All These Years
by Robert E. Schorry
What would Thomas Magnum be doing after all these years? Supposing his retirement from Naval Intelligence, perhaps a few years ago, I wondered what might draw him back to a previous life…
I had just returned from another book tour, the second printing of How to be a World-Class Private Investigator having finally started to pay off. My years in Naval Intelligence added to the experiences I had long ago in the Islands, and a publisher had at last paid notice. But right now, tonight, it was all about baseball. It was game five in the Series and I hoping that the Phillies would start to come alive. If it wasn't the Dodgers, at least someone could try to beat the Yankees. I was sitting in front of the TV holding a cold Coops, feet up, when the phone rang and I heard a voice from long ago.
"Magnum? Is that you?" The voice had a touch of old English.
I recognized the voice in an instant. "Higgins! Wow! I'm really glad you called. How are you? How are things on Oahu?" I asked.
"Magnum, there is something I need you to do." Jonathan Quayle Higgins III said forcefully. "I need you to come see us. And hope I have not woken you. I was uncertain of the time in Virginia, or wherever it is you are living now."
"Now? Right now?" It was the same old Higgins. But I think I knew how to handle him. "Just drop everything? Run off to Oahu, just on your say-so? You are on Oahu, aren't you? I am in Virginia Beach, by the way."
"Thomas, Robin Masters has called and directed that you immediately come here." The little man was imperious as always. "You must; as soon as possible. Robin has opened the Nest again and I expect him here tomorrow. Will you come?"
I had not heard from Higgins in over five years and yet the majordomo was just the same. Although who was the same after all this time?
"Higgins? Just like that? What's wrong?" This was more than a social call. "What's going on?"
The English voice softened a bit. "Thomas, please. I'll expect you day after tomorrow at the latest. Goodbye."
The line went dead. So I put down my beer and called the airline.
Two days later around noon, I was standing outside the Honolulu Airport Terminal waiting for a cab. I was tired, my back was aching from too-small airplane seats, was foggy from jet lag, and was weary of eating peanuts from tiny bags. I was also $1,600 poorer. I know what you're thinking. Why would I drop everything and fly nearly 6,000 miles just because an old friend called?
Let's put it this way. On the morning of September 12, 2001 was the last time I had talked to Higgins. I was still in Naval Intel then and he had called me on the day after 9/11 to ask me one thing and to tell me another. The question was if I was alright? When I assured him that I was he then told me the other thing. What he said was that he was certain that I would do the suitable thing. There were a number of things that I did around that time that I hoped were suitable, as Higgins put it.
Running off to Oahu at the call of a friend was also the suitable thing.
As the cab took me to Robin's Nest I enjoyed the ride. The sun was bright and sky blue, the trade winds were blowing, and it felt like I was home. Just like the old days. No, that was wrong. Some things could never be the same. But I had hope that they might be. I kept asking myself what Higgins and Robin Masters needed me for. There was no way to know until I got there.
The cabby let me off at the gates to Robin's Nest forty five minutes later. Other than a new intercom and a camera perched on the wall things looked unchanged. I pushed the call button and waited. I heard two dogs barking as they raced towards the gate and it really did feel like a homecoming. Two black snouts pushed through the gate. Oh, no! They barked and then stopped at a shouted command from inside the wall.
"Higgins! It's me, Thomas!" I shouted. Dobermans give me a chill at times, even now.
I heard footsteps on the gravel drive and a slim young man limped up. Late twenties, with sandy hair and tanned skin. He carried a cane in his right hand. His gaze was steady. He stopped a few feet from the fence and looked me up and down. "You must be Magnum." He did not look pleased to see me.
"Yeah, that's me, Thomas Magnum. Who are you?" I was trying to be friendly. Really.
The man looked at the dogs and they looked at him. With a twitch of his cane, the dogs darted off.
"Neat trick. They must like you." I smiled at the guy.
He pointed to my duffle. "You got a gun in that thing?"
I shook my head. "No. Just socks and underwear."
He checked me out again, clearly not liking what he saw. "Hm. Well then, I'm Security. Come in." The gates slid open and I stepped inside.
I looked at the guy and could see some scars on his left hand and he had a blotchy area on his neck, but otherwise looked fit. Maybe 170 lbs, about six feet tall. Big biceps. Hazel eyes. The few words he had spoken had a bit of Texas in them.
I tried to soften him up. "You from the South?"
He watched while the gates slid closed, then started to walk away. He gave me that hard look again. "You don't need to know. Come with me."
So I followed him down the drive towards the main house. I had come all this way, and there was no Higgins in sight. It was just like the little major to needle me like this. Maybe some things were the same after all.
Light colored gravel crunched under foot as we walked to the main house. I could see a white van near the door and some guys on ladders painting the stucco. The house needed it. The trees and bushes had recently been given a trim, and the gravel on the drive looked new. Robin was sprucing the place up.
We went towards the front door but the security guy stopped. He didn't look quite as grim before.
He cleared his throat. "Mr. Magnum, I'm sorry for how we got started back there. Can we begin again?" He switched his cane to his left hand and stuck out his right. "Nice to meet you, sir. I'm Nick Christopher. Mr. Higgins hired me last year. He has told me a lot about you."
I took his hand and shook it. "Thanks. Nice to meet you." I said it like I meant it. I went on. "I hope Higgins hasn't filled your head with too many ideas about me." I let me eyes sweep across the grounds and the house. "Looks like the compound is getting fixed up." The painters were clearly almost done.
"No, sir, not too many stories. Yes, the compound was run down. Mr. Masters hasn't used it for a long time. We expect him soon, sir."
Higgins was telling Magnum stories to this guy? Oh boy. I tried to cover my irritation. "Robin's not here yet?"
Nick shook his head. "No, sir. He was delayed coming in from Vancouver. Mr. Masters should be here tomorrow."
Wonderful. I had busted my tail to get here and Robin hadn't arrived. "Any idea what this is all about?" I was as mystified as anyone, but for that matter why had I scampered here so fast?
"No, sir." He shifted his cane back to his right hand and leaned on it heavily. "Sorry, get a twinge once in a while." His faced wrinkled in pain.
I knew the look. I had seen it on my own face too many times in the mirror. "Afghanistan or Iraq?"
Nick smiled. He knew that I knew. "Both. Last trip was to Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Special Forces. We were in a little place about 50 klicks from Lakshar Gar."
"Rough duty." I vaguely indicated his leg. "Bad?"
"A tour in Iraq; then to Helmand. Seven months in country working with the Brits. IED got me. But the guy used a really thick piece of steel as the pressure plate. Blew me over a wall. Busted my foot pretty good."
Those improvised explosive devices were nasty and they were making them deadlier. I nodded in understanding. "Sorry to hear that. Doing alright now?"
His eyes met mine and I could tell he was lying. "Yeah. It's OK."
Our eyes met again. He knew that I knew. "Let's go to the house."
"Yes, sir," he continued. "I'm not sure why Mr. Masters wanted you to come."
"Would you quit calling me sir?" I was mad but kept my voice calm. "Just call me Tom. And I don't know the reason behind this trip either."
"OK, sir… uh, Tom. Mr. Higgins wondered if it had something to do with Mr. Masters' latest manuscript. It will be his 30th book, you know."
I'd seen the steady stream of Robin's work over the years and there were a few pages in The Purloined P.I. that reminded me of a few of my old cases. But I hadn't kept up with Robin's work. I suppose that Robin had his own reasons for summoning me and I hoped I'd find out soon. Meanwhile the jetlag was giving me a headache. Nick motioned me to the door so we went into the main house.