Well, here it is…unbridled cynicism run amok. Not sure if this is The End or not. Seems to me a story like this could run on for years and years, or die mercifully here and now. Suggestions welcome, appreciated, even.
Tried to keep this short and to the point. Hope you enjoy.
Acheson sat behind the wheel, looked at Genie sitting beside him in the dark, then he flipped on the overhead light, picked up a notepad and began writing. “I need to get packed,” he said as he wrote, “and stop by the pharmacy on the way to the airport.”
“What time’s your flight?” she said as she read his words.
“I have to be in dispatch by nine. Scheduled departure is 10:20.”
He finished writing and handed her the pad, and she read while he started the car and drove up Versailles, then turned on Lomo Alto. At Mockingbird he turned right, and they drove in silence until he stopped at the light at Hillcrest, then he motored slowly through the SMU campus, checking for a tail, before he pulled into the driveway to his little house. He took the pad from her, tore the page from the pad and wadded it up as they walked inside.
He packed his clothes, took an envelope he kept inside a small, wall mounted safe and put it in his flight bag, then he sat beside her for a long time, rubbing her head.
She shook her head after a few minutes, stood and walked over to one of the bedroom windows. “I feel horrible inside,” she said as she looked at lightning dancing across the sky. “Like nothing makes sense anymore. I just want to go away and hide somewhere.”
“Might not be such a bad idea, if you could still look yourself in the eye, anyway. Not sure I’ll be able to, but I’ve had enough for now. I’m not sure this is a war we can win.”
“Nobody ever wins, Ben. Winning is an illusion, an idea politicians sell to get people ready for the next one.”
“You’re turning into a cynic, aren’t you?”
“We had to read this book for our Medical Ethics class,” she said, handing it to him. “It really shook me up.”
He turned the book over in his hand – 12, 20 & 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam – then he read the blurb on the back cover. “Sounds, uh, interesting.”
“Interesting. Yes. It was that.”
“I wonder…is it ever go to stop? I mean, what’s the point of all this – if we’re not going to learn?”
He shrugged. “Who knows? What I do know is there’s always going to be somebody out there who wants your stuff, and who’s willing to kill you to get it. Does it really make any difference why?”
“You carried the badge, you know the score. Once upon a time I went on the basic assumption that all people are basically good. I mean, deep down. It took about a year on the street to figure out how stupid that is.”
“Is it? Maybe all people are born good, then maybe life changes us, slowly, little by little, until maybe it sucks the good right out of us. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with us.”
“I don’t even know how to respond to that. How do you explain a Mother Theresa, a Gandhi?”
“Did you ever read any Piaget? Or Kohlberg?”
He shrugged. “My degree was in engineering, remember?”
“You should read up on Lawrence Kohlberg. The stages of moral development.”
“They making you read that stuff, too?”
“Morality and medicine, huh. Well, there’s an unexpected thought.”
“You’re a philistine!” she said, laughing a little.
He tuned the book over in his hand again. “Mind if I take it with me?”
“No, go ahead. You’ve been warned, though. Might change the way you think. What’d you need at the pharmacy?”
“Some more eyedrops.”
“I’ve got a spare. Want to take mine?”
“You don’t mind?”
“No. You still having trouble?”
“Smog and dry air. Bad combination.”
“Just use the drops, and stop rubbing your eyes. You get nodular episcleritis a few more times and you’ll need to go back to the doc for some real work.”
“Wish I’d taken a nap yesterday.”
“What is it, a seven hour flight?”
“Depends on the jet-stream, but that’s close enough. Usually closer to eight.”
“Where are you staying?”
He shrugged. “Usually out by the airport. Marriott, usually.”
“Makes sense, I guess.”
“You haven’t been yet, have you?”
She shook her head. “No, I haven’t. Can’t imagine why, either.”
“We’ll have more time now. Burning the candle at both ends…isn’t that what you said I was doing?”
“Yup. Maybe we could go – together? Still, I’m not sure…”
“Look, the cop thing is over with now. Time to move on.”
“You think you’ll miss it?”
“Being a cop? Hell yes. Every day.”
“I do, too.”
“You should’ve gone straight to med school, never done the FBI thing.”
“I know. 20-20 hindsight, huh?”
“And I never should have joined the department.”
“Well, the bottom fell out on the airlines, didn’t it. You weren’t the only one laid off.”
“It’ll happen again, you know,” he said. “If this really turns into a full blown civil war, the global economy will tank.”
“Then we pick up the pieces. I get through school, you go work for the Sanitation Department…”
He chuckled. “I guess I deserve that.” He looked at his watch, shook his head. “I’m going to miss you this time.”
“You’ll be gone, what, three days?”
She came and they hugged, then he picked up his bags and walked out to his department car, then he drove downtown and parked it in the central lot and hailed a cab for the ride out to the airport.
He got inside the taxi and ignored the man in the back seat by his side while he buckled his seat belt, then he turned and looked at The Duke, who handed him an overstuffed envelope.
“Here’s the contact information, and what little background info I could lay my hands on.”
“Yeah. Went out on a medical. CID for fifteen or so years. He says their department is completely compromised, the FBI field office out there may be too.”
“What’s Carol think?”
“Not much. They’re very compartmentalized, local cells, then regional. The national hierarchy is diffuse. She really doesn’t know the details, and is getting testy when I ask.”
“Think she can infiltrate?”
“Nope. She thinks even making the attempt would expose her. She’s walking a razor’s edge as is, one slip and they’ll know she’s playing both sides against the middle.”
“You wanna get her out?”
Dickinson sighed, then shook his head. “Not yet. I’d like to know what their objectives are locally first.”
Acheson snorted. “I’d say we know that, already. Discredit the political system, expose corrupt officials, then…”
“Yeah, it’s the ‘then’ thing that has me bothered, Ben. What comes next, you know? Yeah, I get the whole ‘discredit’ and ‘expose’ thing, but what’s their end game? And what lengths are these people prepared to go to in order to achieve their goals?”
“Well, they’ve killed over a thousand people in the last two days…”
“Exactly. So, what’s next?”
“Who’s next might be the better question.” Acheson added.
“You ever wonder why so many of people in government have such serious kinks? Why so many kids have been a part of this?”
Acheson shook his head. “I’m no expert, but the whole BDSM thing is about consensual control, isn’t it? With control the operative principle? And the pedophile angle? That’s got to be about exercising power over someone completely, well, powerless hardly describes a kid.”
“What you said, the whole ‘manor’ thing, the medieval feudalism angle? What do you make of that?”
“Well, feudal power rested within an uneasy alliance between lorded aristocrats and the church. That’s beginning to resemble our modern world again, isn’t it? A vested political elite appealing to an evangelical class – which itself wants greater access to power and money – in order to solidify their own hold on power. It’s a symbiotic relationship, Duke. They’re feeding off one another, until one gains momentary supremacy, anyway, then there’s a renewed power struggle after a new hierarchy emerges, until the other can maneuver into a position of supremacy again.”
Acheson laughed at that. “All world history deconstructed into dominance games. With the emerging sexual undertones we’re finding each day, that may not be too far off.”
“Simple way to end that world would be to cut off all the balls. Get rid of testosterone as the fuel driving the motor of civilization.”
“Or…get rid of all men in positions of political power.” Acheson and The Duke looked at one another, then both shook their heads and laughed.
“No way,” they said in unison. “Not gonna happen.”
He had a new First Officer that morning, and she was already in the cockpit when he walked in the cockpit. He took off his jacket and hung it in the sliver-like closet by the door, then turned to stow his flight bag – but she was up, her hand out, waiting for him.
“Sandy Beecham,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve flown together before.”
“Ben Acheson,” he said, taking her hand – while thinking ‘My, that was fast.’ “No, I don’t think we have. Ready to take a walk?”
“Yup,” she said, gathering up her raincoat.
I would be at least another 45 minutes before pre-boarding began, but it was still raining out so he slipped his rain jacket on too. They walked out through the galley to the stairs off the Jetway, then out into the storm. He looked up at the clouds once he was on the wet concrete, low-scudding and whipping across the sky, driven by a north wind, then he walked to the left wing while Beecham took off for the right. He checked tread depths on tires, talked to the ground chief about the turn-around report and what had been finished – and the squawks that remained on the 777s ‘down’ list – then he signed the fuel load-out and finished his walk-around, meeting up with Beecham under the tail.
“Look good?” he asked.
She nodded her head. “Hardly anyone onboard today,” she added. “Five in First, three in Business, and fifteen in coach.”
He shook his head again, wondered how long the airlines could keep this up. So much uncertainty, and coming on so quickly, had undermined international commerce, and once again consumer confidence had fallen through the floor. With fuel prices spiking, this 777 needed 70 percent of her seats filled just to break even, and today’s load was nowhere near that. He was a captain now, but he was low on the seniority list and that familiar worrying sensation came back again.
“You ready to head up?” she asked, but she was watching him closely now.
“Hmm. Oh, yes, let’s go.”
“I was just thinking, about the last time. In 2008, with the crash. How fast the lay-offs came…”
“Me too,” she said. “I was at Northwest, had just started in A320s then the boom fell.”
“Too much uncertainty out there right now. Things are getting spooky.”
They started walking back to the Jetway, both lost in thought, and they slipped into the cockpit and took their seats quietly. But the routine was the same, and they fell back into the familiar: they pulled out checklists and began waking the bird up, getting ready like today was just another day.
But of course it wasn’t.
“Someone told me you work with the Police Department, in Dallas.”
“I did,” he lied. “I quit recently. Too much on my plate.”
She nodded her head. “Got to be confusing. You look tired. Get much sleep last night?”
“You know, I had trouble falling asleep. All this stuff on the news I guess,” but he found himself thinking of Genie – and that book about the doctor in Vietnam. He wanted to go aft, find a quiet seat by a fireplace and read for a while, but he shook himself back into the present…
“You married,” she asked.
He turned and looked at her, pointed at the ceiling – the universal sign that the cockpit voice recorder was on – and he began calling out the pre-start checklist. It was all business now, and thirty minutes later the Trip-7 was pushing back from the gate.
“American 48 heavy, clear to taxi,” the tower said, “on K to 1-7 Right, DALLAS FOUR departure approved. Winds out of the south now, 1-6-6 degrees at four knots, ceiling 2500, visibility five miles, altimeter two niner niner one.”
He watched as the push-back cart disengaged, then reached up and turned on the wipers as Beecham began starting two. The ground chief standing in the rain below got on the intercom: “Okay, double checks on baggage holds complete, all doors show red-locked. You’re ready to go, Captain.”
“Thanks, Chief,” Acheson said, and when the man was clear he advanced the throttles and cleared the brakes, then began the short taxi out to the runway.
“Pre-takeoff checklist complete,” Beecham said as he slowed at EK, then a powerful gust shook the aircraft. “That’s out of the north,” he said, then he called the tower. “Uh, 48 Heavy, can you advise wind speed and direction, please.”
“Uh, 48 Heavy, winds now out of the north at 2-5 knots. Standby one.”
“48, standing by.”
“Uh, 48 Heavy, take off runway 3-5 Left, BLECO SEVEN departure now active, winds now 0-1-0 degrees at 2-7 knots, altimeter two niner niner four.”
“3-5 Left and BLECO SEVEN, 48 Heavy.”
“Look at those clouds,” Beecham said, and looked left, to the north. The clouds were almost black, and he thought he could see a wall cloud off to the left.
“Uh, 4-8 Heavy, you got anything on doppler to the north northwest?”
“4-8, heavy precip, no hooks.”
“I think I see a wall cloud from up here. Might keep an eye out.”
“Uh, tower, Delta 224, we just went through and it’s a screamer, picked up some hail and a lot of chop.”
Acheson listened as the tower advised all aircraft in the pattern of the storm, and they taxied south for the new runway; he re-entered the new departure information on his FMC, or flight management computer, and he watched as his display changed, as new waypoints and steering commands appeared on his display. An American Eagle RJ pulled onto the runway and roared by, then he stopped at the holding area and double checked power settings and climb angles entered in the computer.
“4-8 Heavy, taxi to position and hold.”
“Heavy.” He released the brakes, turned onto the runway and lined up on the centerline, applied the brakes and waited. He peered into the sky a little off to the left. “I don’t like this,” he sighed.
“That cloud.” He keyed the mic again: “4-8 Heavy, any update on this storm?”
“Still heavy rain, no hooks. Uh, Heavy, you are clear for take off.”
“4-8 rolling,” he said as he advanced the throttles. He scanned the engines then began looking at the storm…
“80 knots,” Beecham called out, then V-one…and…rotate…”
He pulled back on the stick…
“Tower to all aircraft…tornado on the ground one mile north of 3-6 Right, repeat, tornado on the ground. The pattern is closed, the airport is closed!”
He looked to the left and saw the rope twisting in the sky and turned right. “Go to full take off power. Positive rate…”
“Gear coming up. Where is it?”
“Right fucking there,” he said – as the skies opened up. They flew into an impossibly thick hail storm, then the right wing dipped, and dipped. He didn’t fight it, turned right with the gust. “Uh, tower, 4-8, heavy hail, we’re turning right to 0-2-0 degrees.”
“0-2-0 approved, contact departure on 1-2-5-decimal-1-2. Good day.”
“48, bye.” He switched frequencies. “American 4-8 Heavy, out of 3-5 Left for BLECO, we’re deviating around this funnel cloud, on 0-2-0 right now. What’s it look like out there?”
“4-8 Heavy, resume 0-0-4 degrees as soon as possible, direct to YUNGG at 7000 approved. Storm is now at your eight o’clock, four miles. Do you have any damage?”
“Nothing showing right now.”
“Okay, 4-8, only traffic now a Delta MD80 at your ten, eight miles, he’ll be turning ahead of you, about two thousand over.”
“4-8, got it. Where are the tops right now?”
“Solid to flight level 2-4-0.”
“4-8, okay.” He shook his head, scanned the engines again – looking for any sign hail ingestion had damaged a fan blade, but everything looks good. “Let’s clean the wing,” he said as he turned to the originally programmed course.
“Flaps and slats up.”
“Well, that was fun,” he said.
“You mind if I go change my underwear now?”
He laughed, turned on the intercom: “Uh, ladies and gentlemen, for those of you on the left side of the aircraft, yes, that was a tornado. Sorry, that thing came out of nowhere and we had to make a few abrupt turns, but we’re on time and it looks like we’ll be in Gay Par-ee a little after midnight local time. No more bad weather on the radar, so as soon as we reach our cruising altitude the crew will be around to serve lunch. We’ll keep the seatbelt signs lit until we’re out of this cloud, so sit tight and enjoy the ride.” He flipped off the intercom, but the chief flight attendant called as soon as he did.
“Uh, Captain, it’s like floor to ceiling barf back here. Carpets, walls, you name it.”
“Was it that bad?”
“You have no idea. Half the overhead bins popped, one woman didn’t have her seatbelt latched properly.”
“Is she hurt?”
“Don’t think so, maybe a few bruises.”
“Okay. Keep me posted.” He looked at the FMC and watched it make the turn at YUNGG.
“4-8 Heavy, clear to flight level 2-7-0, contact Oklahoma Center 1-2-4-decimal-1 and good day.”
“4-8, bye.” He turned to Beecham as he changed COMMs. “Go back and take a look around. See if this bird needs a look see in Tulsa. Check on the folks, wave the flag.”
“Right.” She got up to leave and he put his mask on, and after she left he sealed the door again. Such a visit was now very unusual, but he felt it warranted under the circumstances. She chimed a few minutes later, and he picked up the intercom.
“Nothing bad,” she said, “but I think the ground crew at CDG ought to be warned. Maybe a few seats need to changed out, that kind of thing.”
“The injured woman?”
“There’s a doc onboard. He says it’s no biggie.”
“Opening now.” He unsealed the door and Beecham came in, double locked the door then sat down. She handed him a sandwich and a Coke, then buckled up.
“What is it today?”
“They had pink sludge, and green. This is the pink.”
“Okay. But what is it?”
“Supposed to be roast beef on rye.”
“It’s oozing. I’ve never seen roast beef ooze before.”
She unwrapped her’s and took a tentative sniff.
“Goddamn, I can smell it from here,” he said, and they both tossed them in the trash.
“I brought a couple of granola bars,” she added.
“I think I’ll wait. There might be some good food left in Paris.”
“Not a three in the morning.”
“Good point,” he said as he took the offered granola bar from her. ‘Well,’ he thought, ‘is she one of them? Is she going to try to kill me here? Now? Can I not trust any woman, ever again?’ He sighed, tore open the mylar wrapping and started in on it. ‘Can’t live that way. Not sure I’d want to live that way…’ then, for some reason, he thought of a play he’d had to read back in high school. A Greek comedy, wasn’t it? About women in the Peloponnesian War? Who joined together, stopped having sex so men would stop making war? What the hell was the name of that?
“Lysistrata!” he shouted.
“Oh, I was just thinking,” he said, but he saw the look she gave him just then. A little sidelong glance, a look full of suspicion. Then he settled in for the flight, centered his thinking and time passed.
“Do you think they’re serving real food in First today?” he said a while later.
“I am. Skipped breakfast, can’t even remember what we did for dinner.”
“So, you’re not married?” she said, ignoring his earlier warning about the CVR.
He sighed. “Not technically, but I might as well be. Genie. She’s in med school at Southwestern.”
Beecham laughed. “That’s too much.”
“My husband was in med school; he started his internship and filed for divorce the same day. I paid the bills while he was having an affair – with a goddamn nurse, too!”
“Sorry. What do you think happened?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, it’s just the cop in me, I guess, but marriages rarely fail due to just one person’s issues. It’s more like a group effort.”
She leaned back, sighed…
“4-8 Heavy, Toronto Center, clear to flight level 4-1-0.”
“4-8 to 4-1,” he said as he leaned forward and made the change on the AP panel, then initiated the climb.
“I never looked at it that way,” she added.
“You know, you’ll burn up inside if you can’t put yourself in the other fellas shoes every now and then.”
And he chuckled.
“What’s that for?”
“Oh, every time I hear someone say ‘I know’ I think that’s the last thing on their mind. ‘I know’ is a deflection, a statement used to turn away from an uncomfortable truth.”
“You study psychology, too?”
“Okay. Now I’m confused.”
“I thought engineers were anal retentive types, all numbers and slide-rules and shit like that.”
“Did you say slide-rules? How old are you?”
“Oh, that explains it.”
“Oh, Navy pukes still use slide-rules and have wind-up rubber bands in their engines.”
She laughed. “Don’t tell me. Air Farce.”
“Up in the air, Junior Bird Man,” he sang. “So. What was your contribution?”
Beecham looked out the windshield for a while, then she turned to him. “Mind if I turn off the CVR for a few minutes?”
“Oh. I don’t know,” he said as he nodded.
She reached to the back panel of the overhead panel and flipped the breaker, then shook her head. “He wanted sex, like all the time. I mean, like whenever we were together, and after a while it became mechanical, no love at all. He wouldn’t kiss me, or even say anything to me during. He just wanted to get his rocks off, and I began to feel like I was his plaything, his personal vagina, just someplace to shoot his load.” She looked away, and he saw she was upset.
“That sounds lonely,” he said.
“Yeah, it was.”
“So, you were upset when the divorce came?”
“Yeah,” she said, but she was crying a little now.
Time to get back on the clock, he said to himself. “We’ll finish this up later,” he said. “Turn on the recorder.”
The sun was setting now, and he saw stars popping out ahead, and an endless layer of low cloud stretched ahead.
“I never get tired of the view up here,” she sighed.
“Me too. It’s magic.”
“You know where we’re staying?”
“At the airport?”
“Yup.” He noticed she hadn’t turned on the recorder yet, and he looked at her, wondered what was going on in her head. “The recorder?” he reminded her.
“Oh, right.” But still she didn’t move. “Is everything okay between you and – Genie?”
“I haven’t been with anyone in a while.”
“Three years, and change.”
“I don’t suppose you’d care to help me out with that, would you?”
He looked at her, looked at her looking down at her hands, trembling a little – like a little girl. “You know, if you need a shoulder, or someone to talk to, yeah. I’ll be right there.”
She nodded her head, sighed. “Okay,” she whispered, then she turned around and flipped on the CVR. “Thanks,” she said.
The rest of the flight passed uneventfully, and they landed in Paris a little before two in the morning. Ah hour later they checked into the Marriott; he went up to his room and watched Beecham walk into the room next to his, then after he dumped his bags he called Genie.
“How’d it go?”
“I heard about the tornado. Were you near it?”
“We were in it, real close, as it turned out.”
“In the air?”
“Maybe a few hundred yards. Close, in other words.”
“How was school?”
“Oh, you know. The same. I saw Carol this evening.”
He was instantly on guard now. “Oh, how is she?”
“Uh, she seemed fine.” Which was Genie’s way of saying she had been anything but.
“Hear from The Duke?”
“Yep, he came over a while ago.”
“Right after Carol left.”
“What time do you get in Friday?”
“Want me to pick you up?”
“That’d be great.”
“Okay, see you then.”
“Thanks, Genie. I love you…”
But she had already rung off. He put the phone down and looked at it for a while, then lay down and turned out the lights.
He slept in, woke up around noon and saw his message light flashing on the house phone. He dialed the message line and listened.
“Hey, Captain Sleepy-head. Call my room when you get this?”
He trudged to the head and showered, brushed his teeth, then went back to the desk and called her room.
“You weren’t kidding,” Beecham said.
“That you didn’t sleep the night before. You were a zombie in the crew shuttle; Bruce thought you were going to pass out.”
“I feel like I could use another few hours.”
“I went into the city, bought a few things.”
“Oh? How were the crowds?”
“None. Even the Chinese are gone.”
“I know. Say, you want a back rub?”
“No, I’m good.”
“Could you give me a few minutes. I want to try something on, and I need your opinion.”
“Thanks. Give me five minutes, and my door’s unlocked.”
He looked at the adjoining doors, and he went over and moved the little baggage rack out of the way, then put on some khakis and a polo shirt. He looked at himself in the mirror, looked at the redness in his eyes and shook his head, then went and opened the door.
All the lights in her room were off, the curtains drawn.
“I’m in the bathroom,” she said. “Be right out.”
He went in, sat in a chair by the window and sighed, then the bathroom light went out and she walked into the room.
She was dressed in black – black lingerie, stockings and heels, and she walked across the room, right up to him.
“What do you think?” she said. “You like the way this stuff looks?”
“You know, I think I need to go now,” he said, trying to stand. But she stepped closer still and blocked his way, pushed him down into the chair. “Look, I’m serious…”
“So am I, Ben. I need you. Oh, God, how I need to feel you right now. I need to feel you inside of me, need to feel your cum inside of me.”
“Please don’t say no, Ben. Don’t do this to me, not now.” She pulled his face forward, until the side of his face rested on her panties and garters, and she pushed and gyrated against his skin until she felt his resolve softening. When his hands went around her thighs she smiled inside…
The camera had a hard time focusing in such low light, but the operator adjusted the gain a little, then began recording.
It’s hard to say when we jelled as a crew. The three of us, I mean.
Leaving Puget Sound on a sunny winter morning, headed outside together for only our second time together. Past Victoria, past where we had our little epiphany – with the Beretta and the Great White. Turning south at Tatoosh, running down the coast for days, sailing past the nightmarish Columbia River bar for the easier pass at Coos Bay. Cross the bar, sail under McCullough Bridge into the back bay, tie up at the little marina back near the flats. Pump out the holding tanks, fill up with diesel and spend the night after a quick dinner ashore, then back out into the Pacific.
We kept close enough to the coast to keep cell coverage, and about half way down to San Francisco I watched news reports flood in about bombings in Dallas and Maryland while I sat behind the wheel. Persephone was with me when I started swearing.
“Woodie?” she said. “What is it?”
I handed her the phone.
“I think it’s started,” I sighed. You know, there’s something heartbreaking about a cute girl saying ‘Oh, no.’ Like watching a little girl on her first bicycle ride falling down and scraping her knee, there’s a helplessness inside the moment. Maybe a little inevitability, too, but that’s not the point. I looked at my golden girl, the sudden pout on her lips, in her eyes – and I just wanted to hold her close.
Then the phone chirped and I looked at the screen. “Chief Anders,” I said as I took the call. “Yo. Chief.”
“Where are you?”
“Coming up on Point Arena, not quite ten miles offshore.”
“You see the stuff about Dallas?”
“This is it, isn’t it?”
“Opening move, my guess, anyway.”
“How far are you from San Francisco?”
“About a hundred and ten miles from the Golden Gate. Call it tomorrow afternoon, late.”
“Fuck. Why couldn’t you buy a goddamn motor boat. I can walk faster than that festering turd.”
“What’s up, Chief.”
“There’s a Coast Guard facility, on the east side of Treasure Island. Call them on 72, then follow their instructions.”
“Chief? You didn’t answer my question.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Let me know if you need anything.”
“We’re running low on condoms, Chief. Think you could…”
“Fuck you, Woody.”
“Thank you, Chief.”
The line went dead, and Sephie just looked at me, scowling.
“What is it, baby.”
“We’re not low on condoms, Woody? I didn’t even think we were using condoms anymore.”
Ah, that’s my Persephone. Did I mention…well, yes, I’m sure I did. She’s a natural blond, through and through, and I love her more than life itself.
“Sailing Vessel Black Dog calling Coast Guard on 72.”
“Black Dog, Coast Guard, what’s your location?”
“Just coming up on the west span.”
And that was, indeed, that.
Then I saw an aluminum CG 44 footer cutting through the bay, headed right for us, and the little ship turned wide and came up on us from the rear. I held a steady course while it came alongside, and I saw a lieutenant come to the rail as they slowed and matched speed.
“You Woodward,” the lieutenant said, his eyes focused like twin lasers on Sephie’s chest.
“I am. And this is Persephone,” I said, as graciously as I could, “And this is Liza.”
“Yes they are,” he stumbled, his eyes still locked on Sephie cleavage. “You need to follow me, sir, and we’ll help you get tied up.”
I had to laugh. He’d never run across two girls more adept at tying things up than these two. So, if he only knew, right?
Once we were tied up the lieutenant led me to an administrative building, and Anders was inside, laptop on desk reading something intently. Tate stood in a far corner, looking out the window. He looked at me and gave a quick nod, and I did the same.
“Sit down, Woodie,” Anders said absently, yet his eyes never left the screen. I watched him for a few minutes, then he closed the screen and turned to Richard. “Tate? Take a seat.”
“You been keeping up with all this?” Anders asked, looking at me.
“There’s been more?”
He nodded his head. “About ten strikes so far. Another in Dallas, a few on the east coast, a few out here.”
“They’re targeting politicians, compromised politicians and people in…”
“Let me guess. Corrupt judges, lawyers, cops?”
“Among others, yes. The press, broadcast reporters, and some pervs, too.”
“And what’s this got to do with me?”
“When Tottenham took out that girl…”
“Yes, the Kopecki girl. Seems she was head of the local branch of, well, you remember reading that intel report on the stuff going on down in Dallas?”
“Some women, wasn’t it? Targeting pedophiles?”
“Uh, yeah. Well, they were dressed as Ninja.”
And I remembered MJs girls up in the cockpit, dressed in black, like Ninja. “So, MJs girls and Tottenham’s group weren’t together?” I asked quietly, if only to myself.
“Nope. Brennan thinks Kopecki’s Ninja group infiltrated the Tottenham’s ‘whips and chains’ crowd, seemed to integrate with them, and I emphasize the word ‘seemed,’ but now the Ninjas are taking them out – and it’s a nationwide effort, with all that implies.”
“So, these two groups are everywhere, and a war between them is breaking out?”
Tate nodded, cleared his throat. “My guess is when Tottenham took out Kopecki he started a war, and while the moves we’ve seen so far are overt, and very public attacks, a bunch of the Kinks have turned up dead, sometimes in their homes, in their cars, but not in an overt manner.” He tossed some photos on the table and I picked them up, flipped through a couple. Slit throats, bullets in the face, the usual.
So our immediate concern was this,” Anders interjected. “These two girls of yours were in deep, up to their eyeballs in that kink group, and those people are disappearing like snowballs in the Sahara right now.”
I nodded my head. “Yessir. I see where this is going.”
“Okay. Second concern. They’re either taking out cops directly, or compromising us. Blackmail, set ups and blackmail. There’s a Captain in CID down in Dallas. Dickinson’s his name, and he led the investigation last summer. He’s compromised, or so he says, but his lead on the case, a kid named Acheson, isn’t. The thing is, he’s a reserve. His day job is with American, flies for a living. He’s on his way to Paris as we speak. And you’re leaving at nine tonight.”
“For Paris. I want you to compare notes, and Tate has a few toys he’d like you to try out. He’ll be with you, but I want you to get this Acheson fella up to speed on things going on out here, the structure we know about…”
“Chief, you can’t expect me to leave the girls here?”
“Safest place for them right now is at sea, next safest place is tied up right here. For now, anyway. Brennan wants to take them and put them in Witness Protection.”
“Except he thinks the Marshall’s are compromised too.”
“Oh, now that’s just fuckin’ great. Tell me, Chief. What have they got on you?”
And I could see it in his eyes, before he turned away. “Yeah, don’t ask, Woody. I’m going to go down in flames, and soon. They got me with a hooker a few months ago.”
“Marie doesn’t know?”
“Why don’t you just tell her. Apologize like hell, get down on your knees and beg for her forgiveness.”
He almost laughed. “What if she’s one of them, Woodie.”
I didn’t know what to say. “You’re thinking that’s possible?”
He nodded his head. “They’ll crucify me on TV, and within days I’ll be gone.”
“You know, I think this is going to be impossible to stop. Whatever it is they’re doing, they’ve been planning it for years, quietly moving assets into place, and they’re not constrained by the norms of typical political debate. They’re going to take out their enemies, violently – publicly, then, after compromising the ethics of the standing elite, they’ll just move in to fill the vacuum.”
“Yup. The Romans did it that way a few times, and it worked for them, I guess. Quick, bloody coups work. That’s the lesson.”
“So, we’re Rome now?”
He snorted. “Hell, we’re just people, Woodie. People arrive at similar solutions to similar problems.”
“And we create the same problems, over and over again, don’t we?”
“Maybe so. Whatever, someone else made that call. We either fight them now, or we roll over and play dead.”
“I think I should get on my goddamn boat and get the fuck out of Dodge.”
“I do too. I would if I could.”
“Then why? Why ask me to do this?”
“Maybe there’s a chance you and Tate can figure something out.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. A group with thousands of people spread throughout government, with several years head start, and that’s killing with impunity? What am I supposed to figure out, Chief?”
“Look at it this way, Woodward. We’re in the beginning stages of a civil war. The president and the Joint Chiefs are looking at it this way, too. The next step is to find the snake and cut off it’s head.”
“What if there’s more than one snake?”
“Then they’re going to start killing all the snakes.”
“You heard me. It kind of gives a whole new meaning to Gender Wars, doesn’t it? Round up suspected women, everywhere, and kill them.”
“This is seriously being considered?”
“The pieces are being moved on the board as we speak.” He looked at me, then at Tate.
“And pawns will be sacrificed,” I sighed, “won’t they?”
“Yes, Woodie, pawns will be sacrificed.”
I gave the girls the rundown and they took the news about as expected: Sephie went into full meltdown mode and Liza went aft and helped me pack, then she started packing a bag too. Tate looked at her, then at me – shaking his head.
“What are you doing?”
“We’re coming with you. And don’t even think of arguing with me, either of you.” When she was packed, she went forward and got Persephone. “Where’s your Passport?” she asked, and they went went to my safe and got them just as I felt else someone hop onboard.
“Woodie?” I heard Anders say from the cockpit.
“How’s your heart?”
“Would it be better if these girls went with you?”
“Well, get ‘em packed up, then we’ll make a run for the airport.”
“Yes, Chief.” He threw me a wallet, and I opened it – then looked up at him.
“I know. Kind of funny, but Brennan insisted, and who knows, it may come in handy. Anyway, if anyone asks you’re the AD of their SeaTac field office, tasked with counter-terrorism operations. And you’re authorized to carry this,” he said, handing me a Sig P-220, “everywhere. Even on the goddamn airplane.”
Liza was looking at all this go down, then she came up from behind and put her arms around me. “Come on, sweet-cheeks,” she said. “It’s time to go save the world.”
We flew over on Air France, in one of those A380 double deckers, and the changes were obvious, and unsettling.
In the airport, very few women seen, not even behind the counters. On the aircraft, the same story: all the flight attendants were male, and only a few passengers were female – and those were Muslim. Not that it mattered; on an airplane designed to haul over 500 people, there were less that fifty on board, and it didn’t matter what class you were in, everyone got the same chow. Factory made sandwiches, all beverages either canned or poured from a sealed bottle. Paranoia run amok, I think, and to me it felt like the initial conclusions had been assimilated by leaders in Washington D.C. and then passed on to world leaders: a cabal of women is behind these attacks, and they are intent on taking over the country, maybe even the world. Was Anders mimicking a greater breathless hysteria, or was something really so formidably drastic taking shape all around us?
The four of us sat together on the upper deck, and there was a television show playing while we boarded, a French production, the dialogue translated as text, streaming along the bottom of the screen. Women all across Europe were not showing up at their jobs, men were reporting that wives and girlfriends had simply stopped having sex with them, then a reporter in Tokyo was onscreen, saying much the same thing. In Brazil? The same. Cape Town? Ditto. From Amsterdam to Zimbabwe, women were disengaging from civic life, and from their personal routines, too. More ominously still, local politicians’ illicit sex lives were making their way online, or on-the-air, and the same pattern noted first in Dallas, then around the United States, began appearing around the world. Weird sex clubs and rampant pedophilia were the norm in these lurid exposés, and some of these politicians resigned forthwith. Many others soon turned up in charred wreckage somewhere – a bombed out motel or warehouse frequently the scene.
And I noticed that while Sephie watched the unfolding horror with empathy in her eyes, Liza watched for a moment – then turned away.
And perhaps I hadn’t seen the faint echoes of a smile on her face. Maybe it was all just my imagination.
Then I saw a live report from Paris, something about Christmas shopping, and I saw snow falling in the cameras lights, then looked down at my shorts and boat shoes. Had I even packed one pair on long pants? Hell, I couldn’t even remember if I owned any long pants.
That’s what living on a boat with two sadomasochistic nymphomaniacs will do to you.
Paris is, I suppose, simply Paris – and it always will be, right? Another big city with a phallic monument in the center. A male phallus, of course – at least that was Liza’s version of the city as we drove in from the airport – but she seemed more than a little put out by the whole thing. Like she was anxious, even angry about men and their penises – and how we’d, figuratively speaking, of course, rammed our dicks down the world’s throats since the beginning of time.
“Excuse me,” I said to her sulking reflection in the window, “but is it that time of month?”
Which was, of course, not the right thing to say. At all.
Arms crossed over chest, steam coming out ears, she glowered the rest of the way into the city. Sephie, of course, looked out the window, oohing at the Eiffel Tower while Liza snorted derisively. Yin and Yang, Ego and Super-Ego, two sides of the same coin – falling through time. One was Conscience, the other Lust, and isn’t it a simple truth that we go through life attracted to both – and yet we can never decide which we hold most important?
Someone had booked us into a little hotel on the Ile Saint Louis; we walked up to our room and I showered while the girls unpacked, and as I dressed I heard Liza talking to Sephie.
“You stay here, keep an eye on the room.”
“I want to go with him,” my Persephone said. “You’re so mad right now you’ll get him in trouble.”
“I will not.”
“You will to.”
“Uh, girls. I’m sorry, but Daddy doesn’t like to see his baby girls acting like three year olds. Can we get it together? Or does Daddy have to go out by himself?”
Then Liza cut to the heart of the matter, holding up my bottle of Viagra: “Does Daddy want a little blue pill, make little stick big again so he can go boom-boom?”
Why is it that girls are always right?
Maybe because it’s so easy to lead men around by the balls?
So, Sephie stayed in the room while Liza and I walked out of the hotel – and Tate was gone. Vanished. We looked around, got our bearings and walked the few blocks to Notre Dame, and we sat on a bench at the south end of the little park by the river, and we waited.
He was lanky, that’s what I remember most about Ben Acheson. Tall, and lanky, and he had a kind of Jimmie Stewart air about him that day. Kind of an “Aw, shucks, Ma’am…” thing going. Like he’d screwed the pooch big time, and didn’t mind if we knew it.
He ambled up and sat on the bench beside ours, then he sighed.
“The person I most trust with your life.”
“So, why are we here?” I asked – and I noticed Liza scanning the sky overhead.
“To share notes, I think.”
“Drone,” Liza whispered. “Overhead. We’re blown.”
At least the kid had the good sense not to look up. “Okay,” he said, “what’s next?”
“Why don’t you tell me what you know?”
So he did. Everything that had happened in Dallas, all the Ninja stuff from the summer before, the attacks this week, then the stuff about Rutherford in his house – which as far as I could tell no one else knew about.
“So, she’s an AD in the NSA?”
“Yes. Kind of clever, don’t you think? Get yourself on the inside, the head of the snake…”
“That’s what Anders, my chief, said. ‘We’ve got to cut off the head of the snake.’”
“So, how’d all this get started out there?”
So I told him my story, including Persephone and Liza’s part in the drama, and of the Tottenham twins demise.
“I take it,” he sighed, “you know your department is compromised, from top to bottom. The FBI, too?”
I nodded. “From the first, when Chief Tottenham was killed.”
“So his brother killed this Mary Jo, and that precipitated the split?”
And for the first time, Liza spoke about that night. She cleared her throat, then looked at me.
“Not quite. MJ was protecting Woodie,” she said to Acheson, then she turned to me. “She was from the beginning. Tottenham and his clique wanted you out of the picture, she intervened, kept you from being killed – at least three times that I know of.”
Then she turned to Acheson again. “What’s eating you?” she asked. “You look like you’ve swallowed a squirrel.”
“I think they got me this morning?”
Liza just looked at the kid, then I could see it all over his face too.
“What did they get you with,” I asked. “A woman?”
He nodded his head, told us about the encounter.
“You married?” I asked.
“Not yet. I guess that means no, as in it ain’t gonna happen now.”
“Man,” Liza said, shaking her head, “I am so glad I wasn’t born with a dick. Don’t you guys ever stop thinking with that fucker?”
“Alright, knock it off,” I scolded. “So, your girl either gets over it or she doesn’t. They think they’ve got you over their barrel now, that they own you, and maybe we can use that to our advantage…” But I could tell the kid was turning something over in his mind, like he was working a math problem in his head. “What is it, Ben?”
“Rutherford,” he whispered. “She kissed me, seemed vested in me somehow.”
“She wants you,” Liza said. “All these Alphas, these leaders, have to take a mate, but they have to take them from another woman, then kill the other woman too, and with their own hands. They have to break down their new mate after that, mentally, emotionally – and physically, before rebuilding him. The idea is to make the new mate totally dependent, totally demascluinize him. Like a role reversal dominance game, taken to a new extreme,” she added, looking at Acheson. “She’ll turn you into a girl, what girls were to men in the old order, anyway.”
“Right,” the kid said. “Over my dead body.”
“That’s what it’ll come down to,” she added, looking him in the eye. “These Alphas are predatory, feral, and the veneer of civility they wear is very thin. They’ve been plotting this for decades, and they know the kinds of sacrifices that are being made won’t ever be undone. In their eyes the battle of the sexes was never some kind of joke, or something they were ever prepared to lose, for that matter. They’re preparing to completely upend the old patriarchy, to end what was and replace it with something totally new. And they’re counting on you thinking with your dick, and not your head, to help them make this happen.”
So, there it was. The end game, the backgammon.
Tate dropped by, had us download an app for our phones, told me what he and Acheson had in mind – just in case – then we split again – he followed Acheson out to the Marriott while we went back to our little hovel.
Acheson was leaving for Dallas in the morning, and we would leave for San Francisco an hour after he.
Would they respond? Had we set an attractive enough trap?
Only time would tell.
Acheson sat in the back of the taxi, trying to ignore the female driver sneering at him from the driver’s seat.
‘My God,’ he thought, ‘they’re everywhere. Yet only where they need to be.’
The logistics were staggering, coordinating the movement of millions of assets around the globe, and it would all be impossible, he knew, without the ‘net. And without apps to tie-together their vast network, innocent social media apps, that literally everyone had access to.
He looked out the window, at the endless stream of little cars – tiny little Renaults and Citroens – and how unlike the scene was compared to Dallas. Pickup trucks and Cadillacs, gas-guzzlers all, versus these tiny gas-sippers, and he saw a vast train station beyond the freeway. Dozens of trains filling with people, ready to leave for the furthest reaches of the country. So very different, yet the same. People moving freely, always on the move: on business, to take care of family, to ramble on an endless vacation.
What would happen if it all just stopped?
Because what loomed on the horizon was a sudden, screeching halt. An end to one way of life, and the sudden imposition of a new, radically different way of life. What had that girl, Liza, implied? Men would be maintained as breeding stock, and dumbed down men would be utilized for heavy labor – until, presumably, men could be replaced by robots and genetic engineering. The idea was comical, like Our Man Flint meets Blofeld, only now, after watching events unfold in Dallas, and hearing about these groups working around Seattle, he was sure this wasn’t a serialized comic book caper.
No, this is just the opposite. This is real, and it’s happening now. Right now.
What had she said? Stop thinking with your dicks? How was that even possible?
“Qu’est-ce que vous avez dit?”
“Pardonnez-moi, je ne me rendais pas compte que je parlais…”
“Vous avez dit, ‘comment était-ce possible?’”
“Oh je suis désolé…”
“You are English?” she asked.
“So, what is not possible?”
“Someone just told me something funny, that it is impossible for men to not think without using their, well, their penis.”
“Ah. Yes, this is probably true, but that is who and what you are, is it not?”
“So, why is this funny?”
“I think she was asking me to think like a woman, which is clearly not possible.”
“Perhaps. How does a woman think?”
“You tell me?”
The woman thought for a moment, then she brightened. “A woman does not live in the moment. She lives in the future, yet also in the past. She thinks not of pleasure, but how pleasure can be used to her advantage. She thinks of the moment as a stop along the way to what she desires.”
“That seems very mercenary to me, very cold and calculating.”
“Perhaps. But men’s calculations are as narrow. What gets me power, and how do I gain power with the most pleasure attached?”
He shook his head, laughed a little. “We are a doomed species.”
“Perhaps, yes,” the woman said, “or perhaps it is better to try a new way, while there is still time.”
“So, who do you work for?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
He nodded his head, looked ahead. He could see aircraft landing and taking off at CDG, then his hotel on the left. “Do you know…are they going to kill me?”
She looked at him in the rearview mirror, then shrugged. “Truly, I do not know, but I would not want to be in your shoes.”
She pulled up to the entrance and he pulled out his wallet, but she shook her head. “It is not necessary.” She turned and looked at him now, and she shook her head just a little. “If I were to give you one piece of advice, I would say act not inside the moment, but within the future you seek.”
“What does that mean?”
She sighed, and frowned. “It means you must be prepared to sacrifice yourself to save the ones you love.”
“Maybe you could just take me to the airport…”
She laughed, looked him in the eye. “You cannot run. There is no place that far away.”
“Good luck, my friend.”
“Yes. You too.”
He got out of the little Renault and walked through the lobby. A woman looked over her newspaper and watched him pass, then sent a text.
He went upstairs and pulled open the drapes, then got out the little book Genie had read for her ethics class – 12, 20 & 5 – and he started reading. The book was about choices, he saw, about choices forced and choices randomly arrived at. It was about choosing who lived, and who died, and all under the most impossible circumstances imaginable. Ultimately, it was a story about trying to impose order when man is surrounded by chaos of his own making. Even if the only thing he’d ever surrounded himself with before was apathy.
He stood up to go to the bathroom and heard people outside his door, so he bent to his phone and sent the emails he’d composed. One to Genie, one to The Duke, and one to Woodward, then he went to the door and opened it.
Five of them came in. All in black, black Ninja, and he walked into the bathroom, left the door open while he took a leak, then he went back to his chair and picked up the book and resumed reading.
Another knock on the door.
One of the Ninja opened it, and she walked in.
Rutherford, the assistant director of operations for the NSA.
She walked in – black dress, blacks stockings and heels – and she stopped, looked out the window at the airport, then down at him. Then she put her heel on his groin – and pushed.
“I liked that book,” she began. “Read it years ago. Kind of heartbreaking, in the way Hooker’s MASH was.”
“The more things change…” he said, trying to hide the pain.
“Yes. Exactly. I want you, but I guess you know that, don’t you.”
“I’m not sure why?”
“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I do.”
“The audio on our end wasn’t good. I take it Woodward’s little bitch filled you in?”
“Pretty much. You’ll have to kill Genie, with your own hands, to sanctify the marriage, that kind of thing?”
“Don’t trivialize something so sacred.”
“I’m not. I simply I don’t understand.”
She looked at him with, perhaps, a little compassion, maybe even understanding in her eyes, then she turned to one of the Ninja. “It’s time. Turn on the television.”
One of the girls found the remote and turned it on, then tuned into CNN.
“The President met in Reykjavík this morning. Secretly, of course,” she smiled. “He’s about to leave…they’re all about to leave, now that their press conference is over. Watch…”
He saw Air Force One taxi to the end of the runway, then make it’s run. It lifted into the air and was beginning to make it’s turn for the Atlantic when it simply exploded, and a huge black and orange fireball appeared – where only moments before there had been normalcy.
She nodded at the Ninja – who turned the sound down – then she turned to Acheson. “Right now, and I mean right this moment, the vice president and the entire chain of succession is being eliminated. Within the hour, a huge explosion will simply remove the Pentagon from the face of the earth. When Congress convenes in emergency session this evening, that building will fall down around their heads.”
“My. You seem to have thought of everything.”
The back-handed slap was brutal, as her leather gloves were full of lead shot, and he felt his left eye swell and close.
“I’m not fond of sarcasm,” she said.
The next blow was more savage, then…
“Director, on the television. Look!”
Rutherford turned to CNN and she saw – Rutherford, turning to look at the television.
“What is this?” she almost screamed.
“It’s CNN, and smile, you’re on Candid Camera!” Acheson said, pointing at an air conditioning vent.
She turned, snapped her fingers and all the Ninja made for the door – only Woodward and Tate and half the FBI was waiting out there already, guns drawn and ready.
They opened fire, and cut them down. All of them but Rutherford.
The war had been joined now. He could see it in the woman’s eyes.
Then she turned and looked at Woodward. “Leave us for a moment, please. I need to tell him something.”
Acheson nodded, and the team stepped back out into the hall, closing the door – almost.
She knelt between Acheson’s legs and cupped his face in hand: “I’m sorry, Ben. Sorry I hurt you.”
And he took her hand and kissed it. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand why this happened, but I’ll try.”
“I know you will. That’s why I want you.”
“That’s a good look for you,” he sighed, trying to smile. “You look good in black. Sexy.”
“And that’s why I’ll always want you.”
“This isn’t over, you know?”
He nodded his head. “I know.”
“God, I want you so much it hurts.”
He watched as one of the agents came into the room, and he looked as the man pulled out a silenced pistol and came up to her from behind. He placed blue steel against the back of her neck, and Acheson turned away.
(C)2017 adrian leverkuhn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | firstname.lastname@example.org | this is fiction, all fiction, and nothing but fiction.