It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter X (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 38,000 word mark, and is tasting turducken in his sleep.)

Chapter 10
Runway or the Highway

“So, why does he call you Merle?” Nuffy asked.

This was a fairly innocuous question considering it was in response to the news that a former President of the United States, presumed dead for fourteen years was not only alive, but was the recently former boss of one of your friends. I appreciated the sincerely with which it was asked, considering that only a few seconds ago both he and Stew thought I was as daft as Foucault.

“I’ve no idea.”

“Probably senility,” Stew opined. “Nixon!” he continued, with more than a trace of amazement in his voice. “That must have been quite a peculiar job. I guess it could have been more exciting to wind up with Kennedy.”

He wouldn’t even speak to me at work,” I replied without even thinking.

Nuffy pulled the car over to the side of the road and they both turned around to look me square in the eye.

“What did you just say?” Stew asked.

“Look… all right, Kennedy was at Phoenix too. Both Kennedys were as a matter of fact and a number of other people who are supposed to be dead as well. I know you’ll both think I’m mad, but you were the ones who wanted to know and this is as honest as I can be.”

“Who else?” Nuffy asked. “Who else was at Phoenix?”

“Remember, you promised not to tell anyone,” I reminded them. “This is a government operation. We’re already mixed up in something strange and you knowing about all this just makes it worse.”

“We won’t tell anyone,” Stew replied.

“So, who?” Nuffy asked again. He almost sounded fearful.

“Oh, good heavens, a lot of people… Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bruce Lee, Jim Croce, Natalie Wood, Elvis Presley…”

“I knew that was him I saw last year,” Stew said in an astonished voice.

“Probably was… he’s in security and gets out more than many of the others. Let’s see, Mama Cass, several music figures, the Kennedy brothers, Lee Harvey Oswald…”

“You’re kidding,” Nuffy said.

“He’s in counterintelligence…”

“What about Marilyn Monroe?” Stew asked.

“’Fraid she really snuffed it. At least that’s what the Kennedy’s tell everyone.”

“John Lennon?” Nuffy asked.

“Alive, but British Intelligence has gotten a hold of him. From what some people have said, he’s in charge of keeping the lid on Paul McCartney’s death back in 1965.”

“Good grief,” muttered Stew. Nuffy shook his head as though trying to ward off invisible spiders.

“Keith Moon,” I continued, “Rock Hudson, River Phoenix…no the Corporation wasn’t named after him, although he likes to joke that it’s a family run business.”

“What about Andy Kaufman?” Stew asked.

“No idea about him,” I replied.

“Kurt Cobain?” Nuffy asked.

“I’m not sure, but think he may be in the maintenance department.”

“Gilda Radner?” asked Stew.

“Benefits.”

“Chris Farley? Phil Hartman?” asked Nuffy.

“Chris runs the Fitness Center. You wouldn’t recognise him. I’m afraid Phil is really gone.”

“Belushi?” Stew ventured.

“Alive, I’m told, but no one has a clue to where he’s at. ‘The one that got away,’ is how they describe him.”

“Figures,” observed Stew.

“Let’s see,” I continued. “There are a lot more, but the major ones would be Sonny Bono, Wilt Chamberlain, and…” I hesitated for a moment.

“What? Who?” Nuffy implored.

“Erm… Walt Disney.”

“Well, that’s not so strange…”

“…but just his head.” I added, cutting Stew off.

We sat there in silence for a long time after that, the motor quietly running. Nuffy had the engine is fine shape. It purred like a well-fed kitten. Finally, Stew broke the silence.

“Walt Disney’s head…” he muttered.

“Listen, it’s not important that you believe every single detail.”

“You’re telling us that you worked with a freakin’ floating head, Earl!” Stew exclaimed. I looked at Nuffy.

“That part was a little bit hard to swallow,” Nuffy admitted.

I shrugged my shoulders. “Just skip the head then. If you accept the rest…well, I’d say I’ve accomplished more than I could’ve hoped for in one day.”

We all agreed and Nuffy started the car again.

“Where to?” he asked.

“The airport… same as before.”

“Oh,” said Nuffy, laughing, “I just thought you picked a place before to get me going. Cool.” And we were off once again, both of my colleagues at least sensing some purpose to my madness.

The airport was about twenty minutes north of the office, and strangely, for a major regional airport, was well off any of the main roads. I’d always heard that an eccentric local millionaire had lobbied considerably for the airport and the location, but now it was clear to me that Phoenix had chosen the location to limited visibility and maximise security. I began to appreciate the immense symbolism of building a major facility whose main neighbor was a large ostrich farm.

The drive was surprisingly silent, but I suspected that both Stew and Nuffy were trying to work out the whole bit about Walt Disney’s disembodied living head being a featured employee at Phoenix. As we drove up the main motorway, a modest but busy four-lane expressway, my mind marveled at the visual cacophony of leaves as autumn had taken a fierce hold of the panoply of trees shrouding the surrounding hills. The rich reds, browns, yellows, and oranges swirled together in the tempestuous yet unseasonably warm winds. The sky was remarkably clear and bright blue, and the sun shone with a sharp brightness. It seemed quite remarkably normal to me given the circumstances of our journey. It felt rather like being at a children’s birthday party whilst knowing that there were several vampires in the next room, all just moments from hungrily waking up in the fresh darkness.

After a few moments, I began to realise that the sun was shining so brightly, and the weather was so clear, that it was extremely difficult to not notice the black Mercedes rental car traveling about a quarter mile behind us. The car was lazily mirroring all of Nuffy’s moves, with particular fidelity near the motorway exits. Without saying anything out loud, I tapped Stew on the shoulder and subtly pointed over my own shoulder at the shadowing sedan. After first confusing my gesture for an attempt to call attention to a small collection of African necklaces and a large bullfighter’s cape draped across the inside back of the vehicle, Stew’s eyes grew wide with the realisation that someone, most likely Mr. Wang and Mr. Dong were trailing us.

“Nuffy, get off at this next exit,” Stew said, one exit prior to the airport exit.

“Why?” Nuffy replied. “The airport is at the next exit.”

“Trust me,” Stew replied. I nodded in agreement as Nuffy glanced at me in the rearview mirror.

Dutifully, Nuffy moved the car into the right lane and pulled off at the exit. The Mercedes switched into the right lane as well and began to exit. As we approached the light, Stew noticed it was still green.

“Slow down and stay in the lane to get back on the highway.”

“What’s up?” Nuffy asked, growing a bit confused.

The light turned yellow as we got within 50 feet of it.

“Go, go!” Stew barked, and Nuffy gunned the car engine and sailed through the intersection just before the light turned red.

Stew and I looked back behind to gratefully see the Mercedes stranded at the light, cars passing orderly in front of it from the other street.

“I think Mr. Wang doesn’t like to call attention to himself,” I suggested.

“I was counting on that,” Stew replied.

“Oh, is this about that Mercedes that’s been following us since we left the office?” Nuffy said. “I didn’t know you wanted me to lose him.”

For once in the drive I was not viewed as the looniest person in the car.

Nuffy sped up once we were on the motorway again and began to put some distance between us and the Mercedes.

We got off at the next exit and turned west towards the airport. The road was a narrow, two lane strip of asphalt that winded its way through the riot of autumn color. Nuffy navigated it with the relaxed ease of every long time resident in the area, taking care to maintain a healthy rate of speed to insure that we were not caught up by the menacing Mercedes. Soon, we could see a large passenger aeroplane above the trees, heading in the same direction, flitting in and out of view as we moved from canopy to canopy. A few minutes later, we burst from the tree-covered road into the open spaces of the airport.

Airports are some of the strangest places in the world. They are concrete and asphalt covered artificial plains in the midst of other, more naturally developed environments. Even massive cities are completely different from these wide open spaces, trafficked only by fast moving jets, landing and taking off, taxiing across runways, and reckless looking luggage carts, driven by what appear to be the same disheveled gentlemen who were just moments ago doing repair work on the motorway, only without the American Airlines badge slapped on their coveralls.

Airports are designed to have just about anything the traveler would need, except for sleeping space. There are shops with reading material, snack foods, barely passable souvenirs, and moderately functional articles of clothing. They also have restaurants, usually take away types serving hot dogs, hamburgers, pretzels, nachos, and chips, known to most native Americans as French fries, and to certain congressmen as “freedom fries,” a name designed to piss off the French, who wouldn’t ever notice as they call them frites or potatoes julienne. Occasionally there are nicer, sit-down places, most often chain restaurants which can be found in equal numbers just down the road. There are the requisite restrooms, usually ultramodern bathroom with motion detectors designed to flush the toilets at the slightest adjustment of your bum, and to spray washbasin water all over your sleeves.

The security checkpoints are what seem to bother a lot of people, though I’ve always explained that I’d much rather endure an uncomfortable pat down from a surly flight screener than sudden decompression at 20,000 feet. As my dad works in the States as a Transportation Security Authority official, I’m privy to a bit more news along these lines than most. You begin to get a completely different view of the shoe removing and nitpicking body searches when you know that people have tried to take things on board aeroplanes such as nitric acid canisters, loaded weapons, and in one case a stick of dynamite (and what was that bloke thinking -- “What a lovely souvenir… I can put this on the shelf right next to the hand grenade and the live Claymore land mine!” –the stupid git). Add to that the little plot the U.S. and U.K. discovered wherein terrorists would blow up several aircraft in midair at once, and you can see why I think that people who spend a lot of time complaining about airport security A) Have a screw loose, B) Are selfish bastards, or C) Both.

Most obvious though at an airport are the gates, where once they’ve cleared security people sit and wait interminably for their flights. They either sit nervously twitching in anticipation of their flights, or bored out of their minds. Usually these latter types are listening to CDs or MP3s on tiny headphones, or reading pretty much anything they can get their hands on. This latter group is particularly inspiring, as their sheer boredom corresponds directly to the level of their literary discernment. This idea explains to me the amazing popularity of certain pulp novelists, and I quickly deduced that much of their sales were derived from airports and train stations.

I decided at that moment that I would attempt to publish whatever I finished as far as the novel was concerned.

The novel! It seemed so unimportant now that we were growing closer to the nexus of this maddening mystery. I wondered if I would have the strength to continue it after all of this was over.

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