“THE TOWN” (2010) Review

“THE TOWN” (2010) Review

I have never seen ”GONE BABY GONE”, Ben Affleck’s debut as a movie director. But after seeing his second directorial effort, ”THE TOWN”, I now find myself feeling determined to see it. Why? I believe that Affleck just might have a possible future as a successful movie director.

Based upon Chuck Hogan’s 2007 novel called ”Prince of Thieves””THE TOWN” turned out to be an interesting crime drama about a working-class Bostonian from the Charlestown neighborhood named Doug MacRay (Affleck), who also happened to be part of a gang of brutal bank robbers. Their robbery of a Cambridge bank at the beginning of the movie allowed him to become acquainted with Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), one of the bank’s managers. Doug and his fellow bank robbers (Jeremy Renner, Slaine and Owen Burke) also attracted the attention of one Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), a ruthless FBI agent bent upon capturing or killing them.

I have never read Hogan’s novel. But I must admit that I really enjoyed Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard’s adaptation of it. One aspect of the movie that impressed me was its balanced mixture of action, romance and psychological drama. In fact, I found myself surprised that as the film’s director, Afflect managed to utilize all of these different aspects of the story and keep the pacing from becoming uneven. Another aspect of the movie turned out to be Robert Elswit’s photography. His sharp colors and focus gave Boston – including its old sections – a colorful look that made me longed to pack my belongings and move to the East Coast. Dylan Tichenor’s editing perfectly emphasized the movie’s action sequences without resorting to the dizzying camera work and quick cuts that seemed to have pervaded many action films in the past three to five years.

There were some aspects of ”THE TOWN” that I found questionable. The movie never explained the military-style haircuts worn by the four bank robbers. The script revealed that the MacRay character had spent some time in the military, but never made it clear when that happened. Nor did the script ever revealed the background of MacRay’s friends, especially his best friend James “Jem” Coughlin (Renner). And as much as I admire Jon Hamm as an actor, his attempt at a Boston accent sucked. Although he only made an attempt in one scene, Affleck should have reshot that scene with Hamm’s natural accent. Speaking of accents, there were moments when I found the cast’s use of Boston slang rather incomprehensible. I certainly look forward to the movie’s DVD release . . . and close captions.

Unlike his directorial debut ”GONE BABY GONE”, Ben Affleck did not remain behind the camera. He also portrayed the main character, Doug MacRay. And he did an excellent job in portraying the complex bank robber torn between his life of crime, the woman he fell in love with and the lies he told to maintain their relationship. I have always enjoyed Affleck’s ability to portray complex characters. It seems a pity that many film critics and moviegoers seemed incapable of appreciating his talents as an actor. Although I have been aware of Rebecca Hall since ”VICKY BARCELONA”, I must admit that I have not found her recent roles very interesting. I almost came to the same conclusion about her role as bank manager Claire Keesey . . . until the moment when she discovered the truth about Doug’s crimes. At that moment, Hall breathed life into the role, transforming her from what would be conceived as a nice woman, into a character that proved to be just as complex as the others.

Jon Hamm took time off from his hit television series, ”MAD MEN”, to portray F.B.I. Special Agent Adam Frawley, a character completely different from his 1960s ad man. And being the top notch actor he has always been, Hamm did a superb job in conveying his character’s ruthless determination to stop the bank robbers by any means necessary. Recent Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner portrayed an equally ruthless character, Charlestown bank robber, James “Jem” Coughlin, with great depth, complexity and first-rate acting. What made Renner’s performance so interesting to me was his character’s ruthless determination to maintain the status quo in his personal life – which included keeping MacRay in his life and in his sister’s life. Speaking of the latter, Blake Lively gave an outstanding performance as Krista Coughlin, Jem’s younger sister. Lively’s excellent performance easily conveyed her character’s weariness and desperate longing for MacRay to be in her life and to escape the economic and social trap of Charlestown.

Veteran actors Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite gave brief, yet top-notch performances in ”THE TOWN”. What I found ironic about their appearances was that their characters had something to say to Affleck’s MacRay about his mother. Cooper portrayed Stephen MacRay, Doug’s jailbird father, who was serving a life-long prison term for robbery and murder. Postlethwaite portrayed Fergie the Florist, an Irish-born florist and crime boss that provided robbery jobs for MacRay and his crew. As I had stated earlier, both characters had something to say about the late Mrs. MacRay. Whereas Mr. MacRay’s memories were filled with cynicism and resignation, Fergie spoke of Doug’s mother with a great deal of malice and contempt. And both Cooper and Postlethwaite were superb in their roles.

Despite a few quibbles I might have about ”THE TOWN”, I must admit that I enjoyed it very much. The movie turned out to be a first-rate adaptation of Chuck Hogan’s novel with an excellent script, exciting action sequences and superb acting by a well-picked cast. Because of ”THE TOWN”, I look forward to more directing endeavors by Ben Affleck.

“Guilty Until Proven Innocent” [PG-13] – 3/3

“GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT”

EPILOGUE

STARDATE 54610.03 – Six years later

B’Elanna sat on the sofa inside the Mess Hall, staring the stars beyond the viewport. She allowed herself a heartfelt sigh and rested her hand upon her slightly protruding belly.

“Is everything fine, B’Elanna?” an anxious voice behind her, asked.

The Chief Engineer glanced up and found herself looking into the concerned eyes of Voyager’s cook and morale officer. She smiled. “I’m fine, Neelix. The baby is just a little active, this evening.” B’Elanna gave her stomach a pat. “Actually, I was remembering.”

“Oh?” Neelix joined B’Elanna on the sofa. “Remembering what?”

B’Elanna’s gaze returned to the viewport. “Do you know what today is, Neelix?” When the Talaxian shook his head, she continued, “Six years ago today, Tuvok had exonerated Tom for murder.”

Bushy eyebrows flew upward. “Murder? When was Tom . . .?” Realization dawned in his orange-yellow eyes. “Oh! The Baneans!”

A wry smile touched B’Elanna’s lips. “I wondered if you would remember.”

“Well, you did mention Tom and murder in the same breath. It didn’t take me long to figure out that you meant that Banean scientist and his wife. I’m only surprised that you remembered.”

B’Elanna replied in an arch tone, “Believe me, Neelix. That is one memory I will never forget. I learned an important lesson that day, thanks to Harry.”

Neelix gave B’Elanna a shrewd look. “I think a lot of us learned the same lesson. Only it took me nearly six months later to finally learn it.” He paused. “Did you really believe that Tom was guilty of murder?”

“I had believed that Tom was guilty of a lot of things, back then,” B’Elanna said softly. “Murder was just one of them. I wasn’t exactly a big fan of his. It’s amazing how quick we were to judge him without any real evidence.”

“You have to admit that Tom didn’t make it easy for us back in those days.”

B’Elanna’s smile faded. “Maybe not. But that was no excuse. Whatever bad attitude Tom had in those days, it didn’t stop him from making friends with Harry or Kes. Or the Captain from trusting him. They gave him a chance. We didn’t.”

Silence fell between the two friends. They were so deep in their memories that they failed to hear the Mess Hall’s doors slide open. The next thing B’Elanna knew, a large pair of warm hands had covered her eyes. “Guess who,” a familiar voice whispered.

B’Elanna inhaled. Every nerve in her body tingled with delight. She would recognized those pheromones anywhere. “Hmmmm,” she murmured in a playful manner. “Freddie Barstow?”

“Hey!” Tom removed his hands, as B’Elanna began to giggle. A wide grin spread across Neelix’s face. “Excuse me, Neelix.” Tom frowned, although B’Elanna could see that it had failed to reach his eyes. “I need to discuss something with my wife. Namely, her misplaced sense of humor.”

Still grinning, Neelix stood up and returned to the galley. Tom immediately occupied the empty seat. “Freddie Barstow, huh?” he growled with mock menace. Then his frown disappeared and Tom planted a warm kiss at the edge of B’Elanna’s mouth. “You’re lucky I’m in a good mood tonight, or I would have made you pay for that little remark.”

Again, B’Elanna giggled. “Oh? Exactly how would you make me pay?” she purred, leaning toward her husband.

“Like this.” Tom lowered his mouth upon B’Elanna’s. The playful mood vanished and the air between them was soon filled with desire. The kiss became a passionate exploration of each other’s mouth. B’Elanna would have happily continued, but sounds of rattling pots and pans reminded her of a third presence inside the Mess Hall.

“Uh Tom?” B’Elanna said in a husky voice. It was hard to ignore the warm tongue that flickered back and forth behind her ear. With great reluctance, she broke away from her husband’s embrace. “Sorry to do this, but . . .” B’Elanna nodded toward the direction of the galley. “Neelix.”

A sigh left Tom’s mouth. “Oh yeah. Neelix.” He gave his wife one last nip on the chin, before leaning back on the sofa. “So what were you two talking about?” he asked.

B’Elanna replied, “Nothing.” She paused. “I just remembered an anniversary, that’s all.”

“What anniversary?”

After a brief hesitation, B’Elanna continued, “Well, today is the sixth anniversary of the date Tuvok had cleared you of the murder of that Banean scientist. Remember Dr. Ren?”

“How could I forget him?” Tom said with a groan. “And his lovely wife, Lidell Ren. God, what had I been thinking?”

Another giggle escaped B’Elanna’s mouth. “That’s a good question, Flyboy. I thought you were a better judge of character than that.” A small part of her felt amazed that she could tease Tom about his past interest in another woman. Something she could have never done, three years ago. Or maybe even last year.

Tom shook his head. “What can I say? I was young, stupid and horny. Don’t forget, I had only been out of prison for almost four months. My libido was a little out of control, at the time. I could see that Lidell’s marriage was already dead and she was no longer interested in her husband. Besides, I never thought she was an angel. Just bored and horny. I never realized she wanted me as a scapegoat for her little scheme.”

“You call murder and espionage, a little scheme? Hmmph!” B’Elanna held out her hand. “Help me up, Hotshot.”

Tom rose from the sofa and helped his wife to her feet. Then husband and wife started toward the exit. “You can close up now, Neelix,” Tom said to the Talaxian. “We’re leaving.”

“Oh?” Neelix’s head popped up from behind the counter. “You two are leaving already?”

“It’s getting late.” Tom’s lips formed a slight smirk. “And the missus over here, needs her beauty sleep.” His joke produced a playful punch from ‘the missus’.

Disappointment creased Neelix’s countenance, as he stood up. “That’s too bad. I was in the mood for a little talk. I wanted to ask you something.”

“Ask away.”

The Talaxian continued, “All this talk about the Baneans reminded me of that little spat you had with Seska in the Mess Hall.” Mention of Voyager’s former adversary drew groans from both B’Elanna and Tom. “Do you remember that day? You made some questionable remark about Seska’s time in the Maquis.”

A sly grin appeared on Tom’s face. “Oh yeah. I remember.”

“I’m curious. How did you know she was a Cardassian?”

B’Elanna replied, “He didn’t.”

Confusion whirled in Neelix’s eyes. “I don’t understand.”

“I had never suspected that Seska was a Cardassian,” Tom added. “I thought she was one of those Bajorans who had collaborated with the Cardies during their occupation. During the few weeks I was with the Maquis, there were too many close calls that made me wonder if there was a spy in Chakotay’s cell.”

Neelix turned to B’Elanna. “Did you feel the same?”

“I never met Tom, while he was in the Maquis,” B’Elanna replied. “I did join before he did, but I was involved in the construction of a new starship around the same time.”

Tom continued, “And there was always something about Seska’s eyes that I didn’t like.”

“Too Cardassian?” Neelix asked.

“No. Her being Cardassian had nothing to do with it. She simply had the eyes of someone you couldn’t trust. Like B’Elanna’s old buddy, Max Burke,” he added.

The mention of her former Academy boyfriend and his betrayal drew a slight wince from B’Elanna. Thanks a lot, Tom, she thought. But she quickly shot back with her own reminder. “You may also want to include your old buddy, Lidell Ren,” she added sweetly.

“Ouch!” This time, it was Tom’s turn to wince. “Thanks for reminding me.”

Neelix sighed. “You know, with us remembering the old days like this, I might want to write my memoirs. Something like ‘A Talaxian’s Journey Through the Delta Quadrant’. I’ll be sure to add both of you.”

The idea did not exactly sit well with B’Elanna. She could only guess what Neelix might write about her. The Chief Engineer could barely stand the idea of Starfleet Academy possessing a complete file on her life. “That’s nice, Neelix,” she said with little enthusiasm. One glance at her husband told Tom that he shared her feelings. “Well, it’s time to go.” She tugged at Tom’s arm. “See you later, Neelix.”

Tom added, “Good night.”

“Good night you two,” the Talaxian responded.

Once the couple stood outside the Mess Hall, B’Elanna turned to Tom. “We’re going to be mentioned in his memoirs?”

“It’s just an idea,” Tom said in a placating voice.

B’Elanna growled, “It had better be. For his sake.” She and Tom continued toward the turbolift, while she contemplated on ways to sabotage the Talaxian’s computer logs without anyone finding out.

THE END

“THE HULK” (2003) Review

“THE HULK” (2003) Review

Poor Ang Lee. His 2003 adaptation of the Marvel Comics character, Bruce Banner aka the Hulk, has been the target of hostility and contempt from comic book fans for the past nineteen years. After Universal Pictures had released Louis Leterrier’s adaptation back in 2008, many had declared his film superior to Lee’s movie. But after recently viewing the 2003 movie, I do not believe I can agree with their assessment. Mind you, I am not claiming that Lee’s film was better than Leterrier’s. The 2008 film possessed certain aspects that Lee’s movie lacked. But I also believe that the 2003 film possessed traits that were certainly lacking in the later film.

”THE HULK” was basically an origins tale about how a genetics researcher from Berkeley, California became a massive, green-skinned creature named the Hulk. Ironically, this tale began years before his birth. In one of the most original and chilling opening credits sequences I have ever seen, the movie revealed how his father David Banner, a genetics researcher for the U.S. Army, was conducting experiments on himself to improve human DNA. The Army, represented by Lieutenant Colonel “Thunderbolt” Ross, learned of his experiment and ordered it shut down. Nothing came from Banner’s experiment at first. But he managed to inadvertently pass his mutated DNA to his son, Bruce. The sequence ended with Banner causing a massive explosion of the facilities’ gamma reactor, and accidentally killing his wife during an argument with her about Bruce. Banner ended up in a mental hospital for nearly three decades.

With his father in a mental hospital and his mother dead, Bruce Banner was sent into foster care and adopted by a family called Krenzler. Thirty years later found Bruce as a genetics researcher at the University of California in Berkeley. One of his colleagues happened to be Betty Ross, General Ross’ estranged daughter and Bruce’s ex-girlfriend. After saving another colleague from a Gamma radiation explosion, Bruce’s altered DNA (now affected by the radiation) led him to manifest into a green-skinned monster – ”a hulk” – whenever he lost his temper.

When I had earlier compared ”THE HULK” to the 2008 film, ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK”; I was not trying to be diplomatic when I had stated that neither film was superior to the other. I honestly believe this. If there is one thing that the 2008 film can boast about was that its action sequences were superior to the ones found in Lee’s film. The Taiwanese-born director had a bad habit of shooting a good number of his action scenes from a long distance angle. This seemed very apparent in one sequence that featured the U.S. Army’s attempt (led by General Ross) to kill the Hulk, following the latter’s escape from a desert military facility to San Francisco. There were times when I found it difficult to maintain an interest in this particular scene. Another sequence I had problems with featured Bruce/the Hulk’s final confrontation with his genetically altered father, who had become a powerful electrical being. Frankly, it seemed nothing more than a vague display of CGI special effects against a dark backdrop that damn near made it impossible to watch their fight with a clear eye. One sequence that almost caught my attention featured the Hulk’s battle with David Banner’s mutated dogs that had been sent to kill Betty. I say “almost” because I thought the fight had lasted longer than necessary. And I simply could not get excited over Bruce’s fight with a trio of dogs that looked like something from the 1994 film, ”THE MASK”.

Where ”THE HULK” reigned supreme over ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK” was its story and strong characterizations. Quite frankly, it possessed more depth and pathos than the 2008 film. The movie managed to delve into Bruce’s childhood horrors, which had led to his tendency to bottle up his emotions. His personal demons also revealed how this trait had affected his past relationship with Betty and help contribute to the Hulk’s manifestation. Another interesting aspect of the movie was the father/child theme that seemed to dominate its story. Not only did both Bruce and Betty suffer from damaged relationships with their respective fathers, their past romance and continued love for each seemed to be regarded by David Banner and General Ross as potential threats. And both men seemed incapable of resisting an urge to manipulate and control their children’s lives.

Ang Lee managed to gather an impressive cast for his film. I believe kudos should have gone to Eric Bana for his on-spot portrayal of the emotionally repressed Dr. Bruce Banner. The Australian actor did an excellent job of delving into his character’s emotional psyche, yet keeping it all in check in order to reveal Bruce’s difficulties in expressing himself. Jennifer Connolly gave a subtle performance as Betty Ross, Bruce’s ex-girlfriend and fellow geneticist. She ably managed to portray Betty as a woman frustrated by Bruce and her father’s penchant for emotional repression; and also torn by her love and loyalty toward Bruce, and her fear that only her father’s military resources can save him.

Sam Elliot was top-notch as the intense and paranoid General Ross, who seemed more interested in branding Bruce as a danger to his daughter and the Establishment, due to the latter’s family connections. ”THE HULK” marked the second movie in which I heard Elliot used a growl to mark his character’s intense nature. And I hope that he never uses it again. In a rare performance, Josh Lucas portrayed minor villain Glenn Talbot, Bruce and Betty’s former colleague that left the U.S. Army to join the private sector for more cash. Lucas did a first-rate job in portraying Talbot’s venal and smarmy nature without going over the top. His character also had one of the oddest death scenes in film history.

Two actors portrayed Bruce’s father, Dr. David Banner – Paul Kersey and Oscar nominee Nick Nolte. Kersey portrayed the young Dr. Banner, whose obsession with improving human DNA in the film’s mesmerizing opening credits ended up having major consequences for his family – especially his son. I am amazed at how Kersey managed to convey such a strong presence with very little screen time. It was a damn good thing Lee cast Nick Nolte in the role of the older David Banner, because Kersey struck me as a hard act to follow. However, Nolte gave what I believe was the best performance in the movie. He certainly did an excellent job in conveying Banner’s continuing obsession with his original experiment. Yet, thirty years in a prison managed to unhinge Banner’s personality, making him even more obsessive. He also acquired a possessive attitude toward Bruce’s Hulk alter-ego, viewing the latter as his true son. Nolte not only beautifully captured this aspect of the scientist’s personality, but also the latter’s hostile view of Betty Ross, and an increasingly hostile attitude toward the military industry complex and society at large. This hostility was openly revealed in what I can only describe as a fascinating speech that dripped with contempt.

Frederick Elmes did an excellent job in photographing the movie’s settings of Berkeley, San Francisco and the Nevada desert. I also have to commend visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren for a split screen technique that allowed Lee to cinematically mimic the panels of a comic book page. I thought that was truly inspired – especially in the scene that featured Talbot’s death. At Industrial, Light and Magic, Muren also supervised the movie’s CGI effects – especially the computer generated Hulk. The interesting thing about this movie’s Hulk is that his facial expression seemed more varied than the expressions of the 2008 version. However, I was not that impressed by Muren’s design of David Banner’s ”hulkish” dogs. They struck me as something from 1994’s ”THE MASK” – a little too cartoonish for my tastes.

In the end, ”THE HULK” is a well-written movie with interesting characters. I believe it was only marred by questionable action sequences. If Marvel Entertainment ever decide to combine this movie’s characterizations and depth with the action sequences from ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK”, it would have one hell of a movie on its hands.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1970s

Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1970s:

FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1970s

1 - American Gangster

1. American Gangster (2007) – Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe starred in this biopic about former Harlem drug kingpin, Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, the Newark police detective who finally caught him. Ridley Scott directed this energetic tale.

2 - Munich

2. Munich (2005) – Steven Spielberg directed this tense drama about Israel’s retaliation against the men who committed the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Eric Bana, Daniel Craig and Ciarán Hinds starred.

3. Rush (2013) – Ron Howard directed this account of the sports rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula One auto racing season. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl starred.

4 - Casino

4. Casino (1995) – Martin Scorsese directed this crime drama about rise and downfall of a gambler and enforcer sent West to run a Mob-owned Las Vegas casino. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone starred.

5 - Super 8

5. Super 8 (2011) – J.J. Abrams directed this science-fiction thriller about a group of young teens who stumble across a dangerous presence in their town, after witnessing a train accident, while shooting their own 8mm film. Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Kyle Chandler starred.

6 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) – Gary Oldman starred as George Smiley in this recent adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel about the hunt for a Soviet mole in MI-6. Tomas Alfredson directed.

7 - Apollo 13

7. Apollo 13(1995) – Ron Howard directed this dramatic account about the failed Apollo 13 mission in April 1970. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon starred.

8 - Nixon

8. Nixon (1995) – Oliver Stone directed this biopic about President Richard M. Nixon. The movie starred Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen.

9 - Starsky and Hutch

9. Starsky and Hutch (2004) – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson starred in this comedic movie adaptation of the 70s television series about two street cops hunting down a drug kingpin. Directed by Todd Phillips, the movie also starred Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Snoop Dogg.

10 - Frost-Nixon

10. Frost/Nixon (2008) – Ron Howard directed this adaptation of the stage play about David Frost’s interviews with former President Richard Nixon in 1977. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen starred.

Five Favorite Episodes of “IRON FIST” Season One (2017)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of “IRON FIST”, the Marvel Netflix adaptation of the Marvel Comics hero. Created by Scott Buck, the series starred Finn Jones as Danny Rand aka Iron Fist:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “IRON FIST” SEASON ONE (2017)

1. (1.06) “Immortal Emerges from Cave” – Danny Rand aka Iron Fist and Ward Meachum, the son of his late father’s partner, Harold Meachum; search the Rand Enterprises warehouses for clues as to the operations of the criminal organization known as the Hand. Meanwhile, Danny receives an invitation from one of the Hand’s leaders, Madame Gao, to fight three operatives for the freedom of one of their hostages.

2. (1.13) “Dragon Plays with Fire” – With the Hand no longer around to monitor him, Harold Meachum takes control of Rand Enterprises. Danny learns of Harold’s role in the deaths of his parents and both he and Ward are forced to confront the former CEO in this season finale.

3. (1.11) “Lead Horse Back to Stable” – Danny refuses to return to K’un-Lun, the mystical city where he became the Iron Fist, despite the urgent demands of his friend, Davos. Former Hand acolyte and dojo owner Colleen Wing tries to convince Danny that she knew nothing about the Hand’s activities. Harold and his daughter Joy Meachum plot to prevent the Hand from taking over Rand Enterprises.

4. (1.01) “Snow Gives Way” – In the series’ premiere, Danny returns home to New York City after spending fifteen years at K’un-Lun. Because he was presumed dead, along with his parents, Danny has difficulty convincing Ward and Joy of his true identity and the fact that he controls 51% of Rand Enterprises.

5. (1.10) “Black Tiger Steals Heart” – An injured Danny finds himself at the Hand dojo where Colleen had been trained and meets her former mentor/trainer, Bakuto. Meanwhile, Harold kills a board member in order to pave the way for Joy to convince the others to reinstate her, Ward and Danny back on the company’s board.

“Guilty Until Proven Innocent” [PG-13] – 2/3

“GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT”

PART 2

A disturbing image from that last hour on the Bridge replayed in B’Elanna’s mind, while she headed for Engineering. Had she just witnessed the impossible? At least what her mind and emotions considered the impossible. The idea of those two as a couple . . . Impossible! He was Maquis and she was Starfleet. There was no way that two people of such disparate backgrounds could form a successful relationship. At least B’Elanna hoped.

“Hey B’Elanna!” Ensign Hogan greeted the half-Klingon after she entered Engineering. Like her, Hogan was a former member of Chakotay’s Maquis cell. His intense face lit up with excitement. “Did you hear?”

She growled back, “Hear what?”

Hogan followed B’Elanna to her office. “About Seska and Paris. They had a fight in the Mess Hall.”

“What?” B’Elanna stared at her subordinate. “Kahless! How in the hell . . . what happened?” Before Hogan could respond, B’Elanna spotted her close friend walking toward one of the consoles near the warp core. “Seska!” She rushed out of her office with Hogan right behind her. Both caught up with the Bajoran engineer. “Seska! What’s this I hear about you and Paris?”

Anger illuminated Seska’s blue eyes. “It’s nothing. We had a little spat in the Mess Hall.” By now, two other crewmen had joined the small group – another former Maquis named Mike Jonas and an attractive dark-haired Starfleeter named Sue Nicoletti.

“About what?” B’Elanna demanded. If Paris had insulted any former Maquis . . .

Seska heaved a large sigh. B’Elanna almost rolled her eyes. The former could be overdramatic at times. “It’s nothing,” the Bajoran insisted. “Just . . . well, Paris had made some comment about my time in the Maquis and I lost my temper.”

“Why would he do that?” Nicoletti asked, earning a glare from Seska.

B’Elanna, who was very familiar with her friend’s traits, added, “C’mon Seska. Give. I may detest Paris, but I also know you. You must have said something to piss him off.”

“All right,” Seska admitted. She punched a few sequences into the console. “I may have said something about what happened to him on the Banean homeworld.” B’Elanna responded with a shake of the head. “What? Don’t tell me that you sympathize with that scum?”

“I don’t,” B’Elanna replied shortly. “But you did start the fight, didn’t you?”

Seska opened her mouth to reply, but remained silent. Jonas added, “If you ask me, I don’t see why Janeway allows that murderer to roam free on the ship.” A scowl appeared on his usually placid face.

“He’s Starfleet,” Hogan brutally explained. “What else is there to say?”

Hogan’s remark spurred a spirited response from Nicoletti. Her pretty face twisted with distaste. “Tom Paris is not Starfleet,” she said with great emphasis. “Not as far as we’re concerned.”

“What about his father?”

Sue shot back, “What about him? He washed his hands of Paris a long time ago.”

“Then how do you explain Janeway giving him the Conn? And letting him roam the ship, despite being convicted of murder? I even hear that Tuvok was ordered to exonerate him.”

It was B’Elanna who answered Hogan’s question. “Lieutenant Tuvok was ordered to investigate the murder, not clear Paris. And the Baneans have already planted memory engrams, forcing him to relive the entire murder from the victim’s point of view every fourteen hours. According to Harry, those engrams are frying Paris’ brains.”

A low whistle emitted from Hogan’s lips. “I guess Paris is getting a little payback, after all.”

“Huh!” Jonas grunted. “I still think he needs his ass kicked. Maybe some of us should do it, ourselves.”

“Hear, hear!” Seska cried. A smile curled her lips. “Maybe a little Maquis operation is in order.” She glanced at Nicoletti. The latter squirmed with discomfort. “Something wrong, Nicoletti? I would think you Starfleeters wouldn’t mind getting into the action, considering how much you detest Paris.”

Nicoletti looked away and returned to her duties. Seska sniffed. B’Elanna, as head of Engineering, decided it was time to nip Jonas’ idea in the bud. Even if she liked it. “There isn’t going to be any Maquis or Starfleet operation against Paris. So why don’t we all end this conversation now? I’m not ready to find myself in Chakatoy or Janeway’s bad graces. And I think neither are you.”

“What’s the matter, Lieutenant?” A smirk formed on Seska’s lips. “Afraid of losing your precious position as Chief Engineer?” Both Hogan and Jonas chuckled.

B’Elanna coolly replied, “Let me put it this way. Do any of you want to serve under Carey or another Fleeter?”

The idea seemed to have cooled the other ex-Maquis’ ideas of any “operations” against Tom Paris. Hogan and Jonas returned to their duties. Seska turned away from her task to face B’Elanna. “What was going on while you were gone? I thought I felt Voyager encounter phaser fire.”

B’Elanna told the Bajoran about Voyager’s encounter with several Numeri ships. “They tried to board us. I guess they didn’t care for any of us visiting the Banean homeworld. Chakotay . . . he had suggested we use an old Maquis trick to drive them off.” Her lips quirked into a small smile. “You know, the one we used against the Cardies.”

Seska returned her attention to the console. “I’ll bet Janeway snipped that idea in the bud.”

“Actually, she didn’t. She told . . .” B’Elanna paused, recalling the conversation between the red-haired captain and the First Officer. And the electricity that seemed to flow between the two. And electricity that hinted a future B’Elanna personally found unappealing.

“What did Janeway say?” Seska insisted.

The half-Klingon snapped out of her reverie, aware of a pair of narrowed eyes staring at her. She let out a gust of breath. “Nothing. Just . . . Janeway said that the trick was very old.”

Seska grunted. “I’ll bet that pissed off Chakotay.”

“Not really,” B’Elanna replied in a soft voice, recalling Chakotay’s expression. “In fact, he seemed . . . amused.”

The look on Seska’s face told B’Elanna that the former did not care for that description anymore than she did. “Hmmmph,” the Bajoran commented before turning away from B’Elanna. “Does that mean we’ll be encountering the Numeri again?”

Thankful for the change of subject, B’Elanna replied, “I suppose so. Especially if Lieutenant Tuvok and Janeway have to return to the Banea to clear up this matter with Paris.”

“Personally, I think Tuvok’s investigation is a waste of time,” Seska added in a sardonic voice. “Even if he wanted to, there is nothing he can find that will exonerate Paris. The man is a liar and a murderer. I say Janeway should wash her hands of him and toss him back to the Baneans.”

B’Elanna remained silent. How could she argue with the truth?

* * * *

Tuvok came to the conclusion that he had finally arrived at the truth. Lieutenant Paris did not murder Dr. Ren. In fact, the volatile pilot was nothing more than a scapegoat of a more insidious plot.

Inside his quarters, the Security Chief sat on the floor with his eyes closed. Only he was not deep in another meditation session. Instead, his mind raced over the details and revelations he had unearthed during his investigation of Dr. Ren’s murder.

The widow of the murder victim entered his thoughts. Lidell Ren. One would say she was a very attractive woman, fully aware of her charms and ability to seduce. Lieutenant Paris seemed the obvious type who would find her attractive and act upon his feelings. However, Tuvok could not see the volatile pilot kill for her. Even Mister Paris was intelligent enough not to take such a woman like Mrs. Ren seriously.

A mind meld Tuvok had conducted with the pilot had revealed the latter’s belief in his innocence. Despite the engrams. And although the meld clearly painted Mister Paris as the perputrator, Tuvok found a few details questionable. First, the pilot had allegedly plunged the knife into Dr. Ren’s heart, which was located in the same spot as the Human stomach. Tuvok found it illogical that an offworlder like Mister Paris know the exact location of the Banean heart. He also noticed that both the pilot and the widow seemed to be the exact height in the memory engrams. Yet, after meeting Mrs. Ren, Tuvok noticed that he was taller than the Banean widow and Lieutenant Paris was taller than both of them. And there was the matter of the mysterious inscriptions included in the ex-convict’s memories. What did they mean and why were they included?

One last detail concerned Tuvok. To prove a theory, he had asked Captain Janeway to send Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Kim to the Banean homeworld in one of Voyager’s shuttles. The Numeri ships, to everyone’s surprise, went after the shuttle, instead of Voyager. Their actions not only confirmed Mister Paris’ innocence, but the identity and motive of the true murderer.

Tuvok’s eyes flew open. He tapped his combadge and suggested to the Captain that they make another trip to the Banean homeworld. And that Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Kim should join them.

* * * *

STARDATE 48606.41

“What was that you said to Tuvok in the Mess Hall?” Harry asked Tom. The two friends sat inside Sandrine’s, each enjoying an after-duty drink.

Tom took a sip of his bourbon and grimaced. Synthehol. Someday, he would have to find a way to replicate genuine alcohol. “I merely thanked him for helping me and told him he had a friend.”

“A friend?” Harry snorted. “Lieutenant Tuvok was just doing his job, Tom. I doubt he really believed you were innocent.”

“Maybe. But he didn’t naturally assume I was guilty, either.” Tom forced himself to take another sip. “Unlike many others on this ship. You know, when we first went to Banea, I had no idea I would end up as a courier for spies.”

Harry shook his head and swallowed a mouthful of brandy. Unlike Tom, he seemed to enjoy his drink. “Or have a dog exonerate you for murder. You were very lucky, buddy! Very lucky. Maybe this will teach you to be a little more circumspect about the fair sex.”

Tom gave his friend a hard stare. “Is this your way of getting back at me for that remark I made inside the shuttle, Harry?”

Dark eyes shined with innocence. Not very convincingly, as far as Tom was concerned. “What remark?” the younger man asked.

“You know. The one about you never finding romance with the wrong woman.” Tom’s eyes narrowed. “I was serious, Harry. It could happen to you. You’re only human and I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility if I were you.”

Harry responded with a knowing smile. “Knowing you Tom, you just might set me up with a woman like Lidell Ren. Just to make your point.”

Poor Harry. Tom shook his head. He valued the young ensign as a good friend and decent guy. But the latter also possessed an unshakable arrogance regarding his sense of morality. Just like any good little Starfleet officer. Tom also realized that many of the Maquis shared a similar sense of self-righteousness. How long would this morality last under decades in the Delta Quadrant?

Two crewmen passed their table. Starfleet, judging by the pips on their collars. They gave Harry a polite nod. And ignored Tom. “I can’t believe this!” Harry protested. “Tuvok had cleared you of murder and they still treat you like a pariah!”

Tom shrugged in an attempt to mask the slight hurt. “Forget it, Harry. The crew has other reasons to dislike me. Like my prison sentence and getting cashiered out of Starfleet.”

“How long are they going to hold that against you?”

A bitter smile touched Tom’s lips. “Forever? Hell, the Maquis practically hate my guts! I’m sure everyone is disappointed that I haven’t been executed. Or had my brains fried by now.”

The tavern’s wooden doors swung open, revealing B’Elanna Torres. “Oh great!” Tom muttered. “Look who’s here!”

The two friends watched the half-Klingon sauntered toward their table. She took one look at Tom and hesitated. Hostility filled her eyes.

“B’Elanna!” Harry cried, waving at the Chief Engineer to join them. “Over here!” Tom suppressed his disappointment, as B’Elanna walked over to the table and slid into the booth, next to Harry.

She flashed a quick smile at the young ensign. “Hey Starfleet.” A frown creased her ridged brow as she faced Tom. “Paris.” After ordering a glass of scotch from Sandrine, she asked, “You didn’t show up in the Mess Hall for dinner. Where were you?”

“Here,” Harry replied. “We decided to replicate dinner here at Sandrines. It was pleeka rind casserole night. What can you say?”

Tom added in a low voice, “I can think of a few choice words. But I don’t think they will make Neelix happy.”

His comment was met with an amused grin from Harry and a stony glare from Torres. Tom wondered if the half-Klingon had a sense of humor. Or maybe she had been under Chakotay’s influence too long. “Something bothering you, Torres?” he asked.

Her eyes glittering, the engineer shot back, “Yeah, the company.”

“That’s funny. As I recall, I was here first.” Tom gave B’Elanna an acid smile.

A wall of silence surrounded the trio. Then B’Elanna slid out of the booth, signaling her departure. Harry stopped her before she could leave. “Wait a minute!” he cried. “Where are you going, Maquis?”

“To find better company,” she growled, glaring at Tom.

“C’mon! Stay with us. This is suppose to be a celebration for Tom. For his exoneration.”

B’Elanna sniffed. “That’s not a reason for me to celebrate.”

“B’Elanna!”

Tom added in a curt voice, “Let her go, Harry. The last thing I need is to spend my free time with another one of Chakotay’s noble warriors. Especially one who still thinks I’m guilty.”

“I never said you were guilty!” B’Elanna shot back.

“Of course you did,” Tom retorted. “You just never said it to my face. I’ll bet you even told Harry.” The two engineers exchanged uneasy glances. Tom noticed. “Oh. I see you have.”

Harry turned to the pilot. “Look Tom, I’m sorry about that. I was talking with B’Elanna and Seska and it just came . . .”

“What are you apologizing for, Starfleet?” B’Elanna growled. She slid back into the booth. “At least you didn’t screw some married woman! Or get your best friend behind bars for two days!”

Tom added, “You forgot to mention it was for accessory to murder.”

Fierce brown eyes turned on the Chief Helmsman. “Everything’s a joke to you, isn’t it Paris? Someone always has to pay for your irresponsibility! Harry almost died after the Baneans interrogated him and yet, you laugh over the entire matter!”

“Hey! B’Elanna!” Harry protested. “Tom has already apo . . .”

However, the Chief Engineer’s tongue seemed to be on a roll. Tom noticed that Sandrine’s other inhabitants seemed interested in what she had to say. “Tell me Paris, did you laugh after you crashed that shuttle at Caldik Prime? Or when you sold the Maquis to the Federation?”

Caldik Prime. Torres’ comment brought up guilty memories of that infamous moment in his life. It also sparked a growing anger within Tom. Anger and resentment over her assumption that he had felt no remorse toward the deaths of his late friends. Like nearly every person he has encountered in his life, Torres made assumptions about his character without bothering to learn anything about him.

His body grew tense. A low, deep anger resonated in Tom’s voice. “As far as I’m concerned, Torres,” he growled, “the topic of Caldik Prime is off limits.” The half-Klingon’s face paled suddenly. Harry stared at Tom, his mouth gaped open. “And as for your precious Maquis,” Tom continued heatedly, “I joined because I needed money.”

“Mercenary!” B’Elanna spat out in disgust.

Coldly, Tom replied, “If you say so. However, that didn’t stop the good Commander from recruiting me. And yet, from the moment I joined his cell, Chakotay and the others made it quite clear that I was nothing more than a mercenary and treated me like one. They never gave me a chance to prove otherwise.”

“What did you expect?” B’Elanna shot back.

“What’s the matter, Torres?” Tom snarled. “You don’t believe in giving someone a second chance? Isn’t that what the Captain and Chakotay did for you? Hey, I may not be the straight arrow type around Harry, Kes or the Captain. At least they gave me a chance to prove I was more than some good-for-nothing who was not worth their time. I can’t say the same for your precious Maquis. And if you expect me to feel guilty for how I came aboard Voyager, you’ll be holding your breath.” Tom slid out of the booth. “For a long time. Now if you’ll excuse me, this place has gotten a little too crowded for me.” Tom glared at B’Elanna before he marched out of the holodeck.

* * * *

The chatter inside Sandrine’s ceased to exist following Tom’s departure. Barely a soul made a sound, aside from one crewman who coughed. Too embarrassed to speak himself, Harry finished his brandy in two gulps. Then the chatter returned, much to his relief.

A familiar figure, Sue Nicoletti, approached Harry and B’Elanna’s table, carrying a glass of wine. “What was that about?” she asked, nodding toward the tavern’s doors.

“Nothing,” Harry replied. “Nothing at all.” He signaled Sandrine. The tavern owner appeared and Harry ordered another glass of brandy.

A trembling B’Elanna finally recovered from her bout of silence. “Just Paris deluding himself that he has something to be righteous about.” Her response produced a chuckle from Sue.

Harry remained silent, staring at the table’s wooden surface. “Maybe he does,” he mumbled darkly. The two women stared at him. “Let’s face it, Tom has made mistakes in his life, but he’s no murderer.” He glanced up. “And he’s not cold-blooded, despite what others may think.”

Nicoletti quickly returned to her other companions. A deep flush colored B’Elanna’s olive-skinned face. “Okay, maybe I was a little out of hand abut him being cold-blooded. But you can’t deny that he had no business messing around with that Banean woman.”

“He apologized about that, B’Elanna,” Harry retorted.

B’Elanna added, “And the Maquis? Can you blame us for hating him, after he sold us to Janeway?”

“What are you talking about? Tom had been in prison for nearly a year before the Captain recruited him! How would he have known your last position?”

Persistent to the end, B’Elanna retorted, “That didn’t stop him from accepting Janeway’s offer to help her find us!”

Harry immediately replied, “B’Elanna, in a way, Tom had no choice. The Captain had insisted upon bringing him along; even after he told her that using him to track you down would be useless.”

“Yeah, right,” B’Elanna mumbled. “I suppose Paris told you this.”

Harry stared at his friend through narrowed eyes. “It was the Captain who told me, B’Elanna. We were talking about how a Starfleet officer can utilize any resource. She realized that bringing Tom aboard may have been a shot in the dark, but she did it anyway. And that it all worked out in the end, with Voyager being stuck in the Delta Quadrant with a top-notch pilot like Tom.”

The half-Klingon opened her mouth to respond, but as before, was rendered speechless. Sandrine returned with Harry’s second brandy. He took a sip. “Look Maquis, Tom may not be the easiest person to deal with, but who is? You certainly aren’t. And I know I can be very irritating sometimes. Yet, look at us. We managed to become friends. So when are you going to give Tom a chance to become your friend?”

Dark brown eyes belonging to the chief engineer blinked. Harry looked away and returned his attention to his drink. For once, B’Elanna had no ready answer on the tip of her tongue. Perhaps his words had finally penetrated her stubborn brain. Make her realize that Tom Paris might be a worthy friend to have. Harry hoped so. Because he had no idea how long he can endure being torn between his two best friends.

END OF PART 2

“Guilty Until Proven Innocent” [PG-13] – 1/3

“GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT”

CODE: Paris, Torres, Kim, Seska, J/C (implied) & P/T
RATING: PG-13
E-MAIL: lee66132000@yahoo.com
FEEDBACK: Please feel free to send a little feedback. Please, no flames.
SUMMARY: Voyager’s crew react to Tom Paris’ murder conviction by the Baneans in Season 1’s “Ex Post Facto”.
DISCLAIMER: Sigh! All characters and etc. pertaining to Star Trek Voyager belongs to Paramount, Viacom and . . . well, you know who.

NOTE: I realize that “Ex Post Facto” was never a favorite with VOYAGER fans, but I have always wondered how many of them reacted to Tom’s murder conviction – especially a certain Chief Engineer.

PART 1

STARDATE 48601.55

B’Elanna burst into Sickbay and nearly blanched at the sight of her friend stretched out on a biobed. “Harry!” she cried and rushed to the ensign’s side.

Poor Starfleet! His face looked ashen and tightly drawn. Dark circles formed beneath his eyes. B’Elanna’s heart thumped rapidly at the frightening sight. “Kahless! Harry, what in the hell happened down there?”

“Ensign Kim is dehydrated,” Voyager’s holographic doctor replied in his usual dry tone. “Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to finish treating him. Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Tuvok have caused enough delays.” He gave B’Elanna a slight shove and leaned over his patient.

Angered by the EMH’s rudeness, B’Elanna raised her arm in a threatening manner. “B’Elanna!” The Doctor’s medical assistant placed a gentle hand on the half-Klingon’s shoulder. “Don’t mind the Doctor,” Kes continued. “He’s just as concerned as the rest of us.” B’Elanna found that hard to believe. “It’s just that he hasn’t developed a bedside manner, yet.”

And probably never will, B’Elanna silently added. She took a deep breath. Calm down, B’Elanna. This is no time to have a Klingon tantrum. “Do you know what happened, Kes?” she asked the Ocampan woman in a shaky voice. “Last I heard, Harry and Paris were on the Banean homeworld, to receive information on how to repair our collimator.”

“I . . .” Kes glanced uneasily at the two figures around the biobed. She gave a slight cough. “There was a little trouble with the Baneans, B’Elanna. Tom Paris was arrested for murder and the authorities held Ensign Kim for questioning.”

Shock nearly rendered B’Elanna speechless – until she managed to squeak out a “What?” How in the hell did a friendly first contact develop into such a disaster? Naturally, she should have known that pig Paris was somehow responsible!

The Doctor pressed contents of a hypospray into Harry’s neck. “Your hearing must be suffering, Lieutenant. Kes has just informed you that Lieutenant Paris was arrested for murder. Apparently, he had an affair with a married woman and killed her husband, who was working with Ensign Kim on your collimator.”

“Doctor!” Kes protested.

Unfortunately for the Ocampan nurse, her protests failed to cease the EMH’s runaway tongue. “And the reason Ensign Kim is suffering from dehydration,” he continued, “is that the Banean authorities had questioned him for two days following Mister Paris’ arrest. However, as of this moment, he is no longer in danger.” He added with a smirk. “Thanks to me.”

B’Elanna rolled her eyes. Someone needs to do something about the hologram’s personality subroutines. B’Elanna had a good mind to see to that task, herself. In a patient voice, she asked, “Is Harry conscious? I would like to speak with him.”

“I just gave the ensign a sedative. He needs at least a few hours of rest before I can release him from Sickbay. You can see him later.” The Doctor sniffed before turning his back on B’Elanna.

A growl threatened to rise from the Chief Engineer’s throat, but she held it back. Instead, she fixed the EHM’s back with a Klingon version of Janeway’s death glare and stalked out Sickbay.

* * * *

Harry Kim took a deep breath and stepped outside the turbolift. Upon releasing him from Sickbay, the Doctor had ordered Harry to eat a meal before retiring to his quarters for more rest. The young ensign had every intention of getting a bite. After two days of interrogation by the Baneans without a meal, his stomach literally cried for food. However, eating was not the only thing occupying Harry’s mind at the moment. He worried about the fate of his friend, still held in custody by the Baneans.

His stomach rumbled. He really needed to eat something! Even Neelix’s Talaxian cusine would suit him. Harry picked up his pace, rushing toward the Mess Hall. Until he collided with another figure coming from the opposite direction.

“What’s the rush, Ensign?” Harry immediately recognized the soft, deep voice that belonged to Voyager’s new First Officer. Nor could he help feel a little intimidated by the older man’s presence. Although he had agreed with the Captain’s decision to integrate the Maquis with the ship’s crew, a small part of him could not help but wonder if Voyager might find itself facing a Maquis uprising. To be honest, B’Elanna Torres was the only former Maquis he completely trusted.

Chakotay stared at Harry. “Ensign? Is there a problem? I asked what was the rush.”

“Oh.” Harry flushed again. “Sorry, Commander. I . . . I’m really hungry right now. I haven’t had a bite to eat in two days.”

The First Officer nodded. “I understand. It must be a relief to finally be back on Voyager.”

“Yes sir, it is.” Harry frowned as a sobering thought hit him. “I only hope that we get Tom back in time. Who knows what else the Baneans are doing to him?”

It happened in a flash. Harry noticed a slight stiffening of Commander Chakotay’s shoulders at the mention of the Chief Pilot’s name. Then . . . a smile tugged the corners of Chakotay’s mouth. “Don’t worry, Ensign. I’m sure the Captain won’t leave him behind.” His sincerity failed to reach his dark eyes, much to Harry’s dismay.

The Mess Hall loomed ahead. Both men entered and walked straight for the new galley’s counter. Lunch had drawn a heavy crowd. Harry took one look at the buffet displayed on the counter and headed for the nearest replicator. So did Chakotay.

Once Harry replicated a plate of angel hair pasta (Earth style) and shrimp, he glanced around the Mess Hall for a seat. Even after three-and-a-half months in the Delta Quadrant, the crew continued to segregate into Starfleet and Maquis cliques. Harry noticed that very few tables were filled with crewmen from both factions. His first instinct was to join a Starfleet table – until he saw B’Elanna signal him to join both her and Seska.

The half-Klingon smiled with relief at the sight of the newcomer. “Starfleet! I see that you’ve finally recovered. How are you feeling?”

Harry returned B’Elanna’s smile with a wan one of his own. “Okay, I guess. I’m starving. Haven’t had a bite in two days.”

No sooner had he began to dig into his pasta, Chakotay joined them at the table. Seska glanced at the First Officer’s food. “Goodness, Chakotay!” she exclaimed, laughing. “I’ve forgotten about your austere taste in food. Don’t tell me. Mushroom soup and a salad?” Chakotay responded with a slight grimace.

Seska turned her attention to Harry and asked about his experiences with the Baneans. “I hear that Paris got arrested. What in the Prophets made them arrest him in the first place?” The smirk on her face told Harry that she already knew the answer to her question.

Several pairs of eyes, including the three around his table, focused upon Harry. He found himself very reluctant to answer Seska’s question.

“I uh, . . . a misunderstanding on the Baneans’ part,” he lamely replied. Harry glanced at Chakotay, wondering if the latter had learned the truth from Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Tuvok.

“C’mon Starfleet,” B’Elanna urged. “What actually happened down there? All I know is Paris had some affair with the wife of a Banean scientist. Is that true?”

Harry sighed. He might as well tell the truth. At least correct a few rumors that had obviously reached B’Elanna’s ears. So he told them. About Tom’s flirtation with the very attractive Lidell Ren, Dr. Ren’s murder, Tom’s and his arrest, his interrogation and Tom’s conviction. The moment Harry saw the disgust in his companions’ eyes, he regretted opening his mouth.

“The Doctor was right!” B’Elanna declared. “I can’t believe that you nearly died of dehydration because Paris got an itch in his pants!” Her dark eyes glowered with rage. For a moment, Harry imagined her in full Klingon battle dress, brandishing a bat’leth.

Harry sighed. “It’s not what you think, B’Elanna. I don’t even know if Tom had . . . uh, well, had any relations with Mrs. Ren.”

“You mean sex, Harry,” B’Elanna retorted bluntly. “An affair. In other words, he screwed her.”

“Nothing happened, as far as I know.” The expressions on both B’Elanna and Seska’s faces told Harry that they did not believe him. Commander Chakotay’s face remained stoic as usual. Yet, Harry suspected that he shared the two women’s opinions.

Seska leaned forward, her blue eyes gleaming with spite. “C’mon Ensign Kim. This is Tom Paris we’re talking about. He’ll go after anyone with breasts. I realize he’s your friend, but something must have happened between him and that scientist’s wife. Why else would he have committed murder?”

“Tom never killed anyone!” Harry angrily protested. He blushed with embarrassment over his outburst.

The smile on the Bajoran’s lips stated otherwise. She added softly, “How do you know, Ensign? Were you there at the time of the murder?”

Harry opened his mouth to reply and found himself unable to speak. What could he do? Admit that he never witnessed Tom’s dalliance with Mrs. Ren? Or the actual murder? To do so would play right into Seska’s hands.

Seska’s smile curled into a smirk. “Did you say something, Ensign?”

“No,” Harry replied shortly. He glanced at his companions’ faces. The smirk remained fixed on Seska’s lips. Doubt had crept into Commander Chakotay’s dark eyes. And as for B’Elanna, anger toward Tom still brimmed in her eyes – along with a touch of pity toward him. To hell with them! If they were so determined to condemn Tom without any evidence . . . He rose from his chair. “Excuse me,” he growled.

B’Elanna frowned. “Where are you going, Starfleet? You haven’t finished eating.”

“Back to my quarters.” Harry picked up his plate. “I’ve just lost my appetite.” He marched toward the nearest recycler, dumped his plate and resumed his march out of the Mess Hall.

* * * *

The entire scene played inside Tom Paris’s mind, over and over again. The image of him and the beautiful Lidell Ren, locked in a passionate embrace. The confrontation of the two lovers. The scuffle. The small blade that suddenly appeared in his hand. And him, shoving the blade forward.

Inside one of Voyager’s turbolifts, Tom heaved a sigh of relief. For once, he did not have to relive those horrible moments with the use of the implanted Banean engrams. He had his own guilty thoughts to thank. But it seemed a hell of a lot better than listening to his inner thoughts consistently berate himself.

The turbolift doors slid open on Deck 2. Tom stepped out into the corridor. How could he have been so stupid? Getting involved with a married woman? And now, he found himself facing justice, Banean style. Reliving the murder through the victim’s eyes every fourteen hours. Shit! Not only was such punishment psychological torture; but according to Voyager’s holographic doctor, the engrams were causing a degenerative neural damage to his brain. The only alternate punishment seemed to be death by lethal injection.

When Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Tuvok had arrived on the Banea homeworld, Tom felt sure the Captain would wash her hands of him. Hell, just about everyone in his life had. And Tom suspected that everyone else aboard Voyager would gladly do the same, except for Harry. As it turned out, neither would Janeway. She insisted that the Banean First Minister release Tom to her custody. And she also ordered the Vulcan Security Chief to investigate the murder.

Since his return to Voyager, Tom had experienced another memory cycle, thanks to those damn engrams. The Doctor also treated his mild case of dehydration and ordered the Pilot to the Mess Hall for a much needed meal. Tom approached his destination, filled with trepidation. He had only encountered a handful of crewmen since his return. Judging from their reactions, the story of his arrest had not circulated throughout the ship. At least, not yet. However, it was only a matter of time.

Tom stepped inside the Mess Hall and all conversation stopped. Eyes that reflected smugness, suspicion and pure dislike stared at him. It seemed that time had arrived. Maybe not the entire crew knew what happened, but the occupants inside the Mess Hall obviously knew. The Paris assumed its position. Ignoring the stares, Tom strode toward the galley’s counter.

“Afternoon Neelix,” Tom greeted the Talaxian. “What’s for lunch?”

The usually gregarious cook returned Tom’s greeting in a manner one would not describe as friendly. “There it is,” Neelix curtly replied, pointing out the buffet spread across the counter. “Take your pick.”

Tom found himself on the verge of buckling under the suspicious stares and Neelix’s coldness. But he was a Paris. He refused to give the others the pleasure of his public humiliation. Unless Tuvok discover the truth, he seemed doomed to have his brains fried by the engrams or his life cut short by a lethal injection. With his reputation further blackened.

After giving the Talaxian a cool stare of his own, Tom pointed to what looked like stew and some bread. Neelix picked up a tray and began to serve the food. Meanwhile, Tom helped himself to a glass of juice. Then he took his tray from the cook and murmured a quiet “thanks”. The Talaxian responded with a derogative sniff. So much for politeness.

A quick scan of the dining room revealed an empty table next to one of the viewports. Unfortunately, Chakotay and Seska occupied the table next to it. Great! Tom sighed and headed for the empty table. The moment he sat down, conversation recommenced. Tom dug into his food. Hell, it was a lot better than meeting the contemptuous stares pointed at him. A few minutes later, his efforts to maintain a sense of privacy was dashed by Seska’s mouth.

“I never thought I’d live to see this day, Chakotay,” Tom heard the Bajoran ooze with spite.

Chakotay responded with a weary sigh. “What are you getting at, Seska?”

“Haven’t you seen who is sitting at the table behind you?”

Tom kept his eyes glued to his food.

The First Officer coolly replied, “I know who’s there.”

A soft chuckle followed. “I’m sure you do, Chakotay. But don’t you find it odd that Captain Janeway would allow a convicted criminal to roam free aboard a Federation starship?”

“Seska . . .”

“Oh, I know what you’re going to say. The Federation already considers the Maquis criminals. But at least none of us have served time in a prison.” Seska paused dramatically. “Or committed adultery and murder. But then, none of the Maquis is the Captain’s personal reclamation project. Isn’t that what you once called the young lieutenant, Chakotay?”

The Mess Hall fell silent for a second time. Tom’s eyes focused on something other than his food – namely the First Officer’s stiff back. “Cut it out, Seska!” the older man finally grumbled. “No one wants to deal with your crap!”

Seska’s mouth formed a pout. Tom chuckled. Bajoran eyes narrowed dangerously glared at him. “You find something amusing, Lieutenant Paris?”

Tom smirked. “Well, there’s you.”

“What the hell is that suppose to mean?” Seska rose from her chair like an angry, red-haired goddess. Chakotay ordered her to sit down, but she ignored him. “What did you mean by that little comment?”

Tom continued, “For a woman who prides herself on being coy and subtle, you’re not very good at it. If you want to insult me, Seska, do so. You don’t need a third party.”

Rage reflecting in her eyes, Seska stalked toward Tom’s table. “In that case, Mister Paris,” she hissed, looming over him, “I think you’re contemptible. You’re a liar, a traitor and definitely capable of murdering that Banean scientist. In fact, I don’t see why Janeway would even bother trying get you exonerated. I would have left you on that planet to rot!”

Ignoring the murmurs of approval from other diners, Tom allowed a slow smile to stretch across his face. “Gee Seska, I didn’t realize you were going to take my situation so personally. Did I hit a nerve?”

“You hit nothing, Mr. Son-of-a-Starfleet Admiral!” Seska snapped back.

All eyes fell upon the pair. An audience for Seska. How nice. If she wanted to publicize their fight, so be it. Smiling, Tom continued, “If you say so. Personally, I don’t care what you think. And you’re probably the last person on this ship who has any right to look down one’s nose at me in moral outrage.”

“What the hell? What’s that suppose to mean?”

Tom shot back, “Take a wild guess.”

Seska’s trim body trembled in rage. “Listen, you piece of scum! If you think I’m a person of no morality, may I remind you that I joined the Maquis . . .”

“Yeah, I know, for a cause. You joined the Maquis out of protest against the Cardassian occupation of the DMZ. At least . . .” Tom gave his own version of a dramatic pause. “At least, that’s what you say. Of course, I have my own opinion on that subject.” Seska’s face paled at his words. Curious.

Then Chakotay finally acted and rose from his chair. “That’s enough, Paris!” he barked, glaring at the younger man.

“What?” Tom stared at the First Officer with innocent eyes. “I wasn’t the one who started this conversation.”

Anger mingled with embarrassment in Chakotay’s dark eyes. He let out a gust of breath and stood next to the Bajoran. “Let’s go, Seska. This conversation is over. Now.”

“But Chakotay . . .”

“Now, Seska!” he insisted. “Let’s go!” He grabbed the woman’s arm. “Or do I have to drag you out of here?”

Dark eyes stared hard at Seska. She glared back. To Tom’s amusement, she wilted under Chakotay’s authoritive manner. “Fine!” she snapped. “I’ll leave!” Seska’s eyes bored into Tom’s. “I’ll see you later, Paris. Then again, maybe not, if the Baneans have their way!” She stalked out of the Mess Hall with Chakotay close at her heels.

Tom allowed himself a quiet chuckle. It was a rare moment when someone managed to get under Seska’s skin. And he felt proud to be that person. However . . . her reaction to his comments about her time in the Maquis had surprised him. Had stumbled upon a secret of hers? Interesting.

A pair of eyes belonging to a crewman, glaring at him from another table attracted Tom’s attention. Judging from the pips on the man’s collar, an ensign. Tom stared back. “May I help you, Ensign?” he asked. The ensign looked away.

Another smile touched Tom’s lips. He may be a doomed man, but at least he managed to have some fun before those engrams fried his brains for good. His combadge chirped. “Tuvok to Paris,” the Vulcan’s voice said. “Please report to Sickbay as soon as possible.”

“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” Tom responded. “Paris out.” So much for lunch. Tom tossed his spoon onto the tray. Oh well. This stew had not done much for his appetite, anyway.

END OF PART 1

“THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” (1977) Review

“THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” (1977) Review

I have seen my share of movie and television productions that are based on novels and plays by Alexandre Dumas père and his son Alexandre Dumas fils And for some reason, I never get tired of watching them – over and over again. And one of them is the 1977 television movie, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK”.

Directed by Mike Newell and adapted by William Bast, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” is loosely based on Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1847-50 novel, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”. The novel was the third and last of the author’s “The d’Artagnan Romances” literary trilogy, following “The Three Musketeers” and “Twenty Years After”. The movie begins with Philippe Bourbon being snatched by a group of mysterious men from his small French estate and imprisoned at the Bastille. It turns out that the men behind this kidnapping is King Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert and the head of the Musketeers, D’Artagnan.

Aware that Philippe is the twin brother of the king (and the rightful monarch of France), the pair plan to conduct a bloodless coup to eventually switch Philippe with the corrupt and malicious Louis. However, their plans are stymied when the Chevalier Duval, an aide of the also corrupt Superintendent of Finances Nicolas Fouquet, stumbles across Philippe. Fouquet, via instructions from Louis, orders Duval to take Philippe from the Bastille and install him in another prison on the coast. Fortunately for Colbert and D’Artagnan, they learn of Philippe’s fate from Louis’ reluctant and disenchanted mistress Louise de La Vallière and plot to rescue the royal twin and continue with their plot to replace him with Louis.

When I saw “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” for the first time, I thought it was perfect. Flawless. And it became one of my favorite Alexandre Dumas adaptations and television movies for years. After my recent viewing of the television movie, I now realize that it is not perfect. I feel that screenwriter William Bast had changed one aspect of Dumas’ novel, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”, that had an impact on the 1977 movie’s narrative. The novel had portrayed Louis as the older twin and rightful king of France. For some reason, Bast had made Philippe the oldest twin. Why? I have no idea. To justify Philippe’s theft of the French throne? Unfortunately, this narrative change left me wondering why Philippe, as the “older twin” was not allowed to be his father’s heir and later, successor. In one scene, Colbert explained that former French minister and lover of the twins’ mother Queen Anne, Cardinal Mazarin, had Philippe taken away following the latter’s birth, in order to manipulate then King Louis XIII. This explanation struck me as lame and confusing. And Bast should have never changed this aspect of Dumas’ plot.

Many moviegoers have become increasingly critical of any production that have not closely adhere to its literary source over the years. I have no idea how many of them felt about this 1977 television movie. But I have a pretty good idea how I feel about it. Although I found the major change mentioned in the above paragraph troubling, I had no problems with many of other Bast’s changes. I have read Dumas’ novel. It was interesting . . . to say the least. I have no problems reading or watching a story with a downbeat ending if it suits the narrative or if I am in the mood to embrace it. I have never been in the mood to embrace Dumas’ 1847-50 novel. Which would probably explain why I enjoyed the changes in this adaptation a lot. But wait . . . extreme changes had been made in other adaptations of “The Vicomte de Bragelonne”. What was it about this particular adaptation that I enjoyed? I found it better written than the other adaptations.

For me, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” was a tight and well-written story that did not drag or rush the movie’s narrative. Which is more than I can say for Dumas’ story. Most Dumas’ adaptations tend to be part-dramas/part-swashbucklers. “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” – at least this version – seemed to be eighty-five percent drama and fifteen percent action. In fact, the only real action sequence in this production turned out to be D’Artagnan’s rescue of Philippe from the coastal prison. And if I must be honest, I thought Mike Newell’s direction, Freddie Young’s cinematography and Bill Blunden’s editing made that sequence a tense, yet exciting affair.

However, the meat of “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” centered around its dramatic scenes. Thanks to Newell’s direction, Bast’s screenplay and a talented cast, the television movie featured some very memorable scenes. Among my favorites are Philippe’s discovery that he is the King of France’s twin brother, Louis’ malicious reaction to his failure to impress Louise de La Vallière, a tense conversation between Philippe and Queen Marie-Therese, and the last verbal duel between Colbert and Fouquet. If I had to select my absolute favorite scene, it had to be the one that featured Louis’ “Sun King” ballet, Louise’s failure to be impressed and Louis’ malicious act of using the Queen as a scapegoat for his embarrassment.

As I had earlier stated, the dramatic scenes in “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” would have never been fully satisfying to me without its top notch cast. Yes, there were solid performances from the likes of Denis Lawson, Hugh Fraser and Brenda Bruce. But I found myself impressed by other members of the cast. They include Vivien Merchant, who did an excellent job in conveying Queen Marie-Therese’s mixed emotions toward her emotionally abusive spouse – whether it was desire, resentment or a combination of both. Ian Holm was excellent as Minister Fouchet’s aide, the Chevalier Duval, who seemed to be brimming with cunning intelligence and stealth. I would never associate Louis Jordan portraying a swashbuckling figure. But I must admit that he made an excellent man-of-action in his portrayal of the experienced, competent and quick-thinking D’Artagnan.

Jenny Agutter gave a sublime and passionate performance as Louise de La Vallière, Louis’ reluctant mistress who ended up falling in love with the latter’s twin. Ralph Richardson’s portrayal of France’s finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert struck me as one of the more entertaining performances in the production. I found Richardson’s Colbert cunning, intelligent, patient and more importantly – at least to me – witty. I have seen Patrick McGoohan in several heroic and villainous roles. But I must admit that his Nicolas Fouquet struck me as one of the most subtlety portrayed villains I have ever seen on screen. McGoohan’s Fouquet could give Sheev Palpatine from the STAR WARS saga stiff competition when it comes to subtle villainy. And I like subtle villains. I find them more dangerous.

If I had to give an award for the best performance in “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK”, I would give it to its leading man, Richard Chamberlain. Mind you, Chamberlain had to portray two characters – the decent, yet slightly hot-headed Philippe Bourbon; and the vain and egotistic King Louis XIV. Mind you, I thought Chamberlain did an excellent job of conveying Philippe’s sense of confusion, anger and passion. But the actor’s portrayal of Louis literally knocked my socks off. Chamberlain’s performance was not over-the-top. He did a subtle job of conveying Louis’ villainy. And yet, he managed to inject a great deal of – how can I put it – joie de vivre quality in his performance that I found truly entertaining. There was no doubt that Chamberlain’s Louis was a villain. But his Louis proved to be one of the most entertaining villains I have seen on screen.

I realize that I have yet to discuss the television movie’s production values. We are talking about the 1970s. Although I can recall a good number of television miniseries with first-rate production values, I cannot say the same about several period television productions from both sides of the Atlantic. And “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” is a television movie with 100 minutes running time. However, I thought its production values were first-rate. Despite being a made-for-TV movie, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” was shot on several locations in both France and Great Britain. Thankfully, Freddie Young’s photography did an excellent job in enhancing those locations. John Stoll took advantage of those locations and skillfully re-created France and Louis XIV’s court of the late 1660s or early 1670s. I am not an expert of 17th century fashion – in France or anywhere else. I have no idea whether Olga Lehmann’s costume designs or Betty Glasow’s hairstyle are historically accurate. But I cannot deny that I found the hairstyles satisfying and Lehman’s costumes beautiful, as shown below:

In the end, I am happy to state that “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” remains one of my all-time favorite adaptations of an Alexandre Dumas père novel. Despite my quibble of one of William Bast’s changes in Dumas’ story, I feel more than satisfied with his other changes and thought he had presented a first-rate story. And my satisfaction also extends to Mike Newell’s top-notch direction and the excellent performances from a cast led by the always superb Richard Chamberlain.

“THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN” (2008) Review

“THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN” (2008) Review

I must admit that it took me quite a while to write a review of the 2008 cinematic installment of “THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA” saga. This second installment, “PRINCE CASPIAN”, tells the story of four Pevensie children’s return to Narnia to aid Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) in his struggle for the throne against his corrupt uncle King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto). I tried to think of something different about this chapter in compare to the first – “THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE”. But it occurred to me that my reaction to this movie seemed more or less the same as the 2005 release.

And what does that say about my feelings about “PRINCE CASPIAN”? Honestly, I thought it was a solid and entertaining film that both children and adult fans of C.S. Lewis’ saga might enjoy. That is all I can really say. There was nothing really unique about it. Like many other adaptations of literary works, “PRINCE CASPIAN” did not faithfully follow its literary counterpart. Considering that I have never read any of Lewis’ works, I was not particularly disturbed by this. The only reason I am aware of any differences between the literary and cinematic versions, is the Internet.

Like the previous movie, the cast is pretty solid. The actors who portrayed the Pevensie children returned for this sequel. Due to the rapid aging of children in general, work on the script began before “THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE” was released, so filming could begin before the actors grew too old for their parts. William Moseley (Peter), Anna Popplewell (Susan), Skandar Keynes (Edmund) and Georgie Henley (Lucy) all gave solid, yet slightly uninspiring performances as the four siblings. Whereas Keynes got the chance to show Edmund at his peevish worst in the previous film, Moseley portrayed a slightly darker side of oldest brother Peter, whose dissatisfaction with being back in England had produced boorish personality. Perhaps I should rephrase that. Peter’s boorishness, which had been hinted through his handling of Edmund in the first film, was allowed to flourish in this film. It took a military failure against the main villain to give him a boot in the ass to improve his personality. On the other hand, Edmund seemed remarkably changed for the better in this film. One critic had described him as being the film’s “Han Solo”. I would agree, except Edmund came off as more mature and intelligent than Han Solo. Anna Popplewell had convinced producer Douglas Gresham to allow Susan to appear in the movie’s major battles, because she feared the character came off as too passive in Lewis’ novel. Many fans of the novel were appalled by this. Not being a literary fan of the saga, it did not bother me at all. At least it gave her something to do. Of all the Pevensie siblings, Georgie Henley’s Lucy seemed to have changed the least. Although she seemed less tolerant of Peter’s boorishness than she was of Edmund’s darker side in the first film.

British actor Ben Barnes portrayed the title role of Prince Caspian of Telmarine with as much solid competence as the four actors who portrayed the Pevensies. Perhaps he seemed a little more competent than his younger co-stars in acting skills, but I could not sense anything remarkable about his performance. Portraying Caspian’s evil uncle and the Telmarine’s false ruler, King Miraz, was actor Sergio Castellitto. He made a very effective villain, but lacked Tilda Swanton’s memorable portrayal as the White Witch. Who, by the way, briefly returned to bring a much-needed spark in the middle of the story. If I must be honest, her brief appearance was probably the best scene in the film. But not even Swinton’s spectacular appearance could not overshadow what I feel was the best performance in the movie – namely that of Peter Dinklage as Trumpkin, a cynical red dwarf. I really enjoyed his sharp and caustic take on the dwarf, who is skeptic of the idea of Aslan and magic.

As much as I enjoyed “PRINCE CASPIAN”, I must admit that I found it no more remarkable than the first film. Also, I found it difficult to maintain interest in the film’s first half, as it switched back and forth between Caspian’s flight from his murderous uncle and the Pevensies’ arrival in Narnia. Director Andrew Adamson seemed to lack George Lucas and Peter Jackson’s talent for seamless transition between multiple story lines within one film. But once the Pevensies and Caspian finally met, the movie seemed to discover its pace as it flowed toward the heroes’ ill-fated attempt to attack upon Miraz and the final showdown. There were two scenes that gave me a sense of déjà vu – namely the attacks of the trees and the river god upon the Telmarine army. It seemed as if either Adamson or Lewis had a Tolkien moment. The attack of the trees especially reminded me of the Ents’ attack upon Isengard in the 2002 movie, “LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS”.

“PRINCE CASPIAN” was not the greatest movie I had seen during the summer of 2008. Nor is there anything unique about it. But if one can overcome the fact that it is not an exact adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ novel, he or she might find the movie quite entertaining to watch. I heartily recommend it.

EL DORADO WEST [PG] – Chapter Twelve

The following is Chapter Twelve of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849: 

Chapter Twelve – On the Trail

May 12, 1849
Tension has permeated the wagon company since Marcus Cross nearly fell into the Kanzas River, two days ago. Mr. Anderson has been trying to put an end to their feud by offering his apologies since the noon break, yesterday. But the Cross cousins maintained their distance. As far as they were concerned, the Louisiana emigrant had been careless. 

The Delaware cousins’ hostile silence finally cracked during supper, today. After Marcus Cross rebuked another one of Mr. Anderson’s apologies, the latter turned away, mumbling complaints about ”bad” manners. It turned out to be the last straw for the Delaware native. Mr. Cross grabbed Mr. Anderson by the lapels of the his coat and punched him in the jaw. Intervention by Mr. John Cross, Mr. James and Mr. Wendell prevented the younger Cross cousin from committing further assault.

“I want that bastard hanged!” Mr. Anderson had cried. “That man tried to kill me!” His cries came to naught, for most of the company did not want to get involved in the feud between and the Cross cousins – even if most of them sympathized with the Delaware men.

Whatever feelings most of the company possessed, everyone’s main concern seemed to be that the two feuding men should remain apart. According to Mr. James, there was nothing more destructive to a wagon train than dissention among the emigrants. While the Cross cousins traveled behind the Robbins wagon, Mr. Anderson and his companions traveled at the rear.

May 18, 1849
Nearly two weeks had passed since our departure from Westport. By this time, a daily pattern had emerged for our trek west. The company usually started the day around five in the morning. While a handful of men tended to the stock, other emigrants – both men and women – gathered wood and water for breakfast. Mr. James refuses to allow any of the women to wander off alone. The women usually finished preparing breakfast by six-thirty, which was eaten by seven o’clock. After the company hitched up the wagons, another day’s journey would commence.

Around noon, the wagon train usually formed a circle to guard against marauding Indians (which we have yet to encounter) and prevent the stock from wandering. Only water was usually gathered for the midday meals. Mr. James had suggested we eat cold dinners around this time of the day and save the next hot meal for suppers. The noon halt usually lasted an hour before we set out on the road again.

The second half of a day’s journey usually ended around six o’clock. Mr. James informed us that when the days began to get shorter by September, the company’s evening halt would begin an hour earlier. September? That is four months away. How long will it take us to reach California?

Again, the men gathered water and wood. The women prepared the meals and we all ate supper. It was usually around this time when Mr. James would entertain us with one of his tales about the West or the Palmer brothers would engage in their outrageous sense of humor. One of our Tennesseeans, the younger Mr. Goodwin, seemed slightly perplexed by the New Englanders’ humor.

“What’s wrong with our humor?” Warren Palmer demanded in a more sober mood.

Jonas Goodwin admitted that he found them entertaining. “It’s just that I always thought you Yankees were a serious lot. You know – religious and penny pinching. With no sense of humor.”

Both Palmers broke into laughter. “Ah, the very image of Brother Jonathan himself,” Richard Palmer said with a twinkle in his eyes. “I reckon there are a good number of such men in our part of the country. Since traveling cross country, I’ve noticed that they seemed to be all over. Maybe even in Tennessee?”

The elder Mr. Goodwin spoke up in defense of his son and state. “Now, I would not exactly say that, sir. True, we have a lot of God fearing folk in Tennessee. But I don’t know about penny pinchers.”

“I’m from Kentucky,” Mr. Robbins said. “And I have certainly encountered a good number of Brother Jonathan types there. And in Virginia. I’ll tell you what. How many of you have encountered these Brother Jonathan types back home? With no sense of humor?”

Nearly everyone raised their hands, save the Goodwins and Mr. Anderson. The latter shot warning looks at his female companions. But they refused to be intimidated and raised their hands. “This is nonsense!” The younger Mr. Goodwin cried out. “But all of y’all are Yankees!”

Elias Wendell revealed that he was from Maryland. The Crosses mentioned that Delaware was a border state. Each of Mr. Anderson’s female companions stated that their birthplaces were Augusta, Georgia and Baton Rouge, Louisiana respectively. Mr. James added, “Although I’ve been living in Ohio these past two decades, I’m originally from North Carolina. Just goes to show you, Mr. Goodwin, it don’t do to judge a book by its cover. A fine old adage to follow, if you ask me.”

Unable to support his earlier belief, young Mr. Goodwin acknowledged defeat . . . with good grace, I might add. However, Mr. Anderson seemed annoyed by the whole matter. Some people simply do not want to learn.

End of Chapter Twelve