16 milk street, boston by jmforceton

18 Apr

July 6, 2008    Newton, Massachusetts


The phone rings and Jimmy picks up the portable, “Hello.”

“Jimmy, this is Alfred, how are you?”

“I’m fine Alfred, how are you? How’s the book coming along?”

“Actually, that’s why I called. The story is coming along very well. I‘ve been truly inspired by some of the stories you’ve told me about Luxor, nevertheless, other things have been happening of late that I don’t I understand.”

“Hang on a minute let me move to another room.” Jimmy decides he would rather not have Amy listening in. The subject of Lisa is always touch and go, and while Alfred is a valued friend, Amy is always suspicious that anything to do with Alfred has something to do with Lisa. Jimmy is now in a comfortable chair in the back bedroom, “Alright, what’s up?”

“First let me offer congratulations on your wedding. Given different circumstances, I would love to have been there.”

“Thanks, we had a great time, and now, we’re settled in like we’ve been married for years. Thanks for understanding, by the way.”

“Of course. Jimmy, the reason I called is that I need advice, perhaps a different point of view. You are familiar with my new novel, so let me just get to the point. Back on June second my original copy of Obélisque disappeared, then on the twelfth, both my hard drive and backup drive were erased and apparently scrubbed clean; I lost the first five chapters. Yesterday something happened that, by itself, I wouldn’t have given much thought to; a pawn on my chessboard was out of place. Well, I’ve had no guests, moreover that correspondence game has been going on for three months. The piece was in a possible position, but not where it should have been. I’m becoming concerned.”

“What would you like me to do?”

“There’s more that I’d like to tell you, but first, I’d like you to talk to Patrick. He doesn’t know anything about the book, but as you know, he is an investigator. After you two talk, I’d like to know what you think. If you would, I’d like to keep this between us for now, in addition one more factor I think may be important….”

After Alfred’s phone call, Jimmy wasn’t sure what to think. Alfred sounded worried and a bit confused, not the same man Jimmy had meet back in 2004, but then again, he was 82 now.

After that first meeting, they had talked many times as a result of Alfred finding out that he had been born in Luxor and knew the story of the twin Obelisks. Alfred was always interested in talking about what he claimed would be his last novel and had rarely asked about himself and Lisa. Anyway, they were good friends, and even though things hadn’t worked out with Lisa, he’d get involved and help Alfred; he’d tell Amy and hope she understood.

The next day, Jimmy made two phone calls, one to Pat, Lisa’s brother-in-law, and the second, to Sam Burns. He was sure Sam had never met Alfred, even thought he had been in Paris that day; he wanted to talk to Sam because part of his conversation with Alfred had been about the probability of certain repeated accidents occurring. Jimmy still had the mathematician’s business card, and last year he had actually run into Sam downtown, a block from the MIT campus. After they talked, Sam had said he would get back to him later this week.

16 Milk Street, Boston    1:15 pm July 10, 2008

Sam is on his way to have lunch with Ed Brady. They worked together for two years at John Hancock Financial Services before Sam decided to return to academia. Ed is an actuary who has an office on the eighth floor of an older brick building on Milk Street; they plan to have sandwiches at the Cosi next door.

It’s a ninety-degree, humid, day, and Sam’s wearing a blue and red plaid short sleeve shirt, tan shorts, and topsiders. He’s early for the appointment, and as he walks over the Charles River on his way from campus, he stops on the bridge for a few minutes to watch the eight-man shells rowing on the river. “Beautiful precision,” he says to himself. Farther down river, he sees a group of sails schooling like minnows, likely a race.

Later at Ed’s building, Sam stands alone waiting for the elevator as the doors open. A man in his early fifty’s, wearing a suit, is carrying a folio and steps out briskly. The dark haired woman in the elevator stays on. Sam at first doesn’t notice, but then he does look at the woman; she’s quite attractive, a bit flushed, and is freshening her lipstick. He steps in, as she turns slightly to button a top button on her blouse, the doors close, and the elevator rumbles and lifts.

She gets off on the fifth floor, and Sam sees a glass walled lobby and bronze plaque for the offices of Alex Bannon & Associates, PLC, and again the doors close.

On the eighth floor Sam steps out into a large open area with wide oak floorboards and scattered wood desks, and he sees Ed. Ed doesn’t look like the typical sixty-year-old actuary; he’s wearing a polo shirt and slacks; he is trim, tanned; he says he still plays a great game of tennis and rock climbs. Fifteen minutes later, as they get on the elevator, Sam is saying, “..so, an acquaintance asked me some questions related to event probability, and I told him I’d get back to him. He wanted to know the odds of simultaneous events happening. You’re the actuary, so I thought I’d run the question by you.”

“Alright, what else can you tell me?”

“OK, an accident happens once, then not just a second time, but four times under nearly identical circumstances. I thought it improbable but not impossible; what do you say?”

“We’ll need more data but at some point…” the elevator doors close.

The doors opened at the fifth floor, and the same woman gets on, followed by a much older gentleman. Sam looks at the man, and as they get to the ground floor, the doors open, and Sam says, “Excuse me, but are you the author of Obélisque?”

“Yes, I’m Alfred Jamison.”

“Now that’s a coincidence. My wife has your book, and when we were in Paris in 2004, we had an accident; she saw you walking by. I’ve seen your face on the back cover a dozen times.”

“Nice to meet you, this is my granddaughter Paula O’Brien.”

“The pleasure is mine. My name is Sam Burns, and this is my friend Ed Brady; he works on the 8th floor.”

Ed follows with, “Paula, Alfred, nice to meet you. Paula, of course I’ve seen you before; great to be introduced.”

Paula, looking a bit uncomfortable, grabs Alfred’s arm and pulling him away, says, “Well nice to meet both of you, but we’re late for our lunch reservation.” Ed is grinning.

*    *    *    *

In the Groton warehouse, Ernie runs his hand through his gray hair and shakes his head. They put a tail on Sam for a few days after Jimmy called him on the seventh, and Ernie is listening to Alfred’s conversation with Sam via the button mic they planted in Alfred’s favorite light wool slacks. “I can’t freaking believe this. You can’t make this stuff up,” he says into a headphone. A young tourist with a camera around his neck and Red Sox hat on, standing across the street from the lobby on Milk Street, smiles and nods very slightly. Ernie makes scribbled notes on his pad, and the recording equipment continues to run. “You freaking rookie, if you hadn’t knocked over that pawn, I bet this wouldn’t have happened.”

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5 Responses to “16 milk street, boston by jmforceton”

  1. Parenthesized April 19, 2010 at 2:14 am #

    I like that you have woven all of your entries into one larger tale. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

  2. ingridfnl April 19, 2010 at 11:04 am #

    You are the king of character meetings. 🙂 I love the brief meetings and how Alfred is bumping into people who have read his book.

  3. juleshg April 19, 2010 at 8:10 pm #

    where is this going? You left me hanging with Marcia Mayville and I hope that she comes back soon. Are you writing these ‘in order’ or would you recommend that we read them in a different sequence? Do you know where it is going or are you just letting the characters lead you through the story?

    I would love to read them all again because I am sure that there are links and connections I have missed along the way.

    • jmforceton April 19, 2010 at 10:19 pm #

      So far all the connections, I think, make sense. I do have a plan for this; it’s a cross between the “Amazing Race” and “Lost”. It’s 10,000 words so far and should be 40 to 50,00o words by the end of the year.

      It’s an interesting challenge to keep the story tight and moving forward, using each week’s prompt, and this has been good for me because round characters are not my strength, by any stretch. I see myself as an idea guy learning to be a writer.

      I have a blog I’ll have up shortly, with the up to date compilation, with Ingrid’s permission. I don’t want to compromise the Character Project in any way.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. monday night? by jmforceton | the character project - May 9, 2010

    […] These two stories lead up to this:    First Developments in Cambridge then 16 Milk Street […]

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