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.

Earl's Novel - Chapter X (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 40,000 word mark, and is full of turkey, dressing, potatoes, rolls, gravy, sweet tea, and according to the other members of the blog, "crap.")

The plot of a noir era mystery, updated to modern times and tweaked about to allow for me to write some cheap jokes and double entendres involving small caliber weapons and the protagonist’s overconfident libidinous attitudes seemed rather lame to me at this point. As strange as it was, as the modern stone and steel of the airport hovered closer into view, I was sitting in the backseat dwelling upon the sordid plot of my ruddy book and realising that it was completely boring, even pedestrian compared to the peculiar situation we were in now.

The airport was my best guess as to what Nixon meant by the “safehouse,” and only because I realised after all those viewings that in the audible background of the video was the faint sound of a jet aeroplane. Also, I noticed, to my shock, that the wall behind the masked, shouting ex-president was the corrugated steel of an airplane hangar, and the more I thought about it, the more I realised I’d been in that very hangar before.

It was about two months after I’d started at Phoenix. Ever once in a long while; in fact it only happened four times whilst I was there, Nixon would need to fly out for some activity, most often a national security advisement session or briefing of some kind. I only found out what they were afterwards during one of his expletive-laden rants where he described in vivid detail how the government was still dependent on his expertise and wisdom, usually followed by lengthy complaints about the other party’s unwillingness to fly in to meet him on his own turf.

“It’s all about the ****ing protocols, Mudge!” If those ***-damn pricks weren’t so concerned with looking so imperious in their ****ing offices, and not showing a little ****ing humility by coming to my office… it’s not like I’m expecting the ****-suckers to grovel with their hats in their hands or anything!”

These usually continued until he fell asleep or until someone showed up with his massive assortments of medication, after which he would calm down immensely and talk only of football or how pleasant San Clemente was all the years he resided out there. Occasionally, he would quietly mention his late wife, Pat, which were the only times I really felt sorry for him. He was an extremely intelligent person, even as relatively senile as he was, but he wouldn’t ever have been in the top 10,000 on my list for being stranded on a desert island with, especially given all the times he tossed that autographed O.J. Simpson football at me. He refused in any relatively normal conversation to believe O.J. killed his wife, regardless of how compelling the evidence you presented, but that never stopped him from suggesting that he could get O.J. to stick a Bowie knife in me, if he was mad enough to toss that football.

“The juice would never do something like that, Mudge. He was far too much a gentleman!”

“But what about the blood stains, Mr. President, and the stories that he made a jailhouse confession to his lawyers?”

“**** you, you limey-sounding ****! (throws football about 20 feet short of my head) If O.J. were here right now, he’d slit your gut open with a Ginzu if I asked him to! The man is a saint, damn it!”

Other than that, and his other 50,000 eccentricies, he was a peach.

Anyway, Phoenix maintained a hangar at the airport to whisk their secret employees to for flights within and out of the country. If Nixon left anywhere in mid-morning or afternoon, he would start his day at the office and we would head out to the airport about two hours before his flight. They always flew the “zombies” out on private jets, so as to avoid the regular customs officers and security, who being conscientious workers, always asked too many questions. We would be carted by limousine to the airport and directly to the special hangar, which had the big, fiery Phoenix logo on the front. As soon as we’d pull into the hangar, I would gather the President’s carry-on things, briefcase, overnight bag, and an ancient Dictaphone machine for dictating notes, as he hated digital recorders and computers. I’d hand them to a special flight attendant, who would be in charge of them on the plane and who without fail was blonde, mid-twenties, very well proportioned, and dressed like a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.

When I say “dressed like a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader” I don’t simply mean to metaphorically suggest that she wore a skimpy flight attendant’s uniform with a plunging neckline and a skirt short enough to check her tan line. I meant that she wore an actual Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader outfit, with the hand-tied halter top, the skin-tight hot pants, the stars, and blue and white pom-poms. Apparently they normally wore special governmental jumpsuits, but the changed into this special uniform at Nixon’s request. I told Jimi about it one time at work and his response was, “Damn, they won’t even wear knee-length skirts for my ass.”

There was a rumour that Nixon spent most of the flights trying to “accidentally” untie the top, but that the flight attendants, being young, fully mobile, and trained government agents, were always able to easily elude the decrepit old codger. Considering that he was physically unable to lift his hands above his head, I suspected that they were relatively safe from unintended exposure. When I told my wife this story, she explained that if I ever tried such a stunt, she would break both of my arms and legs and then go shopping. She has a lovely sense of humour my wife, but I suspect this was one of those times when great comedy lie very close to tragedy.

The hangar was a large, metal aircraft hangar, and the interior walls were metal as well. Apparently, there was a good deal of insulation and anti-surveillance measures built into the walls and the metal helped in some way to create radio and audio noise, as well as block any transmitters that somehow get inside. The building had a large private jet in it, as well as several cars, mostly limousines but also a few Hummers, and a jeep or two. There was a large interior building in the northwest corner, as well as a smaller storage shed against the west wall. There always seemed to be a number of tables, chairs, and coffeepots about as well.

As soon as I handed off Nixon’s things, I would be quickly escorted back to the limo and transported back to Phoenix. On the way, I was entitled to finish off any of the smoked salmon, caviar, and champagne that the President failed to consume during the trip out. Given that he had an ulcer of Himalayan proportions, this usually meant all of it, which usually meant I got precious little work done that afternoon.

As we pulled into the airport driveway, I directed Nuffy towards the side road leading to the hangar. The hangar was well away from the main road but I wanted to be as cautious as possible.

“All right,” I said to Stew and Nuffy, “We’re going to want to take it slowly here.”

“Are there speed bumps?” Nuffy asked.

“Among other things,” I replied, sinking into the back seat just a bit.

“OK,” I continued. “There’s a large security gate in front of the hangar and every time I’ve been here it’s usually been manned by between one and two dozen guards, most of whom carry handguns, but I have seen M-16s on a rack in the guardhouse when we’ve driven through before. Also, just for reference, all of the security personnel in the hangar carry high-powered, fully-automatic rifles, handguns, and a variety of grenades and hand to hand combat equipment.”

“So, we won’t worry about fighting our way in,” Stew joked.

As they also wore full body armour, the idea of anyone getting past them through physical force seemed much along the likelihood of someone scaling a large castle wall with a battlement made from a small box of toothpicks and a half-empty bottle of Elmer’s glue. I resisted telling Stew and Nuffy this, because they were already about two shades paler than the usual local winter pallor. I was about one shade paler, myself.

The gate was closed when we arrived, but strangely there were no security guards of any kind at the gate or monitoring the perimeter fence. It seemed as deserted as Phoenix was the other day.

“This is much better, than your description Earl,” Nuffy said. “I almost feel safe now.”

I looked around carefully, as Nuffy idled his car in front of the gate. There wasn’t a single sign of life on the premises. There were no vehicles, no carts, no cables, nothing to be seen but bare concrete between the fence and the building. I briefly considered whether the area might be land mined but the presence of a lone squirrel, who nervously twitched into view, left me relatively comfortable on that front. I watched it for a few moments as it erratically wandered the area, waiting to see if it blew up, was disintegrated by a death ray, or was simply electrocuted by a hidden field of energy designed to stealthily fry anyone or anything that wandered too close. Soon, its curiosity led it up to the steel walls of the hangar where it wandered around out of side behind the large building.

“What now?” asked Stew.

“Well,” I cautiously replied, “if it’s like Phoenix the other day, then it’ll be completely empty, yes?”

“Well, that doesn’t do us any good out here, does it?”

“Let me try something,” I ventured.

I got out of the car and walked up to the gate. Sure enough there was a security pass key system, just like at the main complex. I no longer had a pass card, but I knew that if you tried to enter anything into the keyboard, it would ask you for an emergency override password, if you went through enough of the procedures.

I hit the “Enter” key on the keyboard.

“Please swipe your pass key card through the card slot,” appeared on the screen.

I hit “Enter” again.

“Do you have a pass key card?” came the response.

I typed “no” and selected the Enter key again.

“Do you really not have a pass card or are you just too lazy to run it through the slot?”

I typed in the word “yes” figuring that the first question was the one it wanted an answer to.

“Are you certain that you do not have a pass card?”

“Yes”

“Are you really, really certain that you do not have a pass card?”

Bloody hell, this thing had all the hallmarks of government efficiency. For just a moment, I was glad it wasn’t British or Canadian or it would have had me wait while a new pass card was distributed via the mail service in 3 to 5 weeks. Instead, I got a rather uniquely American response.

“You will now be asked a short series of questions. Please note that if you answer incorrectly to any one of these questions, you may be submitted to an electrical charge generated for security purposes. Phoenix Corporation is not legally responsible if this electrical charge is of lethal proportions, which it most likely will be unless you are more than seven feet tall and weigh more than 350 pounds. Do you wish to continue?”

This complicated things significantly. It was at this point that I realised I had never actually had to enter any Phoenix facility in this manner. The only comfort I had was that Janis had told me in the orientation, and at least on two occasions afterwards, that whenever confronting any automated Phoenix system, I should expect a fair amount of exaggeration.

I decided to go for it. I typed in “Yes” and selected the “Enter” key.

“Please type in your last name.”

“Fando”

“Please type in your emergency password.”

I took a step back and prepared myself to run. I hadn’t worked for Phoenix in two years and the only password I had at my disposal was the one they gave me on my starting day. It had to have been changed. If I was right, I wanted to minimise my exposure to any electricity, so I prepared to jump into the air right after I hit the “Enter” key again.

I glanced over at Stew and Nuffy sitting in the car. Stew had a very serious look on his face, sensing by my posture that something was up. He sunk lower in his seat, as though to shield himself a bit with the dashboard. Nuffy was singing along to something that was apparently on the radio.

I reconsidered whether this was a good idea. I reconsidered it once more, because it was a good excuse to keep breathing. I typed in the password very slowly, “C-H-E-C-K-E-R-S.” Nothing happened. I poised my finger over the “Enter” key and prepared to push the button.

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.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Novel Update

No, this isn't an update on something you've never seen on the blog. For those of you who are wondering, I have not given up on the novel I've been writing. I'm still working on the damn thing. I've just been out of town and the Internet connection where I was staying is dial up, so I never really had time to bang the rocks and flint together hard enough to get a good connection going. I should have stuck to the soup can and string.

I should have another 4,000 - 6,000 words posted this evening, just to warn you.

Blast!!! (and more on the versatile turducken!)

Stew is the clearly the bright one here, as he was smart enough to space his Thanksgiving Day thankfulness...es... erm... whatever they are. I shall have to go back and fix my post now, as it currently looks like one of Maya Angelou's zanier poems.

We hope that each and everyone of you celebrating Thanksgiving in the States got enough turkey, except for those of you who are vegans of course, and stuffed yourselves silly with smoked extra-firm tofu.

Which reminds me, what would a vegetarian turducken be like? Watermelon stuffed with casaba melon, stuffed with cantaloupe, stuffed with pitted avacados, stuffed with tofu, stuffed with cut corn? Whatever it is, it sounds appalling, unless of course you deep fried the whole lot, rolled in breadcrumbs, into vegetable oil of course.

Of course there's only one real problem with the idea of the "turducken" and that's that few people really want to eat a dish whose name starts with "turd."

Update: It's fixed. Now, you should be able to make heads or tails out of it.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Meditation continued...

Great minds think alike... is what I'd say if I had a great mind but for the purposes of this post I'll just say, twisted minds think alike. Just this morning as I was purchasing my grande Caramel Macchiato, in the festive holiday cup, at Starbucks I thought it would be a good idea to do a Thanksgiving post. The plan would be to say I was thankful for the really important things; God, family, and country, then spin off into the outlandish and more funny. Earl beat me to the punch. So, instead of going on about something else, I'll just take up where he left off.

-I'm thankful for the liberal return policies of the modern department store. This comes from the fact that my mother-in-law thinks I have the proportions of Sasquatch and so always buys my shirts sized Tall XX-L.

-I'm thankful for the Turducken, for how else could we Americans show our penchant for overindulgence during this wonderful time of year. It also makes me wonder what the Turducken of a group of cannibals would be. I would imagine it would be Paul Prudhomme, stuffed with Emeril Lagasse, stuffed with Wolfgang Puck served with reduction of Rachel Ray. (I just liked that for its alliterative qualities)

-I'm thankful to F. Johnny Lee our attorney, friend, and designated driver. It's not that we imbibe inappropriately but due to the fact that we can't drive. At least not very well.

-I'm thankful for Snopes.com for without their research I would believe that Coke and Pop Rocks killed Mikey, the personalities of the dwarves in Snow White represent the seven stages of cocaine addiction, and that Steve from Blue's Clues died of a heroin overdose.

-I'm thankful that the family of Mark Northover has a sense of humor or has never read our blog. Probably the second one.

-I'm thankful that I have a job for without it I would have nothing to do but enjoy family, friends, and endless days of golfing. Thanks guys.

-I'm thankful for all of the nominations our thousands of readers worldwide are making to the 2006 Weblog Awards. You are nominating us right?

In closing I'd just like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and hope the best for all. I think I can sum it up in two words, CAMERON DIAZ. Thank you.

A Thanksgiving Meditation

As that particularly American holiday of Thanksgiving approaches, I'd just like to take some time off of my intensive labour on the novel (see the numerous posts below), and the countless electric shocks that the people at National Novel Writers Month send me when I fall behind on the wordage, to present a short list of some things that I, Earl Fando, am deeply thankful for.

Earl Fando's Very Special Thanksgiving List

by Earl Fando, author of a novel to be named at a later date.

-I'm thankful for my lovely and loving wife and our wonderful daughter.

-I'm thankful for my mum and dad, and my mother and father-in-law.

-I'm thankful for my extended family and friends and my brothers and sisters in Christ.

-I'm thankful for all those people from the U.S. and U.K. serving in uniform, God bless you all and keep you safe.

-I'm thankful for my co-contributors on The Dictionary of Unfortunate Ideas: Stew Miller, Nuffy Noe, Zimpter Fiforg, Linus Coconut, and Jorge Carlito Viejo, may he be paroled soon.

-I'm thankful for the fact that Stew is posting again, which means that he is still alive and did not disappear on the golf course as was rumoured.

-I'm thankful for the fact that Nuffy is apparently still with us as well, despite the fact that his posting rate is quickly reaching Zimpterian proportions.

-I'm thankful for the fact that Zimpter and Linus haven't deleted their existing posts and denied all participation on and knowledge of this blog.

-I'm thankful for Danny DeVito's sense of mercy, which translated into a lighter sentence for Jorge, including reduced flogging.

-I'm thankful for the collected humour of Michael J. Nelson, Dave Barry, Steve Martin, and the members of Monty Python, all of whom would be welcomed as members of this blog as they would likely post more than many of the other members.

-I'm thankful that the above mentioned writers and performers allow me to continue dreaming that they would sink so low as to participate on this blog by resisting the urge to have their lawyers send cease and desist letters, by not writing letters of outrage and condemnation themselves, and indeed, by seemingly being entirely unaware of the very existence of this blog.

-I'm thankful for bacon, pizza, Bass Ale, boiled peanuts, chocolate ganouche, southern-fried chicken, carne asada, curry, and nachos with queso and sliced jalapenos.

-I'm thankful that I can still eat all of the above and not drop dead from a massive coronary.

-I'm thankful for football of all kinds, particularly the kind associated with Arsenal. (Thanks to Theirry and Arsene for being a part of that, too.)

-I'm thankful for Blogger, and that it is available to those of us who wish to reach out to the world electronically, for at least 3.5 hours on any given day.

-I'm thankful for Google for supporting Blogger to distract from their secret deals with the Chinese Communists.

-I'm thankful for the inventors of the Internet for creating such a wonderful network and being modest enough to let Al Gore hog all the credit.

-I'm thankful for President Bush's commitment to stopping terrorists and for not including comedy blogger satirists on the list of enemy combatants.

-I'm thankful for Presidents past and present for giving comedy blogger satirists something to write about and doing so in massive volume.

-I'm thankful for the excesses and absurdities of international celebrities, because there's no way even creatively perverse bloggers like ourselves could make up such hilarious crap. No, seriously, we'd never have thought of most of that stuff, even if we resorted to drugs.

-I'm thankful for Tom Cruise and his continued resistance to psychiatry, because if they straightened him out, our post volume here would drop by 25%.

-I'm thankful Oprah, Uma, Cher, and Regis never changed their names.

-I'm thankful for Three's Company for being so completely appalling. It's like a bottomless canteen for humourists. I'm also thankful for Happy Days, starting with the episode where Fonzie jumps the shark, literally.

-I'm thankful that the Scientologists still don't consider us worth the time to harass.

-I'm thankful that Kim Jung Il is not from Vermont, where he might get 5% of the vote.

-I'm thankful that listening to Rap music is voluntary. Ditto for Country-Western, though I do like Bluegrass music, FWIW.

-I'm thankful to know that, should Osama Bin Laden ever appear on our shores, 3 out of 4 Americans would instantly kick his arse.

-I'm thankful for Walker's Scottish Shortbread, which I really should have inlcuded above. Crunchie bars, too.

-I'm thankful that kilts are out of fashion in America, because I haven't the legs anymore.

-I'm thankful for Cameron Diaz, because the simple mention of her name here just drove hits up 500%.

-and last but not least, I'm thankful for you our loyal readers (and also those of you who have stumbled onto this site by accident looking for news about the final Lemony Snicket book, which my daughter loved). We all appreciate you and hope you will regularly visit again.

Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving,
Earl

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter IX (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 36,000 word mark, and is praying that the tryptophan in Thanksgiving Turkey will ease the pain a bit.)

They both picked up pens, of which Stew’s was the novelty kind with the giant feather, and grabbed sheets of blank paper.

“Write down the following and sign your name to it: 'I, your name… do not literally write ‘your name’…'”

“Should we write down the part about not literally writing down ‘your name’?” asked Nuffy.

The malice behind my stare was enough to silence him.

“'I, etc. etc., hereby promise and affirm that I will not reveal any secrets regarding the Phoenix Corporation to any other living human being, including spouses, children, other close relatives, or therapists.'”

Stew gave me a quizzical look as he quickly penned the requisite phrase. “Therapists?” he asked.

“Trust me; it’ll make more sense in a short while. Sign them.”

They signed the papers. I knew that this was nothing close to the equivalent of signing a legal document, but I hoped that, should we be confronted by Phoenix officials or others in the government that it would be seen as an acceptable makeshift solution, given their current involvement.

“All right,” I said, taking the papers and placing them into my desk drawer, “sit down. You’re going to want to be sitting for this.”

They both looked at each other the way two sane debaters will when confronted with another one who is not sane at all but has the floor. They sat down.

“All right, there’s no real time to go into detail, so I’ll try to be as brief as possible.”

This statement made them both laugh out loud. It was true; I am a wordy person. I think it comes to some extent from taking an English degree at University. When you are exposed daily to a plethora of words and phrases, the tendency is to develop habits which incorporate those words and phrases, and chief amongst these is a kind of good-natured peroration, the kind found among University professors, older vicars, and well-meaning politicians. Some people, mostly the rest of the politicians and certain philosophers, devolve into pure bloviation, in the politicians case in between asking for or actually receiving large sums of cash.

Another reason for my wordiness was growing up in a family of six, all of whom were effective and dedicated conversationalists. My wife, who is an only child, has always been amazed at how my family can maintain two to three simultaneous conversations in the same small room, often with the participants interchangeable from one conversation to the next. The simple fact of the matter is, that if you had something to say, you’d better say as much of it as possible while you can. We all learnt this and the results were that as we grew up we became capable of maintaining conversations of incredible length, especially amongst ourselves. I recall a four hour journey by car with my youngest brother, in which, approximately 20 minutes into the journey, we began a discussion on the contrasting merits of film and stage. We had to end the conversation because we came to the conclusion of our trip, three hours and 40 minutes later. I’m not sure we ever did properly end the conversation, so if he’s reading this, just let me say that while the immediacy of the stage and the connection to the audience are wonderful things, film is vastly superior for the reasons I stated during the drive, if you can remember them…So there.

The main reason for my and the wordiness of my brothers is genetics. Our mum is, without a doubt, the world’s champion talker. I reckon, and I say this with all love and in some awe, that she could out talk a Texan cattle auctioneer without having to change the subject of the conversation or take more than three complete breaths. This is a woman in whom parrots lived in mortal terror of. If she were to ever be in a situation where a sign-language interpreter had to interpret her remarks, that poor intermediary would hack themselves to death with their own hands trying to keep up. A very skilled sign-language interpreter might merely collapse from exhaustion, having avoided injuring themselves. This is a woman for whom silence is merely empty space that badly needs filling.

Anyway, after the brief laughter from Stew and Nuffy died down, for they knew that following it up with any jokes would only distract me from revealing to them some answers to this mystery, and also that I might go on for up to 10 minutes about it.

“All right, the first thing you need to know is that my former boss at Phoenix is not really named Mudge Guthrie.”

They stared in anticipation, because quite frankly, there was nothing too amazing about that statement.

“His real name is…” I stopped, walked over to the door and stuck my head out in the hallway to see if anyone was nearby. I closed the door and walked over to the windows to see if anyone was standing outside. I check all the telephone receivers to see if they were on the hook or not. I suddenly realised the possibility that the office was bugged, either by Mr. Wang, Phoenix, or some other entity. If so, the DVD had probably been deciphered by now, and my own comments had at least given away the fact the Mudge Guthrie was not Mudge Guthrie at all.

I could take no more chances.

“Come with me,” I quietly commanded Stew and Nuffy. They remained seated, which was not unexpected.

“Come with me if you want to learn more,” I elaborated. This got them up and headed for the door.

“Nuffy, is there any chance you have any attire available that is… well, less conspicuous?” I implored.
“Give me five minutes,” he replied and headed out the door. Twelve minutes later he returned, wearing a heavy flannel shirt, a jacket, jeans, and trainers.

“Why didn’t you come in dressed that way in the first place?” Stew asked.

“I didn’t know we’d be going out.”

We walked out the door, locked the office, and made our way to the parking lot. I suggested taking Nuffy’s car, a dark-coloured, mid-sized Japanese model, in case my car and Stew’s car were bugged also. We climbed into the car, Stew and Nuffy in the front and I in the back, and I told Nuffy to just start driving.

“Where to?” he asked.

“It doesn’t matter right now.”

“You do know how much gas costs these days, right?” he replied.

“I’ll pay for the petrol, just drive.” He gave me a long look of doubt.

“Oh, all right, head for the airport.”

Nuffy started the car, put it in gear and pulled out of the parking lot.

“All right,” Stew said from the passenger seat, “why did we have to get into the car to hear this?”

“I couldn’t be sure the office wasn’t bugged.”

“You think that Mr. Wang bugged the office?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I just can’t take any chances.”

“This must be some good stuff,” Nuffy observed, with just a touch of anticipation in his voice.

“You have no idea. All right, here goes.” They both tilted their ears towards the back of the car. “My ex-boss at Phoenix only used the name Mudge Guthrie as a cover. His real name was…”

I took a very large breath. The words didn’t seem to want to come out.

“…Does either of you have a bottle of water. I think I need a drink or I’m going to be sick.”

Nuffy and Stew shook their heads. I remembered coming back home from my first full day in my new job at the Phoenix Corporation. My wife was standing in the kitchen, preparing spaghetti for dinner that evening. I walked in, looked around to make sure my daughter wasn’t in the room, and then, after giving my wife the gentlest of kisses on her forehead, said to her in the most quietly serious voice I could muster, “Luv, my new boss is Richard Nixon.”

I will remember her exact reply until the day I die: “Oh, that’s nice dear.”

This was followed by a very slow turn in my direction and a series of questions, the answers to which left her wondering whether I should consider psychiatric care. For the first month or so, she viewed me with guarded concern, especially after I told her about Walt. Eventually, even though she was never allowed to visit Phoenix herself, she came to accept my story as true.

“It does explain why you’ve been so jumpy when the Disney Channel’s on,” she observed.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that much of the Disney royalties were dedicated to the unrealized plans of financing a cyborg body for Walt.

In any case, remembering the initial skepticism with which my wife greeted the news that Richard Nixon was not only still alive, but was ordering her husband to fetch coffee and track down videotapes of college football games from 1969, I relaxed a little bit at the prospect of telling another human being this immense secret.

“My ex-boss is really Richard Milhous Nixon,” I blurted out.

Their expressions immediately took on a quizzical nature.

“Yes, that Richard Milhous Nixon,” I added.

“Thirty-seventh President of these United States?” Stew asked.

“Right.”

“Watergate Nixon?” Nuffy inquired.

“Right in one.”

“Tricky Dick?” Stew added.

“Exactly, only I wouldn’t call him that in public,” I advised.

They both took quick deep breaths and slowly exhaled them out.

“Listen, Earl… if you don’t trust us enough to tell us what’s going on…” Stew began.

“It’s the truth, Stew,” I replied. “Nixon… My boss for two years…the paranoia, the narcissism, the incisive dissection of geopolitical politics, and the obsession with football and with his enemies.”

Nuffy glanced at Stew with a look that asked, “Is Earl presently taking any psychotropic medications, or should he be?”

“Right,” I said, “…the video, the crazy nutter barking the word Yangtze. You said he sounded like Nixon, right?”

“Yeah, well…”

“Remember the face in the video, forget the mask for a second, and just think of the eyes, the beady little eyes, bloodshot and unblinking…think of the tufts of grey hair coming off the wrinkled brow. Imagine that voice…remember he’s a good bit older… hear the voice again…and imagine the face, imagine the mask being gone, being pulled away…”

Their eyes suddenly grew wide as they realised they had actually seen him right there on the video.

“Oh, crap!” Stew muttered.

“Nixon?” Nuffy asked disbelievingly as he and Stew swung their heads back in my direction.

“Nixon,” I said, nodding slowly, “…and that’s not the crazy-sounding part…Nuffy! Look out!!!”

Nuffy swung his head around and swerved the car back into the right lane, to the great relief of a little old lady and the five cats in her Volkswagen.

Prithee, knock on our door...

Isn't the novel going just smashingly. I for one, really enjoyed Nuffy's entrance in the traditional Sherpa garb, especially since we all know that he favors the poncho, bombachas, and guaiaca of the gauchos of Argentina. Quite an inside joke there on Earl's part. I await the next installment with feelings of great anticipation and alarm wondering what he's going to have me doing. Some possibilities I can proffer to him would include: golfing Augusta National, meeting John Cleese, and going on a long vacation to the British Isles.

Last week while eating at our favorite Mexican bistro, Earl and I came up with an interesting idea and since he's engrossed in his novel it falls to me to attempt to get it on the page. As we gorged ourselves on carne asada we thought about the coming Thanksgiving holiday and the traditions and history that go with it. We thought back to the days of the Pilgrims who made their way to a new and unknown land aboard the Mayflower. We also wondered how some of our classic American situation comedies would have been like had they been produced during that time. Don't you wish you could join us sometime?

In order to set up the following vignettes I must advise the reader that at all times the characters in our little theater of the imagination should be envisioned as wearing traditional pilgrim threads. You know, those funny black hats, bonnets, and shoes with outrageously large buckles on them. You can also imagine a blunderbuss or two, at least in our first episode.

Bailiff Griffith and the Good Folk of Shire Mayberry RFD

Bailiff Griffith and his young apprentice Barnard Fife enter with three witches in tow.

Griffith: Prithee Barney, wouldst thou be so good as to incarcerate these witches in cell number three.

Barnard: Ye bet thine sweet prithee I would. Now thee witches get in there, don't make me go for mine musket ball.(Pats pocket of his jacket) Within five short moves I can have this blunderbuss loaded and ready to mete justice.

Witch #1: Prithee kind sirs, can you please explain why you hath arrested we goodly women? I assure you we are not witches of any fashion.

Griffith: Fie I say to thee young missy. No person of mere flesh and bone could could best Aunt Beatrice in pie baking as thee did tonight at the shire fair.

Witch #2: Oh, crap.

Witch #3: Good catch there, Matlock.

Griffith: Now thee have doubled your sentence for cursing in front of a bailiff.

Barnard: I say we send them to the stake, Andy. Ye see that they are witches and the good laws of fair Mayberry doth demand blood.

Griffith: Oh Barn, please leave the the adjudication to me. Couldst thou throw some water on Otis, he hath spent too much time at the tavern again.

Barnard: Andy, thou hast to nip it in the bud. Nip it, nip it, nip it!

Griffith: Hand over thine blunderbuss Barn!

Barnard sticks the blunderbuss in Andy's hand and as he leaves throws a bucket of water over Otis who is sleeping in the stocks. Otis opens the stocks and leaves through the door. Andy just smiles his best Puritan smile.

End

Three is Goodly Company

Jack Tripper has taken residence in the root cellar of Squire Furley's Tavern where serving wenches Janet Wood and Christmas Snow work and live. He agrees to clean the outhouse in return for a warm place to sleep and two meals a day. Squire Furley also thinks he's gay. But not in the usual happy sort of way.

Janet: Good Jack, how was thy slumber last night?

Jack: I was lying among numerous of Squire Furley's stored potatoes, if that gives you any idea. But really I don't mind tubers, I've handled many large ones in my day.

Squire Furley enters and hears Jacks second line. (Hoots from the audience) Squire Furley begins twitching his funniest twitch.

Furley: Prithee Jack, please refrain from discussing such behavior in my tavern. It's hard enough being the proprietor of a tavern in a Puritan settlement, I wouldn't have a chance if it wasn't for the fact that Myles Standish likes to get his freak on.

Shrugs from Jack and Janet.

Christmas: Good morning everyone. (She stretches and her bodice comes open revealing only corset and her ample...well you get the idea)Oh, goodness. (buttoning herself back up)

Furley twitching.

Jack ogling.

Larry peaks in door and does the finger biting thing.

Furley: C-c-christmas p-p-please be careful. Thankfully it was only Jack here, but what if it had been the townsfolk. Now Jack, wouldst thou help Christmas with her rack. (Pointing to a large set of antlers sitting on the floor) (more hoots from audience)

Jack: Ah, what wouldst thou have me do with them, ah, Squire Furley?

Furley: Grab them and put them where she wishes of course. Bother me not with such silly questions. (more hooting)

***This scene deleted by the Puritan Council of New Plymouth***

Furley is on the floor twitching. Jack is sitting in the corner with a bucket of dung over his head. The two girls have run upstairs. Myles Standish is smoking a bowl of hemp.

Jack: Maybe they have jobs down at the Regal Beagle.

End

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter IX (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 34,000 word mark, and is climbing the walls of his office like Spiderman.)

Chapter 9
Welcome to My Paranoia


I sat there feeling as thunderstruck as I ever have, with the possible exception of the moment when one of my parents, the shock prevents me from remembering which one exactly, explained “the birds and the bees” to me. Unlike then, when I pretended to already know absolutely everything discussed, and in fact knew much of it, due to the local school district’s libertine policies on health education, this time I was completely flabbergasted.

Stew had the look of someone who was trying to remember something that they were certain they knew already, but had forgotten due to growing older or some blunt trauma to the skull in the recent past. He started to speak, and then stopped again as if realising the words in mind were utterly insufficient. He began again, but then looked up as though a small hummingbird had passed in his field of vision causing him to lose the whole train of thought all over again.

Nuffy sat there with a very satisfied expression. If he hadn’t spat his cigar in the wastebin, I was certain he would have been happily chomping on it again.

“How did you come to the conclusion…?” I began, but Nuffy seemed to have been waiting for a chance to explain further.

“It was really the first part that got me thinking,” he said. “You know that burst of three short ‘Yangtze’s’ followed by the three longer ones, and then three shorter ones again.”

“S.O.S?” I blurted the letters out. Stew mouthed the words at just about the same time I said them.

“Right,” said Nuffy. “Well, I was thinking about this while the video was going on and then realized the whole thing was a coded message. That’s when I asked you to replay the clip again. Look, here’s what I think it says.”

He laid the paper in front of us and we read it quickly. It said:

“S.O.S. Help needed. Come to the safe house. Next message there. They are
after me. Do not fail me Merle. Mudge.”

“Blimey,” was all I could say.

“I wasn’t sure about the ‘Merle’ part, since the message was sent to you,” Nuffy confessed. “I could have sworn there was an ‘M’ in there though.”

“No… No, that’s right, I’m afraid.” I looked at the paper again. My eyes began to cross as I stared at it.

“Who’s Mudge?” Stew asked.

“My old boss at the Phoenix Corporation,” I replied. “He’s a bit of a nutter in his old age.”

“Well, it was a peculiar way to send a message,” Nuffy agreed, “but I have to say, it did have the advantage of being crazy enough to throw off any sane person.”

We both looked at him with amazement.

“Except me, of course,” he hastily added.

“So who was the guy in the video?” Stew asked.

I thought about it a bit more. I had only one conclusion, but I couldn’t tell them, at least not the whole truth. The beady, bloodshot eyes, the thin grey hair, the craggy, hoarse voice… it had to be Nixon himself, sending the message from behind the “Have A Nice Day” mask.

“Bloody hell, I think it’s my former boss, Mr. Guthrie,” I admitted.

“Hmm… Your boss sounds a lot like Nixon,” Nuffy observed. “If he were alive, they’d make quite a pair,” he added, to my immense relief.

“So, why Yangtze?” Nuffy continued.

“Well, I’m just going to hazard a guess and suggest it was in reference to the Chinese guys with the guns,” Stew responded.

“Oh, yeah,” Nuffy replied, lightly smacking his forehead.

So, the real question is ‘what does he mean by the ‘safe house?’’” Stew continued.

They both looked at me.

“I’m afraid I have absolutely no idea on that one,” I lied.

In truth, I had somewhat of an idea, though not a very good one. There were a number of safe houses in the immediate area. The problem was that there were a variety of them and they all related to different people at the Corporation. I knew the general location of Nixon’s regular lodgings, in a presumably gated community that was really a compound with a fiendishly elaborate security setup, but I could hardly believe that was the safe house, given that he was holed up there every evening.

The only other location that I knew about was a small collection of “luxury cabins” in the woods about twenty miles south of the Phoenix headquarters. These were ostensibly resort cabins owned and leased by the Corporation, but in truth they never leased them to anyone except the secretly living figures at the heart of the organization. I had the brief opportunity to travel there with the Ex-President one morning when his regular off-site assistant, a person to whom I had never been introduced or even met, was temporarily unavailable. We traveled down to the cabin by limousine. They were nestled in the hills surrounding the area and were quite secluded. We passed an alarming number of heavily-armed security personnel and dozens of surveillance cameras disguised as squirrels, nesting birds, large pine cones, and at least one pile of deer droppings, though it’s quite possible that a deer had simply gone on an undisguised camera, of which there were a few.

Several times, usually as we passed a camouflage-wearing, M-16-toting security guard, Nixon would comment on how much the setting reminded him of Camp David. He chuckled bitterly after each of these remembrances and dug his hands deep into his suit coat pockets. The man wore a suit everywhere. I suspected all his pyjamas had collars and matching flannel ties.

Other questions flashed through my head. Did Mr. Wang know the true identity of my former boss? Was this some massive breach of security? Why on earth did Nixon want my help when he had the whole of the Phoenix security apparatus at his disposal?

Both Stew and Nuffy were looking very suspiciously at me. Finally, Stew broke the silence.

“You’re not telling us everything, are you,” he quietly accused.

At these words, Nuffy awkwardly crossed his arms like a rap star, though I was impressed at how he did it without a trace of ostentatiousness. Several people in the Hip-Hop community could learn a great deal about avoiding ridiculousness from his approach.

“I’m telling you all I can,” I offered, which was completely true in a literal sense.

They bored holes into my skull with their eyes, staring so intensely that for a brief moment I saw the face of Richard M. Nixon superimposed on each of their faces. It was not the smiling version, I can assure you.

I briefly but carefully weighed my options. If I made up a lie or simply obfuscated long enough, I would very likely lose their trust, should they discover the truth, and, should there be any danger in relationship to this situation, they would very likely associated with me anyway by Mr. Wang and his quiet but menacing looking associate. So, they would be left in the dark as far as the potential nature of the patient but apparently dangerous Chinese.

However, if I told them, they would very definitely be involved in whatever danger existed. They would also be in possession of a very well-kept state secret, one I was legally bound not to reveal to anyone, despite the fact my wife knew all about it already. Danger or no, I and they would be in legal jeopardy, and there might be severe repercussions for us all in the end.

They stared even more intensely at me as I weighed my decision. Finally, I came to the realisation that I would be unable to act freely as long as I hadn’t told them. They weren’t, at this point, about to let me wander off without some kind of plausible answer.

I took a deep breath.

I took another one, because I almost choked on the first one.

“You both have to promise me that you won’t tell a single word of this to anyone, not even your wives,” I said.

They both nodded in fervent agreement, smiling almost as broadly as kids at Christmas.

“Write it down,” I demanded.

Earl's Novel - Chapter VIII

(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 is well past the 32,000 word mark, and can speak in one word sentences, such as "Hurts!" and "Sleep!")

Chapter 8
Where Much Is Revealed but Little Resolved


We both continued to stand and gape as Nuffy ambled into the office and sat down.

“You guys have made a lot of changes to my desk,” he observed. “I appreciate the little Tiger Woods desk calendar as a gesture, but quite frankly, I’m not into the golf.”

“Actually, that’s my desk,” Stew managed to blurt out.

“Oops!” Nuffy responded and got up, looked around and then wandered over to his own desk, which was immaculately clean except for large, slightly ruffled piles of blank printer paper and a fairly think layer of dust. It had been just over six months since Nuffy had last physically been in the office.

He blew off a bit of the dust and wiped what wouldn’t come up with the cashmere blanket.

“Ah, just like I left it,” he sighed, and sat down. He turned on the PC, logged on, and sat back in the chair as Windows went through six months of security updates.

“Don’t let it download Internet Explorer 7, if it tries,” I suggested, but Nuffy had already distractedly pulled a piece of blank paper from a pile on the desk and began scribbling away. This was one of his admittedly varied ways of working, we had discovered, and once he was on to an idea and writing or typing, he could be most difficult to engage in conversation.

Stew and I made our way back to our desks, albeit a bit more slowly than usual, still trying to work in the rare presence of Nuffy into our sense of the office environment.

“So,” I ventured, “You’ve been to Nepal recently?”

“Nepal, Barcelona, Nairobi, Astana, Mar del Plata, and a few other places,” Nuffy said without looking up.

“When you’ve called, you’ve always said it was from home,” I replied. “What’s with all the secrecy then?”

“Home is where the heart is,” responded Nuffy, continuing to scribble.

“So,” I continued, rather gingerly, “The wife and child have been traveling with you?”

“Of course,” he said, without breaking stride. “Oh, I almost forgot!” he suddenly added, sitting bolt upright.

He stood up and walked over to my desk.

“This is for you and your family,” he said, handing me the cashmere blanket. I thanked him, as I shook the dust out of it. He smiled and walked over to Stew’s desk.

“And this is for you,” he said, handing Stew the ornamental wood carving.

“Thanks,” said Stew, adding,” Umm…what is it.”

“Well,” said Nuffy, scratching his head, “The woodcarver said it was a symbol of steadfastness and patience, but the old woman who ran the hostel I stayed at claimed it was the ancient symbol for the spirit of a perturbed yak.”

“I’ll treasure it always,” Stew said, but the friendly sarcasm was lost on Nuffy, who had made his way back to his desk and began scribbling again.

After a long silence, in which Stew and I alternately watched Nuffy’s furiously robust work and glanced at the carving trying to determine, which, if any, of the various sweeping lines and edges made up the yak, I finally decided to ask a question which intrigued me for the last few days.

“So, Nuffy,” I asked in a somewhat intrigued voice, “How did that job opportunity you were looking into work out?”

Nuffy stopped scribbling and looked up with a smile of immense satisfaction. “It turned out perfectly,” he replied. “You are now looking at the new contributing travel writer for the magazine Ombudsman Monthly!” He pulled out a pair of cigars and tossed them to Stew and me. “Don’t actually light them,” he said, “because the smoke makes me nauseous.” He pulled a third cigar out and chomped on it, returning to his writing. With the cigar, he rather looked like what a Sherpa news editor of the 1930’s might have resembled, only without the ancient manual typewriter that almost certainly completed the kit.

I sat my cigar on my desk. I adjusted it a few times, as I thought it might as well have a place of relative honour given the significance of the occasion. This adjustment period lasted for about twenty seconds until a perplexing thought crossed my brain.

“Nuffy,” I said, which to my surprise brought him out of his scribbling reverie, “I’ve never actually heard of Ombudsman Monthly.”

Nuffy shrugged his shoulders and gave a look that indicated he was not surprised more or less.

“…And, as an ombudsman is a rather specialised profession, can such a magazine actually develop a subscription base large enough to survive in the long run?” I cautiously added.
“Probably not, but we’ll see” he said thickly, through the cigar chomping. He finally spit it into the wastebin beside his desk, on top of several crumpled up pieces of printer paper with writing all over them. “Man, those things are nasty,” he sputtered. “In any case, they’re paying me $3,000 per story, plus expenses,” he added, which was so surprising that Stew spit his cigar out of his mouth as well.

“Three…$3,000 an article?” he stammered. “How many stories do they plan for you to turn in each issue?”

“No idea,” replied Nuffy, “but they liked my tryout and paid for that and an advance on the next story.”

“So, they publish monthly then?” I asked, though it seemed a rather obvious question, given the title of the magazine.

“Quarterly, but I figure I could get as many as three or four articles in an issue and make it all work out.”

“Why is it called Ombudsman Monthly, then?” Stew added, with nearly as much confusion in his voice as I was feeling at Nuffy’s answer.

“They hope to work up to a monthly issue, but they wanted to get the title out there before anyone else came along and beat them to it. Let’s face it, who’d want to buy a subscription to Ombudsman Quarterly if there was an Ombudsman Monthly out there competing? Anyway, I should be able to contribute a few articles to the blog before I’m off again.”

His logic was impeccable, even if the story itself was as peculiar as a yak smoking a Rothschild cigar. He began to write again, and this time Stew and I let him continue uninterrupted. The story of a magazine called Ombudsman Monthly may have been odd, even suspicious, but given the events of the past week, in perspective it seemed positively calming to know that somewhere, someone was giving the government and corporate outside mediator news and information that they could use, even if the travel recommendations were going to be a trifle exotic.

Also, it was nice to know he would be posting again soon. As Nuffy was a contributing writer and not officially an editor for the blog, he didn’t receive the regular, if insubstantial salary that we received from a local business magazine in exchange for the odd article or restaurant review. As it was only the grace of the business magazine’s associate publisher that kept us employed, we usually had a number of articles and reviews prepared in advance. We found out later that the associate publisher was actually Heath’s brother-in-law Miles Fortuyn. Miles was as consistently annoyed by Heath’s insistently peculiar manner of doing business as we were, and thus there was a shared feeling of pity and impatience that led him to have a great deal of sympathy for our cause. He was more than a bit frustrated that his sister Portia had fallen in love with a literary agent, particularly one with Heath’s limited sense of marketing, instead of the various stockbrokers, bankers, and advertisers he had introduced to her. He accepted however that his sister was, well, more than a bit eccentric and even unpleasant, despite being quite attractive physically. His only outward response to this though was to constantly refer to Heath by his full name. I thought this amusing and appropriate enough, as I’d only known two people named Heath in my life, and the other was a decent bloke in the grocery business, who was as far from a “Heathcliff” as could be.

Miles also liked the humour in the blog enough to consider it a worthwhile and potentially profitable enterprise, and he made a point of regularly sending a bit of advertising our way to justify the bookkeeping, even if the desperately low hit tally didn’t currently merit the response. We tried to convince Miles to add Nuffy as a fully salaried employee, but there simply wasn’t enough money to charitably spare for a regular salary, though he did pay a small contributor’s fee anytime Nuffy strung together more that tem posts in a month.

We spent the next hour or so working on bits for the blog. Nuffy’s scribbling turned out to be another one for the wastebin, after about thirty minutes or so. Stew and I never looked in the wastebin or even touched it, except to empty it when it filled up, which given Nuffy’s infrequent attendance, was never. We often wondered what was in it, but fearing the temptation of plagiarism, we never looked. After a few months of this though, we began to develop several theories as to what the contents might be. This was a very difficult process, given that Nuffy almost never left any paper with writing on it on or in his desk, preferring to either wad them up and toss them in the bin, or stuff them in his pockets and take them with him.

Stew at one point was convinced that Nuffy was attempting to develop a unified field theory, based on the fact that Nuffy had brought in and left on his desk a small collection of calculators of various types, including some quite complex ones that had symbols on them that neither of us had ever seen before. The calculators stayed on his desk until one day he came in and stuffed them all into his coat pockets, muttered the word “Rubbish!” and set off again out the door.

I was for a time of the suspicion that he was writing an epic poem. Uncharacteristically, he had left a sheet of paper on his desk for a full month that contained the words “Thus began this epic tale.” The visit prior to that he had made a number of furiously busy efforts at notes, all of which wound up in the wastebin. This one piece of paper seemed to be the source of all that work and he had left it on his desk, as if for inspiration when he returned.

Unfortunately, this theory was completely destroyed when he wandered in again, took one glance at the paper with the phrase on it, laughed bitterly, and threw it in the bin. When I asked him about it later he said that it was a phone message from his credit card company.

The only theory Stew and I ever agreed on was the idea that he was perhaps writing his memoirs, in between posts on the blog. This happened to be our working theory at present, but it was more or less a placeholder, because had anyone asked us what we really thought was on the paper and had offered money for our best answer, it would be, “No idea whatsoever.”

Nuffy began working on something else. In the meantime, Stew had written and posted a rather nice follow-up to his annual post on Halloween costumes, which theorised what might have happened, had the particularly American holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving gotten mixed up together, and contained at least one picture of a large turkey dressed as Batman.

I on the other hand was drawing blanks. I kept going back in forth in my mind over what to do about the novel and especially what to do about Mr. Wang, who was especially present in my thoughts, given his phone call mere moments earlier.

Suddenly, almost as if by telepathy, Nuffy sat up again.

“Why were you guys holding those golf clubs when I came in?” he asked, with more than a touch of confusion in his voice.

“Erm… it’s a long story,” I began, and then attempted to tell it. I explained how the strange package had arrived almost a week before, just as I was starting to attempt this novel.

“You’re writing a novel?” Nuffy happily interjected, “Good for you!”

“It’s not really the main thing here though,” Stew observed. “Tell him about the trip to Phoenix, Earl.”

“You went to Arizona?” Nuffy asked.

Stew shushed him and I continued to tell about the strange contents of the DVD and how I went to Phoenix because I thought it might be connected with my “business” work there. Neither Stew nor Nuffy knew the real purpose or nature of Phoenix, and so I had to work around that bit of information as I went. Nuffy was fascinated to hear of how the Corporation grounds were completely empty and of the amazing number of video cameras on the grounds. After asking what models they were and being shushed again by Stew, I told him about the strange encounter with Mr. Wang and Mr. Dong in the restaurant and finally the phone call this afternoon, just prior to his arrival.

Nuffy evinced a look of deep concern at this final bit of news, particularly upon hearing that they were armed. He sat for a long while in a thoughtful pose with his hand underneath his chin. He finally looked up again.

“Can I see the DVD?” he asked.

I picked up the DVD off my desk and put it in the player, turning up my computer speakers so Nuffy would get the full, jarring effect. He and Stew pulled up their chairs around my desk and watched as the strange, masked figure appeared again and began to go through his bizarre routine of shouting. I shuddered from the very first word, but Nuffy listened quite intently, even closing his eyes at one point. After a few moments, about halfway through the clip, and as if hearing something that completely eluded Stew and I, much in the way dogs hear high-pitched whistles or smell bacon a full kilometer before human noses latch onto it, he smiled in a way that had a light bulb been over his head it would have not only lit up but would have completely exploded.

“Back it up to the beginning,” he said, suddenly getting up and going over to his desk for a pencil and a sheet of blank printer paper.

I dutifully hit stop on the DVD player software and reset the slider to the beginning of the clip, even as my stomach was screaming at me not to play the tape again.

Nuffy sat back down and pulled up his chair to where he could write on my desk.

“Start it again,” he implored eagerly.

The clip began again and from the very first few words of the seemingly literally barking mad, masked figure Nuffy began writing on the paper. He wrote in fits and starts, seemingly in rhythm to the strange figure on the screen. Stew and I looked at each other after a few moments of this and shook our heads, unsure of what to think.

Finally, the clip ended and Nuffy stopped writing.

“What in bloody blazes was that about?” I asked.

Nuffy smiled again.

“It’s a message,” he said, holding up the paper with a quiet look of triumph.

“A message?” Stew and I blurted out together.

“Well, I admit it’s a pretty vague way of sending one,” Nuffy said, “and I’m a little rusty as well… actually, I’m a lot rusty.”

“Rusty about what?” Stew asked.

Nuffy held his palms up and gave a slight shrug of his shoulders as though it should be obvious.

“Morse Code, of course,” he said.