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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

In a Perfect World

In honor of an event scheduled this month in Los Angeles, California, I’d like you all to take a little trip with me – to an alternative universe – a universe where right outweighs wrong and wrongs can be righted with the power of positive, empathic thinking. So, if you are ready, “Beam us up, Scotty!”

This is your roving reporter, “with a child’s heart.” Let me set the scene for you. We are all gathered in front of the courthouse in Santa Maria, California for an unprecedented event. Through the efforts of many people from every walk of life, we have come to the same courthouse that once saw a miscarriage of justice to erase that memory from the human consciousness. Although the ultimate miscarriage did not occur – he was exonerated, after all – the fact that he was put on trial to begin with was a combination of abuse of power, unscrupulous conspiracy, manipulation of witnesses and evidence and abrogation of the civil rights of an individual of considerable standing in the community. This unwieldy combination of factors contributed in large part to a remarkable man’s death.

We are gathered here to repair the rift that occurred within our own souls – and the soul of our world – as a result of our silent partnership with those indicted in the fourteen matters brought before this court. The spirit of the man who was the subject of this malfeasance walks among us, free now of the human encumbrance of a physical body, but still very much present and recognized within each and every heart beating within the members of the crowd gathered for this momentous occasion lining the road to the courthouse three and four deep.

They stand silently; their heads bowed in prayer and somber, respectful remembrance as several large black vans approach and come to rest at the curb. Exiting the large chauffeur-driven vehicles are the members of his family who have been invited to witness the events taking place on this, the last day of the hearing. For several months, they have sat in a cordoned area in the main courtroom listening to evidence and testimony in this most unusual hearing. The results of this proceeding will see no one placed behind bars and no real monetary punitive award. No sentence will be imposed. This trial, if it could even be called that, has an entirely different purpose – to make amends and set a record straight.

The People of the World vs. The State of California has been a benchmark in judicial history for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that no sentence will be imposed. The plaintiffs as well as the defendants in the case far outnumber those lining the approaches to the building on both sides of the street. The number of indictments includes a who’s who list of law enforcement officials, public elected officers, music industry executives and print and media representatives starting at the very top of their respective food chains and filtering down to the very bottom. It is a sober event and a grave undertaking and is being taken very seriously by all involved.

An even more sobering realization is that the people assembled outside the courthouse in Santa Maria represent only a small sampling of gatherings taking place simultaneously in major cities around the world. In public squares and malls in London and Tokyo, in Madrid and Madagascar, in Kuala Lampur and Brunei, massive jumbotron video screens broadcast the events as they transpire in the small rural community in one of the most beautiful and serene locales in the United States of America. In each public area the world over, eyes are closed and prayers arise from the hearts of those assembled in silence to hear the results of the hearing. It is a major global event due to its groundbreaking purpose and the manner in which it has been conducted – with the utmost respect for the human beings involved and for the man who was the victim of the events that culminated with this hearing.

For the past several months, testimony and evidence has been presented to the judge and jury establishing culpability in the death of the unique, artistically-gifted and irreplaceable human being who is being honored in silence the world over. Thousands of documents – including contracts and wills and agreements between the principals in each of the fields represented within the courtroom – have been presented. Testimony from the principals and previous accusers has been heard. Each of the exhibits presented provides proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the life of this globally-renowned and well-beloved humanitarian and musical legend was threatened, that his sanity was impugned, that his financial empire was embezzled with malice aforethought, that his integrity was maligned and that his life was sold to greedy opportunists far too cheaply.

The People of the World have come together not to seek revenge for these heinous crimes against one of their own, nor even for what could be considered justice. Rather, they have instigated these proceedings only to realize a belated and long overdue acknowledgment of mistreatment from the culpable. They demand nothing more ominous than an apology and removal of the taint of calumny from the name of their hero.

They demand repeal or modification of the Shield Law that currently allows a journalist to hide dishonesty and malicious intent without accountability. They demand enactment of a new law named after their hero, The Michael Jackson Truth in Journalism Law, which would make the publishing of untrue, unverified or unproven reportage a criminal offense. They demand a governing board comprised of ethical journalists empowered to police media and exact heavy monetary fines and incarceration for offenses against the Ethics in Journalism tenets with escalating fines for repeat offenders. They demand a licensing agency for print and broadcast media representatives similar to those which oversee doctors and the legal profession and with similar oversight authority. They demand sanctions against law enforcement officials and elected public officers who allow personal feelings to color justice within their jurisdictions or abuse the power of elected office for personal reasons.

Today is verdict day in Santa Maria. After months of hearing witnesses and testimony, the jury’s decision is about to be heard around the world. As the jury shuffles past Michael Jackson’s family seated within the cordoned off area, each of them glances at the three children seated with Mr. Jackson’s family. They quickly drop their eyes to the floor, unable to sustain eye contact with them in their guilt and shame at the presentations they’ve witnessed in this courtroom.

After the verdicts in the fourteen indictments are read by the judge, he dismisses the eight men and four women with his thanks for their impartial deliberations. Then, he makes a statement that is carried by satellite transmission to every corner of this planet:

To Mrs. Jackson, while I know that these deliberations will never be enough because they can never replace your son to your loving arms, we the people of the State of California, offer you our heartfelt apology for the malpractice that occurred in this very courtroom. We know that these proceedings will never bring your son back, but we hope that you will take comfort in knowing that no other human being will ever be put through what your son endured again.

To Mr. Jackson’s children, again nothing will ever bring your daddy back to you and the State of California recognizes and regrets its part in robbing you of his presence in your life. Please know that we, your neighbors, will do our level best to protect and honor you – as he would have – as you move forward knowing that your daddy was a good man who didn’t deserve the treatment he received at the hands of those indicted in these proceedings, who benefited mankind richly and who loves you very much still. Although his love is less tangible, it is still there and we, your neighbors vow to make that love tangible in every way we can.

To Mr. Jackson’s siblings, we, the people of the State of California acknowledge our culpability in contributing to your brother’s early demise and we offer our hands as neighbors and friends and beg your forgiveness.

To the people of the State of California, it is incumbent upon all of us to atone for the sins we have committed against this family, against the world and against ourselves.  Let our state be the first state in this great Union to recognize that when we sit idly by and allow one of our number to be harmed, ALL of us are harmed. The only way we can make adequate reparation is to re-commit ourselves to our Founding Father’s ideals, to honor and protect this family and to make sure that such a malfeasance of justice never occurs in this state again.

To the people of the world, while we mourn with this family who has lost one of its members due to negligence and willful enmity on the part of some of the people of this great state, we want you to know that from this day forward The Michael Jackson Truth in Journalism Law will protect our brightest and best from being exploited in a similar fashion. The legislature of the State of California has enacted this bill into law as of this date.  Also, from this moment forward the Shield Law, so blatantly abused in Mr. Jackson’s prosecution, will no longer be carte blanche for unscrupulous behavior on the part of any journalist in this fair state. Please know that while the few managed to win against the many in the case of Mr. Jackson, this state will no longer tolerate such an outcome. We, the people of the state of California stand firmly on the rights of the individual, even the rights of individuals thrust into the spotlight by great wealth or great talent. The publishing world is put on notice with these proceedings to walk with more care in our midst. All of our citizens have the right to privacy, the right to fair treatment and the right to presumption of innocence as stated in our Constitution. These rights will be enforced in the State of California.

These proceedings are concluded.

The reporters present in the courtroom shuffle noiselessly from the room and exit the courthouse wondering how these decisions will be enforced. It is patently obvious from their demeanor – their facial expressions and body language – that they do not agree with the verdicts; they show no remorse. They have been effectively hamstrung and reined in and will no longer be able to get away with character assassination and medialoid murder.

The decision of the court in Santa Maria is only the first step of an exceedingly long journey – and the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow – but that first step has been taken. Of course, all of these verdicts will have to be ruled upon by the appellate process and by the state’s highest court to determine constitutionality and most of the journalists present don’t think they stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being upheld. At least, they hope they don’t. Their particular brand of diplomatic immunity has just been flushed down the proverbial toilet. To say they are disgruntled would be an understatement.

Nonetheless, they all realize that The People of the World vs. The State of California is a turning point. Never before have so many petitioned the legal system for so little recompense. Never before has an entire state been named as a defendant in such a legal proceeding. Each of them knows that this case will take its place in textbooks and studied in perpetuity for the manner it was conceived, perpetrated, conducted. Exiting the courtroom, they are astounded by the deafening silence. The legal pundits and talking heads are the only voices heard and they echo eerily around the open area outside. Reporters holding microphones out to standers-by for comments are amazed that no one will pay them any attention.  The crowd, still silent, just stares – some sullenly, some pityingly – at the anchors and broadcasters. They don’t seem to care about their fifteen minutes of fame, anymore. They aren’t flattered by the on-air personalities choosing them to speak with. The crowd doesn’t care to go on record. Those who do speak reaffirm the same phrase, “No Comment,” while turning away in disgust.

Finally, Michael Jackson’s family exits the building and walks towards their waiting vans. Mrs. Jackson’s face is tear-drenched, her agony clearly visible, and she approaches some of the waiting throng to give and receive embraces.  Several of those assembled reach out to touch her shoulder or her back or her hand as she passes. Standing before a microphone placed in exactly the same spot that her son spoke to his fans after he was exonerated in 2005, Mrs. Jackson speaks briefly and movingly. “Thank you all for being here,” she says in her soft voice. “Thank you for starting this grass roots movement and seeing it through to completion. Thank you for your support. My son would have been so very proud of each and every one of you, as I am. Now, as we all move forward from today, let’s all remember that my son, Michael, always had one message and that message never changed in the forty years of his career. He was the message. He IS LOVE. He would not have wanted revenge against those responsible for his pain. He would have wanted to heal the injury that caused their unaccountable enmity against him, the fear that produced the prejudice that has been proven in this court today. We have begun to heal the world today, but there is still much to be done to make his dream come true.  Please, all of you, re-commit today to that ideal.” With those words, she makes her way to her waiting van and climbs aboard to return to her life as a mother and a grandmother.

As the crowds slowly disperse from the streets in front of the courthouse in Santa Maria and the broadcast and satellite equipped vans pull away, a similar scene is being re-enacted in every public square and mall throughout the world. The impromptu congregations break up slowly and quietly return to their lives. They are satisfied that they have done what they could do. They have supported the movement by being there and with their prayers as they’d stood with heads bowed. Each of them cherishes Mrs. Jackson’s words in his or her heart. The People of the World have spoken. And they have made their voices heard around the world. They have come down on the side of right. And by so doing, they have changed the world.

“There’s nothing that can’t be done if we raise our voice as one.”

This alternate reality has been brought to you by “with a child’s heart.” In the words of Jean Luc Picard, “Make it so!”

Jan

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One Day In Your Life

Have you ever wondered what a day might have been like in the life of a famous and enormously popular rock ‘n roll idol? Or what that life might have looked like from the perspective of the most famous man in the world? Have you ever imagined riding along on Michael Jackson’s shoulder as he moved through the moments of his life – those very public events – as well as those more private, quiet, unpublicized occurrences that few of us ever got to witness up close and personal?

Well, I have and I’ve written some of those imaginings as stories with descriptive scenes, lots of dialog and casts of characters. The block quoted excerpts below are derived from a short story that I wrote in the early days of my obsession with Michael Jackson. Much of what you will read in this post was written in 1995 at about the time of the stillborn One Night Only concert at the Beacon Theater in New York scheduled to be broadcast on HBO.

The cast of characters includes Michael as himself, of course; Bill Bray, head of security since Michael’s Motown days and Stacy, an Epic executive who accompanies Michael as a representative of his record company. Her assignment is to spy on Michael’s activities and report back to Thomas at Sony. Stacy starts out thinking Michael is a megalomaniacal, spoiled brat who has gotten too big for his britches and requires taking down a peg. She is stunned to discover otherwise as she follows him from place to place and sees him in all kinds of different circumstances, experiencing his life firsthand. Needless to say, this learning experience influences her to change her mind about this man she understood so little when their relationship began. As they move through the days, they become close friends and we catch a glimpse of daily life for the superstar and his entourage – at least daily life as one who has not experienced it imagines it might have been.

The purpose of revisiting some of these imaginary events is to try to put ourselves into the story because while we may know – intellectually – that such events occurred regularly in Michael Jackson’s life – to observe them from a first person perspective changes them somewhat and allows us, as observers, to experience them, even if only in our fertile imaginations.

This post is filled with lots of little imaginative interludes, so … Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has lit the “No Smoking” signs and has turned off the seat belt warning lights. You may now move about the cabin as you will. You may recline your seat backs and close your eyes for these little flights of fantasy. You are in safe hands. Consider me your flight attendant. I have shown you the emergency exits, explained the flotation devices in the seats and described the masks that will drop down from overhead compartments in case of a sudden loss of air pressure. “Anybody here like games?”

Michael finished dressing and they ate a hurried breakfast of fruit. Then they marched down the hall toward the elevator. All of the security guards that Stacy had seen running down the hall earlier surrounded them as they neared their destination. They stopped about ten feet short of the doors and Bill glanced nervously around to be certain that everyone was alert. As the doors opened, Bill and another guard entered and checked the elevator. When they were assured that Michael would be safe, Bill motioned for him to come forward.

Stacy had never witnessed such a display. She turned her head to look at Michael, but he wasn’t even paying attention to the precautions taken to ensure his safety.  Stacy, on the other hand, was stunned.  She had never considered searching an elevator. What was Bill looking for? Did he really expect to find someone lurking in the empty elevator?

Michael felt Stacy’s tension and was puzzled.  He looked at her, raising his eyebrows as if to ask, “What’s wrong?” but there were too many people around for her to ask him about this odd behavior. Instead, she shook her head and smiled up at him, reaching for his hand to give his fingers a squeeze with her own.  The contact with his flesh and his fingers closing around hers calmed Stacy a little. She would wait until they were alone to ask him about this. Little did she know that her day would be filled with similar incidents.

The elevator’s motion stopped, but one of the guards held his finger on the button which kept the door closed as Bill looked around at all the guards to be certain that each was ready. Then, he looked briefly into Michael’s eyes. “Ready?” he asked, winking at Stacy. The guards nodded briefly. “Okay, let’s go,” Bill said. The guard released the door and the double doors slid back to reveal the lobby of the hotel. It was empty of all but guests. It seemed that Stacy could hear everyone’s sigh of relief.  Hurriedly, the group bustled towards the rear exit into the underground parking garage below the hotel. An armored van was waiting for them, the chauffeur relaxing against the back of the driver’s seat. As he noticed the approaching group, he sat up stiffly and started the engine.

When they were seated in the armored vehicle, Stacy quickly decided to ask about the elevator incident. She turned to face Bill across the back of the van.  “What were you looking for in the elevator?”

Bill Bray looked at Stacy … then at Michael, before he responded, “Mike, normal everyday people don’t take the security precautions that I take with you.” Michael nodded slowly. “Michael is an internationally- known figure, Stacy. Internationally-known figures live a little differently from the rest of mankind. They are often the target of threats, death threats.” Stacy’s eyes got wider as Bill continued, “In addition, Michael’s fans frequently hide in elevators or in corridors waiting for him to leave the hotel.  Although they really don’t intend to hurt him, it causes problems when too many of them mob him at once.  I’m sure Mike doesn’t even notice my caution anymore, but to someone unaccustomed to checking and rechecking, my behavior might appear intimidating. It’s my job to protect him from overzealous fans and from lunatics who might want to make a place for themselves in history by killing Michael Jackson. I’m not one to take my responsibilities in this matter lightly and Mike knows it.”

Michael nodded slowly as Stacy inquired, “Someone has threatened to kill you? Why?”

Michael answered her question with a graceful, casual shrug of his shoulders. “I was ten or eleven years old when I got my first death threat. I was attending school in Los Angeles when my parents were called to the school by the principle.  He demanded that they remove me and my brother, Marlon, from the premises because they couldn’t afford to upset the rest of the students or their parents.  I’ve been threatened so often since then that I’ve lost count of the times.  Bill, can you remember?”

Bill just shook his head calmly. “Lots,” he exclaimed.

An edge of panic and disbelief colored Stacy’s voice.  “Recently?” she asked softly, “has this happened recently?”

Michael’s eyes turned towards Bill as he shook his head, but Bill faced him down and steadily, calmly replied, “Mike, you know she has to know what she’s facing if she continues to travel with you. She can’t be allowed to move forward until she has seen the path she travels. We wouldn’t be protecting her that way.” Bill’s eyes turned towards Stacy as he spoke, “Last Wednesday was the most recent threat against his life.  He performs tonight, so I expect that someone will call before the performance.”

“My God, Bill … Michael … you’re not serious!” Stacy roared.  Her panic had overtaken her.  She envisioned Michael lying on a stage, the side of his head bleeding into the hard wood beneath him and the vision shook her to her very soul. “How do you live like that?”

Michael took her shoulders gently between his hands turning her to face him, gentling her fear with his calm. “Stacy, I’m still here and this has been going on for a very long time. I ignore it.  And I trust Bill to protect me. Fear will kill your spirit faster than any bullet can kill your body.” he whispered. Turning to Bill, Michael winked, “Are we going to have time?”

Bray glanced quickly at his watch before he spoke.  “A little, maybe, Mike.  Not long. You’ve got the theater reserved for rehearsal until just before the show and the gang is probably already there – maybe half an hour.”

Michael rested his head against the back cushion of the car seat. “Stacy, we’re going to make a short stop before heading for the theater. You don’t have to come in, if you don’t want to, but you’re welcome, if you do.”

Stacy looked from Bill to Michael’s resting profile. “Hospital, right?” she said, “Of course I’m coming in, Michael.” She studied him quietly until the van stopped again at the back entrance of a large metropolitan hospital and they were whisked inside and straight up the elevator to the pediatric wards and private rooms. As Michael passed beside the beds talking to the children, shaking their hands and touching their faces and heads, Stacy watched each of his movements. The kids were excited that he had come to visit, calling out to him, their eyes lighting up as he spoke to each of them quietly.  A white clad nurse approached Michael and talked to him briefly. Michael followed her out of the large ward and down the corridor to a private door. Stacy couldn’t hear what they were saying, but there was an urgency to their conversation.  She glanced over toward where Bill stood, leaning against the wall. Slowly, she trailed after Michael and the nurse. They still talked quietly in the hall, the nurse’s hand resting on the closed door.  Michael nodded and glanced back to where Stacy approached. He held his hand out for her, silently inviting her to join him. Stacy clasped his fingers and held her breath as they entered the darkened room.

Intravenous equipment made small beeping sounds in the room and respirators hummed mechanically.  A small bandage-swathed head rested against the pillows. Mylar tubes ran from the child’s mouth and nose, connected to the breathing apparatus beside the bed and mingling with smaller tubes connected to the child’s pallid hand, resting bonelessly on top of the blanket. The child’s eyes were closed and her body was still. The nurse said, “She’s been like this for two weeks, not stirring, being fed intravenously.” Michael raised his finger to his lips, motioning the woman to silence. He released Stacy’s hand as he approached nearer to the comatose girl and looked down at her in silence. He turned back to the nurse and asked, “What’s her name?”

“Katherine,” she responded.

He turned back to the child, picking up her tiny, fragile-looking hand with his, placing it gently in his other hand as his fingertips stroked her pale flesh. “Katherine, this is Michael Jackson. I know you can hear me where you are. Listen to me. Hear the sound of my voice, Kat, and turn back. You’re headed in the wrong direction. Follow the sound of my voice. The nurse told me that before you fell into your deep sleep, you asked if she knew me, if she thought I might come to visit you. Well, Kat, I’m here.” Michael stopped speaking briefly as the door to the room opened very silently and two people entered, a man and a woman. Michael released Katherine’s hand and placed it back on the blanket. He approached the pair and spoke to them very softly. “The nurse told me about your daughter. I hope you don’t mind me coming in to visit her.”

They were stunned to be face-to-face with Michael and very tongue-tied. “No, we don’t mind. She’s a big fan of yours,” Katherine’s father replied extending his hand to offer it to Michael.

“Thanks,” he replied, briefly shaking the man’s hand.

Michael returned to the child’s side and placed her tiny hand in his again, stroking her limp fingers with his. “Kat, keep following my voice. Your mom and dad are here with me and they’ve been very worried. It seems you’ve kind of lost your way. I think, maybe, if you follow my voice, it will help you get back. Stacy, come here and grab hold of my hand. As a matter of fact, I could use all of your hands linked together. I’m going to ask the nurse to open the curtains so that you can see the light, Kat. Maybe it will guide you back.” Stacy had grabbed his outstretched hand. Soon, she felt the child’s mother’s fingers holding her left hand firmly and her eyes were blinded briefly as the curtains were raised and sunlight flooded the room. Michael’s voice could be heard clearly above the mechanical beeps, whirs, and hums as he continued talking to the child in a soft, calm voice. “Kat, I don’t want you to be afraid. You’re fine, just a little lost. I want you to return the way you came when you wandered away. If you listen very hard, I know you can hear me and see the sunlight pouring into the room. Follow the light and my voice, little one. We’re all waiting for you.”

Everyone within the room was holding his breath except Michael. He turned to Katherine’s father and said, “My mother’s name is Katherine.  What’s her favorite song?”

Katherine’s father shrugged, but her mother quietly responded, “She loves Heal the World, Michael.”

He smiled easily at the child’s mother, “Thank you. Kat, did you hear your mom’s voice. She’s here with me and she really wants you to come back to her. I don’t want you to be afraid, little one,” he said as he gently kissed the child’s forehead. Then, Michael began to sing to her so softly that Stacy had to strain to hear his voice.  When he had finished the song, he released the child’s hand and kissed her again. Michael turned to the child’s parents and said, “Talk to her and sing to her. She needs a focal point, a loved one’s voice, something to help her find her way back. Please call me at the Four Seasons when she comes around.  I’ll come back.”

The parents smiled and nodded.  As Michael led Stacy out of the room, she watched as a small tear escaped his eye. Stacy pulled him to a halt in the quiet corridor outside of Katherine’s room. “Michael,” she said quietly, “please stop.” Michael stopped, looking down into her eyes. “Michael … I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that before in my life.  Have any of them ever come back?” she inquired, thinking of all the children’s hospitals he had visited through the years.

“It happens,” he replied, “not as often as I’d like, but it does happen. Stacy, miracles happen every day.  It’s the person who recognizes them, believes in them that attracts them. It’s like a paper clip being attracted to a magnet, kind of. I believe strongly in these kids … and they believe strongly in me. That’s why the rumors and speculations are so painful to me, because they shake the kids’ faith. In the cases where the kids have come back because they heard my voice, the explanation lies less in my voice than in their faith in me.  Do you understand?”

“No, I don’t think I’ll ever understand this, Michael,” Stacy said quietly, “but each moment I spend in your presence, I learn something new and shocking about you. And I love you very much … more each minute.”  Stacy rose onto her toes to kiss him lightly and fleetingly on the cheek. She wondered what the news media would make of this visit to a children’s hospital which had so hurriedly been added to Michael’s itinerary for the day. Even more, she wondered what a reporter would make of Michael’s brief visit to Katherine’s room.

Michael and Stacy crossed the room speaking to the kids, laughing with them and touching them.  Michael had had several boxes of toys distributed to the children while he was visiting Katherine and the evidence of his passage was obvious to all as paper and cardboard cartons littered the ends of the beds.

At the end of the large room filled with children playing with their new toys, Michael turned and smiled that beautiful, open, honest smile.  “Bye, guys!  I’ve got to go to work.”

Their caravan left the hospital precincts as quietly as it had arrived with no fanfare, no announcement.  Their ride to the theater was very quiet.  Michael calmly looked out the tinted window as Stacy rested against the back of the seat, contemplating what she had just witnessed, still trying to reconcile this Michael Jackson against the accounts of his life she had read.  She relived moments with the kids and heard his soft voice calling out to a lost little girl in a hospital in New York.

Suddenly, she was jolted from her quietude by a loud noise that grew louder as they neared their destination.  Bill came swiftly and decidedly to attention as he said, “OK, Mike, we didn’t make it.  You know the drill.  Stacy, you are now, according to a certain mutual friend, my responsibility. So, please, don’t try to be brave. This is going to be scary. Don’t fight it. Just follow my instructions and you’ll be all right. Stacy, are you listening to me?”

Stacy nodded, “Don’t worry, Bill. I’m a firm believer in giving the experts full credit in matters of their particular area of expertise. What is that?”

“That is a sea of people who are waiting for our friend, Michael,” Bray replied tersely. “Stacy, I want you to remember what I am saying to you, so, please, look at me.” Stacy’s eyes were huge in her head as the noise rose to several decibels above painful and the van had not stopped yet. She turned slowly to look at Bill as he continued, “I know you are not used to this, but this is his life. Fear is not the problem. Don’t be ashamed of it. Don’t try to hide it. Don’t fight it. We will protect you. I have a dozen of the best personal body guards ready to keep them off of you. It’s important to protect your eyes, your face. Keep moving and you’ll be OK.  Are you with me?”

Stacy nodded, “Yes, I understand. Keep moving and leave the rest in your hands. But, Bill, can you tell me, exactly what are we going to do?”

“Why, Stacy,” he replied laughing, “we’re going to do what any sane, level-headed man would do in the same circumstances.  We’re going to hurl ourselves through the middle of that crowd that you hear. God, what a life!”

“Oh, boy,” she said, distinctly worried, “I can’t wait!”

Bill’s voice rose above the clamor surrounding her as she heard pounding on the outside walls and windows of the van. “Good, coz you won’t have to.  We’re here.  Mike?”

“I’m Okay, Bill,” Michael’s voice was calm. He looked down into Stacy’s upturned eyes and said, “If it comes to a choice, Bill, you know what to do.”

“Mike,” Bill was shouting now to be heard above the pounding and screaming outside the van. “It’s not going to come to a choice, for God’s sake.”

Michael just raised his brows, “Bill … you know what to do?”

“Yes,” Bray shouted, “Yes, I know what to do.”

The van rolled to a stop and was pummeled by a thousand fists and the screaming was enough to bring tears to Stacy’s eyes. They waited until the vehicle was surrounded by Bill’s men. Then the door opened and Bill exited first and shouted as Michael descended from the van, “Michael, I’ll get Stacy. You get inside. Understand?” Michael nodded. “Okay, let’s go,” Bray grinned.

Immediately, they were engulfed by a jumping, screaming, grabbing mass of humanity and they trotted directly into the midst of the turmoil surrounding them, a phalanx of six brawny bodyguards parting them as they went. Stacy lost a shoe as she ran within the cordon of bodyguards surrounding her.  She remembered Bill’s words about protecting her face too late to avoid a scratch. In just a few moments, they were inside the theater with the doors bolted against the mob, still jostling and screaming outside.

“Now, see, wasn’t that fun?” said a voice by her side. Shaking, she turned to see Bill’s hand stretched out toward her. Inside it rested her shoe.

“Funny man,” Stacy said breathlessly. “How often do you have to do this, Bill Bray?”

Bill laughed out loud. “Oh, not often. Just every time he goes outside … except when he is inside the gates at Neverland, that is.”

“Stacy, are you Okay?” Michael asked from close behind her.

“Yes, Michael, I’m fine.  Just a little shaken,” she replied turning towards him.

“You’re bleeding, Stace,” he said softly, blotting a drop of blood from below her left eye with his finger.

“Nothing. It’s nothing. Just a scratch, Michael,” she said, trying to smile up at him, but failing miserably.  “Really, I’m fine. Just let me catch my breath.” He reached out to cradle her head against his heartbeat and rock her in his arms.

“You’re shaking, woman,” he said, brushing the top of her head with his lips.  “Are you sure you’re okay?”  She nodded into his chest. She fought the tears with all her strength. There was no doubt in her mind that she was going to have to toughen up considerably if she expected to continue to travel as part of his entourage.

“Yes,” she finally responded.  “But I think it’s time for a visit to the little girl’s room.”

“Bill, stay with her?” he asked.  As Bray nodded, Michael turned to go backstage. Stacy rushed into the ladies room and sank gratefully onto the couch in the foyer. How did this man take the emotional turmoil he lived with daily?  No one could be that strong, that determined. Her mind recoiled as she contemplated his life from the age of ten years, when he had almost been choked to death when the fans had grabbed a scarf wrapped around his neck and pulled. He’d had to insert his hands between the scarf and his neck and scream for help. He’d always lived like this … death threats … running through masses of screaming teenagers … yet, he was a sea of calm and peace and serenity.  Surely, he had been scared to death at ten, must still be scared to death.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has requested that all food and drink be stowed in the kitchen. Please return your seats to the upright position and stow your dinner trays in the locked position in the seat in front of you. We are about five minutes from our destination. The weather in reality is hot and humid. The Captain has lit the fasten your seat belts signs and we are preparing for landing. We hope you have enjoyed your flight with us today and will plan your next trip with us. This imaginative interlude has been brought to you by withachildsheart. Thank you for flying with us.

Jan

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