Last time on ACE ARCHER: Caryn followed the business card from her Granne’s book to the doctor on it. Unfortunately, while the doctor had heard of Ace Archer, it was only as a fictional character. At the last minute, though, Caryn discovered that they had a patient at that hospital named Harold Brakura… a possible Ace Archer pseudonym!
Ace Archer’s phone rang.
Ace Archer’s phone never rang.
It rang again.
Ace turned to try to find the phone. It was on the absurdly small side table that was supposed to hold everything he needed within reach. Instead, it held barely enough to keep him from dying of boredom (though if the MELAS couldn’t take him out, certainly boredom would have a rough go of it too.)
He knocked over the pile of unread science magazines and empty juice cartons that had piled up around the old handset phone. A light on the telephone base was blinking orange. Ace’s weak fingers tried to grab the receiver but it was just out of reach.
“God damn it all!” he yelled in his quiet rasp. He turned his body, trying to reach farther, but then he was leaning on his sore side. The pain, which was dulled by immobility, seized upon his sudden movement and rose with a vengeance. Ace winced, but finally two of his fingers reached the far side of the receiver and snapped it towards him, pushing it off the cradle.
Even then, it took a good ten seconds for Ace to grasp the phone and bring it up to his ear.
“Hello?” he demanded.
“Hello,” a woman’s voice replied. It wasn’t his doctor, and it wasn’t his nurse.
“Who is this?” Ace asked.
There was a momentary pause, as if the person on the other end of the line didn’t know the answer to the question.
“Hello?” Ace demanded again.
“I’m… I’m Anne Stevens’ granddaughter.”
Now it was Ace’s turn to be stunned into silence.
“Mister Brakura?” the voice asked after a moment.
“Archer,” Ace said. “My name is Archer.”
“Mr. Archer, what room are you in?”
“Thirty-five fourteen,” Ace said. “What’s your name, young lady?”
“Caryn,” the woman replied. “Caryn Alexander.”
“You got your grandmother’s spunk?”
“I… I’m not sure what you mean, Mr. Archer.”
“How about one of those portable computers? Do you have one of them?”
“Does it have Internet installed on it?”
“Um… yes. It’s actually–” Caryn started, but Ace didn’t care.
“Forget it. Just get here as soon as you can.”
“I’m in the second floor lobby.”
“Good girl. See you in five,” Ace said, and dropped the phone in the bed without hanging it up.
Ace reached under his pillow and took out the notebook that he kept hidden from the nurses. It wasn’t that he was paranoid, he just didn’t want the spies who were constantly monitoring him to see that he was still pursuing the business of a space pioneer, no matter how old or retired.
He opened to the last written page. There, he had written two words: Sunshine Tampons.
If he couldn’t get out of the hospital, maybe he could recruit himself an ally. It wasn’t just coincidence that after so many years with no outside contact that he was suddenly getting a visitor.
There was a knock on the open door. There she was.
“Excuse me, is the the room of Mr. Brakura?” a young woman asked.
When his caller had told him that she was Anne Stevens’ granddaughter, Ace had imagined that she would be the spitting image of his first love, but the woman who stepped into his hospital room was far from it. While Anne had been long haired and perfectly coiffed, her granddaughter had a short boyish haircut with some kind of purple highlight. She also dressed a lot like a boy, wearing loose green shorts with too many pockets and a black t-shirt with the words “VIKING WOMEN DON’T CARE.” Over one shoulder she carried a checkerboard patterened satchel with several pins and buttons affixed to it.
“I’m Caryn Alexander, Mr… Archer,” she said, stepping forward to his bed with her hand outstretched.
Ace took her hand and shook it. Her grip was stronger than his. “Call me Ace,” he said. He wished his voice sounded less raspy and weak.
“I… I mean, I can hardly believe I actually am meeting you,” Caryn said, stammering. “I mean, I figured you were dead, or… or, uh…”
“Imaginary,” Ace offered.
“Right. My Granne… I mean, grandmother, Anne… Anne Stevens, she used to read to me about you.”
“So how’d you track me down?” Ace asked. “I wasn’t sure they’d let anyone get this close.”
“They?” Caryn asked.
Ace coughed, the side pain throbbing as he did.
“Do you need your nurse?” Anne–no, Caryn–asked.
“No, that’s the last thing I das’t need,” Ace said. “They’re in on it.”
“In on what?”
“If I knew, I wouldn’t need your help,” Ace said.
“Okay, this is a lot to take at once… can we slow down, take this in order?” Caryn asked.
“I need you to find the advertising executive who put together this commercial for Sunshine Tampons.”
“Okay, way to ignore that request…”
“Look, kid,” Ace said, “I’ve been in this same godforsaken room for twenty years. I don’t really have a lot of interest in sitting around telling stories. Either you can help me get out of here or you can’t.”
“I can,” Caryn said without even planning to.
Ace smiled. He hadn’t lost it. He had just put it away for a long time.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.