It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter IX (Part I)

(Editor's note: Earl Fando is currently writing a novel as part of the insane National Novel Writing Month Contest. As of this post, he has passed the 34,000 word mark, and is climbing the walls of his office like Spiderman.)

Chapter 9
Welcome to My Paranoia


I sat there feeling as thunderstruck as I ever have, with the possible exception of the moment when one of my parents, the shock prevents me from remembering which one exactly, explained “the birds and the bees” to me. Unlike then, when I pretended to already know absolutely everything discussed, and in fact knew much of it, due to the local school district’s libertine policies on health education, this time I was completely flabbergasted.

Stew had the look of someone who was trying to remember something that they were certain they knew already, but had forgotten due to growing older or some blunt trauma to the skull in the recent past. He started to speak, and then stopped again as if realising the words in mind were utterly insufficient. He began again, but then looked up as though a small hummingbird had passed in his field of vision causing him to lose the whole train of thought all over again.

Nuffy sat there with a very satisfied expression. If he hadn’t spat his cigar in the wastebin, I was certain he would have been happily chomping on it again.

“How did you come to the conclusion…?” I began, but Nuffy seemed to have been waiting for a chance to explain further.

“It was really the first part that got me thinking,” he said. “You know that burst of three short ‘Yangtze’s’ followed by the three longer ones, and then three shorter ones again.”

“S.O.S?” I blurted the letters out. Stew mouthed the words at just about the same time I said them.

“Right,” said Nuffy. “Well, I was thinking about this while the video was going on and then realized the whole thing was a coded message. That’s when I asked you to replay the clip again. Look, here’s what I think it says.”

He laid the paper in front of us and we read it quickly. It said:

“S.O.S. Help needed. Come to the safe house. Next message there. They are
after me. Do not fail me Merle. Mudge.”

“Blimey,” was all I could say.

“I wasn’t sure about the ‘Merle’ part, since the message was sent to you,” Nuffy confessed. “I could have sworn there was an ‘M’ in there though.”

“No… No, that’s right, I’m afraid.” I looked at the paper again. My eyes began to cross as I stared at it.

“Who’s Mudge?” Stew asked.

“My old boss at the Phoenix Corporation,” I replied. “He’s a bit of a nutter in his old age.”

“Well, it was a peculiar way to send a message,” Nuffy agreed, “but I have to say, it did have the advantage of being crazy enough to throw off any sane person.”

We both looked at him with amazement.

“Except me, of course,” he hastily added.

“So who was the guy in the video?” Stew asked.

I thought about it a bit more. I had only one conclusion, but I couldn’t tell them, at least not the whole truth. The beady, bloodshot eyes, the thin grey hair, the craggy, hoarse voice… it had to be Nixon himself, sending the message from behind the “Have A Nice Day” mask.

“Bloody hell, I think it’s my former boss, Mr. Guthrie,” I admitted.

“Hmm… Your boss sounds a lot like Nixon,” Nuffy observed. “If he were alive, they’d make quite a pair,” he added, to my immense relief.

“So, why Yangtze?” Nuffy continued.

“Well, I’m just going to hazard a guess and suggest it was in reference to the Chinese guys with the guns,” Stew responded.

“Oh, yeah,” Nuffy replied, lightly smacking his forehead.

So, the real question is ‘what does he mean by the ‘safe house?’’” Stew continued.

They both looked at me.

“I’m afraid I have absolutely no idea on that one,” I lied.

In truth, I had somewhat of an idea, though not a very good one. There were a number of safe houses in the immediate area. The problem was that there were a variety of them and they all related to different people at the Corporation. I knew the general location of Nixon’s regular lodgings, in a presumably gated community that was really a compound with a fiendishly elaborate security setup, but I could hardly believe that was the safe house, given that he was holed up there every evening.

The only other location that I knew about was a small collection of “luxury cabins” in the woods about twenty miles south of the Phoenix headquarters. These were ostensibly resort cabins owned and leased by the Corporation, but in truth they never leased them to anyone except the secretly living figures at the heart of the organization. I had the brief opportunity to travel there with the Ex-President one morning when his regular off-site assistant, a person to whom I had never been introduced or even met, was temporarily unavailable. We traveled down to the cabin by limousine. They were nestled in the hills surrounding the area and were quite secluded. We passed an alarming number of heavily-armed security personnel and dozens of surveillance cameras disguised as squirrels, nesting birds, large pine cones, and at least one pile of deer droppings, though it’s quite possible that a deer had simply gone on an undisguised camera, of which there were a few.

Several times, usually as we passed a camouflage-wearing, M-16-toting security guard, Nixon would comment on how much the setting reminded him of Camp David. He chuckled bitterly after each of these remembrances and dug his hands deep into his suit coat pockets. The man wore a suit everywhere. I suspected all his pyjamas had collars and matching flannel ties.

Other questions flashed through my head. Did Mr. Wang know the true identity of my former boss? Was this some massive breach of security? Why on earth did Nixon want my help when he had the whole of the Phoenix security apparatus at his disposal?

Both Stew and Nuffy were looking very suspiciously at me. Finally, Stew broke the silence.

“You’re not telling us everything, are you,” he quietly accused.

At these words, Nuffy awkwardly crossed his arms like a rap star, though I was impressed at how he did it without a trace of ostentatiousness. Several people in the Hip-Hop community could learn a great deal about avoiding ridiculousness from his approach.

“I’m telling you all I can,” I offered, which was completely true in a literal sense.

They bored holes into my skull with their eyes, staring so intensely that for a brief moment I saw the face of Richard M. Nixon superimposed on each of their faces. It was not the smiling version, I can assure you.

I briefly but carefully weighed my options. If I made up a lie or simply obfuscated long enough, I would very likely lose their trust, should they discover the truth, and, should there be any danger in relationship to this situation, they would very likely associated with me anyway by Mr. Wang and his quiet but menacing looking associate. So, they would be left in the dark as far as the potential nature of the patient but apparently dangerous Chinese.

However, if I told them, they would very definitely be involved in whatever danger existed. They would also be in possession of a very well-kept state secret, one I was legally bound not to reveal to anyone, despite the fact my wife knew all about it already. Danger or no, I and they would be in legal jeopardy, and there might be severe repercussions for us all in the end.

They stared even more intensely at me as I weighed my decision. Finally, I came to the realisation that I would be unable to act freely as long as I hadn’t told them. They weren’t, at this point, about to let me wander off without some kind of plausible answer.

I took a deep breath.

I took another one, because I almost choked on the first one.

“You both have to promise me that you won’t tell a single word of this to anyone, not even your wives,” I said.

They both nodded in fervent agreement, smiling almost as broadly as kids at Christmas.

“Write it down,” I demanded.

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