I found the Willoughby Castle website complete with a membership application, now being run by Sam McIntyre's grand niece, Hannah Hill. That Saturday, I drove over to the Castle, which seemed more baroque than medieval. I was surprised to find Ms. Hill was almost as skeptical about it as me.
"I have no idea what he had in mind," this energetic sixty-year-old admitted. "Books from the 1960s occult craze did provide more information. And of course, the Internet is a big help. I was able to take my uncle's pile of notes and try to make a little sense of them."
"I have a friend in Canada who is interested in joining. I'm trying to figure out why."
"You can try it for yourself," she suggested. "Our fees are reasonable -- especially when compared to some other, more famous groups. My uncle was an eccentric rich guy, not a science fiction writer, after all."
"I'll consider it," I said, taking one of their pamphlets.
That evening, I got a phone call from Clair. "My lawyer has it mostly cleared up," she said, in much better humor than in her last call. "For some reason a DHS staffer thought Alsace was somewhere in Mexico. So the paperwork is finally going through. So what's new?"
"I visited Willoughby Castle," I said, "and considering joining.
"Do it!" she said, laughing. "That way I'll know what to expect."
"Maybe," I said, having already made up my mind.
"You know, when we parted, I'm sure you have a lot of questions left about me. Any you'd care to ask?"
"Yeah," I said, the question immediately coming to mind. "The thing on the Metro."
"Oh god!" she squealed. "That was Nigel, a medical student. He and I were always joking about which of us could take things farther. I suggested something I knew he liked. He suggested us doing it on the Metro very late at night. It was one of those late spring or early autumn nights warm enough for the skimpiest attire, but cool enough for the most bulky. He wore this long Army parka over his clothes, to hide us from the driver. I wore a very short dress. He had all the necessary ... er ... supplies."
"But not very spontaneous ..." Then she retold the event in remarkable detail.
"I'm afraid I need to go."
"Me too," she said, and then, "Wait! Why not ..." A moment later, a content, mutual sigh.
"So, you signing up?" she asked with a content whimper.
"I guess so."
I drove to the Castle at the appointed hour. The entire thing was slightly reminiscent of one of those "haunted houses" that pop up before Halloween. A little frightening, but not nearly half as frightening as hearing one of Clair's "adventures." Even the idea of my having sex with her was scary. It was all very scary.
I approached the initiation course with some fear, but made it through with no damage to my psyche. But it did raise plenty of questions to where I was going with my life.
We all have a logical side and an emotional side, a balance between them is difficult to achieve. I had to admit that I've always slid through life. A solid B average in school. College and even law school, once I had learned the ropes, was not the nightmare "Paper Chase" scenario (although one professor assigned watching the pilot episode to the late 1970s series to his contract law class -- which he acquired through "Academic Piracy," as he admitted). As a lawyer, most of my cases involved people denied public assistance, where showing up with legal representation guaranteed success.
And while the law paid the bills -- with more than a little spending money, it was never fulfilling. But what would be a fulfilling career? To own a pet store? A cheese shop? To be a lumberjack? Monty Python had invaded my thoughts, quite uninvited -- but then, no one expects Monty Python!
In this whimsical mood, I considered following Clair's career path, and seeing how it would suit me. An art model -- dieting and working out to keep in shape? Actor -- having to memorize endless lines of dialogue? Porn -- being "ready" on demand? My anatomy no longer worked that way like when I was in my early 20s. A waiter who'd passed the bar? -- well, you do meet interesting people.
I could go back to school. A law degree and now going for what? I remembered once tried teaching myself the BASIC computer language, and got lost a good two-thirds through the book before becoming confused by arrays. Maybe now as a theoretically mature adult, I'd do better, having more discipline. And if I needed more discipline, I mused, I was quite sure Clair could help me there. At least once every two weeks the firm had to call IT when our branch office and main office refused to communicate with one another. I wondered how law firms were able to survive without automated billing systems. Just one program put a room full of secretaries and accountants out of work. Maybe I could learn how to create one of these sadistic programs.
My boss was all in favor of the change, despite never having forgiven my refusing to learn golf. Hell, I rarely did under 100 strokes at putt-putt. The firm would pay for my tuition and books. He offered to spring for a new computer, but I realized what I had at home was more powerful -- and more fun -- than one of those putty-color business-only machines.
I was surprised by the number of people my age restarting college -- and how many of them were taking computer classes. There were the would-be rock stars and Hollywood screenwriters who failed to realize how "corporate" the entertainment industry had become with mergers and acquisitions. There were doctors and nurses depressed by all the obese, diabetic patients who failed to realize a diet of aspartame and high fructose corn syrup was worse than sugar. There were men and women, newly divorced and deciding on a new career. There were young people who had studied ballet and modern dance, shocked to find stripping was the only job open to them.
But I was astounded at how college computer classes had changed. There was no more BASIC or Pascal. Now everything was C, C++, and C#. After a rough start I got the hang of things and earned a fitting C- for the course.
Then one day in early November, I immediately recognized the car pulling in my driveway. I'd just opened the door when Clair ran inside and wrapped her arms around me, kissing me with the joyous yet desperate passion of someone who'd known each other and been away far longer than either of us.
Somehow, in the next few minutes, we lost our clothes and our mutual celibacy there on my living room floor.
"I love you," she said with a whisper. "I don't know how, but I knew it from the moment I saw you."
"I love you too," I said, fairly certain I was telling the truth.
Clair was granted a sixty day work visa in addition to her passport, another factor in her delay. We discussed possible jobs but given her past, we decided waitress made for reasonable short-term work.
The next morning, she showered and dressed in a cream, cowl-neck pullover and dark brown leggings. While eating breakfast, we discussed the Castle, which she wanted to get to immediately but was concerned about the very changeable autumn weather.
"It's all indoors," I said. "More a palace than a castle. The program is a gradual moving from room to room, each with its own unique experience."
"No dungeons?" she asked, sounding a little disappointed.
"Something of one," I replied, wondering about her experiences. "Have you ..."
She laughed, again reading my mind. "Okay, I was in one of my 'girls only' phases I went through when I was doing mostly ... you know!"
"I think so," I said, having to chuckle.
"Mina introduced me to an odd contraption she had. I later found out they're called a Saint Andrew's cross."
"I've seen them," I said slightly bewildered. "What I don't get," I said, "is someone as brazen as you could submit to such a thing."
"Someone, either Shakespeare or Rush said, "All the world's a stage."
"Shakespeare, originally," I said, "Though 'Limelight,' has a nice melody."
"Sex has always been performance art for me," she said, leaving me wondering how she was grading my performance. "You're onstage with a nice crowd, no copping out."