Author’s note: This continuation of the unfinished story “Lost” is the order of the day. Even as we are thrust by brave new times into deeply moving explorations of the new and near, as we are keeping close to that seldom enjoyed place home, I take it upon myself to carry on also with the old and dear and honor the habit of completion.

Graydon Miller, the Wizard of Fiction

UNITED STATES—Eliza picked up the phone call in the vet’s waiting area.
“I’m frantic,” said Rhett Thornton in his Louisiana drawl, “I’ve been looking at the news. Turn it on. You’ve got to see about it,” said Rhett. “It’s all over the place.”

“Calm down,” said Eliza. She was used to dealing with anxiety attacks from the aging star for whom she was factotum and personal assistant. Enduring self-absorption came with the territory; you just couldn’t let things like, “Why couldn’t I have aged well, like Rob Lowe?” sit there.

Eliza had to chip in, “He hasn’t aged. He’s a vampire.”

“You lived life, as they say.”

“I snorted it,” said Rhett.

“You got that right.” And pretty soon Rhett would be worried about heartworm, dogs can get it people can get it too.

“Listen to me, I want you to go to the bank and take out a thousand dollars, and go buy lots of smart water,” said Rhett. “There’s a terrorist group that has a bomb. It has a bomb that doesn’t kill people, but get this. . . It ages them 20 years.”

“Hmn, that’s terrible,” she said. She moderated her speech so she didn’t say outright, “You’re crazy, that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”

“Oh yes, they want to broker release of members of their political-ecology group, and that unless they get released. It’s absolutely true.”

“You’re kidding.”

“It’s absolutely true. I’ve seen it on CNN and Dumont.”

“I’m terrified.” It was time for Eliza to speak up. “There’s no more DuMont. Get in reality.”

“It’s because we grew up so poor in Louisiana. We had the oldest TV in the neighborhood. It was a Dumont.

“There there Rhett,” she said.

“I’ve got one big comeback in me, and this bomb is going to spoil it. Imagine how I will look at 77.”

“Harrison Ford is almost there. He doesn’t look so bad.”

“But that’s Harrison Ford.”

“But this geriatric bomb. I’m terrified and how will my internal organs be in 20 years, my liver, my heart, my pancreas. . .”

“Rhett,” she said., “There can’t be such a thing as a geriatric bomb.”

“Yes, there is. I tell you. And if there’s a geriatric bomb. There’s an antidote, and we’ve got to find it.”

“Rhett, as your faithful employee I have to tell you, I think you’re hallucinating. Maybe you’ve had too much Blue Sky today.”

“This is something I can’t do very much about. It’s crazy.”

”I’m telling you. It’s not crazy. It’s all over the news.”

Just when you thought Rhett was on his own tangent, impervious to the lives of others and caught up in his own hermitdom, which made Howard Hughes look like a bon vivant, he’d say something that made it look like he actually cared for another human being.

“Eliza, this is not just for me. I want you to look after yourself. We’ve got to find an anecdote.”

And just as soon he’d blow the semblance of empathy to smithereens:

“Add twenty years to you and no guy will look at your figure anymore.”

Gosh, Eliza thought to herself. Where to you start with somebody like Rhett, a sexist time capsule from the 80s? Well, you follow the first rule of the personal assistant and say with utter cheerful conviction, “We’re gonna find an anecdote all right.”

Eliza cut off the call just as the receptionist at the vet’s said, “Your cat is ready now.” Just before going off to pick up Goldilocks, Eliza’s fingers flew over the letters on the screen and she texted her partner in crime, It’s worked like a charm. Rhett has fallen for it hook, like and sinker.

To be continued…