It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter XII (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 46,000 word mark, and is whistling like one of the Seven Dwarves...presumably Dopey.)

Chapter 12
This Is Where We Got On, Isn’t It?


Nuffy’s response to the realisation that Mr. Wang and Mr. Dong had M16 rifles and were running behind us as fast as they could was to slam the accelerator of his mid-sized Japanese car into the floorboard the way most people stamp on a Black Widow spider. This had the desired result of opening up a rapidly growing gap between us and the two, now heavily-armed agents.

We ducked as lowly as we could upon hearing several pings emanating from the outside of the vehicle, followed by the distant reports of the rifles.

“Crap! They’re shooting at us!” Stew loudly roared, trying to jam his lanky frame underneath the top of the seat.

“Well, if it’s any consolation,” I observed, “they seem to be aiming for the tires and not actually trying to kill us.”

“Remind me to thank them, the next time I see them… right before I empty a magazine into their heads,” Stew retorted.

“Actually, the gun sight of the M16 has a well-known parabolic problem that forces the user to aim slightly high at close targets. If they’re not very familiar with the rifle, they may not realize that this levels out at longer ranges, which would explain the low shots,” Nuffy calmly explained.

He swerved the car expertly to avoid any bullets, but the gunfire died away quickly. My best guess was that they quickly realised the futility of stopping the car at this distance, or worried that we might actually be injured or killed by the gunfire. This latter explanation seemed rather dubious given the fact that they had just shot at us. Still, it was better to hope this, whilst not stopping to ask, in the view that we might at least be on decent terms should they turn up again. If they were trying to kill us, ignoring that in a future conversation, even to the point of playing dumb, might actually come in handy.

“Remind me to send the editors of Wikipedia a thank you note if we survive this,” said Stew.

“Well, I could be mistaken,” Nuffy confessed. “Wikipedia is well known for inaccuracies and politicization of content.”

“Well, at least you didn’t have to defuse any bombs today,” Stew replied.

“All right,” Nuffy said, “where to, Earl?”

“Camp David,” I replied, “or at least what Nixon said reminded him of it.”

I directed Nuffy to drive back to the expressway and then south. It took about forty-five minutes of driving on the four-lane road to get to the exit we need to take. That would provide a little bit of time to prepare them for yet another security gauntlet and the very real possibility that we might be greeted at our destination by a very paranoid and testy former President of the United States.

The first question though was about the strangely missing Mercedes.

“What do you suppose the deal was with that Mercedes?” Stew asked, opening that portion of the conversation.

“No idea,” replied Nuffy and I in unison, which more or less closed that portion of the conversation. Oh, we briefly discussed some possibilities, such as it being someone who worked for Phoenix, or some other government agency. Ultimately though, we were simply guessing. The very best we could come up with was that there was either another player in this dangerous little game we had become involved in, or someone was headed towards the exit we got off of, and were sitting somewhere at that moment wondering what was going on with that car that got off the motorway and then back on again.

I took up the next subject, by asking about the secret passage in the shed. Apparently, they had done a quick search for additional magazines, once I had alerted them to Mr. Wang’s and Mr. Dong’s presence. Stew moved a rather dusty looking box off of a shelf and the filing cabinet slid over automatically, revealing the exit.

This was followed by my description of the secluded and heavily secure cabin area. We all agreed though that this time, it was likely to be as deserted as the other locations. Somehow, this was strangely comforting, although I suppose just about anything might be less than an hour after someone has fired off a semi-automatic rifle in your general direction.

The last discussion was completely incongruous and was started when Nuffy asked the following question:

“What if this whole thing is some sort of alien plot to return aged world figures to power and control the world through them?”

“Nuffy, I worked at Phoenix for two years, and the most alien thing I saw there was the detached head of the creator of Mickey Mouse.”

“Still, that’s pretty alien sounding, isn’t it?”

“Actually, he said that most of the technology was derived from animatronics used in the old Hall of Presidents attraction at Disneyland. You might be surprised to know that for four years, Lincoln was capable of firing a particle beam from underneath his stove-pipe hat.”

“That could be pretty entertaining, given the right circumstances,” Nuffy mused.

“Yes, but I’d have to agree with Earl,” Stew chimed in, “and say that it couldn’t be of alien design then. Aliens don’t go in for slapstick.”

Strangely enough, this had a pleasant sort of certainty about it, although upon reflection one might have brought up Chuck McCann and Bob Denver in Far Out Space Nuts or Ruth Buzzi and Jim Nabors in The Lost Saucer, but as these were not the work of actual aliens and we had more pressing issues, Stew’s remark left us all in thoughtful silence.

We arrived at the exit and I directed Nuffy up the old two-land scenic motorway that led to the cabins. We left this road in short order, proceeding on to the dirt roads that winded their way up to the “camp.”

“Drive very slowly, Nuffy… just in case,” I recommended, but Nuffy was already slowing down and his eyes were wide open and scanning in every direction. Stew and I did the same as we drove up an uneven road that sliced through the deep woods that covered the surrounding hills. We headed up one such hill, towards where I thought the cabin that Nixon had visited before was at.

“Keep an eye out for any suspicious squirrels,” I advised. Nuffy and Stew glanced at each other, shrugged their shoulders, and added squirrels to the list of anything they should be suspicious of, which grew the list to “everything in sight.”

We passed a number of old houses and trailers, all of which I knew were guardhouses and owned by Phoenix. I was also fairly certain that the reason the road was so bumpy and worn was in order to prevent any vehicles from moving quickly up it. There were no perimeter fences out here, to allow wildlife to venture in and also to allay the suspicion of any locals. Between the trees, the rough road, and the massive numbers of agents and cameras, any assault was doomed to end in failure. Thinking about this put a very large lump in my throat, which I managed to swallow after about 30 seconds of quiet gagging.

It was getting later as well, and as the sun started to go down the gradual dimness only made me more nervous. I sensed this was having the same effect on Stew and Nuffy, although Nuffy was doing a rather good job of disguising it, as he was quietly humming “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music.

Finally, the cabins came into view. There had been no sight of anyone the whole way, though we did spot a number of cameras, including one weakly disguised as an owl, with the lenses mounted where the eyes should be. It looked like it was wearing very large eyeglasses with black rims, like Harry Potter.

“Stop here,” I quietly instructed, and Nuffy brought the car to an abrupt halt. He switched off the engine and I got out, with Stew and Nuffy right behind.

“It could be any one of these,” I told them.

“I don’t think we should split up,” Stew suggested. “It’s getting dark and we could easily get lost out here.”

“Bloody hell, what must our wives be thinking right about now,” I blurted out. I had neglected to call my wife, who surely had arrived home by now. I pulled out my mobile phone, which also served as my watch, as I didn’t wear one.

“It’s four-thirty seven… I’ve got no service on this phone.” The bars were as flat as Kate Moss’s posterior. Stew and Nuffy were getting similar results from their phones.

“We’re on the wrong side of the hill,” I complained, to no one in particular since I suspected my partners felt the same way. The darkness was more pronounced here. In truth, these were mountains as much as any are and we were well along the side of them facing east.

“I think the only thing for it is to try the cabins one at a time,” I announced.

Nuffy pulled out the two M16s and handed one to Stew.

“Just in case,” he said.

I still had two guns stuffed uncomfortably into my belt. I pulled both out and took the safeties off. I briefly thought to myself that if my wife could see me at that moment that she would gently remark as to how much I failed to look like Chow Yun-Fat.

We decided to take the cabins in some kind of sequential order, which was difficult to determine, as after we parked we realised we were surrounded by them. We then scrapped this idea as being impractical, mainly because Nuffy had pulled out a calculator and was working out a mathematical formula for casing the cabins one by one.

Finally, we decided that I should call upon my prodigious memory, the same one that continually confuses the words “ardor” and “arbor” and to embarrassing effect on Valentine’s Day (and Arbor Day), and try to remember just which cabin Nixon was in the last time we were here, approximately 4 years ago.

The only thing I could immediately remember was that I couldn’t remember what I had for dinner the night before, much less which cabin, so I guessed and we proceeded up the hill towards a nearby one.

We approached the door with as much stealth as 3 fairly tall and thirty-something men could manage. The fact that I was 41 was not helping. We kept our guns pointed up for safety, mainly because my hands were shaking like Jennifer Lopez after a pot of espresso.

“All right,” I volunteered, stuffing one of the guns in my belt again, “I’ll knock and you lot cover each side of the door.”

This seemed a fair enough compromise to my partners, who seemed agreeable to the prospect of not standing in front of the door.

They positioned themselves on either side of the door, guns at the ready, and I raised a hand to knock on the door, a semi-automatic slowly vibrating in my other hand. After some prompting from Stew, I managed to remember to actually knock.

Not a sound could be heard from inside.

“Open the door,” Nuffy suggested.

“Do you think?” I replied. I was quite hoping that Nuffy and Stew might change their minds, but my reasoning proved insufficient and they both nodded their heads fervently.

I opened the door and then jumped around to the side to get in the way of any machine gun fire or flamethrowers. Nixon occasionally wished he had a flamethrower during my stay at Phoenix, usually after I’d mixed up a file, forgot the sugar in his coffee – which was understandable as he always asked for it black, or after Jack Kennedy pulled a practical joke on him. I had a strong suspicion at that moment that this might have all been a huge scheme to get me within roasting distance.

Fortunately, there was no burst of flame from inside the cabin, as it was completely empty. There wasn’t so much as a throw rug or folding chair in it.

“Next one,” Stew whispered.

We moved to the next cabin, just to the north, and did the same routine, only this time with me stepping on Stew’s foot as I tried to move clear of the door. As before, this cabin was completely empty as well.

This went on for about four more cabins, although I managed to stay off of my friends’ feet, the only collision being an accidental elbow to Nuffy’s sternum. The next cabin was different however. The porch in front had noticeable footprints in the dust and dirt, and there was a small gum wrapper just outside the door.

“Yahtzee,” Stew whispered.

I raised my hand to knock on the door.

“Do you really think we’ll meet Nixon?” Nuffy whispered. I tapped him in the head with the butt of my pistol.

“Shhh!”

I raised my hand to knock on the door once more. I paused a moment to give Nuffy the opportunity for a retort but he was too busy rubbing his head in pain. I prepared to knock.

And then the door opened.

“Well, it’s about time you figured it out.”

This was a most unexpected voice. Stew and I looked at each other in shock. Nuffy stopped rubbing his skull to offer a sympathetic look of surprise, though he had no clue as to who it was.

It was Heath.

Yes, that Heath, our so-called literary agent Heath, Heath who couldn’t find his way out a paper bag if there was a big red arrow saying “tear here.”

“Hello, Earl. Hello, Stew. Surprised to see me?”

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