"You know, Ray, it's really bad, you living out in the country all alone. You really need to find someone, settle down. . . ."
"Manny, I was married. It didn't work out. It happens."
"Yeah, it didn't work out because you left on that two-year tour of duty in the Middle East and never wrote or called her."
"Oh, that . . ."
"Yeah, and didn't Sharon run off and start screaming on mountaintops after she left you?"
"It's called primal scream therapy, Manny, and it's supposed to cleanse your psyche."
"I bet it did. What ever happened to her?"
"After she got all that screaming out of her system, she went off to Alaska and did some go-go dancing. Last I heard, she got involved with some fellow who runs an oil drilling company. Lives in the lap of luxury, with her two-point-two kids or whatever."
"Are you seeing anyone now?"
"Oh, yeah, her name is Patricia. Tall, beautiful, great body. She's lots of fun, when I get around to seeing her."
Although Ray couldn't observe Gonzales' reactions, he learned later what the old soldier thought about the situation.
Stop the idle chitchat and get to the point, Ray. You and I know you didn't call just to pass the time of day, Gonzales wondered as he nervously began to pace his living room floor.
"Ray, women need attention. You can't keep relationships like that . . ." He hesitated a moment. "I know you didn't call just to bring me up on local gossip. What's up?"
Gonzales sat down again. His wife, Anna, always got bent out of shape when he drummed his fingers on the table; this time, he couldn't help it. His well-honed instincts, earned during a long stint as an intelligence officer, made him suspect Ray was about to say something he shouldn't be saying.
"I just read this story in the newspaper about aliens in Area 51. . . ."
"Oh, that stuff," Gonzales laughed. "Hell, they've been making claims about that crap for years!"
Ray's voice became a little louder now, revealing a trace of anger and frustration. "Please, let me explain. I don't know if it's true or not. Something about it sounds real. That's what the dreams are telling me."
Gonzales just sighed a couple of times. He had heard about those recurring nightmares in excruciating detail, over and over again. He tried to be understanding, but sometimes Ray became too annoying and he'd impatiently end a call, pretending there was something that needed his immediate attention elsewhere. When Ray started writing his first computer game, basing it on his dreams, Gonzales thought Ray should promptly check back in with the mental hospital . . . until Rockoids became the hottest-selling computer game in the country less than a year later.
Ray felt uneasy, not knowing what Gonzales was up to. At first he was seated during the conversation, but he soon got up and paced the floor.
"I don't know what the hell I'm gonna find, but I've gotta get in that place. I feel there's something . . something important out there . . . something I gotta find. If you don't help me, I'll find someone who will."
Gonzales was silent for a moment, then sighed audibly. "Ray, this is nuts. There's nothing weird over there. They just test new weapons, that's all. There are no gray aliens."
"Manny . . . ."
"You just want to get it on with this alien chick." Gonzales laughed aloud, but had a strong feeling he was going to regret hearing what Ray was about to say.
"Damn it, Manny, just listen to me already! She's calling out to me. She's somehow involved with that war in space I keep dreaming about. Her anguish, her pain, I feel it. Sometimes I even feel her presence when I'm awake. I have to find her . . . I have to.
"Besides, these aliens aren't gray. They look like us."
Gonzales gasped, but his mind was racing a mile a minute.
Damn you, Frank, his thoughts turned to Ray's late father, as if thoughts could be read in the afterlife. I can't believe you told him that! After all we went through when we first saw that place. How could you?
Gonzales then thought better of it. There was no way Ray's father, himself a skilled intelligence professional, would spill the beans. Somehow Ray just knew . . .