It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter XI (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 42,000 word mark, leaving him only 8,000 or so words from the conclusion and blessed sleep. Consequently, he is procrastinating far more than is advisable.)

Chapter 11
Do you Know the Way to San Clemente


Just before I pushed the button to enter what was almost certainly my expired password and possibly submit my flailing body to several thousand volts of electricity, I suddenly remembered a conversation I had with the ex-President.

“They’re all stupid ****ers, these foreign policy newbies! If there’s one thing you can never forget dealing with them, Merle, it’s that. Hell, I can’t remember the names of my kids or my late wife sometimes, but I can always remember that!”

I quickly hit the backspace key and cleared the entry, then typed in “****ers” and pressed “Enter” leaping in the air as I did.

“Welcome back, Mr. Guthrie,” appeared on the screen. The gate slowly opened.

I could have kicked myself. Even if that hadn’t been Nixon’s emergency password, there were at least two dozen people at Phoenix, most of them politicians except for Lenny Bruce, who might have had that for their password.

When I got back to the car, my friends and colleagues were quite perplexed.

“What was that all about?” asked Stew.

“I suddenly realised I knew Guthrie’s… I mean Nixon’s password.”

“Ah, that explains the little victory leap,” Nuffy opined. “Stew thought you had a nervous breakdown.”

“It’s not far off, I can tell you that.”

We drove right up to the hangar as the security gate automatically closed behind us, probably on a sixty second timer. There was another pass key checkpoint at the hangar doors. This time I neglected to jump into the air after entering Nixon’s code, which led Nuffy to declare, “He’s jaded already,” when I returned to the car. The hangar door slit neatly open and we drove in.

As we entered the vast building, the first thing I noticed was the absence of just about everything that was here the last time we showed up, with the exception of the storage shed. There were no tables, chairs, vehicles of any kind, nor the large internal building. There was just the open concrete floor, blank and dry, and unnervingly clean.

“Drive over to that shed,” I instructed Nuffy.

Nuffy pulled up beside the shed and stopped the car. We all got out and I walked up to the shed, with the others right behind me.

“You lot stand over there, just in case there’s some sort of security,” I suggested.

“Like what?” Stew inquired.

“Like the lethal electric shock I managed to avoid at the gate,” I replied.

They quickly shuffled backwards. I heard Stew cuff Nuffy across the back of the head as they gave me some room.

“Victory leap…!”

I reached for the door handle and pulled the door open hard… and nearly wrenched my arm out of my socket when I did so. I stood there sore for a moment and then, after carefully considering how to get around this new obstacle, turned the door handle and pushed this time.

The door neatly opened.

The shed wasn’t big but it was dark and so I groped around for a light switch. The resulting gunfire told me that I had not found one.

I had in fact found a small gun rack near the door with M-16s pointed upwards, thank heavens, and strangely loaded with very live ammunition. I could tell this because of the more or less 6 mm holes in the thin metal roof of the shed, and also because Stew and Nuffy were laying flat on their stomachs with their hands over their heads.

“Sorry about that, mates.”

Fortunately, the light pouring through the holes in the shed roof provided enough illumination to find a light switch, which I was able to throw without the additional discharge of bullets.

Stew and Nuffy got up slowly and walked to the shed. I stepped inside and looked around. In addition to the gun rack, there were also four shelves and a filing cabinet squeezed into the small building.

“Whoever left these here must’ve been in a hurry to leave live cartridges in the rifles and not even put the safeties on,” Stew observed. Strangely, I was about as much of a gun expert as Stew and was thinking the exact same thing.

Nuffy stepped inside, took the gun nearest to the door off the rack and neatly removed the cartridge, to our great surprise, after which he ejected the remaining live bullet from the chamber.

“Well, it appears to have had a full cartridge before you fired it, Earl.”

“Say again?” I replied.

“Well, the M-16A4 here has a 30 round magazine. Most experienced users though only load 28 rounds to a magazine, as a full mag can create loading problems. As the average M16A4 is only semi-automatic, normally you’d only get a single shot off, but this model seems to be fitted for a three-shot burst, which explains the three holes in the shed roof. As there is only space for 6 rounds in the magazine, that’s accounts for the four bullets and the two extra spaces for the standard magazine load.”

We both looked at him as though he were Bigfoot.

“Since when were you a firearms expert?” I asked, in an admittedly awed voice.

“Oh, I just read all that on Wikipedia the other day. I was looking up information on the M6 motorway in Hungary for a future trip and had a typo,” he explained.

“What a blessing that was,” I responded.

Nuffy put the safety on the rifle and put it back on the rack. We looked through the shelves for some sort of clue as to how to find Nixon. Most of them had a variety of passports and documentation from Western European countries, Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, and many other places. They all seemed to be blank, with no names or pictures on them. The filing cabinet was locked, but ominously, there was key sitting right on top of it. Stew grabbed it without thinking and put it into the keyhole.

Immediately, he began shaking violently. After a few seconds he stopped and smiled sheepishly.

“Sorry, just kidding.”

Fortunately for him, Nuffy was standing between me and the M16s.

The filing cabinet was most peculiar as it had a series of file separators from A to Zed but not a single file or folder betwixt them.

“Check ‘N’ for Nixon,” suggested Stew. It was empty.

“Try ‘G’ for Guthrie,” I guessed. It too was empty.

“’S’?” Nuffy offered.

“Why ‘S’?” I asked.

“San Clemente?”

It was as good as anything else. Lo and behold in the ‘S’ filing area there was a single file folder and in it a single document, which looked as though it were typed on an old manual typewriter by someone either very old or who had hit the Happy Hour both early and hard. It read:

On the rrun. Chek passports. Will tel everythin Mudge. Remember.

“Ooooh, just like The Search for Spock,” Nuffy marveled.

“Lovely. Nixon fancies himself Leonard Nimoy,” I muttered. “Check the passports again.”

We looked through them again.

“Try the Chinese ones,” Stew suggested. He added, in response to our quizzical looks, “Yangtze.”

We looked through the Chinese ones very carefully. There were quite a few more than we realised.

“Aha!” yelled Nuffy, holding open a Chinese passport. The passport was blank like all the rest except that it had the words “Mr. David” written in shaky block lettering.

I took a deep breath and stepped outside.

There are very rare moments in life where one feels both elated and awful all at the same time, where one sits at the peak of life’s experience and joy and at the same time knows misery first hand. My wedding day was one of those. The elation was from becoming married to my wife, who, so you don’t get the wrong idea, had absolutely nothing to do with the awful misery part. The awful part was that the very morning of the wedding, a good friend of ours had died, as it just so happens in the room next to the one I was staying in. There’s nothing quite so strange as going through a day you’ve looked forward to all your life, especially after finding the right person, the love of your life to spend your life with you, and yet knowing that just earlier that day, someone else you knew had shuffled off this mortal coil. If I weren’t a Christian and hadn’t a rather optimistic view of the next life, I would have been quite tempted to view events as being more than a bit capricious, malicious even; bloody malicious, if I was of such a mind.

Here’s the funny thing. It was one of the best days of my life, despite all the sadness surrounding the death of our friend. The wedding pictures are most peculiar to look at. Everyone is doing their damnedest to smile, but no one is quite pulling it off. If you didn’t know the back story, you’d think everyone was a bit miffed about the whole thing, or that everyone had gotten food poisoning at the rehearsal dinner, which on the contrary was quite scrummy. Yet there is another picture of my wife and I, right after we were married, and just after we left the sanctuary, and we are beaming with complete and utter joy. There is not a trace of the events of the first part of the day on our faces, even though I know for a fact that there was plenty of weeping to come.

Life’s a funny old thing to throw at you such curves, and God let’s them get thrown, like double googlies at a fat wicket, knowing that we’re going to get knocked about a bit; and we’re a funny old species who can look death in the eye and then go out and get married in the afternoon, and thank God for it.

So, after having endured days like that, one begins to get a sense of their ability to rebound on the fly, so to speak. I know there are plenty of people who’ve stood worse, the misery without the joy, the pain without the big laugh in the middle to break up the agony, but people still face up to it, even when satisfaction is milled with anguish.

So, strangely enough, it was no particular worry to find that the moment I was absolutely positive that I knew exactly where Nixon was at, that I stepped outside the shed to find Mr. Wang and Mr. Dong standing in the hangar waiting for us. The hangar door had not closed behind us and in the background I could see the security gate completely rammed through.

Mr. Wang noticed me gazing past him at the gate. He looked over his shoulder casually at the gate and did that bloody soft laugh of his again, the one I made a note to knock out of him with a crowbar if I ever got the chance.

“It seems we must take more direct measures now, Mr. Fando.”

He was holding the large semi-automatic pistol and pointing right at my chest.

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