Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Big Blue Sky: Seventy-five

Commentators would comment for days to come at how utterly exhausted the President appeared. No amount of make up or lighting could erase the terrible toll it had taken on him, and upon everyone who had struggled through the crisis. Was this the end, or the end of the beginning. Sitting at the desk in the Oval office, his back was straight and his brow furled. He brought a hand to his mouth, cleared his throat and blinked twice before beginning.

“My fellow Americans, this evening I intended to announce the commencement of military operations by land, sea and air against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Instead, I have ordered our armed forces in the Gulf back to a cautious but defensive, rather than offensive, posture. The Iranians have also pledged to stand down as both our nations step back from the brink. In the interests of peace, knowing full well that a war would result in untold destruction and deaths, the United States is taking the Iranian Government at its word.”

With those words the president seemed almost relieved.

“Let me be clear. Without a doubt, the American people have longstanding and substantial grievances against the government of Iran. They should make no mistake that we will seek redress for those grievances. We have demanded, and we will not rest until there is a full and complete accounting regarding the deaths of our service men. Just before this address I received assurances from the Chinese government, acting as an intermediary, that the surviving member would be released immediately. At this moment a Georgian aircraft is in route to Tehran to fulfill that gesture by the Iranians. Through our Chinese partners Iran has agreed to an independent commission which will conduct a thorough investigation into the incident.

He paused and took a deep breath, gazing into the cameras at the whole world for a painfully long moment. It was as if the words to follow were tortuous to him.

“It has come to my attention that a plot by a small number of people was enacted for the purpose of drawing the nation to war for the purpose of personal profit and greed, without regard to the loss of life in both nations. International arrest warrants have been issued for a number of individuals, as well as Umberto Shosa. So rather than a call to arms, tonight this is a call to action for the American people to take back their nation from the corporate interests that have only their bottom line and not the nation as their ultimate interest. Americans can no longer be passive observers to the political process in their nation, without losing all that has been fought and bled for over the last two and a half centuries.”

He took a deep breath, appearing as troubled as he was tired. The President stood, unbuttoned his suit coat as he came around and leaned on the desk. The words came as much as a confession as a concern.

My fellow Americans, I cannot do this for you. Your government has become so entangled with the interests of big business that each of us who holds public office are guilty, if not directly then by association, by accepting the status quo. We, in public office, have lost the purity of our Constitutional ideals. I cannot change this alone, and without real grassroots actions I cannot state too strongly that you will lose your country and become slaves to corporate and business interests.”

He stood straight, pushing a hand in his pocket.

“This night we grieve our dead and count our blessings that, for now, war has been averted, because in the end war is the failure of all good reasoning. Tomorrow turn the rage and passions whipped up through these last few days into resolve against the true enemy. Not the enemy against whose flag and land and people we prepared to meet in battle, but against the enemies of truth and clarity and the individual. Thank you, and good night…”


The Big Blue Sky: Seventy-four

Waverly pushed through the circle of worshippers and went right up to Doug. He pulled away the cap and leveled the pistol at Doug’s forehead. Their eyes met and Doug knew there was nothing more he could do. Doug climbed unsteadily to his feet and breathed deeply, resolved and resigned to his fate.

“Can we do it away from these good people?” said Doug, feeling like it was a final request.

Waverly looked around at the group, an eclectic mix of folks who had lost hope, and had lost hope that hope still existed in the world, except among one another, and most particularly in this small group.

“Good people?” Waverly scoffed. “I feeling scummier just being near them.”

“That’s enough!” Reverend Steve stepped between Waverly and Doug. “Not in my church, and not while I have anything to say.”

“Want to be a hero?” said Waverly “I’ve got more than enough bullets.”

“That’s what it will take.” With that a tough lady named Diamond, who’d cut her teeth on these hard streets, struggled with addiction and a thousand and one other trials moved beside the Reverend. A fellow named Roland, struggling through cancer was there next. They were soon joined by the rest.

“You’re gonna have to kill us all,” said Diamond, defiantly.

“You’ve lost,” said Doug. “How far are you going to take this?”

“Till the end.”

“What end?” Doug winced at the pain. He was caught by a chain smoking Blues bassist named Warren.

“Because I’m a soldier, and I am honor bound to finish this fight.”

“For Umberto Shosa, or the money? What does any of that matter now?”

There were sirens in the distance, coming closer by the moment.

“Then all I have is honor.” The gun faltered in his hand. He regained it, his face breaking from emotion, from shame and fear and uncertainty and so much more. Waverly shook the weapon. His voice rose, almost breaking. “Now standing fucking aside!”

Across the park, over Waverly’s shoulder, the street was suddenly filled with police vehicles. Dozens of officers piled out, approaching the would-be worshippers, Doug and Waverly with weapons drawn. Molly was among them, her shoulder hastily bandaged. Doug closed his eyes and opened them once more, believing his eyes and the loss of blood were playing ticks on him. The sight of her gave him strength and filled him with emotion.

The Reverend waved them off and stepped forward until the short barrel of the Bushmaster pressed to the center of his chest. His eyes found Waverly’s and held them firm. “I don’t know you, brother, but I know myself in you. I know where I’ve been and what sins I’ve done. And I’ll tell you this, that, ‘I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

“I don’t care for your god-bullshit,” Waverly said, his voice low and anything but certain.

“Then care for your own soul, brother. Pray for it, as all of us will pray for yours. Pray for the strength to be a better man, to beat the hate and evil in your heart right now.”

Waverly pushed the barrel harder into the Reverend’s chest. The man stood firm. There were tears threatening in Waverly’s eyes. “Enough! I swear…”

“Swear to god,” said the Reverend. “Swear to him that you still have righteous and love in your heart, and swear that you will be as brave in seeking redemption and forgiveness as you have been in war.”

“I won’t go to jail.”

“There are worse things,” said Diamond.

“Like what?” said Waverly, emotion tearing at his heart.

“Like dying alone,” she said. “I know, I almost died once, before I was saved, and I was never more alone.”

“Let me have the gun.” The Reverend slowly reached up and started to pull the gun from Waverly’s hands. He held it a moment, finding the reverend’s eyes on his own.

“Let me die,” he said weakly. The Reverend pulled the gun from Waverly’s hands. The police came forward, closing a circle, their weapons trained on Waverly.

“It’s called rock bottom,” said the Reverend. “Only one way to go from here.”

Doug found Molly, and noticed the badge around her neck. It had taken one of Waverly’s bullets, but had saved her. She fell into his arms. Behind them Waverly was pushed to the ground by police.

“I thought you were dead.”

“You’re hurt,” she said, noticing the blood at his side.

“We’ve got to get to that Press conference,” he said.

“Doug…” she protested. He cut her off quickly.

“We’ve fought too hard, Molly, and too many have already sacrificed too much.” Doug touched her face, pleading with her. “Can you live with yourself if we had a chance to stop this war and we squandered that chance?”

He was right. She knew he was right. She recalled his words that first day in Istanbul, where she hung on every word, as if each was new and undiscovered. How he saw the world in such vibrant colors, with bright white highlights fading at the edges and rich black shadows punctuating forms, because those were the hues and shades and lines that made up the world, rather than soulless black and white or undisciplined color. He was indeed a hopeful realist, just as he described himself at Ground Zero, and that was perhaps what she was coming to love more than anything about him.

A policeman came up and helped Doug to a squad car. He slid into the back seat and fell against her, where Molly cradled him in her lap.

“You hang in there, pal,” said the cop. “We’ll get you to a hospital right away.”

“No,” said Molly. “North Branch and Division.”

“What’s there?” asked the cop.

“A chance for peace.”

As they pulled away Molly wondered if he would fall in love with her one day. Could Molly rightly expect that? For now it was enough they were both alive. As for tomorrow, well, it was enough that she could hope…

The Big Blue Sky: Seventy-three

Doug managed to put some distance from Waverly. Suddenly Doug found himself staggering, his strength falling away, his legs sluggish and unsteady. His left leg trailed stiffening and wanting to give out altogether. It was wet there, the wetness spreading along his side and back, running along his leg and filling his shoe. Doug paused at a parked car, feeling at his hip. Blood soaked his shirt and trousers, bubbling through a small finger-sized hole just above the hip. A stuttering heartbeat later the pain came flooding in.

Behind him Waverly stepped into the street and took aim once more. Doug half tumbled, half slid behind a car and let out a groan, hoping to force some life back into his legs. There was a park up ahead, and the blue lake waters beyond. Beneath a tree a preacher read scripture to a circle of parishioners. On a bench nearby a drunk was sleeping off a bad night. Doug lifted the man’s tan cap and a red flannel shirt and made his way to the group.

Doug slipped on the cap, pulled it down tight and found a chair among the others, covering his injured side and leg with the jacket. Waverly appeared a moment later, hiding the weapon inside his jacket, his eyes scanning the park and beach for his injured prey. Doug slunk down into the chair. Someone handed him a Bible. He opened it and held it before him, saying a small prayer for his girls as he did.

It was an odd sort of group. These were the sorts that grew fear when encountered in a dark alley. They were the dregs passed out on sidewalks, begging for change, slowly succumbing to AIDS, bad livers and drug addictions. They were prostitutes, thieves and the forgotten. Somehow, in that little group Doug found safety and, for want of another word: Love.

They rallied to the words and passion of an unassuming Black Reverend, with a fiery manner, and bold, somewhat anguished brown eyes. In cargo shorts and a red and white striped shirt, he hardly fit the image of a holy man, but there he was, preaching the word from a Bible he gave himself body, mind and soul to. And, in that circle, beneath an old Oak, among the parks and benches and alleys many of them called home there was a goodness, as if they joined with the Reverend and one another some part of themselves where love and family and hope refused to relinquish.

“Welcome, brother,” said the Reverend, politely. “Participate if you like, the only rule here is respect. Respect yourself, respect God and respect everyone else here.” The reverend slipped a pair of eyeglasses back on and found his place in the scriptures once more. “Everyone turn to One Corinthians Thirteen.”

Doug pretended at turning the pages. For just an instant he took his eyes off Waverly. When he looked back the man was gone. Doug closed his eyes against waves of pain from the bullet hole in his side. He wasn’t bleeding as bad now, at least that he could tell. His head was light and he wished only to lay down and sleep. He fought it, focusing on the girl’s faces, knowing full well that if he gave into that need he might never see them again. But Doug found he couldn’t concentrate for long on anything. With the darkness threatening he clung to the Reverend’s words, like an anchor to the world and life. As he did Doug found something in those words, as if he had been called to this spot at this moment to hear them.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,” the Reverend began, rocking on his heels and challenging the sky with an upraised finger, his voice resonating across the park, “ but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love…”

The reverend’s words trailed away to a strangely uncomfortable silence. Doug looked over to the man beside him. The man’s eyes went wide with fear. Doug knew in an instant, lowering the Bible before him. Injured as he was, Doug knew the fight was over. He had fought as much as he could, and perhaps more than most, but now all seemed lost.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Big Blue Sky: Seventy-two

The brutal realization that this was all but over found Waverly all at once. That he this former American hero was now shown to be a traitor was the bitterest pill. Doug noticed it, as if cloud had passed across him, as if the air had suddenly left him. He seemed to age in an instant and had now become, in Doug’s eyes, decrepit. A man’s sins always find him.

But ego makes fools of men. The once-upon-a-time patriot was now a fugitive with rapidly dwindling options. Still, Waverly was hardly ready to concede defeat, even in the face of it. He was desperate for the retribution his crimes would bring, for his own life and for the sudden wish to take all this back from the place where everything had gone wrong. a cornered man is a dangerous man, but a man who traps himself against the world will fight to the end rather than face his crimes.

He still held the gun on Doug, resting it in his lap, a finger covering the trigger. Doug felt distant from the world outside the car, which seemed oblivious to the coming calamity. To one side of the street the great expanse of Lake Michigan, its blue-green waters touched by tiny white caps from a strengthening wind. It was warm enough that there were joggers and bicyclers about. On the other side of the road, facing the tall white stones of Calvary Cemetery, like some peaceful city of the dead, a city Doug feared he might soon join.

“I know everything,” said Doug. “It will be simple for anyone to follow that trail, and all of this will be exposed.”

“Look like I give shit what you know?”

“No feeling for starting a war and destroying the lives of millions for money?”

‘’it is about the money!” Waverly pounded the dashboard. The war is the marklet, death and misery and refugees on CNN the selling points.”

“How can you justify that? How do you live with yourself?”

“You know everything, like you said. You figure it out.”

The road bent, running straight among the deep canyon of old brownstones, apartment buildings and full gold and rust autumn trees. The traffic deepened and slowed through carefully staggered and timed traffic lights.

“And you see me as the enemy?” asked Doug, steering around a truck waiting to turn.

“Anything standing in the way of what I want is the enemy.” Waverly motioned off to the left, towards a narrow side street and an alley running behind a small Italian restaurant. Iy was an abrupt act, as if Waverly had thought of it only that moment. “Turn down that alley. This is where you and I come to the end our road.”

Doug had to break hard, the back end of the little white Honda fishtailing a bit. The action drew angry shouts and honks from passing cars.

“Going to kill me?” Doug split his attention on the oncoming traffic and figuring a way to escape. Waverly snapped back the bolt on the submachine gun.

“Needed you for a hostage, that’s all,” he said. “Now you’re a liability.”

But Doug wasn’t ready to die just yet, and not without a good fight. He hit the gas and swung into the path of an oncoming delivery truck. But the driver swerved at the last second. Rather than smash through Waverly’s door it tore away the front end in a stunning eruption of glass and motor parts and metal. The Honda spun away like a top and was smashed from the rear by a second vehicle.

Even tensed and expecting the collision, Doug was stunned by the force of it. The airbags exploded in the men’s faces, with the force of an openhanded slap. The gun flew from Waverly’s hand, winding up at his feet beneath the collapsing dash.

Doug instantly went for the door handle and pulled hard. The door refused to budge. He cried as panic rose like a torrent and threw himself against the door until it fell open, spilling Doug onto the hard pavement. Behind him, Waverly was just coming around, momentarily knocked unconscious by the wreck. He looked over to where Doug fought and kicked to untangle his legs from the seatbelt. Waverly reached for the gun, pushing against the dash to reach it. He found it just as Doug managed to break free, now fighting for his feet in the road.

Waverly managed a long burst from the Bushmaster, blowing out the windshield as he sprayed the street with bullets. They skipped off the street around Doug, and slapped into the delivery truck, wounding the driver and ricocheting everywhere. Doug stumbled and fell, as Waverly struggled from the wreckage, but as up quickly and running down the street and out of sight.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Big Blue Sky: Seventy-one

The clock was ticking steadily down to war, which with each passing moment seemed more and more inevitable. It grew beyond its human creators, fed by the cruelty, impatience and ignorance of their hearts. It grew out of all proportion, until nothing more could be seen, and peace was a naïve and cowardly alternative. And like rogue militias looting a captured village, each nation angled for the greatest benefit.

The Syrians were only too eager to give the Americans fly over permission. Closer to the West, they stood to benefit greatly throughout the region following a predictable Iranian defeat. They would emerge as the regions superpower, an opportunity they had waited for decades to achieve. My contrast, America’s Israeli allies declined permission, not wishing to provoke any sort of Arab backlash, despite that they were eager so see Iran crushed.

From Moscow to Beijing to Washington diplomats worked desperately at ever changing tasks and goals. What had been an effort to find a resolution was now an endeavor to shore up alliances, to win concessions from countries sympathetic to Iran and to keep the conflict from becoming a wider issue. Indonesia, a moderate Islamic nation would receive economic considerations for not having an official view of the war. A pending arms deal would be sped up for Egypt, which, in a quid pro quo, undertook a crackdown on radical groups. Turkey, straining socially from the economic downturn used the crisis to strengthen its European Union ties, while the US convinced Iraq to crackdown on Kurdish separatists using Northern Iraq as staging areas for incursions into Turkey.

That ticking clock was apparent nowhere as great as in the Gulf. On the Allied side, soldiers, airmen and sailors consoled themselves with death and exhorted one another to victory. Every moment became its own philosophy, alte3rnating with hope, preeminence and fatalism. They said goodbye to one another, to themselves and to the world. With that they surrendered their fate to god and the universe. It was no different on the Iranian side, for the militiamen digging trenches and building bunkers, for the airmen and seamen who faced almost certain death in the coming hours, and the thousands fleeing cities and coastal areas. But fate hinges upon the small perhaps as much as the large, and the fate of millions depended upon a desperate fight taking place thousands of miles away.

The Big Blue Sky: Seventy

“Get up,” Waverly ordered.

“You might as well pull the trigger,” Doug said. He felt sure Molly was dying, and was helpless to do anything for her. He was exhausted and beaten and couldn’t find the strength to give a damn any longer.

“You’re my ticket out of here, right now.”

Waverly shoved Doug through the classroom, and past the body of the young contractor, a bullet hole through his forehead, a surprised expression frozen upon his pale face. The hallway was quiet and deserted. There was more gunfire, far off across the campus. It began with a brief exchange, building quickly to a blistering and sustained fusillade before ending abruptly.

“Sounds like it’s about finished for your men,” said Doug. He groaned in pain as Waverly jammed the barrel of the Bushmaster into his back, forcing him into a stairwell.

The fire exit at the bottom of the stairs was unguarded. Down on the street a young rookie cop stood behind the door of a white and blue Evanston police cruiser. His attention was off in another direction. Doug nearly cried out, but Waverly had a clear shot and could have taken the boy down easily. There was a parking lot close by. They used the cars for cover and were across the grassy lawn quickly. Crossing the road the pair cut across tennis courts and commandeered a little white Honda. Waverly forced Doug behind the wheel and climbed in beside him. They headed south into the city, passed by a steady stream of emergency and police vehicles headed towards the university. The shooting was over now. All the contractors and one campus cop lay dead.

The Big Blue Sky: Sixty-nine

“What are we doing here?” Molly asked. She held the pistol at her leg. Her heart thundered madly. Every errant sound in the big empty hallways made her jumpy and anxious.

“Looking for someone.”

“Care to share a little?” Molly complained.

Doug stopped before a large directory. White plastic letters were pressed into a black board set into the wall and covered by glass. Doug touched the glass, running his finger down until he came to a name.

“Louis Purvich, Professor.” He said.


“When I called my old editor he said we should talk to his son-in-law.”

“And this is important at this moment?”

“I need some information or I’ll look like a fool at that Press conference. I have one shot. I have to put all the pieces in place.”

Molly nodded. “We better hurry then.”

They ran down the hall and up two flights of stairs, finding a small office at the back of lab. They lab itself was like something from a tinkerers dream. The machines seemed haphazard and strange. Doug was by no means an uneducated man, but he could not make sense of any of them.

“Looks like a hi-tech junk shop,” Molly remarked for the both of them.

There was a small wood-cut sign on the door. It was simple, like a child had created it. A crudely etched tin-can robot frowned while sniffing a daisy. There was a question mark over the robot's square head. The sign read:


Doug didn’t bother knocking. There was no time. He reached for the doorknob. It turned easily. He pushed it open, startling the professor inside. Molly pushed past Doug and went to the phone on the Professor’s desk, lifted the receiver and dialed the emergency operator.

“This is Agent Karaman again. I phoned in the emergency. I am located on the third floor of the Technological Institute, North End in one of the labs. I have a Federal witness with me and will need security immediately to protect him.” She hung up the phone, took the badge from her pocket and hung it around her neck where it would be seen plainly. “No need to get shot by friendlies.”

Doug looked to the astonished young man. He couldn’t have been older that thirty, though a deeply receding hairline made him look a bit older at a glance. It was offset by long straight blond hair. He was skinny and t all, and a awkward, with bright blue eyes and a two day growth of beard. The office was a mess, dominated by a chaotic bookshelf filled with reports, hastily stuffed files and an eclectic mix of philosophy and computer books.

“Professor Purvich?” asked Doug.

“Doug Springer? Arnie said…”

“Is there another way out of here?” asked Molly, returning to the door, now holding the pistol in both hands.

“If you can fly or bounce!” the Professor replied, sarcastically, but quickly thinking better of it when she glared at him. “What’s going on?”

“We don’t have much time,” Doug began. Molly moved across the lab to the door. “I’m trying to put together the pieces of a weird puzzle…”

“Nano-weapons.” Purvich said abruptly, taking Doug a little aback.

Doug looked curiously at the sign on the door. “Cyber-ethics?’

“The digital revolution is overwhelming us,” said Purvich. “It’s evolving faster than humanity’s ability to understand it. Some would call it a new life form, maybe the replacement form for humanity. Twenty years from now machines will be autonomous, self replicating and doing things we cannot even conceive of. Question is, will they perceive us as their Adam and Eve, as nuisances or enemies? Will we perceive them as enemies, God’s or both? The ethics of all this is that we need to find a way to program basic ethics and morality into our machines, or they will fashion their own, and we must come to some understanding and perspective in machines of our creation which, one day, will likely not need us to exist.”

“How does that work for nano-weapons?”

“It doesn’t,” Purvich said simple.

“I don’t get it.”

“You’re not asking the right question,” said Purvich. “What happened in Iran two days ago has all the hallmarks of a Nanobot attack. No ethics, just machines programmed to function on its designer’s shifting sense of ethics. Nanobots are simple, dumb things.”

“Nano-what? You have to forgive my ignorance.”

“Not your fault,” he said. “Nobody knows about this stuff. Nobody in the government and nobody in military, that for sure. Nano-technology is not on anyone’s radar yet, but it is definitely the future. If we’re smart it will change humanity forever. If we ain’t it’ll hit us like a bullet between the eyes.”

“Fallahi said it was like the discovery of fire; a Frankenstein monster.”

“Purvich nodded. “Not far off the mark. What we’re talking here is infinitesimally small, on the scale of millionths of an inch. By contrast, the diameter of a human hair is colossal by comparison. But the applications are infinite; phenomenally better processors, incredibly efficient fuel cells, revolutionary medical applications, like little robots that would hunt down and eradicate tumors before you knew you had them, un-dreamed of textiles and fabrics and warfare.”

“And how would those applications work for weaponry?”

Purvich chuckled. “How good is your imagination? Right now we’re sort of theoretical with carbon silicon Nano-tubes a thousandth the width of a human hair, with a sort of tube and soccer ball configuration, but from that we can build and program and amazing array of nano-machines.”

“How difficult are these to produce?’ asked Doug. Molly was listening from the door, while keeping a wary eye on the hall. Outside the sirens had risen to a racket. There was gunfire in the distance. Purvich led Doug across the room to an odd looking machine. It was hardly bigger that a small chest of drawers.

“A couple of geeks, a million and a half dollars and an internet account to buy a thimble full nano-tubes and you, my friend, could bring the world to its knees.”

“And where does one logon to but nano-tubes?”

Purvich went to a blackboard and quickly scribbled out a formula:

It’s simple, anyone can create so-called forests on nano-tubes in a substrate growth rate in a really simple formula, H(t)=βTo(1-e-t/To), where β is the initial growth rate and T sub zero is the catalyst’s lifetime.” He could see that he was losing Doug a bit in the techno stuff. “It’s simple. Very simple.”

“Anyway to detect one of these nano-weapons?”

“Honestly? Depends on the technical expertise of the designer. They could disappear, breakdown on command, dissolve, or burn up.”

Molly looked away from the door. “Burn up?”

“Sure,” said Purvich. “You could actually generate a substantial amount of heat.”

“Enough to say, burn through human tissue?” Molly pressed.

“Absolutely,” he replied.

“And how would you deliver these?” asked Doug, with a knowing look to Molly.

“God, the possibilities boggle the mind.”

“In a glass of water?” asked Molly.

“I suppose,” the Professor replied.

There was a sound at the door. Molly wheeled around, bringing the pistol up as Waverly and the other man stormed inside, unleashing a hail of bullets. Molly returned fire, dropping Waverly’s partner. Doug fell on Purvich, shoving him back into the office just as two bullets slammed into Molly. She grunted and tumbled to the floor, her pistol skidding away across the floor.

“Molly!” Doug cried, scrambling over to her. Dark red blood spread beneath her body. Molly’s head was turned to the side, and covered by her long dark hair. Just as he reached for her Doug felt the press of a cold hard gun barrel at the back of his head.