(image: Lightning Over Colorado, Joe Randall, APOD)
So, well, uh, it’s beginning to feel a lot like…
a) Christmas b) winter c) just cold as hell d) all of these
…up here on the mountain. Zero degrees F last night, of course with blowing snow and 60mph winds. Nice sunbathing weather, I assume, for penguins – and those with a loose grip on reality.
A few new books on the bookshelf came in recently, a few you might want to consider as this winter blows in. “The Nicene Heresy – Christendom and War: Reverence and Critique” by Blasé Bonpane, a priest of all things, with an interesting take on Just War theory. “At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others” by Sarah Bakewell, concerning the origins of post-war liberation movements. Food for thought, anyway. Both available on Amazon, or at your “local bookseller” (if there remains such a thing).
Prozac deprived James Howard Kunstler, over at his “Clusterfuck” blog, provided an entertaining read this morning, as did the always entertaining Chris Hedges, over at Truthdig. Hell, I think they may both be severely Prozac deprived, but their thoughts on current events are certainly off the main trail of current journalistic practice, and therefore worth a look from time to time.
Which brings us to the main subject of this post, Politically Incorrect Thought and the tolerance (or lack thereof) of viewpoints different than one’s own. This would seem to be an issue of greater relevance now than at any time in my somewhat long life.
We have Native American protesters in North Dakota being hit with water cannons while protesting drilling and pipeline construction in and around their land(s), and we have the Klan staging a Trump Victory Parade in North Carolina, yet once again it’s Yeats to the rescue:
If thus thou speakest, thou wilt have hatred from me, and will justly be subject to the lasting hatred of the dead. But leave me, and the folly that is mine alone, to suffer this dread thing; for I shall not suffer aught so dreadful as an ignoble death.
Sophocles | Antigone
He was tired. He had been all week, but there was nothing new about being tired. Not these days, not in these times.
Being tired went with the job. The endless day-in and day-out of life on the streets. Minutes to hours, hours to days. Days into weeks, and on and on into months. Endless, pitiless time, time without end, streets without end. Jackals dancing around fires at midnight, jackals with their faces aglow, glowing with the blood of innocence dripping from their red-eyed, snarling lips.
His name was Mathias Polk, though almost everyone called him Mattie, and he’d been with the department for – what? – almost fourteen years now? Long enough to have looked on helplessly as one marriage washed away in floods of doubt and recrimination, long enough to know his second marriage was weakening under new, freshening tides of doubt.
No, he knew he was more than tired, and the knowledge wasn’t always so easy to hide from these days.
Hiding in plain sight, wasn’t that what he’d thought once? That’s what it felt like, this being a black man – in a white man’s world. Enforcing the white man’s law, playing by his rules – even when they turned their backs to you. When you walked into the briefing room and you felt their eyes burning into the back of your skull; when you walked through a store and could feel the hate growing all around you…surrounding you, choking you off?
But it hadn’t always been that way.
No, he remembered a time not so long ago, perhaps not so far away, when things had been different. When differences had been papered over; before animosities, banked down and seething, had resurfaced – boiling up like black tar from deep within the earth, waiting to spread out over the land and smother everything again.
And he was beginning to hate the projects again, hate the way his own people turned away with sidelong glances when they saw his patrol car turn into their neighborhood. Hate the way his Brother Officers, his Brother – White – Officers grew quiet when he joined them on the street at a hot call. Hated being black, because in their eyes he couldn’t be trusted.
But it hadn’t always been that way, even just a few years ago. No, everything had changed – to the way things had been a long time ago.
He felt that same kind of tired, the kind of tired he’d hoped to never feel again – the kind of tired you feel when something evil you thought was long dead and gone suddenly, unexpectedly, returns in the night. The kind of tired you feel because you’re black, because you were born with black skin, and you can’t keep running from the kinds of differences people force on you, ram down your throat until you choke.
But he was tired of being a black cop most of all. Tired of the whispered, sidelong glances. Tired of being cast aside by his own people, tired of waiting for acceptance he knew would never come from his Fellow – White – Officers, and not just because his skin was a different color than their’s. No, not just that.
Because it HAD been better, and then overnight, in a flash, it was all gone.
‘It’s like no matter where I go, no matter what I do, I’m always gonna be on the outside – always on the outside, lookin’ in…because that’s where they put me, where they say I belong.’
And it would always be that way, he didn’t have to add, because that’s just the way things were. There’d been a brief flowering of acceptance, then all that hate had come welling back up from the deepest, darkest places of the soul.
Fourteen years and still a patrolman, despite having aced the Sergeant’s Exam – twice. As in: two years running, beating out everyone else. As in, being passed over – because in their eyes I’m just a Nigger, a Second Class Citizen not worthy of rank. And I’ll never be more than that in ‘their’ eyes. ‘I’m not an African-American, and I’m not even a black man. I’m a Nigger, plain and simple. Nothing’s ever really changed, not really, and nothing ever will.’
Yet he’d graduated near the top of his class at Ole Miss – the University of Mississippi – with a major in Sociology and a minor in Political Science. He’d grown up in Oxford and wanted to be a politician, too, or at least that’s what he’d told himself all those years ago, before he’d seen the light. “You’re either a part of the problem – or a part of the solution,” the old saying went, but by then he’d begun to see politicians as just one part of a bigger problem. He’d never be able to change human nature, so he’d decided to help where he thought he was needed most.
He turned on the radio, started singing with the music…
Out here in the fields
I fight for my meals
I get my back into my living
I don’t need to fight
To prove I’m right
I don’t need to be forgiven
He wanted to make a difference, and the only place he could was out here – out here in the fields, and then he was screaming the lyrics:
It’s only teenage wasteland
Because that’s what it felt like now. A wasteland. Drugs everywhere, no personal responsibility. Politicians at every level had sold us out – not just his people, but everyone, the entire country. Idealists all, once they got in office they acted like whores, they spread their legs for anyone with money, and the more life ‘educated’ him, the more aware he became of this one self-evident truth: Money is Power. Democrat, Republican – didn’t matter: ‘We, the People’ was an abstract promise that held little relevance today, and the rising tide of mediocrity that had flocked to public service as a result was a joke, a new class of self-interested charlatans.
Clinton sold out black people just much as Reagan and Bush had, only when he sold welfare reform to – ‘We, the people’ – it turned out welfare reform meant prison privatization. Don’t give a man on the ‘down-and-out’ a hand-out when it was much more profitable to stick his ass in prison! Why give a black man twenty large when you can give sixty to your cousin – so long as he’s in the prison biz? And who cares if the judges are invested in the system up to their eyeballs, the prosecutors, too. No sir, the rich get richer and the poor get – children? Always been that way…always will be, too. Might as well get used to that, boy, so harness up and get ready to pull that plow. Maybe they get us to pickin’ they cotton again, and real soon, too.
Yet he’d just bought a house out on the east side of town, and he had a daughter in middle school now, another kid on the way. “Isn’t that funny?” he said as the music ended. “Or is that what you call irony? Because haven’t I sold out, too?” he continued, talking to himself now as he drove down one bleak street after another.
Because he knew that, now, going on forty years old, being a cop was likely all he’d ever be. He’d never be mayor, never run for congress – and he’d never teach at the university – but he’d contribute as best he could, even if that meant being out here, driving these mean streets day in and day out, if that’s what it was going to take to feed and clothe his kids, then so be it: that’s what he’d do.
He turned on Locust Street, saw his mother’s house ahead, the house his great-grandfather’d built almost a hundred years ago. Two spare little rooms, wood frame on cast concrete blocks, copperheads nesting in the uncut grass. A cinder block chimney to the wood stove for heat in the winter, a couple of ceiling fans for air conditioning in summer, and as he approached he saw his mother in her rocking chair on the front porch, sitting in the shade with a glass of lemonade by her side.
GiddyMay Polk’s hair was white now, white as driven snow, and he saw she was reading the newspaper as she rocked her morning away. He checked out on the radio and parked along the street, then walked up to the porch.
She looked up when she finally heard him come up, and the smile he saw brightened more than just a little. “Ooh, look at you! So right and proud in that fancy uniform!”
“Hi, mom,” he said, smiling, “anything good in the paper?”
“Oh, ain’t much good in the paper these days, no sirree, but that President Carpenter coming to town sure has things riled up, that’s for sure…”
He smiled, tried his best to ignore the very idea of Carpenter coming to the University. The man was considered by most – even by many in his own party – to be a bigot of the highest order, and though the Klan loved him, the Southern Poverty Law Center ranked him the most racist American president since, well, since whenever. But none of that mattered now, not in the least, not after the past several years of police crack-downs and renewed urban pacification, yet he’d somehow felt even more ostracized since Carpenter’s re-election bid was announced. It was like he was living in a different country now, and he expected a renewed campaign of lynchings and church burnings to come to Oxford any day now.
“What was it like, Momma, back then?’
“Back when, Mattie?”
“Back, you know, when the Klan was around?”
“Boy, you must think I’m older than Methuselah!”
“And you were born when?”
“Ooh, you! You know you ain’t s’posed to ask your momma things like that…”
“1936, wasn’t it?”
She looked away, looked away from those memories, away from all the feelings in her gut she’d tried so hard to forget –
The hiding behind trees when boys in pickups cruised the neighborhood, looking for someone to rape…
The walking into stores, everyone’s eyes following her every movement, because they just knew she was there to steal something…
Sitting in the back of the classroom, not bothering to raise her hand because all her teachers ignored her…just like she didn’t even exist – because, she knew, she didn’t – not in their world, anyway.
And she turned to her son and looked at him. “What do you want me to say, Mattie? What can I tell you, hmm? – that you don’t already know?”
“But he’s coming here, Momma…”
“He’s the President, son. It’s his country now, and I kinda think he’s entitled to go wherever he wants…”
“I know, Momma, but…”
“But nothin’!” she said, her voice full of anger. “This is the way things are, the way things always have been. You best get used to it, Mattie, or you ain’t gonna last out here. It’s like that song, ‘cause there ain’t no place to run, no place to hide.”
“Get used to it?” Mathias Polk sighed. “Get used to all that hate again, Momma, because my skin’s black? You sayin’ that’s all there is, that’s all there’s ever gonna be…?”
She shrugged, looked him in the eye: “You got to lay low when times like this come ‘round again, Mattie…like them poor Jews, back in Germany…”
“Lay low?! Momma, we been layin’ low ever since creation! You tellin’ me we always gonna be layin’ low? When does our layin’ low stop?”
“Mattie, hate’s like that. It’s not just born to some folks, waiting for release.” She paused, took a deep breath. “No Mattie,” she continued, sweeping her hand across the universe, “hate’s out there, always. You too, Mattie. Hate’s waiting to catch you unawares, so it can fill your heart. That’s the way it’s always been, so yes, Mathias, that’s all there is, all there’s ever gonna be. Nothin’s gonna change what is. Besides, I don’t think God wants it that way – because he wants us to struggle.”
She started rocking again, picked up her paper and started reading again, and he turned away in despair and walked back to his patrol car.
She watched him out of the corner of her eye, then she shook her head and wiped away her fear. “But don’t you forget about love, Mattie,” she whispered. “Love’s out there, too, watching over you, and waiting.”
The man held the Colt M4’s receiver up to the light, making sure he’d oiled the slide for the umpteenth time, and that he’d not smeared any residue near the ejection port. Oil got hot in there, got sticky and caused jams, so he ran his rag over the area again, just to made sure he was down to dry, bare metal.
His name was Cleetus Owen, but he went by Mohamed Ali these days, because he’d always respected the boxer – until things had turned again, that is. He’d seen action in Desert Storm, then pulled a long stretch in Croatia and Serbia, and he’d lost count of how many ‘ragheads’ he’d killed in Kuwait. After twenty years service he went home, home just in time for the bottom to fall out, but he didn’t think about all the people he’d killed over the years.
“Until the bottom fell out,” he said as he reassembled the receiver.
He’d known respect in the Army, and nobody had cared about the color of his skin in combat. He’d learned that when you bleed, you bleed the same stuff no matter what color your skin is. White man, black or brown, makes no difference, ‘cause underneath all our apparent differences we’re all just the same.
“Blood is blood, ain’t it?”
Then the crash on top of 9/11, and all of a sudden fear was the name of the game. The age old game he’d seen in Serbia and Croatia came home to roost; control the masses by injecting fear everywhere the public gathers. Distort all news to fit the new paradigm. All the old jobs are gone, so blame that fact of life on all “the others” – the people different from “us” – so when there’s no money you know who to blame.
“Hates a good thing,” he said. “Hate keeps you warm in winter, don’t it?”
But a lot of the people getting out of the military were sick, many more had suffered life-altering injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet the VA turned out to be just another joke, another political piñata tossed around in the culture wars. Go there with a cold and you might get seen – in a few months – if you were one of the lucky, chosen few, that is. If you were white, maybe, just maybe your chances were better, but not much.
When the dreams started – the vivid, nightmarish dreams about killing or getting killed started – when he couldn’t even sleep away the depression that had come for him, he’d gone to the VA and asked for help, again. And again. And been turned away again, and again. “Get in line,” someone told him, half in jest, “take a number.” But there weren’t numbers for niggers, were there?
“Because we’re all niggers now, no matter what color our skin is.”
So much talk about inequality, then the courts legalized political bribery and what was left? Then one day he was walking out of a convenience store – when the cops pulled up, guns drawn.
“Stop!” the first cop yelled as the man scrambled out of his patrol car. “Hands where I can see ‘em!”
“Down on your knees, mother fucker, and get your hands on top of your head!”
Tackled, cuffed and transported – not charged with robbery – but with resisting arrest. Sent to Central Mississippi Correctional. Two years down that first time, but oh, the lessons he’d learned in there. He’d finally gotten the education he needed at Central, because all the bitter truths he’d never heard before were revealed inside that old, worn out cage, and the truth came easy to someone who’d only seen the lessons applied overseas before. How rights became privileges doled out by the men in charge, how you controlled a population first with fear, then with starvation. If it worked over there, why not here?
The brothers ran Central’s school, lot’s of ex-military in there too, and class was usually held out in the rec yard, sometimes in the weight room – and always at night, just after lights out. Martin Luther King had been the white man’s stooge, he learned, King’s message of non-violence just the con the white man needed to help put the black man back in his place, boarded-up in their ghettos – out of sight, out of mind one more time. All the gains blacks won under Kennedy and LBJ came at the point of a bayonet, from under the barrel of a gun, then through the black smoke of Molotov cocktails. Cities were burning in the sixties – weren’t they? – and suddenly Whitey had grown very afraid. And when Whitey was afraid, he negotiated, didn’t he?
But they weren’t negotiating anymore – no, not now? Not after 9/11. Lines had been drawn in the sand, and the dividing line between the Haves and the Have Nots had never been more razor sharp, but then people on the inside started seeing a new way forward. These people were taking up the challenge, men in uniform mostly, angry men who’d been betrayed by a crumbling system. They started recruiting in places like Central, ex-military for the most part, building a movement, stoking fires too long banked down.
Because these powerful men had finally figured out the civil rights movement had been a sham, a well planned ruse, a dodge to keep slaves bottled up in their new Sowetos. And that’s what this prison was…a new ghetto. A place to warehouse the malcontents and dispossessed this culture grew…like bacteria.
He’d lay out there in the prison yard thinking about all he’d just learned in class, about the things he wanted to do when he got out, the impossible life he wanted to make for himself on the outside. He lay out there under the sun, looking up at clouds passing by overhead, wondering what it was like to be as free as a cloud. Like a lily white cloud, free to go wherever the winds carried him. And yet here he was – locked up in the Man’s mother-fuckin’ cage – because he’d asked – ‘what?’
When Clinton came in the nineties, he made a lot of noise promising real change. And yeah, there’d been change alright, and that change had landed on his people like another Plymouth Rock. Welfare gone, private prisons erected in it’s place. Look at Whitey the wrong way and you went down, ‘cause Whitey wasn’t gonna take your lip no more. Then the stories started coming out in the news, how judges and prosecutors were invested in these new private prisons…and with all the politicians bought and paid for there was no way to change a thing. The people were trapped, only they hadn’t figured it out yet. Maybe the news would come out during the halftime report, between beer commercials?
And so, like as it had with many of his brothers-in-arms, Owen’s anger turned inward, inside to that much darker place – where nightmares are born and like to hide. And as he listened to all those lessons in the prison yard – with all that darkness now close to his heart, growing day by day – he listened to his brothers as they plotted revenge, and his anger had an outlet now. His hate had a place to go. Sitting in his cell at night, hate kept him company, talked to him, filled him with all sorts of new ideas.
And yet, right after his release a black man was elected president and suddenly all that hatre just kind of disappeared under a wave of hope. Hope You Can Believe In, or some such drivel. But that Hope was palpable, something he could feel, something stronger than Hate he could, indeed, believe in.
For a while, anyway.
Then one day he watched a brother get gunned down in the street by The Man, and then he saw the black president was just like all the rest, maybe even worse, because his was two faced. Telling the people what they wanted to hear, then going along with The Man’s agenda – and his Hate started bubbling back to the surface. And then one night he was stopped again – for Jaywalking this time – and he was arrested for resisting arrest – again. Second offense, aggravated, so three years down this time, three more years of school, three more years of honing the dark edge of his Hate.
And after three years, his Hate had a very sharp edge indeed.
When he got out he laid low this time – laid low with his brothers – waiting. Waiting for just the right time – and when Carpenter was elected everyone knew it was time. Hate had been turned loose by all sides with his election, but the battle lines had been drawn ages ago. The battle would be joined, this time, with more organized opposition. Starting with a lightning strike to the heart of the beast.
And Cleetus Owen was ready. Ready when men in green uniforms came calling, ready to answer the call of duty once again. There was still time for a little revolution, the men who recruited him said, time for some payback, if that’s what he wanted. To remind all the Monday morning patriots they couldn’t shit all over constitution – without some payback? Yessiree, every dog has it’s day, and the politicians had lost touch with the people and served a new master, but their payback was comin’ soon enough.
He was taking the bus home one afternoon and looked up, saw a billboard beside the road – Carpenter For President – all there in red, white and blue, and then he looked up at the clouds drifting free on carefree winds – and he smiled at his chosen fate.
‘Oh my,’ he thought. ‘I wonder if my edge is hot enough to cut a cloud?’
Richard Krumnow tried to ignore the sounds of his wife in the other room. The calculator spitting out numbers, the pen scratching out checks, paying bills they could hardly afford to pay. Always paying bills – and never enough money to balance the books.
Always enough work, but half his customers these days were stiffing him. Same story, different chapter, but the money just wasn’t comin’ in like it used to, and he almost wondered how bad it would be this week, but not really. No, not really. You have to care to wonder about things like that. You have to know, really know, that things are getting better, that things are going to change. You have to believe the promises politicians make, instead of realizing that all their promises are empty, that your despair means something, really means something to the people he voted for.
But times had changed once again, and people didn’t take responsibility like they used to – and he felt the thought oddly funny. Given what had happened…
Because something inside snapped a few weeks ago, and after that he’d stopped caring about everything. So what if he did work for people and they didn’t pay him? If they didn’t care – well then – why should he? If they called at two in the morning when their toilets overflowed, when they called after their hot water heater fractured and spilled layers of rusty sludge out on their new carpet…well, if it was so important then, why not when it came time to write the check? People didn’t care so much anymore when that time rolled around, did they? No, things were breaking down, people felt no responsibility to anyone but themselves. The things that used to hold communities together were rusty now, crumbling before his eyes.
“Dick? Looks like we’re about three hundred short this week…”
“That’s nice,” he said. He stood, went to the kitchen and got another beer from the ‘fridge, walked back to the sofa and picked up the remote. “Well, what’ll it be this fine afternoon? Kelly’s Heroes – or, let’s see, looks like True Grit?” Did he want his virtue soiled this afternoon, or shining pure from beneath a layer of Hollywood corn?
“Dick? You hear me?”
“Reckon I did,” he said to the fat shrew in the next room.
“What do you want me to do? I can’t call the bank – again…?”
“Remember,” she said – her reply at the ready. “We need to get another collection agency.”
“Why? They’re all thieves.”
And he heard her then, muttering the same words under her breath, “They’re all thieves, aren’t they, Dick…they always are, every one of them…all out to get you…”
How had he ended up with such a raging bitch? Nag-nag-nag, and always about money, too. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the cunt hadn’t gained four hundred pounds since she’d gone into menopause, but she’d gained so much tonnage he’d had to buy two seatbelt extenders for her side of the car – and the fucking freezer was full of ice-cream bars! A box a day, 3,000 calories in fat and sugar, then another 300 bucks in monthly copays for her insulins. What the fuck was wrong with her? Had she lost all self-respect? Had EVERYONE lost all self-respect?
And how long had he been cheating on her?
He had to stop and think about that one for a minute. Three years? Maybe four? Usually girls after their shift at Burger King come over to Joe’s Place for a drink or two before heading home to their vibrators, but more than a few of his customers who wanted to renegotiate their bills, too. And why the hell not? He had needs, didn’t he? He needed love as much as anyone, but all love was gone when he walked in the front door these days. Love was a cold memory that offered no comfort, just the stinging bite of her shrewish voice nagging about money…
And that’s when it all hit the fan. When need exploded and found him wanting.
One of those nice houses out on Exbury. Stopped-up sink, cute little blond, flirty as hell. He guessed she’d clogged the sink deliberately, maybe because she wanted a little work done on her own plumbing? She’d gone down on him so fast it wasn’t even funny, and she’d been the best little cocksucker he’d ever run across in his life. She took him to the edge and let him drift down, then brought him all the way back up again. When he couldn’t stand it any longer he told her he wanted to fuck her, that he NEEDED to fuck her, and when she said “Only in the ass, Dickie…” he’d sworn he’d died and gone to heaven. He plowed his raging hard-on up her ass and for the first time in ages felt an ethereal love for this vixen, the siren’s song of a million better tomorrows dancing through the cobwebs…
And after he’d filled her ass she’d turned over, and the little bitch had a nice little six inch cock dangling between her legs…
And so, yeah, something inside the cobwebs snapped, gave way, and he drifted over the edge for a moment – then pulled back.
He’d turned and gone for his tool belt, and the little bitch looked like she, or he, was just waiting for it…like the kid had always wanted to be knocked around a little bit…but she couldn’t see the danger she was in, could she? She wanted her place in the world, a place without prices, without due dates…a place without consequences…
He’d taken a three inch pipe wrench from his face and turned, swung it into the kid’s face.
About fifteen, maybe twenty times.
He stopped and looked at the kid when his own breathing became erratic, but he didn’t even have to check for a pulse. Brains all over the room, on his uniform, in his hair…so he’d cleaned himself up as best he could and left. He got to the truck and sat there in shock, crying for a while – until he knew he had to get the fuck out of the neighborhood, had to wash away the evidence. When he drove home he thought about words like responsibility and consequence and suddenly saw this little murder as symbolic of the age he lived in. Nothing was what it was supposed to be anymore…love and desire had grown into dark, inverted things.
But so what? There would be no consequences, would there? Because that too was the way things were now.
But he’d been waiting for a knock on the door ever since. How could the cops not put two and two together? Just look at the phone records and bam, they’d have him.
Then he’d figured it out. The murder was on the evening news the next night, and they’d identified the kid as a habitual crossdresser, a transsexual and a troubled teenager, his parents out of town on business. And that was that. Nothing more about it on the news, no knock on the door. The kid was a fag and he’d gotten what he deserved, and that was the end of the story. Hell, they had about a million gallons of his cum up the kid’s ass…what the fuck else did they need? Apparently nothing, because his had been a crime truly no one cared about. Even the kid’s parents seemed like they knew an end like this was coming, and they seemed almost glad their ordeal was over.
But his ordeal wasn’t over. No, not in the least.
Because he’d never enjoyed himself with a woman like he’d enjoyed his time with that kid. He’d been working up the nerve to ask if she’d like to, maybe, you know, go out on a date or something sometime? He’d been attracted to everything about the kid, hadn’t he?
Maybe that’s why he snapped?
Because he’d been so shocked and disappointed?
Or maybe because he wasn’t so disappointed? Because maybe the kid being a tranny turned him on even more, and when that inversion finally registered in his mind – when everything he thought he knew about himself grew distorted and ugly – he broke in two. And when he saw Doris once he got home that night he knew something inside was broken beyond repair. There was no going back this time. No excuses he could make to himself.
And he’d been haunted by that kid ever since, in his dreams mostly, but more often now he saw the kid smiling at him just before he came…and she came to him in his dreams pure as driven snow every time now, a girl so gorgeous it took his breath away, then he’d see himself in the dream, a caricature of himself, really, like he only existed inside a carnival mirror. His body all wavy and distorted, his face a mishmash of lies and betrayals, then the kid started turning over – revealing himself anew in each dream, that little cock waving in the air like a battle flag. He tried to fight his desire but there was only one end – swinging that pipe wrench over and over until he woke up gasping for breath again.
And yet, when he woke up he knew the only person he’d ever lied to or betrayed was himself. Why else had he remained married to that loathsome creature beside him in his bed?
And now he heard her in the other room, grousing about not having enough food in the house, and his lips quivered in feral rage as he thought about her ice cream and insulin in the ‘fridge. He sat in indecision for a moment, wondering if he’d rather beat her face in with the same wrench he killed the kid with, or just go to the bedroom and do her with his old Kimber 45 ACP.
He figured putting her out of his misery wasn’t really worth that much effort on his part, so decided to go for his trusty old Kimber. ‘Two rounds,’ he said to himself, ‘ought to do it…assuming a hollow point can get through all that fucking blubber…’
The quarterback took off his helmet and walked to the sideline, flexing his right shoulder as he walked. He looked at the coach standing there – clipboard in hand, deep scowl etched on face – getting ready for the inevitable barrage of sarcasm just waiting to boil over.
“You’ve got to get out of the goddamn pocket quicker than that, Dalton, if you’re going to get that pass off, before the strong-side L-B nails your pussy ass.”
“I know, Coach.”
“You know? Do you, really? If Walker had hit you any harder we’d be straining the remains for pieces of your brains into the night.” Coach was mad today, like he was for every Wednesday afternoon practice. Tomorrow would be ‘build ’em back up for game day’ day, while Friday would be filled with Skull Sessions – so-called strategy and tactics sit-downs, but all he could think about right now was the pain his shoulder.
“Why’re you moving your shoulder like that?”
“Feels like gravel in the joint, Coach. Don’t feel right at all.”
“Doc!” the coach shouted.
He waited while one of the trainers jogged over, still flexing the joint – and not enjoying what he was feeling. Not one little bit.
“Yo!” the trainer said. Her name was Mindy Mendenhall, and she was a physical therapy intern, one of a half dozen working on the field right now. Everyone liked her, wished she’d stay on full-time, but she was already applying to medical schools for next year so this would probably be her last year working with the team. And John Dalton, Ole Miss’s senior quarterback, thought she was about the most gorgeous creature who’d ever drawn a breath on this or any other planet.
“Get this lug-head to the locker room and call Doc Holliday; see if we need to get a new MRI of that goddamn shoulder.”
They walked off the practice field together and Dalton was uncharacteristically silent as he shuffled along beside the girl, thinking only about her now, his shoulder hardly intruding on his thoughts as he looked at her short, blond hair.
“The same gravelly feel?” she asked, bringing him back to the present.
“Same, yeah, only more pronounced now, and in a different spot. Like there’s something hanging up inside, a clicking kind of feel.”
“Shooting, down the arm,” he said, pointing to his right forearm.
She nodded. “I’ll call the doc, but we’ll need another MRI. Sounds like more cartilage has broken loose.”
“Did you hear from any of those med schools yet?”
“Nope. What about you? I heard the Packers talked to you after the ‘Bama game.”
“Yup, sure did. I think they want me, too, assuming the shoulder holds up.”
“That’d be kind of a dream come true, wouldn’t it? Playing back near home?”
He shrugged, thought about holding his tongue – or about saying what he really wanted to say – and then he saw her looking at him. “Maybe,” he said, but he was holding back and she knew it.
“‘Maybe?’ That’s kind of evasive, don’t you think?”
“Playing football is fine, but right now I’m more interested in finding the right partner to share my life with.”
“Right now? That seems a little backwards, John. You ought to be concentrating on…”
“I know, I know what I’m supposed to be thinking about. It’s just that part of my life seems missing right now, the most important part, and I want to change that before I get too set in a rut. You know – when you’ve met someone, someone who feels right – well, your outlook changes? Like maybe your life won’t be complete, or even headed down the right path without that person by your side?”
“You’ve met someone?”
“Oh, I know her, but apparently she doesn’t date football players.”
She stopped walking, turned and looked at him. “Oh?”
“Yeah, so I haven’t asked her out, because it’s like there’s this wall and I’m not sure how to get around it.”
“Maybe the best thing right now is to just let things be.”
“I don’t want to take that chance.”
“Yeah, well, because I know she’s one in a million, and I’ll never meet anyone like her again. She’s the type of person that could be my best friend – for the rest of my life. I suppose I’m just being selfish, but to me that’s a big deal. A bigger deal that playing football.”
“Wow. Sounds like you have high expectations for this person. Do you think she knows how you feel?”
He shook his head. “Like I said – what’s the point?”
They resumed walking. “I guess I see what you’re up against, but if she doesn’t know…? Seems like you need to make the first move, John. Let her know how you feel.”
“I’ve known you for almost three years, Mindy. Are you telling me you don’t know how I feel about you?”
“No, not really,” she said as she looked away. “Look, John, I know you like me, but you don’t know me, not really. Not what I want out of life, even who I am. And I don’t think you should spend all your energy worrying about things like this right now, because you’ve got more important things to think about…”
“Yes, John, you do. You’ve got to finish school, get through the draft next spring, find a team and make it on the roster. So yes, you have a lot to…”
“You won’t go out with me?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Okay. But at least you know where I’m coming from?”
“What’s that for?”
“Hmm? What? Oh – the ‘I do’ thing.”
“You said ‘I do.’ Those are the two words I think I’d most like to hear you to say with me one day.”
She laughed a little at that. “That’s sweet.”
“Yeah, well, just so you know.”
“Let’s get those pants, uh, pads off. I want to feel the inside of that joint before I call Doc Holliday…”
Carpenter finished reading through the script for tonight’s performance, underlined a few sentences he thought went too far and looked up, shook his head at a passing thought, then looked out the window as the 757s wing sliced through wattled clouds. ‘No, let’s rattle a few cages tonight,’ he said to himself. ‘It’s time. I’m beginning to sound too much like a politician, and less like an outsider. And oh, how I miss Imogen…’
Imogen…he looked at the empty seat by his side and sighed. She’d have known what words to change…what tone to strike…where to stick the dagger for most effect.
He’d been, of course, a New Dealer – just like his father – once upon a time. He’d believed in government, in the role government could play creating a fair and just society. But reality had had a way of dealing with that.
No, he’d seen the reality of modern politics in the state legislature first. How well intentioned politicians soon turned into grifters, con-men raking in cash as quickly as they could. Lobbyists writing drafts of laws the slugs couldn’t even be bothered to read, then taking cash for getting the package to the house floor. He’d stepped back from such idiocy, returned to creating residential housing developments northeast of Sacramento – and done well at it, too – until, in his fifties, he’d been approached to run for the Senate. The US Senate, this time around. He’d almost wanted to laugh at the offer, but not Imogen…no, she was ready, like she’d been waiting all her life for this.
“I’m not qualified,” he’d said at one point, boasting for the cameras that had suddenly appeared everywhere he went, “for that bullshit palace!”
And the reporters had caught all his bluster on camera, and the next day images of his ‘straight-talk’ went viral. Soon it was ‘Carpenter For Senate – Straight Talk, Not Double Talk’ and he’d easily beat an eighteen year incumbent, a woman who just couldn’t escape the appearance of being on the take.
“Jesus was a carpenter,” he’d said in the speech accepting his party’s nomination for President four years later, “a carpenter who fashioned souls from the driftwood of human misery. I will be a carpenter, fashioning a renewed American Spirit from the wreckage of American liberalism!”
And then he had proceeded to tear down all America’s social safety nets, declaring that anything not earned through hard work was worth having. He’d increased law enforcement’s presence on the streets to unheard of levels, telling the people that under a Carpenter administration people would feel free to walk the streets of their neighborhoods once again. He systematically tore apart the Constitution, and with a friendly Congress, not to mention a placid Supreme Court, he established Christianity as the Official State Religion. He opened his arms to all immigrants, yet had only this to tell each new arrival: “You are welcome here,” he cried, “so long long as you embrace America. You will convert to Christianity, you and your children will speak English, and you will not band together in the enclaves of your old worlds and lives…”
And he had been as good as his word, too.
When the first secret mosques were found, worshippers and their families were rounded up and taken to air force bases and flown to Mecca, their assets and belongings distributed to churches within days, and neighbors looked on in shocked awe as bulldozers demolished each new mosque. Wealthy Jews stood aside and watched again in horror as their synagogues and temples were razed; non-mainstream Christian denominations fared no better, and they too watched in meek silence as their places of worship disappeared.
The original Mexican wall was fortified; it’s height was increased to forty feet after one man successfully pole-vaulted the original structure, and soon minefields buttressed the approaches to the wall, making it impossible for future pole-vaulters to make the attempt. When machine gun emplacements were – finally, at last! –added, the nasty hordes of rapists slowly stopped making the attempt. Dejected pole vaulters from as far away as Peru turned and walked south again.
Children of illegal immigrants born in the United States were rounded up with their parents and transported en masse to France, a fate most found worse than death. Operating a Taco Truck was turned into a first degree felony, while Taco Bell restaurants around the country were either bulldozed – or hastily renamed Bubba’s Bronco Burgers.
When signs of rebellion began to appear, primarily in urban, minority communities, Carpenter sent brigades of regular troops in to the cities to deal with them, and he sent them in with orders to sweep aside rioters with force, lethal force if necessary. When several thousand were killed in the Compton and South Central riots, not one single voice of opposition was heard anywhere in the land.
In fact, just the opposite occurred.
Raised fists were seen everywhere in torchlight, followed by roars of triumph in this new night, while shouts of “Carpenter! Carpenter! Straight talk – not double talk!” were heard all across the land. Mass book burnings took place and, in an homage to Pleasantville (and perhaps to all things Tobey Maguire), tight pink sweaters were banned from high schools all around the country.
“Hmm, what’s that?”
“We’ll be landing in ten minutes, sir.”
“Could I get you anything?”
“Maybe a mineral water, slice of lime. Better make it a big one, Carol.”
“Yes, Mr President.”
And then the most devastating thing in the world happened.
She’d gotten sick, and his world had started to come apart. Imogen, his very own Lady MacBeth, the woman who’d been by his side since college, struck down in just a few months…and the love of his life had simply – and finally – slipped from his grasp. She’d been his soulmate, his conscience, the woman who urged restraint when the impulse to lash-out was most overwhelming – yet in a curious way her passing had come to him as an emancipation of sorts – at least for a time. He no longer felt constrained when so-called allies crossed him, or when certain politicians interfered with his plans.
The first time that had happened, just a few weeks after her death, when Senator Pauling objected to his use of the military in Compton, well, the senator’s airplane had been in a little accident, hadn’t it? Kind of like when Tower and Heinz crossed Reagan over Iran-Contra, he sighed. And he’d even attended the Senator’s funeral – tacky, he supposed, but necessary. He’d glowered at the man’s casket, then smiled as the man’s scorched body was lowered into the earth – and those assembled knew then not to ever cross this president – and everyone knew too that Bob Haldeman had finally met his match.
Yet now, with reports of domestic terrorist cells growing in number by the day, he was sending squads into the ghettos, rooting all the vermin out of their underground nests, sending them to hastily prepared camps in northern Alaska – and letting them freeze to death, or so the last vestiges of the evil press reported.
Because something else had happened with Imogen’s passing. The press had seen him as some kind of monster before – but now? No, now he was the stoic, faithful leader, carrying on under the most adverse conditions imaginable, but with the roaring admiration duly noted after the Compton riots, reporters were now, suddenly and completely on his side! The whole country was on his side, wasn’t it? Ah, the sympathy vote!
Well, she was with him again too, and all the time now, telling him what was coming next. Talking to him, advising which people were loyal to him, and pointing out those who might be plotting behind his back. She’d come to him in the night at first, whispering in his ear, then as suddenly she’d been with him all the time again, by his side counseling him as though nothing had changed. She had defeated death to remain by his side! What couldn’t they accomplish together, working side by side like this?
And she saw other things, too. She saw the future. She’d tell him about things that were going to happen later that day, or even a few days ahead – and she’d been correct, every time! At first he’d been nervous about her reappearance, unsure of her presence – let alone her motives – but he had embraced her return soon enough and she became his most trusted and indispensable counsel. Again.
Yet last night she had disappeared. Without a word, gone, leaving no trace of her ever having been by his side. But then, who could say what her reasons were?
Yet had she ever, really, been there? And as questions like these mounted in the hours after her second passing he’d begun to doubt himself, to doubt his own sanity. And then there was…
Carol the flight attendant returned with his water and he looked up at her. “How are you doing, Carol? How’s Elizabeth?”
Carol had been on Air Force One for seventeen years, was almost an institution in and of herself by now, and for some reason everyone doted on her.
And in time he’d been no exception.
Though, oddly enough, she’d been the one to offer him the most comfort after Imogen passed. Very comforting, indeed. He thought of her silky thighs and dancing, moon-swept kisses more times than he cared to admit even now, but it had been the girl’s open acceptance of his grief that had sealed the bargain. She’d even spent a month in the White House, until guilt overcame his physical needs and he cut her off from his vital essence.
Yet she harbored no ill will after she was dismissed; indeed, she was still the same guileless, sensible Carol she’d always been. Open – to whatever, whenever – until her seven year old girl was diagnosed with leukemia. He’d mobilized every medical resource at his disposal to help the girl, too…and he’d remained by their side during the worst of it.
“Fine, Mr President. Thanks for asking,” she said as she put his glass down on the armrest. “Here you go, sir.”
“Carol? I’d like to talk to you later, on the way back to Andrews, if I could.”
“Yes, Mr President. I’d like that.”
He turned back to the window and looked out over the rolling hills of northern Mississippi gliding by in the evening below, yet wondered if Imogen would be out there, too, waiting for him – in this night. Still, he looked at Carol’s reflection in the plastic as she walked away, and he knew what he had to do. Do what Imogen had told him to do. He’d be nice about it, though, and see to it her death came as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Cleetus Owen sat with three friends in the facility’s sub-level maintenance room; they’d just set up 1500 extra folding chairs on the main floor, and it would be their job to clean up after the President’s speech tonight, but he doubted he’d be alive by that point. They’d moved heavy weapons into secret storage compartments weeks ago, even before the President’s speech had been publicly announced, and they had four men on this level ready to move once the ‘Go!’ order was given, while another eight would be scattered in the audience to create confusion just before the main assault began.
Another Secret Service agent came by and poked his head in the door, shook his head then left.
Ali looked at the agent as the man turned and walked away, took care to memorize his features and clothing. He wanted to kill that mother fuckin’ cracker right away. Yessir, that mother fucker was first on his list…
Ooh, his Hate felt SO good tonight…
He’d been drinking for hours, beer for the most part, but bourbon for the last half hour or so, while he finished field-stripping his Kimber, then as he carefully put the weapon back together again. He’d rubbed Hoppe’s No 9 over every part, even a little behind his ears, then used a Dremel to buff each piece to an ultra high sheen, and now the old 45 looked brand new again. He admired the form just as much now as he had the day he’d bought her – now so many years ago. Brutally efficient, yet gorgeous even so, he turned the pistol over in his hand – admiring his work, admiring the way light played off the polished stainless steel frame, the black slide, even the frank, sexually expressive shape of the short, three and half inch barrel. He took one of the pistol’s magazines and caressed it lovingly, drying it off carefully, then took a fresh box of Winchester SilverTips and quietly, purposefully slipped each cartridge through the spring-loaded gate. He took a second magazine and wiped it down as carefully, as admiringly, then loaded this one, too, and then slipped the spare rounds in his pocket – “Just in case,” he told himself, grinning at the prospect of so much…fun!
He smiled as he looked around his belongings one more time, at the meaninglessness of his life’s trinkets and mementos arrayed around the living room. They stared back like an insinuation now, and then he smiled at the emptiness of it all, as if he alone was in on the joke that had unfolded in this room over the years.
Time for the punch-line, he reckoned.
Time to get this road on the show.
He took another pull from his bourbon, then chambered a round – wondering why he hadn’t done this years ago. He thought of that poor kid – and how much he’d desired her in the moments before he killed her – then he thought of the flatulent bitch rumbling around in the next room and scowled.
“Oh, Doris?” he called out sweetly. “Could you come here? Pretty–please?”
“Mr President? If you could ride in the second Suburban this evening, sir?” Denny Eliot, his chief of detail commanded. Carpenter knew they rotated which car he rode in – sometimes he even sat in one of the marked escort vehicles – but Oxford was considered a ‘friendly’ venue, one without an overwhelming variety of ‘unknowns’ lurking out there, so this would be a direct, easy ride to the Ole Miss campus. The local cops had been told to keep their distance on the ride in, too, ‘just in case.’
He turned, saw Carol at the top of the stairs – waving – and it crossed his mind just then that he loved her. That he’d grown to care for her, and Elizabeth, too. Imogen had been barren, and they’d never had a child, and for some reason when the girl fell ill it hit him much harder than he’d expected. Now he stood there looking up at Carol, wondering what Imogen would make of these new feelings – when he felt her whispering in his ear again.
He was almost relieved she was back – until she spoke…
“The darkness you’ve sown has grown too powerful,” she sighed. “I’m watching…but other forces are in control of your destiny now. You must be very careful tonight, and in the nights ahead, because something black is coming for you…”
And then she was gone – again.
“Other forces? Black?” The President of the United States said to the evening sky.
“Sir?” he heard Eliot ask.
“Denny? I want you to be extra careful out there tonight. I have a bad feeling about this one…”
“Mr President? Perhaps we should get you back onboard, return to The House.” Eliot had taken note of Carpenter’s recent, sudden ‘hunches’ – and how ‘right’ he’d been about things like this since the First Lady’d passed – so when the President talked like this, he listened.
Still, Carpenter was just standing there, looking up at the 757s entry door – like he was coming to a decision of some sort, Eliot thought – and he looked up, saw that Templeton woman waving and sighed.
‘So, he IS in love with her…’ Eliot thought as he looked up at the woman in the doorway. It had been hard enough keeping their affair under cover before, but what would happen if Carpenter decided it was time to ‘go public’ with his feelings?
“Denny?” Carpenter said, his voice now full of manifest authority. “I’d like Ms Templeton to ride in with us tonight.”
“Yes, Mr President.”
Carpenter got in the Suburban and buckled up, watched as Carol came down the stairs with his detail, smiling at the swiftness of his decision.
And as he watched, he heard Imogen laughing into the night – and icy fingered dread ran down his spine when he thought about what was about to happen.
“Do you think the pain’s affecting your ability to throw?” Doc Holliday asked Dalton.
“It was this afternoon, Doc.”
“Well, that’s this new fragment – right here,” the physician said, pointing at the new image on his screen. “Not too big, but it’s new and I suppose that has to be the cause. I could go in and take it out, but you’ll probably lose a week, maybe two. You want to do that now?”
“Any other options, Doc?”
“Sure. I can shoot some corticosteroids and anti-inflammatories into the joint, and you should get a couple months relief, unless the fragment is bigger than it looks here. Probably enough relief to get you to the bowl games.”
“Sign me up!”
“Roll up your sleeve.”
“Yup, unless you’re saving the pain for some other special occasion…”
“You mean…that’s it? No surgery?”
“I didn’t say that, John. What this ought to do, assuming no other issues crop up, is get you to January. We can revisit the surgical options then.”
“Okay. Any side-effects to the injection?”
“Yup. The shoulder will feel full, kind of inflamed for a couple of days, but Tylenol will handle that. Should all be over by Saturday, at any rate, and you should be ready to go by game-time.”
And during all this, Mindy sat quietly in the room – looking at the MRI on the screen, then back at John – trying not to show too much concern, or pay too much attention. She’d been so overwhelmingly attracted to him, and for so long, and now she was sure he knew. Yet he hadn’t seemed to express much emotion in the car with her on the ride over. He seemed so innocent, almost chaste, yet virginal was the word, she’d told herself more than once, that ought not to come to mind…because one look at John Dalton simply dispelled that idea. He looked like Apollo, perhaps a rock star, or whatever passed for a God these days, and when he’d talked about the ideal soulmate a while ago she’d grown so weak in the knees she almost fallen to the turf.
Now she watched as Holliday prepped the injection site with Betadine, then as he slipped the huge syringe into the joint. At first she thought John was handling it well enough, but when he looked at the ‘needle’ she saw the blood run from his face; she smiled as John took a few quick, deep breaths and swayed like a tall pine in a mountain breeze, then Holliday pulled the mile-long syringe from Dalton’s arm and wiped the area down with huge alcohol swabs. “That’s it. Did pretty good – for a jock, anyway.”
“Huh? Why’s that?”
“The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” the physician said, grinning. “I gave one to that giant linebacker, what’s his name…Simons?”
“Yup, that’s him – he passed flat out, I mean like a sack of potatoes dropped on the floor, then his bowels cut loose. Helluva mess.”
“No shit?” John said, puffing up, but both Mindy and Holliday were looking at his color now.
“Why don’t you lean back for a minute or two, John, and let that stuff settle in the joint. You can get up in a few minutes, when I come back.” And after the physician left the room Mindy came over to the exam table and stood there, looking directly into his eyes.
“Okay,” she said, the faintest trace of a smile on her lips.
“Okay, I’ll go out with you.” Now she was sure he was going to pass out…so she bent over and kissed him once, gently, on the lips.
When she pulled back he looked into her eyes, his mind racing now, a fevered pulse hammering away in his temples. “I do, you know,” he said at last, running his fingers over her face. “You’re who I want by my side, always. I hope you can see that.”
She kissed him not at all gently now, and they were still at it when Doc Holliday returned.
She was standing in the dining room – in those goddamn pink, furry slippers that made him want to puke every time he saw them – glaring at him, but with a tape recorder in hand. Recording, she told him, everything he said.
Which was a lot, as it turned out.
He’d already told her about all the women he’d screwed over the past four years – not a lot, he thought, but enough to get her attention – and he’d just told her about the kid, the tranny he’d killed, the kid that had been on the news a couple of weeks ago – and that petulant, pouting smirk of hers had suddenly turned cold and empty after that.
She’d started paying close attention to his words, then her eyes went to the Hoppe’s No 9 bottle, then the box of 45ACP on the table by his chair.
“Dick, why are you telling me all this?” she’d asked then, her voice sweet and contrite.
“Oh, I just wanted to clear the air between us. Just so we know where things stand.”
“So, tell me, why’d you want to record this?”
“I been thinkin’ about talkin’ to a lawyer, ya know?”
“About what? Adopting another kid? Seems to me, last time I heard that didn’t work out too well.”
She looked away.
“In fact, last time I heard, Doris, when you got a kid around the house, you got to actually, you know, take care of it. Can’t just sit around watching the soaps and eating ice cream all day, ya know? Can’t just wait around for Protective Services to come round and take it away.”
“I know, Dickie, but I couldn’t help it.”
“That’s an understatement, Doris. You looked in the mirror recently? What are you up to, now? Four? Four-fifty?”
“Fuck you, asshole!”
He pulled out the Kimber and stood from his chair, left the pistol hanging limply, impotently by his side. “What’d you say, sweetheart?”
“Oh, Dickie, I’m sorry…you make me say things I can’t control…and I don’t know what I’m sayin’ no more…”
“Well, the truth comes out at last, Doris. You ARE a moron. I knew it, but just never could admit it to myself.”
“Don’t call me that, Dickie.”
“What? Moron? Isn’t that better than fat and lazy? At least if you’re a fuckin’ moron you’ve got a good excuse…”
But she was throwing the tape recorder at him now, and it smashed into the wall beside his head.
“That’s just typical,” he sneered. “You can’t even throw straight.”
He raised the Kimber, took a step towards her while he sighted in on her face. “Any thing else you want to say to me before sleepy time?”
She was staring at the end of the barrel, her lips beginning to quiver… “Oh, no, Dickie. You ain’t gonna do this? Say you ain’t gonna do this to us?”
“To us? Look what you’ve done to us, you fuckin’ cow? Why the fuck did I stay married to you?” he asked quietly. “Come on, bitch, TELL ME?!”
“I dunno, Dickie, I dunno, but I love you, really, I love…
He lowered the pistol, sighted in on her belly and pulled the trigger.
She saw the belching yellow flame erupt from the end of the barrel, felt searing, rippling pain under her left breast and screamed when she realized what’d just happened, and in her panic she bolted for the front door. She heard the next shot, and thought she felt the bullet pass right beside her left ear before she crashed into the door, knocking it off it’s hinges as she tumbled off the porch and into the front yard.
He took closer aim this time, and squeezed the trigger carefully – and watched the bullet slam into her ass as she tried to stand up – and he thought this uproariously funny as she staggered to the ground and started laughing – then he reached down and picked up his bourbon and Coke and took a long pull from the glass.
“Better finish this up before I disturb the neighbors too much,” Krumnow said to no one in particular, then he bent and carefully put his drink down on the table – and almost fell over in the process. He steadied himself, then snorted derisively at the incongruity of what he’d just said, then shook his head and sighed. He looked around the living room once again, then stumbled drunkenly after his wife – as she ran screaming into the night. He walked out into the night and he raised the Kimber, readying himself for the end of things.
Polk was cruising the neighborhoods now, deep in the middle class section of town, the part of town experiencing the worst decline, the most upheaval, listening to the oldies coming on the radio, singing along from time to time…
It’s always the same
I’m having a nervous breakdown
Drive me insane!
…when he heard the pop-pop of gunfire nearby.
“134, we have reports of gunfire, and a woman screaming, in the vicinity of Eighth and Filmore,” Mathias Polk heard on the radio – but his window was down and he was trying to figure out where they’d come from.
“134, show me in the area, and I’m hearing gunfire, too,” he replied.
“110, show me en route, notify CID and the WC.”
“134 Code 5 at 2040 hours. 10/4, 110.”
They were headed up Lamar, Mindy behind the wheel of his Silverado, just leaving the Medical Office Building and he could see the traffic signal at University was flashing red again.
“Why don’t you turn here – on Fillmore – we can cut over to Eighth and miss all this mess.”
She put on her signal and moved to the left lane, and after waiting for a couple of cars made the left. I was dark out now, and Fillmore had kind of a ‘trick-or-treat’ feel – within it’s bare trees and shadowy streetlights –
Pop-pop – pop…
“What the fuck was that?”
POP – and screams…
…as the windshield in front of Mindy’s face exploded in a hail of glass fragments…
Polk saw the man chasing the woman, the 45 in his hand, then as he exited his patrol car he felt something slam into his shoulder.
“134, Signal 33, shots fired…I’m hit, repeat, I’m hit…!”
Dalton’s Chevy rolled off the road at twenty miles an hour and slammed into a tree; the airbags detonated – filling the cabin with dense, white smoke – and Dalton pushed his door open and jumped out into pools of spooky blackness, and he found himself adrift in someone’s front yard. He saw people in the house looking at him, the man inside indicating danger, pointing down the street…
Dalton turned, saw a man with a 45 shooting at a woman running in the front yard of the house next door, and then he watched as the man turned and began walking towards a police officer. The officer was crawling towards his patrol car, and it was obvious the man with the 45 was going to come up from behind and shoot the officer in the back…
Dalton was maybe twenty yards away when instinct kicked in, when he began his sprint towards the man with the 45.
And he watched as the man stopped and fired once at the officer, then the man with the 45 must’ve heard him running – because he turned his direction.
All John Dalton saw now was the 45 in the man’s hand. Raising, coming up. Coming up – to – shoot – him.
Head down now, and shoulders square, he executed a near textbook full body tackle, driving his right shoulder into the man’s sternum. He heard bones in the man’s chest giving way, felt the bones in his own shoulder coming apart as he drove the man’s body into the back of the patrol car. He was aware of a fearsome, heavy blow just then, and the sound of another gunshot, this time very close, and he felt himself sliding to the ground…and the last thing he remembered thinking was that the man smelled of bourbon and Coke…and Hoppe’s No 9 gun solvent…which he found oddly comforting.
The lights were down when he walked out onto the hastily erected stage, and he looked up as the last few moments of his latest video played out on the Jumbotron above the audience. The production values were first-rate, the points made direct and to the point. No one looked away as he walked out on stage – they never did.
Starting with a Norman Rockwell view of the past, the video outlined what had gone wrong with America. Multiculturalism. Political Correctness. Too generous social safety nets, radical Islamist terror out of control. Jobs shipped overseas, no good jobs left for hard working Americans. Fear, decay, self-loathing…leading to more and more decadence, more and more decay, sex on the internet, drugs in public schools…
Then the images turned to African-Americans rioting in cities all across the country, tearing down their own neighborhoods, setting police cars on fire, rampaging through the night until no one felt safe out on the streets anymore, these final scenes playing out to a discordant, bleak rendering of America, The Beautiful in the background, as images shifted to Africans in their villages tearing their own homelands apart. Warlords, beheadings – the message was clear. Let the Africans hordes loose in this country and this is what awaits…
And then all the house lights focused on the stage, on him, the President of the United States standing behind the presidential lectern, and a vast chant arose: “America – love it or leave it!”
“We had a beautiful country, once upon a time,” he began as the frenzy faded, and speaking in warm, certain tones, even more images of America from the 1950s rolled across the screens overhead, and he watched as the people’s eyes went from him to the screens and back to him again.
The imagery blended seamlessly into the 60s, rioters in Berkeley and Philadelphia figured prominently, while African-American radicals, often Muslim, danced in the streets as they looted buildings to Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze…
Purple haze, all in my brain
Lately things they don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
Excuse me while I kiss the sky
And the last 60 years played out on the screen as one immense, prolonged – and decidedly logical progression, from one scene of liberal policy generated mayhem to the next, while at key points the images paused and he laid some “straight talk” on the audience – and they roared their endless approval…
“America – love it or leave it!”
The images, indeed, the entire progression of imagery was derived from Strauss & Howe’s generational theory, and as the presentation ended the entire audience sat in silent, tear-swept silence – looking up at Carpenter with rapt adoration in their eyes. The Gray Champion, Carpenter was now their one and only Hope. Only He Could Save Them. Only His Vision Was Pure Enough to Restore America.
Carol Templeton watched from the side of the stage, as completely mesmerized as anyone else out there in the Pavilion. She’d never seen anything like this audience’s reaction, not ever. He was a master manipulator, she saw, like he knew every effect his words were going to have before he said them, and he twisted the audience’s emotions around in the air like a sorcerer might an apprentice’s brooms.
Yet she knew this man’s predecessors, knew they were good men, knew this man was mischaracterizing their work, twisting meaning and intent, manipulating emotions around a false narrative, and she looked at the back of the man’s head, recognized him for what he was.
He was evil. A monster.
His was a monstrous evil, the twisted realities he presented were as shadows of pure deceit on a cave wall, yet the measure of his power could readily be seen in this audience’s rapt adoration. They had eaten up his lies as if taken in by The Rapture, and she felt a profound sense of anomie settle over her as she watched the crowd stand for one sustained ovation after another…and she remembered scenes like this from a History class…
And then she thought she heard the word “Go!” come from a small radio’s speaker…
Agent Denny Eliot saw someone pushing through the crowd for the stage, then the small pistol in a black woman’s hand –
“Gun!” he shouted, and he turned for President Carpenter…
On hearing the “Go!” order, Cleetus Owen and his six man team had surrounded the stage from the rear, and he watched now as Carpenter’s detail moved to cut the president off from the assumed threat – from the wrong direction – and he looked at his men one last time.
And when he heard the first gunshot from within the dismayed crowd he shouldered his M4 and flipped off the safety.
“Okay, let’s roll!” he whispered through grimaced teeth, then he turned and ran for the stage, his finger holding the trigger down as he pushed through falling bodies, running towards the president.
Templeton saw the men behind the stage, heard their weapons discharge, became all charged instinct as she ran out to protect her president…
Eliot saw the charge from the rear of the stage and turned his detail to face the real threat. The entire stage area, packed with local dignitaries, was awash in suddenly erupting, isolated firefights, and women began screaming as they were hit and fell to the floor.
His first back-up team of 40 agents was just seconds from arriving, so he concentrated on picking-off attackers trying to push through to the podium.
Carpenter felt something bite into his shin and reflexively bent down just as his closest assailant let loose a barrage from an M4. He felt his shoulder absorb at least one round and groaned, then fell to the floor – curling up protectively in a fetal ball. He felt a body fall and cover his own, and looked up in time to see the light flicker and leave Carol Templeton’s eyes.
Owen saw at least 80 agents converging on the stage and slipped off through the shadows, pulling two of his men with him, and they made their way through the mayhem to the pre-established escape route and were outside within seconds, lost in the running running swarm, walking slowly through the parking lot to their van. Minutes later they were northbound on Highway 7, heading for their safe-house east of Abbeville when two helicopters appeared overhead.
He didn’t see the missiles slam into their van, but he looked up and smiled before the flames consumed him. He looked up at the clouds and smiled.
Carpenter felt men carrying him, then recognized the bright lights and swarming paramedics of an ambulance. A siren piercing the night, men struggling with their footing, a sharp pain in his arm – then flooding warmth. Movement, sharp and jarring, as his gurney was pulled from the box. A glimpse of moonlight, hissing doors and strobing lights as he was pushed past the ER straight to an operating room. Frantic orders shouted, then he felt something snaking down his throat and all is dark.
The world waited in hushed silence – even as the true contours of this attempt were quickly brought to light. Members of the military, both retired and active duty, had taken part in a multi-pronged assault against the civilian government. A coup d’tat, and the Vice President was dead, so too the Speaker of the House. Attempts had been made on other members of the presidential succession, and at least two arch conservative Supreme Courts justices lay in the morgue at Walter Reed Army Hospital. There were reports of open warfare on the streets of Washington D.C., and heavy rioting was reported in Newark, Boston, Los Angeles and Houston. Rail terminals disappeared in a series of violent explosions, vital interstate highway bridges went next, and so food and energy distribution systems around the country began grinding to a halt.
People stayed up through the night waiting for word of Carpenter’s condition – but there was scant news now, only a growing body count amidst a subtly stoked hysteria gripping the land.
By dawn’s early light it was apparent the military had gained control of the reigns of government, yet a vast backlash against the coup was already underway – when word filtered out that Russia had moved against NATO forces in Europe, and that China was moving ground forces into South Korea and Taiwan. Hong Kong was overrun, and Chinese forces were reported moving into Vietnam and Thailand When word came that North Korea had launched missiles at Japan and Guam, people began looking slowly at one another, wondering just what had happened to their little world.
The Morning After
It’s quiet here.
And why is it so dark?
I’m sure my eyes are open, so why can’t I see anything?
Tanks and mobile rocket launchers screamed towards the Baltic; Riga and Tallinn fell first, Warsaw by that evening. Western leaders, used to bluffing their way out of military encounters with Russia, tried to bluff again. The maneuver didn’t work well, this time.
“His pupils are equal and reactive this morning, and even his EEG seems improved…”
“But still no signs of consciousness?”
“No, no signs of improvement, none at all. It’s like he’s frozen in time.”
“Why are there still military personnel stationed in the corridor?”
“I don’t know. Maybe there are still people out there, you know, trying to get him.”
“Better him than me.”
“Yes, everyone seems so paranoid, yet no one seems to have any idea what’s going on?”
I’m singin’ in the rain
Just singin’ in the rain
What a glorious feelin’
I’m happy again…
The main thrust of the Russian attack drove straight for Berlin, secondary impulses ran for Hamburg and Köln, then word was received in western capitals that Russian aircraft had been observed throughout the Persian Gulf. Reports of paratroopers in Bagdad and Riyadh followed within the hour. Iranian troops moved south and west, for the Saudi oilfields.
“He was tapping his toes again.”
“About an hour ago.”
“I read one of the nurses last night heard him signing? Singing? Can you believe that?”
“Yeah. I heard it was one of those old musical numbers. Gene Kelly, someone like that.”
“Don’t that beat all? Well, just goes to show, you never can tell.”
Chinese forces took the Philippines within the next day, Vietnam fell a half day later. Japan looked to take a little longer, but North Korean missiles took out Hiroshima and Nagasaki, again, only this time there looked to be no honorable surrender.
In a gadda da vida, honey
“What’s with his EEG?”
Don’t you know that I’m lovin’ you
“Beats me? Maybe he’s having a seizure?”
In a gadda da vida, baby
“Uh-oh. Sounds like he’s playing Iron Butterfly again.”
“Better call neurology – STAT!”
Don’t you know that I’ll always be true –
Oh – no! What happens when I get to the DRUM SOLO?
“Wasn’t there a long drum solo in one of their songs?”
“Is it just me, or is he beginning to sound a little like Marvin Gaye?”
I used to go out to parties
“One of the nurses last night said he was dancing. In the bed, right there, dancing!”
And stand around
“That ain’t right.”
‘Cause I was too nervous
“You know, he does kinda sound like Marvin…”
To really get down
“I know, and I think his skin is getting darker, too…”
And my body yearned to be free
“It’s sure good to see you up and around, Mr President.”
“Thanks, Denny. Good to be seen,” Carpenter said as he turned to his Chief of Staff. “Oscar, what’s my day look like?”
“Looks like you’ve got a fairly busy day on the books,” Wilde said, “at least ‘til noon, sir; and don’t forget, you’ll be lighting the White House Christmas Tree tonight at seven.”
“Can I do that? From this wheelchair?”
“Yessir. Internal polling shows a considerable uptick on the sympathy scale.”
“Fine, fine. Think you could have someone rustle up some pulled-pork sammies for lunch, and maybe some of those fried pork rinds that came in?”
“I’ll see to it, Mr President.”
“And root beer. Lots of root beer.”
“Yes, Mr President.”
“So, who we got up first this morning?”
“The President of Mexico, Mr President.”
“That fucking loser, again! What’s he want now?”
“To renegotiate interest payments on The Wall, Mr President.”
“Fuck him. If he has any further questions, have him to look it up in the dictionary.”
“Yeah. The word Sympathy; tell the prick it’s in the dictionary – right there between Shit and Syphilis.”
“The Chancellor of Germany, Mr President. She wanted to ask…”
“That I use more butt lube this time. Don’t matter none; told her I was gonna fuck her up the ass big time if she came back with all those Russia problems. Guess the bitch wants what I got, huh, Oscar?”
“Yes – Mr President.”
And with his morning appointments now so swiftly dispatched, Carpenter asked if little Elizabeth Templeton could join him for lunch in the West Wing, and he waited for her until she came before starting-in on his pork rinds and sweet pickle relish dip.
“Good morning…Dad…?” the little girl said.
“Look, Lizzie, I know your momma wanted you to call me that, but listen, sweetheart, I get it. You call me what you want, okay?”
“Does Asshole apply?”
He looked up and coughed, then laughed. “You bet your sweet ass it does, darlin’. Asshole it is, because that’s just what I am.”
She looked at him like he was out of his mind – which of course he was – then she smiled. “Yeah, you know what? I think I’ll try that for a while.”
“Whatever floats your boat, sweetmeat, but Frito-Lay flew up these pork rinds this morning, special for you. Better dig in while they’re fresh.”
“Oh yeah. Bush 41 loved ‘em; the bastard got me hooked on ’em, too. Worse than potato chips…‘betcha can’t eat just one!’”
He ate in silence for a while, and the little girl seemed to grow pensive, almost sad as she watched him shovel food down. “I miss my mom,” she said at last, looking at the untouched food on her plate.
Carpenter stopped eating and looked up, right into her eyes. “There’s not a day goes by I don’t miss your momma. Not a minute, really, but I can’t imagine how awful this must be for you.”
“I think she loved you too, for a while, anyway. Before you broke up with her.”
“That was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life, sweetfeet.”
“That’s what she said, too.”
He laughed a little at that. “I bet she did, my little pumpkin.”
They came for him in the night now. Imogen, and Carol Templeton, too.
His wife whispered in his right eat, while the woman he loved spoke beguilingly into his left. Then one night, while Imogen was busy telling her husband about all the new plots to kill him, Carol pulled down the bedsheets and looked at the massive python coiled up on Carpenter’s lap.
“My word,” Templeton said, looking at the foot and a half long pecker coiled-up there. “It IS bigger!”
Imogen drifted down and looked at his pecker, then took the beast in hand and began playing with it. “Hmm. He was never this hard before…”
“How does it taste?” Carol asked.
“Not too bad.”
“Save some for me, would you?”
“Sure. I’m certain there’s more than enough of him to go around.”
“Imogen, look! I think his fingers are longer now, too! And look! He’s dancing again!”
I’m singin’ in the rain
Just singin’ in the rain
What a glorious feelin’
I’m happy again…
“So, who’s on first this morning, Oscar?”
“A representative from the Sudan, Mr President.”
“Yes, Mr President. One of – them.”
“Well, send him in.”
“He’s a she, Mr President.”
“Okay. So, like, go ahead – make my day.”
The woman was shown into The Oval Office and Carpenter was duly impressed. Her skin was as black as night, and at six feet tall the woman could not have weighed ninety pounds. ‘Bet she fucks like a mongoose, too,’ he sighed as he stared at the woman’s worn, bare feet…
And as the woman spoke of conditions in her homeland, about the persistent drought and failing crops and the almost constant conflict between competing warlords, she noticed he seemed to be listening first with one ear, then the other…like he was listening to two competing counselors, each intently whispering contrary advice directly into his mind. He would, apparently, grasp one idea, only to have it pushed aside as another idea rushed in to take the first’s place, yet she saw he was growing more confused with each passing idea.
And at one point he paused, summoned someone to bring him a fresh bag of pork rinds.
“Want one?” he asked the Sudanese woman as he tore open the bag.
“What is that? It smells dreadful?”
“Fried pork skin, darlin’. Lite and vacuous, just like me. A staple of the party’s diet for more than thirty years now.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“I’m afraid I don’t either, but could I ask you something?”
“Yes, of course, Mr President.”
“May I eat your pussy, please?”
The new President of France was next on his list, and this woman was pudgy, with fake blond hair, too.
“Have we been accommodating enough, Mr President?”
“Yes, Madame President. Prince Vlad is most pleased with the turnaround you’ve affected. Care for another pork rind?”
“Ooh, yes, please! They’re so light and tasty!”
“Yes, just like me.”
Her eyes sparkled seductively… “May I, Mr President?”
“Yes,” he said, standing and pulling down his trousers, “you may, but I was wondering?”
“Yes, Mr President?”
“Is blond your natural hair color?”
She blushed as she got down on her knees.
And yet, he seemed most happy on those days when Elizabeth joined him for lunch in the West Wing.
“You know, I know you’re only seven, but I find you extraordinarily attractive.”
He smiled, took a sip from his frosty mug of root beer. “So. What have you been up to this morning?”
“Me? Oh, I was talking to Mrs Polk.”
“Mathias Polk’s mom.”
He shrugged. “Like I know who Mathias Polk is?”
“He was the cop killed in Oxford, the same night you were shot.”
“Yes, you have his heart now, and she wanted to visit it, you know, to see how it’s doing in it’s new home.”
“I have a new heart?”
“Like, duh?! A black heart, too.”
“Sure, how else can you account for all the changes…”
“Sure. You know, the ‘wink-wink, nod-nod’ longer fingers, the darker skin, the unquenchable desire for pork rinds?”
“But I’ve always liked pork rinds!”
“Yeah. Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it? Anyway, she wanted to drop by for a visit.”
“A visit? To visit my heart?”
“No, to visit me.”
“Yes. The night you were shot I was flown down to Oxford to say goodbye to my mother, and I met Mrs Polk that night.”
“Yes, we talked. Became friends.”
“Wouldn’t you like to know what we talked about?”
“I think you’ve very attractive, you know.”
“We talked about love, and hate…”
“Care for another pork rind?”
“…and the choices uninformed people make,” but as she looked at Carpenter now, she saw he was listening to those voices in his head again, and then he burst up and started pirouetting around the room…singing manically as he danced round and round:
I’m singin’ in the rain
Just singin’ in the rain
What a glorious feelin’
I’m happy again…
And then he blew out the main office door, singing and dancing his way towards the swimming pool. Moments later she heard a shout – “watch out, there he goes!” – then him thrashing away in the pool – and then Secret Service agents diving in after him and she laughed, looked at his unfinished her pork rinds and wondered what the voices said to make him dance like that.
Television cameras from one of the major networks were set up in the Oval Office, aimed at Carpenter’s desk – which was flanked by two huge Christmas trees and several Secret Service agents. Jenna Jameson, the network’s latest, most highly qualified star reporter, came and took her seat in front of the desk, just before Carpenter entered the room. Once he was seated the camera’s red light blinked on, and Ms Jameson began her introductory remarks:
“Good Evening, America! Yeah! Woo-whoo! And a big welcome from our studio audience with us tonight! Wow, look at that excitement! And here he is, President Carpenter! Yeah!”
“Merry Christmas, Jenna!” Carpenter exclaimed, then, turning to the camera and pointing: “And to you, America, a Merry Fuckin’ Christmas!”
They paused for the cheers to die down, which took a few minutes.
“Mr President, a big Thank You for inviting us to the Oval Office this year!”
(Pause – cheers)
“You’re welcome, Jenna, but I must say, with legs like yours – well, I couldn’t NOT invite you!”
(Pause – cheers – catcalls)
Jameson crossed her legs and Carpenter began drooling.
“Like those, do you, Mr President?”
“Jenna, you have no idea!”
(Pause – cheers – whistling – salacious stripper music heard on background audio)
“Well, Hell, Mr President! Look at that pecker!”
(Pause – cheers – catcalls – rampaging chimpanzees heard in background)
Then Jameson turned serious. “So, Mr President, about world events. It’s not looking too good out there, is it?”
Carpenter looked somber, stern, grandfatherly. “What do you mean, Jenna?”
“Well, look at Australia?”
“Australia? Why would anyone want to look down there?”
“Well, the Chinese annexed Australia today. Some people have said that’s kind of a big deal.”
“Bah, humbug. That was a wonderful deal – just wonderful!”
“Well, renaming Sydney Mao City was seen as a little over the top!”
“Not really. Look, Jenna, the Chinese already own have the real estate down there, so what’s the big fuckin’ deal? That’s the beauty to the free market! Am I right?! Huh? Am I?”
(Pause – loud applause, a few cheers)
“Yes you are, Mr President! So right!”
“But,” she continued, “some are saying events in Europe represent a failure of American leadership, and that the post-Cold War Pax Americana is now dead.”
“Dead? Are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me? It’s never been healthier! Look, me and Prince Vlad made a deal, see, and things have never been better. You’ll see. Never better!”
“And Jenna, did I mention I love your shoes? Six inch heels? KA-BOOM!”
(Pause – cheers – whistling – salacious stripper music)
“Really, ladies and gentlemen, look at those fuckin’ shoes! OUTRAGEOUS!”
(Pause – wild applause – whistling – sounds of braking cars and a wreck in the distance)
“Could I lick your toes, Jenna?”
“Maybe after the show, Mr President.”
(Arms crossed, glowering) “Fine, be that way, see if I care.”
(Pause – boos and moans) “Well, maybe just a little lick,” Jameson said, lifting her foot to the desk.
Carpenter begins licking and moaning. “In case you were wondering,” he said during a pause and looking into the camera, “she tastes a little like…pork rinds!”
“Now, Mr President, on the domestic front, as you know many people, many seniors, are upset about losing their social security and medicare…”
“Listen, Jenna, I’ve about had it with the whiners and complainers. Sick people are parasites, and so are the elderly. They don’t produce a thing, so they’ve got to go! They’re only here to drag the rest of us down, and I’m just not going to allow that to happen any longer!”
(Pause – cheers – thunderous applause, mutters of approval in background)
“But Mr President, even many of the voters in your own party say they never knew something like this would happen?”
“Listen, we’ve got a lot of brainwashed morons out there that vote how we tell ‘em to vote. The issue has always been front and center in all our campaign literature.” Now he turned and faced the camera, his expression turned menacing as he pointed directly into the lens. “But remember this, if you get sick, we have a special plan for dealing with deadbeats like you.”
“Thank You Mr President!”
(Pause – cheers – thunderous applause)
“You’re most welcome, Jenna. Most welcome! So welcome,” he said, standing now, taking a bow.
“Now one final concern tonight, President Carpenter, and that’s these reports about zombies. Zombies appearing everywhere.”
“Zombies? You mean, like…”
“Yessir. Just like in that silly TV show.”
“I’m sorry, but I haven’t seen those reports just yet,” but Jameson thought it odd that Carpenter suddenly seemed to be listening to someone else. TWO someone elses, she soon saw, because he was now – out of the blue – talking with two different voices.
“You can’t listen to these vile lies anymore, Dennis!”
“But they aren’t lies! He has to, or how else will he know what’s really going on?”
“Going on? What’s going on? Where?”
“Mr President? Are you alright?”
“See, she’s onto us Dennis. Shut up, NOW!”
“Onto us? Who’s onto us?”
“It’s alright, Mr President. The truth will set you free!”
“Carol, is that you?”
“Yes, Mr President…”
“Who’s Carol?” Jameson said looking around, because she was sure SHE heard the voices, too. If the president was hearing voices, then she had to, too. Right?
“Carol, I miss you so much. So does Elizabeth.”
“I know you do, Dennis, but I’m here with you…just listen to me, listen to my voice…”
“Dennis, don’t listen to that liberal cunt! Listen to me, listen-to-ME…”
And then the music began to play again, to drown out the voices, because he found music the only thing that helped him cope.
Right by my feet, lay broken glasses
Your Skeleton Boy
“Mr President? Where’s that music coming from?”
Sweat from the walls, drips on my shoulder
Let’s face this night, and see it through
“Mr President?” Jameson asked again. “Why are you dancing?”
Your love is out
Believing despite the loss
Give me your hand
Let’s face this night, and see it through
But the voices suddenly stopped, the music too, and Carpenter sat down behind his desk again.
“Ahem, yes, where were we?”
“Mr President, I hate to say this, but I heard voices just now. Two women, talking to you.”
“Yes Jenna. Fantastic voices. SO fantastic. You had another question?”
“Yes, Mr President. A difficult question, I know, but there have been rumors circulating recently that you have, well, a black heart…”
“A black heart?”
“Yessir. When you were, well, during that awful incident in Mississippi, you received a donor heart. From a black man…?”
“Yessir. That’s the rumor, anyway.”
“I’ll have to have someone look into that. We have fantastic people here for just this sort of thing. Fantastic people, believe me.”
“Well, see, the thing is, according to the reports we’re getting, well, anyway, whenever your supporters hear that you’ve got a black heart, well sir, they turn into zombies.”
“Seriously? Is this a joke of some sort?”
“Yessir, serious as a heart attack. So, you don’t know anything about this?”
“First I’ve heard of it, Jenna. Really, really great shoes, though.”
“Mr President? Are you hearing those voices again?”
“What voices, Jenna?”
“Those voices,” the reporter said, pulling the earpiece out of her ear. “I can hear them through the speaker in my ear…”
“Now, now, Jenna. It’s alright. We’ve got people here, fantastic people, by the way, who can help you with this little problem…just relax and we’ll take care of you.”
“Yes, Joe, it’s a great day down here in New Orleans. This year’s Sugar Bowl should be a terrific match-up between two great teams, two perennial power-houses, Notre Dame and Ole Miss.”
“Yes, Bob, and what a story we have this year – what with Ole Miss’s star quarterback, John Dalton, getting injured in that dramatic takedown, the same night President Carpenter was shot.”
“Yes, Bob, and I’m sure it’s an old story by now, one everyone’s been talking about for weeks, but John Dalton’s failed attempt to rescue Officer Mathias Polk led to Carpenter’s own personal rescue.”
“Yes, Joe, and don’t forget, we have word that Mindy Mendenhall, Dalton’s injured fiancé, will apparently be with him on the sidelines this evening.”
“Yes, Bob, and what a terrible tragedy this has been, for all of us…all of us.”
“Yes, Joe, the gunshot to the face, the loss of sight…just terrible, terrible…for all of us.”
“Yes, Bob, terrible, but without Dalton’s bravery, Carpenter might not have gotten his heart transplant…”
(Joe covers his mic, whispers to Bob) “You know we’re not to supposed to mention that stuff anymore!”
(Bob covers his mic, leans over and whispers) “Why not?”
(Joe leans closer still) “Because every time someone mentions the transplant more zombies appear.”
(Bob leans closer still, and falls out of his chair) “Fuck!” (camera pans over audience while hundreds of new zombies stand, staring straight ahead now, drool running from vast fangs)
“Yes, well said, Bob! And remember folks, tonight’s pre-game show has been brought to you by K*Y Personal Lubricants. Remember, use K*Y when you’ve absolutely, positively got to get it in the first time – every time!”
“Joe? Joe? This is Jenna Jameson, down on the sidelines with John Dalton. Can you hear me, Joe?”
“Yes, Jenna. How are you?”
“Why Joe, how nice of you to ask!”
“Yes, Jenna, well, I think a lot of inquiring people wanted to know how things went after the interview with President Carpenter. You’ve remained remarkably silent about that?”
“Yes, Joe, I have.”
“Yes, Jenna, well, is there any truth to the rumor that the president’s penis is over a foot long now, and black?”
“Yes, Joe, as you can see, I’ve got John Dalton down here with me now.”
“Yes, Jenna, thanks for confirming that!”
“Yes, Joe, you’re welcome. Now, here’s Ole Miss’s star quarterback, John Dalton. John, we understand your entire right shoulder had to be rebuilt. How have you recovered so quickly?”
“Just got to work, Jenna, because that’s what you’ve got to do when the chips are down. But Mindy’s the real hero, you know, the real deal.”
“Yes, John? This is Joe, up here in the booth.”
“Yes, John. Look, I was a quarterback in the NFL for ever a decade, and if I’d been forced to change arms like you have, throwing right-handed all my life then having to switch to my left, I, well, I couldn’t have done it. To what do you owe this success?”
“Yes, Joe, I was a big fan of yours?”
“Yes, John, thanks for that! Say, what do you make of all these rumors? About President Carpenter’s cock?”
“Yes, Joe, you know, he visited us in the locker room an hour ago…”
“Yes, John, you mean – the President’s here?”
“Yes, Joe, he sure is. And he took a leak while he was talking to some of us, and I’d have to say his pecker is about two feet long now, and as black as a cottonmouth’s ass.”
“Yes, uh – no shit?”
“Yes, Joe, that’s a big no shit, right back atya.”
“Joe, Jenna here…and I think Carpenter is up in the stands, and yes, he’s working the crowd. Yes Joe, there he is, coming down the aisle, heading right for us…”
“Yes, Jenna, and it looks like The Presidential Podium is being wheeled out to mid-field, right on the fifty yard line, so we may have some opening comments from The Man Himself before the coin toss.”
“Yes, Joe, that’s exactly what it looks like.”
“Yes, uh, well, something’s not right.”
“Yes, Jenna? What is it…what do you see?”
“Yes, Joe, well, uh, yes, well, let’s see. How do I put this? Well, uh, he’s, uh, well, it’s Carpenter alright, but, well – he’s – black.”
“Yes, Jenna, it kind of looks like that from up here too. That’s, uh, well, kind of – incredible.”
“Yes, Hey Joe, it sure is incredible.
“Yes, Jenna, any idea who that is with him?”
“Yes, Joe, none at all…wait! Well, Hey, Joe, I think it’s Mindy Mendenhall and, well, yes, I don’t know who the other woman is.”
“Joe? Jenna? John Dalton here…that’s LiddyMay Polk! Officer Mathias Polk’s mother!”
“Uh, yes John? Who’s Mathias Polk?”
“Yes, Joe, Jenna here, that’s the police officer who was killed the night President Carpenter was s-s-shot. It’s P-P-Polk’s heart beating away in C-C-Carpenter’s c-c-chest…”
“Yes, Jenna…uh…are you alright?”
“I’m not so sure about this, Dennis…” Carol Templeton whispered.
“Don’t listen to her, you putz!” Lady Imogen cried. “We must declare, tonight, before all is lost!”
“Are you crazy? Haven’t you seen what’s happening to him?”
“No? What’s happening to him?”
“He’s turning – BLACK – you moron!”
“Black? What do you mean, black?”
“I mean it’s not just his two foot long pecker anymore, you bitch! His skin’s turning black!”
“Black? You mean…like a…?”
“No kidding, oh shit! When the zombies see this, they’re gonna go bat-shit crazy!”
“There’s gonna be real trouble tonight,” Imogen sighed thoughtfully. “But, Dennis, I still think we’ll get good coverage from the networks.”
Carpenter stood on the hastily erected stage – in front of the podium – flanked by Mindy Mendenhall and John Dalton on one side, and GiddyMay Polk on the other. His arms were stretched wide, an inclusive gesture of the warmth he felt in his heart for the crowd assembled around him.
“Ladies and Gentlemen! My Fellow Americans!” he bellowed into the microphone. “What a great night to be alive!”
He paused, expecting yet another thunderous reaction from his rapt audience, but all he heard now was a sprinkling of polite applause.
“Ahem,” he coughed, “well, yes, I’d like to introduce you to some fine Americans tonight…fine Americans. Of course, you all know John Dalton, Ole Miss’s star quarterback and the hero who almost saved Officer Mathias Polk. The miraculous recovery of his right arm is now the stuff of legend, but the real story here tonight is his love. His towering, pure love of Mindy Mendenhall, now blind, now totally disfigured –” and he turned to John and Mindy as spotlights shone on them, and the crowd did react now. There were more pockets of applause, some cheering, but nothing like he’d expected.
“There’s something amiss here,” Carol Templeton said to Lady MacBeth, er, Imogen.
“I see it too. Something deep in the land stirs… ”
“We must take great care if we are to survive this night…”
“And I’d like to introduce GiddyMay Polk to you tonight, who’s become like a mother to me over the past few weeks…”
And there fell a deafening silence over the crowd in the coliseum, and even the gladiators assembled on the sidelines turned and looked at the stoney reaction, for just then the zombies stood – in unison – and there arose a deep rumble from deep within their bowels.
“Uh, yes Jenna, can you make out what those zombies down there, the ones near the 50 yard line, are saying?”
“Yes, Joe, let me get c-c-closer…I c-c-can’t quite make it out from where I’m s-s-standing.”
The cameraman followed Jameson towards the sidelines, and she held her mic up to the crowd while the cameraman filmed their faces. He saw that one by one, people were turning into zombies, standing as they mutated and joined their fellow zombie mutants, their skin turning blazing white, their eyes vengeful red, and he looked on with a growing sense of alarm as fangs sprouted from their mouths. Huge, venomous fangs, dripping with fury – red, white and blue fury – then the cameraman focused on the thousands of zombies on the top deck, hundreds of feet above the coliseum floor. They were pushing forward, pushing towards the edge of the stands, and he gasped as zombies piled into each other, then started falling, tumbling onto the zombies standing below. There was a growing mood that things were changing, changing for the worse, but then the fallen zombies stood and straightened out their crushed and broken bones, and started shuffling towards the sidelines again…
“Yes, Jenna, any word on what’s going on down there? Can you make out what they’re saying yet?”
“Yes, J-J-Joe, it s-s-sounds like ‘A-A-America, l-l-love it or l-l-leave i-i-it…!”
And the cameraman turned his camera on Jenna Jameson as she stuttered to a halt, and he zoomed in on her face as her skin turned blazing white, as her eyes turned vengeful red, and as dripping fangs sprouted from her foaming mouth. Huge gray circles formed under her eyes, and her lips turned gray as well, then blood started running from her ears as she turned and started shuffling towards the voice coming from the middle of the field…
And Carpenter stood before the shuffling hordes, talking about the need for inclusiveness, telling the stumbling zombies that what the world needs now is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…
“Tell them, Dennis! Tell them while you still can!” Lady Imogen cried.
“Tell them what?” Carpenter said, clearly confused.
“No Dennis, you can’t! Don’t do it!” Carol Templeton said.
“What! It was you! You set this up, didn’t you? You fucking liberal whore! Dennis! Tell them now, before it’s too late!”
“So, well y’all,” Carpenter said, turning away from the voices in his head, “the purpose of my little speech tonight is to tell you that I’ve appointed myself King. King of America. Congress is gone, the courts, too. Because, here’s the thing…democracy is a load of horse-shit, and you all know it. You know it, because you take it for granted. You take it for granted because you’re two young to remember a time when democracy was a fragile thing, considered weak by totalitarian regimes around the world, and too weak to stand up to…
And the first human wave hit the stage, causing it to shake, then buckle under the onrushing load.
“Yes, Jenna? Jenna, can you hear me?”
– * –
– * –
“Yes, Bob, Joe here, down in the stands, and it sounds like Carpenter is starting to sing.”
“Yes, Joe, I think you’re correct. He’s singing…whoops…looks like he’s dancing now, too!”
“Yes, Bob, I think he’s dancing! Wasn’t that a Stevie Wonder song? The one he’s singing?”
“Yes, Joe, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m white, so how the hell would I know?”
He’s a man
With a plan
Got a counterfeit dollar in his hand
He’s Misstra Know-It-All
“Yes, Bob, I noticed that, but look, I think there’s some kind of disturbance down there…the stage seems to have, well, disappeared.”
“Yes, Joe, and m-m-my, but that c-c-crowd really s-s-seems to be getting into the f-f-festivities!”
Carpenter looked into the heart of this surging tide of zombies, but all he saw now were snapping teeth and foaming mouths…
“I think we’d better get out of here,” Lady Imogen said, her voice coming now like the moaning of a winter’s wind.
“I think it’s too late for that now,” Carol Templeton said, laughing.
“Oh, ouch, ooh, ahh, no – right there, a little bit to the left,” President Carpenter said as a zombie began gnawing on his right leg, “but still, that kind of hurts.” Zombies were piling into him now, snapping away, devouring their creation, pulling him limb from limb, ripping him to shreds as chants of ‘love it or leave it…’ washed over the coliseum.
And GiddyMay Polk shook her head and walked over to Carpenter when it was all over, and she picked up her boy’s heart and cradled it to her breast once again. “I told you love was comin’, Mattie, didn’t I? You got to have faith, that’s all, ‘cause sometimes love is the most powerful thing in the world, even if most people forget that.”
Elizabeth Templeton sat behind the desk in the Oval Office, looking at the paintings arrayed around the walls in the room, then she walked out into the main part of the building and looked at the portrait of John Kennedy for a long time, then she walked down and looked at another portrait, this one of Franklin Roosevelt, and she wondered what those men would think of what had happened in this building over the past few years…
The dispossessed had finally given up on the whole “hope” thing, hadn’t they? So they decided to burn the whole thing to the ground. Then she noticed a soldier behind her, following her, watching her.
“It’s funny what people will do when they lose hope, lose their faith in things,” the soldier said.
“Did you know this man?”
“Roosevelt? No, I’m old, but not quite that old.”
“He has kind eyes. I wonder if he was…kind?”
“I don’t know, but from all I’ve read about him over the years, he was at the very least a wise man, wise enough to surround himself with people who always had the best interests of the working man in mind. So, yes, I’d say he was a kind man, at heart.”
“What about him?” she said, pointing at Kennedy.
“He wasn’t so lucky,” the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said.
“He surrounded himself with smart people, but in the end many of them betrayed him. There are some that say the United States of America died the day he was killed, but America is an idea, and it’s very hard to kill an idea.”
“President Carpenter? Do you think he killed the idea?”
“Him? No way. He was a circus clown, someone the owners of the circus sent in to distract the crowds while costumes were being changed.”
“Oh, never you mind – it’s not important. But you know what is important?”
“Well, President Carpenter declared himself King, and he’s gone now, so guess what?”
“You’re the Queen now.”
“The Queen? What’s that?”
“Well, it means you’re in charge now.”
“In charge of what?”
“Oh. It’s past my bedtime now, but if I’m in charge, does that mean me and you could go to the kitchen and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?”
“Grape or strawberry?”
“What kind of jelly? Grape or strawberry?”
“Grape is yucky.”
“Good,” The General said as he nodded his head, then he held out his hand. “You know what? I think you and I are going to get along just fine. Real good, as a matter of fact.”
And when she took his hand he swung her up and carried her against his chest, and they walked off together, towards the kitchen – while he whistled the last refrains of a song he used to love when he was younger, and perhaps more impressionable: Singin’ in the Rain.
She put her arms around the general’s neck – and smiled.
(C) 2014-16 | Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com
This is, of course, fiction, and nothing but. Several pieces of music are referenced, quoted under ‘fair use’; they are, in order of use: 1) “Baba O’Riley” (1971) P Townsend; 2) “Communication Breakdown” (1969) Bonham, Plant, Jones, Page; 3) “Purple Haze” (1967) J Hendrix; 4) “Singin’ In the Rain” (1929) Freed, Brown; 5) “In a gadda da vida” (1968) D Ingle; 6) “Skeleton Boy” (2008) MacFarlane, Gibson; 7) “He’s Misstra Know It All” (1973) S Wonder.