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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Doctor Henderson Mayes realizes that something big is about to happen on a Wednesday in December, in Copley Square, Boston.
He solves a puzzle, but must make a terrible decision about telling his best friend the solution, which would place his friend and his secretary in grave danger.

Submitted: November 11, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 11, 2016




A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran


Doctor Henderson Mayes rushed into George Dane’s office without stopping to greet Dane’s clever secretary, Barbara Samuels—or to knock. His breathing was heavy, so labored Dane thought his best friend might collapse from a stroke or a heart attack.

Henderson’s face reflected a cross between life and death in color; neither was dominant; both were terrifying.

“For Christ’s sake,  Hendu, what is it?

Ms. Samuels rushed in uninvited, reacting to a fellow human in deep distress. Mayes clung to the oak desk of his most beloved and trusted riend.

“Ricardo Acata told me about the most terrifying conversation he overheard. He’s sure it’s something big; very big; and something totally unexpected.” He stopped to gulp air. Barbara fetched water. Dane opened a bottom drawer and produced a full bottle of Courvoisier. He opened it and waited for the best moment to pour some down his comrade’s throat

“And, what is it, Hendu ? Tell me.

Doctor Mayes was fifty-seven, yet his pallor, breathing, and horrible chest rales caused George and Barbara to think Mayes was beyond saving. Several staff gathered around Dane’s open door; others were calling 911.

Dane rushed around to support his friend. He drew the doctor to his swivel chair. He lowered the chair to a point where Mayes’ feet touched the carpet, allowing him to rest his head on his arms as soon as he dropped them onto George’s oak desk.

For a few moments, it was difficult for the two stunned witnesses to this scene of utter tribulation to imagine what they should do. Both were thinking of CPR, desperately reaching into their memory banks to retrieve the training they received twenty years ago as part of some life saving course.

Dane tipped the bottle of cognac for Mayes to place his lips around. Mayes swallowed at least four fingers before pulling back his head for air. After a few moments, the doctor’s breathing began to drop into the normal range. Gradually, his grey eyes became less tortured. His color returned to the extent that his face no longer bore the ashen mask of sudden death.

Doctor Mayes was a short man, who—as is so often the case—constantly seemed taller, especially when he loomed over his surgical patients before they went under his knife. He had all his black hair and most of his teeth. Ten years in the NHL allowed hockey sticks, pucks, and fists to punctured a few holes here and here. Excellent dentistry filled the gaps, allowing the jovial doctor to display their superior work throughout his doctoring day.

The generation following his retirement from the ice wars left him balancing on two spindly legs, which supported a large dewlap, an appendage constantly replenished with fine food and far too much drink. George patted Henderson on the back and kneaded his shoulders. Barbara caressed his forehead with one hand and gently squeezed the doctor’s arm with the other. A positive girdle of life locked the trio together while they valiantly pushed aside the invisible shrouds of despair.

Barbara left to get her iPhone. She immediately retruned, tapping the record button. With the help of another large swallow of cognac while he loosened his collar and tie, Doctor Mayes gathered breath, leaned back in the chair, and began.

“I was talking with Ricardo Acata, a friend, who recently moved here from Mexico City. He’s an internist at Mercy Hospital in Davenside, just north of Boston. We’ve just nodded a few times in the past; maybe a word of greeting or two; something like that,” taking in a much larger breath, “anyway, about a week ago, we were virtually alone in the cafeteria for several minutes until my next surgery. Ricardo’s shift in the ER began in an hour. We started talking and we got along very well. I think we became friends. We were both very open, honest. We had a good gab about everything from quantum mechanics to Gabriel Garcia Marquez; all over the place.”Henderson gave a sickly laugh. He was in good humor despite barely missing the ‘big sleep’.“So; today as I was coming out of surgery, he came running up to me—and I mean really running. He was pale and confused; angry and silent, all at the same time. He was angry at himself because his English was not good enough to clearly explain to me what he had seen and heard; mainly heard.” Doctor Mayes gulped more water and chased it with another slug of Courvoisier.“I told Ricardo that I was through for an hour or so. But he wasn’t even listening to me. He forcefully dragged me to a quiet spot away from the doors leading to the numerous surgery rooms.

“He told me that the night before, he and his wife Elena were in the Copley Square Hotel in Boston, in the bar; the Boston Lounge, I think he said. His wife left for the Ladies’ Room and he was sitting alone with his thoughts. Suddenly, he told me, there was one of those odd moments that occasionally occur in very noisy places. All the noise gathers together in one second; then there are five to ten seconds of silence. “During this silence, Ricardo told me that he heard two men in the next booth say “Operation Godfrey. It’s on. Wednesday.”

"Then, Ricardo said, all that noise from the bar and restaurant, even the TV channels, resumed. He said that it was as though someone—or some thing— pushed aside all noise expressly for the purpose of allowing Ricardo to hear those words.”

Dane looked over at Barbara and raised one eyebrow. In return, Barbara gave Dane an answer with the slight lift of her shoulders.George Dane was a healthy, solidly built man of fifty-six, in spite of his loathing of all things sporting—or anything that required lifting or pulling. He had his cognac, cigars, and a loving wife, as well as a large number of understanding men with whom he played golf. He was clean-shaven, pigeon-toed, and required three packs of mints a day to mask his boozy breath.

Doctor Mayes inhaled very deeply this time, and resumed.“I can tell without looking at either of your faces; I can feel it. I know that you are wondering about Ricardo’s—as well as my own—extraordinary reaction to it. However, my dear friend—and you, as a friend as well, Barbara—the tone of Ricardo’s voice; the look in his eyes; the lack of any color in his face; the look of foreboding; fear; whatever you want to call it; he was a man as terrified as any I have ever seen. And I was in Vietnam for five years as a Medic. I never once saw such a look of dread; pure naked horror, as that which Ricardo wore when he told me about those words.” 

Sirens in the rain were drew closer. The number of people gathered around Dane’s open door changed in personnel, remaining the same in numbers.“Now, I realize both of you are reacting as you think I should have reacted to these few words. But I knew they were true,” sighing, “Ricardo’s entire demeanor as well as the words themselves had the ring of truth about them; a dreadful truth. I did not react that way until Ricardo told me that the two men had accents. I thought about this, and then I asked him what accents. He said he didn’t know. His command of the language is still slight and restricted mostly to the medical terms of the ER.

“I asked him what languages he studied in Mexico, in addition to English. He told me that his studies at the university were French and Chinese. He was positive that the accent of the men was neither of those two languages.”Doctor Mayes sat up a bit straighter in the chair while his color made inroads behind his ears as well as under his nose. After a few more moments, he managed a weak smile.The gathering of other brokers as well as their supervisors—even some of their secretaries depleted. The sound of computer keys resumed at peak levels while some brokers and specialists shouted orders and requests. In a few minutes, the office of George Dane and Sons was once again clattering out the financial fortunes and misfortunes of their customers.

Barbara continued to massage the Doctor’s neck while Dane moved around and sat in a leather chair to face his best friend. EMTs were in the hall. Doctor Mayes asked them to wait a moment; that he was feeling much better; but if they would not mind waiting five minutes or so to see if he had recovered enough to go home on his own, he would very much appreciate it. The senior EMT nodded and asked if he required digitalis or any of a number of other heart medications that they carried with them for just these occasions.“Thanks guys; I think I’m okay. And thanks for waiting just a bit to make sure.”George Dane leaned over the front of his desk and peered into the deep grey eyes of his dearest friend. “You look much better, Hendu; are you okay to continue?”“Yes; I think so. I haven’t finished my story; why I came here on what could have been a dead run.” His laugh was almost merry. Barbara and George managed only tentative smiles.“Why I came in here like the first dying marathoner. And why to you, Geo, I do not know. Once I realized what was happening; what Ricardo really heard, I became panic stricken. I admit it. Here I am, fifty-seven and in a white-hot panic of bottomless depths.” He reached for the cognac and took another large swallow.

'I think I’m only alive and able to talk as coherently as I have been because of the wonderful properties of your superior cognac.” He held the bottle by the neck and drew a long draft before replacing the bottle on the blotter. Shortly, his color returned; and, in fact, it passed normal and raced toward ‘flushed’. His speech began to contain hints of sibilant s’s. He resumed while he placed the brandy on the desk and inhaled.

“Well, I talked with Ricardo for another twenty minutes and after all my questioning I asked again for a detailed description of the two men who immediately got up and left the bar following their remarks. Ricardo is positive they didn’t know he was there. He is rather small of stature and neither of the two men was much taller than he and therefore would not have noticed him, even if they had looked.”

Doctor Mayes was silent. Dane stayed in his chair and reached for the cognac. He held the bottle up for Barbara to see. She nodded in the negative while she continued to knead the Doctor’s neck and shoulder muscles. Dane was not sure his friend knew he was receiving a first class massage from an extremely capable and attractive young woman.“Well, we went out for a drink at the Sand Bar, and while we were there; that’s about an hour ago now, Ricardo suddenly grabbed my wrist, his eyes widened, his pupils dilated and his nostrils threatened to fly away from his septum.“He cried out to me, “there the accent. I didn’t have at first.”“Then, before I could ask him, he repeated “These here the accent; of these men.”“I struggled through all the blind alleys to arrive at his meaning and because I had heard the people talking, I understood that Ricardo was telling me that some people in the bar with us were speaking together and talking in English, with that accent.“We were surrounded by tables and benches, sawdust; very informal; and so I gave Ricardo my best blank look and asked him to point out or take me to the table in the area of the people speaking with the accent.

"He immediately understood and beckoned me to follow him. We left our drinks and I followed him into the restaurant portion of the Bar and Restaurant, where he looked about for the people he was seeking. 

“Suddenly, he turned to me, took my arm, and we went clear across the restaurant. We maneuvered around tables; barely avoided waiters and waitresses, bus persons, table setters, the maitre d; it seemed like the entire staff of the Sand Bar restaurant was in our path. Finally, all the staff vanished from our view and we set a clear course for the table in the corner where three couples were conversing in twos and threes while they occasionally glanced at their menus.

“Ricardo is a very brave man by nature and by all accounts from the ER, he is their number one ‘ice man’; no emotion, veins full of ice water. So the ‘ice man’ politely interrupted a couple of the six diners and asked them where they were from.”

Doctor Mayes had regained his composure as well as his bearing. The cognac acted as his Dutch courage to enable him to continue his narrative; a chronicle that nearly felled him only minutes ago when he first appeared at the front door of the brokerage. A gathering of all his physical strength, and unvented emotions propelled him through the waiting room, down the aisles, and into George’s office. Now, Doctor Mayes exhaled his breath with healthy regularity. Each new respiration contained tiny balloons of air, scented with cognac tripping out of his now perfectly sluiced mouth.“The older woman of the conversing threesome replied in a kindly tone. “Devon.”Ricardo needed no more. Nor did I. The accent he heard was clearly that of people from Great Britain; England.

"Now I knew I had to revisit the words that he heard: “Operation Godfrey. It’s on. Wednesday.” “I admit I puzzled for many minutes over these words. Finally, it came to me. An English accent. What they really said only sounded like Godfrey; what they were really saying was Geoffrey; pronounced with a sound like Jawfrey. The English pronounce these two words as Gawfrey and Jawfrey. Don’t you see? Ricardo mistook one for the other because of the accent. These, added to his limited abilities in the English language—even the ‘American’ English language ___”

He stopped, looked straight at George, and held his eyes for several moments while he waited for some signal that his friend divined the clue; the connection; the dreadful threat. George returned no sign of comprehension. Doctor Mayes looked up and over his shoulder to see if Barbara understood. He stared deeply into the windows of her soul and found no comprehension hiding there. He turned forward, slumped onto the desk, and reached for the cognac. Before raising the bottle to his lips, Henderson Mayes inhaled very long and very deep. He held his breath for some time, perhaps hoping—wishing—that one of the two might grasp the terrifying significance of those words.

He finally released the air from his expanded chest with a long, whooshing sound of sibilant s’s. He heaved a tremendous sigh and drank from the bottle once more.“Neither of you understand; you don’t get it. Think, man. Who’s coming to Boston on Wednesday; where will the speech take place?”Barbara and George remained silent as they struggled to make anagrams; decipher some deep-net code; form the words backwards; then holding them to a mental mirror.

Several moments passed.Doctor Henderson Mayes rose. He decided if he told them what he figured out, they would hate him for it. At the very least, they would be hounded—perhaps harmed—if anyone were to find out they had not only been advised but also chose to ignore the clear warning. The doctor concluded: ‘ramblings of a slightly tipsy surgeon . . . if they want to confess that they heard the words, they could pass them off as the rambling ravings of a dipsomaniacal doctor.

Doctor Henderson Mayes died that night. They said it was a heart attack. George and Barbara do not believe the diagnosis. Their conviction hardened when they learned Ricardo Acata was killed in a wreck on the Zakim Bridge, while driving drunk. He killed three other people including two children. His Blood Alcohol Level was .26, over three times the legal limit; three times the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood calculated to render a person under the influence of alcohol. Doctor Ricardo’s widow swore to George Dane that Ricardo seldom drank, and never to excess.


When Dane arrived to console Henderson’s wife Janice and the other members of his family, Janice gave George an envelope. On the front Hendu wrote: “To be given to George Dane and opened only by him, while he is completely alone”.*Slanting rays from a weak December sun illuminated the one page Dane held at eye level while he endeavored to read his dear-departed friend’s handwriting. He read it very carefully several times. He reread it several more times. “Operation Geoffrey. It’s on. Wednesday.”  

Next day, a gusting nor’easter pounded the Boston area with four inches of rain over a three-hour period. They cancelled all outdoor activities scheduled for Copley Square, including several speeches to commemorate the holiday season, despite the decision of the first Pilgrims.

The following day offered a cloudless sky, rare for December in Boston. The weather, including the temperature, was a taste of spring; a promise of a full Spring, a New Spring. Despite the nor’easter, the speech remained on calendar. It was an extremely important speech. The entire country—the entire world—was riveted to their screens as the speaker rose to deliver an address on the sunny Wednesday afternoon in Copley Square.

Two cracks punctured the air. Pigeons scattered. The hopes of the world rose.


© Copyright 2020 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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