Chapter Two: "Contemplation" Albert Calavicci, formerly a two-star Rear Admiral in the United States Navy, now considered himself a first-class horse's ass. He was driving back into San Francisco and calling himself various names, from "coward" to words that were best left not translated from the Italian he uttered them in. He'd thought going out to see Katie and giving her the good news would be easy. It had been anything but. First was her reaction seeing him on the porch; he'd caught how she'd studied him before saying anything, and wished not for the first time that he'd had his uniform altered, or had chosen not to wear it. He must have been quite a sight, trying to look like the dashing Naval officer he once was but ending up looking like an out-of-shape old man. Then there were the kids. He'd hoped they would have been out with friends, since he wasn't sure they knew what had happened to their uncle. Thomas Samuel, named for Katie's two brothers, was in the Reserves, and it must not have been his weekend to serve. He was tall and broad-shouldered, like his father, but he'd inherited his looks from his mother's side, especially his greenish hazel eyes, and a small lock of premature white in his light brown hair. Allison Thelma, named after Al himself and Katie's mother Thelma, took after her father completely. Same height, same dark brown hair, twinkling blue eyes and dimples when she smiled. The last time Al had seen any of the Bonnick family was at a Christmas party Sam had brought him to, and that was over twelve years ago. And the final thing, in Al's mind, that had ruined the trip was smelling all the wonderful food Katie had prepared and having to turn down her offer. But he was determined to stay on his diet this time, and he knew what a marvelous cook she was and how easy it would have been to say yes. Turning down a home-cooked meal was harder than tracking down the cook had been. Al still had a few connections in the Navy, and it had only taken him a few hours to learn that Lieutenant Commander James Bonnick and his family had moved from Hawaii to California. Finding the time to drive from deep in a New Mexican desert to San Francisco had been a bit tougher. Al pulled into the parking lot of the hotel he was staying in, and shut off the engine with a sigh. He sat behind the wheel for a few moments, listening to the cooling engine ping and the birds in the tree next to his room call to one another. Finally, with another sigh he got out of the car. He locked the door and pocketed the keys in one swift automatic move, and headed inside. "How'd it go?" his wife as he walked in. Tina had offered to go along, to give him company during the drive over, and maybe provide moral support if it was needed. "Not so good," Al replied, closing the door behind him and walking to the closet. He carefully removed his shoes by placing the toes of one foot against the heel of the other and pulling his foot out. He bent to pick up the shoes, and unintentionally uttered a small groan. Straightening, he slid the closet door open and set the shoes inside on the floor. He took his cap off, one hand lifting as if to smooth his hair but then pausing and dropping back to his side. He placed the cap on the shelf above the clothes bar, then unbuttoned his uniform jacket as quickly as his fingers could move. Once that confining garment was off, he carefully hung it in the closet, closed the door, and then walked over to the king-size bed, where his wife was waiting with a cold drink. "Hi, honey," he said belatedly as he took the diet soda from her. He kissed her cheek, then sat down on the edge of the bed and sipped the soda. Tina scooted over so she could rub his shoulders while he talked. "I didn't want to disturb their supper," he explained. "I told Katie I'd be back in about an hour." He closed his eyes and smiled. "That is, if I'm still awake. Tina, you have magic fingers."