It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter XII (Part II)

(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 48,000 word mark, and can see the proverbial finish line through the haze of sweat and Weblog Awards Nomination e-mails.)

Stew hit him in the face with the butt of his rifle, knocking him to the ground, and charged in the door.

“Oh, so that’s your agent,” Nuffy divined, as he casually walked in the door behind Stew. I followed him in, flipped a light switch and found them both standing frozen in amazement.

“Well, Mudge...you finally made it,” croaked Richard M. Nixon. He was sitting in a wheelchair with a quilt over his legs. He looked even frailer and more decrepit than when I last saw him.

I remembered the last thing he said to me the day I left Phoenix. I remember the exact tense of the f-word with which he said it. Although I suspected there was just a touch of fondness meant by it, it was something I’d never been told to do before by anyone, and I suspect was physically impossible. I distinctly remembered him wiping his eye as I walked out of the room. Remembering that and seeing him now so vulnerable, he seemed somehow touchingly sympathetic.

“Who are these two ****ing ******?” he added, irritably.

So much for my sympathy…the oaf.

“These are my associates, Stew and Nuffy. Stew, Nuffy… Mr… erm… Guthrie.”

Stew and Nuffy continued to stare at the ex-President. Finally, Nuffy coughed and held up a weak “V for victory” sign in both hands. Stew gave a silent but half-hearted salute.

“You told them, didn’t you, you stupid ****. Ah, you were always too soft and easy Merle.”

It did nothing for my self-esteem that he tossed off this comment while I had a loaded gun in my hand.

“Hey,” Nuffy offered, suddenly able to speak again, “it’s not like we didn’t recognize you. That unique profile, the infamous tone in your voice…”

“’Famous’… I think he meant ‘famous.’”

“Shut up, Merle. No I like ‘infamous.’ It has a ring of desperation and dangerousness to it, doesn’t it Heath?”

“Sure, Mr. President,” Heath responded, rubbing a welt on his cheek.

“I think that it’s garbage,” sneered a reedy, female voice from a shadowed corner of the cabin. I was surprised that I had not seen her when we came in. It was Portia, Heath’s insufferable wife. As Nixon laughed, obviously amused by her natural maliciousness, she stepped forward out of the shadows. She was a fairly attractive woman, of medium build and height, with long, blonde dyed hair that failed to match her dark eyebrows. She was wearing her usual outfit, consisting of a pair of jeans that seemed at least two sizes too small for her, and a rumpled sweater, with a V-neck that plunged unnecessarily low. She had a look on her face that would make any reasonable person think that she’d just stuck her nose up a skunk’s bum.

“I don’t know why you felt the need to call on him for help,” she continued, directing her skunked nose at me as if it were a rapier. “Heath’s more than man enough to handle this job.”

Stew laughed out loud, despite himself.

“Sorry, Heath,” he apologised with a glance in our agent’s direction. Heath gave an unpleasant smirk and got to his feet.

“What do you need this glorified gopher for, when you’ve got an ex-CIA man working for you?” Portia continued.

“Heath may have spent three years at Langley as a low-level analyst,” Nixon snarled, “but he’s just barely competent to have gotten me this far. Plus, my contacts won’t want to deal directly with anyone with Langley connections, even a wash-out like him.”

Stew, Nuffy, and I looked at each other with baffled expressions.

“Do they do legacies at the CIA, because I can’t believe he got in on his own?” Stew whispered to Nuffy and me.

“I’ll have you know, I was a Harvard graduate summa cum laude with an honors degree in International Trade and Political Science. The CIA recruited guys like me as quickly as they could get them,” Heath boasted.

He had an almost wild look in his eye, one that was quickly deflated by Nixon’s stinging retort.

“Summa cum laude my wrinkled ass; you barely graduated from Harvard after going on probation, and your old man got you the CIA gig.”

“Score!” whispered Nuffy to Stew.

As I said before, the old geezer was brilliant. Heath didn’t care much for it but he took it. Also, the sight of us all holding weapons was something our “agent” didn’t seem to expect.

“Where’d you get the guns?” he asked.

“They got them from the airport hangar,” Nixon chimed in, “where you left them, you stupid ass****.”

“Oh, right,” Heath replied.

“I had him leave you some weapons, just in case you needed a little firepower,” Nixon continued. “Of course, Heath’s been keeping an eye on you for me ever since you left Phoenix. I had a feeling this time might come, and I was right to prepare for it. I knew your loyalty and independence from the government would come in handy.”

“What’s it all about, Mr. President?” I asked with some trepidation, as I had the sinking feeling that it was Phoenix all over again, only without the colourful, relatively sane other famous folk. I’d had dreams about that place since departing. I’d walk into the blog office and instead of Stew sitting at the opposite desk, Nixon would be there, calling me a stupid ***** and claiming to be writing a bit on how Tom Cruise was really the head of the Chinese Communists. I was also distinctly uncomfortable at the word “loyalty” being used to describe me by a man who regularly chucked pointed paperweights at my head.

“They’ve shut down Phoenix, Merle. They’ve shut it down completely. They’re farming out everyone to remote locations, keeping them in isolation. Walt’s been reassigned to a Ripley’s Believe It or Not in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for G-d’s sake!”

Stew and Nuffy were baffled by this a bit, especially the realisation that my “Floating Head of Walt Disney” story was probably true. I however, was not completely surprised. There were always rumours that Phoenix was simply too unwieldy and expensive to run, and the “zombies” were always wanting to move on to some semblance of a normal life, except for the Kennedys, who wanted to check out Spring Break in Panama City, Florida.

“Why should that matter, Mr. President?” I inquired. “Won’t they just move you to a secure location somewhere where you can continue to advise the government?”

He looked at me with his bloodshot, beady eyes.

“They want to put old Dick Nixon down, Merle!” he half whimpered, half growled. “The info I’m getting is that the feds in power want to quietly liquidate me, so I don’t become an ‘embarrassment.’”

This seemed quite out of character with the Phoenix Corporation, who always went out of their way to lock down the people in their care, so that no one would know they still existed, much less what they were doing. The cooperation of the employees was a key factor in this. If Nixon was an “embarrassment” then something had changed drastically.

“So, Merle… you got part of my message. That’s clear. Did you figure out the rest, though? Did you bring my contacts?”

“Excuse me?” I said, unhelpfully.

“That figures,” Portia scoffed. “The ****ing comedy buffoon can’t even figure out a simple message on a videotape. They’re not here!”

I was untroubled by this invective, partially because I knew Portia to have a two-digit IQ intellect, the kind of person who struggled with reading stop signs, and partially because she was to stupid to know the difference between a DVD and a videotape. It was the “they” part that I found disturbing.

I found it even more disturbing when I suddenly felt the muzzle of an M16 rifle gently nestle in the small of my back. It was so disturbing I instinctively dropped my gun and raised my hands over my head.

“You did contact them, Mudge!” Nixon said with glee.

“Erm, I can’t actually take the credit for that,” I responded, not daring to turn around as Stew and Nuffy dropped their guns and raised their hands as well.

“Even if he were responsible, his modesty would not allow him to, I suspect,” came a smooth, familiar, slightly Chinese voice, “but he is correct in that he did not bring us.”

“Mr. Wang,” I said in as pleasant a voice as one can manage with a semi-automatic rifle resting against their lumbar vertebrae, “how clever of you to be here.” I turned around slowly to face a smiling Mr. Wang (no jokes, please).

“I’m most sorry about the shooting at the airport,” Mr. Wang replied. “We were trying to take out the tires, but I’m afraid I’m more acquainted with the AK-47.”

“Naturally, naturally,” I said. “Erm, how did you get here?”

“Mr. Dong is a proficient hot-wirer of cars. He learned it watching American police programmes.”

Mr. Dong gave a slight bow.

“And you got into the car… how?” Nuffy asked.

“Shot up the door, I bet,” Stew ventured.

“That’s unlike you, Mr. Wang,” I frowned. “What will the rental agent say?”

“Actually, I left the window rolled down on the driver’s side,” said Mr. Wang, smiling with slight embarrassment – for us, I think. “We followed you down quite easily.”

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