Title: Where Eagles Fly
Copyright © Sage Amante 2003, 2004. All rights reserved.
Disclaimer: See Part 1
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Parallax - Part 12
The Federal Building finally came into view and Max heaved a sigh of relief. The drive had taken twice as long as usual. The traffic and the heat had taken a toll on his already weary body. He pulled into his parking spot then took the elevator to the offices, dreading the grim atmosphere he knew would greet him there.
The receptionist looked up as Max opened the door leading into the reception area. Her eyes were red-rimmed. "Agent Cauthen," she choked, "they're in the conference room." She dabbed her eyes with a tissue as she answered a call.
Max opened the conference room door and found the room filled with agents and support staff. He wasn't surprised. Lark's calm, steady demeanor and warmth, as well as her offbeat sense of humor made her the favorite of the office. The group turned as a whole and looked expectantly at Max. He shook his head negatively.
"It doesn't look good," Max began. "What we have now is this. Agent Mingye was flying a Lear Jet on a return trip from Washington, D.C. She was cleared to land at Ft. Lauderdale International Airport at 8:45 P.M. eastern standard time last night. I had telephone contact with her approximately four and one half minutes before that time. She did not indicate any problems."
Max felt the lump rising in his throat and swallowed hard, determined to hide any emotions he was feeling. "At 8:57 P.M. a small plane took a nose-dive and exploded on impact one half mile south of Runway 9S. Agent Mingye was cleared to land on Runway 9S. No other small plane made contact with air traffic control during that time span. So far, the only evidence of any consequence that has been recovered is part of the tail of the plane. A partial N-number is visible on that piece - N72. The N-number of the plane Agent Mingye was flying began with N72. "
Max cleared his throat and continued. "Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that none of this is conclusive proof that the pilot of the plane that went down was Lark." His voice finally broke. "But it was sufficient evidence for her father to decide that he has accepted her death as a fact. Therefore, there will be a memorial service for Lark Mingye at 10:00 A.M., Saturday at Woodlawn Mortuary in Ft. Lauderdale. At her father's request, there will be an empty casket, which will be buried in a plot adjoining her mother's at Woodlawn. You are all invited. If you have any questions, ask my secretary. She will have all the details." With that, Max strode out of the conference room and closed himself up in his office.
Max sat at his desk with his head in his hands when he heard a soft knock. "Come in," he said looking up to see Sam, Jake, and John enter, each with a somber look on his face. He motioned for them to sit down, and the four sat saying nothing until Sam broke the silence.
"Hey, guys, remember the time " For two hours the men regaled each other with tales of Lark's exploits, each one more outrageous than the next. Their love and respect for her was obvious, and there was do doubt that each would deeply miss her.
Finally Max held up his hands. "I hate to break this up, fellas, but Ive got to go see about the judge." Suddenly the room went silent.
"Christ, who's guarding her?" John asked, realizing that under the schedule originally set up, he should be outside her door at that very moment.
"I've got it covered," Max said. "I took her back to Dr. William's place. David is there now. Paul is scheduled to relieve him. I'll take over in the morning, and then we'll go back to the old schedule."
"Uh, how about we go with you," Jake said.
"Not this time, Jake," Max replied. "She's pretty broken up. Let me go talk to her. Maybe you guys can check in with her later. OK?"
The other three men stood, slapped Max on the back, and hugged him on their way out his office door. They were all close to Lark, but of the four of them, Max had been the closest to her.
Sam was the last to leave. "See you later, Max," he said. "Give us a call if you need anything." Max nodded and followed Sam out the door.
"I'll check in later," Max told the secretary. "If you need me, get me on the mobile or leave a message on my pager."
Max got into his car and headed to Meriam's. He wasn't sure how much the woman had told Lonnie about the plans for Lark's funeral nor how the judge might have taken what she heard. He dreaded seeing Lonnie again, dreaded re-experiencing the anguish he had seen envelop her as they waited for news about the crash. He knew that Lark would want him to be there for Lonnie, and he was not about to let his partner down.
When he reached Meriam's condo complex, Max flashed his badge at the gatekeeper who waived him through. They had made an acquaintance the last time Lonnie had stayed at Meriam's. The young man had evidenced an interest in joining the agency, and Max had encouraged him to go back to school, to give it a try. "Hey, Bud," Max stopped and called out the window of his car. "How are the kids?"
A smile crossed the young man's face. He liked the big agent who had taken an active interest in him. "They're doing great, Max. Hey. I just got accepted at U of M," he shouted at Max.
Max gave a thumbs up. "That's great, man, great! Anything I can do, give me a call," Max yelled as he started moving again toward the parking garage.
Max parked the car and entered the alcove of the building. He talked to Meriam through the intercom and grabbed the door as the entry buzzer rang out. He got off the elevator at Meriam's floor and was pleased to see the young agent on duty was on high alert.
"Hey, David. Everything going all right?"
"All quiet here, Max."
"Good. I'll be in there for a while. Why don't you take a break?" Max said. "I'll beep you when I'm ready to leave."
The junior agent looked relieved. "Man, I could use a break. Thanks, Max." He stretched his back and headed toward the elevators, looking forward to some fresh air and a strong coffee at the cafe across from the condo.
Max watched the young man get on the elevator, then rang the bell to the condo. He could hear footsteps coming to the door and was surprised when Lonnie and not Meriam answered it.
"Max!" Lonnie exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck. Although her eyes were red, there was a steely reserve to her demeanor contrasted by the vulnerability he felt her exude as he held her in his arms.
Lonnie extracted herself from Max's arms, closed and locked the door, and led
him into the living room. "Meriam's in the shower," she said. "Can I get you a
drink or some coffee?"
"Nothing for me," Max said as he settled on the couch. Lonnie sat down next to him, and he lifted her small hands between her two larger ones.
"What is it, Max," Lonnie said quietly.
"Lonnie, there's nothing more than what you already know. But I've talked to Lark's father. The funeral is set for Saturday at 10 A.M."
"Meriam told me he wanted to schedule the funeral. I think he's wrong, but I have no right to say anything," the small blonde said sadly.
"He wants to meet you," Max continued.
Lonnie looked startled. "Meet me? Why?"
"Knows what," Lonnie replied, holding her breath.
"He knows about you and Lark. She told him." Max's eyes held Lonnie's. She was warmed by the compassion she saw there.
"I see. Will he be attending the funeral?"
"Well, I don't want to meet him, Max, not yet. I'm still too hurt and too angry. Please extend my regrets. Perhaps another time."
"Lonnie, he's taking a big risk to see you," Max said. "And he has something that Lark asked him to give you if anything ever happened to her."
Lonnie looked startled. The minute Max said that Lark's father had something from Lark to give her, she knew she could not reject the invitation. She needed something, a piece of Lark, to help her heal. She had nothing except memories of her lover; now she would have something tangible. "All right. I'll meet with him." She said with resignation. "When?"
"After the funeral," Max replied. "He has a yacht at the Pier 66 Marina. We'll meet there."
Meriam walked into the living room, towel drying her hair. "Hello, Max," she said as she settled in a large, overstuffed chair across from the couch.
Max, Meriam, and Lonnie discussed the plans for Lark's funeral and for Lonnie's meeting with Lark's father after the funeral. Max never mentioned Lark's father's name. He was certain that Meriam did not know; and he knew that if he mentioned it to Lonnie, she would more than likely change her mind about the meeting. 'She'll find out soon enough,' he thought. He hoped that the shock would not be too much and that she would forgive him ... and Lark ... for withholding such information from her.
The next few days passed slowly yet when Saturday came, it seemed to have come too quickly. Lonnie dressed in the mandatory black, but Meriam dressed in bright tribal colors insisting she would celebrate Lark's life, not mourn her death. The clash of cultures was evident in the clothes the two women wore. They sat silently, each lost in her own grief, sipping coffee while they waited for Max and Katherine Cauthen to pick them up for the trip to the funeral home. Lonnie was thankful that Meriam lived in a gated community; at least that kept the media at bay.
The sharp ring of the intercom cut the silence. Meriam rose quickly and, upon hearing Max's voice, said, "We'll be right down." She and Lonnie looked at each other then stepped into a tight embrace before straightening their clothes and heading for the elevator.
The Saturday traffic was thin, and the ride to the funeral home uneventful. Although they had expected some media coverage, none of them was prepared for the sight that greeted them when they arrived. Cameras surrounded the front steps. Microphones were placed on the top step and the Director of the FBI stood addressing the media.
'You self-serving son of a bitch,' Max thought as he swung his car around to the rear of the building and pulled up as close as he could so that his wife, Lonnie, and Meriam could enter the building as quickly as possible without attracting attention. He watched as the women entered the building then parked his car in the rear of the lot. They would ride in the family car provided by the funeral home and return for his car after the graveside services.
Max joined the three women, and they entered the sanctuary together. A white coffin draped in a blanket of yellow roses sat at the front. On top was a picture of Lark, one that none of them had seen before. It was a close-up of a tall, dark-eyed woman whose long black hair blew behind her in the breeze. She leaned against the rail of a boat, her head thrown back, the look in her eyes one of pure pleasure. Her beauty was undeniable.
The four sat in the front row and were soon joined by Sam, Jake, John and more than two dozen others from the local office. Sam Braxton sauntered in with Bill Porter in tow and attempted to find a seat in the front row but contented himself with one a few rows back when no one made an effort to move and give him room to sit. Selections from The Tao of Healing played softly in the background as, one by one, Lark's friends moved to the podium and spoke of their love and respect for the young woman who had been taken so suddenly from them.
Lonnie was the last to speak. She wanted to claim Lark as her lover, to tell the faces in front of her of her profound love for her, to tell them that Lark was her soul mate, but Lonnie knew that she could not. The stark reality of the world in which she had to live prevented that. If Lark were at her side, she might have been stronger, but if Lark were at her side there would be no need for the events that were unfolding. Lonnie rose slowly and proceeded to the podium.
"Lark Mingye and I began as strangers and ended as friends. She became my confidant and my protector," she said. "On at least two occasions she risked her life to save mine. She was a woman of integrity and courage, humor and humility. She was the bravest woman and the truest friend I have ever known. I loved her, and I will miss her." Lonnie's shoulders shook as she stepped from the podium. She stopped a moment and placed a hand on the white casket. 'Good bye, my friend,' she thought. 'Good bye, my love.'
The ride to the cemetery was no more than ten minutes, and the graveside service brief.
Max, Katherine, Lonnie, and Meriam got into the back seat of the family car for the ride back to the mortuary. Max asked the driver to close the partition between the front and back seats and turned his back on the women as his wife and Lonnie exchanged clothes. They were almost the same size and coloring, and Max was fairly certain that from a distance no one would notice the difference.
When they arrived back at the funeral home, Max and Lonnie got into the front seat of his car while Meriam and Katherine got into the back. Lonnie slid over next to Max and placed her head on his shoulder, holding a handkerchief up to her face. The straggling media at the funeral home snapped a few pictures of the car but did not try to get too close. Everything was going according to plan.
Max drove through the gates at Meriam's condominium complex and let his wife and Meriam out at the front door. The large black woman put her arm around the smaller blonde, and they rushed into the building as Lonnie and Max drove off. Max circled around Ft. Lauderdale, keeping an eye in his rearview and side view mirrors until he was certain he was not being followed. Then he headed toward the Pier 66 Marina.
Max parked in the lot nearest the marina and helped Lonnie from the car. He put his arm around her shoulders and held her close as they strolled toward the slip which berthed The Blue Lotus. Anyone watching would have thought they were just another couple out to look at the beautiful yachts berthed at the marina.
Lonnie was surprised when Max stopped in front of a 46 foot cabin cruiser. Somehow she hadn't expected the boat to be so big. Max stepped on ahead of her and held out his hand to help her aboard. She hesitated, her heart racing in her chest, then took his hand and stepped onto the yacht. Max led her down to the main salon. It was empty.
"Let me go see where he is," Max said, motioning for Lonnie to take a seat.
Lonnie could hear angry male voices topside. She felt a fear grip her and started to rise. 'I've got to get out of here,' she thought. 'Max, where are you?'
Before she could get to the salon door, Max rushed in. "Sit down, Lonnie," he said gruffly, a look of concern on his face. The small blonde was taken aback by his tone. He had never spoken to her like that before.
"Max, what's going on?" Lonnie asked, a tremor in her voice.
Before Max could answer, Lonnie heard the sound of engines and felt the yacht moving from its berth. A look of horror crossed her face.
"Max! What the hell is going on?" Lonnie yelled.
Lonnie looked up as the salon door opened. A tall, dark figure walked through the door toward her. She knew that face; she would never forget it. She had presided over two trials in which he was the defendant - two trials the prosecution lost. 'Oh my god!' she thought. 'He's going to kill me, and Max is in on it!'
"Hello, Judge." Cipriano Antonelli held out his hand. "Nice to meet you .... again."
Max looked at Lonnie. "Lonnie, I'd like to introduce you to Lark's father, Tony Antonelli."
Lonnie stood frozen, unable to speak, as the two men looked intently at her. She could hear the hum of the engines and feel the vibration of the yacht under her feet. She knew she was trapped, and she was terrified.
To be Continued in Part 13
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