(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 magic 50,000 word mark, and is awaiting whatever crappy and insufficient prize he will get for all of this stress, especially since he still has to wrap everything up.)
Stranger than Fiction but Not Comedy
As I stood there in the room, torn between making a quick grab at a gun and blowing my now ex-literary agents’ brains all over the wood paneling in the room and trying to figure out why the normally stoic Mr. Dong was suddenly smiling and winking like George Clooney at the People’s Choice Awards, all hell broke loose.
Stew and Nuffy made a simultaneous dive for the guns on the floor, each of them grabbing an M16 and rolling over in the direction of Heath and Portia, who each of us was obviously intent on denying the pleasure of blowing our brains out. As the two of them dove, Heath and Portia’s eyes grew wide and they turned and ran for another door at the back of the room. At the same time, the windows in the main room were shattered by men, also armed with machine guns, in this case a variety of weapons I was not familiar with, though I expected Nuffy to give me a run down later, should we survive. As this was happening, a man standing just outside the front door shouted at the top of his lungs, as lights poured into the room.
“Freeze!! Federal agents!! Nobody move!!!”
Mr. Dong continued to smile, even as he lowered his weapon. Mr. Wang also broke into a quiet smile. Nuffy and Stew lay motionless on the floor, each with their hands on an M16, but they had not picked them up yet. Heathcliff and Portia managed to get out of the back door, immediately pursued by two heavily armed and armoured men, who unfortunately were briefly stymied as the two fugitives managed to lock the door on their way out.
“Two headed out the back!” one of them shouted. This was followed by a flurry of steps outside.
In the centre of the room, Ex-President Richard Milhous Nixon sputtered in shock, then screamed as loud a primal scream as a man in his nineties could manage, which he followed up with a slew of curse words that would have made Lenny Bruce blush.
Outside, we could hear a lot of shouting, and then the sound of a car revving its engine, the rough screech of tires peeling out on dirt, and then a sickening thud.
This was followed by relative silence, except for one pathetic cry of anguish.
The agents milled about for a moment, removing the guns from the floor and Stew and Nuffy’s hands, and helping them both to their feet. Strangely though, they did not disarm Mr. Wang or Mr. Dong. Instead, the following brief conversation occurred:
“Good job, guys! You both deserve big bonuses after this one.”
“Thanks… it’s been a long, long effort. It looks to have paid off.”
This second voice was Mr. Dong. It was a most decidedly un-Chinese voice. In fact, he rather sounded like Stew. Mr. Wang was too busy accepting friendly pats on the back from some of the other agents to immediately speak himself.
I stared at both of them for a long time, as did Stew and Nuffy. The only difference was that Nuffy was smiling at them as though he had just gotten a very complicated but funny joke.
“Let me guess,” I finally managed to stammer out, “…CIA?”
“Right in one,” replied Mr. Wang. He scratched his head. He seemed to be slightly embarrassed. “Listen, I’m sorry for all the deception but there was no way for us to know whether you were working for him or not.”
“You dirty *****!” Nixon growled from behind us. “It was a trap all along! You pig-*****!”
“Sorry Mr. President,” Mr. Wang replied.
Nixon suddenly pulled out a small white tablet.
“Well, I won’t give you the satisfaction of taking me alive!” He announced, shoving the tablet into his mouth and biting hard. Several agents rushed towards him and tried to force open his surprisingly resilient jaws, but after a moment, Nixon spit pieces of the tablet out.
“A ****ing Tic-Tac! I told that ******* moron to get my cyanide capsules and he gives me peppermint tic-tacs!! ****!!!!”
He continued this tirade as they wheeled him out. To my surprise, I found myself laughing, like at the end of a cheesy situation comedy. Mr. Wang and Mr. Dong joined in briefly, but Mr. Wang broke off.
“A shame,” he commented, “he really is a brilliant fellow, but the paranoia has completely crushed him, even more so that when he was in office. He is a sick man.” He shook his head, then looked back up at us and smiled. “You all deserve an explanation, and you will have one.”
“Yeah, we owe you that much,” added Mr. Dong.
“Well, I must say I’m glad for it, Mr. Dong,” I replied.
“Actually, my name’s not Dong. It’s Davison, Yo Davison. ‘Dong’ is just part of the cover.” He smiled a large, friendly smile. “My granddad’s English, but that doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a Chinese agent.”
“And I suppose your name is Wilson?” I said, turning back to Mr. Wang, “…some joke, Wang and Dong.”
To my pleasant surprise, he laughed long and loud. “No, my name is Wang… George Wang! My Mother was from Taiwan and came over as an immigrant. She named me after George Washington.” He added this last bit I think to make me feel a bit better for thinking that Wang was a joke, when it is in fact a very respectable name to have. Though he did suggest later that he got a lot of laughs out of it back at CIA headquarters in Langley.
“How long have you guys been working on this?” Nuffy asked.
“Too long, but thankfully it’s over,” the suddenly affable Mr. Davison replied, offering sticks of gum to each of us. Stew took one and clapped Mr. Davison on the back.
“Man, am I glad we didn’t shoot you,” he said with a sigh of relief.
“Me too!” Yo replied.
We stepped outside to the sight of at least forty well-armed and equipped agents putting up equipment into cars and vans that seemingly popped out of nowhere. A moment later, two grim-looking agents escorted Heath down the hill to a waiting van. He looked in anguish and at one point fell to his knees and sobbed, crying out “Catherine!!”
“Who’s Catherine? I asked aloud, to no one in particular. A passing agent, also with a serious look on his face, gave a quick answer.
“Apparently, it’s the name of his wife. The fool ran over her and killed her as he was trying to get away. She didn’t quite get in the car before he backed out at full speed. Pretty gruesome.”
We all stood there for a moment, in mild shock. She was one of the most unpleasant women I’d ever met, and even though we’d all wanted to shoot her a few moments ago, as it turns out later, George and Yo also, this was foul news.
After a moment, Stew slapped the side of his forehead.
“Catherine was her middle name! He told me once.”
“Heathcliff… Catherine… death…we should have seen that coming,” I muttered.
“George! Yo! The head of Phoenix wants to congratulate you!” shouted an agent from down the hill. Our two new CIA friends gathered themselves, each managing to smile again.
“Come with us. You should meet the man,” Yo said.
“He’ll give you the full story,” George added.
“Who is it?” Stew whispered.
“I don’t know, “I replied. “I never got to meet the President of Phoenix. He was always under tight security.”
We walked down the hill through the thick fallen leaves of autumn to a large black Lincoln Town Car. There were several agents around the vehicle, some coming by with quick reports for the figures in the back seats, others obviously providing security. As we approached, an important looking agent turned to the back seats, obviously informing the occupants of our presence. He stepped back and out stepped a tallish man who appeared to be in his mid-to-late fifties. As he turned to us, Mr. Wang introduced us.
“Gentlemen, meet the President of the Phoenix Corporation.”
All three of us stared in astonishment, and then each of us, starting with Stew, then Nuffy, and finally myself, began laughing in spite of ourselves.
The President of the Phoenix Corporation was Andy Kaufman.
“All right, all right… enough of the funny stuff,” Kaufman barked. “You people have no idea how old it gets. Just once, I’d like to see someone recognize me and say, ‘Andy! Thank God you’re alive!’”
“Sorry,” I said, feeling personally responsible for some decorum, having been unknowingly employed by Mr. Kaufman at one point.
“Don’t sweat it kid,” he replied. “I’m only half serious at any time.” He turned to George and Yo. “Wang, Davison… excellent work. I intend to recommend you for commendations and if I can swing it with my contacts at the GAO, a nice little bonus.” He winked at each of them and shook their hands. The way George and Yo smiled and laughed, it was obvious that the part about bonuses was some sort of inside joke.
“We couldn’t have completed the operation if not for the civic mindedness and bravery of these three gentlemen.” George graciously replied.
“Yes, I agree completely.” Kaufman turned to us. “You see gentlemen; President Nixon has been growing steadily more paranoid for the last several years. I don’t mean the average run of the mill paranoia, like during the Watergate years. No, that wouldn’t be a threat to national security. In fact, it’s come in handy a few times. No, the President had gotten to the point where he was so fearful of our own government that he was willing to put himself in the tender hands of the Chinese Communists and reveal a number of secrets about U.S. work in China.”
“So, it wasn’t all about Phoenix, then?” I interjected.
“No, no, the Chinese could care less about that in general, but they would be interested in certain plans and activities we have conducted that would affect their government. President Nixon was still well connected enough to give away a great deal, and he was no longer well enough to be cognizant of the great harm that it would do. I want you to understand that in his right mind, he would have never considered such a thing. Anyway, we knew that anything could set off his pathological fear and trigger an unfortunate collaboration with the Chinese.”
“So, you set things in motion with your own people,” Nuffy observed.
“That’s right, even to the point of pretending to shut down Phoenix.” Kaufman continued. “Well be reestablishing the whole enterprise back in the same location starting tomorrow morning.” He studied Nuffy for a second. “You’re Noe, with the NSA, right?”
If it were physically possible, Stew’s and my jaws would have slapped the top of our shoes. Nuffy an agent with the National Security Agency? Nuffy was quite surprised also.
“Umm… yes sir. I’m a bit surprised that you’ve heard of me though. I certainly didn’t know about you!” He looked around at us sheepishly.
“George and Yo forwarded a surveillance photo earlier today and we ran a check on you,” Kaufman continued. “You might want to talk to your bosses about your cover story though. Ombudsman Monthly? Man, that has ‘NSA’ written all over it.”
Nuffy scratched his head.
“Well, I am fairly new to the job,” he confessed.
“Still, well done,” Kaufman said appreciatively and shook all of our hands vigourously.
“One more person would like to congratulate you,” he added. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, as we’re going to be entrusting you with enough secrets, but the Shadow Secretary of the United Nations is traveling with me on business and as Nixon’s defection to the Chinese would have caused several potential international incidents, he’s quite grateful.”
Another figure stepped forward from the car, shorter, with slicked back hair and impressive sunglasses. He shook each of our hands and thanked us for our efforts. After he finished, I among us all, including George and Yo, managed to physically speak.
“Erm… thanks very much Secretary Bono.”
“Just call me Bono, lads,” he said with a smile, and then stepped back into the Town Car.
“George and Yo, please assist in the debriefing of these gentlemen,” Kaufman said, also climbing back into the car. He looked over at the important looking agent and added, “…And see about getting them some U2 tickets. The Shadow Secretary’s staff can arrange for it. It’s the least we can do, seeing as they’re going to have to be affiliates of the agency now.” He turned back to us and smiled. “Keep up the good work, boys!”
Right before the door closed, Stew suddenly spoke up.
“Mr. Kaufman!” he blurted out.
“Yes, son?” Kaufman responded, leaning out the door.
“If it’s not too much to ask… would you mind very much doing Elvis before you leave?”
Kaufman suddenly looked deadly serious and slowly cocked his head to one side, a slight sneer forming on the top of his lip.
“Thank you…thankyouverrramuch!” he said in as perfect an Elvis voice as you’ll ever hear. They he broke into a grin.
“No one’s asked me to do that one for years!” Then he slid back into the car and they drove away into the darkness.
George and Yo explained to us how they had hoped to simply make contact with me and obtain the DVD, then work out the rest on their own. They hadn’t counted on Nixon’s peculiar sense of Morse coding or Nuffy figuring the message out, but most of all they hadn’t counted on me not giving them the bloody thing in the first place. They said they knew we weren’t involved when I started stalling.
“If you were in on it, you would have just given us the DVD,” Yo surmised.
They also revealed that the scariest part for them was when we had them caught in the hangar.
“What you didn’t know was that we have automatic pistols in our belt buckles,” George pointed out. “I was deathly afraid we might have wound up in a shootout. Fortunately, you three were kind enough and cool headed enough to do the right thing.”
“Yes,” said Stew, “but what would you have done in our shoes, facing down two Chinese spies?”
“Well, we might have shot them,” Yo said, “but we’re allowed.”
We followed them back into town, after signing written statements and legal documents obligating us to keep the whole thing secret forever.
“Or what?” I asked.
“Or, we make you Nixon’s personal assistant again,” George replied, half-serious.
“That’s enough for me,” I declared, signing the document in big, John Hancock-sized letters.
We would also be required to check in with Phoenix every once in awhile to let them know how we were doing and for routine psychological evaluations. We all agreed that this was a good idea, after the events of the day.
As we got close to town, we called our wives by mobile phone and explained to them that we were safe and that there was a whole misunderstanding and that the Chinese men we were with were actually American spies and could they please not tell the children or any other living soul if we wanted to continue living normal lives outside of secret federal prisons. We then had them meet us at the best BBQ place in town, where George and Yo kindly paid for the entire massive tab off of a Phoenix expense account. The both of them had changed into off-duty garb and looked very strange in golf shirts and jeans.
As we were finishing up dinner, I suddenly remembered something vitally important.
“The bleeding novel!”
“You’re writing a novel?” Yo asked, as he demonstrated the little tabletop toothpick game where you try to get down to one, for my wife and daughter.
“Well, sort of. It’s for National Novel Writing Month. You’re supposed to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.”
“I thought about doing that,” George said, finishing a plate of baby-back ribs, “but I haven’t got the time.”
“I know the feeling,” I moaned.
“It’s a shame,” George added.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, after all that’s happened to you this week, you’d have a pretty interesting book. Too bad you can’t tell anyone.” He sat down the last of the now clean ribs and stretched back in his seat to accommodate a pleasantly full stomach. Stew and Nuffy were talking to Yo and our wives about how tricky the toothpick game was, while my daughter started in on another one herself.
“Yes… too bad.” I replied, and nibbled thoughtfully on what was left of my beef sandwich.