The Need to Know

The African grey parrot began rocking back and forth in its cage when it saw the Golden Retriever enter the kitchen and trot over to an unattended skillet of bacon that was popping and splattering hot oil all over the counter. An additional six pieces of bacon sat cooling on a plate next to the skillet. The dog stood up on its hind legs, put its paws on the counter, gobbled down a slice of bacon, and returned to all fours on the kitchen floor. The parrot squawked quietly. Then, it perfectly mimicked the sound of a cat: “Meow, meow, meow.” The dog cocked its head, barked excitedly, and charged through the pet door into the back yard. The parrot fell silent but continued to rock back and forth from side to side.

Stephen Ratcliff strolled into the kitchen with a leather-bound notebook, placed it on the splattered counter right next to the bacon, and grabbed a fork. He looked up at the parrot and said, “So, what are your thoughts today, da Vinci? What are your thoughts?” The parrot squawked, “Thought is free! Thought is free! Thought is free!” Stephen replied, “I couldn’t agree more, my good friend. I couldn’t agree more.” The Golden Retriever slipped back into the kitchen through the pet door. Stephen turned to the dog and said, “Why, hello Devo. What have you been up to? Chasing invisible cats again?” Devo wagged his tail and rubbed up against Stephen’s leg. The bacon continued to sizzle, pop, and splatter across the counter.

Suddenly, Stephen’s face turned white. He dropped the fork on the counter and clutched his chest. Struggling for breath, he gasped, “Emily!” He leaned briefly on the counter, then staggered a few steps and collapsed on the floor. By the time his wife Emily reached the kitchen, Stephen lay unconscious. His heart was barely beating. Devo eagerly licked Stephen’s face, thinking Stephen was playing with him. The parrot remained silent. Emily called 911 immediately and began pumping Stephen’s chest and giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The paramedics arrived at the house within five minutes. As Emily climbed into the back of the ambulance, she noticed a big black car that she had never seen before parked in front of her neighbors’ house across the street. Two men in dark clothes sat in the front seat. Despite the paramedics’ best efforts, by the time they reached the hospital, Stephen was dead on arrival, and nothing anyone did could revive him.

When Emily and her sister Lauren returned to the house hours later and walked through the front door, they encountered two men in Air Force uniforms standing in the living room. The house had been ransacked. One of the men, who was wearing a colonel insignia, said, “Mrs. Ratcliff, let me begin by saying we’re profoundly sorry for your loss. Your husband was one of our country’s greatest minds and a patriot in the truest sense. His genius will be sorely missed. With this said, we came to collect his final writings. Unfortunately, I’m afraid we’ve been unable to find anything of significance, either here, at his office, or anywhere else. We’re hoping you can help us in this regard. Please keep in mind that this is a matter of national security.”

“How dare you,” Emily said. “Get out of my house. Now.”

“I don’t think you understand the severity of the situation,” the man said. “As we’re sure you know, Dr. Ratcliff’s research on anti-gravity propulsion could revolutionize human existence, assuming we can secure his final notes. If the wrong people get those notes, everyone is in trouble. We’re talking about godlike powers, here. We need your honest assistance, Mrs. Ratcliff. We were very patient in allowing Dr. Ratcliff to approach this situation with as much freedom as we gave him.” The man stared directly at Lauren and said, “Please be very careful about what you’re going to say next, Mrs. Ratcliff.”

Emily and Lauren glanced nervously at each other. Emily asked the man, “Who are you? You two aren’t even wearing name tags. This isn’t right.”

“You don’t have a need to know who we are,” the man replied.

Emily thought about what Stephen would have probably asked her to do at that moment. Over the years, he had come to believe that Tesla’s notion of an etheric universe was fundamentally correct, and in the face of overwhelming opposition within the scientific community, he pursued this notion, quit his job at California Institute of Technology, and resettled with Emily in Colorado Springs. There, he freelanced for three different corporations with shady intentions but unlimited funds and essential government connections. He had confided to Emily just a few days earlier that he had fleshed out the theory and the math that would allow a corporation with the means to build and operate anti-gravitational spacecraft capable of defying the laws of physics as even the best scientists of the day understood them. Now, albeit posthumously, Stephen’s research might vindicate him if only it could see the light of day, and mankind might propel itself into a new frontier, literally and figuratively.

There was no time to spare, and no point in risking anyone’s life within her nuclear family. Even though Emily had no idea who these sinister men really were and what their true intentions might be, she told them about the notebook Stephen had been keeping for the last few months. She admitted that she had last seen it on the kitchen counter when they were transporting Stephen to the ambulance. She also mentioned the two men in the black car she had seen parked across the street from her house. The four of them walked into the kitchen, and Emily showed them where the notebook had been sitting, but it was gone. She looked up and noticed that the bird cage door was open and the cage was empty.

The man with the colonel insignia said, “Ladies, we’re going to have to drive you to Schriever Air Force Base for questioning. It shouldn’t take too long. We’ll take care of your every need during the process, but we need to hurry. Please come with us.”

The four of them walked out the front door, got into a blue sedan with strange license plates that Emily had never seen before, and drove off. Down by the river a quarter of a mile from the house, Devo gnawed on what was left of Stephen’s leather-bound notebook, savoring the flavor of the bacon-scented pages with every bite.