"What are you two looking at?" I asked the two gawking idiots following my every move in the corridors of the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover Building in DC.
I'm used to men staring at me. I don't do anything to invite it, but they stare anyway. They always have. I may look like a runway model to them, but I'm not hesitant to remind them that I'm a special agent with the FBI. Before that, I was a New York City cop, like my father. But that was a lifetime ago...before 9/11.
I'd like to be able to remember my dad as he looked that sunny Tuesday morning at home. He was smiling, laughing, talking about the family reunion I'd missed that weekend because I was on duty. But the truth is that the last mental image I have of him, the one that will always be burned into my memory, is of the way he looked as we were separated by falling debris trying to get people out of the north tower of the World Trade Center. I went ahead, herding the others outside to safety. I was about to go back for him when I heard a loud roar. The earth shuddered violently seconds before the tower collapsed....
I realized as I stood there, watching it fall, that my father was dead. There was no way he could have survived that.
It was six months before I was deemed psychologically fit to return to duty by the FBI's designated shrink, who I came to affectionately refer to as Dr. Douchebag. Yeah, I'm being sarcastic. I hated the SOB. He'd held my future in his hands, and I hated it. I hated not being in control of my own life. Not being in control was frightening. Not being in control had prevented me from saving my father's life.
I've had to work twice as hard as anybody else since then, had to work my ass off to prove myself. I was damaged goods. I had to prove I wasn't going to cave in if placed in another situation like that on 9/11.
“All of the children in question were conceived by in vitro fertilization,” Jack was saying.
“Coincidence,” I stated more than asked.
“Too many so-called coincidences,” Jack maintained.
“They didn't all conceive through the same clinic,” I reminded him. “What makes you think they’re connected?” I wanted to know.
Jack sucked in a deep breath. “Think about it, Caitlin. It’s too much of a coincidence for all of those kids to be test-tube babies.”
“You’re talking about three abductions in three states at three different clinics here.” I reminded him. “It doesn’t make any sense. Even if you’re right, even if there had been some kind of tampering with the embryos, what reason could there be for all of the kids to be abducted?”
“Destroying evidence, perhaps?”
I was surprised by the suggestion. “You think these kids were taken so there would be no proof of illegal tampering?” I asked. “What do you suggest they’ve done with them—you think they’re dead?”
“Desperate measures,” Jack reasoned. Out of habit, he reached for the cigarettes he’d given up a month earlier, frustrated when he found his pocket empty.
“I don’t know, Goober—murder to cover something that would be in itself a much lesser charge?” I still wasn’t convinced.
He gave up trying—for the moment. “C’mon. Let’s go grab some lunch. I’ll buy.”
I looked at him, my expression sober. “You’ll buy? Is the world about to end or something?” I had to get out of there.
He laughed. “Insulting me won’t get you fed, pardner,” he drawled.
“Let me guess.” I stood up, anxious to go. “The hot dog stand again?” I asked.
“I like hot dogs,” he defended himself.
“You live on hot dogs, Goober.”
“C’mon, it’s a beautiful day. And you look like you could use some fresh air.”
He had no idea.
“If you believe in God, boy, how can you say you also believe in UFOs?” An old man challenged a young preacher in a group discussion on the Mall. It was unseasonably warm for November, and the people gathered had shed their coats.
The young preacher grinned. He looked more like a hippie than a man of the cloth, with his long hair and worn-out jeans. “What makes you think the two are exclusive of each other?” he wanted to know.
“The Bible says nothin’ about little green men!”
“Means nothing,” the preacher maintained. “The Bible is God’s word to the people of this planet. If he created life here, then who is to say he didn’t create life on some other world? How are we to know there isn’t a race of men—men, not little green creatures—somewhere out there? And how are we to know God didn’t create them millions of years before he created us?”
“You’re talkin’ weird, boy,” the old man scoffed.
“How do you account for the dinosaurs on this planet?” a disbeliever in the group wanted to know.
The young preacher smiled patiently. “Like I said, the Bible only accounts for human history and man’s interaction with God,” he said. “There’s nothing to say the earth wasn’t around long before man—in fact, we know that it was—or that God didn’t play around with his design before he got around to creating us. There’s a passage in the Bible about the Tower of Babel—how God created different languages so we couldn’t communicate with each other. Has it ever occurred to anyone that he might have been doing so to separate people of different planets as well as those of different nations?”
“The Bible says six days! The world was created in six days!”
“Six days in God’s time is probably like six billion years in ours,” the preacher said. “God is infinite, remember? He always was and always will be.”
“What makes you think you know so much?” a young woman challenged.
“I don’t claim to have the answers,” the young preacher defended himself. “These are only my personal theories. I don’t happen to believe faith and science have to be exclusive of each other.”
“You’re sure not like other preachers I’ve heard, boy.”
“Are you listening to this crap?” I asked, parking myself on a bench as Jack paid the vendor for the hot dogs and drinks. ”Now I’ve heard everything.”
Jack sat down on the bench next to me and unwrapped his hot dog, inhaling it at length before taking a bite. “I don’t know what it is about eating hot dogs cooked outdoors, but they taste so much better,” he observed.
“Can’t you think of anything but your stomach?” I brushed my hair out of my face and continued to watch the group. “That preacher—he looks more like a hippie than a real preacher.”
“I didn’t think you considered preachers to be real.” Jack popped the ring on his soda can.
“You know what I mean,” I said, annoyed. The breeze kept blowing my hair in my face, making it difficult to eat. I got hair with every bite I took. Of all days for him to want to eat outdoors. “This guy’s claiming God made aliens and sent them here to populate the planet.”
Jack shrugged. “Maybe God is a Scientologist.”
I finished my hot dog. “Or maybe he’s a fraud.”
“God didn’t kill your father, Blondie,” Jack said, watching the young preacher continue to mesmerize the crowd.
“How could he?” I asked. “He doesn’t exist.”
Jack turned to look at me, puzzled. “How can you be so angry at someone you don’t believe exists?” he asked.
I took a deep breath and let it out forcefully. “I’m angry at the lunatics who kill in His name,” I said, crushing my soda can in my hand. The remaining soda inside gushed out, spilling over my hand and my new white slacks. I muttered an expletive and slammed it to the sidewalk in frustration.
Jack said nothing as he picked up the crushed can and tossed it into a trashcan. He knew who I really blamed for my father’s death. I blamed myself.