Although written some time following the original story, this is considered a Prequel to By Way of Introduction, which can be found at https://www.scribd.com/document/28229437/By-Way-of-Introduction-MASTER and takes place in late May of the year 2000 – the month which saw the release of the movie, Gladiator.
He stayed longer in the shower than he originally intended, but after soaping up the first time with some new body wash, John felt so invigorated, he figured why not relax and enjoy it again. What was it the shampoo bottles always said — Lather, Rinse, Repeat? He could deal with that with no problems, he thought, readjusting the shower head so a warm spray could massage his face and neck as he tossed them back, enjoying the vibration of the water upon his firm muscles.
A short time later, a towel tied about his waist after completing his normal rituals, John was in the bedroom, taking a glimpse out one of the windows to check out the scene. That was the one thing he loved about this apartment: not only was it large, but it had such open, bright spaces highlighted by a number of windows which especially got the best of the evening light. This particular room was decorated in soothing, muted neutrals — unpretentious, soft lines still giving it a masculine edge that met his approval the moment he laid eyes on it. The furniture was sensible and informal, expressing his love for antiques as well as the contemporary.
In fact, several of the pieces were duplicates from his Mystery home — Biebe family heirlooms he had intended on bequeathing to his own sons when they married. Modern items were there as well, such as a computer with CD-ROM and speakers; a DVD player and nice sized television with satellite capabilities. True, the surroundings were not spartan, but it was as much a home as John required, since he tried not to spend all his time sequestered here.
It was easy and tempting to do though. As he and Maximus had spoken of, it would be quite simple for all of them to find a comfortable spot down in the Tavern or within their apartments, and drink and eat and party until they became bloated and lazy. John could not even imagine lowering himself to such a state. Remaining active, as he had in his Mystery world, was one of the things that kept him going, and there was so much here in the Nest to keep him occupied.
Or else I could drive myself nuts, he thought, stepping away from the window so as to ease out of the towel before wrapping himself in a white, terry cloth robe. Barefoot, he stopped by the refrigerator-freezer in the small kitchen, and after a moment of indecision, decided on a low fat frozen entree he’d enjoyed before.
While that microwaved, he made a small salad then warmed a slice of herb and garlic bread, only now realizing how hungry he was when the scent of herbs permeated the room. John laughed as his stomach rumbled, and then he grew quiet. He had not eaten since a big breakfast in Mystery (but as he often said, he stayed hungry), and actually had been looking forward to a pork chop supper with the family.
Guess that’ll have to wait, he thought, sitting at the desk station with his tray. For the next half-hour he ate in silence, spending most of his time maneuvering the Internet, searching for any Stanley Cup playoff results he had missed while gone. It was slow-going for the system the Nest currently had desperately needed upgrading. John had already spoken to Peaches, and she was putting out feelers to bring in an expert who could line them up with the very best, possibly even connections not requiring modems. Biebe only hoped it was soon — waiting an eternity watching one graphic download was driving him insane.
Finishing a glass of iced tea, he quickly straightened up. At least that would hold him until supper, since he and Max were dining so late, but he still grabbed two apples from the vegetable bin, then returned to the desk. He was looking for something he had thought about while in the shower…oh, there it was, underneath a storage case with his IBM disks.
John then made his way over to the full-size bed, thumbing through the folder as he did. Why he suddenly had a desire to read over the ‘Mystery Alaska’ press kit he was unsure, except that it had briefly crossed his mind while in the gardens.
Turning back the gold satin comforter and white sheets, John slipped inside the coziness of the Egyptian cotton, then adjusted the pillows, giving himself about three to prop against. After a few moments, he was leaning back, biting into the crunchy texture of the Winesap, then exhaling deeply as he removed the black and white 8 x 11 brochure from the color folder, its’ cover portraying the original movie poster. For a second, John’s eyes looked over the photo — there was the Creator as him, surrounded by the guys on the team, all out on their frozen pond, and he sighed, his fingers tracing the cardboard. Funny seeing yourself that way; he could still remember how weird it was when he saw the movie, like watching a weird type of home video.
Okay John — enough of that. You’ve been through that before…Pondered it, analyzed it to death, marveled about it like it was some damn freaking miracle. I’m not even sure what this is going to tell me…except verify what I already know.
Two weeks — that was the last time he had opened the kit, although admittedly, he spent often two or three hours each time, carefully dissecting each word of the promotion. Like most of these type publications, there were photographs; a letter to the press with a release date, and a plot, cast and crew synopsis. He gently thumbed the twenty-four pages, going to the end, then working backwards, as if afraid he had missed something in earlier perusals. No, he had not, but it gave him a moment to look at not only the people who brought ‘Mystery Alaska’ to life, but these actors who had played friends, family…those he met in passing; those he didn’t particularly about.
Nearly eight months and this still amazed him. He shook his head, eyes searching each detail: Mary McCormack, Hank Azaria, Maury Chaykin, Burt Reynolds (Lord, how many of that man’s movies had he watched over the years and never thought twice about him and Walter), Kevin Durand. And for the thousandth time he looked into his own face — the Creator’s face, again attempting to reconcile in his mind this thin line between his reality and this one.
‘There’s a great but subtle journey my character has to go through in this film,’ they quoted the Creator. ‘For thirteen seasons he’s played in the Saturday game, then suddenly he’s 34 years old, and a 17 year old kid who’s a better skater comes along and Biebe is taken off the team. As soon as he’s removed from the game, the biggest hockey event Mystery has ever known happens…. Internally he’s falling apart, but he has to maintain the appearance of self-assurance.’
Shit…you pegged me, my man. It could have been so easy to just make it all very one-dimensional. I guess in somebody else’s hands it could have been. Washed up hockey player — we’ve seen that story before, haven’t we. Okay, maybe not hockey, but baseball, or football, or golf, or boxing. Hell, I think Costner’s played washed up catcher; washed up golfer, hasn’t he? I think he has. I liked his movies though. I know we owned ‘Bull Durham’…Wonder…I wonder who else they’d thought of for playing me in the movie?
He’d considered that before, which always made him ask a slew of other questions.
Since he had a life before coming to the Nest — had memories going back to before he was three-years-old, then wasn’t he always the John Biebe he saw in the mirror each day? And if that was the case, was it destiny that the Creator was to play him? He rubbed his forehead, chuckling as he felt a headache coming on. Why did he still insist on asking himself questions to which there were no answers?
Just add that to all the other questions you want to ask the Lord when you meet Him. You know: what happened to Amelia Earhart; who all was involved in the Kennedy assassination; what really happened at Roswell? Now you can add was it preordained for the Creator to play John Biebe, and Bud White, and Maximus…and whoever else? Hell, if I think this is confusing, think how poor Jeffrey Wigand must feel!
He returned his attention to another page, reading to himself: Some of the actors, like Russell Crowe, began training months before shooting, applying an almost Zen-like concentration to his preparations, the result of which is that not only did he become a decent skater, he became an able hockey player, even to the extent of doing some of his own cross-checking stunts….
John could appreciate that in an actor. It would have been so easy to simply let them do close-up shots of the star, and then do extreme long shots when the stunt man was out there. Like they used to do in the old ‘Star Trek’ episodes. Long shot in fight scene — better believe that isn’t Shatner out there. Gotta hand it to him. He wants to make you believe it, doesn’t he?
John now read over the long list of credits under the star’s name: LA Confidential, The Quick and the Dead, The Crossing, Proof, Romper Stomper, Heaven’s Burning, Breaking Up, Virtuosity, The Sum of Us, Prisoners of the Sun, Hammers over the Anvil, The Efficiency Expert, Love in Limbo, For the Moment, The Silver Brumby, Rough Magic, No Way Back.
But the last sentence made him smile: “He recently completed ‘The Gladiator’ (where did the “The” come from) with Ridley Scott and will be seen later this year in Michael Mann’s drama ‘The Insider’ with Al Pacino.”
Okay, so there were no ‘Star Wars’ blockbusters, or Indiana Jones epics, but John knew it was a good body of work. Lumped together, they might not eliminate the national debt, but the Creator had received acting awards for several of those roles; should have received awards for at least two performances…and no one knew what ‘Gladiator’ might bring in the end.
Not bad — not bad at all. I’ll give you credit for one thing. At least you don’t play the same character over and over and over again, do you? You don’t seem to take a dislike to them when you’re done either. John yawned, taking a final bite of the apple before he tossed the core aside in a napkin on a nightstand. I don’t know why Harrison Ford hates Han Solo the way he does. But he seems to still like all of us — hell, even Sid. Only him, Anthony Hopkins and Anthony Perkins could make me feel slightly sympathetic to psychotics. Thank God I only have to live with one of ’em…and I’d rather not be living with him either.
John placed the press kit nearby, then hands behind his head, stared across the room towards the open windows, taking a deep breath as he allowed the sea air to fill his lungs. He wished Donna and the kids could see this. He had always told them they would take a cruise, and actually the couple had already started setting aside a vacation fund. Christmas, 2002. That was going to be the date: all of the Biebes, not only them, but John’s parents, his brothers, sister and their families, having a family reunion during the holidays while on-board some nice cruise ship in the Caribbean. True, he and Donna had taken their honeymoon on one of the quieter, not quite tourist-infested Hawaiian Islands, but she and the boys deserved something just as special.
Not going to happen now I guess. Shifting lower in the bed, John shut his eyes, wishing only for a moment to push it all away into some small compartment. Each day he fell asleep with the memories of all those he loved so prominent in his thoughts, he could consider little else.
Things at the Nest helped the time pass. Once he arrived there, for some odd reason, it was as though he was immediately assigned a leadership role that few of the others had desired to fill. Bud had come close, but with his temper, the cop even admitted he was not a good choice.
John — level-headed, soft-spoken John Biebe — quickly became the one everyone came to when they needed to talk; a shoulder to cry on; advice; a bit of wisdom; or just a friend. It wasn’t a role he really cherished, but he felt better about it now that Maximus was here, for he felt that eventually — when he had a better handle on matters — the general would be a great asset.
What was it Chelle had called them once? Alpha-males: Maximus, Wendell and him? On first glance the Nest seemed to be full of them; on closer look, there was a load of testosterone but few of the guys wanted this role of leader, teacher and guidance counselor. In the end though, they all turned to John. Most of them did anyway: The Man kept to himself; Kim’s head was too swollen to listen to anyone else; and Sid — Sid was Sid. The Alaskan had decided he could only do the best he could, and leave it at that — exactly as he had back in Mystery.
John sighed, sleep descending on him as his body drifted deeper into the weave of the sheets….
Soft, small lips shyly pressed against his, and John trembled, shifting a bit as he felt a body lean upon him. A woman’s body, he thought, allowing his hands to gently move upwards, from her hips, pausing at her waist, then along the outline of a full bosom. He heard her groan — no, sigh…she sighed softly, then placed her head in the crook of his neck. John permitted his arms to enfold about her, and he moaned, feeling himself grow hard at the touch of this woman in his embrace.
‘John’, she whispered, kissing his cheek, causing him to smile broadly.
‘I love you,’ he whispered back, reaching down to ease back Donna’s hair, until he realized that the hair was not long and straight, but fell just to the shoulders in silken tight spirals, the moonlight causing them to gleam blonde amongst auburn.
Still he did not stop, but rolled over, until he was just above the woman, letting her rest nearly beneath him. He could feel her chest rise and fall with each quickening breath, felt her shudder when he stroked the hollow between her breasts. ‘Darlin’,’ Biebe called her.
He could not see her features for the shadows falling across them, but he did not resist when she eased her arms around his neck; heard her whisper again ‘John’ — could somehow see tears glistening on her cheeks when her face still remained hidden from him. ‘Soulmate,’ he said; his companion gasped, and their lips met again, this time not tentatively, but as though their passion could no longer be contained. John felt her open to him — he entered her quite tenderly, not wanting to hurt her (in the back of his mind he sensed she was not experienced at this, and he wanted to make this all memorable for her), and again he whispered, ‘Soulmate…Sunny….’
And awoke with a start, body drenched with sweat, blinking his eyes several times until they were adjusted to the darkness of his bedroom. He looked beside him, seeing immediately that he was alone in the bed, but funny, unlike dreams he had experienced about Donna since coming to the Nest, he knew immediately that he was in the Nest. The others were always in familiar places within Mystery, but this one had been different, and he knew it. Not only that — who was the woman…this person he called soulmate and darlin’…and Sunny? Sunny?
Sitting straight up, John smiled, recalling the first time he heard that in conjunction with a name. His father told him the story — a beautiful, true love story with a tragic end; a couple who wrote love letters to one another almost to the end; a couple who died together, along with their children. A fairy tale of sorts in which the wicked had won. But out of all of it, John remembered the romance and the names: she had called him Nicky — he had called her Sunny.
Why did he never call Donna Sunny? Only now was he realizing that. True, in thirteen years of marriage it had never occurred to him, but perhaps it was because — despite how much he adored her — calling Donna by that “pet name” did not feel natural. But it had with the nonexistent dream woman with whom he had shared a bed, and then a part of himself.
What the hell time was it? Searching out the clock radio, the LCD read 8:07.
Shit…He was supposed to meet Maximus for dinner in about an hour, but he supposed he should be glad the clock had not said 8:57 or worst. Jumping out of the bed, he decided he’d better take a quick, cold shower just to cool off.
Ordinarily, three showers in one day wasn’t something he did, but considering he was now dripping in perspiration from the sensual dream — as well as still maintaining his erection — Biebe figured a few minutes under a bracing spray was what he needed right now.
John was ready within forty-five minutes. The shower had been refreshing; even the small grooming ceremonies he normally took for granted were enjoyable, and he caught himself whistling along with the FM station playing songs from the Eighties, Nineties and 2000 on his stereo system.
On returning to the bedroom, he entered the walk-in closet, and gave a careful search of the clothing that neatly hung off the two racks. At first, he selected a plaid flannel shirt to wear over a pair of jeans, but just as he was about to remove it from the hangar, he paused, deciding against it. He moved a few feet backwards to where his sweaters were located, and he smiled, noticing a white knit one he had never worn before. In fact, it was one of the pieces he found on moving in, and since his wardrobe was now slightly larger than any he’d owned, he found there were still a few things he had yet to wear. That would look good, paired perhaps with a blue…no, a black turtleneck. He opened the drawer where this was stored, and removed one, as well as grabbing a wood hanger from which a crisp pair of bleached blue jeans hung.
When Maximus knocked at 8:55, John was quite ready, placing some common items in the pockets but leaving his wallet behind. Force of habit nearly made him take it, but he recalled he really had no need for a license, or his badge, or any of the usual paperwork a man normally carried with him.
“John…good evening,” the Spaniard greeted when the door was opened to him. Biebe could not help noticing how dashing the general appeared, although he was dressed rather casually in his uniform sans the armor and the famous wolf’s-fur cape.
“Hey Max. Just in time.”
“Did you get some rest?”
Biebe nodded. “I was sleeping so well I woke myself up about an hour ago…just enough time to get dressed.”
“John…if you’re tired and would rather rest….”
“No, no,” the sheriff interrupted, waving one hand to indicate that everything was fine. “I’m okay, believe me. I needed the sleep, but I can’t stay in bed forever. Besides…” and he teasingly patted his stomach, “…I’m starving.”
Maximus chuckled deeply. “You stay hungry, don’t you, John?”
“Hey, that’s what I always say!” he joked, and the two men laughed. John turned long enough to take one final look in a full-length mirror — that wasn’t something he often did either — then said, “Ready when you are.”