Danger Times Two is a story of two women: one with amnesia; the other with the I Ching. Danger Times Two is a story of three families, unwittingly intertwined and in danger. I made a deal. Every time it was appropriate, I as the character would actually consult the I Ching: Katie or Sarah or Frank asking the question. And all of us bound to accept the answer.So this, then, is a collaboration: part Mickey Friedman, part I Ching.
Danger Times Two is the first in a planned series of I Ching Mysteries. Set in the mythical town of Ripton in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts, Danger Times Two highlights Katie Greenberg’s rare ability to harness her intuitions and intimations and her ability to appreciate and interpret the ancient wisdom of the I Ching to help those who come to her.
If you’re interested, I’ve included the Preface and the first two chapters:
I’m the least likely person to have written Danger Times Two. Cynical about the New Age, often skeptical and occasionally sarcastic, my first experience with the I Ching came many years ago when my girlfriend, a devotee who consulted the oracle about almost everything, insisted as a test of my love that I join in. With a slight sneer, I asked my question: “Why should I consult the I Ching?” I threw the coins and got “Ch’ien / The Creative.”
I was convinced by the second line: “These unbroken lines stand for the primal power, which is light-giving, active, strong, and of the spirit.” In the throes of what the I Ching calls “youthful folly,” I was sure the book was telling me I was one of the chosen, exempt from the need to ask the oracle anything more. One of my Danger Times Two characters, Theresa, felt the need to confess our earliest skepticism.
My girlfriend quickly found someone who appreciated the book and her many charms more than I had. But unbeknownst to me, the oracle had hooked me. Several years later I found myself imagining a story: a woman with amnesia, and another woman who knew the I Ching and helped her. I tried telling their story off and on for twenty years.
Then a few years ago, something clicked. I made a deal. Every time it was appropriate, I as the character would actually consult the I Ching: Katie or Sarah or Frank asking the question. And all of us bound to accept the answer. There was only one occasion when I was so stumped by the offering that I tried to cheat. I threw the coins again and while the new answer seemed more convenient, the guilt got to me. I returned to the original answer and we all made our peace with it.
So this is a collaboration. Credit the better parts to the extraordinary authors of the I Ching, who defying time and space, capture truths as compelling today as they were then. Blame the mistakes on me, for my continuing inabilities to see everything there is to be seen in the I Ching. And please know that even more than Katie, I can’t abide the accepted way to do things. So in my stubbornness and ignorance I have probably violated just about every convention that dictates how to properly consult and interpret the I Ching. I never had a Dr. Chau of my own, so these errors and omissions are all mine.
I have been extremely fortunate to have known several versions of Katie: bright, beautiful, and more sensitive than I to the deeper truths that lie beyond the rational. But this Katie is mine. As for my renditions of Detroit, Little Pointe, Brett, and Ripton: these are almost entirely invented places, inhabited by a cast of characters who dwell only in my imagination. And so any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
I have been at this for many years and my fictions about Frank and his unfortunate Officer Related Shooting predate the real life horrors of Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, the tragic and unnecessary deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. It is even more difficult today than it was yesterday to consider the complex and explosive intersections of crime and race and policing. And so today I can only wonder if I would have written any of this any differently.
Along my winding way, the I Ching has proven to be always relevant and constantly provocative, and my respect for the oracle is profound. The one thing that is still true for me all these years later is my belief the oracle appreciates the fact that, given my many limitations, I’m doing my best to access its primal power.
Thanks to Antonia Small for permission to use her dragon poem from her “The Song Cycle.” And finally my indebtedness to my favorite rendition of the I Ching: Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baynes, translators, The I Ching, or Book of Changes, third edition. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, © 1950, 1967 Bollingen Foundation. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.
Mickey Friedman, December 2014
She stood there, watching and waving as Frank and Danger drove off. So very grateful, but still overwhelmed. So much, too much, had happened in the last few months.
“If I knew then what I know now,” she thought but didn’t say. So very sad, because if she had known, two men she hardly knew might still be alive. And she might not have killed one of them.
She sighed and Katie reached over and silently took her hand.
* * *
Katie woke the next morning, alone again. She hadn’t slept well, but then she hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in a while. She slipped into yesterday’s crumpled jeans, then into the navy blue long-sleeved t-shirt Ralph had left. She could smell horses, hay, and sweat all mixed with hints of his pine-scented underarm deodorant.
She threw some cold water on her face and quickly brushed her teeth, ignoring the tangled mess that was her curly red hair. Then headed downstairs, her fifth day without a shower.
Rabbit, her husky, opened a sleepy eye just long enough to see if she was OK, then went back to his nap on the kitchen floor. He was still waiting for his energy to return, still waiting for the dull ache in his flank to fade. At least everything was a lot quieter without the noisy bird and his constantly restless human.
As she prepared some chamomile tea, sourdough toast and jam, Katie was acutely aware of the grief that enveloped her. The adrenaline and bravado that had sustained her this last week and a half were gone, and in their place a thick, almost impenetrable fog of despair.
Again and again, the critic that dwelled in the deeper, darker recesses wanted to know why this great gift of hers had failed to keep them safe? Why saving one person had meant losing another? Almost losing Rabbit, her best, most faithful friend.
Because what she did to help people, what she imagined, intuited, interpreted was so often unquantifiable. Intimations. Dreams. What, after all, was a vision worth? She knew this was an old and fruitless argument but that didn’t still the critical voice. Yes, she had sensed danger, but she hadn’t seen clearly enough how and when and where this danger might come. Or distinguished between a danger that was material, not metaphorical; a danger that brought more than momentary discomfort or defeat.
She felt the sun sneak its way past the white lace kitchen curtains, wondering whether the light had been there these last few days? Or had it been as gray outside as it was inside? Ordinarily, she cherished these Berkshire mornings. As the warmth began to chase away the night’s nip in the air, and New England’s odd idea of summer began to assert itself: too cold, too hot, then too cold again.
The tea cup in one hand, the toast in another, she went over to the table and sat down, across from where they had been sitting that day, wondering whether she would ever be able to sit at this table without seeing blood? The three coins, the yellow pad, the pencil and the I Ching were right where they had left them.
She knew she was stuck. So preoccupied with what she hadn’t seen coming, she hadn’t yet made sense of what had actually come. She could remember the three of them throwing the I Ching the night before Frank left for the city, but could recall almost nothing about the reading. Mostly she had been lost in a thick mix of exhaustion and survivor’s guilt.
“What did I miss?” she asked, taking the three Peruvian coins, her cupped hands trembling.
The coins came spilling out. Two heads and a tail.
She asked the question again, and threw two tails and a head. Then two heads and a tail. And the same again. Then two tails and a head. And, finally, two heads and a tail. She drew the lines of her two hexagrams:
In the back of her well-used yellow copy of the I Ching, she found the hexagram “K’an / The Abysmal (Water).” The top three lines the same as the bottom three. “K’an” two times, a doubling doubled. Katie started to nod, remembering the teaching:
In man’s world, K’an represents the heart, the soul locked up within the body, the principle of light inclosed in the dark … The name of the hexagram, because the hexagram is doubled, has the additional meaning, ‘repetition of danger.’
Danger once, danger twice. She smiled for a moment: an I Ching joke? Peril and the name of Frank’s parrot, Danger. Quickly recalling that not so long ago “K’an” had been the answer to a question about the boat. Trying to remember that session, Katie was pretty sure she had acknowledged the risk that “K’an” foretold. But still when the most important moment had come, she had missed Danger squawking danger. And ignored Rabbit’s nudge.
If there truly were discernible patterns to a life, her relationship with risk had probably begun with the life her parents chose. Carl and Theresa’s heartfelt dedication to aid others. The jungles of El Salvador, Guatemala. The death squads and the friends dead. Carl’s violent end.
When her father Carl died, Theresa, her mother, carried on with the work. With and for the poorest of the poor, Theresa created primitive day care centers and organized small worker-owned food and craft cooperatives.
Light and dark. Theresa’s courage and the cancer that killed her. And their children. Brother Frank became a cop, trying to stop a bit of the bleeding, catching killers in the city, robbers, muggers. Then his shooting. Now this. Not one of them exempt.
Katie had tried her best to carve out a life on the outskirts, in the ether, unraveling dreams and divinations, for herself and more recently for others.
The others: Katie hadn’t ever found an adequate way to refer to those who came to her for help. “Patient” seemed too medical; “client” too cold, too clinical, too business-like.
And this last time, forever and inextricably linked. Suffering together and apart the tragic results of not knowing; of not seeing how profoundly danger had woven itself in and amongst the very fibers of their shared experience; and of underestimating the power and persistence of the dark.
It wasn’t Katie’s style to deflect blame. There was William Burroughs’ quote staring down at her from the refrigerator door. And it was impossible to ignore those words of his she had used all too carelessly: “In the magical universe, there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen.”
She wanted to rip the Burroughs’ postcard off the door, but couldn’t. As difficult as her failure was to accept right now, it was, she knew, something she had to come to terms with.
She closed her eyes, reminding herself to breathe again, one slow breath followed by another, in and out until she could feel some of the tension in her shoulders slip away. Eyes back open.
And to be fair, she reminded herself, there was much within “K’an” that was positive. Like all the teachings of the oracle, black and white, yin and yang, female and male, winter and summer:
Through repetition of danger we grow accustomed to it. Water sets the example for the right conduct … It flows on and on, and merely fills up all the places which it flows; it does not shrink from any dangerous spot nor from any plunge … Thus likewise, if one is sincere when confronted with difficulties, the heart can penetrate the meaning of the situation. And once we have gained inner mastery of a problem, it will come about naturally that the action we take will succeed.
She had agreed to help, trusting her instincts, acting with sincerity, relying upon her understanding of the I Ching. Achieving in many ways success. And yet it was such a costly success.
She got up to replenish her tea and made another piece of toast. The sun was growing stronger. She closed her eyes; her face bathed in light.
Katie could feel Carl and Theresa here with her in the kitchen. Smiling in much the same way they smiled at her when they were alive and she was a girl, and she interrupted them, insisting they look at her latest painting. Proud, encouraging.
Carl and Theresa, and now Frank, knew more than most about right conduct, sincerity, danger, and the true cost of success. Katie closed the book. She would do her best to do better.
Four Months Earlier
José recognized her and her BMW the moment she drove up to the terminal. She was hard to forget: so very pretty, about five feet ten inches tall with not the fake blond hair but real, and bright blue green eyes with energy, sparkling, that reminded him of the cats-eye marbles he would play with during the dusty days of his Mexican childhood. Her body was strong and lean, unlike the puffy bodies of many wealthy American women.
José had seen her and the beautiful car several times before at the big house. She had always been so generous to Juan, his younger brother, giving him the gardening job even though he had no references in the States. Spending many hours working hard, kneeling beside Juan in the dirt with her colorful flowers.
He could see how confused she was, thinking she could leave the car there. Luckily, it was one of those times when they weren’t so crazy busy at the airport. He asked his buddy Carlo to take over for him at the curbside baggage check-in.
Wondering whether he should call her house. But as he came over to the driver’s side, he thought maybe that was a mistake. Because even though she had used much powder, he could still see the very bad bruises. Her hands were shaking and it was a miracle that she had been able to drive the car. She was wearing her fancy clothes but they were slightly off like she had dressed in a big hurry. The diamond ring was gone from her hand. He felt someone had tried to hurt her very much. And he was very scared for her.
She still hadn’t said a word. He saw that panicked look in her eyes. He and Juan had much experience with running. Both in Mexico, where the armed gangs, or sometimes the greedy police beat you and took your money, and here in the United States. The first time making it from Oaxaca all the way across the border, only to be caught, their money lost to crooked coyotes, then back home again to save and start over.
He knew she would soon be found if she ran without thinking. He did not know who she was running from. But he remembered that Juan had never liked the man. Cold like the house, he said. Maybe “timador.” In English, maybe con man. Hustler.
José had always hated bullies. The bullies who used their physical strength and made others afraid, and the ones who used their mouths and money, the ones who did dishonest deals. He couldn’t imagine hitting a woman that hard. So without hesitating, he made her get out and move to the passenger seat, and quickly drove them to Parking Lot B.
Still looking like she was far away. He hoped she understood he was helping, not hurting, because she didn’t struggle; she didn’t scream. She hadn’t said a word and maybe he told her too many things too quickly.
“They can track your car. They can track your cards of credit. No planes. The bus. Many buses. Many cities. Más importante: no police and no hospitals who will call the police. Most important!” He reached for his wallet, for his cash, but she put her hand over his to stop him, and shook her head.
“Your purse, please,” he asked. “I will take your cards and I will cut them up. You may not remember me, but I am Juan’s brother. The one who takes care of your lawn and your flowers.”
And she nodded, although José wasn’t quite sure whether she understood what he was really saying. Then she reached in her bag and handed him her smaller black handbag. He quickly took the purse, moved aside several packs of hundred dollar bills, and took only what he thought could identify her. And her phone. He quickly wiped the steering wheel with his handkerchief.
“I will take you to the SMART bus, which takes you to the city.” He kept talking as they walked. “On Howard Street, the big bus station. Ask for the buses. Your hair, change maybe to dark. Please take the first bus that goes far, far away. Many buses. Until you are safe. I am José Castillo. Thank you for your kindness to my brother. I wish I could help more but I have to work otherwise they will lose my job. This is the bus. Vaya con Dios, Señora.”
* * *
She used the bottle she had just bought at the drugstore to turn her hair from blond to black. Sticking her head under the hand-dryer. Wiping the sink clean with paper towels from the dispenser. Checking again the bathroom mirror of the bus station, she saw the dark bruises on her face, and to hide them applied more powder until she looked almost like a ghost. Then went back out to the terminal.
She couldn’t remember ever being in a place like this. So many people: mostly tired, mostly sad. The heavy women with several children tugging at them, shouting, crying. Men who stared at the floor, or into space, the random grumbles. So much noise, so many words she couldn’t understand. Her head throbbing.
Had she always been this confused? Nervously pacing as different people knocked into her, rushing toward the little window as the ceiling announced: “The bus to Cleveland will be leaving in twenty minutes.” Which somehow seemed a sign.
So she moved to the end of the line. While moments later, several older, slower folks crowded in behind her. She watched as one by one the people before her approached the window, giving money to the man behind the plastic. Then, offering money from her handbag, she too nodded when asked “Cleveland?”
Outside, she handed her ticket to the driver, and quickly found an empty seat in the back of the bus. Clutching her overnight bag and handbag to her chest, she placed her head against the window, and as the pain and exhaustion came, wave after wave, somehow she slept.
* * *
The process repeated itself. That voice reminding her: many buses. Cleveland to Des Moines; Des Moines to Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh to Washington; Washington to New York; New York to Hartford; and Hartford to Springfield. Hours, so many hours in these buses. By the time she made it to Springfield, Massachusetts, the pain in her head had moved to her shoulders and back.
More than anything, she was sick of the unrelenting sameness of the road, the dingy terminals, their dreadful rest rooms reeking of disinfectant, the ever-shifting array of unwashed seatmates, crying kids, the constant lack of space. Then on line for the Springfield to Albany bus, she heard an old man say “One for Brett,” and she knew it was time to stop. Why not stop in Brett?
* * *
On the buses, she loved to sleep. She could sleep through the night and halfway into the day: a deep sleep, a hibernation. But that first night in Brett, sleep and her dreams brought no rest.
Everything was new in this place. A few blocks from the drug store where the bus let them out, and the place the old guy kindly drove her to when she stood there completely stuck. The second house on the left side of Oak Street, its yellow sign with black letters, “The Fosters: A Berkshire Bed & Breakfast” with Bea Foster who rented out rooms by the night, the week, the month, and sometimes even by the year.
Bea would remind her, and anybody else she could get to hear the story: “It could have been snowing that night, late April. It had the night before and it did the night after, four inches, then six, and there she was, mind you, ‘the Lady’ I called her, such a pretty woman, knocking on my door dressed for dinner with fancy folks.
“All she said was ‘no hospital, no police,’” Bea continued. “Of course, she had tried to cover those terrible black and blue marks with lots of powder, but with my family history I know something about bruises. Being knocked about like my sister Enid. And let me tell you, the hospital called the police and the police never believed Enid. And Jim beat her some more. So I understood. Oh, and that bad dye job.
“She couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me her name or where she came from, or why she was here. Said she didn’t know. No car, but considering the time she arrived, I figured she came in on the Springfield bus. She could have been a criminal but, you know, Enid was always a bit off, so I took a big chance and let her in.
“Her black wool coat probably cost more than I’ve spent on clothes in several years. But it was real dirty and stained. Ruined, if you ask me. She had this beautiful big silk scarf, dark blue, but the worse for wear the way she let it get crumpled, completely useless against the cold.
“And she had this soft black leather handbag with a little silver padlock, matching her snazzy overnight bag which she held onto like her life depended on it. Partial to black, with these low-heeled Italian pumps with a fancy bow and silver buckle. Ferragamo, it said on the inside, but you can tell they weren’t made for whatever she did with them, because they were scuffed something terrible. The next morning, we threw most of that stuff out and I took her to the Outlet Village to buy some decent Brett clothes: jeans, sweaters, sweatshirts, sneakers, so she could be comfortable.”
They were an odd pair, walking slowly from The Banana Republic to The Gap. Bea just about came up to the Lady’s shoulder, and was twice as wide. She had an extensive collection of wraparound print dresses, each oddly similar yet just a slight bit different. There were various shades of pink and purple, blue and green. Each with large numbers of flowers, or birds, rolling pins, puppies or penguins barely containing her. This day she wore sunnyside yellow with its old postcards of the pyramids.
Bea’s wide face was quick to frown, but even quicker to smile, and her always active coal black eyes seemed bigger, brighter, like pea coat buttons set against her very pale skin.
Unfortunately, Bea paid a price for her pallor and in a flash could turn red with embarrassment, or more permanently if she forgot her wide-brimmed hat, after just a few minutes in the sun. She used her orangey perfume much like she used her colorful muumuus: to amplify her presence in this often shaky world. To loudly announce to God that in spite of sixty tough years she still wasn’t ready to surrender.
Bea loved to laugh but you could see in those big black eyes that she had endured more than her fair share of emotional wear and tear, of angst and anguish.
Back at Bea’s, an hour later, with several shopping bags to unpack, her lodger seemed shrouded in sadness. For her, not knowing was the hardest part: not knowing why she was there with Bea or what she was supposed to be doing. Only softly sensing that something critically important was missing. But then growing tired again, so very weary. No name. No past.
She had found in the pouches of the overnight bag, in every pocket of her coat, and in her handbag, besides some make-up and a mostly empty bottle of Clairol Black, thick stacks of crisp new hundred dollar bills.
Which had come in handy and made this odd journey possible. All she had to do was hold out a bill. One did it most of the time. And she almost always got a lot of change. Then she could relax for a moment and smile.
She knew she had this smile because she had occasionally seen it in the reflection of the bus windows, or in the mirror in the morning. She thought that this was a hard-earned smile, coming from far away. She sometimes thought that this was a very pretty face, because of the way men always looked at her, though it seemed sad and worried to her.
The eyes reminded her of that magazine photo in Bea’s upstairs bathroom, of the big bear standing in the zoo, with the forlorn brown eyes. Although her eyes weren’t anything like brown, sometimes ocean green, sometimes sky blue, sometimes both. But the hair was a still a big mess. Hair, which Bea assured her, wasn’t really her own anymore but could easily be fixed.
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