TIME scripts

by marshall vickery

chapter 1

Atlanta, Georgia—February 12, 2008

Seated in the aisle chair of the fourteenth row in the Savannah ballroom of the Georgia World Congress Center, Tommy Hamilton knew that today had to be the day.

“Consider the advantages. Think of the few small changes, very judiciously chosen, that could create a better world," Dr. Jack Arduino was saying from the podium. The Lavalier microphone on his lapel amplified and deepened his voice. “We must endure life’s outcomes. What if we could control their causes?" 

Not easy to choose, these small judicious changes, thought Tommy. And as for control, well, that's a fool's dream for most people. He crossed his legs, folded his enormous hands in his lap, and sighed.

There were about one hundred and fifty people in the audience, and about a third as many empty seats, especially toward the front. Maybe half were scientists and researchers who had some expertise in the matters being presented. The other half—science fiction buffs, actual or would-be writers, tech reporters and a smattering of Trekkies—made up with enthusiasm or dour professionalism what they lacked in knowledge.

“Thank you for your attention, ladies and gentlemen," Jack said, clicking off the last slide. Tommy hit Send on his email app.

Jack edged away from the podium and then came back to it. 

"Perhaps my presentation did strike some of you as a work of fiction," he added, looking at the audience with an impish grin. "And if I find out which one of you sent the advance copy to Astounding Science Fiction Magazine for publication, I’ll have my agent contact you for copyright infringement."

There was robust applause and only a few chuckles among the crowd as Jack made his way from the podium to his front row seat. Since the next speaker was being introduced, Jack decided this would be a good time to check his messages. 

The small preview windows of his iPhone showed that two had arrived while he was speaking—one was a text from his sister, Sarah, the other an email. Squinting to see the words, he read, THIS IS IT at the top of Sarah’s text. He guessed at the rest of it. He swiped left and opened the text app.
 
Tears welled in his eyes, partially blurring his view.

Before he had a chance to read the text, the phone vibrated again with an incoming call. It was a call from Sarah.

Jack touched the Accept icon and whispered, “Hey, Sis. Hold on.”

“Hey, did you get my text?” his sister’s voice said, without pausing. “Mom is not going to make it this time. Can you come up?”

Swallowing hard, Jack got up from his chair and walked out of the ballroom. The time on his watch was 5:15 p.m. 

“You’re done with your talk, right?” Sarah continued. “I checked the flights and if you hurry you can catch the Delta to Dulles at 7:05 p.m.”

Jack felt a lump in his throat. His eyes fell on the poster tacked to the easel next to the ballroom door and on the smiling picture of a younger self.

4TH ANNUAL TECH SYMPOSIUM
3:45 p.m. Savannah Ballroom
Keynote: IS TIME TRAVEL POSSIBLE?
DR. JACK ARDUINO - DARPA, WASHINGTON

Since that picture, taken five years earlier, Jack had shed fifteen pounds and, at 6’3”, with a muscular build, he now looked thin for his height. His long face, with a smooth forehead and few frown lines around his hazel eyes, strong jaw and fine light brown hair made him look younger than his 49 years. He moved in a smooth, fluid manner and, in the Italian fashion, gestured with his hands while talking. 

“We are fortunate to have among us today Dr. Jack Arduino of DARPA,” the conference host had announced to the audience. “He’s a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, class of 1980, and earned a PhD in Applied Physics from the University of Maryland at the age of 22. After completing ten years of service in the U.S. Navy, Dr. Arduino joined DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1991 to work on Project Sea Shadow IX-529, an experimental stealth ship built by Lockheed for the U.S. Navy to determine the feasibility of designing and building a very low radar profile vessel. Three years later, he was promoted to Deputy Director of DARPA’s Special Projects Office, and since 1999, he has taken the role of Managing Director at the Tactical Technology Office. 

“This afternoon, Dr. Arduino will be speaking on time travel, a topic that may not quite harmonize with his impressive credentials, if I may say so…” He had turned and smiled at Jack, who was standing a couple of feet behind him. “Nonetheless, I can assure you that Dr. Arduino is eminently qualified to speak on this topic, as it represents the culmination of many years of passionate research going as far back as his childhood. Isn’t that so, Dr. Arduino?”

Jack had cringed at the personal reference and forced himself to smile to warm applause from the audience.

What the man was saying, Jack had to admit, was true. The job at DARPA’s TTO required him to keep a very busy schedule of meetings, many of them classified, and to direct, in his typical hands-on fashion, the activities of the 18 program managers who were his direct reports.

The official description of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office was “to provide or prevent strategic and tactical surprise with very high-payoff, high-risk development and demonstration of revolutionary new platforms in Ground Systems, Maritime (Surface and Undersea) Systems, Air Systems, and Space Systems.” This was what absorbed most of Jack’s waking hours. He excelled at big-picture thinking and people management. For many of the TTO’s administrative tasks, Jack relied heavily on his friend Bill Darrow. The competent and detail-oriented Deputy Director and a retired Navy captain had served, quite coincidentally, as Jack’s Executive Officer on the guided missile destroyer USS Kidd. As Darrow was fond of saying, “Jack and I go way back and I’m still his XO. Now we’re going way forward together, pushing the limits of technology... and beer drinking.”

Daria didn’t fit into his schedule, but she was, admittedly, the most important person in his life now. The beginning of the relationship dated back nine years, but it had deepened only in the last two. Jack’s love life (he always chuckled when he thought of those words) had been tormented until he had met Daria. When she had come along, he was forty, never married, feeling old. He hadn’t recognized her as “the one,” at first. Wary of trying unsuccessfully to understand women, Jack had dismissed her laid-back, friendly repartees as more of the same: messages of rejection. She was far subtler than the other women, but Jack was sure that the meaning of her words was the same: You are unlovable. Dr. Moody had suggested, or interpreted (that was the term she liked to use), that Jack’s fear of rejection had its roots in the relationship with his mother. Jack had looked at her in a way that had caused the young psychoanalyst to double down on her theory. “You’re chasing after your mother,” she had said. “Your subconscious desire is to be loved by a woman the way your mother loves you, which is inherently impossible.” After the first, difficult couple of years in which he kept her at a distance in every way except physically, the relationship with Daria had finally reached a new plateau where Jack had begun to experience emotional safety in ways that even his mother had not been able to provide.

The other passion that didn’t quite fit in his schedule stretched all the way to childhood. If he could have chosen, in his early career, to focus on only one scientific interest above all else, he would have picked time travel. Since the subject was not yet a profession and many in the scientific community considered it as unworthy of serious thought, he had pursued it on the side by keeping abreast of any serious research conducted by anyone, anywhere in the world. The advent of the Internet had greatly facilitated this task. 

Cloaked under his scientific curiosity, Jack had cultivated a more personal, more intense interest in the possibility that time travel could help him change his own past. He had never spent much time dreaming about the marvels of future technology. Were a time machine to be built and had he a chance to use it, Jack’s only interest was in traveling back into the past and changing it. As a child, he had initially devoured science fiction books of all kinds, but had progressively let go of the alien monsters and the galactic empires. He had refined his tastes to include only novels of time travel, preferably the ones that started with his favorite premise: a man, in today’s world, who is given the opportunity to travel back in time to change the past and avert a tragedy, prevent some wrongdoing, ward off some danger, and thereby change the present for the better. Since when he was a child, Jack had dreamed to be that man.

Three months ago, when he had received the invitation from Georgia Tech to participate in the symposium, Between Imagination and Reality: Is Science Fiction Becoming Real Science, he had submitted a paper on his favorite topic. It fit perfectly within the Symposium’s theme of the intersection of fantasy and the real world. He had made sure that his survey of the current knowledge on time travel was well documented and that his conclusions rested on solid ground. Jack knew that some of the most outlandish theories and possible time machine designs would cause the usual chuckles among the physicists and other scientists in the audience, but he had felt compelled to include them in his talk for the sake of thoroughness. Quite a few listeners, he was sure, would vehemently disagree with his two conclusions that time travel was indeed possible, albeit only theoretically now, and that the world simply awaited the inventor who could transform the theory into a working machine. Others, while inclined to believe that time travel was a technological impossibility, shared his secret wish that someone could prove otherwise.

“I don’t know, Sis,” Jack whispered in the phone. “It seems like we’ve done this way too many times.” 

“Jack, I know. I’m worn out, too. But I’m here and I think Mom’s really near the end this time,” Sarah said. “I think you should be here, too.”

Jack felt a familiar ache pulsate in his temples. Mother had been near death at least five times in the last two years. After each time, she had come back just a little weaker than before, only to decline again. 

“Sis, I’ll come up, but not tonight,” Jack said, with a tender tone in his voice. “I’m scheduled to fly to Boston tomorrow morning, but I’ll change my itinerary and come home. Mom will pull through, I’m sure, and I’ll see her tomorrow. Is she conscious?”

“Yes, hmm… I don’t know,” Sarah replied. “She’s in and out. I’ll tell her you’ll be here tomorrow. I’m sure she’ll be happy to hear that—it will lift her spirits. Be careful out there, Jacky Boy. I’ll see you when you get here.”

Pushing the Off button, Jack switched to the mail app and read the beginning of the email message: YOU’RE RIGHT DR A AND I CAN PROVE IT. He grimaced and opened the long message. The text was shouting at him in all caps and appeared to be a set of specifications. He skimmed it, flicking up the text with quick strokes of his index finger on the screen. 

In his time travel research, Jack had routinely come across farfetched ideas, impossible projects, and unusual characters. He had grown a keen ability to discern quickly the even remotely feasible from the outlandish.

He flicked to the end of the message and stopped, staring at the signature of the sender. The name, Dr. Thomas Hamilton, IV said nothing to Jack, but the line after it offered a bit more: 

GA-TECH GRAD PHD INVENTOR & BUILDER OF TM1 THE FIRST WORKING MORRIS-THRONE-YURTSEVER TIME MACHINE

The message outlined the specs for an apparatus capable of producing a wormhole, which would function as a time machine based on the 1988 paper by Michael S. Morris, Kip S. Thorne, and Ulvi Yurtsever of the Department of Theoretical Astrophysics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The paper’s authors had never intended to offer a blueprint for the building of a time machine and simply speculated that, “…if the laws of physics permit traversable wormholes, then they probably also permit such a wormhole to be transformed into a ‘time machine’ with which causality might be violatable.” 

In his presentation, Jack had described the theory behind a so-called MTY machine as very problematic. He had told his audience that, even if someone could artificially create a wormhole, which could permit the building of an MTY machine, it would have little chance of working. In fact, the electromagnetic vacuum fluctuations circulating through the wormhole would instantaneously destroy it. There were other, somewhat more plausible designs for a time machine than the MTY, and Jack had spent more time discussing those—only to conclude that, unfortunately, they were also destined to remain purely theoretical, at least for the time being.

Jack touched the screen to close the message. 

The phone vibrated again. He started to answer the call, when a voice spoke behind him.

“Dr. Arduino? I’d really like to have a word with you, please.” The man spoke in a soft, melodious Georgia drawl. “I’m Dr. Hamilton.”

Jack searched for a polite but firm way to tell this man that he had no interest in his machine.

When Jack turned to face the speaker, he saw a large, top-heavy man with an unruly mop of light brown hair, bright brown eyes, about 30 years old. Dr. Hamilton thrust forward an enormous hand, which appeared unsuited for anything but the heaviest of labor. 

“May I speak with you about the email I sent you earlier?” the man said. “I don’t know if you…” 

Jack hesitated before shaking the hand the man was offering him. “Yes, I did receive it,” Jack said. The man’s handshake was surprisingly gentle. “I don’t think there is much more that I can say, Dr. Hamilton, other than what I presented in my lecture. An MTY machine, with our current technology, simply cannot be built.”

“You might think I’m plumb crazy, Dr. Arduino. But, you see, I can demonstrate to you an MTY machine that works. I’ve designed it, built it and tested it, albeit not yet with a livin’ bein’, and I can assure you that it does work, that is, it sends objects through time. I reckon you’d be interested in seein’ such a demonstration?”

Jack felt a stirring of interest. He had run into self-proclaimed inventors of time machines before, but in all cases, they had claimed to have an idea or perhaps even a design, but never a working machine that they would be willing to demonstrate. Nonetheless, Jack had continued to look for his Emmett Brown. Without hesitation, Jack replied, “Yes, I may be interested in something like that. However, I just got word from my sister in Baltimore that my mother is very ill. I’m afraid this isn’t a good time.”

Hamilton’s brow gathered in a frown. “Oh, my goodness! I’m very sorry to have disturbed you, Dr. Arduino. I had no idea. I sincerely hope your mother feels better soon. I’ll take my leave now, and if it isn’t too much of an imposition, I’d like you to have this.” He handed Jack a sheet of paper.

It was a much more detailed set of specs, with the image of a black smartphone under which a caption read, “The TM-1 Activator.” Jack managed to contain a chuckle as he scanned the paper.

“Now, Dr. Hamilton—” 

Jack looked up from the paper, but the man had vanished.

CHAPTER 2

12 Cedar Lane, Kingsville, Maryland—February 13, 2008

Cecilia Monferrato was too old and fragile to attend her sister’s funeral. At age 96, she hated the idea of burying yet another of her younger siblings. She and her 88-year-old brother Arturo were the last remaining members of her generation in America. Their parents, Luigi and Adalgisa Monferrato, had migrated to America in the early 1920s from the northwestern Italian region of Piedmont, had raised six children while working day and night in their grocery store, and had saved enough money to buy a farm in Baltimore County. 

The third-born, Ferruccio had died at age 22 in Vietnam and was buried there somewhere, his remains never repatriated. Young Dora had died of the Spanish flu when she was only 16 years old. Marcello, the painter, had died just two years ago, the day after his 78th birthday.

The baby of the family, Bea was now gone, too. She, the “strong one,” had survived the war and lost her husband when she was only 35 and with two children to raise. She had beaten back cancer, but only for a while. Two years ago, it had come back and this time it was everywhere, not just in her breasts. She’d been given six months, but had fought it for almost two years.

Propped up on her bed, Cecilia could see a sliver of the Maryland countryside from her window. She had been confined to this room now for five years, except for the occasional trip to the doctor’s office and for her laydowns outside by the garden, when the weather was good. 

“Aunt Cissi, are you awake?” a woman’s voice asked.

“Sarah, dear, yes I’m awake. Come in, come in,” Cecilia replied with a smile.

“Letitia and Carlo have already gone ahead,” Sarah said, “and I’m leaving now. Do you need anything before I go?”

“I don’t think so, dear,” she replied, looking around the room and at her nightstand. “I have everything I need, and I’ll be just fine. You go on and say good-bye to Bea for me.”

Cecilia paused, closed and reopened her eyes. “Oh, yes. I do need you to do something for me.”

“Just name it, Aunt Cissi.”

“I want you to be sure and ask Jack to come back to see me before he leaves. When he does, I’d like you to be here, too. I’ve something that I need to talk about with both of you. It concerns your mom and dad.”

“OK, Aunt Cissi, I’ll tell him. I suppose you don’t want to give me even a hint of what it’s about?”

“Now, now, don’t be so curious. Go and give your mother a decent burial. Say your prayers over her grave, and then come back here. There’s much that we need to talk about, but I want you and your brother to both be here. I don’t like having to say the same thing twice. Run along.”

After Sarah left, Cecilia lowered her bed, closed her eyes and thought about her sister Bea. She had died peacefully, they said, at the hospice in Edgewood. 

She had last spoken to her sister by phone only three days ago. Somehow, Bea knew it would be the last time and had said so. Cecilia had understood.

“Cissi, I release you from the vow of secrecy,” Bea had said, her voice thin but strong over the phone. “As soon as I’m dead and buried, you’re free to tell my children the whole story. Jack and Sarah need to know what really happened. Who I was and who their father was. It’s time. Just tell me that you burned the… the other thing.”

“Yes, I did, but Bea, are you sure this time?” Cecilia had asked. Her sister was sure. The children deserved to know the truth, she had said, the truth that neither she nor her husband Vittorio had been able to reveal.

When Cecilia hung up the phone, her hand had trembled. She felt the burden of the decades of secrecy to which her sister had sworn her and from which she now had released her. She worried about the now-adult children’s reaction. 

She had never wanted that much responsibility but, as the oldest sibling, she had to carry it. She remembered the times when she was the only witness to Bea’s emotional pain, and watched her suffer, tormented by the memories that wouldn’t go away. The medication Bea took for PTSD had helped her greatly, but the cancer took that option away and, filled with ghosts, the flashbacks and the nightmares had come back, more frightening than before. Bea had started up drinking more heavily shortly after her husband had died, but she was already hooked on the sauce by the time the war was over.

Cecilia remembered the day when Bea and Vittorio had made it back home from Europe. Her sister looked thin, worn out. She had lost so much weight that her old clothes looked as if they belonged to someone else. The man who was with her, Vittorio or Vic as she insisted on calling him, was pale and looked even frailer, a ghostly figure who spoke only Italian with an unfittingly loud voice. 

They had settled for an old house way over where the Sweathouse Branch Creek empties into the Big Gunpowder Falls River, refusing Cecilia’s offer to move in with them to Hickory Hollow farm. In that old, drafty house by the river they had lasted through six harsh Maryland winters, unhappy and miserably cold. They struggled through Bea’s first pregnancy, which had resulted in a tragic, late-term miscarriage, and then through her second pregnancy, which had produced, thankfully, a healthy baby boy whom they named Giacomo and nicknamed Jack. Bea was pregnant with little Serafina, who would later become Sarah, when they moved to the small community of Bradshaw. There, Vic had finally found a good job working for Thomas Winkle’s son, Joseph, who had started a new business in the postwar boom of the residential air conditioning industry. 

Bea had stayed home with the kids, on whom she had poured all her energy and attention. Sarah’s repeated attacks of rheumatic fever had damaged her little heart’s valves and her care had soaked up all the family’s worry and attention. Jack, two years older than his sister, had become mom’s little assistant—when he wasn’t lost in reading his science fiction books.

Cecilia remembered her sister’s last words to her, Make them understand we were good people, despite it all, and wept. Her sobs brought on a violent coughing spell, which wracked her chest and brought the familiar taste of blood into her mouth. She was grateful when, after a while, the cough subsided, and she could collapse back onto her pillow, exhausted. 

CHAPTER 3

St. John’s Cemetery, Hydes, Maryland—February 13, 2008

The pale February sun cast a fittingly dim light on the small group of mourners gathered around the casket. In the front row, Jack and Sarah Arduino felt for each other’s hand as they prayed along with Father McCabe, who was reciting the Cemetery Prayer.

“O God, by whose mercy the souls of the faithful find rest; mercifully grant forgiveness of her sins to Thy servant and handmaiden, and to all here and elsewhere who rest in Christ: that being freed from all sins, she and they may rejoice with Thee for evermore. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Jack felt his sister’s body begin to slide and he grabbed her arm to support her. The deep sadness in her eyes reminded him of his own desperate sadness in looking at his father’s dead body, long ago. He chased the image away. This funeral will bring closure, he thought. It would bring peace to his mother, at last. Jack knew how unhappy she had been for many years, even though she would always try to smile and pretend to be cheerful in front of him and Sarah.

The image of his father intruded again into his thoughts. Jack remembered Vic Arduino as a profoundly sad man, beset by the constant health problems caused by the serious wounds he had sustained in the war. Vittorio could occasionally manage to be cheerful, but only when things were going exceptionally well. Jack remembered vividly the only two times when he had seen his father genuinely happy for more than just a few minutes. The first time was when Jack was eight years old and he had come home from school just as his parents were on the porch of the house, seeing off Dr. Fawley. The news about 6-year-old Sarah’s health was finally good because she was responding well to the treatment with the new wonder drug, acetaminophen. 

The second time was shortly before dad died, when the letter from Annapolis arrived and with it the news that Jack had been accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy. Vic was happy about his son’s choice of the Navy in which to serve his country. He had an aversion to all other branches of the service and had often told his young son that the only people who would really be safe in a war were the men on the Navy boats. “The infantry is for suckers and airplanes get shot down too easily, which means la marina militare is the only safe way to go.” He had taken his father’s advice, letting go of his first choice, the Marines. After all, how could Jack not enroll in the Naval Academy after receiving the glowing letter of nomination from Sen. Beall? Jack had memorized the beginning of it because there was no better confirmation of his father’s hero status.

Dear Jack, 
It is my pleasure to inform you that I have nominated you to the United States Naval Academy class of 1980. This nomination was made on the basis of your outstanding scholastic record and personal achievements. Additionally, this recognizes the great sacrifice made by your Father, Lieutenant Vic Arduino of Italy’s Royal Carabineers, for services rendered to the United States and its Allies and for wounds received in combat action against hostile communist forces. (…) John Glenn Beall, Jr. United States Senator, Maryland.

The funeral service was ending. 

“Let me throw some dirt on Mom’s casket,” Sarah said, speaking for the first time since they had arrived at the cemetery. “Why do we do that, anyway?”

Jack did not know, and he didn’t feel like going through the motions. As a scientist, he was somewhat skeptical of rituals, ceremonies or incantations. He believed in the existence of God, and somewhat less in the Catholic Church, but he drew the line whenever he felt that he might be crossing over into the magical and the mystical. It was unknown territory, mysterious and unwelcoming. Jack was most comfortable with what could be proven and verified. Except for science fiction and time travel, of course.

In the car, Sarah spoke in a whisper. “Aunt Cissi wants to see us both, together, today.”

“What about?”

Sarah shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“It sounds mysterious. Do you think it’s about an inheritance or something like that?”

“I really don’t know, but I don’t think so. Mom would have told me. No, she said it had something to do with Mom and Dad.”

It made sense. Cecilia had always been the keeper of the family history and had watched over her own brothers and sisters ever since they were children. If there was anyone who knew anything more about Bea and Vic, it was Cecilia. Bea had gone to her for support, and occasionally for money, after Vic’s sudden death. Cecilia had always come through. She was more of a mother than a sister to Bea, up until the end.

“Well, let’s get it over with. Do you feel like doing this now?” Jack asked, looking at his sister, who nodded.

When they entered it, Cecilia’s room felt very cold. A faint scent of baby powder hung in the air. Sarah sat on the chair next to her aunt’s bed, while Jack went to stand by the window. 

“Have you prayed over your mother’s grave for me? I always wanted to attend all my siblings’ funerals, but I’ve only been able to see little Dora and Marcello to their final rest,” the old woman said, with a faraway look in her eyes. Then, turning to face her guests, “To the business at hand.”

Jack had a feeling of having entered a sacred space, and a moment in time that he knew he would remember. The whole day had felt ethereal, not quite solid enough, and he had felt detached while fully involved, like an actor who is fully immersed in the part and yet fully aware that the drama he is playing in is not his own. 

“When your mother and I last spoke on Tuesday, she released me from the family secrets I’ve been keeping for fifty years. She felt that you should know the truth about her and Vic, your father.” Cecilia paused. “Let me start from the beginning. You see, when your mom joined the OSS in 1940—”

“Joined the… what?” Sarah interrupted.

Jack jumped in. “The Office of Strategic Services, the OSS. The CIA came out of that. Mom was a U.S. spy.” 

Sarah glanced up at him in surprise and said, “Go on, Aunt Cissi, I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right,” Cecilia said. “Your dad became a spy for us, too. Your mom recruited him to spy for the U.S. after Mussolini ordered the U.S. embassy in Rome closed in 1940. Bea was working there as a commercial attaché, I believe that’s what her title was… Anyhow, they met in Piemonte when your mom decided to work for the OSS in that part of Italy, where our family is from. Bea pretended to work in your great-uncle Severino’s wine business in Castellazzo while spying for the OSS and your dad was a Carabinieri officer. Bea recruited your dad into her secret organization and then, against her best judgment and the regulations, fell in love with him. The trouble was that your dad was seeing another woman at the time and—” 

“Wait!” Sarah couldn’t contain her impatience. “Mom went to the farm in Castellazzo to work as a spy? I thought she went back there only to help Zia Rosina run the winery after uncle Severino got sick. That’s what she always told us. The stories about Zio Severino’s being beaten by the Fascists, the farm, the mezzadri who rented it, and how she had to keep them all in line during the war… Was all of that just a bunch of lies?” Her visage hardened, and her eyes filled with tears. 

“None of it were lies,” Cecilia continued. “She just didn’t give you all the facts, and not in the proper sequence. If you and your brother are here today, it’s because all ended well. Your mom and dad made it to Switzerland with the help of an Italian priest—”

Sarah interrupted again. “Why would she never tell us any of the details? What’s the big deal? And who is, was this… other woman?”

Cecilia took a couple of deep breaths before replying. “Sarah, you must listen to what I’m saying very carefully, because I may not be able or may not want to tell this story again.”

“Shut it, sis!” echoed Jack.

“Yes, Aunt Cissi. I’m so sorry.”

“That’s okay, dear. So, then, where was I... Ah, yes, Castellazzo, my hometown. My mom and dad left from there for America in 1921, just before Mussolini and his people marched on Rome and took over the government… I was 16 years old and Arturo was only eight… He was always hungry on the boat… But I digress, I’m sorry.”

“That’s no problem, Aunt Cissi, take your time,” Jack said to silence his sister again, who was about to hurry her on.

“Yes, so… as I said, the priest helped them escape the Fascists and get into Switzerland. Before that, your dad had been promoted to a higher rank in the Italian army and they sent him to that part of Yugoslavia that Mussolini had occupied. It was there that he was shot by the local rebels and nearly died.”

Sarah couldn’t contain herself. “And the other woman?”

“Ah, yes, her. Well, from what your mom told me, your father was seeing this Italian woman way before they met. I can’t remember her name… Anyhow, something about her wasn’t quite right and she became a threat to your mom's organization. After Bea recruited Vic, she asked him to stop seeing this woman. Apparently, he wasn’t too keen on that and he and your mom had quite a few words about it. It was an accident that got them out of that spot.”

This time, it was Jack who couldn't contain his curiosity. “How?”

“She never shared with me any of the details, but Bea said it was jealousy that killed the woman. She was high on some drugs, and she tried to attack your mom. But she fell and hit her head, and died.”

“Wow. The bitch!” Sarah said. “I bet that took care of it, didn’t it?”

“Only eventually. Initially, your dad was very distraught over her demise. Bea told me that, during their worst fights, Vic would bring up this woman’s death.”

“Why?”

“That, my dear Sarah, I don’t know. The only thing that I can tell you is that this woman’s death was one of the sources of your dad’s sadness. The first, of course, was his horrific, life-long bad health and chronic pain, which he blamed all on being shot point-blank by the Yugoslavians. I guess he had a point, because in his autopsy the cause of death, even after all those years, was listed as complications due to an old gunshot injury.”

“Dad never spoke very much about the shooting,” said Jack. “I asked him several times, the rare times when he was in a talkative mood, but he never gave me any of the details, other than it happened on an island called Curzola, off the Yugoslavian coast, in the area known as Dalmazia.”

“Dalmazia. That’s it. I couldn’t think of the name of that place. It is called Dalmatia in English. It’s a beautiful part of the world, as I understand it. The other bad thing that happened, which your dad never failed to mention, was that the Italian Army only belatedly recognized his injury as sustained in combat, for some unknown reason. That’s why he could never receive a military pension, or get whatever the Italians have for a Purple Heart. Vic didn’t talk about it, but I’m sure it ate him up inside.”

“Yeah, it did,” said Jack. “Dad was bitter about the whole thing. I always thought of him as a war hero, though, and I kept telling him that. He would shut me down, tell me to forget about it. We had a big discussion about this very thing a few months before he died. He discouraged me from doing any research into it, to find out what happened, exactly.”

Cecilia began coughing uncontrollably. She sat up fully and then fell forward, spattering the towel on the bedspread with large drops of blood from her gaping mouth, as she struggled for breath. After a few minutes, the coughing spell subsided. 

She spoke with difficulty. “I’m sorry, dear ones. I think I’ve talked enough for now. I’ve told you pretty much everything I know, minus perhaps a few unimportant details. Your mom asked me specifically to tell you one more thing: that she and your dad were good people, that’s it, good people. Despite their unhappiness, they loved you children very much, each in their own way. They were good people. Remember that.”

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