Page 58 of Overload


Other sounds merged softly; the steady hum of the respirator mechanism which kept Karen breathing, and an accompanying hiss of air, inward and out; small clatters of dishes, the noise of a cupboard door opening, then closing, from the kitchen.

"About the power failure," Karen resumed. "I'd been to a movie, at a theater where they have facilities for wheelchairs-I can do so many things now with Humperdinck that I couldn't before-and, while Josie was driving, all the street lights, and lights in buildings, went out."

"Almost one hundred square miles," Nim said with a sigh. "Everything went. Everything."

"Well, we didn't know that then. But we could see it was widespread, so Josie drove directly to Redwood Grove Hospital, which is where I go if I ever have problems. They have an emergency generator. The staff took care of me, and I stayed at the hospital for three days until the power was back on here."

"Actually," Nim told her, "I already knew most of that. As soon as I could after those explosions and the blackout, I phoned your number. I was at the office; I'd been called in from home. When there was no answer I had someone contact the hospital, which is listed on your info sheet.

They told us you were there, so I stopped worrying because there was lots to do that night."

"It was an awful thing, Nimrod. Not just the blackout, but those two men murdered."

"Yes, they were old-timers," Nim said, "pensioners who were brought back in because we were short of experienced security help. Unfortunately their experience belonged to another era and we found out later that the worst they'd ever dealt with was an occasional trespasser or small-time thief. They were no match for a killer."

"Whoever did it hasn't been caught yet?"

Nim shook his head. "It's someone we, and the police, have been looking for for a long time. The worst thing is, we still haven't the slightest idea who he is or where he operates from."

"But isn't it a group-Friends of Freedom?"

"Yes. But the police believe the group is small, probably no more than a half-dozen people, and that one man is the brains and leader. They say there are similarities in all the incidents so far which point to that-like a personal handwriting. Whoever he is, the man's a homicidal maniac."

Nim spoke feelingly. The effect of the latest bombing on the GSP & L system had been far worse than any other preceding it. Over an unusually wide area, homes, businesses and factories had been deprived of electric power for three to four days in many cases, a week in others, reminding Nim of Harry London's observation several weeks earlier that, "Those crazies are getting smart."

Only by a massive, costly effort which required bringing in all of GSP & L's spare transformers, borrowing some from other utilities, and diverting all available personnel to effect repairs, had power been restored as quickly as it was. Even so, GSP & L was being criticized for failure to protect its installations adequately. “The public is entitled to ask," the California Examiner pontificated in an editorial, "if Golden State Power & Light is doing all it can to prevent a recurrence. Judging by available evidence, the answer is 'no."' However, the newspaper offered no suggestion as to how the enormous, widespread GSP & L network could be protected everywhere twenty-four hours a day.

Equally depressing was the absence of any immediately usable clues. True, the law enforcement agencies had obtained another voice print, matching earlier ones, from the bombastic tape recording received by a radio station the day after the bombings. As well, there were some threads of denim material snagged on a cut wire near the site of the double murder, almost certainly from a garment worn by the attacker. The same wire also revealed dried blood which had been typed and found to differ from the blood of both dead guards. But, as a senior police detective told Nim in a moment of frankness, "Those things can be useful when we have someone or something to match them with. Right now we're no nearer to having that than we were before."

"Nimrod," Karen said, interrupting his thoughts. "It's been almost two months since we were together. I've truly missed you."

He told her contritely, "I'm sorry. I really am."

Now that he was here, Nim wondered how he could have stayed away so long.

Karen was as beautiful as be remembered her and, when they kissed a few minutes ago-a lingering kiss-her lips were loving, just as they had seemed before. It was as if, in a single instant, the gap in time had closed. Something else Nim was aware of: In Karen's company he experienced a sense of peace, as happened with few other people be knew. The feeling was hard to define, except perhaps that Karen, who had come to terms with the limitations of her own life, transmitted a tranquillity and wisdom suggesting that other problems, too, could be resolved.

"It's been a difficult time for you," she acknowledged. "I know because I read what the newspapers said about you, and saw reports on television,"

Nim grimaced. “The Tunipah hearings. I've been told I disgraced myself."

Karen said sharply, "You don't believe that, anymore than I do. What you said was sensible, but most reports played that part down."

"Any time you like, you can handle my public relations."

She hesitated, then said, "After it happened I wrote some poetry for you.

I was going to send it, then thought maybe you were tired of hearing from everybody, no matter what they said."

"Not everybody. Just most people." He asked, "Did you save it-the poem?"

"Yes." Karen motioned with her head. "It's over there. In the second drawer down."

Nim rose from his seat and crossed to a bureau beneath bookshelves. Opening the drawer he had been told to, he saw a sheet of Karen's blue stationery on top, which he took out, then read what was typewritten.

The moving finger sometimes does go back,

Not to rewrite but to reread;

And what was once dismissed, derided, mocked,

May, in the fullness of a moon or two,

Or even years,

Be hailed as wisdom,

Spoken forthrightly at that earlier time,

And having needed courage

To face the obloquy of others less perceptive,

Though burdened with invective.

Dear Nimrod!

Remind yourself: A prophet's seldom praised

Before sunset

Of the day on which he first proclaimed

Unpalatable truths.

But if and when your truths

In time become self-evident,

The

ir author vindicated,

Be, at that ha

r

v

est moment, forgiving, gracious,

Broad of mind, large-purposed,

Am

used by life's contrariness.

For not to all, only the few,

Are presbyopic gifts: long vision, clarity, sagacity,

By chance, through lottery at birth,

Bestowed by busy nature.

Silently, Nim read the words a second time. At length he said, "Karen, you never cease to surprise me. And whenever you do this I'm not sure of what to say, except I'm moved and grateful."

At that moment, Josie-short and sturdy, her dark features beaming -marched in with a loaded tray. She announced, "Lady and gentleman, dinner is served."

It was a simple but tasty meal. A Waldorf salad, followed by a chicken casserole, then lemon sherbet. Nim had brought wine-a hard-to-get Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon-superli. As on the last occasion, Nim fed Karen, experiencing the same sense of sharing and intimacy that he had before.

Only once or twice did he remember with a trace of guilt the excuse he had used for not being at home tonight-an evening business engagement for GSP & L. But he rationalized that spending the time with Karen was different from other occasions when he had cheated, and lied to Ruth, or tried to. Perhaps, even now, he thought, Ruth didn't believe him, but if so she had given no indication when he left this morning. Also in his favor, Nim. reminded himself: During the past four weeks there had been only one other occasion when he was not at home in time for family dinner, and then he genuinely had been working late.

Easily, leisurely, during their intensely personal dinner, Nim and Karen talked.

Josie had removed dishes and brought them coffee when, for a second time, the subject of Karen's van came up. Humperdinck. The special van, adapted under Ray Paulsen's direction to convey a quadriplegic's elaborate, powered wheelchair, and purchased from GSP & L by Karen's parents.

"Something I haven't explained," Karen told him, "is that I don't really own Humperdinck. I can't afford to. It has to be registered to my father, even though I use it."

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