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Friday, November 17, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter VII (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 managed 28,000 words, and has taken to burning effigies of the founders of National Novel Writing Month".)

Chapter 7
From the Beyond, Just Near Kathmandu


I spent about thirty seconds explaining to my daughter the difference between Phoenix, Arizona and the Phoenix Corporation, after which she gave me a very well-organised lecture on the importance of detail and specificity in speech that lasted at least fifteen minutes.

I spent the time preparing supper explaining to my wife what I had been through that day, the eeriness of the empty facilities at the Phoenix Corporation headquarters, the fire at Jim’s place, and the smooth but apparently dangerous Mr. Wang and his tall, quiet, ladies’ man of an associate. For once, she observed, my day at work at the blog had been worse than hers.

We went over several possibilities as we ate, regarding what might have been behind all these mysterious events, but it was much like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube with two forks instead of your hands. Even if we’d have known where to begin, the process itself was distinctly unmanageable. Trying to do so in the presence of our daughter made it doubly so. We didn’t want to alarm her about any of this, but she was not only very curious, but as clever as an astrophysicist.

“So, why do you think no one was out there?” my wife asked.

“Well, with all the you know whos there, there must have been some kind of security concerns,” I replied.

“If the you know whos were in some kind of you know what,” my wife cryptically replied, “what’s that got to do with you know who… I mean you?”

“What are you people talking about?” asked our daughter.

I had no clue, either to why I should be involved after two years away from the bloody asylum or as to what kind of security concern was involved. We decided that we should keep our eyes open. I’d be especially careful going to work and back. I was worried for my family, but I realised that Mr. Wang didn’t seem particularly interested in involving them, so I decided to go with that. I told my wife to be very careful going to and from work and to avoid any places where there weren’t a lot of people around. Unfortunately, this was essentially the same advice I’d given her for years, so I wasn’t all that confident it would make a difference in this new and highly unusual situation.

After supper I called Stew and let him know what had happened that day as well. He mulled much of it over, but as I had never told him about the behind the scenes workings of the Phoenix Corporation, being prohibited by my exit contract, he was working under the assumption that this was a business-related bit of intrigue. The incident with the two Chinese gentlemen greatly interested him, as he was when any of his friends came in to close contact with armed people.

“That sounds like more than business,” he observed in a low, concerned voice. “Has Phoenix had any dealings with Chinese firms? Maybe they’re part of a criminal organization?”

He let out a long breath of air.

“I’m not sure, but I don’t think so,” I replied. “Let’s just say that Phoenix has had some government contracts in the past. I got the feeling that these two were operating on that assumption.”

“Still, even the government can run afoul of the Chinese Mafia.” He pointed out.

It was a fair point, but it didn’t explain my involvement. The only person I had been regularly associated with at Phoenix was Nixon, but he operated under the cover name Mudge Guthrie, Vice President Emeritus of the Corporation and although I was titled his Executive Assistant, I was little more than a glorified gopher and ex-President sitter. So, if the world believed Nixon dead, what would any Chinese men, criminal or governmental want with a reclusive semi-retired business leader?

I briefly considered the possibility that his cover had been blown. It seemed very unlikely because of the immense caution the Corporation took to keep him and most of the others under wraps. It was one thing if someone accidentally spotted Elvis on occasion. The Corporation counted on these kinds of events and the resulting paranoia helped to minimise actual security breaches. I wondered what Stew would have thought if he’d known that the Weekly World News was owned outright, if secretly, by Phoenix and that most of the Bat Boy stories were designed to cover up Bob Crane’s indiscretions with Jayne Mansfield in public, the randy geezers.

The other possibility was that Stew was on to something about the business. Perhaps, Phoenix had crossed someone in the Chinese Mafia with one of their various front transactions. That would explain why Jim would have been targeted, as the various celebrities all had security arrangements, when they followed them, that would make the people at Fort Knox blush with envy. As a public member of the Corporation, even a former one, maybe they thought I could give them some information on how to contact the actual administrators, not realising that they were all people who happened to be believed by the public to be dead.

“Whatever’s going on, you need to be careful.” Stew recommended. “Have you thought of calling the police?”

That was the furthest thing from my mind now, given Phoenix’s constant efforts to avoid police involvement. Still, it did raise an interesting question. If Phoenix were aware of my own activities, and if I went to the police, would that draw them out in someway, to where I could get help from them regarding Mr. Wang? I realised that if this were so, someone would have contacted me when I “breached” the grounds earlier in the day. Still, going to the police would complicate things and there would be much I simply couldn’t tell them or that they wouldn’t believe in a million years.

“You say you used to work for President Nixon?”

“Yes, just two years ago?”

“President Richard Milhous Nixon?”

“Right-o.”

“Didn’t President Nixon die in 1994, Mr. Fando?”

“Well, that’s what they told the media.”

My only comfort was that I’d be safe in the drunk tank until my wife came to bail me out. It was definitely on the backup plan list for now though.

After the phone call, my wife and I played a few games of Clue with our daughter. She was lobbying for Monopoly, but I explained that as the average game of Monopoly can take up to fifteen hours to play and it was a school night, that she should pick a shorter game. In the end, as usual, she and my wife won all the games. I was more distracted than normal, but still never would have imagined Colonel Mustard in the Billiards Room with the wrench. It just didn’t seem his style.

After the games I buckled down and really started to write on the novel. It seemed ridiculous to me to work on the thing with such worrying events going on around us, but it was also a great way to relieve the tension and escape reality.

I thought about that for a moment and realised that what I should be doing is writing a hyper-realistic and extremely mundane work of fiction. Given the events of the last few days, only that would have been a true change of pace.

Nonetheless, I managed almost 3,000 words before I popped off to bed. I was sitting at 8,500 words and my detective protagonist was only now just getting to know his ex-model companion well enough to spice up the dialogue with double entendres about how he liked to “keep a bullet in the chamber of his gun because you never know when you may have to shoot someone.” It was abysmal pulp, but I was writing. I tried to focus a bit more on the violence because it had a bit more of a moral dimension to it.

I suddenly realised that this was exactly why violence was often less of a problem than sex in the cinema. If two people shoot each other on film, not only can you argue that the shooting was somehow the outcome of a complex moral situation, such as the criminal activities of a desperate gang of international criminals posing as overnight delivery men, but you also generally understand that the two people involved are gong to get up and walk away after the camera stops rolling.

That was what made films like Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai so interesting. Almost everyone gets spectacularly killed at the end, but we know they all got up afterwards, brushed the mirror glass off of themselves, and then went to the wrap party, where Orson and Rita Hayworth made jokes about their recent divorce.

Sex in a film however is unavoidably real. No matter how much simulation is applied, the participants still have to get involved in rather personal ways. Nudity is also a big problem when you think about it, just in terms of character. When we saw Shakespeare in Love and the love scene between Gwenyth Paltrow’s character and Joseph Fiennes’ character was going on, you could hear the murmurs in the cinema as all the men and a few women said to ourselves, “So that’s what Gwenyth looks like naked. Not bad.”

I’m fairly certain that it took about twenty minutes for anyone in the cinema to pick the plot back up.

For the purposes of writing however, I had only my own moral conscience to contend with and lines about “bullets in chambers” weren’t soothing it. I went to bed consoling myself with the idea that, with an agent like Heath, no one outside of my wife, Stew, Nuffy, and the editors for the Institute of Police Technology and Management Press would ever read it.

The next few days were surprisingly uneventful. My trips to and from the office were unmarked by any kind of clandestine surveillance, so far as I could tell. Stew seemed extra cautious, frequently looking out of the windows at the parking lot, and insisting that we leave no food or drink unattended. My wife and daughter reported no strange observers or encounters themselves, apart from my daughter’s feeling that one of her schoolmates was creepy enough to be an international criminal. We explained to her that calling her a “nerd” and constantly making animal sounds when girls passed, while peculiar, was within the range of normal behaviour for most boys her age.

On top of all this, I got another 4,000 words added to the book between Tuesday and Thursday. The story was getting far more complex, with a subplot about smuggled cheese and a rival for the ex-model’s suspect affections, in the person of a muscular nightclub singer and roustabout named Reinhard.

In fact, the only peculiar thing about the entire week is that rather than not coming into the office and calling to make some mysterious excuse, Nuffy had simply ceased to communicate with us altogether. Meanwhile, both Zimpter and Linus called in twice each to ask if the other had posted anything. They seemed oddly dissatisfied by our advice to “read the fricking blog and find out yourselves.”

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