by Walter Giersbach
Courtney Ray was my high school classmate while we were growing up in Iowa. She’d do my math assignments and I’d do her English, and we’d finish together in about ten minutes. We also shared the back seat of my car and the last row in the movie house sometimes, but not often enough to get in trouble.
Then our paths diverged. I went east to Amherst, Columbia Law and a career with a firm in Bridgefield on the Connecticut gold coast, while she went west to Hollywood. I remembered her as a crazy, mixed-up friend who acted like a strip-mall Lolita — if our town had had a strip mall.
In ten years, Courtney became a celebrity. She hadn’t been much of an actress, and her two films were commercial duds. Her music albums sold as much for her antics in the videos and on stage as for her singing. Then her phone stopped ringing. The studios treated her like the E. coli bacterium. She was an anachronistic icon — last year’s idol with a leftover life to kill.
I’d see her picture in People magazine while waiting for my dentist, or on one of those loud, repetitive shows after the evening news. Usually, the news item had to do with her punching out someone who looked like a midget rolled in pubic hair or how her breasts had popped out of her dress at a night club.
At times like that, I’d marvel at how life deals the cards like a Vegas blackjack player, high aces to one player and a hand to fold for the others. I expected my hand would push my name — Laramie Crew — up to the listing of partners over the door.
I held the aces, which made me reluctant to take Courtney’s call after a decade of silence. Some people radiate mental illness, and anyone around them becomes very sick from depression and angst. Courtney’s call on that late November afternoon was like inviting the plague to sit down and cuddle up with you.
“Hey, Courtney, long time,” I said lamely.
“Laramie,” she said breathlessly. “I’ve tried everybody. The cops and the FBI and everybody. No one will listen to me. Finally I called your mother. She told me where to find...”
“Courtney, I deal in corporate tax law. Not divorces or tort cases or criminal defense.”
“You’re the only one I can trust, Laramie.” That last sentence came out like the scream of a small animal in a trap. “I’m here. I have to see you.”
“Where is here?” I asked, dreading the worst.
“In Bridgefield.” One of the partners appeared at my door and wiggled a finger. A client meeting was starting.
“Okay, just for a few minutes. Tonight at six o’clock.” I gave her the address of a bar in the next town over and hung up.
Truth be told, that night I expected to see a size 8 bimbo stuffed into a size 4 dress, her hair cut by a maniac with manicure scissors, and wearing jewelry like a Christmas tree from Wal-Mart. That was the babe I usually saw on TV or in magazines, but I hardly recognized this Courtney sitting in a corner booth biting her fingernails. She was wearing a dark jacket, her hair was pulled back tightly, and when she took off her dark glasses the bags under her eyes were large enough to require checked luggage.
“You gotta listen to me, Laramie,” she burst out.
“Can I order a drink first?”
She waved her hand dismissively. “Give me five minutes. I’m into numerology, see. Have been for years. I can do Sudoku in, like, five minutes flat. Balance my checkbook in my head. So, what do you know about the Conspiracy of Eleven?”
“Actually, I have a calculator and an accountant, so...” I flagged the waiter and ordered a Dewars neat.
“Eleven is the key to everything that’s been happening.” She hunched forward and I wondered if this was going to be a breast-launching episode. “Listen closely. New York City has 11 letters, and so does Afghanistan. Ramsin Yuseb, the terrorist who threatened the Twin Towers in 1993, his name has 11 letters. George W. Bush’s name has 11 letters.”
“Courtney, this is mere coincidence,” I said, beginning to feel uncomfortably warm.
“Now here’s what’s interesting,” she went on. “The first plane that crashed into the Twin Towers was flight number 11. It was carrying 92 passengers, so adding the numbers 9 plus 2 equals 11. Flight number 77 that also hit the towers was carrying 65 passengers, and adding 6 plus 5 equals 11.”
Squirrel cage time, I thought, and gulped at my drink.
“And, hey, let me spell out the obvious. The tragedy was on September 11, or 9/11, adding this 9 plus 1 plus 1 equals 11. This date is equal to the emergency number 911, so adding 9 plus 1 plus 1 gives you 11.” Her brows beetled up and she hunched further over the table.
I pulled my drink back guardedly.
“It just gets worse. The total number of passengers inside the planes are 254, so adding 2 plus 5 plus 4 gets 11. September 11 is the 254th day of the calendar, so 2 plus 5 plus 4 again gets 11. After September 11 there are 111 days more to the end of the year.”
My face was beginning to get itchy. “I’ve heard seven is a lucky number,” I said, “and the Chinese always do things in threes.” She ignored me.
“Then, like this wasn’t bad enough, the tragedy of March 11, 2004, in Madrid also adds up to 3 plus 1 plus 1 plus 2 plus 4, or 11. And,” she said conspiratorially, “that tragedy in Madrid happened 911 days after the tragedy of the Twin Towers. Now, what do you say?”
“How’re your folks, Courtney? Been back to Iowa lately?”
“Laramie, cut the crap. I’m serious, and I want you to tell some of the important people you know. You must know seriously important people. There’s another tragedy coming. I know when and where.”
“Courtney, these things happen. You can compare chicken production cycles with the phases of the moon, or... or... What I’m saying is that these are mere coincidences. It’s what a lawyer would call circumstantial evidence. It’s not proof.”
She sat back on the banquette and challenged me. “It’s going to happen on New Year’s Day in Arlington, VA.” She gave a little sigh. “I know they rhyme, but the letters also add up to 11. It came to me in a dream a few weeks ago, and I analyzed it, so it has to be true.”
“Um, what’s the tragedy?”
“Wouldn’t you warn someone if you knew the terrorists were going to attack, huh?”
“What is going to happen, Courtney?”
“I’m working on it.”
I told Courtney I’d think about her theory, but I had a client engagement and had to rush. “We’ll stay in touch,” I promised. I lied.
Back at the office I buttonholed Alex, who was working late. Courtney had infected me with her crap, and I needed to talk it out with one of the more liberal-minded guys in the firm. I explained Courtney’s Conspiracy of 11. He didn’t interrupt while I talked or when I paused if someone passed us in the hall. He just stared at me after I finished.
“Laramie, you’re right and at the same time you’re wrong. The 11 thing sounds like she cobbled together some bad numerology. She might just as well have counted bricks in the sidewalk. On the other hand, I have too much experience to believe there are no hidden agents, no metaphysical grounds, no chance encounters.
“In summary, I don’t believe in UFOs and aliens, but I have serious doubts that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.” He smiled. “Perhaps you could introduce me to Courtney. I’m good looking, single, an excellent clubber....”
I saw Courtney one more time on Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood or whatever. It was a day or two after Christmas and I was decompressing from the holiday parties. Courtney was wearing her bimbo clothes again and doing her sound bites on 11.
Apparently, the CIA and the Spanish Embassy wouldn’t believe her either. I said cuckoo cuckoo like a little clock and clicked over to CNN. That was the end of the matter until New Year’s Day.
I couldn’t ignore reading the paper even though it would be a non-news day. Then I saw Courtney’s photo on the entertainment page.
Courtney Ray was dead, killed on New Year’s Eve in Arlington. Hit on a street by an Aston Martin. She was the tragedy, with all 11 letters in her name, lying under a classy car with 11 letters and being wept over by a tipsy Congressman with 11 letters in his title.
Now I’m sitting in my apartment. In Bridgefield, which has 11 letters, in a state of 11 letters. I just counted on my fingers that my name has 11 letters. And, like a Typhoid Mary, Courtney had shared a theory she shouldn’t have. The Plague of 11 is spreading.
Copyright © 2007 by Walter Giersbach