'Laurel Hill'

 'Laurel Hill' sat alongside an old state route. It was one of the more rural locations for a retirement home, but well placed, in close proximity to the surrounding cities, yet nestled comfortably in the middle of what remained of a dwindling countryside. Built east, to catch the rays of a morning sun, the area also offered up shade behind giant oak, hemlock and spruce during the peak summer months.

Out front, there was ample lawn with well thought out walkways between, an abundance of birds, squirrels and other wildlife which gathered, hunted and played out the short days of their lives' amongst the grass, saplings and shrubbery, kept trimmed and a healthy green by a crew of meticulous grounds-keepers.

 To visit, most assumed, it was a quiet, lovely place.  To live here however, gave one an entirely different perspective.  Regardless of how peaceful or attractive the settings were, most guests were content to view the outer world from the inside, detached from that place that they no longer felt apart.

 Those wheelchair bound had little choice -- fresh air, at least twice a week, doctor's orders. They would sit passively, mostly with a lack of interest, as they would get the full tour of the grounds from a nurse who would slowly push them along from behind. For some, the experience was often bittersweet. Although most would return wearing something of a smile, sometimes even a slight tan, there was also a lingering sadness to them, as if those few bright moments out in the sun reminded them of just how old and truly uninvolved they were. Oft times, they felt more like prisoners than guests. Locked away and forgotten, with their only relief coming by way of an occasional phone call or infrequent visit.  Thank God, they still had each other.

  Towards sunset, those who were able, gathered on the first floor, in the front room of the manor. Annie Mcguirn, nick-named 'Nan' by the staff, had decided to leave the quiet of her room and was here today. So too, was Emma, along with her older sibling, Kathryn. All three were seated beside a weak fan, scattered around a table, playing cards. Over on the couch, Jim Cummings and Bo Duffy were engaged in another one of their petty arguments over the use of the T.V. remote. Jim himself liked the westerns, while Bo preferred the endless reruns of 'Mash' and 'Charlie's Angels'. About the only television program they ever agreed to was 'Jeopardy', although no one ever had the heart to tell either of them that they were both rather poor at it. Charles Bradley, Old Charlie to his friends her at the nursing home, appeared to be having the best day of the lot. He and Darren Borden were seated at another card table -- Old Charlie had never stopped playing chess since his high school days, even though he never did seem to be much good at it. For a change though, at least for this game, he appeared to have captured the most pieces and had the upper hand on the board.

"Checkmate," Ben Simmons said quietly. A soft spoken, well mannered and dressed man, perhaps in his early sixties, though it was difficult, if not impossible to tell by his appearance alone, had quietly slipped into the room by then, and was he now standing alongside a doorway and beside Chris Johnson.
Despite his seemingly pleasant demeanor, Ben Simmons as a person wasn't particularly liked. He was the private, non- social type. Quite dark and mysterious, he often spent his time alone or away from the nursing home, and his kindly manner was often taken as nothing more than condescending. Most simply avoided his contact, although to his own credit, he was never anything other than polite to any who might choose to nod, or even smile at him. He was a difficult man to figure. Always proper, polite and possessing a smile that could no doubt charm many a used cars salesman down in price or most women directly into bed, there was also that disturbing side to him that most others just assumed not be around. His dark side, some suggested... his hidden talents. Others, hinting at something much, much worse. Yet whatever the truths were, it was this unsettling, yet accurate ability of his that most other guest simply wished he did not possess.

Every now and then he would walk quietly into a room, just as he did this night. Through the course of casual conversation, he would drop a subtle hint or two, or as many as it would take for whomever it was he was talking with to catch on.
 Chris Johnson, had indeed been listening. Although, he was still unclear as to whether Ben Simmons was referring to the game now being played or the inevitability of Old Charlie's passing. If he consider the latter, it would be no startling revelation if Simmons had been pointing out Charlie. It was no secret that he was ill, and that his general health was in steep decline as of late. Charlie had been a guest here for years, ever since his beloved wife Emily passed away from leukemia a dozens years earlier. Darren Borden, the man Charlie was playing chess with, was a new-comer, put here by cold, unfeeling children who could no longer be burdened with the cost or time it took to take care of him. Darren, or Dar as he preferred to be called, was holding his own for the moment, but was suffering from leukemia too, or so he heard. It was rather ironic, seeing that Dar was suffering from the same disease that had killed Old Charlie's wife, that Charlie would have befriended him so quickly. Perhaps, he was offering the sick man some comfort. An understanding of just what it was that he was up against. Perhaps in turn, Dar was helping Old Charlie to jog some of his older, more pleasant memories of his wife Emily.

"Which one?" Chris Johnson had to finally ask. He followed Ben Simmons eyes back across the room, to the two men playing the game.

"Old Charlie," he answered rather quietly. "It's been a while since any of his family has visited, hasn't it?"

Chris Johnson nodded. He glanced back over to Old Charlie then who was wearing quite the rare smile these days. He had made a brilliant move, capturing Darren Borden's queen, and with a pawn no less. Outside of his adopted family, no one had come around to see Old Charlie in months. He had a few close relatives left. Two brothers, both who lived in nearby cities, and a sister who resided somewhere out in Ohio. All self reliant and healthy enough to visit, yet seldom did any of them bother. Charlie had a son too, Eric, who did drop a call early last week, but hadn't paid him a personal visit in well over two years. In two days time, it would be Old Charlie's eighty first birthday. Charlie himself, had made mention of that only a few days ago.

"I'll drop the hint," Chris said, quietly himself. He sincerely hoped that Ben Simmons was wrong, especially since he rather like Charlie. Yet, if he and the other guests could brighten even a few of his last days, or even hours, he was going to do what he could. "It'll be his birthday in a few days, his eighty first... I'll consult the staff,  see if they can't stay off their asses long enough to bake him a cake."

"A rather splendid idea. There's a bus trip being planned for Tuesday as well. Perhaps you, and a few of the other guests might be up for it?"

Chris was nodding. Without taking a head count, he knew of at least six or seven of the other guests who would be willing to risk multiple hip fractures for Old Charlie. "It sounds pretty good, Mr. Simmons.  A cake, along with a few presents... he might actually get the impression that someone around here gives a damn about him."

Simmons' cocked his head a bit. "Forgive me, but you sound somewhat bitter, Mr. Johnson?"

Chris chortled back a little, running a frustrated hand back through what was left of his white hair. "Well, it's not like you've given me a heap of good news here, Mr. Simmons. And no offense to you sir, but I wasn't even aware that you liked Old Charlie?"


"... or anyone, for that matter," Chip finished. He did his best to lower a then rising voice. "Quite frankly, you're an enigma to me, Mr. Simmons... this walking contradiction. On one hand, you seem to rather enjoy spelling out our doom, yet on the other, you show this flawed, yet generous concern over that person's well being. I don't mind telling you sir, I don't entirely get it."

Ben Simmons responded with a rather handsome smile. "Not all things are meant to be understood, Mr. Johnson."

"... just accepted?"

"Yes. But I can assure you, my interest in Charlie's welfare is quite sincere."

"... then why are we discussing his party, and not a doctor?" Chris asked.

Ben Simmons had little to say about that. In all honesty though, Chris was at a loss to explain, even to himself, why he had gone ahead and blurted it. If he was to press the issue, chances are,  he would only be making matters worse. This dose of preventive medicine had been tried before, and failed. Ben Simmons' predictions still came true, and in the end, about all they had managed to do was to ruin the last few days of a good man's life.

"...I'll start spreading the word," Chris said. "Make certain that everyone interested has enough time to ready themselves. I take it, you won't be making the trip?"

Ben Simmons was off smiling again. "I would... but I think we both know that most of the guests here would prefer that I didn't."

"No arguments here," Chris said. Though he wasn't purposely trying to be rude, the man had a way of inviting it. A little later on he said a bit softer, ".. I guess I should be thanking you. At least it gives us an opportunity to show Old Charlie just how we feel about him."

"A good man," Ben Simmons replied. "... trust me, someday he's soon to be rewarded for that... "

When Tuesday came, Chris was more than a little pleased to see that nearly everyone had made it onto the bus. Poor Annie... here was a woman who was barely able to speak or move, suffering from the effects of many a damaging strokes, yet she still insisted that a nurse bring her along. She planned on buying Old Charlie an electric razor, mentioning along the way, that she had heard Charlie complain about his old razor a dozen times over. Chip decided on buying him the last few novels, cranked out by his own favorite novelist, Stephen King. Jim Cummings and Bo Duffy chipped in together, and bought Old Charlie the home version of 'Jeopardy'. Even then, they argued, squabbling over who had the right to carry the gift back onto the bus. Darren Borden, who had spent most of his time inside of the mall's novelty shops, came away with a bottle of 'over the hill' pills and a hat which stated, 'Seniors are Sexy'.  Emma, tended to agree. A rather handsome, slightly built woman, who most knew, always had something of a thing for Old Charlie, perhaps planned out the most thoughtful of gifts. A beautifully framed picture of herself, along with most of the other guests, signed with their love, and last friendship.

The next day at the party, Emma's gift had Old Charlie in tears. He kept staring at it, noticing that everyone in the picture, his friends, were all standing there, right alongside of him.

"I don't know what to say," he said, losing his voice for some time. "This is the best birthday that I ever had... thanks."

Emma was alongside of Jim Cummings now, and slightly behind Old Charlie. She was caught, gently placing a hand on Old Charlie's shoulders. He turned back, just enough to catch her smiling at him.

"One more surprise," Emma said with a nod, suggesting that he look elsewhere for the moment, ahead to the dining room doors.

Charlie seen the light, the soft glow as the doors parted. He played the part at first, bringing both his hands up to cover a slightly embarrassed look. It was quite soon after though, upon noticing just who it was that was marching into the room with his cake, that his hands were falling back to his side.
"Happy birthday, father... "

After shuffling the last few feet, Eric put the cake down and centered it in front of his father. Old Charlie had a hand out, urging his son to come just that little bit closer so he could reach up and give him a hug.
"I can't believe you showed up, Eric... All these years, you finally remembered..."

As they separated, his son put his head down a bit. Even as a kid, he never did quite seem to remember when his father's birthday was. "Well, I can't really take all of the credit for that, Dad. A little of it has to go to Emma here... "


Old Charlie was glancing back over his right shoulder then. He was smiling, noticing that Emma's hand was still resting on it.

"I asked Julie from staff," Emma said, suggesting where she might have gotten his son's phone number. "I hope you don't mind?"

"... mind?" he said. He followed up with a little wink -- though at his age, it may have looked more like a twitch. At any rate, the important thing was, his son was here with him now. Standing right next to him in fact, and urging him to blow out the candles on his cake.

"Make a wish, Dad."

"... and make it a good one," Bo Duffy added, chuckling.

Old Charlie's unsteady hands were now flat on the table. He was staring into the tiny, flickering flames and past a few warm tears. At the moment, he felt a bit overwhelmed. He could hardly think of a thing left to wish for.
"They've already come true," he said, referring to any one wish that he might have had earlier. "Except... "

With a quick smile, Charlie blew out the candles.

As the party ended, most had picked their separate directions and went off to bed. Chris was on his own way there himself when he had stumbled into the one guest who had chosen to skip their little get-together. He and Ben Simmons wound up standing rather uncomfortably close to one another, in the middle of an upstairs hall.
"... you were missed at the party, Mr. Simmons," Chris said, attempting to thwart a potential, awkward moment. ".... other plans?"

Ben Simmons was taking a casual glance over his shoulders at that moment, towards the staircase that led to the downstairs of the manor. Bo Duffy was just now making his way to the top of the stairs, entering his room at the short end of the hall. He had taken a glance to his left, saw the two men standing there, but hoped his head hadn't turned enough to give it away.

Ben Simmons noticed--

"I did peak in," Ben Simmons mentioned, the moment Bo Duffy's door closed and he turned his head back around. "... would have liked to have been there too. But it's rather obvious that my presence would have created nothing more than an uncomfortable situation."

Chip was nodding a little, attempting not to frown. For the first time since he had met this rather odd man, he was feeling a bit sorry for him.
"Well, it's not to say that they don't, well... like you, Mr. Simmons. But to be quite honest, you do have a tendency to make them feel a bit uneasy. After all, these predictions of yours... you have to admit, it doesn't exactly make for pleasant dinner conversation."

"I am aware of their slight hesitations towards me, Mr. Johnson. Needless to say, I do hear them talk. I suspect that some of the guests here surmise that I walk about in the night, stalking them like some type of vampire-- " He laughed a little then, though quite oddly. It was as if it was the first time that he had ever attempted to do so. "It's quite absurd, mind you... granted, the setting is right, the rather large house... the out of the way country location. But it all seems like a rather bad, made for tv movie, doesn't it?"

Chris had a hand on his hip, shaking his head. "... too obvious, Mr. Simmons. It would help explain away allot of  hearsay, but quite frankly, you just don't strike me as the murdering type. It's too untidy a business, murder... I can't imagine you dirtying your hands like that."

"... and yet you still don't trust me, do you Mr. Johnson?"

As he considered that, Chris brought a hand up to his face, scratching away at the stubble awhile, before his hand fell away, opened and wound up in a pose out in front of him.

"I'm sorry... but I guess I don't," he eventually answered, deciding at some point to be honest. "I suppose, that there's a suspicious part of me that somehow believes, beyond your own predictions, of course, that you do have a hand in this. It has crossed my mind Mr. Simmons... that perhaps, these people aren't really dying all that naturally."

Chris could think of a few, unattractive scenarios. Suffocation, lacing the guests' medications... the last guest who had departed, a Frank Whitley, had taken a nasty tumble down the stairs. Paranoid as it may seen, he had read about events like these taking place in other nursing homes, even hospitals.
"... is there something in particular that you're accusing me of here, Mr. Johnson?"

"Well... "
Chris shifted his stance, throwing his head back a little more. Ben Simmons was quite taller than he was -- he simply wanted to be certain that he was looking him straight in the eye. "A passing thought, Ben... but on the other hand -- I would be fascinated to know why you were heading west down the hall, when your own room is off in the other direction... a little exercise, perhaps?"

While smiling, Simmons stole a glance past him, down through the hall to where his room actually was. "As you suggest Mr. Simmons... a quiet stroll. Nothing more than a little exercise. But I must say," he said, as his eyes discreetly shifted back his way, "you rather surprise me."

"Oh? How so?"

"... an intelligent man like yourself, falling victim to the rumors of the night? I would not have believed it."

Chris was shrugging some, attempting to fight off the mild embarrassment that was creeping up on him. Outwitted, and he knew it. Unique abilities aside, Ben Simmons was also proving himself to be a quite, clever man.
"... I wasn't exactly suggesting the ludicrous here," Chris began, prepared to defend himself. "And I certainly don't believe that you were out there runnin' amuck in the night, participating in some type of ritualistic vampire activity. However, you should know this Mr. Simmons... I don't intend to sit idly by in my rocking chair just waiting for that proverbial axe to fall."


"... that I don't plan on taking my own death lying down, sir."

With his lips thinning, Simmons nodded. "Of course -- but in the same token, you should also know that we all have our own time, Mr. Johnson... even you. And try as you will, you may find that some things in this life are just preordained."

Somewhat intimidated, Chris' stance stiffened. "Is that in some way, suppose to be a threat towards me, Mr. Simmons?"

"It's hardly a threat sir, I merely state the obvious. As a mortal being, I'm sure you're well aware of the fact that you're hardly immune to the inevitability of your own death."

Chris shrugged back his acceptance of that and said, "... a reality all but excepted by my advancing age Mr. Simmons, along with the creaking in my bones. But I hope you know, I have no intentions of rushing into it."

"... and as well you shouldn't," Simmons replied. "You have many more fine years ahead of you Mr. Johnson, of that, I am sure."

"... and Charlie?" Chris wondered aloud.

There was still large a part of him that was holding onto some faint hope, that Ben Simmons was wrong, and that Charlie would live. Disappointingly though, Simmons never showed an interest in answering him. He had gradually worked his way around him, nodded a goodnight, and had left him standing there alone in the hall.

 On his way to his own room again, Chris smiled down towards Emma as he seen her entering Old Charlie's room. In full make-up, and with quite a bit of time spent doing her hair -- it seemed Old Charlie was not about to spend what could be the last of his birthdays alone.

* * * * * * *

From what Emma said of it later, she and Charlie behaved like two love struck teenagers, hopelessly lost within one another, while lingering in each others arms and dreams for hours. There was no love making -- or at least if there was, Emma chose not to admit to it. Yet noting that she had not left his room until about three a.m., and that Old Charlie himself had probably gotten little sleep after, she mostly blamed herself for him not making it through to the morning.

Whatever the cause, it appeared that Old Charlie had died peacefully -- passing on with a book in his hand, and a pair of thick rimmed reading glasses perched on the bridge of his nose. Allie, the staff member who had found him, had entered the room, opened the shades and had even chatted on with him for a few minutes before she had even realized that Old Charlie was gone.
 Gathered outside of the room now, Charlie's friends stood quietly by, consoling one another as they watched him being covered up, wheeled out and taken away by ambulance. There were no suspicions, no questions being asked. It was just widely accepted, that the old just died. Various reasons; illness, falls, broken hearts... who knew what else. Yet none of the ambulance crew who ever had the unpleasant task of wrapping up and removing the bodies ever much cared. They were simply doing the lower end part of their jobs.

Later on, when things had settled down, Old Charlie's friends had all gathered in the front room downstairs. There were a few tears, and Emma was really broken up at first, but she was since holding her own, receiving comfort from her sister, and a dozen other shoulders. Eric, Old Charlie's son, had called too, informing them of the funeral arrangements, and the fact that he would be supplying rides to anyone interested, and needing one. Chris figured, perhaps Eric wasn't such a bad kid after all -- at least he knew who his father's friends were. Right now, most of them were just reminiscing, remembering all of the good times they had with Charlie.

"... remember the time he tried playing lawn darts, and wound up knockin' that poor ol' squirrel out of the tree?" Bo Duffy laughed.

All at once, people began to loosen up, smile a little.

Emma said, "I remember him being so upset that day, that he insisted that one of the staffers rush the little critter to an animal hospital. I can still see the expression on Julie's face when the little guy woke up at the end of the drive and jumped right out of her car."

"... what a card," Annie said of Charlie, working out a chuckle.

"That guy even felt sorry for the worms that the birds plucked out of the ground," Jim Cummings laughed. "I remember him being on the lawn the one day, just yellin' at the damn things... eat the birdseed!"

Everyone laughed, Bo Duffy had almost fallen off the couch.

"... yea, he certainly was a card alright," Darren Borden smiled, fondly looking over to the place where he and Charlie had just played chess together.

  Chris himself was rather quiet, yet comfortable where he was. Just looking on, and listening to the others as they celebrated Old Charlie's life. It had dawned on him then, that perhaps death wasn't quite the sad affair that most thought it to be.
 In a matter of hours, these people, Charlie's friends, had all but conquered their grief, and replaced it with the most pleasant of memories. It was as if the love and laughter that Old Charlie had left behind had enriched their lives', given them the strength to move on, yet the warm hearts to remember. Even in death, he doubted that Old Charlie himself would have traded away even a minute of these last few days.

 Yet, something was troubling Chris himself --

Old Charlie's gift, the picture --  Emma had taken it from Charlie's room after he had died, and she had carried it with her to the downstairs.  It was sitting on an end table now, beside the couch.  It
wasn't the first time that he had seen it that clearly.  In fact, he had given it a good look after it was first developed, and again before he had signed it.  He saw it again for a third time, just last night.  But it was only now that he realized that he had missed something of relative importance.

 At the time the picture was taken, they were all seated in and around the same couch, much as they were now.  He recalled Ben Simmons being there at the time too, and the fact that he had politely refused to be included within their little, adopted families' snapshot.

 Ben Simmons had moved -- to about six, to eight feet behind them.  He wound up standing right alongside a bookcase, and to the left of a window frame.  But most importantly, with regards to the evidence that was there in  the photo, he was standing in a direct line with the camera when the picture would have been snapped.

 So then, where the hell was he?

 Nothing, other than an empty window ledge, a bookcase -- Yet, there should have at least been a blur of his head in there somewhere.... an arm, or a shadow of his suited frame. The background of the photo was not that far out of focus.

 Chris only weakly considered the fact that he could have been mistaken.  After all, in one's mid -
seventies, good memory was sometimes a hard thing to come by, much like a decent meal or warm feet.  But he trusted his eyes, to hell with the memory.  The photo could have been altered some too,
yes... but he doubted than an hour, wait while we process, photo mat would have been that creative -- most considered themselves lucky enough just to get the correct pictures back.

 Outside, there was a taxi-cab coming up the drive now -- Chris had noticed it when he had taken another glance out towards the window. It had pulled up front, alongside the front entrance of the manor, and its driver had been tapping away at the auto's horn.

 Chris was fairly certain that he knew who had called for it.

 It had taken a little effort, but Chris had managed to quietly slip out of the room, with the picture
in his hands.
 Upstairs, he found Ben Simmons' door open to the hallway -- Simmons himself was standing far inside the room, alongside his bed, and near the window.  He'd been staring down at the cab. Chris noticed the single suitcase that was packed, and sitting alongside the bed with him.

"... leaving?" he asked.  He left his hands behind him; he felt about twelve or thirteen at the moment, hiding something from a parent.

  Turning with the voice, Ben Simmons had taken  a casual glance down at the suitcase before bringing his eyes to him.
 "I can't  imagine that many will be sorry to hear that Mr. Johnson... but yes, I think it's time."

Chris nodded a bit.  "Well, I can't exactly say that the others won't be glad to hear that," he said,
sounding surprisingly dejected.  "But as for myself Mr. Simmons, I think that I may actually be
sorry to hear that."


Moving in closer, Chris was gradually bringing out what he had left behind his back.  He took care,
as he straightened the photo onto a dresser top.

 "... such a small, obscure detail,"  Chris was saying, while he smiled.  "I'll admit, it was one that I
nearly missed."

 Simmons had taken a discreet look at the picture himself then -- but Chris doubted that even that subtle glance was necessary.  Simmons already knew what was there in the picture... or should he say, what wasn't there.

 Chris himself expected nothing, other than the truth  now -- a denial by Ben Simmons would be by definition, nothing more than a thinly disguised lie.  And if he was right, Ben Simmons was hardly  capable of that.

 ".... you're a quite, intelligent man,"  Simmons said gradually. In a turnabout, he was now paying close, and particular attention to the picture.  His thoughts must have strayed beyond that of the picture though, to that of Old Charlie when he said,  "... though Charles' does understand my
reasoning now, I do believe that it's customary within the here and now, to apologize when one
is caught within the deception."

 Chris went about shaking his head then, waving off any need for that absolution.  "Unnecessary,
Mr. Simmons....  In fact, I think that it may be we, who owe you the apologies."


" I'll admit, that for a time, I was all but certain that you were nothing more than some gifted ghoul, bent on tormenting our remaining days. But then, it somehow occurred to me... you're not quite the 'grim reaper' people seem to think you are, are you?"

Smiling, a twinkle went to Simmons' eyes. "... we never much cared for that characterization, Mr. Johnson. Most mortals have this black vision of us, these hideous skeletal figures, hidden beneath dark robes and a swinging sickle."

Chris was smiling back -- perhaps incredible, yet he somehow knew that this man, or whatever this being was, was about to tell him the truth... confirm, what he thought, he already knew. "Yes... but angels aren't really like that at all, are they Mr. Simmons?"

"No, sir... "

"... and these dire predictions of yours. The chess match, Old Charlie's birthday... Emma, and his son Eric coming to visit -- hardly coincidences, were they?"

"It's what we do," he admitted, smiling as he took the time to take a lasting glance out the window. "This world is a beautiful place Mr. Johnson... or so it should be. We never come to terrorize the sick or the dying, we come to make their last moments bright."

"... angels," Chris sighed, looking off to a place that he could only imagine. "I would never have believed it... "

"Consider us guides," Simmons suggested instead. "Directors, if you will. We just sometimes give people that little push, point them in the right direction. The true angels are those who really care about you, those who take the time to show it."

Chris took another step forward -- An abrupt shame brought his head down, his eyes to the floor. "I'm sorry, I misjudged you," he said, taking that moment to look up, "misjudged 'him'."

Approaching him, Simmons laid a hand on Chris' shoulder.  "They're you're friends, Mr. Johnson...
and you've shown them an admirable concern.  We regret that our own efforts are often misleading
and misinterpreted, but in truth, it's how we best determine when it has become our own time to

Chris said nothing further, but nodded back as if he understood that. Nothing to be sad about, he told himself.  Something deep inside told him that there was hardly a lack of opportunity, of places where an angel could go.

 Outside, the driver was at his horn again. It was one of those impatient blasts, the driver threatening to leave without his fare.

 Offering his help, Chris had taken Ben Simmons' suitcase in hand, carrying it downstairs, and then outside to the waiting cab.  As he closed the back door of the vehicle, he took a few steps back
and waved.

He watched, as the taxi-cab turned left, then slowly made its way back down the drive. Another turn, and the taxi-cab was heading west down the highway. As the top of the vehicle disappeared from sight, somewhere beyond the crest in the road, Chris wondered if he would ever be seeing  Ben Simmons, or anyone else like him ever again.

Of that, he supposed, he could only guess. Yet if he was truly deserving of it, and it was his time, then perhaps, he thought,  he may just well find himself in for the best, last few days of his life --