Retrieval Chapter 3

"I know what this is." The aged Japanese man spoke in a slow whisper, as he set his spoon down on the saucer under his soup bowl. His parched voice emerged with difficulty and great care through toothless gums and weathered lips. Mr Saito picked up the top slowly. "I have seen one before," he considered the to studiously, "many, many years ago." He spun it next to his soup bowl. "It belonged to a man I once knew at Harvard or Berkeley."

An exhausted and drained Dom Cobb raised his head from where he'd been shoveling his soup into his mouth and looked up from his own bowl to the end of the long table and for the first time truly observed the hairless man at the far end of the long table, hunched within a kimono that was now too big for him. Cobb looked across not just a table but a vast gulf of years into ancient eyes, set in parchment skin. He saw the top continue to spin next to the nine millimeter Smith and Wesson the guards had taken from him.

"I am waiting for someone," his eyes vague, the wisened man spoke as though relating a tale told many times, over many decades.

Cobb continued to rise as though gaining strength and clarity from other man's words. "Someone from a half remembered dream." The phrase started as a question but ended with certainty.

Saito straightened a bit as well, uncrossing his arms, and gazed across at a face that had aged since he'd seen it, but only a year or so for every decade he had passed. "Once we were young me together." His gaze faltered from Cobb and began to turn back inward. "I am an old man now."

Intensity returned to Cobb's countenance as rose further. "Filled with regret," he continued as though remembering lines from a long ago play.

"Waiting to die alone." Saito's eyes began to focus across the table at Cobb again, a glimmer of recognition began to form.

Cobb looked down as he remembered the next phrase and the gazed intently across at Saito, willing illumination into his words, "I've come back for you." He glanced into memory again as the part became clearer. "To remind you," Cobb's eyes returned to Saito again sincerity slowly replacing exhaustion, "of something you once knew," Cobb focused on the top as it continued to spin, willing it to impart meaning, "this world is not real."

Finality, inevitability and weariness fought with understanding, hope and inspiration as Saito spoke, "To convince me to honor our arrangement,"

"To take a leap of faith," Cobb was now fully engaged as he saw weariness and regret give way to hope and understanding in the aged visage before him. "Come back with me." Cobb continued as Saito raised his right hand back up to the table. "So we can be young men together again." Cobb saw Saito's hand open and flex deliberately. "Come back with me," Cobb urged as Saito's fingers began to clasp at the sidearm.

Cobb's eyes darted back and forth behind closed lids as his face rose to greet fresh sunlight. He opened his eyes with uncertainty and a touch of trepidation, as though unsure of what he would see upon gazing about. He saw before him the first class cabin of a 747. Relief emerged in his face. Finally, he had, almost in his grasp, that for which he had searched across months and years and decades.

He blinked as his mind raced and caught up to what his eyes and ears were tell him. Over the sound of jet engines far aft and slipstream passing his window, he heard the Australian-accented flight attendant ask if he wanted a hot towel or an immigration form. He reached up past his open-collared, starched, white dress shirt to take them. "Thank you," he said with sincerity and hope.

She continued to the young businessman who sat afore of Cobb.

Cobb gazed around the cabin lost in his own thoughts for a moment. He looked across at Arthur who had already donned his coat and tie. Arthur returned his gaze with an impressed and congratulatory look, that said, Yeah, he beat the odds and pulled this one off.

Dom's gaze continued forward of Arthur to Ariadne where she still lay pressed back in her seat. Realization emerged in Cobb's countenance as he looked briefly into the middle distance and then settled on a confused and drained Saito, laying sideways on his seat, apparently tangled up in his own arms. Sternness and insistence focused Cobb's features as he glared across the aisle at Saito. Cobb's eyes said, You will absolutely honor our arrangement. Now. Immediately.

Comprehension and duty emerged in Saito's face as he untangled him self, sat up, grabbed the air-phone build into his seat. He stared at it with great intensity as he punched in numbers.

Hope emerged in Cobb's face.

He made it through Passport Control.

He claimed his bag and walked past Eames and Yusuf. The three men simultaneously acknowledged and ignored each other as the young businessman, Robert Fisher, Jr., the sole heir of Fisher-Morrow, and the Mark retrieved his bags from the conveyer. Cobb walked on. He passed the limo driver holding a sign that said Fisher. He saw Professor Miles, his father-in-law, who greeted him with relief and respect. The Professor clapped him on the shoulder and led the way through the airport.

Inside Cobb's beach house, he and Miles emerged from well lit the hallway with small windows on the outside wall and many frames adorning the inside one into the glass-walled kitchen. Miles flipped a switch on the wall and a ceiling fan began to circulate the air. Cobb looked around the kitchen noticing a glass of paint water with child size brushes next to a set of water colors and some drying creations. The electric light on the wall behind him add it's modest warmth to the flood of sunlight that poured in throw large bright windows with shades up and curtains secured open. Cobb reached into his pocket and set his top spinning on the table next to the water colors and the fruit bowl.

Grandpa miles went to open the back door and Cobb looked on with hope and doubt and excitement in his face. Outside in the back a slightly older Phillip and James played together in the sunlit grass. Cobb heard the screen door open and Miles's voice say, "Look who's here." Cobb's daughter and his son turned and looked toward the sound of their Grandfather.

Cobb saw each of the faces of his two children.

Miles held the as Phillipa helped James up the step and into the kitchen, both scream and crying, "Daddy! Daddy!" with excitement and joy. Many hugs and pats and kisses were exchanged as Cobb squatted to embrace his daughter with one arm while picking up his son in the other. Miles walked back into to the house to fetch lemonade for everyone and not a single one of the four of them noticed the top as it still continued to spin. The top wobbled occasional next to the water colors, the clay dinosaur and the fruit bowl filled with bananas and pears. No one paid the top any mind at all as it continued to spin.

Professor Miles returned to Paris with Ariadne to finish out the term at the College.

Cobb and his children cooked and played and flew kites and jumped in the waves down at the beach. They read C.S. Lewis and Tolkien to each other. Well Dominic and his daughter did. Jamie had his work cut out for him with "Fox in Sox" by Dr Seuss . Summer gave way to fall and vacation gave way to school.

Cobb opened a dojo with a monk and a Sensai. They taught self defense, martial arts and meditation together. And falls gave way to winters and springs. Christmas decorations came and went and so did Memorial Day barbecues, sparklers on Independence Day and Thanksgiving Turkeys, that Cobb finally learned to cook without Phillipa's help.

Something nagged at the back of Cobb's mind as Phillipa tried out for the 7the grade Girls Volleyball team and James started Cub Scouts. He noticed some gray in his goatee and shaved it before the Phillipa's first Middle School Dance. That had to be it, the gray in his beard.

-0-0-

Arthur and Ariadne returned the shades, curtains, pictures, switches and faucets to their original positions. Not that it mattered, except for the curtains and shades. Outside Arthur pulled out his phone and did a quick mental calculation that it was about nine o'clock in the evening in Paris. By this time of night, Professor Miles would probably have put away the papers he'd been grading and gone to pour himself a glass of port and put some jazz records on his old phonograph. Arthur hoped he hadn't gone to sleep yet.

"Who are you going to call?" Ariadne followed him out the front door.

"Professor Miles, of course." Arthur glanced around the yard, taking in the trees and the dunes. Something moved in tall sea grass that grew on top of the dunes. Might be a rabbit.

"Why him?"

"He's Cobb's father-in-law, or didn't they tell you that?"

The Point Man and the architecture student returned to the rental car while they waited for the call to connect. He looked through the window at the newspaper in his seat and saw that the headline still made the correct angle with the back of the seat. Hopefully that means no one has tampered with the car in any way. Then he went around and got Ari's door.

Sitting down inside the car, Arthur plugged his phone into the car's Synch system so they could both hear and talk.

"Hello?" the Professor answered. He didn't sound groggy, but he did sound tired.

"Hello, Miles." Arthur started the car and backed out of the driveway.

"Hello, Arthur, my friend." Professor Miles's voice came across with a slight delay.

"Yes, it's Arthur and I've got Ariadne here with me." Arthur checked his rear view mirror and scanned the dunes. He made a mental note of what he saw.

"Hello, Professor." Ariadne chimed in. She hadn't scanned the mirrors. She failed to notice anything in the Dunes.

"I don't want to keep you." Arthur gave the code phrase that the call was compromised. He'd seen the flash of the sun off the glass in the binoculars. They'd been watched at Cobb's. Which meant a tail. Which meant someone was probably hacking his phone right now. Saito was supposed to square things with Cobol Engineering. Arthur's mind raced and he glanced at Ariadne as they pulled out into the street. She was about to speak, but he made a hand sign, waving a line across his throat.

She took the hint and didn't say anything else.

"Oh it's no bother." Professor Miles responded with the code phrase that meant he understood they didn't have privacy.

"Have you heard from Dom? We haven't seen or heard from him in a couple of days."

"Last I knew, he was staying at his final destination."

"Okay, get some sleep. Good bye."

Ariadne chimed in, "Goodbye Professor."

"Goodbye, luv." The Professor's voice sounded jolly and good natured. Arthur pressed the end button on the steering wheel and the call disconnected.

"What was -" Ariadne began, but cut off abruptly as Arthur again used a finger to draw a line across his throat.

He pointed to the radio as he grabbed his phone from the Synch port.

Ariadne turned the radio on and busied herself with the volume and tuning controls. She found a station playing modern jazz. "Now this I can get into. They still have the most wonderful jazz clubs in Paris."

Fiddling with the battery of his phone, trying to disconnect it, Arthur replied, "Oh do they now? Which one is your favorite?

"Why, The Franc Pinot of course."

"Oh really?" Arthur flipped the batter off of his phone and it tumbled to the floor at his feet. "Tell me about it."

"It is one of the most atmospheric jazz clubs in Paris. Listening to live music with natural acoustics of the old vaulted stone cellars on the Ile St Louis in the heart of Paris is absolutely a 'must' for fans of swing and beebop, like me. Concerts start at 7pm or 9pm depending on the program-" Ariadne broke off suddenly as Arthur tried break but found he couldn't push the pedal all the way to the floor. The driver in front of them was slowing to make a right turn.

They swerved sharply zig-zagging around the turning car and drawing the ire of the drivers behind them. Horns blared. Arthur accelerated through a stop light as the yellow turned red. He put his phone in the change tray and pumped the breaks. He glanced around and switched lanes ensuring that he kept a few carlenghts between them and other drivers. He reached the Ventura Highway and turned south. No more traffic lights for a while.

"Why Arthur, what's gotten into you?"

"Nothing, Ariadne." Keeping his right foot on the gas, Arthur reached under the break pedal with his left on and knocked his phone battery back under the driver seat. He smile sheepishly and then noticed that Ariadne had disassembled both her phone and the GPS Navigator that came with the rental car.

Arthur turned the volume up on the radio and leaned over toward Ariadne to explain that he was pretty sure he'd see the glint of sunlight off a set of binoculars in the dunes. "Thank you for the music and normal sounding conversation back there. We had a tail at Cobb's house and they could have hacked my phones and the GPS, turned them into listening devices. Unplugging the batteries is the only certain way to defeat that."

-0-0-0-

Meanwhile, at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, Eames stood at a craps table wearing an open collared dress shirt with a blazer and jeans. On hand held an appletini, the other, dice. Two attractive red heads in short dresses on his left were flirting with him, and he thought one of the very handsome, very suave single men in a tuxedo with the bow-tie untied, on the far side of the table had an eye on him as well.

Eames was up but not so much that the casino security should notice. He threw again. He won again. The crowd around the table cheered.

A waitress came by and traded his drink for a fresh one. The drink was free but he tipped her a five dollar chip anyway. Eames was about to ask the two darling red heads what they wanted when he noticed they'd disappeared, replaced by the glamorous young man from the far side of the table. One Eames's other side another guy had appeared who looked like he'd ridden in on a Harley-Davidson or an Arabian stallion.

The handsome man produced a Palm Pilot with a photo on the screen. The picture had cross-hairs in the center and appeared to have been taken through the scope of a high-powered rifle. In the back ground of the picture Eames noticed dunes and a beach house. In the foreground a nondescript sedan. Exiting the house were Cobb's Point Man, Arthur and the girl on his team, Ariadne. His face betrayed no emotion. "If you're trying to sell me a house, you might at least show me one without a yard full of weeds and untrimmed shurbs."

The charming gent grunted, "It ain't the house you should be payin' attention to, Man. It's your friends."

The bruiser spoke in a very smooth tone, "Our employer is not interested in you or the girl. But they want to extract a price from your associates Arthur Stone and Dominic Cobb. Why don't you come over to one of the booths in the bar with us and share some Irish coffees with us. I understand they're something of a speciality here. Light them on fire and toss them between steel carafes, they do."

Eames looked back and forth between the two of them looking slightly confused, as each man's voice seemed to match the other. He scooped up his chips and tossed a 25 dollar chip to the table attendant. Following the two men to a booth he thought to himself, Let's see where this leads...

-0-0-0-0-

Back in Los Angeles, Arthur and Ariadne returned their nondescript sedan to the rental agency at the Airport and ridden the shuttle back to the International Terminal. Their tail had broken off when they'd turned into the Airport. There's still too many cops and alert people at an airport.

On the shuttle bus, they sat in the back and spoke in hushed tones.

"I get that you think your phone was compromised," Air stared out the window, "but what did we learn from Miles?"

"Well, he didn't use either of our prearranged duress words, so he's okay and so is the person we were asking about, in this case Cobb." Arthur tucked the sections of the morning's Times that he'd held onto in an inside pocket of his blazer.

"And when are you going to give me these prearranged codes?" Ariadne fiddled with her scarf.

"When I'm sure that we still have a team," Arthur zipped his weekend back up again and stared out the window at airplanes taking off and landing, "and that you're on it."

Arthur had no American currency and he didn't want to use credit if he could avoid it. Who ever was after them could be watching for that. The stores in the International Terminal would probably take his Australian dollars, at an inflated exchange rate, no doubt. They'd have to stay another day and that would mean a trip downtown to cash a check. That would take longer to show up on the transaction records. He kept accounts in DeutcheBank and Mitusbishi Bank of Tokyo. One of them would be open. Then he'd take Ariadne to the beach and swim before sunset.

Inside the International Terminal, they found a payphone next to a coffee kiosk in the ticketing area. Ari stayed with their bags. Arthur walked over to the snack and magazine store to buy a phone card with cash. The checkout girl took his Australian twenty dollar bills after he'd showed her the exchange rate in the Los Angeles Times business section he still had with him.

Miles answered on the eighth ring, "Allo?"

"Miles, Arthur." He and Ariadne stood with their heads almost touching. Arthur held the phone between them so they could both hear and talk. "Sorry to wake you."

"Are you really, Arthur?"

Arthur's silence was deafening.

"I am." Ariadne piped up.

"Well, bless you my dear." Miles paused. "I got an email message from an old colleague of Dom's and Arthur's. Quite a strange one, it was."

"And?"

"He said to tell Arthur that he's looking to spend some of his fee from the latest Job on a new custom engineered Tesla Roadster in cobalt blue."

"That's very interesting." said Arthur.

"D'you have any idea why this chap is contacting me with this? I have to teach a class in the morning, Arthur. Call me back at a civilized hour. My class is at 9.30."

The line went dead.

They rode the express bus from the airport to downtown.

"So does that tell us? A custom engineered car that's cobalt blue?" Ariadne voiced her frustration. What has that to do with anything?"

"Before the Fisher Job, Arthur and I did a job for a company called Cobol Engineering. They wanted us to help them win the bid for on oil pipeline contract in east Africa. Cobol rhymes with Cobalt."

"So Eames is trying to tip us about Cobol Engineering." Ariadne, ever the quick wit, connected the dots as fast as Arthur drew them.

"That must be who hired the tail that I saw up in the dunes around Cobb's house." Arthur mused. "Cobol Engineering practically owns whole countries in east Africa, the ones that aren't owned by the Chinese, anyway..."

"That doesn't get us any closer to knowing where Cobb is." Ari pointed out.

"It could explain a phone call from Yusuf the Chemist. If I had gotten that call in Reality and not in a dream."

"How do you know it wasn't a real call that got mixed up in your dream?" Ari asked. "Did you check the call log in your phone?"

"No." Arthur pulled his phone and its battery out of his weekend bag and hooked them back together long enough to check the call log. There it was. A call from Mumbassa. Holy frak! "What is Cobb doing in Mumbassa?"


Thanks to my readers and reviewers.