UNITED STATES—”She kissed the ring…” Zorba, the former detective was getting a doctorate in fear. That was not good; it was taking a toll on his sangfroid. The sister with corn silk hair shorn close to her skull had squealed for joy when the papal figure in the bed, the tired turtle with wrinkle upon wrinkle, as if there were a new wrinkle added for every sinful thought, had wheezed and eyelids trembled open.

“He’s still alive,” she rocked on her heels. “I thought we’d lost them.”

Where there’s life there’s hope, thought Zorba. I have been satisfied thus far. Then she lunged onto the side of the bed, took the creatures hand into hers and kissed a ring, a star sapphire with a bezel of diamonds. The eyelids fluttered shut again. Some younger kids who smelled like sour milk crowded into the room. As it became crowded, the temperature went up.

She turned and grasped Zorba’s arms: “Does you have some magic medication you know of from the Underground Cities to save him?”

The raw-boned Jake, her elder brother, gently pulled her away and she turned to a corner by the window with the awesome view of the wheat plains.

Somberly, he confided to Zorba, “Our sister does not want to face the demise of our Father, our Mother, and leader.”

Again this series of words, came like breakers on the shore, and pushed him to wonder at the degree of reverence this family showed.

The brother gripped Zorba’s forearm so tight he wanted to cry, and crazy piercing eyes drilled into him, “You ask too many questions. We need answers.”

Zorba was used to people who changed like chameleons, it was part of his work: as a shady cop he saw how scaredy cats turned into pussy cats when you accepted a lagniappe. As homicide detective he dealt with laughing, then tear jags from next of kin. Still this guy surprised him with the switch from semi-cordial to seething.

“You better speak fast,” he was threatened aggressively.

“It is our hope that you know something we don’t and it may be of benefit for the final days of our beloved leader.”

“I never knew my father,” Zorba said, “so I can only imagine what it is like for you to….”
As his voice trailed of he stared at the figure propped on a dozen pillows.

Zorba was young to be promoted to detective. He’d learned from his old partner, who had 25 years on him, on his old beat as Security Ambassador. He emulated his partner’s skill in how to look forward at the aging process, fast forward, recede the hairline, give them pouched under their eyes, age spots, a few extra pounds a stoop, glasses, white hair.

That spavined heap on the bed in brocaded robes become object of reversing the process. Zorba saw first the final sprint of the features and body toward eternity, then bootleg videos from the turn of the century, and now finally, a young man in monochrome he had seen in photos of an ancient crime-scene photo.

Zorba’s heart skipped a beat: “This is the leader of the whole hanging land of up here.”

NOW HE KNEW: He stood before The Leader of all the provinces. The stark solitude of the farmhouse was desolate shrine to the success of technophobia. There were no cameras to record this moment, no official entourages. Nobody. Outside a wind howled across the vacant plains and he alone was in the terrifying center of power.

Zorba cleared his throat: he was about to release medicine of a different kind. Zorba dealt in the truth and it wasn’t always pleasant.

“I am a homicide detective and I am sorry if you think every one who wears a suit is a doctor. Bear with me please, I have a few more questions before I can put this all to rest abut the DNA codes.”

To be continued…

Graydon Miller is the author of the international thriller, “Hostages of Veracruz,” (available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/38KrNz1.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)