December 21st, 2012. According to the Mayans, the day on which the world would end. And there I was, stuck in Jerusalem. All flights were grounded due to bad weather. A violent hailstorm, of all things. I wondered which sign of the Apocalypse that was supposed to be. I haven't been to church in a very long time, as you might have guessed.
Darcy was also there. Several journalists were there.
I was trying in vain to put a call through to Washington when he showed up at my door. "Is your satellite phone working?" I asked.
"Hello to you too," he said as I stepped aside to let him in.
"Darcy—" I held up the phone.
"No. Nobody's phones are working. Some sort of atmospheric disturbance, I hear." He paused. “That's a hell of a storm out there. Maybe it really is the end."
"Right." I couldn't help rolling my eyes at that. "Darcy, the Mayans couldn't even see the Spaniards coming. You don't seriously think they could predict the end of the world--"
He looked serious. "A few years ago, I would have laughed, too," he said. "But I've seen things...."
I remembered. "The Deliverer. The Images of Hope series."
"So now you're a believer?"
"I don't know what I believe," he admitted, scratching his head. "I've just seen enough to make me reconsider my life as a hardcore cynic."
"Yeah. I get that." I realized I hadn't even offered him a drink. "Want a beer or something?"
He shook his head. "Actually, I just came to invite you to a party," he remembered.
"Party? Go out in this freak storm?"
"No. It's here at the hotel," he said. "All the media people stuck here are celebrating the end of the world together. Fun, huh?"
"Sounds like Sarcasm City to me."
He grinned. "Like I said—fun."
I was still thinking about my inability to get through to Washington when Darcy and I went downstairs to join our colleagues. I hadn't been able to send an email, either. What was really happening? The TV in the hotel bar was getting a signal—barely. The sound was there, but the picture was full of static and came and went. The news reports suggested severe weather disturbances around the world. A reporter from Canada made a joking reference to the movie The Day After Tomorrow. There were others making less-than-serious toasts.
"Just the way I've dreamed of leaving this planet," Darcy said as the bartender passed him a beer, "with the people we see every day." He looked at me. "Present company excluded."
I raised my glass to him. "Of course."
"You're worried about the Ambassador," he said then.
I nodded. I was worried about Nicholas. I didn't know if he was safe.
I meant what I'd just said. I thought Nicholas Kendall was a world-class dumbass to let a woman like Jaime go...and I was an expert at being a dumbass. I'd let a terrific woman slip through my lecherous fingers because I'd discovered I was a lousy father and didn't consider my wife's right to have children of her own.
"Nicholas isn't a dumbass," Jaime said in defense of her ex. "He just wanted a wife who was home once in a while."
I liked the way she defended him. I doubt Lynne ever defended me to anybody. Not that I would have blamed her.
“I wasn't sure I could be a good mother,” she said.
I wasn't surprised. She was accustomed to being independent. I couldn't picture her in some tense political situation, camera in hand, a kid in a Baby Bjorn...but I didn't say it. I just asked, “Why?”
“No role model to learn from,” she answered. “My mother committed suicide when I was six. When she was alive, she treated me like an inconvenience. How would I know how to be a good mother?”
“I had good parents, but I was still a failure at being a father,” I confided.
“I wonder if I'd even know how to care for an infant,” she went on.
“I hear that sort of thing is instinctive,” I offered, feeling awkward.
“I've heard that, too. But it wasn't for my mother.”
“My third ex-wife was an archaeologist,” I said then. “Traveled all over the world on digs...but she couldn't wait to get pregnant.”
“Did she?” Jaime asked.
“Eventually, but not with me,” I said. “I'd already had two kids with ex-wife number one and had discovered I was a lousy father. I didn't want to repeat the mistake. That's why ex number three left me. She had a baby boy with husband number two a few years ago.”
“I think I need a scorecard,” Jaime said, only half-joking.
“Sometimes I did,” I said. I was pretty sure Jaime had stopped paying attention by this point.
"Maybe I was wrong," she said then. She wasn't touching her drink, just swirling it about in the glass.
"About what?" I asked.
"Maybe I should have given up the career, stayed home, had a couple of kids," she said. "I'm fifty-six now and wondering what I've missed."
"Think you could have been happy as a suburban soccer mom?" I asked, having my doubts even as I asked.
She made a face. "Probably not," she confessed. "But I think I could have been happy as a diplomat's wife."
"Then why weren't you?" I really wanted to know the answer to that one.
"I was. Nicholas wasn't." She looked up at the TV screen. "There's a storm in Beirut."
"Have you talked to him?"
Jaime shook her head.
"When was the last time?"
She shrugged. "A couple of weeks."
I signaled the bartender for another beer. He moved to refill Jaime's drink, but she waved him off. "If the earth starts breaking apart, I can run faster if I'm sober."
I don't think I've ever seen her have more that one drink in the course of an evening. Rumor has it she doesn't hold it well. I tried to picture her trying to outrun an earthquake. It made me laugh.
"What's so funny?" she wanted to know.
I turned to face her. "After three divorces, I've reached the conclusion that we should stick to our own kind."
"Our own kind?"
"Journalists. Reporters. Media nomads."
She looked amused. "And why is that?"
"Because we understand each other as no one else can."
She looked unconvinced. “Think that would solve all of our relationship problems?”
“I think it's worth a try.”
“Who's going to be the first pair of guinea pigs?” she asked, looking at me like she wasn't sure she really wanted to hear the answer.
“How about us?” I suggested.
“Sure. Let's get married,” I pursued, not entirely joking..
She roared with laughter. “You and me? Married?” she asked. “Are you completely out of your mind, Darcy?”
“We'd have a very special anniversary if we did it tonight,” I pointed out. On the TV screen, the reporter was talking about the Mayan prophecy with a graphic of all the freaky weather events around the world at his back.
“You must be desperate,” she said, finishing her drink.
I have that effect on women. I suggest marriage and even the non-drinkers will go for the bottle. “There would be some advantages,” I insisted.
“Yeah? Like what?”
“We're both way past our prime,” I said. “No need for birth control.”
She poked me.“You really know how to flatter a girl, dumbass.”
“The last time I was here, I was roped into playing wedding photographer for my ex,” I told her as the time passed midnight and it was now December 22nd. No apocalypse. The world was still very much intact. Some of our colleagues had gone back to their rooms earlier, asking to be awakened when the end came. Those who remained in the bar again made mock toasts and grumbled about having to go Christmas shopping after all.
“Wedding photographer?” Jaime looked amused. “Which ex?”
“You mean Dr. Raven-MacKenzie?” she asked. “Why do you call her that?”
“I call all my exes by the same nickname,” I said, reaching for the bowl of nuts on the bar. “That way, I don't get in trouble by calling them by the wrong name in intimate moments.”
She didn't believe me. “Come on, now.”
I gave in. “When I met her, she wasn't too interested in me. She wouldn't have sex without a wedding ring. I thought that was absurd, but she wouldn't give in,” I recalled. “I guess it was her attitude, I don't know. It just seemed to fit her.”
“And you took her wedding photos?”
I nodded. “She said I owed it to her—which, in a way, I did. So I recorded her quickie wedding to the Lord of the Geeks for posterity.” With that, I needed another drink. I signaled the bartender, who pointed at the clock above the bar. It was almost closing time.
She laughed. “Lord of the Geeks?”
“Her new hubby is some kind of genius—freaky smart. He's also not of this world, if you believe in that sort of thing.” I stuck a handful of nuts into my mouth.
“I don't know if I believe or not,” Jaime said, interested. “What are you talking about?”
“The Deliverer. It was him in the photograph,” I said.
“The one with the ghostly images flanking him?” she asked.
“Yep. And they were also in all of the wedding photos.” I wished I could get that drink. “Some people—religious experts—thought they were angels.'
“Can you believe it?”
“No,” she said.
I'd never known Darcy to fall for a scam. He could spot a phony a mile away. That was one reason he was so good at his work. Yet tonight, he'd hinted at having had an experience with a supernatural being who hung out with angels.
Angels, of all things!
All the talk of angels and prophets and the end of the world had an unexpected effect on me. I'd never given it much thought before, but I suppose I was an agnostic. It wasn't that I didn't believe in God, I'd just never really given him or her much thought. I'd learned to depend only on myself at an early age. Nicholas and I had been married in a church at his parents' insistence. They never asked me what I believed, and I never volunteered that information.
I went to the window and looked out at the storm that still raged on. I've seen just about everything in my life, in my travels...but I'd never seen anything like that. Suddenly I felt painfully lonely. If Darcy had been there and made a move on me, I probably would have ended up in bed with him. Good thing he had gone off to his own room.
I tried my phone again, but it was no use. How long before I can get a call through to Langley? I wondered.
I thought about Nicholas, wondered if he was all right. I couldn't call him either, even if I wanted to. I hoped he was safe. I had never been afraid of storms—or much of anything else—but this storm was almost supernatural.
I changed into my usual sleep attire—a pair of men's boxer shorts and an oversized football jersey. I had one from just about every team in the NFL. I got into bed and pulled the sheets and blanket up around my neck. I hadn't done that since I was a little girl...when I was told my father was dead, that he wasn't coming home.
Sleep didn't come, no matter how much effort I put forth. I tossed and turned for over an hour, and finally found myself wishing Darcy would come back. I couldn't even call him. I certainly wasn't going to go trotting down to his room dressed in boxer shorts and football jersey.
The storm grew more violent...and I felt even more alone. Then, around three o'clock, I heard a knock on my door. I crawled out of bed and approached it cautiously. “Who's there?” I asked cautiously.
“Darcy,” he answered from the other side.
Relieved, I opened the door and pulled him inside....