalation, and flame inhalation.
three-year-old Kathy Morgan suffered no injuries whatsoever and was reunited
with her family within hours. Tom Darby will be granted several awards by the
City Fathers and the local Police and Fire Departments, posthumously.
A memorial
service is scheduled here in Belleview for August 30th, at Pine Ridge Baptist
Church, from 4 to 7 PM. The time is to coincide with the funeral services at
Morningside Methodist Church in Center Junction, Kentucky, where Tom Darby will
be laid to rest beside the remains of his beloved wife, Mary Singer Darby. The
Belleview Town Council is proposing a small memorial in the courthouse square,

eventually to incorporate Tom Darby's red motorcycle, along with an heroic
statue, in a permanent memorial to his brave sacrifice. Darby's surviving family
have given their consent, reported a representative of Grey, Maxwell, & Thornby,
the trustees of Darby's estate.

    Reports of a mysterious sonic boom near the time of Tom Darby's death -that
broke all the glass in the hospital floor where he was being treated- cannot at
this time be either confirmed nor denied.

See: Hero  Page 4 and the listing in our Obituaries  Page 18

    "The two policemen and the fireman, who were injured while attempting to restrain Mr. Darby from entering the burning building, will be released from the ICU with a clean bill of health later today." At 77, he took down two cops and a fireman, then kicked down a door? And managed to save the child, too? Old Man, at least you went out with style. Or did you? Was Callow right? Simon thought. Is this just a change of identity, or is Darby really dead?

8:12 AM, August 29th

    Simon answered the knock at his front door to find a small, slender man in thick-lensed horn-rimed glasses, holding an ornate wooden box under one arm. The man was a complete nebbish- so totally unmemorable that he could pass for invisible.

   "Doctor Simon Litchfield?" the man asked. "Hello, my name is Maxwell. I’m a partner in the law firm of Grey, Maxwell, and Thornby. I'm here on a matter of a bequest to you from Tom Darby's estate. He left you a little something in his will."

    "Do come in,” Simon said as he let the man into his Georgetown townhouse.  “I just read his obituary this morning. I gather that the funeral is tomorrow?"

    "Yes,” Maxwell said as he looked around the place, “his family stipulated that there be no guests at the funeral proper. All mourners outside the immediate family are to be directed to the memorial service in the town where he died, instead.  You, however, are a special case. Because of your…rather unique circumstances of meeting Mr. Darby, he felt it necessary to place a clause in his will forbidding us from contacting you until this moment."

     "I see," Simon said. "I think... Please, do sit down."

    "Thank you. Most kind," Maxwell said as he sat on Simon's couch. The springs creaked alarmingly for a moment, then became quiet just as suddenly. "Yes-" the small, dapperly dressed man continued. "He wished to protect your own- hobbies, those that coincided with his. And he wrote that he fully understands if you are unable to attend the memorial service. But as a token of his respect, he left you this." Maxwell handed the small box to Simon. It was about the same size as a box of cigars, but the ornate carving on the deeply polished red wood promised contents far more valuable than mere tobacco.

    "One of those insanely accurate target pistols he carried?" Simon asked after he'd opened up the hand-carved red oak presentation box. The contents gleamed up at Simon with the patina of beauty that all well-crafted machines share. Memories of Tom Darby came flooding back to Simon in that instant.

    "Indeed. A Colt .45 1991-A1, fine-tuned as far as the best pistol smiths can make it. We believe that the other one, the 1911-A1 that he normally carried, was lost in the fire that claimed his life. Among his effects was listed an empty holster and ammunition for a .45 auto. He wanted you to have this one, to remember him by. He wrote that we were to tell you that this is the very same one that he handed to you on the island. Rather cryptic, but I assume you understand his reference. He had the presentation box specially made for you.  And there is one other thing..."

    "Yes? What? Excuse me, I was lost in thought. You were saying?"

    "In a private garage," Maxwell said as he leaned closer to Simon across the coffee table, pulled a plastic card out of his jacket pocket, and lowered his voice. "At the address on this key-card, you will find an exotic sports car- of a type with which I think you are already familiar -that will be stored for your future use. Simply call the number on that card and leave a message that you will be needing the car. Within an hour, it will be ready for you to pick up."

    "Unusual arrangements," Simon said as he took the plastic card from the lawyer. "I assume that the car has only three wheels... Some sort of leasing contract? Will I have to pay a membership fee?"

    "No, not at all," Maxwell replied in the same secretive voice. "The car will be titled, registered, and insured to the garage. Its an old fire station that he and some friends of his bought together. They converted it into an auto shop as a sort of hobby. Mr. Darby instructed us to sell off some tracts of land from his estate and establish a trust fund for the staff of that garage. He had inherited the land from his grandfather, and held on to it for many years as an investment. All the bills and the staff will be paid out of the trust fund. There's enough to keep them comfortable from now through their retirement years. Your occasional use of the car will give them something to do. They helped him build the car, you see. And they helped to keep it in repair after some of his- business trips in it."

    "I'm beginning to understand," Simon said slowly. "These are people he trusted, is that what you're telling me?"

    "Exactly, Doctor. People he worked with. People he could count on in any sort of- emergency, so to speak. Oh, one last thing, Doctor. Whenever you find yourself inside the garage, remember your Bluebeard and don't try to open any locked doors."

    "I see,” Simon spoke, slowly moving into the tone of voice normally reserved for Callow.  “Everything has become-- most clear, Mr. Maxwell."

    "Then I thank you for your time, Dr. Litchfield," Maxwell said, rising from the couch. "Please don't get up. I'll let myself out. Oh, if you ever find yourself in need of legal representation, please don't hesitate to call our offices. We specialize in the unique needs of people in- Mr. Darby's line of work, for instance. Good day."

     Good Lord, Darby! What have you gotten me into? If that little bugger was a lawyer, I'll eat my hat. Thank you for the gifts- but what the hell else have you gifted me with? Contacts into the organization that you really worked for?A bolt-hole to run to if some Nightwatch caper goes awry? Five will get you twenty that these "mechanics" are a lot more than just a bunch of good ol' boys that Darby grew up with. And that offer of legal aid- What are they going to do? Come bail me out of some Turkish prison? No- No... I've just been contacted by Darby's real employers. And they think he told me enough about them... What? To be dangerous to them? Surely not. To become an ally of some kind? Is it possible that they're trying to recruit me? Simon laughed aloud. Or is this about Nightbird Five? Darby warned me not to trust the people who built it for him. Of course, he'd lost a lot of blood by then... Damnation! Darby, this is a pretty puzzle you've presented me with. I wonder if the car is real, or if calling to pick up the car is just the password? Password to what? Tom, what have you done? Who were you, really? Simon sat back down, placed the target pistol on his coffee table, next to the red velvet-lined box, and stared at the key-card, remembering the time he spent with Tom Darby. The afternoon sunlight slowly faded to evening gloom as Simon sat, lost in thought.

    Not Necessarily "The End"

Text 2004 - 2014 by Dan L. Hollifield, Nightwatch & Continuing Characters 2004-2054 by Jeff Williams & Robert Moryiama