“The line of showers that moved through the New Orleans area last night will continue south into the Gulf, today. Monday’s forecast calls for clearing along the coast from Biloxi, Mississippi west to Lake Charles, Louisiana. The marine forecast predicts: northerly winds offshore at fifteen knots, decreasing to five knots by this evening. Tonight’s outlook: seas calm with a low tide at Morgan City at 12:32 A.M.” Noel Webster’s large fist came down on the clock radio with the delicacy of an expert boxer pulling his punch. The green numbers on the dial face blurred briefly as he rolled upright—life reminding him of time passing. He should have kept his appointment with his doctor, last week.
Silence in the house, untouched by the faint slap of his bare feet on cool tile as he padded into the kitchen in his boxers and set a kettle of water on the stove. He squinted in the half light at the refrigerator door where his housekeeper had scrawled a message on the magnetic pad. “Packages of Oatmeal in drawer, new jar of coffee on the second shelf.”
He dug around in the drawer to the left of the stove top and came up with peach flavored instant cereal. The jar of instant coffee was sealed with a foil liner that burst when he stuck a finger through the thin metal. A puff of brown powder turned to mud in the water splattered at the edge of the sink. There was a plate, a mug, a bowl, and some flatware resting in the drain by the kitchen sink—all one man needed, really. Webster dumped what he estimated to be a couple of heaping teaspoons of instant coffee into the mug and emptied the cereal pouch into the bowl.
He settled at the kitchen table to wait for the water to boil, not bothering to turn on the lights. A passing garbage truck rattled the unused china stacked in the glass fronted cabinet in the dining room. In a few minutes the kettle whistling on the stove added another lonely sound.
After forcing down the cardboard cereal and the flat taste of dehydrated coffee, Noel tried working out in his spare bedroom. Nothing seemed to satisfy him. He punched and shoved at the imaginary boxer that swung from the hook overhead. The dummy didn’t punch back, a situation that he found irritating, especially this morning.
Too many unimportant things were colliding all at once, all taking time away from the serious problems in his current life. He yearned for a good, clean fight, some conflict well defined, not as shadowy or as illusive as Jell-O. He dredged up fond memories of his college boxing career, though he didn’t miss the broken nose and bruised ribs.
Noel was worried about Morgan’s new project, a program of materials testing and qualification for nuclear power generating facilities. He was worried as her lawyer, and he was worried as her friend.
Noel felt protective and even fatherly towards Morgan, but there were times when he remembered how his daughter died and how Morgan had trembled in his arms, seeking shelter from an awful truth. He remembered how young she was, how vulnerable, as she rushed into his arms. But she was also mature for her years, and he’d known, deep in his unconscious, that she had more than innocent feelings towards him.
He tried a right uppercut that felt solid. He was still so much older, except now he was no longer her court appointed guardian. Did that make any difference? He couldn’t admit to himself that he was attracted to her.
She was grown up and didn’t need him like that, now, he argued with himself. Trouble was, he knew a lot of things that he hadn’t told Morgan about. He was still playing guardian, even if Morgan hadn’t agreed to his role. And that brought up a whole host of serious problems for Noel. For one thing, Morgan’s relative and Noel’s friend, Sam Friendly, had called to warn him about a threat from a Senator in Texas.
“I wanted you to know what might be going down, and I didn’t want to worry Morgan. She’s got so many things on her plate as it is,” Sam had explained. The Senator’s investors are being hurt. Separate a politician from the source of his money…well, damned dangerous.”
Noel agreed with Sam. With a full schedule of municipal water testing and port monitoring, he didn’t know how Morgan was going to manage the nuclear project in Beaumont. Oh, she’d manage, somehow; she had a good field tech on site. However, Noel knew that these giant projects were the spawning grounds for serious corruption, and Morgan was putting herself right in the middle of that battleground. Morgan could easily become an unwelcome cog in the schemes of others, a small gear to be broken and discarded.
The young woman was just too smart and too confident! He slammed a right into the padded bag and felt the pain shoot up his wrist. Christ, he felt so useless! Was this to be a repeat of what happened when his daughter was murdered? He jabbed with his left and felt another satisfying stab of pain shoot up his arm. All this pretended anger at Morgan, but Noel’s heart wasn’t in it. He knew what really bothered him.
Sam had called late last week. “I know you’ve never forgiven me about failing with Holly,” he said. “And, I kept you from being with us when we got to her and Morgan.”
“We’re still friends, Sam,” Noel had broken in—not really an admission. “I would have been in the way,” he had added. Down deep he didn’t really feel that way. You were a father. You had a right to fail with your own child, didn’t you? The blame should have rested on his shoulders, not with some one else—too easy to blame someone else.
“But this time, the ball is in your court,” Sam had continued. “I can’t help Morgan without tipping our hand. They might move on her sooner if they see me in the wings. You know how politicians are, Noel, especially if they’re running scared.”
“So this time it’s up to you with me as backup.” Sam said with finality.