By Susan Berry

(Part Added January 2, 2023)

Malcolm Wainwright studied the line of kerosene coming out of the container as he walked around the inside perimeter of the church. Hindsight was commonly thought of as disruption, something better not to engage in, full of “might have” “could of” and “should of”, the language of regret that leads to a path of despair. Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals cautioned that hindsight did not contribute to the betterment of the human condition. Hindsight was error because one could not change what had occurred by speculating on what should have happened. To Malcolm this was bunkum. Hindsight through a correction of the past was the map of his future–his new future to be precise, not the one he had envisioned ten years ago when he accepted the position of pastor of Nashport Congregation of Arisen Savior Teachings Church.  

Still, his future was looking up. He hurled the empty red plastic can into an empty pew in the middle of the sanctuary that until lately had sat a hundred of his parishioners. Seconds later, the can smacked a pew and then fell off, hitting the wooden floor before coming to rest. Hindsight had shown Malcolm where he had gone wrong. Ever the dutiful student, Malcolm had studied and learned the lessons Hindsight had and continued to place before him.   

The first lesson was to disabuse himself of those shown to be false to his ideas for Galatians 1:9 spoke of them being accursed. Upon his successful revival, Malcom would show them and those who sought his arrest that all were accursed for preaching any other gospel than which was given to him.  

Malcolm looked forward to his new life as an itinerant preacher of Kierkegaard principles. Where he would begin, he knew not. It would not be in U.S. He would change the perception of failure, condemnation of his ministry and lead those who had doubted him, who had fallen away from the Word, back, to the realization that he was God’s messenger.   

Hindsight was the key. It had taught him to check and recheck his presumptions lest they turn into fallacies or assumptions. This he did now. He checked his watch. He checked the time from his watch against his flip phone. They agreed. Thirty minutes remained before the janitor arrived to clean the church for tomorrow’s services. From an inside coat pocket, he brought out a short stub of a candle and two wooden fireplace matches. He took two large steps backwards until he felt the knob of the outer door at his back. Lighting the candle with one match, Malcolm threw the candle as far as he could, watching the arcing flame of restoration soar and land in a puddle of kerosene. The matches he threw a short distance into the last pew. As flames raced around the church, in and out of pews like children chasing each other, Malcom opened the door and stepped outside onto the front porch. With his set of keys to the church, he locked the door, throwing the keys into the bushes to his right. 

Malcolm skipped down the three wooden steps and walked quickly to his car, hearing the crackling of the flames in a feeding frenzy on the white oak timbers and woodwork that covered ninety percent of the church. He smiled as he closed the door and started the engine. Silently Malcolm thanked Hindsight for the lesson in identity as he picked up the grocery bag containing the perming solution, scissors, instant tanning lotion, and hair dye kit. In the bag, he put his phone. Next, he removed the latex gloves he had been wearing. Bag and gloves in hand he threw them onto the wooden steps. Starting to feel the heat from the fire, Malcolm got in the car, shifted to drive and let the car coast down the graveled driveway until it arrived at a leveled-out spot. Here, he threw out a bundle containing Malcolm Wainwright’s identification and passport. Malcolm Wainwright no longer existed. In his place, sat Edgar Bowman, William J. Bowman’s younger brother.  

*****

Two Years Later

Billy Bowman gave Renee a peck on the cheek, pulling out her chair for her, as she took her seat at the table. “Congratulations, Mrs. Coke.”  

Renee and his best friend, Thomas Coke were newlyweds, married for all of thirty minutes. Like their coming together, which had been anything but normal, the Cokes had wanted their wedding and reception to be out of this world. So, they had been married in the High Heel Wedding Church located in the Taiwanese Budai Township. Instead of a traditional reception, the Cokes had arranged for a dinner and movie night, featuring the film, The Hunt For Red October.  

Featuring Sean Connery as a commander of the newest Soviet submarines, gone rogue, seeking to defect to the United States, The Hunt For Red October was what Russia had recently styled as meaningless propaganda and perpetuation of evil. As one waiter began to serve dinner and another refilled drinks, as the sun dipped below the horizon, Billy took a sip of his gin and coke looking around the blue glass structure that was shaped like a woman’s high heel pump. He had been surprised when the Taiwanese authorities had given authorization for the film to be shown, given the historical closeness in China to Russia which had increased as the war in Ukraine had consumed men and equipment and Russia had found itself a pariah state.  

Billy had not been surprised by Coke’s selection of the movie. Coke had joked that the title of movie instead should be The Hunt For Malcolm Wainwright, who overnight had vaulted onto the FBI’s Most Wanted List into position two. In making himself a public enemy, Malcolm Wainwright had caused MMS, a federal contractor, owned by Billy, Billy’s second cousin, Brandon Brumby, Coke and Renee, which inspected medical labs quality control procedures for the handling of infectious disease samples, to fully cooperate with the FBI after Malcolm had suggested that MMS was behind the spate of fentanyl-laced Motion R airsickness capsules discovered circulating in the Chicago O’Hare airport.  

A preacher, Malcolm nursed a grudge against Billy because of Billy’s great-great grandfather’s marriage to Wainwright’s great-great grandfather fiancée. Ever since, there had been war between the two men that had lasted generations. Malcolm had followed Billy to Elko, Nevada, where MMS had relocated, relentless in his quest for destruction of MMS, and for Billy’s death, and if not, to see Billy homeless and penniless.  

To Malcolm’s chagrin, the U.S. Attorney’s Office had refused to seek an indictment against the leadership. The FBI had gone onto release a statement that the investigation into MMS had been a red herring. The FBI had then turned their forces onto Malcolm. Two years later, with the FBI closing in, Wainwright had disappeared after setting fire to his house and his church, coming up for air a week ago off the coast of Florida near Amelia Island where he had been sighted on billionaire Arthur W. Binski’s yacht.  

With his reappearance, a photograph Malcolm identifying him as Edgar Bowman, William J. Bowman’s younger brother appeared in the local happenings section of The Amelia Island Standard. An only child after his twin sister had died in infancy, Billy had taken the post as Malcolm as upping the ante. The rest of the leadership had agreed. They had an ad ran in the newspaper calling the movie a primer on catching Malcolm.  

The FBI had also upped the ante conducting a midnight raid of the billionaire’s yacht two days after the photograph of Malcolm had appeared. The billionaire had fled, presumably for Venezuela, where he owned a home and extradition less likely to occur. The search yielded only Malcolm’s fingerprints (no surprise there) and a corner of a yellow scarf featured in the photograph around Malcolm’s neck. Still, the search had rattled the billionaire. Promises of lawsuits and calls for congressional inquiries spouted from the billionaire’s counsel—all of which the FBI ignored.  

*****

8 Weeks Later — Present Day

As the twelve-person jury and two alternates filed in and took their seats, the judge directed his attention to two tables in front of him where counsel sat. “The Court calls the case Medical Security Services, Inc. versus Arthur Wayne Binski to trial. Are the parties ready to proceed?” 

Counsel stood. MMS counsel, Alex Capperton, buttoned his jacket, announcing “We are, your honor.” Binski’s counsel followed suit announcing the same.  

The judge then gave the jury some instructions following this with a brief overview of the case. “Plaintiff MMS alleges that Defendant Arthur Binski funded a campaign by Malcolm Wainwright of a series of written and oral communications that caused the loss of $200,000 annually in contracts for quality control testing between MMS and hospitals and medical laboratories. Plaintiff contends that the communications asserting that MMS was behind the lacing of certain motion sickness pills with fentanyl, were false and made with the intent to cause termination of the contracts.”

There had been other consequences–none of which the jury would hear about. The one with the most impact was Chicago-Urbane University walking away from Project MISC. Standing for Multi-Intelligence Supercomputer, MISC was the brainchild of the university’s neurological computation department. Until Wainwright had started accusing MSS publicly, university professors and doctoral students had been members of a covert committee alongside MMS personnel and members of every U.S. intelligence agency. 

“Defendant Arthur Binski denies these allegations.” Sitting beside Alex situated so he could see the back pew where his assistant sat, Billy saw a face that seemed vaguely familiar despite the thin rimmed glasses that obscured part of the cheeks. No one came to mind. He let his thoughts wander to three years ago when he had opened the envelope that had led him here as the judge continued instructing the jury. “It is your duty as a member of the jury….”

**** 

Three Years Ago

Billy fished out the contents. On his way to his office, he had seen the envelope on top of a stack of mail in the middle of his assistant’s desk. One glance at the city, Bullards, Georgia, listed in the return address, had caused him to pick up the envelope. Bullards was the site of his, Coke, and Brandon’s ancestral home, Wateroaks. The three of them had been there five years ago to oversee the sale of Wateroaks to a hunting preserve. The sale had ended their involvement with the town and its inhabitants. His eyes widened at the sight of a quit claim deed passing ownership of the town’s only church to him from Milton Shiflett. Setting the deed aside, Billy read the enclosed letter. The author, an attorney, explained that he was the executor of Shiflett’s will, that Shiflett had died six months ago, and that Shiflett in his will had left the church to Billy.   

“Recognize the name Milton Shiflett? He deeded me the church in Bullards,” Billy texted Brandon and Coke.  

Minutes later, Coke texted, “Who? The church was rebuilt? Why?”

Why the church had been rebuilt after it had burned down was a good question. Bullards was a wide unlucky spot seventy miles south of Macon. After the church had burned down, the next year the railroad depot had been swept away by a tornado and a year later Hurricane Opal had flooded the town.  

Before he could reply to Coke’s text, Brandon called. Answering the call, Billy greeted his cousin. “It’s a blast from the past.” 

“An unwelcome one. Anyways, I’ve never heard of a Martin Shiflett,” A loud speaker announced that Brandon’s return flight to Elko, Nevada was ready for boarding. Brandon changed the subject, if only slightly. “Alex call you?”   

Billy checked his call log, seeing a missed call and a waiting voice mail, dreading the bad news implicit in Brandon’s tone. “I’ve been with Renee at the doctor’s office.” Caroline was his wife of five years. Before Brandon could ask about the latest attempt at artificial insemination, Billy gave him the bad news. “She’s not pregnant. He called you…about what?”

“Malcolm Wainwright.” This left Billy speechless. It had been a bad morning and now, worse was to come. He heard Brandon order a drink from the flight attendant before returning to the call. “He’s back. The U.S. attorney’s office requested a meeting with us. Alex set up the meeting for tomorrow afternoon.”  

**** 

(Part Added January 8, 2023)

In his office, with his back to the far distant Ruby Mountain and Solider Peak, Billy finished the last of his coffee as MSS’ IT director flipped to the last slide in his presentation to the leadership about the development of the MISC project team and associated deadlines. MISC was scheduled to have its first meeting in less than sixty days and from everything Billy had heard so far, he expected the director to ask that the meeting be pushed back. MISC originated out of a $10 billion appropriation tacked onto Senate Bill 849 that amended the Public Health Service Act. Under one roof industry professionals, educators and researchers, and government IT and intelligence specialists would come together to develop a cognitive map computer merging hundreds of thousands of disparate approaches in the areas of neurological robotics, systems biology, and computational virological microbes to counter the organized efforts of China, Russia, and their third world counterparts. 

“As you can see, the DIA (defense intelligence agency for short) has not named their two members. I have received their outline for components they wish to be incorporated into the system.” 

“Can you make sense of what the DIA is asking for without further involvement from them?” Brandon asked, as Renee returned to the room after taking an emergency call from the outside auditor.  

Billy followed Coke’s gaze following Renee as she crossed the room and retook her seat. She was dressed in a form-fitting sleeveless dress that with her long straight velvety brown hair that was almost ebony in color made him think of Cleopatra with its broad black stripes segregating off sections of green and beige brocade.  

Coke’s staring and Renee’s ever so slight acknowledgment was not something that he was uncomfortable with – not given his arrangement with her. It was a marriage of convenience – and of protection — for her. He had always known how she felt about Coke. When they had met, at a local bar in Louisville, Kentucky, seven years ago, he had seen that it was love at first sight for Coke. Then though Coke had legal troubles which was the roadblock to their getting together … until lately.  

With a degree in medical accounting, Renee had sought them out, had traveled to Louisville from her family home in Delaware, having heard rumors about MSS, an up-and-coming health defense contractor, that was backed by the President of the United States (POTUS) and whose top management were intimate friends with POTUS. POTUS had gone against her family, the Hamills, in backing “Billy and crew” as her family tagged MSS. Marriage to Billy had been her ticket of freedom and part of the price tag, the other part the funding of MSS in perpetuity by the capital from her trust. Billy and Brandon’s inheritances funded the balance.  

The IT director shook his head. “Not to any discernible degree. We need them…” 

Billy interrupted the director. “I’ve got a call scheduled with Rankin this afternoon. I’ll bring up DIA’s foot dragging.” Rankin was Scott Rankin, POTUS’ chief of staff. He looked hard at the IT director. “Set up the meeting as planned.” 

“Yes, sir,” the IT director said, swallowing. “As you can see,” pointing to the last item on the slide, “MIT has given the green light to the three math computational seniors finishing their studies through working on MISC. They should be here by the end of the week.”  

Billy checked the time on his laptop as Alex popped his head in the door. “We need to finish.” He was about to turn his attention to Alex when Renee spoke up and sent a copy of an email she had just received to the screen as the previous slide was removed.  

“My cousin Zach has replied that he has cleared his schedule for the meeting. It is three days, correct?” She looked first to the IT director then to Billy, holding his glance for a moment longer than necessary.  

“Three days,” Billy confirmed, acknowledging Renee’s request for a private meeting with a nod of his head that looked like he was working out a kink in his neck.  

Zachary Hamill was a practicing neurologist and neurobiologist who specialized in rooting out the causes of brain tumors. As part of his research, he was also a member of a consortium of physicians and computational researchers working with a Luxembourg Center for Neurobiology Research. The Center was developing a system to map genetic cancer mutations in the quest to determine how to stop metastasized cancer from spreading to the brain. Zach had preliminary committed half of the capital from his trust to MISC. It was expected that he would formalize this arrangement at the conclusion of the meeting. 

As Renee removed the email from the screen, Billy asked, “The US Attorney’s office here?” 

“Parking as we speak.”  

**** 

Billy leaned back against the outer window as Renee positioned herself against the wall in front of him. They were in the corridor that provided a back way into each of their offices. “This about the doctor said?” 

“Yeah. I wanted to see how you felt. Whether to try again or…” As she felt her face redden, Renee could for some reason unfathomable no say the work “surrogacy.” It was not as if she and Billy intended to raise the child together as a family. She did not even want to have children. Billy needed an heir to stabilize his trust, to ensure that the capital continued to be available to MSS in the event of his death. An heir, whether female or male, would get the interest payments keeping the trust from failing.  

“Surrogacy,” Billy finished for her. “What I want is not that important. What is important is that whatever future you have with Coke is not impacted.” 

“Coke is fine. He trusts us … meaning me and him. 

“Still.” Billy had to treat carefully. Although Coke was his best friend from childhood and he along with Brandon had agreed that Renee having Billy’s child through artificial insemination, or surrogacy if the former failed, no one had expected that after five times Renee would still not be pregnant. Time, and he suspected, Coke’s patience, was running out.  

However, Billy knew he had to placate her to an extent because the one thing he knew about Renee was that her refusal to take no for an answer was as legendary as her family’s inability to cede control of her trust. If he insisted on surrogacy at this point, she could bring hell down on him, and MISC. He had been the guiding force behind MSS being the front runner of defense contractors.  

As the chief financial officer, Renee held veto power over the budget and the capital allocations of their trusts. MSS operated on a balanced budget premise and her tolerance for deviation from balance was five percent or less, no matter the reason for the overage or in the rare case, underbudgeting. Likewise, Renee made a miser look like a spendthrift when it came to use of the capital in their trusts. He had already seen signs that MISC might end up dipping into the capital. She could doom MISC with one vote and Coke would find it hard not to support her.  

“I’ll talk with him later if that’ll make you happy,” Renee offered, hearing Alex and then unknown voice in Billy’s office. Time was running out. Billy nodded that this was fine with him. “What do you want to do? You heard the doctor say that we still have one more chance before having to pursue…surrogacy.”  

“But the baby will be born after you turn 30,” Billy said. “The plan all along was to have me raising the child on my own and you to give up your parental rights before you sued for removal of your uncle as trustee of your inheritance.” The terms of the trust document provided either that Renee could file suit in Delaware’s Chancery Court and request the trust be placed in her sole control when she turned thirty or wait until she was thirty-five when it would happen automatically. “That way they could not use the child as a bargaining chip. Surrogacy prevents that.”  

“Alex can handle whatever comes and surrogacy has its own problems. Alex said there is a chance that the surrogate mother may want not surrender the child,” Renee said, hearing and hating the whine in her tone.  

Billy dropped his shoulders so as to appear more sympathetic when he was not. Renee’s argument was a non-starter. Alex had found the surrogate mother and he trusted Alex’s judgment. The mother was looking to go medical school without having to resort to taking out loans. The fee she would receive would allow her to do this and pay off her undergraduate loans. Still, he did not want to anger her, so he caved. He walked over to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. “One more time.” He saw her smile return. He gripped her right shoulder more firmly emphasizing the next. “But, and only if, Coke is okay with the new plan.” 

 

**** 

Current Day

(Part Added January 15, 2023)

“What business is MSS in?” Alex asked Billy, the first witness.

As he shifted in his seat so that he could face the jury, Billy saw the face from a few minutes before. The form fitting short black dress and shapely legs said the face belonged to a female. He answered Alex’s question as he watched her scoot by the assistant and gestured to the seat to Brandon’s left. “MSS is a contractor appointed by the Office of Health Human Services. We conduct quality control testing and quarterly audits of labs in hospitals and clinics as part of the department’s Medicare and Medicaid compliance program.”

After getting Billy to explain the management structure of MSS and define his role as one of two chief executive officers, Brandon being the other, Alex moved to the elephant in the room. “Malcolm Wainwright is not sitting at the table with Arthur Binski, is he?”  

Billy followed the jury’s gaze as Alex pointed to the table where Binski sat with his team of lawyers. 

“He is not, though not by choice or fault of MSS,” Billy said. 

“Why do you say that?”  

“Mr. Wainwright was a defendant, like Mr. Binski is, before we were forced to drop him from the case.” 

“And why is that?”  

“Because MSS attempted to have Mr. Wainwright served twenty-five times at three places, all to no avail. With help,” Billy paused, taking time to direction his attention to the billionaire before continuing, “he vanished minutes before the process server arrived.” 

“Does this mean MSS is not pursuing its claims against Mr. Wainwright?” 

“Most certainly not,” Billy spat, receiving a cautionary look from Alex to not let his temper get away from him. 

“Where were the three places MSS attempted to serve Mr. Wainwright?” 

“On Mr. Binski’s yacht after it returned from Venezuela, at a party—”  

“Objection, relevance,” Binski’s counsel yelled as he stood and buttoned his jacket.  

Alex was about to respond when he saw the judge motioning counsel to the bench for a sidebar out of the jury’s hearing. 

The judge covered his microphone with his hand. “Mr. Tread, we discussed this. I overruled objections that related to connections, if any, between your client and Mr. Wainwright, if counsel had a basis to inquire.”

“But your honor, there’s no evidence that my client hosted the party. It’s pure speculation on MSS’ part.”  

Alex whispered, “I have a good faith basis and will link it up for the jury.” Alex went onto address what he figured was Binski’s next argument. “We only just obtained last night the information that links Binski to the party.”

“Your honor” was all Binski’s counsel was able to get out before the judge shut him down. 

“Objection overruled. Step back,” the judge said, removing his hand from the microphone. When counsel had returned to their places, the judge said, “Mr. Capperton, continue.”

Binski’s counsel, red faced, took his seat.

“You were saying, Billy.” Alex concealed his smile as he glanced down at the legal pad on the lectern, as Billy resumed answering. Gloating would not earn him any points with the jury … or the judge, who was stern as they came. Still, the judge knew how to keep trials moving and this Alex counted on. Any delay would only result in Billy losing his temper and giving Binski’s counsel time to formulate new defensive tactics to replace the ones that the judge had ruled inadmissible.

“….at a party hosted by Mr. Binski, and once at a tent where Mr. Wainwright was said to be preaching.”  

Alex picked up a torn and dirty piece of paper and two copies from the table. He handed a copy to opposing counsel and after asking to approach walked up to the bench and handed the other copy to the judge. The original he laid on the bar before Billy. “Do you recognize this that?” 

“Yes. It is a partial invitation listing Arthur Binski as the host. The invitation was received in the mail by MSS at its Elko facility two days ago and received by me late last night by express mail.” After the judge admitted the invitation over the defendant’s timeliness objection, Alex handed the invitation to the jury.  

“Billy, read the first sentence of the invitation.” 

“Mr. Arthur Binski invites you to a celebration aboard his yacht Wellsprings for a preview of a new life force, Hindsight Prophetic Teachings.” Alex glanced over at the jurors. Quite a few looked puzzled and many others seemed skeptical. He thought he saw one juror say under his breath, “New Age,” before handing it over to another juror who sat on his right and who was employed as a housekeeper. “…and what it means for the future of America and you.” The housekeeper, Ms. Adams, divorced with two teenagers, passed the invitation on with barely a glance.

“What is Hindsight Prophetic Teachings?” Alex asked.  

“Prophetic Teachings is a part of the name of the last church Malcolm Wainwright was a pastor before it burned down. Hindsight is part of Wainwright’s newest philosophy.” 

“And how do you know this?” 

Billy sat up and waited until the invitation had made its way back to who he guessed would be the foreman, a civil engineer employed by the State of Delaware. “Brandon and I along with our families and their families have had a lot of dealings with Malcolm Wainwright and his family. Malcolm Wainwright’s father and grandfather and before him were courted as prophets in the churches they pastored.” 

“So, the dealings have been going on for years?” The question was unnecessary, but it provided Billy with explaining the one-sided nature of the “dealings.”  

“From 1896 forward, because of love lost, Wainwright and his kin have been obsessed with us, me in particular. MSS became a target. Through its destruction, he believed he could get to me. For our part, seven years ago, we moved MSS from Lexington, Kentucky to Elko to get away from Wainwright and his father and for a while thought we were done with Wainwright.” 

“And this obsession is what brought Mr. Wainwright to your attention more recently?” 

“Yes, by way of a visit from the Denver U.S. Attorney’s Office.”