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The Seventeenth, страница 1

 

The Seventeenth
 

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The Seventeenth


  Contents

  Title Page

  Dedication & Copyright

  Acknowledgments

  Chapter 1: The Kid Ray

  Chapter 2: And Good Luck To Your Daughter

  Chapter 3: I'm Just Tired

  Chapter 4: Give Us The Room, Please

  Chapter 5: You Are Not One Of Those Four

  Chapter 6: Hello, My Brother

  Chapter 7: Because I Put Her There

  Chapter 8: We Are Desperate

  Chapter 9: They Say You Don't Save Vits

  Chapter 10: They Have Always Followed Us

  Chapter 11: Unimportant To You

  Chapter 12: I Feel Stirred

  Chapter 13: Containment of a Righteous Conspiracy

  Chapter 14: Circumvent?

  Chapter 15: You Never Can Let That Go

  Chapter 16: I Think I Like It Better On The Inside

  Chapter 17: Grand Buildings And Jabbering Prayers

  Chapter 18: A Delicate And Risky Process

  Chapter 19: Do You Want To Die Alone?

  Chapter 20: You Know Better

  Chapter 21: I'm Relaxed

  Chapter 22: Thanks, You, Too

  Chapter 23: You Know Who Put Her There

  Chapter 24: Driven To Live Every Moment

  Chapter 25: The Level Of Proof You Seek

  Chapter 26: Think From The Heart

  Chapter 27: 19,999,999,926

  Chapter 28: Someday, I Know That You Will

  The Seventeenth

  By Sarah M. Beers

  This book is dedicated to my beautiful fiancée, Mary, and my outstanding sons, Rob and Joe.

  The Seventeenth

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2015 by Sarah M. Beers

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information contact [email protected]

  1.0080935

  Acknowledgments

  Thank you to my editors, Goose and Chicago. Your thoughtful input and guidance are greatly appreciated.

  CHAPTER 1

  The Kid Ray

  I know just seven beings in my universe who are able to read this book as written, and understand it. Since all seven lived this story with me and contributed greatly to the background information contained within it, it’s doubtful they’ll read it. I don’t believe they even read for pleasure, as I don’t recall observing them doing so. Even translated into the appropriate language, the audience for this book where I live, is non-existent. Those who would have benefited most from reading this book will never have the chance to do so.

  Though the presumed readership of this book is zero, I was encouraged by a writer I know to put this story into words.

  “It doesn’t matter that no one reads it. It only matters that you write it,” she said. That’s a lovely sentiment spoken by someone whose own work wasn’t read much, often, or ever. However, I have little to do with my time, other than to write this story.

  I’ve never written anything with the expectation that no one will ever read it. How should I write this story? Should I write it as I reported the news, just facts and quotes? Should I add my own opinions and commentary to the reported events? Is this a memoir? A journal? I don’t even have an editor.

  There is no mechanism to publish this book when I finish it. There are no paper pages, so is it even a book? It’s only the fifth paragraph and it’s already an undefined mess. I can’t write this without a presumed audience. I’ll just have to imagine the impossible and that, published or not, there will be readers of this work at some point in the future. Or potentially, the past.

  My name is Ray Clemens, and I saved the world from complete destruction. This isn’t supposed to be the Biography of Ray Clemens, and it won’t be. But some life background about the man who saved the world is at least worth one chapter.

  I was born February 6, 1932, in Houston, Texas. I was an only child. When I was three years old, my parents moved the three of us to Gainesville, Georgia, about 55 miles northeast of Atlanta. My father took a job in a textiles mill as our sole source of income. I grew up as a typical white child of the rural south, living through the end of the Great Depression, World War II, and the boom times that came afterward.

  In high school, I was the Student Editor and Lead Writer of the school newspaper. I was the typical socially awkward kid who could write about sports, girls, and guns much better than I could play, engage with, or fire them, respectively. The only reason I never got beat up in high school was because I spent almost all of my time in front of a typewriter and a mimeograph machine.

  World War II ended shortly after I turned 13 years of age. After I graduated from high school, for awhile it looked as though I would be drafted to fight in Korea. But my college deferment was approved and by the time I graduated, the war, or police action as they called it then, was over.

  I attended the University of Georgia (UGA) and double-majored in English and Journalism. I worked my way up the ranks of The Red and Black, the UGA student newspaper, and became Deputy Editor in my senior year.

  After graduation from UGA in 1955, I caught an immediate break and obtained a job working as a copy boy at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) newspaper. In my first few years there, I lived at the AJC building. I was there seven days a week at all hours, learning every job and doing grunt work for reporters on any story they needed help with. I knew everyone there and everyone knew me. Many of my colleagues called me, “The Kid” or “The Kid Ray” or just “Kid Ray” because I looked so young.

  I was average in height, 5’9”, potentially 5’10” on a good day when the lighting was right. I never exercised because I was always working. I didn’t eat much either, so I evened out to a non-muscular weight of 175 lbs. My sandy blond hair was clean-cut, which matched up well with my blue eyes and baby face, making me look as if I was 17 years old instead of 25.

  My big career break came in 1957, thanks to the Soviet Union launching the Sputnik 1 satellite, placing many United States civilian and military officials into a panic. When the space race began between the United States and the Soviet Union, the AJC needed a reporter to cover the space beat on a full-time basis. Since I was young, single, and willing to travel often to Florida, I was selected for the job.

  I wrote about every manned launch in the United States space program from Mercury-Redstone 3, in 1961, through Apollo 17, in 1972. I was good at telling the story of the missions to space in plain terms people could understand. Both the AP and the UPI wire services wanted to hire me. I passed on those opportunities and instead syndicated my work to other newspapers. In the process, I became the most well-known newspaper writer in the nation covering NASA.

  I loved writing about people who continued pushing the limits of their own knowledge, challenging each other to constantly think better and to be better. I loved that they said, “yes” when others said, “no”. They possessed an unrelenting drive to succeed in mankind’s most dangerous adventures, under extreme stress and pressure. It was an amazing privilege to be part of it, to report it, to live it, even as a bystander through them.

  And then, almost as suddenly as it began, it was over. Six successful missions to the moon and back, and the safe return of a crew who never made it to the moon, were enough for the nation. The United States won the space race and we made our point. The Apollo program ended, and the next chapter in space for NASA was at that time, uncertain.
r />   As much as I loved reporting on the space program and bearing witness to it, NASA taking a hiatus in the early 1970s came at an opportune time for me. It allowed me to return home to Georgia and not have to travel anymore, which my wife and daughter were both thankful for. The three of us were the only family each other had.

  Like me, my wife Heather was an only child. Her parents were only children, as were my parents. Through various cruel diseases and accidental circumstances of fate, our parents were dead, as were all eight of our grandparents. There was no extended family, just the three of us.

  When I first met my wife, Heather, she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. She was tall, blond, blue-eyed, and built as a prototypical southern belle with big hair, big breasts, and curvy hips to match. She spoke with a southern drawl so pretty it would make a man’s ears cry. And could she ever sass. She was sassy in ways I never dreamed of, let alone thought about liking. She was as smart as she was beautiful and sassy, working her way into quickly becoming a junior partner at one of the top law firms in Atlanta. In the late 1960s South, that was virtually unheard of.

  I met Heather at a wedding of mutual friends in 1963. I was mesmerized by her and thanks to the wonders of alcohol, I was able to actually speak to her. I could write an entire book on my courtship of Heather, or half-a-book at least. Maybe after I finish this book, I’ll write that one. Then again, no one will ever read that book either, so what’s the point?

  I don’t need to write about Heather but I do wish the world could have known her as I did. She was five years younger than me but so much younger at-heart. Some might have classified her as a young, spirited soul. Knowing what I know, that description is inaccurate but yet still aptly describes her personality.

  As fantastic a woman and a wife as Heather was, she was just as wonderful as a mother. She gave birth to our daughter, Ruby, on January 4th, 1969, 18 months after we were married.

  After Ruby was born, Heather took an indefinite leave of absence from legal work to care for Ruby. With my extensive travel schedule back and forth to Florida for many weeks of the year, Heather was a single mother. It was tough on her. It was tough on me to be away from them both for long stretches of time. I later regretted every single moment I lost with each of them.

  In 1973, after returning to Georgia, it was difficult to find a new niche to write about at the newspaper. The nation moved on from the space program and focused on the political and constitutional drama of the Watergate scandal. As I waited for NASA’s next act in space, I wrote about such topics as corporate mainframe computing, cable television, weather satellites, and touch-tone telephone dialing.

  I syndicated those stories as I’d done with the space program reporting, but editors panned them as uninteresting to their readers. They belonged in magazines with pre-defined audiences, not daily papers. Space, it’s promises and it’s danger, were exciting. Pushing buttons on a phone to connect a call instead of using a rotary dial or an operator, was not.

  But, it didn’t matter what I wrote about after the Apollo program ended because on January 20, 1974, four and a half years to the day of the first moon landing, Heather was killed in a traffic accident. My world was irrevocably ruined and I spent many days and nights thereafter wondering how I could have changed the circumstances of that day to produce a different outcome.

  Using the word accident with respect to her death is too kind. It was an unmitigated drunken atrocity committed by Shitfuck, also known as, Charles Rensler, age 20. Shitfuck was so high on drugs and alcohol that he entered I85 traveling the wrong way during the middle of the day. He drove for less than a quarter mile before he slammed his large pickup truck head-on into Heather, who was driving her ‘71 Pinto. She was dead at the scene, almost decapitated by her seat belt. Shitfuck was generally unharmed and walked away from the crash.

  As is typical in the justice system, it’s not what you did, but who you know. His father knew the judge in the criminal case and the DA couldn’t even get a manslaughter conviction. Shitfuck walked away a year later with probation as his only punishment.

  All of this time later I’m supposed to have forgiven Shitfuck for killing the woman of my dreams, my best friend, and my only daughter’s mother. I’ve learned a great deal about forgiveness since that day. Forgiveness for something so horrific doesn’t come easy. There were many days in the past that I thought I could mete out justice and murder him myself. At one time, that was possible, but I missed my chance. The single greatest barrier to me murdering Shitfuck was that doing so would have resulted in Ruby becoming a ward of the state.

  As terrible as Heather’s tragic death was for me, and for Ruby, life became much worse immediately thereafter. Ruby started to feel lethargic and run-down. At first, it was thought she was suffering from depression due to losing her mother. But then later, she spiked a fever on a weekly basis and it was clear something was wrong with her medically. It wasn’t long before Ruby was given a diagnosis. It was devastating news. Less than a year after Heather died, Ruby had leukemia.

  I didn’t know what to do to properly care for her. I couldn’t quit my job because it was our only source of income. We had no family. Thankfully, a woman living next door to us, Bess, took pity on us. Bess was more kind to us than we could ever hope for. I don’t know what we would’ve done without her. I didn’t meet Bess until Heather’s funeral. It was as if one day she fell out of the sky, and was there for us, living next door. Bess had a daughter, who was a year older than Ruby. The fact that Ruby had at least one friend helped, too.

  Ruby underwent a lot of different treatments in the four years that followed her diagnosis. She spent most of that time in remission, but each time she relapsed, it became harder to win the fight compared to the previous turn at it. She was in and out of Children's Hospital at Emory, on a regular basis. She was treated with radiation, three different forms of chemotherapy, and then a bone marrow transplant. The doctors thought for sure that the bone marrow transplant would cure her once and for all. But six months later, Ruby experienced another relapse.

  The doctors and staff were heartbroken, and they attempted to convince me that this was the end of the line of treatments for Ruby and that there could be no more. Some of them attempted to convinced me she had suffered enough, and implied that I should let her go. How could a father willingly choose to just let his child go? Let her go where? Ruby was the only thing of value in my life. I refused, and pleaded with them to perform a second bone marrow transplant.

  They relented, but that’s when life got even tougher. Bess’ husband got a new job in California, and so the three of them moved away, again leaving me with no way to care for Ruby while holding down a paying job at the same time.

  CHAPTER 2

  And Good Luck To Your Daughter

  A few months after Ruby’s second bone marrow transplant, I received a call at the hospital from one of the switchboard operators at the AJC. My boss, Sam Jackson, wanted to see me. I knew why. I hoped to stall him a little longer but it wouldn’t be easy. Sam wasn’t particularly adept at using soft skills to manage people.

  The next morning, I arrived at Sam’s office and softly knocked on the door.

  “Yeah, what!?” Sam bellowed through the door.

  I cracked the door open a bit without putting my face inside it.

  “You wanted to see me Sam?” I said.

  “That depends. Who’s there?”

  I opened the door wider and put my head fully inside.

  “It’s me, Ray.”

  Using a long southern drawl, Sam replied in a loud gravelly voice, “Kid Raaaay? Get in here Ray!” I was 46 years old and to Sam, I was still Kid Ray. I walked through the door, closed it gently, and stood in front of it. “Well sit down Ray, sit down,” Sam said.

  I sat in an old wooden chair in front of Sam’s desk. There was only one chair in Sam’s small, dark, basement office because he didn’t want more than one person there at a time. The only window, at ceiling level and
covered by iron bars, faced east, allowing natural light to enter only in the morning. That late-March morning, the sunlight illuminated all of the cigarette smoke and dust in the air.

  There were two metal filing cabinets stuffed into a corner of the room. There was a single-line black rotary telephone and a typewriter on the desk, and another typewriter on a side table. A softly-lit desk lamp illuminated pencils and pens of varying colors and thicknesses scattered among the papers on the desk. The light caused a shadow to glance off of a framed black and white picture of Sam’s mother. Sometimes, when looking at old photographs one can imagine how a person of that time would’ve attracted a spouse. This wasn’t one of those times. The entire office was covered in a layer of thick dust. At the front edge of the desk facing toward me, was an unassuming and tarnished brass nameplate engraved with the words, Editor-in-Chief.

  Sam was 60 years old, but he looked much older. The newspaper business wasn’t kind to him. He was single, never married, except to his work, which he both loved and hated. He was angry, almost always, and no one knew why. He drank and smoked heavily, and ate poorly. His hair was white and he was of average height, but overweight by at least 50 pounds. He hadn’t seen a doctor in over 15 years.

  Sam was wearing his typical white, long-sleeve dress shirt and plain gray slacks, with a gray tweed tie that was far too narrow for his frame. He either wore the same clothes to work every day, or he owned several outfits that were identical. Even though I spent a lot of time in Florida, if he’d worn a different tie in his career, I couldn’t remember when I’d seen it.

  Sam shuffled papers in his hands and quickly marked one with red pen, crossing out an entire paragraph before looking up at me. He took a long drag of his cigarette and put it back into the ashtray on his desk.

  “Ray, I’m not very good at these things you know so…,” he said.

 
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