[I had been trying to write something more than a short story since the end of elementary school, but—not surprisingly—my attempts at a book almost always ended after a page or two. Around the end of 8th grade, however, I started to develop a consistent approach towards writing and had a serious chance at going “all the way,” as one might say. The following story disintegrated after 25,000 words, but I now had the feeling ingrained in my mind that such a project was possible.]
First shot at a book
The rain plastered the road with thick sheets of water, which ran down in waves on the curb of the road. It was the sort of rain you would love, if only you were curled deep under a blanket reading your favorite book. Unfortunately, for Roger, curling through a large thicket of ivy didn’t generate too much love for the deluge. Of course, the rain blocked out the noise of his approach. There were just better ways to do that than getting soaked in the process.
The house looked vacant, as far as the outside went. No windows were lit, and there was no sign of smoke from a warm fire that would usually brighten up such a dismal afternoon. Still, he proceeded with caution.
The ivy patch ended about twenty feet from the house. He could either sprint the distance, crawl on the grass, or try a side route. Each option would arouse suspicion from a bystander, so he chose to sprint. He nearly skidded into the brick wall of the house, but managed to catch himself. Nevertheless, a successful approach was a successful approach, scratched and muddy or not.
The house was cold and bare, and looked almost as unappealing as the rain outside. His entrance was silent, thanks to the lubricant he sprayed on the door. Roger wasn’t the kind to take chances. Taking off his shoes for quieter movement, he approached the computer.
Footsteps. Roger froze. This wasn’t good. Whoever was coming down would see the muddy shoes and the wet footprints leading up to where he was crouching. Was it worth a tranquilizer? He didn’t want to give the person a chance to yell… but he only had four darts. He took the chance.
The man walked into the room. In movies, the person would tilt his nose up into the air and start to sniff, then proceed to walk right over to where the intruder was hiding. In this case, however, the person walked into the room with no change in stride, unaware of anything odd going on. He sat down on the computer right next to Roger, and began to type.
Great. Just great. This was exactly the worst thing that could happen. He could be stuck here for hours. He did, however, have a perfect tranquilizer shot at the man, right where it would do the most effect. He took it. The shot sailed perfectly into the man’s chest. Instant knockout. He slumped over onto the keys, which typed gibberish onto the word processor. As if he was positioning a life-sized doll, Roger moved the unresponsive arms, legs and head to create the illusion that John Doe was simply catching an afternoon nap next to his computer. Once his work was complete, he pulled out the tranquilizer dart and walked out of the room.
If the first room was drab, the second one was even worse. It gave Roger a chill as he walked past it. The cold shale floor provided no relief to his bare feet, either. He had a job to do, though, and no cold floor was going to stop him from getting it done.
A nuclear warhead. This place was probably the most unlikely place on earth to find a nuclear warhead. He trusted his sources, though. If they said there was a giant iceberg in the middle of a forest fire, he would believe them. They didn’t lie, and if he didn’t like it, there were plenty of other agents willing to take his job. In fact, he considered it a miracle that he got it in the first place.
He sighed. And that was when he heard the doorbell ring.
Nancy rang the doorbell. Why hadn’t she bought a house with a balcony? Then she wouldn’t get soaked each time she forgot her keys. And when living in Norfolk, there wasn’t much sun mixed in with the drizzle- or in this case, a torrent. No answer. She rang it again exasperatedly, pressing it over and over again. Ten seconds, and nothing but a soaked shirt. Giving up, she briskly strode down the lawn and over to the back door, holding her dress up with her hands- not that it really mattered, as by now, it was more of a wetsuit then a dress. Her hair was a mess, wet and uneven. Such a shame- she had just gotten highlights. And a perm. And a cut. Anything to make her dirty blonde hair look like the champagne blonde of her Mother- well, technically a champagne gray. She needed to meet up to have dinner sometime soon…
There were muddy footprints leading up to the door, which was cracked slightly ajar. Brad was such a slob these days- and that silly computer game. When was the last time they had eaten out? A month ago? She sighed. If only things were like they were in college. If only things were like they were when they first moved in. There were too many “if onlies” in her life.
She opened the door. Brad was slumped over his chair, snoring to beat the band. If he wasn’t playing his stupid game until three in the morning every night, maybe he would be conscious enough to answer the door. She slammed it shut, but he didn’t stir. Oh well. Let the pig sleep all he wanted to. She was going to file a divorce anyway.
Wet footprints led into the hall. Brad could clean those up, later. She strode over to the kitchen. A sandwich was just about the only thing that could save her day. She opened the fridge. Pastrami, Colby Jack, and some leftover tomato. It would do. Sub-average days called for sub-average sandwiches.
And some ice cream. She looked into the freezer. Something was odd. There was absolutely nothing. Did she need a lock on this, or could Brad learn how to control his urges? But then, she realized. The warheads. They were all gone.
And it all rushed to her head. Wet footprints. Dirty shoes. Open door. And what about Brad? She sprinted back down the hall. She shook Brad violently. Then, she saw the incision.
Tranquilizer. Whoever did this was about to get a bit more then a tranquilizer dart. She opened up the oak chest and took out her twelve gauge.
A lot more then just a tranquilizer.
There were three things Roger hated on a mission. Blown cover, screams, and low ammunition. This wasn’t the first mission that had all three, but it was the first where “scream” could be substituted with “murderous roar,” and the sound of a shotgun being loaded. Currently, he was hiding in a bathroom. If she opened the door, he would have no choice but to shoot a dart. It wasn’t really that he didn’t like to harm people. Darts didn’t come cheap- one miss would cost him 60 dollars. Unless he had a promotion, he would have to keep paying for them, too.
His thoughts were interrupted by footsteps coming from upstairs. Whoever was in the house was coming downstairs, and in a hurry, it seemed. Luckily for Roger, he was passed as she walked past the bathroom and over to where the computers were. Probably tending to her knocked-out husband.
He had two options. He could use the opportunity to escape up the stairs, or he could try to find a way to arrest them both. He had no doubt they were guilty, as he found their freezer stockpiled with goods not even available on the black market. He chose the latter, seeing as bringing two wanted terrorists with stockpiled nuclear goods could get him a much-needed promotion. Now the question was how exactly to go about such business.
He loaded his dart gun and slowly twisted open the door. Many terrorists with such operations had doors wired with alarms that, when activated, would open from the outside knob without sounding, but when opened from the inside, would beep an alarm, and sometimes more. Luckily, this was not the case, and he was able to get out without making a noise. Now came the hard part. He considered crawling, but his body position would be a large disadvantage if he was caught off-guard. Instead, he walked in his socks over to the area where the wall ended. He peered into the room, and right into the barrel of a twelve gauge shotgun.
It all came down to reaction times. He just managed to get his head out of the way before the pellets unloaded into the space previously occupied by his face. In movies, there would be long, draw-out cutscenes with a gun being pointed directly at somebody’s head, with the gunless character always escaping. In real life, it was shot-or-be-shot, with tenths of a second deciding the outcome.
He heard a loud thump half a second after the shot. The gunner was obviously inexperienced with shotguns, and had underestimated the extreme recoil that came with firing one. On the other hand, it could be a trap, and the shooter could be waiting, upright, on the other side ready for his head to peek out the side. He compromised and dove out into the other room, keeping his body as straight as possible. No flips, just good old-fashioned diving. He was a government agent, not a karate artist. The gunner, now identified as a woman, had indeed fallen over from the blast, but nevertheless had it up and ready. She fired again, with the back end of the gun inches from her face.
The force that previously knocked her over now slammed into her face. She collapsed in pain, moaning on the side. She was not the kind to give up so easily, however, and took hold of the shotgun, this time with a slightly different grip. Blood was streaming from her temple. The blast barely missed Roger, and instead struck a chandelier behind him. It came crashing to the floor and shattered to thousands of pieces. Shards of glass bounced up at Roger, but he managed to avoid one in the face. Now was his chance- he took the dart gun out of his pocket, positioned himself, and fired a direct shot to the chest. A sixty-dollar bulls-eye. The moaning stopped, and the assassin rolled over on the floor. He used a handkerchief and some nearby masking tape to stop the bleeding on her forehead. After discharging the last few pellets in the shotgun, he dragged both husband and wife up the stairs and into the garage.
The man went first. His limp body slithered down into the bed of a pickup truck. The woman and her makeshift bandage went in second. After a quick hotwiring of the keys, and a second trip to get the warheads, they were off.
They pulled into the station three hours later. Boy, did he have a story to tell.
Brad woke up in a daze. Everything around him was white. Too white. It was like he was in some sort of hospital. He blinked. He WAS in a hospital.
He rolled over on his side. No pumps, no nurses scrambling to help him. Why was he in a hospital? Maybe they had a computer in here with some games on them. That would make him feel better.
“Patient 25 is awake, sir.”
“What are you talking about?” he said, without thinking much about it. More like natural reactions.
He looked up. A nurse outside his bed was busy talking with an old doctor in gray hair. His head hurt.
The group proceeded over to him.
“Vaaah what going on,” he mumbled. Was there something wrong with him? His brain? Everything seemed normal…
“Seems to be. His heart’s beating to stop the band, though.”
“Tranquilizer dart will do that to you.”
“Also has some slight scrapes…”
“From a pickup truck, I hear?”
“Seems so. Mighty bruise on the left cheek.”
He felt his cheek, and recoiled in pain.
“Well, let’s give him a wake-up call…”
They shook him gently. It seemed that they didn’t notice he was already awake. Or was he? He opened his eyes… opened his eyes? But they were already open. Unless…
He woke up for real. This time, everything was gray. He was staring at a set of metal bars. He recognized those bars…
He was still being pushed. He looked up, to see a jail guard pushing him.
“Get up, fella. You need to go to court. Habeas Corpus fuddle duddle.”
So, he was in jail after all. He felt his chest. The tranquilizer dart had left a mark. Before he had fallen under the anisthesia, he had pulled the dart out of his chest and into his pocket. Basic terrorist training.
The dart. Of course.
Not believing his luck, he stabbed the guard in the back with it. There was still enough venom to subdue him in seconds, without the burly fellow making a sound. He stripped down to his boxers, and pulled the clothes off the guard. A quick change of clothes, and he was the jail guard with the keys, and the jail guard was the half-insane prisoner lying on the metal cot with his clothes piled up on top of his stomach.
Security cameras? None. Not even any guards on patrol. It was too easy. He always hated that phrase, especially in movies. Some pathetic plot line involved some people venturing into a dark, musty room. They did whatever had to be done to advance the plot half an inch further. While escaping, one of them would mutter, “it’s too easy.” Then, something terrible would happen. He hated those movies.
Back to the escape. The secret was to walk as nonchalantly as possible, but not too much, or else people would suspect something. For example, it wasn’t good to keep your head down, but engaging in guard conversation wasn’t recommended, either. He was saying these things to himself in his head over and over. Don’t sweat it. Keep a straight eye. You’re almost there.
This was the tough part. He walked over to one of the guards.
“Going to catch a break over at the 7-11.”
“Why don’t you just use the soda machine?”
He caught himself just in time, the “what soda machine?” on the tip of his lips. “I think it’s broken, man. Anyway, I’ll be back soon, okay?”
He had never been happier to hear American teenage slang. He walked outside the door, trying to keep a straight face. He even let himself, for the first time in his life, say those words he had always hated. “It’s too easy,” he said, trying to keep the most suspicious face possible. Then, he burst into laughter.
Minimum security prisons: 0.
Talk about a free country.
The fire licked at the wood, sending tongues of flame into the desert sky. Brad sat on the middle of an old log, watching the smoke carry embers up into the sky, until they burned out and fell to the ground as ash. The smoke curved up in wisps, interlocking wisps of others in a perpetual dance. Above, the desert stars glimmered with the moon.
Every month or two, he would take a day off and camp out in the sierra desert. He needed it to clear his mind, and this time more then ever. There was no better way to think, to get lost in one’s thoughts and feelings then watching a campfire out in the middle of nowhere. No cars, no documents, no guns. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, not that his work gave him much competition.
Perhaps that was why he was out here. The guns. The blood. It was part of any agent’s job. But it went deeper then the screams of agony, or the cold, white faces of unconsciousness. When he was little, when he was still living in that big house with not a care in the world, he promised himself that he would never be in any job that involved having to hurt people. No boxing, football, or police work. He was going to have a life in the broadcasting carreer, and spend the rest of it living in a beautiful house with nothing to worry about.
He sat back, his head on the grass, and watched the smoke go up into nothingness. Where had everything gone wrong? His life was perfect until… when? Eighth grade? College? A year ago? He would never know. It just happened. One day, he just woke up, and realized that his dreams were never going to happen, that he was a depressed, morbid freak who had no life.
Was that it? He had always been so self-critical about himself. When he received praise, he would enjoy it, but soon forget it. When he was yelled at, pushed, or something of the like, however, he would remember it for months at a time. He still remembered when he was in Middle School. A kid threw a snowball at him, and it landed right in the back of his neck. What had he done to them? Everyone laughed, and the water seeped down his neck. He was so cold…
Snap out of it, he tried to tell himself. That was then, this was now. He didn’t have that same weakness, anymore. Years of life had weathered and hardened him, like mounds of carbon pressurized to create a diamond. Only without the shininess. Could that be it? Something was bothering him. He didn’t like it, either.
A coyote howled in the distance, startling him for a split second. This was the second break he had taken in two weeks. His boss, whom he respected, did not seem to care. Or did he just not notice? Was he another number in the agency? Never standing out, just doing the work? He was yet to see if his recent capture would bring him a promotion. Whether it did or not, he doubted it would make him feel better.
True, his life wasn’t that bad. He was single, but enjoyed it that way. If he was killed while doing an assignment, no widow and her young children would have to spend the rest of their lives shaken and torn, never recuperating from the tragedy. His home was modest, and he ate well, but never really felt at any one moment that his life had any purpose. It was the emptiest feeling in the world, to be nothing but a “Joe Somebody,” as modern culture would know it. He wondered how many people actually knew his full name. Daniel Rogers Watkinson. Besides his Grandparents, the list didn’t extend very far. Here he was, being self-critical again. He couldn’t help it, though. With the way he started his life, practically living in a mansion, enjoying ski vacations to Aspen, becoming a standout in athletics and grades at his school… and then, to release himself into the real world, and begin the downward spiral.
The fire was dying out, but he didn’t stoke it or add extra wood. He simply watched it, picturing it as his life. Once a massive flame, with sparks and fireworks, over time slowly dying down into burning embers, still hot, but with none of the fire and smoke.
He still couldn’t get that image out of his head. It was of the woman, screaming, her face a bloody mess. Even though she was the one who fired the shotgun, with the intent to make him a bloody mess, he still felt that he was responsible in some way. He would never be able to escape his lust for perfection.
It was good for him. Without these desert trips, he would fear for his sanity. His mind would feel like a block of wood in a vice, slowly being squeezed tighter and tighter until he felt he would snap, shatter, break into a million pieces like that chandelier. The desert was his relief, the untwisting of the vice, so sudden and relieving, like a dip in a swimming pool after a hot day in the sun. He needed more of this, badly.
Even miles away from civilization, he could hear the soft sounds of a rock concert from across the valley. It was an old, sad song, that if he could hear the lyrics a bit better, would probably put tears in his eyes. Indeed, as he heard the tune, tears started to build up. Why should he hold them in? The music grew louder, and the tears grew larger, streaming down his face without end. There was no sound, no whimper in his cry, just those tears, soaking into the hard-packed desert ground, as the stars and the smoke shone up ahead, all bought together by the twisting desert wind.
In spite of everything, he was at peace.
He would be here. Wouldn’t he? Why not? Nancy had no doubts on the ability of her husband to escape from minimum security prisons, no matter how many pounds of fat he gained from all the chips he ate. She would open the door, he would be there, smiling, hugging her, lifting her up into the air… she hoped. If he hadn’t made it out, everything was ruined. Including their marriage- once and for all.
She opened the door. He was there.
“Oh… thank goodness, you’re here! I was so worried that you wouldn’t make it out.”
“Same to you.” She gave him an affectionate peck on the lips.
“Was it hard?”
“Nah. The guards were dumb as nails. I didn’t even have to subdue anyone- idiot left his keys hanging right out of his pocket.”
“Same here. But what do we do now?”
Their surroundings were a dark and musty apartment. It would be suicide to go back to their old house. That cover had been blown long ago. They were safe here, for now. But the government was like a pack of rats. They would split up, explore every nook and cranny, and wouldn’t be happy until they found their cheese. She could almost hear their little rat teeth right now. Disgusting.
“Go back to Switzerland?”
“They won’t take us in. They have close ties with the Americans. They’re complete suck-ups. Anything to make their bosses happy.”
“And staying here is safer?”
“Romania. I have very close ties with a man named Jacques. I’ll give him an offer he can’t refuse- and I’ll get the money by selling a warhead.”
“They have plenty.”
“They’ll get their grubby little hands on anything they get.”
“Don’t go philosophical on me.”
“What do you want me to do, flirt?”
“Your face has less wrinkles that way.”
“Very funny.” She tried to give a stern look, but she giggled. The guy was a fat slob, but he was irresistible, whether she knew why or not.
“Seriously, though. We need to move. The rats are coming already.”
“Should we leave now?”
“Do you want to? It’s all up to you.” He was always like this, pretending to put her ahead of him. But she knew that he considered himself the “leader.” Men were like this. It disgusted her.”
“We leave now. Let’s get down to South Carolina- I have a friend there at a small airport. He’ll get us to Romania, no problem.”
“Want to pull off an attack before we go? We’ve got the weapons.”
“Are we that low? Just running around with bombs strapped to our chest, screaming “Allah, Allah” repeatedly?”
“The last time I checked CNN, that’s exactly what we do.”
“If I was going to bomb something, that would be the first thing. I dream about it sometimes.”
“When you talk about that, it turns me on.”
“When you talk about me talking about that, it turns me off.”
“You’re a light switch. A flick of my finger, and boom- you’re right back on.”
He brushed his finger up her face. It tickled too much. She giggled, waving her arms up and down. Immature, but she didn’t really care at the moment.
Her feelings were torn. They were always torn, and never seemed to ever mend back together, like a twisted nail that never seemed to stand perfectly upright. Brad was a sexist pig, but he was experienced. Five years older. “I’ve been around the block, dynamited the sidewalk, and came back,” He liked to say.
The mass media and the government would like to label such their kind as Terrorists, but in her heart they weren’t. Yes, they dealt with bombs and nerve gas like a stockbroker deals with his stocks, but had never really committed any serious acts of violence. Deep inside, she knew it was wrong, but it was a living, which was all that one could hope for these days.
She broke out of her thought patterns. It was time to focus. They had been spoiled, living in such secrecy in their million-dollar house. The nerve gas contracting deal had given them more money than they knew what to do with. Sport cars. Jacuzzi. Brad even talked her into buying a twenty-thousand dollar computer. “We’re professionals. It’s time to act like it,” he explained to her as they sat in their house that night, him feeding her vodka. Even when she was twice over the legal limit, she still steadfastly refused. Finally, she gave in, and lived to regret it, as Brad did nothing on that computer but play his online games. Now, however, all of that luxury was gone. They were already being searched for. That agent scum was probably already following the government dogs, begging them for a promotion because he nabbed two oh-so-naughty baddies. Her face grimaced as she thought about it. If they weren’t in such a hurry, she would get revenge one way or another.
“Huh-uh?” She had lapsed back into thought.
“We take a train to South Carolina. Hop around the place, pretend we’re just good little country bumpkins. While I work as a hired hands, you can schedule a contracting deal with that Romanian? We’ll get a free plane ride back. Private jet. American airports have no security, but we don’t want to risk it.”
There he was again, acting as the leader, like it was automatically given to him just because a male. But it wasn’t a bad plan. Needed some tweaking, but as for now, it was enough.
“Bring your laptop. We’ll get the tickets online. I’ll get the car keys.”
And just like that, they were out of there, going down the road and into their new life, always trying to stay one step ahead of the rats. If she listened closely, Nancy thought she could hear a Police siren in the distance.
Sirens blaring, the Police officer revved up into high gear. “This fast enough for you?” He yelled across the seat to his passenger.
“Give me a break. The autobahn’s my morning commute,” replied Johan.
“The autobahn, eh?” The police officer smiled a toothy grin. “It would be fun, but too little danger in it for me. It’s only exciting when there’s the traffic.”
“Are all American Police officers like this?” yelled Johan, as he could barely be heard over the whining engine.
“Let’s just say this- if America’s police force were all like this, there wouldn’t be any crime left to fight.”
“Sit back, and enjoy the ride, son. This is America at its finest.”
The speedometer passed 100. Not bad, for a two-lane road. Still, it was hard to be impressed.
Johan had been hired to help out with two “rebel terrorists,” as the hasty phone call he received last night explained. They were believed to be Swiss, so the Americans, racially profiling, as always, decided to get a Swiss person on the job. Still- being a detective at heart, he enjoyed every minute of it. And it was good practice for his English.
They turned a corner. “We’re getting up to the apartment they were believed to be in. Want to stop?”
“You sure? We could slow down and see if the garage is open.”
“It would be empty. I can feel it.”
“What are you, psychic?”
“Can you read minds?”
“Oh.” He laughed. “Better then you’d think.”
“Then what? Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know. They might have tried to head on the highway, but that’s suicide- for us. We would never be able to find them.”
“We could always call in a helicopter.”
“No. Try the train station. When’s the next one?”
“One just left. If they weren’t on it, we’re in luck.”
“Let’s do that. Do we have anything on them?”
“They’re believed to be rather tall, thin, and probably have a briefcase or two, maybe a PDA. Other then that, it’s pretty much just going up to each one and asking, ‘are you a terrorist?’”
“That’s a joke, right?”
“Actually, it might not be such a bad idea. You still have those mind-control powers?”
“Better then ever.”
“Glad to hear it. If you ever want to stay, feel free to join our team.”
“I’d miss the autobahn too much. And mountains. And chocolate.”
“I’m just saying. The offer’s up WHOA!”
A large tank truck was parked in the middle of the road. They swerved quickly to avoid it.
“How far away are we?”
“20 miles. Remember, they’re not going the same speed we are. They’re not dumb enough to make everyone suspicious like that.”
“It’s not that. I’m wondering how much longer we have to risk driving at 160 kilometers an hour on a side street.”
“Ah, so you are enjoying the ride.”
“Brings back good memories, I’ll just say that.”
It was grueling, but exciting, speeding along with the sirens blaring like they were the most important people in the world. Johan had to admit- he was impressed. When he first got off the plane, he had expected to meet up with 300 pound officers chewing on donuts. This guy… he bought out the young in him.
“10 miles to go.”
“Watch out for that truck…”
“We’re a police car. We stop for nobody.”
“If I didn’t know you any better, I’d assume you were drunk.”
“You don’t know me any better.”
“Then I suppose you’re drunk.”
They both laughed, and sure enough, the truck braked to a halt. It was good to be powerful.
The snow flew down in torrents of flakes, bunched together so densely it was almost like God was having a snowball fight. Romanian winters could be cold, but this- this just wasn’t fair.
Deep under the heavily accumulating snow, a cigar was being puffed. Methodically, slowly, as if the user was a metronome. In and out, in a rhythm that would either put you to sleep or keep you away all night.
“We got the call.”
The rhythm was halted abruptly. “What?”
“The call. From Brad and Nancy.”
“Call them Wolkig and Uda. We call them by their real names, not those bland undercover American ones. I tell you, if my mother named me “Brad,” I’d take a shotgun on her as soon as I could get my grubby little hands on one.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“Of course. I’d shoot myself, THEN kill her.”
The howling wind continued to blow far above the bunker, through a ventilation shaft up high. Jacques was proud of this operations bunker, what he liked to call his “rabbit hole.” With a good supply of deer and spinach, the two fugitives could stay down here for the whole winter.
“The call. Who was it?”
“Brad an- Wolkig and Uda. They’re running from the Americans, and they want to hide here.”
“Too risky. Tell them we can’t do it.”
“They’d pay a big sum.”
“Nothing. The Romanian police are watching the mountains like dogs. We’re in it for the long haul.”
His comrade calmly pulled a sheet of paper from a briefcase. “200 pounds plastic explosives, 15 shotguns, and 200 grand, American currency.”
Jacques spit out his coffee. “That’s enough to keep us going for five years!”
“They want two months stay, minimum.”
“I don’t care. Call them right back up and tell them to make themselves at home.”
“Very well.” He picked up the phone and dialed.
“I can’t believe it. We’re going to be richer than I ever could have imagined.”
“Let’s just hope those spoiled American impostors manage to get there first.”
The bleeding wouldn’t stop, and neither would the screaming. Blood streamed down the face of the woman, the mark of the shotgun a pool of blood. Roger tied a shirt around the area, but it didn’t help. The blood was almost like a geyser now, and the woman screamed in pain. “Help me! HELP ME!” she sobbed repeatedly, her words dying down until no more movement could be seen…
Roger woke up. It was raining heavily outside. Not much better then the nightmare he had just awoken from.
Ever since the escape, he had been a sort of recluse. He had skipped work for a week, not returning any calls. Bags of chips and salsa laid strewn around on his bed. A can of soda was tipped over, wetting through the sheets to his bare legs. He was a wreck, but he didn’t care.
The phone rang. Stupid phone. He would have unplugged it, but he was too lazy to get up. It rang again. Just stop, Roger pleaded with it. Just stop ringing.
It rang one more time. In a rage, he took an opened can of salsa and threw it at the telephone. The glass bottle shattered into thousands of pieces. The phone stopped ringing.
Roger sobbed. How had he turned like this? He was a skilled detective just a week ago. But after the escape, he had slowly deteriorated. He hadn’t gotten up from the sofa bed in a day. Was he insane? Couldn’t be. He was a detective. He had a job. He didn’t belong in an asylum. But then, he looked at the chips strewn on the floor. Salsa residue on the ceiling.
He completely broke down in tears. They rang from the bed to the edge of the room, and back again, echoes of screams and sobs vibrating perpetually against the wall. He was a failure. A complete waste of man.
Suicide. Should he? He had no purpose on life. Nothing. Zip. He couldn’t even put two people in jail. He had a shotgun. He could pull it out right now. It was already loaded. Put it to his head, boom. Misery was gone. Pain was gone.
Don’t do it. The voice rang out from some part of his head. He was still sobbing, his face caked in salty tears. Why not, though? The sorrow would just continue. And he didn’t want to have to clean up the mess.
But something very odd happened at that entire moment. The tears and the crying stopped completely. He rose up from his bed methodically, as if it wasn’t by his own power. Angels, perhaps? He had no idea. He couldn’t feel his muscles being moved. This was strange.
He jumped out of his bed. Not slithered, but jumped. He was only wearing boxers and a filthy shirt. He threw off the shirt and boxers, and whatever was controlling his feet walked towards the door. Please don’t make me go out in this, he pleaded with whatever was controlling him. But at the last moment, he turned and walked up the stairs. POUND. POUND. POUND. His feet slammed up the stairs, as he progressed to his bedroom, stark naked. He was insane.
He dressed himself. Not in street clothes, but in a bulletproof vest. A holster. Whatever was controlling him at that moment was suiting him up for a war. Kevlar jeans. Side holster. Finally, a trenchcoat.
He walked downstairs, fully decked out in some sort of army uniform. He grabbed his shotgun. Stuffed it inside his shirt. What was going on? But he didn’t want to stop. To think. He let whatever this was carry him outside the door. To the street. To the bus station.
The mystery force dropped a dollar into the fare box. “La Costa airfield,” his voice boomed out. Startled passengers turned to look, and if he wasn’t himself, he would have turned around to look as well. Whatever this force was knew something, knew something he didn’t. Perhaps they were angels.
The drive was an hour away. He slumped back into an empty seat, rubbing his hand along the barrel of his shotgun. Scenery sped by him, telephone poles, farms, street lights. All in a blur. All a mixed up, crazy package, with himself in the middle of it.
And, to this day, he has no idea how exactly he knew the whereabouts of the two fugitives.
Sirens. Sirens, sirens, sirens. Possibly the worst possible invention ever. It seemed all he heard these days was sirens, those whiny high-pitched… things. At any rate, it wasn’t going to stop Wolkig from completing what had to be done. He revved up the engine into sixth gear, and laughed to himself at the idea that many startled South Carolinians were watching the chase on their big screen TVs in their polished family rooms with their stuck up little brats-for-kids. It was a sarcastic laugh.
“They’re gaining on us.” Uda’s worried face peeked out of the passenger seat window.
“They’re gaining on the wrong person.” Wolkig calmly patted the collection of explosives next to his seat.
“You’re not actually going to use those, are you?”
“They’re not lethal. Smoke trails, oil slicks.”
“Sounds lethal enough to me.”
“You should be proud of me. I don’t do the boring old chuck-a-grenade skit, and then dive out of the car like all the criminals you see on television. I have my own style. It’s common with the Swiss.”
“We’re not criminals. Don’t call us that.”
“Then what are we?”
“Is that a rhetorical question?”
“I don’t ask rhetorical questions during car chases.”
“Then my answer would have to be we’re nobody.”
“Can’t you be more creative then that?”
“Can’t you be more creative than a car chase?”
“What did you want, a hovercraft?”
“It’s the thought that counts.”
“Whatever you say, honey dear.” He pressed down on the gas, and the car shot up to follow. As far as he was concerned, the Swiss could make an Autobahn whenever they darn well wanted to.
“What exactly are our plans?”
“We stop the car at the airfield, get out, hop into the jet, and go.”
“Even with a police car following?”
“Oh yeah. I forgot about that.” He calmly tossed a smoke grenade out of the car. “Problem solved.”
They looked back. Indeed, the police car could be heard skidding to a stop.
“They have radios. They’ll be able to send for backup.”
“It’s 20 to the airfield. We’re doing 120. Ten minutes until we get there.”
“Ten minutes can be a pretty long time.”
“Not when I’m driving, sweetheart.”
“Especially when you’re driving.”
They swerved to pass a trailer truck- not an easy task when doing 120 on a wet road, but it was managed, nevertheless. The road was surprisingly empty for noon on a Monday, but he wasn’t complaining.
“Do you hear that?”
“It better not be what I think it is.”
They both turned around. A helicopter was directly above them.
“Five more minutes.” Wolkig spoke through gritted teeth. “Five more minutes.”
“I’m scared, honey.”
“SHUT UP!” Wolkig wasn’t in the mood for “I’m scared, honey” talk at the moment. Focus, he told himself. Focus.
They were clocking at least 150 now. The engine was whining and gasping as if it was being suffocated. Wolkig didn’t let down the gas, however. He didn’t care if this car exploded into millions of pieces after they were finished with it. All he wanted was to get on that plane. To get back at that “Roger” fellow. To get back at all of those who said they would never amount to anything, that they would always live in a slum for their whole life. How much he would give, how many weapons, how much money, to step off the private get and tell an adversary, “I told you so.” But now was not the time for thought. Now was the time to drive to an airfield and escape. Now was the time for action, not thought.
The rest of those three minutes was a blur. The helicopter opened fire on the tires. Four miles. Another police car appeared. Three miles. The car’s bumper got shot off. Two miles.
Roger appeared on the edge of the highway with a shotgun. One mile.
He shot. The car swerved, sliding on the wet road. Wolkig hung tight to Uda, all until the car hit the median.
It tipped over on its side. Metal sparks consumed the area of the car closest to the road. Uda screamed, and Wolkig held on tighter. It was too much of a shock to think. Now, it was all instinct.
The car continued sliding. A concrete girder was right in the middle of their path. This was it- the beginning of the end. And suddenly, the thought occurred to Wolkig- what had he done in life? What purpose did he hold? What purpose did his job hold? Did anything he had ever done have purpose? He didn’t even have children…
His life flashed before his eyes. Almost like a stop motion movie of all the memories he could remember. Kindergarten. High School. College. All blurred in with the present and the past, from graduation to meeting Uda. To finding a job. To making the first sale. And now this. Somehow, he knew this was the end. That he was not destined to live any longer. That this was the stopping point, and whether Uda lived or not, he would have a hard time convincing God he belonged in Heaven.
The car smashed into the girder, and flipped up into the air. It twisted what seemed like hundreds of time, pieces of scrap metal flying into the distance. The headlights came undone and flew into the air, as did the rear bumper. The car itself was in two pieces, the back one a giant fireball from the gasoline explosion. It was that sort of moment that would never be forgotten, for anyone who saw it. Blocks of concrete from the girder were shot up into the sky as well, creating an almost surreal image. It was almost peaceful, in a sadistic form of way.
And then, it all came down. The car. The concrete. The bumper. The fireball. The headlights. Some things bounced, others simply shattered on the pavement below.
Roger unloaded his shotgun, with absolutely no emotion showing on his face.
PART 2- ESCALATION
Uda had never felt more pain in her life. Why wouldn’t she just faint? Go unconscious? Then the pain could end. All of it. Her leg. Twisted. Was it sprained? Probably. The weight of the car, upside down, was pressing against her. If she didn’t die of shock, she would suffocate. Or bleed to death.
Finally, she fainted. The world went black and took second fiddle to a state of nothingness, suspended animation. It would be a week before she awoke again, not in Heaven, or Hell, but in a hospital. The same could not be said for Wolkig, who died instantly upon contact with the ground.
But the story just begins. And it’s not a pretty story. It’s not a happy story, but a story of how one little mishap can start a war, and how words turn into arguments, turning into fights, and turning into death. It’s not a pretty picture, but then again, the paint wasn’t too beautiful in the first place.
Roger slurped his noodles. He had no company save the omnipresent television, so he slurped. Chinese food was meant to be slurped, and he was going to slurp it if he darn well wanted to. It didn’t really matter what was on the television. He had to clear his mind after the ‘incident,’ as just about everybody liked to call it. Not ‘mishap,’ not ‘accident,’ just ‘incident.’ Well, they tried.
He had just meant to blow out the tires. Nothing else. None of this sliding and girder business. No fireballs falling from the sky. No shrieks of pain. Just a neat, little slide disabling the escape plots of the two fugitives. Not the death penalty.
He didn’t have to look far to find the current condition of Uda. It was all over the papers. He always wondered of the ability of the mass media to take one death and turn it into a week-long affair. Hopefully, it would soon die down, after the next ‘big thing.’ He was flavor of the month, but not enjoying it one bit.
Most people called him ‘a hero.’ He had no idea why. Yes, he was standing in front of the car, but from fifty yards away. Plenty of reaction time. He had ended up shooting the wrong tire, causing one criminal to be killed, and the other seriously maimed.
Unfortunately, playing the humble approach just got him more recognition. Humble detective refuses recognition for heroic feat, the headlines would read. Heroic feat. He snorted. If this was considered a heroic feat, he probably should have done himself in with that shotgun when he had the chance.
The truth was, what he had done really had not sunk in yet. He vaguely remembered something about accidentally taking out two escaping fugitives. One of these mornings, however, he would wake up, look himself in the mirror, and say, “I just murdered somebody with a shotgun.” Who knows how he would manage, then.
He had always been extremely conservative when it came to life. He would refuse to ignite ants with a magnifying glass, save trapping poor creatures under jars and waiting for the sun to dry them out. In fifth grade, his friends had all gotten BB guns, and happily tried them out by shooting at squirrels. He refused to take part in such activities, shrieking in horror whenever a chipmunk would fall out of a tree, contrasting the delighted shrieks of his peers. He had always promised himself he would never join the army, or any job where one killed others for a living, legal or not. But now, look at him. He had murdered somebody, and the other was fighting for her life in a hospital.
Was he making too big a deal out of it? He had not intended to kill, so could the murder really be called such a thing? Then again, did it matter? He had still taken a life away, voluntarily or not. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, except for the fact that he had aimed for the wrong tire. That mistake cost him everything.
Never would he consider that killing the terrorist would prevent future murders. It was simply hypocritical to say such a thing after doing exactly what you wished to prevent. It was a poor excuse. He still had to find a way to live with the fact that he had murdered.
Suddenly, he realized that, if anything, all of the associates with this ‘Wolkig’ would want revenge on this American who murdered him as he was passing by. Not necessarily against him, but against the entire country. Had World War One not started because of the assassination of a president? The small matter, complicated with alliances strung around the map of Europe like a tangled strand of rope, grew into a full-scale war unlike anything ever seen before. Could this not be the same thing? It was a stretch, yes, to assume that such a petty matter could spark an international revolt, but always possible with the state things were in today.
And that was when he realized it. His new purpose in life was not as a detective, but as a peacemaker. To control the fiery rage that would soon erupt. He had to stop it before such a matter got out of hand. He could be the strand of sense and truth fighting against World War Three. Others would join, but even more would rather declare war. It was up to him to finish what he had begun.
The doorbell rang. Roger sighed. Reporters couldn’t get enough of the story.
He opened the door. Sure enough, a band of paparazzi was waiting to engulf him with ridiculous questions. Or… what? There was nothing. Empty space. Unless….
There was a faint golden glow next to the door. It buzzed around, almost like a fly. Did he dare touch it? What was going on? Could he be hallucinating? Was he insane?
The face of an angel appeared at the doorstep. What the heck was this? Some type of subliminal advertising gimmick? But then, he heard the words. The words that he would never forget.
Be strong. You are not alone. Your opposition is great, but peace is greater. You will succeed.
If honey could talk, it would sound exactly like what he had just heard. Soft, sweet, and luscious. But whatever this was, whether an elaborate prank, or something beyond what his mind could convey, it was the start. It wasn’t going to be easy, but he would try. After all, he needed something to pass the time.
The hospital had always been a sort of nightmare for Uda. The way everything was so white. The infuriating beeps and charts. All of the pain, and suffering. She hated it.
The bandage on her right arm was starting to come off. She desperately wanted to see it, although she didn’t know why. The doctor said never to take it off. Should she?
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to think about, other then Wolkig. It was a horrific sight; his body had been completely crushed under the car. His face was without expression, as if all of his thoughts and emotions had gone away with his soul. At least, that was what the doctors said. Nancy was knocked unconscious after the impact, and did not awake for days.
She contemplated suicide. Anyone in her position would. She was heading right back to jail, she was in terrible pain, and had just lost her husband. There were things worse than death, Wolkig would sometimes say. Now, she knew.
What she really hated, however ,was the way she was changed mentally. Just before the crash, she had been a fierce leader. She had all of the self confidence in the world for herself. Now, however, she was like a dog- fully dependent on the nurses. Come to think of it, she had almost no real-world skills. Her husband had even cooked for her. Then again, the fact that her sentence would be for a minimum of five years, as a police officer kindly reminded her, would give her a good chance to work on life skills.
But there was one flame that burned through her. Perhaps all the others had died out when the car crashed into the median, but this one burned even brighter. It was the flame of revenge, against that ignorant fool. The man who had taken her life away. The man who had taken Wolkig’s life away. He had gotten his share of cheap shots. Now, it was her turn. She had connections. She would do it for Roger, and for herself. And, now that she thought about it, prison really didn’t sound that great.
She hopped out of bed, and walked down the corridor. It was a grisly place, to see so much blood and death in one place. Not as bad as the prison she would soon be in, however, if she didn’t escape.
Uda looked over her options. There was a window, but second story. Deciding not to risk breaking something else in the middle of running away, she went down the stairs. Her left foot was mildly strained, but got better with each passing day. She barely felt it as she briskly went down. If it wasn’t for the white hospital gown, in fact, she could easily be mistaken for a visitor, not an Emergency Room patient. She almost pranced down each step, gliding her hands down the metal rails. Finally, she reached the bottom.
This was the tough part. Nurses were everywhere, and would recognize her if she came into their immediate view. A fire alarm switch right next to her served as the answer. She calmly pulled it, as if flicking on a light.
There was instant panic. Nurses rushed everywhere to retrieve patients. If it wasn’t for the fact that she had nothing to live for, she would have felt bad for all the heart attacks that would be going on at this point. She laughed at the ridiculously easy escape, as all other hospital patients were doing the same thing- running outside, screaming. Of course, while they stopped at the outside lawn, she continued down the street. Not that anybody would care about such an occurrence when a fire was present.
There were, of course, a few problems. She had no money, no shelter, and no clothing. Her immediate problems were solved, however, by a pawn shop across the street.
She walked in, taking off her diamond earrings and gold bracelet. The room smelled musty and rotten. Containers with Spanish writing were haphazardly stacked on wooden shelves. The only noise present was a fan above, its wooden blades creaking as they spun around.
She strode casually over to an old man behind the counter. He looked up, and then instantly at the glittering objects in his hand.
“I want 3000 dollars for all of this.”
The man’s eyes widened. “Let me see them.”
She consented. Withered fingers carefully took the jewelry from her hand. He spilled the items onto the table, and drew out a magnifying glass.
The room was deathly silent. It was a terribly depressing place, but she needed the cash badly. She swore to herself never to go inside a pawn shop instead.
“2000.” The abrupt voice startled Nancy.
“I need 3000 dollars. Nothing lower.” She wished Wolkig was with her. He was much better at bargaining than her, and although her voice was forceful, she knew she had no idea what she was doing.”
“This is your first time in a pawn shop, I take it?” The man replied, as if he was reading her mind. She nodded, before she could stop herself. “Listen, sweetheart. In the pawn shop business, I’m known as ‘one offer Oscar.’ I name a price, and don’t budge an inch. Two grand is a good deal for this stuff, trust me. The diamonds are worn, and the gold bracelet is dull. You’d be lucky to get above 1500 for this.”
Did this old geezer know who he was arguing with? “2500. I’ll give you ten seconds, or you’re without a deal.” She could play mind games, too.
To her surprise, the owner calmly took out a stopwatch from his desk. He watched, sarcastically, as ten seconds ticked off. “Well, I suppose I’m without a deal, then.” He calmly put the stopwatch back. He knew he had won.”
Uda was shocked. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. In the movies, they would always agree at the last second. The harsh realities of life continued to hit her in the face. Mumbling under her breath, she agreed to 2000.
The man happily forked over the cash. “I don’t lie to you. Then again, you’re lucky to get so much for so little.” She took the cash with a cold stare.
The first problem was resolved, but she was still without a place to go. Of course, with her hospital gown, she looked like a mental patient. Not exactly the best outfit for finding a ticket to Romania.
A clothing shop could be seen down the street. Behind her, firemen spilled out of their trucks, sirens blazing. A white sea of nurses and patients huddled outside, mixed in with the red suits of firemen. It was a sight to see- after she got dressed properly.
She entered the store, wads of cash in hand. The store was colored brightly with reds and greens. Garishly colored outfits lined the shelves. Just her luck that the store was teenage fashion, but it would have to do. There wasn’t much worse than a hospital gown.
She picked out the most decent clothes she could find. Her build was rather slender, so she didn’t have to worry about sizes being too small. She proceeded over to the cashier, a young woman wearing clothes in even worse fashion than the ones in the store. Of course, it did beat a plastic nightgown.
The woman, who seemed to be in her early twenties, eyed Uda rather curiously. She had striking blonde hair, which would have been rather beautiful if not for the sparkling purple bow ties covering it. Her shirt seemed to be some horrific form of art deco fashion, a mess of black, white, and neon green. Her pants looked like they were made out of plastic tubing. Needles to say, both women grimaced at the other’s clothing.
Without a word, the cashier ran up the totals. “23.49,” she said in a curt, forced tone. Nancy handed over a 100 dollar bill, the smallest there was in her bundle. This didn’t help the strained expression the lady had, but she took the money without complaint.
“Is there a dressing booth?” She asked after receiving the change. Not even looking at her, the woman pointed to her right. After she dressed, she strode out of the store.
She had thousands of dollars, and decent attire. Where to go, now? She could try to get a gun and find out the whereabouts of Roger, but with no ID, that seemed unlikely. That problem also held true for getting a plane. Unless…
A woman was walking in front of her. She resembled Uda almost perfectly in complexity, right down to her dark brown hair color. A wallet was sticking out of her pocket. Dare she risk it? If she was caught…
There was no other option. Uda increased her pace until she was inches behind her. Nobody would be able to see the crime. Suddenly, the woman stopped. Thinking quickly, Uda took out the passport, before…
BUMP. Uda ran into the lady. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she apologized. Are you all right?
“Oh, yes. Yes, I’m fine,” replied the stunned woman. “It’s okay.”
As she walked away, the woman massaged her back. Uda massaged her wallet.
Social security card, insurance… ah. Driver’s license. That was a start. Reciepts, quarters… could it be? Could it really be! A passport. She had hit the jackpot.
This was the beginning of the end for Roger. She had everything she needed to get revenge on him, and others. She wasn’t going to be pushed around any more. It was time Roger and his friends learned how Romania spelled “revenge.”
“What? He called back, annoyed. He was right in the middle of a great book. This had better be important.”
“Wolkig’s dead, but Uda’s coming here and she wants money for a re-“
“Slow down! Slow down! One thing at a time!”
“Okay, okay. Wolkig…. I’m so sorry, but as he and Uda were driving to the airport, their car was hit by a shotgun…”
“It… it crashed into an embankment, she says…”
“Uda. She’s alive, but Wolkig’s dead, he was killed when the car crashed…”
“How did she escape?”
“She tells me she ran away from the hospital. She was badly injured, but is fine now.”
“And you’re telling me she wants to stay here.”
“Very well, then. Call up Gustav. Tell him to make arrangements for a plane ride here, immediately. Wolkig was a good friend. We owe it to her.”
“There’s one more thing.”
“She… she says she wants to get back at the person who murdered Wolkig. Do we have a good supply of weapons?”
“Plenty. She’s free to use them.”
“That’s all. Can I get you something to drink?”
“No, no… I’m fine. Thank you.”
Revenge. A beautiful word. A word that passes through lips so smoothly, but yet, so forcefully. When one talks of revenge, they can never talk casually, but always have an odd pitch in their voice, as if they were drunk. In a way, they are, as when one computes a revenge plot, that person becomes so focused on their task, so bent over by emotions, they cannot think of anything else. Such feelings were going through the mind of Jacques. He would not let Wolkig down. This “Roger” wasn’t going to live for much longer, and if the woman wanted more than just one death, he would make settlements. His array of Weaponry rivaled that of small countries, and with connections all over the world, he could order up the death of somebody with ease.
And if there was retaliation, he would retaliate. He could start a war with a telephone. And, if it came down to that, that was precisely what he would do. He had been cooped up here in hibernation for much too long. It wasn’t his style, to sit around doing nothing. The government had pushed him out of existence, until he was but a whisper. It was up to him to turn that whisper back into the roar it used to be.
It wasn’t the first time he had ordered up the death of somebody. He could be considered a gangster, in that sense. However, this time, it was personal. He was going to execute this order by himself. Wolkig deserved it.
Thus, his mind followed the downhill spiral of so many others, bent on revenge, drunken on revenge, high on revenge. He wasn’t going to wait for this one, either. Uda deserved it quickly, and he was going to get it quickly.
“Pack your bags, Ronald. We’re going to America.”
And with that command, they were out of the door, ready to start something of a magnitude higher than they could ever imagine. And if they knew what would follow, they would never dare to walk outside from their bunker into the cold Romanian air.
“I’m still having trouble believing it. It all happened so fast.”
“Well, you know, that’s what you get when you come into this business. Things happen fast- you just have to be faster.”
It was a typical Tuesday morning at the Police station. Conversation was lethargic, as most were weary over their 5 am wakeup call. The coffee machine did its best to put some life in the group, but it was a hard struggle.
Johan, the accomplice to Officer Bryan in the car chase that fateful Sunday morning, decided to extend his stay, especially after word of Uda’s escape from the hospital. It seemed the Police couldn’t get anything done right, but he dared not say it out loud. In Switzerland, there were no minimum-security prisons. He found the idea hilarious, except in the occasions when people escaped, and were back on the streets, ready for revenge.
He vowed to track Uda down. Intelligence reports from both countries turned up almost nothing. For a person considered as an amateur detective, this Uda was quite good at keeping a low profile. He may be young and not yet matured in the art of detective work, but Johan was ready for anything. Above all, he didn’t want to let the situation come out of hand.
“Johan. We’re glad you’re still working with us.”
The sudden statement startled his silent thoughts. “Oh… thank you.”
“We’d like you to meet Roger. He was the man who stopped the car from making its way to the airport.”
“Ah, yes. I’ve heard about this Roger.”
“He’s in C hall. It would be great if both of you could pair up on this case. Two heads better then one, eh?”
“Yes, yes.” Johan proceeded down the hallway.
Even with a sea of officers, the profile of Roger could not be mistaken. He was leaning against a file cabinet, lost in thought. Johan strode down the tiled floor.
“Excuse me… is your name, Roger?”
“Yes. What do you want, my autograph?”
“Excuse me?” What was the man talking about?
“Oh… I’m sorry. I was being sarcastic. This whole thing… it’s given me too much publicity. To be honest… I hate it. I don’t consider myself a hero. I feel like a murderer.”
“Well, I can understand. It can be hard… being at the center of attention.”
“Yes… yes it can,” Roger said curtly.
“Excuse me, but, Lieutenant Cheney sent me down here… he suggested that we work together on the case.”
“Ah. I see.” Roger did not look too interested.
“I… was in the patrol car following the two when it crashed.”
“Were you really? That was very brave of you.”
“Oh, thank you.” Johan could not help but smile.
“Well, at least you know something about the incident. From the way stories have gotten passed around, I supposedly evaded fire from machine guns and shot the tire on my stomach. It’s horrendous.”
“Well, in that case… sure, we can work together. I don’t have anything on either of the subjects.”
He paused, looked around, as if he was telling a secret. Then, he lowered his voice.
“To be honest with you, the way this case has turned out so far… I’m worried that this could become much bigger than it is. If those terrorists attack, the government will retaliate… and then, it’s out of our hands.”
“I was thinking the same thing. I know that the Swiss government would take out every action possible if our country was attacked. It’s stupid.”
“Stupid, yes, but people want an answer. It’s the citizens that inflate the issue. Emotions can do ten times the harm as the media.”
“But the media controls the emotions.”
Johan chuckled. “It’s five thirty in the morning. I’m not in the mood for psychological banter at the time.”
“How about six o-clock. Will you be ready then?” Roger smiled.
“Maybe at noon. But I can’t make any promises.”
“I don’t want to push you.”
They both laughed, uncommon in these days, but warmly welcomed. The task ahead of them was grave, but they were ready. Or, at least they thought.
The airplane continued to descend, until the slowly moving houses turned into a blur, and the plane swerved as it approached the runway. The snowy ground was turned gray by airplane engines, which blew snow into banks near the edges of the runway. The jet touched down with a thunk, jostling Uda in her seat. She smiled as it slowed to a halt. They were here.
Jacques greeted Uda as she stepped down the ladder. “Where can we discuss the matter privately?” She asked.
“Nowhere is safe. It’s a miracle that I managed to make it here.”
“Are you saying we should leave now?”
“Yes- but not to the United States.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We’ll never make it on a plane in Romania. We’ll have to head north to Ukraine. It’s safer there.”
“How can you be so sure? Time is running out. I say we just get on the plane right now.”
Jacques sighed. “Perhaps you are right. I have a small, private jet. It should have just enough in it to carry us to South Carolina.”
“Trust me, Jacques. I know what I’m doing.”
The small plane showed plenty of wear and tear. Rust caused by melting snow had damaged the wings. Small holes in the fuselage had been ‘repaired’ with duct tape. As they were loading their weaponry into the jet, Jacques frantically assured her that the plane was perfectly safe.
“This old girl flies like I bought it yesterday, I’m telling you,” he repeatedly stated as he lifted a barrel of explosives into the back.
“Do you always fly it with so much cargo?”
“Well, no,” he admitted, “but there’s always a first time, eh?”
She looked away. Was he right about this? Was he endangering her life?
“I’m sorry about Wolkig,” he said abruptly.
“Let’s not discuss that,” she snapped back. For a woman, Uda was quite jumpy.
They continued loading the cargo. Always the paranoid one, Jacques looked around for any signs of the police. He was so afraid of capture, he kept his assistant in the bunker, not wanting one more person for the Police to find. After all, on such a journey, they could not take any chances.
“I think that’s the last of it,” he said as he loaded in one more box of explosives. “Are you ready, Uda?”
“I’m always ready for revenge.”
“Well, then, we have no time to waste.”
“Let’s get in, then.”
He creaked open the aluminum door. The inside of the plane had been rather well kept, considering the mess that was the outside. “It’s not much,” he said as he helped Uda up, “But it’s something. And we don’t need more than that.”
“Whatever. Let’s get this thing in the sky.”
“As you wish.” Why was she so pushy today? Sure, the death of Wolkig was heartbreaking, but she had always been a woman who wouldn’t get bogged down by anything. He could feel the thirst for revenge in her, however. It was in her eyes. Bloodshot from lack of sleep. Probably dreaming up plots to get back at the man who had ended their careers and their lives.
“Now, where’s the ignition again? No, I’m joking,” he laughed, as the blood drained from Uda’s face. “Don’t worry, I have thirty years of experience under my belt. We’ll be fine.” She managed a smile, which made Jacques feel ten times better about the ordeal.
He revved up the engine. In case of emergencies, he had always kept the plane on the edge of the runway, fully prepared for a quick takeoff. At that point, he realized that the police would see the plane taking off, discover the hidden bunker, and arrest his assistant. Oh, well. He would be across the ocean, by then, with more to worry about.
The engines, two turbines on the back of the tail, blasted the cockpit with an ear-shattering roar. Uda screamed and clung her arms to Jacques’ shoulders. He laughed. “You’ll have more to worry about when we’re on the air,” he said as the airplane shot forward. Its light weight gave the jet extremely fast acceleration, and they were in the air just seconds after.
“Enjoying the ride, I hope?” he asked, and looked back at Uda, whose face was a putrid green.
“There’s a bathroom in the back, just in case.” She instantly sprinted to the edge of the plane.
“Women’s stomachs these days,” he muttered to himself.
“I heard that!” Yelled Uda, as she proceeded to belch into the toilet.
“Hello. This is a police officer from Romania.”
“We hear that your police force is looking for one escaped Swiss fugitive.”
“Excuse me for one moment.”
The chief handed the phone to Roger. “Romanian police. They’re calling about Uda.”
Roger excitedly took the phone. “Hello?”
“Hello, there. We have information on your Uda.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes,” the officer answered in a thick, raspy accent. “We just sighted a plane taking off from a private runway. After a brief… interrogation, we confirmed Uda and another wanted fugitive on the jet.”
“My goodness. Excuse me for a moment.”
Uda’s on a plane in Romania. She’s flying to the United States.”
“Do you know where?” He asked the man over the phone.”
“That… we could… not get an answer.” The officer looked back at Jacques’ assistant, lying dead on the floor. “However, we can assure you those two are on the plane.”
“Thank you very much for your help.” Roger put down the phone.
“This is a big breakthrough,” Johan said excitedly.
“Indeed. But we need to act fast.”
“Lieutenant!” Roger called over to the policeman behind the desk.
“What is it? Did you find them?”
“They’re over the Atlantic Ocean. We need helicopter support.”
“You want to send a police helicopter? Is that legal?”
“I don’t know. Just… okay. Fine. Where, exactly, are they.”
“Well, that’s the thing. We don’t know.”
“So, you’re saying you want me to send out a helicopter to find a plane that’s somewhere out on the Atlantic Ocean.”
“Isn’t there anything else we know about the plane?”
“I’m afraid not, except it would be close to Romania.”
“I’m sorry, but we’ll have to wait to see where it lands.”
“But we were so close to finding them! Now, we have to wait again?”
“Do you have any better suggestions?”
“Well… no.” It just wasn’t fair. They had gotten a huge lead, and now, they were ‘somewhere’ out on the Atlantic Ocean, along with hundreds, maybe thousands, of other planes.
“What about radar? Don’t we have some sort of radar?”
The lieutenant’s eyes shot up. “Police have access to international radar from the government. Why?”
“Shh. I’m thinking.” Roger’s elbow was propped up against his head.
The plane was probably no bigger than a double-engine jet. It needed to be big enough to cross the Atlantic, but they needed to keep it small to evade sighting. So… about 380 miles an hour, top speed.
The call came about 5 minutes ago, in which the Romanian said the plane had taken off about five minutes ago- ten minutes since takeoff. Ten minutes, a sixth of an hour, 380 over six. And, if the plane supposedly took off over the far western corner of Romania…
“Look for a small jet plane in the middle of Hungary.”
“Yes. Can you do that?”
“One minute…” he typed furiously on his computer. “Europe… middle… Hungary… the exact middle?”
“Somewhere close to the middle.”
“I see… okay. We have a few planes here. Three… I think. Two of them are obviously big airliners- they’re clicking along at 600. This… this might be your plane.”
He moved aside. Roger looked at the aircraft. “That has to be it. I’m almost positive.”
“If you’re wrong, we’re in some pretty hot water here.”
“It has to be. Can we get an Coast Guard plane over there?”
“We can’t. The National Guard can.”
“Can you call them up?”
“We’ll see. He checked a phone list, then dialed a number.”
The room was silent. Roger zoomed in on the plane. Its engines could be made out on the tail of the plane, common for jetliners. It had no visible insignia, meaning it was privately owned, meaning… Uda was on that plane. He hoped. But, was he ever wrong?
“National guard? Hello. This is Lieutenant Cody from district 45, South Carolina. Fine, thank you. Yes… we’ve been tracking the whereabouts of a wanted terrorist, and we believe they are on a double-engine plane over the middle of Hungary.”
Roger, at the moment, realized how stupid this whole thing sounded.
“Uh… no, we’re not positive, but we’re 99 percent sure… yes, it’s on grid 77-BMQ… yes, that small one… we are requesting a plane to scout it out… really? You can? Oh, thank you so much…”
He put down the phone. “I honestly can’t believe it, but we’re getting the thing.”
Roger smiled. “Then we’re one step closer to avoiding a war.”
“Never mind.” He sighed with relief. This could end it all.
The Atlantic Ocean glistened under the small plane. The sun’s reflection created an oddly soothing environment as the jets roared from above. Inside, the pilot and his passenger ventured east in a rather relaxed mood.
“Can they really do that? Can some South Carolina police district send us to Hungary?”
“I guess so,” Pilot Stephens replied. “Oh, well. It’s a beautiful day.”
“Eh, I suppose you’re right. It beats sitting in a cramped office all day.”
“See? Now you’re getting it.”
The plane was almost across the Atlantic ocean. According to radar reports, the plane would be in sight in around ten minutes.
“So, what do they want us to do?”
“Fire a warning flare, I guess. They say not to open fire unless the people open fire on us.”
“How embarrassing it would be to have the wrong plane…”
“That’s the coast guard’s problem, not ours.”
The plane continued its journey, the coast barely visible on the horizon. If there was one thing Stephens loved about flying, it was getting that first glimpse of the coast at dusk… seeing the sun shoot out across the beach. There was nothing like it. Nothing like it in the world.
Among the hum of the jets, the soft ripple of the waters below, he knew he had found his true calling. Some people in life never get a chance to do their dream job. That wasn’t the case with him. Ever since he was a little boy, and saw those planes flying off the runway, he knew that that was what he was going to be in life. And, looking at himself now, he had no regrets.
“Five minutes until interception.”
“Can you see them on the radar?”
“Yes. They’re flying straight on.”
That was odd. If they were flying straight on, they would have the sun in their eyes. Even an unskilled pilot would turn away from the direct glare…
“Is there anything unusual about the plane?”
“No… not that I know of.”
The plane’s bleep on the radar could be heard constantly. Usually, this soothed him, but
today, with the circumstances, it was very mysterious. He could only hope the pilots would admit defeat.
“Get the flares ready.” He was starting to sweat. Something just wasn’t right.
“Sure thing.” His assistant headed back to the end of the plane.
The bleep was occurring more frequently. He clenched his hands on the steering, until his knuckles grew white. He was overreacting. Who knows- maybe they did have the wrong plane…
A speck could now be seen in the distance. “Here it comes,” he yelled back to his partner.
“I’ve got the flare hooked up,” he replied. “When should I fire it?”
“Wait for my command.”
The outline of the plane could now be made out. The bleeps had turned into one constant ring. He shut off the radar. “Okay, get ready… three…”
The sun cast on the plane gave it an almost heavenly look.
Now, the pilot could be made out. It wasn’t a woman. He was opening the window… it was a gun! A machine gun!
“HOLD ON!” The pilot tried to evade the fire. Instantly, he pressed forward on the throttle. The plane dipped under the assailant. Did they evade it?
Gunfire peppered the plane. In the back, Stephens heard his assistant give out a cry of pain. No. It couldn’t end like this. It just couldn’t…
He pulled back on the throttle. “Controls are unresponsive!” He shouted. Time was running out. He had to eject… the ejector seat was unresponsive. There was only one more chance… he pushed the cockpit window open, and jumped out. This was going to hurt…
The plane shattered into millions of pieces behind him, followed by a loud explosion. He landed headfirst into the water at sixty miles an hour. His left leg gave an ominous snap. His life vest. He pulled the red tab under his suit. It inflated, and he bobbed back up onto the water.
Could his radio have survived the impact? It was his only chance. He flipped the switch. Sighing with relief as the green light came on, he wasted no time in sending out the message.
“This is CG 102. We’re shot down over the Portuguese coast. I repeat. We are shot down over the Portuguese coast. Pilot Stephens is in good condition, but the whereabouts of Carl are unknown. Over.”
It was just seconds before the reply. “This is CG Base 100. Are you in stable condition? Over.”
“Yes, but condition of Carl is unknown. Presumed dead. Over.”
“Sending backup. Expect a two hour wait. Over.”
“Very well. Over.”
It all happened so fast. In the distance, he could hear the engines of the enemy plane. Who were those people? Whoever they were, he hoped they weren’t expecting a warm welcome.
“Why did you have to do that?”
“They were a danger to our transport. I saw the flare.”
“Whatever happened to keeping casualties at a minimum?”
“That went out the door with the death of your husband.”
“Just because my husband was murdered doesn’t give you the right to murder.”
Uda was in a cold sweat. This wasn’t how it was supposed to work out. They were to keep a low profile until they made it to Roger. Then, they could get the revenge.
“We blew our cover.”
“That’s news to me,” Jacques replied sarcastically. He had more things to worry about than a whining passenger. Many more things to worry about.
“What about the backup planes?”
“There won’t be any. They’re dead and can’t send out a radio signal.”
“What if they’re not?”
“Did you see that thing explode?”
“They could have ejected out.”
“You’re thinking of the worst case scenarios.”
“THAT’S IT!” he yelled. “I’M TIRED OF THIS WHINING. WE’RE GOING TO MAKE IT TO SHORE, AND THEN WE’LL START TO WORRY. BUT RIGHT NOW, I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ONE MORE WORD OUT OF YOU! GOT IT!”
There was no answer, except for a few sniffles. “Look, Uda, I’m sorry, but please. We can do this. Please don’t stress me out, okay?” Would the girl ever shut up?
At that moment, they both sighed. Jacques relaxed his grip on the steering.
Ever since the word of the attack came from Stephen’s radio, the place had been in a panic. Head officers were squabbling over how to treat the Terrorist plane.
“We can arrest them once they touch down.”
“As far as we know, they can turn around and head right back to where they started.”
“They killed a prominent captain. Are you going to let them get away?”
“As long as you listen to me, NO.”
“We’re letting the issue get out of hand.”
“A terrorist plane gunning down a coast guard plane is a big issue.”
“This can be controlled. Don’t let your emotions control myself.”
“Don’t tell me what to control.”
The atmosphere was tense. Even the air conditioner seemed to be chugging slower than usual.
“Let them decide what to do. They’re skilled pilots, and marksmen. They have a good head on their shoulders.”
“Besides, this room is never going to come to an agreement.”
That seemed to take control of the banter for the moment, although it didn’t stop the harsh looks that officers and lieutenants were giving one another.
Suddenly, the telephone rang, shattering the silence of the room. A lieutenant picked up the phone hesitantly, as if it was a bomb. “Hello?”
“This is President Charles.”
“It’s the President!” The lieutenant called out to the room, producing an audible gasp.
“What can I do for you, sir?”
“I am issuing an executive order. To end a situation that is getting out of hand, the inhabitants of the suspected terrorist plane must be exterminated.”
The lieutenant gulped. “Yes, sir.”
The President hung up. The whole day was becoming too surreal. “President’s orders to kill the two people in the plane.”
An officer picked up the communications radio. “CG 104. Do you copy?”
“Yes,” the pilot sounded through the static.
“You have orders to kill the two inhabitants of the terrorist plane. Is that clear?”
A long pause sounded nothing but static to the radio. “…Yes, sir.”
“That is all.” He put down the radio.
The situation was getting out of hand. The two could be easily dealt with in court, not out in airspace. If the two were killed… who knows where the ordeal would go.
“Do you want to attack or not?”
“Give me time. I need to think about this.”
“I said, do you want to attack or not?”
“Why would we want to attack in the first place?”
“Wolkig was our main source of income. Without him, we’re losing half our income.”
“And what will attacking do?”
“Look, if you don’t want to attack, we’ll ship the warheads off, and get the million dollars. You want to attack, we use them. I don’t have all day to wait for an answer. Tell you what.” He drew a stopwatch from a pocket in his jeans. “Ten seconds to make a decision, or I’ll make it for you.”
“Fine. We’ll attack.”
Hisham smiled. “Gooooood. I’ll give the news to the launch base shortly.”
“Do you actually think it’s going to work?”
Hisham patted the metal body of the warhead. “This is the latest technology we’ve got- shipped in straight from North Korea. This thing evades fire like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Once we launch it, the United States is good as toast.”
“How can you say that? They may be stupid, but America’s not going to let that thing crash into a building. If they find out where it came from, we’re toast.”
“So what? We’ve made our point, then.”
“Fine.” Athreya sighed. “How many days until launch, then?”
“It will take about a week to sort the whole deal out. After that, I don’t know. Once it’s in the air, it would only take an hour to make it to America.”
“Only a week? That’s not bad.”
“True, but it’s going to cost us big time. The launch operators haven’t gotten any missiles in years. They need the income badly.”
“How much, then? A hundred thousand?”
“Five hundred thousand.”
“Wow.” Athreya wiped his eyes. “We can still finance that.”
“It’s not going to be easy.”
“Wolkig was a good friend. If Uda and that man can’t get the job done, we will. I’m personally going to make sure this baby strikes down where it’s supposed to.”
The cockpit of the plane, just like after Jacques shot down the mysterious plane, was tense and silent. Neither had looked at each other ever since their argument, and showed no signs of warming up, either. Jacques checked his radar. Nothing for a hundred miles around.
It was getting late, and the sun could barely be seen over the horizon. Finally, they wouldn’t have to put up with the glare any more.
“I’m going to change the course a little.” Jacques attempted to make conversation with Uda.
“I was thinking about what you said. We have plenty of gas, and there is a chance that one of them survived.”
“So where are we heading?”
“I was thinking we could cut further south. Up to this point, our path was perfectly straight.”
“Whatever.” Uda shifted in her seat. At least he had tried.
The plane dipped over to the side, pressing both of them in their seats. Whatever was left of the sun’s glare was gone as the plane swung to the left. Finally, after about ten seconds of turning, Jacques straightened out.
“So. Where do you want to land?” Uda seemed to be warming up to him again.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I know somebody in Florida who would take us in.”
“Would we be safe there?”
“What do you mean?”
“Would anybody find us?”
“I doubt it.” Jacques sighed. “Our cover’s totally blown, and I’m sorry for that. But, it’s the only thing we could do.”
“Well, I don’t blame you for it. It was either that, or we were going to jail. Both our lives would be over.”
“Oh.” The cockpit fell silent again. “And… Uda?”
“I’m sorry that I got so-“
“Don’t mention it.”
“Well… okay, then. Just like to say I’m sorry.”
Well, that went well. He had never been to good around other people socially, but being cooped up in a bunker for so many months wasn’t exactly helping. Then again, hiding in a Florida beach house wasn’t going to help, either. Was it a bad idea? Not to shoot down the plane, but to ever get involved in the weapons business? His father warned him about getting involved. “You get paid a million dollars to get shot,” he would say. “Don’t ever consider it.” His father, a doctor, did everything he could to avoid Jacques working in the black market- not because it was morally wrong, but because it was risky and unsafe. Perhaps… perhaps he should have listened all this time. After all, he wasn’t exactly in the most secure position at the moment.
But then again, what could he do? Sure, being a doctor was steady enough. But he desired more. He was the kind of person who had always desired more from life. Being a doctor wasn’t enough. “The thirst for power corrupts,” his father would always say whenever Jacques expressed interest in joining the ‘dark side.’ Well, his father was right. He was powerful, and corrupted.
The plane continued on into the distance. His radar still showed up empty. So far, so good. At any rate, he wasn’t turning himself over to the Americans any time soon.
“Can you see them?” Asked Adam, the pilot, anxiously to his partner.
“Not visibly,” answered Jack, the co-pilot.
“No, I mean, on the radar.”
“Oh.” The he checked the radar. “Nothing within 200 miles.”
“That’s odd. If they were still going straight on, they should be on it, now…”
“Do you think they turned?”
“Nah. They should be on it soon. If anything, they could have crashed. The plane was probably pretty beat up.”
“You know, I’m not a fan of this whole killing thing.”
“You mean, in general?”
“No. We shouldn’t have to deal with these people. They could get arrested once they landed.”
“Well, president’s orders.”
“The president knows nothing.”
“He’s just trying to avoid a war.”
“Shooting this thing down is going to start one. And I don’t want to be blamed with starting a war.”
“Are you saying you’re going to disobey him?”
“I don’t know.” Adam turned away. “I don’t think this plane even exists anymore. It could have crashed.”
“I doubt it.”
“Well, nevertheless, I’m still not a fan of this whole idea.”
There was a pause in conversation. Where was this plane? All reports and estimates had confirmed it to be on the radar by now, but it was nowhere to be seen. If there radar was malfunctioning, they were in deep trouble.
“Wait- I see something!”
“Over there.” Adam pointed to his left.
“That’s a bird, idiot.”
“Oh.” Jack snickered.
“You know, I have half a mind to turn right around and go back home. This is going absolutely nowhere. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a wild goose chase.”
There was no answer from the co-pilot. He strained his eyes looking , but there was absolutely nothing. Not on the radar, not in plain sight, nothing at all.
The plane lurched to the side. The co-pilot was thrown back into his seat. “What the heck are you doing? We can’t go back yet.”
“I have an idea,” Adam said through gritted teeth. He veered the plane to the right.
“Why are we going southeast? You want to take a vacation?”
“I just have a hunch. Bear with me.” With that, it was silent.
There was no way that anybody was coming at them from the east. They must have made a turn. It was improbable for them to go North, as a small plane in the middle of the New York- Europe air traffic lanes would easily get noticed. They must have gone south.
He turned the engines to full power. The added power pressed them back in their seats.
“Are we racing, or something?”
“If we’re lucky, we can catch them before they land.”
How slow was this guy? “I have a good feeling that the terrorists turned south.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Will you just shut up already?” Jack was taken aback by the sudden comment. “You’re a novice who just got out of flying school. I have 30 years of training under my belt. My eyes may not be that good any more, but my brain is better than ever.”
If there was one thing Adam was good at, it was ending arguments, and for the next ten minutes, the co-pilot kept silent.
Suddenly, after fifteen minutes of flying, both gasped to hear a bleep on their radar. “It’s a two-engine plane headed for Florida!” Exclaimed the pilot, as he set the engines into overdrive. “I’m not letting these rascals get away.” He turned to the co-pilot. “You’re allowed to talk, you know.”
“Never mind,” he laughed. Seeing the plane on the radar put him into good spirits.
“Jack, call coast guard up. Tell them we’ve found the plane, and it’s heading towards Florida.”
He switched on the radio, and handed it to him.
“Thanks,” said Jack, as he gave them the information.
If there was one thing Adam loved about being in the coast guard, it was the thrill of the chase. With nothing in his mind except the enemy in front of him, the world took second fiddle to the task at hand. The engines whined with power as he maxxed out the speed of the airplane. The needle of the speedometer pressed against 400.
“Listen… I… I don’t want to be the one who shoots the plane down. Will you do it?”
“Uh… sure, I guess.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” He took a machine gun from a nearby shelf. “Should I use this?”
“Actually, it would be easier to just use the wing mounted ones.”
“Sure thing.” He gripped the controls with hands sweating of excitement. “These terrorists are going down, I tell you. DOWN! He laughed maniacally.
It humored Adam, a veteran of flying, to hear someone with so much spirit in his job. “Say, do we get a reward for this?”
“Don’t count on it.”
“Well, I suppose my celebrity status will be enough to offset that.”
Adam laughed, hoping he was joking. “Okay, we’re in range. Fire away!”
“Yes, sir!” Jack pressed down on the trigger.
It had come out of nowhere. Uda could not believe it. They were so close… and yet, so far. The coast was ten miles away. The coast guard plane was a hundred yards away. It just wasn’t fair.
“Can we make it?” She asked herself, as even she knew their situation was impossible. One way or another, they were going to be arrested. Or killed, for that matter.
Jacques had been in a trance the entire last fifteen minutes. She dared not speak, as if he would suddenly explode upon hearing the words. His eyes were locked onto the coast, and he strained the engine trying to get as close as possible.
They appeared to be flying towards a smooth field and Uda could only hope that any landing attempted would be smooth. She looked back. The grisly black outline of the coast guard plane appeared before them, an ominous shape in the sky. Machine guns as big as refrigerators under the wings weren’t making her day better, either.
She wanted to talk to Jacques. She wanted to ask if they would make it. But, she was afraid to, and, knowing Jacques, he would probably scream his head off. His pale, sweating hands gripped the steering as tight as they could, held by shaking arms. If she didn’t know any better, she would think he was having some sort of allergic reaction. Sweat was caked onto his shirt, and his hair was so drenched it looked like he had taken a shower.
The radar continued its infuriating bleep. Why didn’t Jacques turn it off? Still, she was afraid to even cross her arm across Jacques, never mind asking him to turn it off. It was his metronome, his pacemaker. With each increasingly frequent beep, he shook more and more, if it was giving him a seizure.
They were approaching the beach. Those ten miles had gone by faster then she had expected. The plane was still deadlocked on the grassy plain ahead of it. By faint lines of black asphalt, it appeared to be some sort of airstrip. She sighed a breath of relief.
That was when the guns fired.
The coast guard’s machine guns opened fire on their plane. Uda screamed and ducked. Jacques kept a firm grip on the steering, as if nothing unordinary was happening. A few windows behind them shattered, and the plane was filled with rushing wind that swept her hair around wildly. Still, Jacques pressed on.
It was like being in the middle of a hailstorm, except with the sound of guns firing. Bullets peppered the fuselage with holes. Sunlight streamed into the plane in all different directions. Not daring to look back, Uda remained under her seat, hoping the leather could provide better protection then the aluminum.
The plane was nearing the airstrip. Startled beach goers paused and turned to look, seeing the spectacle carry out before their eyes. A siren behind them sounded warning swimmers and sunbathers of the soon-to-be-crashing plane. Uda started to whimper. Crashing into a median was bad enough, but crashing into the water from two hundred feet was enough to make a grown man cry. Still, Jacques kept a dry, although sweaty face.
An explosion rocked the plane. One of the engines was dead. The plane started its descent, spiraling down into the beach. Jacques, unfazed, Set the engine on the left to full power, and leaned with all his weight on the steering. The spin stopped, but the plane wasn’t going back up anytime soon.
“Hang on!” He yelled to her, finally breaking the code of silence. The noise was unbearable; her eardrums were bursting with shattering glass, multiple explosions, and bullets turning the plane into Swiss cheese. Seeing wasn’t much better, either. She stole a look out the window, and gasped at the rate at which they were falling. Just like in the movies, the altitude dial was spinning around backwards, the digital display falling fast. She was starting to feel rather weightless.
The beach was perfectly clear, save for the burning aircraft hurtling for it. The spiral had moved their course over to the beach, which she could not decide on being happy for or not. True, there was a lesser chance of drowning, but a crash-landing on sand was going to hurt. She cringed.
It was seconds before their fall would end. Through it all, Jacques kept his head looking out the window, as if the plane was going fine. The radar’s beep had turned into one, single pulse, almost if his heart had stopped beating. Tried as he might to get the plane flying straight, the engine loss plus the extra weight kept the plane on a deathly descent. At that point, she was too scared to cry.
Suddenly, she thought of all the explosives in the back compartments mixing with fuel and flames from the fire. This was going to be one harsh landing.
“DIVE!” Yelled Jacques as the plane crashed into the sand. She flung her body as far as she could jump out onto the sand. The plane crashed while she was in the air, and the resulting explosion enveloped her in a ball of fire. Strangely, it didn’t hurt that much. Then again, she had matters on the ground to worry about.
She slammed onto the sand. Her body felt like it was on fire- not from the fact that, yes, she probably was on fire, but from the immense pain gained from launching at sixty miles an hour into crushed rock. Her left arm was definitely broken, and her right wasn’t much better. Both her legs seemed to have survived, at least.
At that moment, her mind switched from survival to escape. She knew she was being hunted. They would shoot her on the ground if she straggled too long. Trying to keep the weight off her left arm, she struggled to get to her feet. It was like she could feel each and every bone in her arm crying out in immense pain. Finally, she was up, and from there, she was running, escaping from certain death for the third time in a row.
Her plan, of course, was to get near the crowd that came with a large beach and its city. Not only would a helicopter not dare to fire on her while she was surrounded by civilians, but police would be hard pressed to find her, even with her current state. Thus, she ran over to the edge of the beach as fast as she could go. Behind her, she heard bullets firing on Jacques. Hopefully, he wouldn’t have to live to bear the pain.
Look normal, she told herself. Look normal. She would have to find a way to fit in with the crowd, get a taxi, and get away from the scene. So far, it didn’t seem she was being chased.
The beach seemed miles long with her aching legs. The dry pavement, which seemed simply ravishing to her at the moment, could barely be made out. Still, she pressed on. Stopping to rest, or to die, would end everything. She sprinted, or at least imitated a sprint, across the hot sand. It stung her feet, but at the moment, she didn’t care.
She never realized at the moment that she was incredibly lucky to get out of such a situation with so few injuries, especially with no lasting harm done to the legs. If she had timed her jump tenths of a second off, she would be writhing in pain on the sand, a sitting duck to fire like Jacques. Still, she didn’t have time to wait and reminisce about such matters. Escape waited for nobody.
Finally, she stepped off of the shore and onto cool, soft grass. Now was the time where she could stop sprinting- not because she was in any less danger, but because she didn’t want to attract attention. Not wanting to look down, she could only hope that her clothing was not too bloody.
One more block, and she was there. The helicopter sounded behind her, but she knew that once she got in with the crowd, she was saved from immediate danger. She increased her pace not to a run, but to a skip. It was faster, and made her look half-normal at the same time.
She even tried to whistle as she made her way into the crowd. She could feel warm blood coming out of her leg, but attempted to pass the red stain off as new South Beach fashion. She strutted her stuff, almost enjoying her situation. It was all happening to fast to sit down and think about what was actually going on.
Her next step was to hail a taxi. Luckily, she had pocket cash available, and did not need to risk being a pickpocket for another day. The forty dollars was enough to carry her sixty miles away, at least. Reaching in to her other pocket, she came up with a gold mine- a torn, but still readable, address to the apartment Jacques was talking about. Now, all she had to do was get into a taxi, and she would be just another car in a sea of traffic.
She looked up, but saw no helicopter. This day was getting better and better. An empty-looking taxi was stopped at an intersection. She stepped over and banged on the window.
The driver waved his hands over his face, implying he was off duty. Not giving up, as no other taxi was in sight, She held up her money and two fingers, mouthing “I’ll pay you double” at the driver. He seemed to get the point, and motioned for her to open the door.
She hopped in, quickly. Playing hide-and-seek was almost fun. She handed the starting fare over to the driver.
“Where do you want to go, Mrs. deep pockets?”
She looked over the address. “Do you know where Yankeetown is?”
The driver scratched his head. “Aah… yes, actually, I think I do. Small town, kind of quiet?”
“Yes,” she said, doing the best she could to sound sure. The driver started the car at the green light and turned to his left. “Just so you know, that will be about thirty dollars.”
“If you get there in thirty minutes, I’ll pay you 40.”
“Is that so?” the driver scratched his chin again. “Very well, then. If traffic’s good, we just might make it.”
Not believing her dumb luck, she looked outside, and froze. A black helicopter was hovering about fifty yards away from their car.
“D’you hear that awful noise?” the taxi driver asked. “What is it, a helicopter?”
“Yep,” she said, as casually as possible. “Sure is a racket, huh?”
The driver nodded his head. Glad to get off the topic, she resorted to trying to keep her head as low as possible.
The excitement of hailing a cab and avoiding being seen provided a rush of temporary anesthesia to her arms. Now, however, the pain was setting back in. If the circumstances were any different, she would be moaning and groaning to beat the band. However, she did the best she could to hold in the pain, whether her arm was twisted back or not.
The driver, inspired by the offer for an added ten dollars to the already doubled amount, swerved around traffic like he was in an arcade game. At some points, he even rode along the shoulder, the tires banging on loose gravel and pieces of tar. It was a bumpy ride, and did no help to her injuries.
Even worse, however, was the helicopter directly ahead of her. “Slow down!” she hissed to the driver.
“What? Why? Don’t you want to get there fast?”
“Please… I’m getting a bit carsick,” she faked. “Tell you what- I’ll give you the forty dollars no matter what. Is that a deal?”
“You bet it is,” the driver happily answered. He eased up on the gas, and the taxi slowed to more normal speeds.
The helicopter was still directly above her. Why, oh why, did they have to stand out in a bright yellow taxi? This situation was still quite risky, and she prayed that the copter would soon pass over. It still stayed directly overhead, but did not seem to be taking any action.
She slumped back in her seat. “You feeling better?” the driver asked back to her.
“Oh, yes, I’m fine, thank you. I think… it was just something I ate.”
“If you need to throw up, tell me, and I’ll pull over.”
“Thank you very much,” she replied. It was a wonder what an extra bit of money would do to a guy. She felt as if she was riding a limousine.
A large green sign with towns and their mileage passed the taxi. Yankeetown wasn’t on it, but for a starting fare of sixteen dollars, it couldn’t be far away. “Can you guess how far away?” She asked to the driver.
“Maybe about ten miles to go.” She sighed, relieved that they could soon exit the highway. Hopefully, the helicopter wouldn’t follow.
Soon enough, their exit came up. The car turned over to the right, and rumbled down the ramp. She could only hope that the black beast wouldn’t pursue the taxi for any longer.
It took her about three miles down the side road before she mustered the courage to look back. No helicopter. She sighed again, an immense feeling of satisfaction in her. For the third time in a row, she had evaded the stupid Americans.
“So, where in Yankeetown?” The driver turned back to look at her.
“Erm… let’s see here.” She had not dared lose the address, and it was still clenched tightly by her fingers. “Longview Apartments, 7676 Shady Drive.” The driver nodded, and took a right at the stop sign.
“Okay, this is it,” he announced, pulling up to the run-down apartment complex. “I can only wonder why you were in such a hurry.”
She laughed uneasily, then paid the driver the forty she had promised. She could see him mouth “wow” as he counted up the sum. She smiled. Why shouldn’t she? Even with two arms and a back in agonizing pain, she had managed to evade capture and find safety.
She opened the door of the apartments. For a drab and dreary building, the inside was rather nice. A lady at the counter smiled. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m here to see somebody at… “apartment 1-K,” she requested, after looking at the faded card.
“Sure thing,” she said, without batting an eye. The nice thing about small towns was that the occupants never suspected anything, and she was all the better for it. “Do you have a card?”
“Yes,” she replied, holding up a room key included with the directions. “It’s down the hall, on the left,” said the clerk, pointing to a darkened hallway. She thanked her and went down the hallway, a grin plastered on her lips.
She skipped, once again, up to the room, this time for a much different reason. Finally, with an insertion of the keycard included with the directions, and a twist of the doorknob, she was safe. And it was time to plan revenge.
Roger tried. He strained, he pushed, he concentrated. But, try as he might, he could not find one thing to be happy about the death of Jacques and the escape of Uda.
Yes, Jacques was a wanted terrorist working in the black market. But his death had pulled the strings of alliances, always ready to seek revenge. Uda, once again managing to escape from death and capture, would now stop at nothing to avenge the deaths of the two. He could only hope she would keep it personal instead of lashing out at innocent citizens.
Why, though? Why had the president even attempted something of this caliber? They weren’t any better for murdering Jacques. His allies would get back, and who knew how. They were plotting the attacks as he stood, in a cold sweat, in his apartment. Once again, he found himself pacing the cramped room, like so many times before.
A small television in the room was blaring newscasts. If he thought his ‘hero status’ issues had been a pain, this was even worse. The media, like always, had managed to turn these contorted events into an epic saga, never mentioning the imminent attack soon to strike America. He could just imagine the millions of Americans watching the same news program, in awe at the evil of the terrorists and bursting with pride at their government’s ability to control the baddies intent on… what did they call it again? Ah, yes. ‘Stealing America’s freedom.’ Was the media any better, then? They didn’t even attempt to give viewers their right to see all sides of the issue. They cared about ratings, not the truth. Then again, what could be expected of a news channel fighting for viewers along with tens of other stations? If nearing yellow journalism was going to get them more watchers, so be it. He sighed.
He had to jump on this bandwagon, too. As much as the stations attempted to blow the issue out of proportion, they would also welcome a second opinion, trying to get viewers to believe that they were getting both sides of the story. Roger would do as much as he could to influence the public and show them the truth of the matter.
He thought back to the days when he had been caught up in a moving, emotional story. When another opinion came on the show, he booed and hissed it along with everyone else. Americans were selfish that way. They welcomed the first idea with open arms, and then blocked out all other ideas. Now, Roger was submitting himself to be booed and hissed, just like that second opinion trying to get a share of the emotion pie. Unfortunately, most stories gobbled up the emotion pie before giving any others a slice.
If he could get enough attention, he may be able to make a difference. A letter to the congressperson would not suffice. He had to turn his hardened, war-torn, anti-emotional self into a lovable man. He had to be the politician here- it was the only way to ever stop this escalating chaos. At the same time, he had to worry about the bomb threat, multiple terrorists groups wanting his head, and the string of alliances on both sides of the issue that could turn this into a war.
Nobody said being a detective would ever be easy. He sighed, and picked up the phone to contact the media.
There was the guy who was generally good, but had some involvement in criminal operations. There was the guy who had been in jail a few times, and was still up to crime. There was the cold-blooded killer, the killer with no heart, and the killer with a stock of warheads, and no heart. Then, at the bottom of the list, was Athreya. If somebody asked him to draw a heart, he would draw a multi-chambered organ with red veins attached. As far as he was concerned, love was not a word. He had no sympathy, empathy, or anything of the like. Perhaps he didn’t have the scarred, angry face with tattoos on his bulging biceps, but he didn’t need it. He had the mind of a killer, and didn’t need any accessories with it.
Of course, he hadn’t always been the way. As much as he hated to admit it, his life fell right into the Hollywood bad guy description- good guy turned evil by death in family, wanted revenge, yada yada yada. His family, innocent, do-good citizens, were all murdered by a stray bomb in the Gulf war. Just a kid, he emerged from the rubble, and ironically enough, committed himself to terrorism, the exact kind of person targeted out by the bomb that destroyed his family. He didn’t exactly care for ironic occurrences, either.
The bomb had just arrived. Currently, the weapons depot had set it up. His ‘financing’ had come from a few ransom deals, which supported the operation nicely. He had a rush of adrenaline as the bomb was lowered into the launcher. His revenge was imminent.
“It will just be another hour, sir,” said one of the assistants to Athreya. He nodded approvingly, and exited the hangar to go back to his house and wait for the attack, like a good evil villain should. Take a nap, perhaps. All of this planning was making him tired.
Could he have lived a different life? The thought occurred to him, sometimes. Usually, this was a sign that he wasn’t committing enough evil, and he would usually set up a weapons deal with an outside source- Wolkig, especially, had been good to him. This time, however, he thought about how the bomb would kill innocent civilians, just like his family had been murdered by a bomb straying off his path. Was he any better then the government he had set out to bring down? Or was he just like them, putting war ahead of discussion?
All in all, he knew he could never change. His body was soulless, and would never be able to turn back from the chaos. One day, perhaps, he would have had enough with all the death, and die in peace. Of course, in the meantime, there were deaths to be avenged.
An hour later, he heard an explosion. He stepped outside to see the fiery trail of the warhead that would kill thousands- and, eventually, himself. Then again, he was already dead.
The bomb hissed as it crossed the coast. Its fiery tail could be mistaken for a shooting star, or a crashing airplane. Only radar systems could distinguish its grim identity.
The media jumped on the situation not with its usual emotional approach, but cut right to the facts. When situations were grim, stories were grim. So far, nobody knew exactly where the bomb was headed.
President Charles had done everything he could. Air force planes and their anti-missile guns, ground-based defense systems, the whole enchilada. Hopefully, one of these crazed plans would stop a missile, or the consequences- he didn’t want to think about them. Hopefully, the situation wouldn’t kill thousands, and his career.
He started to cry. This was no joke. American citizens were going to get killed. He didn’t care if the entire country hold him weep. If things didn’t go right, they would be weeping too.
He had a headache. He felt faint. Would he pass out? He had been known to go unconscious in extremely intense situations. He splashed a glass of water on his face. Would that help? He refilled it, and drunk it up. Would that help? He was too scared to act civilized.
His pants were wet. Hopefully from the water, only. He wiped them off with a towel. He couldn’t concentrate. He couldn’t focus. The situation was too much for him. The bomb would be in striking range within minutes. In minutes, the fate of his country would be decided.
If he passed out, would his vice president stand in for him? He hoped so. Then again, the guy wasn’t very smart. But was he in any position to make orders that would change history? Did all presidents act like this? This was a tough job. He felt faint again. He didn’t know what he felt. More water. More spilling. More everything. This was getting too much for him.
His phone rang. He picked it up, dizzy as a top. He started to sway back and forth in his seat, drunk on the whole situation.
“Whu is ut?” It was like his mouth was full of novocaine. It was hard even to pronounce consonants.
“The bomb has been destroyed. It was… headed for the White House.”
Now, he fainted.
He woke up, water wet on his face. Was it raining outside? But, he was inside. Did somebody pour water on him? He looked up, to see a woman in a suit standing over him. His secretary. With a bucket of water.
“Sir… are you okay?”
He got up to his knees. “This isn’t going to look very good.”
“What do you mean?”
“Presidents aren’t supposed to faint in times of crisis.” He felt like an idiot.
“At any rate, sir, you successfully stopped the bomb. However, we’re waiting for your word on how to react to the situation…”
“Bomb the heck out of them. Wait… I mean, retaliate against the terrorists involved in this act, and see to it that the freedom of Americans will never again be challenged by such events.”
She smiled. “Glad to see you’re back to your old self, sir.”
He smiled weakly. He still felt like a total idiot, but at least he had prevented the White House from being turned into a pile of rubble. Not to mention himself being destroyed along with it.
Wonderful. Now, the United States was ready to bomb the terrorists and start a war. So far, there were only two deaths in the whole situation. Unfortunately, Charles was about to turn that number into two hundred thousand.
He had reached an agreement with the news station. He would get a one-hour time frame in prime time- more than he could have hoped for, at the moment. With the launch of the retaliation, however, his time was up. A war was going to start, and he was right in the center of it. The World War One scenario was already taking effect. Both sides were avenging deaths and murdering innocents. The strings of alliances had been pulled, and now they were going to be pulled stronger, tying the entire situation up in one ugly knot.
It had started to rain, and hard, at that. He looked outside the window to see waves of water running down the street. The last time it had come down this intense, he was investigating an underground weapons deal. Those were the days, when he had no wars to worry about. He was just there to do his job, and nothing more. But, he had gotten caught up in the incident, and in doing so, caught others in the mess as well, entangling citizens around the world. Now wasn’t the time to be thinking about such matters, however. His show was due to air in an hour. He had to get himself ready by then.
By the time he would get there, the rain would have subsided. But the war had just begun.
“So, tell us your view on the President’s decision to retaliate on the attacks.”
So far, so good. He had gotten his view out, and as much as he would like to be an extremist in the discussion, he had to ‘dilute’ his harsh opinions. Comfort, blanket viewers. He had managed to establish that blanket.
What to say here? He wished they had given him a preset script. All they had given him, however, was a deer-in-headlights look with the glare from the camera. It stung his eyes, but he had more things to worry about.
He sighed. People would like that, wouldn’t they? He would try to make it look like he was torn between opinions. Let’s see… he could start with how upset he was on the attacks… then… oh, whatever. Another second of pausing and viewers would change the channel.
“The attack on the White House was terrible, but… America needs to realize that retaliation is going to provoke a war by sending this cruise missile.”
Was that too harsh? Too strong? He didn’t know. Did people like strong opinions?
“What makes you think that?”
“So far, only two people have been killed in this whole situation. By sending this bomb, we’re going to increase that in the hundreds.”
“Don’t you think that if we didn’t send the bomb back, more would come our way?”
“You can never be too sure.” This was harder then he thought. “At any rate, by sending out this missile, we’re simply provoking them to strike back. Even if the terrorists involved in the attack die, others will take their place. It’s better to discuss agreements then to trade warheads and get everyone killed over it.”
That seemed to go over well. The host raised her eyebrows at the comment, not in a bad way, but as if his opinion actually was interesting. “In that case, what do you think the government should do in the case of a second attack?”
“Well, I can’t really answer that question.” He doubted that was a good thing to say. “After all, we don’t know what that attack will do. As far as I’m concerned, the United States has the power to block any missile coming in to the United States from any location. We already saw that today. If the terrorists eventually realized we were too strong, perhaps their attacks would subside.”
“Well, it seems that you’ve got this figured out pretty well.” This was his cue to say some tacky sound bite to get noticed in the newspapers.
“The government needs to look at itself and ask if they could have done the whole thing without having to shoot this missile.”
Didn’t come out perfectly, but hey, he’d get a second chance…
“Excuse me… I’ve just received word that the missile has successfully targeted the terrorist operation in Iran. Do you have anything to say about that?”
Wow. That fast? The government sure knew how to return a slap in the face.
“Hopefully, this will be the last warhead ever fired. And, if we solve this problem with intelligence instead of firepower, it will be the last attack for a long time.”
Bulls-eye. Give the public a generalized, opinionated response, and it would feed them for days. He was on the map.
“Well, thank you for all your time. Is there anything else you’d like to say?”
“With the help of my fellow Americans, I hope to secure the lives of American citizens without violence. We can answer this issue without guns, and I hope to lead the fight to do so.” Score.
The blinding lights shut off, and the whirring noise of the camera stopped. Even with the United States kicking themselves in the face with their attack, it felt good to make a name for himself. Hopefully, American citizens would welcome this new, isolated opinion, soaking it up with their TV dinners. Bullets would be fired, and blood would be shed, and lives would be lost. Hopefully, in the midst of it all, one man’s opinion could succeed.
Nothing. Nothing was left. Rubble filled the streets, the parks, everything. It wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be.
The sun had barely risen over the former city, obscured by smoke and dust. Flames from the bomb were still burning, hours after the explosion. It had all happened to fast.
Where was her life now? Where was her home, her family, everything? Under that rubble. Crushed by the concrete, the metal bars, the steel, the glass. Now, she had nothing. Nothing to live for. She was simply a number, a statistic, a nobody.
She took a gun from her pocket, and pressed it to her head. The trigger was pulled, and she fell, lifeless, to the rubble. Another carcass, baking in the hot Iranian sun.
“We won’t survive it. Our country, your country, we’ll all die. DIE!”
“Revenge. We must get revenge.”
“Don’t you see? Don’t you see what you’re doing? You’re murdering yourself, your country, the innocents!”
“They have a right. Iran will not stand alone. We will join them.”
“It’s useless. The country will become a sea of blood.”
“Do you want this to go unanswered? Do you want to stare in the face of the dead, the innocent, and say, I will not help you? IS THAT WHO YOU ARE?”
“You don’t understand.”
“I UNDERSTAND COMPLETELY!”
The room was hot and stuffy, sunlight casting odd patterns on the floor of the building. Besides an air conditioner, the room was completely silent.
This wasn’t right, and the Afghan president knew it. He paced the marble floor of the Palace, not looking up at the other member in the room, but staring downward at the blue and red tile. His footsteps echoed in the large hallway, a steady rhythm of taps.
“Pakistan needs your help.”
“We will not help. We don’t want the bloodshed.”
“America cannot get away with this! They must be punished for this! Do you not understand?”
“All I understand is that going in this war will mean the blood of my people flooding the streets. This is a war we cannot win. You know it as well as I do.”
“It’s not about winning the war. It’s about making a stand.”
“The war will not end until all your people are dead.”
A long silence engulfed the hall. The Pakistani president wiped his brow with a cloth. Did his friend not see the point in all of this? Blood would be shed, but America would suffer. Yes, there would be deaths, but there were things worse than death. If only… if only they could do it. They had the weapons, the people, and the will. Pakistan would not hide when its friend was unrightfully treated. The bombing on Iran… it had changed everything. The Americans were over their heads. If they didn’t see it, Pakistan would make them.
“We cannot win the war without you.”
“As far as we’re concerned, there is no war.”
“How can you say that?” The Pakistani paced around his companion, encircling him. “How can you… see this… this blood! This violence… and not lend a hand?”
“I hate killings. Why should I join a group wanting to kill others, and my own people?”
This was going to be hard, but he wasn’t letting down any time soon. Afghanistan was always their friend, their neighbor in times of need. India was iffy, but they could always count on their northern friend. Or, so he hoped.
“If we… if we band together, your country, our country, others… we can end the violence. We can stop the violence.”
“How in the world do you plan to do that?”
“I… do you not see?”
“There is nothing to be seen. I will not participate in such violence. It is against the will of my ancestors.”
How? How could this be happening? He expected Afghanistan to join them without argument, without doubt. They had always helped each other out. Thousands of years of friendship. Now, turning into nothing. He could not believe his very ears.
“How… how could you turn on a brother like this?”
“Afghanistan is not a country of violence.”
“If you refuse, you’re a traitor.”
“Are you not a traitor?” His eyes turned thin and narrow as he spoke. “Are you not a traitor to your people, starting a war without their consent? Starting a war nobody wants?”
“This is your last chance. Either you join us… or be branded a traitor forever.”
“You will be the traitor. I have nothing more to do with you.”
“AWAY WITH YOU! OUT OF MY PALACE! YOU ARE NOTHING BUT A TRESPASSER!”
His friend walked away, not even turning back to look at the seething Pakistani. This could not be happening. What was going on? Did nobody care about their neighbor any more?
This was not the end. He would find others. Others who supported, not shunned, their neighbors.
He stared up at the massive confines of the palace. Suddenly, he felt very, very empty inside.
President Charles looked down from the balcony of the White House. It was a beautiful day in Washington. Cumulus clouds soared overhead, as families strolled outside on the sidewalks. If there was one thing he loved about this city, it was the location. Not to warm, not too cold. Just right. Unfortunately, everything else seemed to be just wrong.
He turned back into the building. This wasn’t how his term was supposed to work out. He wanted to have an enjoyable four years, keep the economy going, then win the elections and do it all again. No world conquests, no cures for cancer. Just a nice, easygoing eight years- which it had been, for the first two.
Now, however, storm clouds gathered on the horizon, closing in around him. The bombing of the Iran camp had been successful, except for the civilian deaths. Bloody stumps of arms and legs buried under rubble graced the newspapers, with bold headlines above. His body was pulled by opposite emotions like a rubber band. Hopefully, the situation would die down before he snapped.
To war, or not to war? That was the question. President Razzag of Pakistan had been yelling his head off about the attacks lately, and it seemed that war would soon be declared. Even so, Charles wasn’t sure on what to do. Perhaps that Roger person, the one who argued against the attack on Iran, was right. He had escalated the situation past its breaking point. It couldn’t hold in the pressure any longer, and snapped to millions of pieces. Whatever was left of it was fuel to the middle eastern countries swearing war on the United States, goaded by Pakistan like sheep goaded by shepherds. Alliances there were very strong, and he knew the Middle East would quickly retaliate against any bombs on one of their members.
Hopefully, the situation could be resolved. But he knew that could never happen. Once Iran had been bombed, he could never look back. That had simply pushed it too far.
His aids had been split on the issue. Most of them supported going into war if the action was called for. The others wished to sign peace treaties. Signing a peace treaty, however, would leave the United States with the advantage, almost as if Pakistan and others needed to shed carnage on the United States to “even out” the death count. It was stupid reasoning, but at the same time, it was stupid reasoning to send the bomb out in the first place.
At any rate, any action he took would instantly make him a punching bag for the media. If he declared war on Iran and Pakistan, he would be viewed as a warmonger who had no skills for making peace. If he decided not to declare war, the voters who put him in office would picture him, to sum it up, as a wuss. There was no way to make all the voters happy. Of course, making decisions based on voters never seemed to work out at all.
In an urge of inspiration, he went downstairs to his secretary. She looked up at him and stopped typing. “What can I do for you?”
“Aah… this may sound a bit odd, but… could you get me the number for Roger Bradson?
She smiled. “I’ll need more than that.”
“He recently appeared on the show ‘Against the Current.’ Does that help?”
“Somewhat.” She smiled again. “Here you go.”
She tore off a scrap of paper from a press release. On it was his next step in finding the solution to the puzzle.
Roger parked at the White House. It wasn’t every day that the President of the United States called you in for a little chit-chat, but at the moment, he wasn’t complaining. At any rate, he wasn’t expecting this so fast- the media exposure necessary to get into a situation like this would usually take years. He opened the door of the presidential limo, and stepped outside.
It had gotten dark, and the night sky was graced by millions of stars. He strode down the lawn of the White House, amazed at how easy it would be to open the gate and run into the building. Then again, if the United States ended up going into war, it would take an hour to be cleared by security to gain entrance into the building. Life was just so much simpler when the country wasn’t at war with another.
A lone guard stood in front of the door of the presidential mansion. After explaining his business, he walked inside. Instantly, he was amazed at the beautiful architecture and the elaborate decorations, passed down from president to president from hundreds of years of terms. It was a sight to behold, but he had no time to waste.
The oval office was just how it had looked in pictures. Blue, with the executive office seal plastered on the rug. Behind the desk was Charles, currently looking at the stars outside. The room was deathly silent.
Before he could introduce himself, the president whirled around to face Roger. “Ah, yes.” He gave a warm smile. “I’m glad you could make it.”
“Glad to be here,” Roger replied. He was shaking with adrenaline at the chance to change history in the making.
“Please, sit down.” He pointed towards a chair on the side of the office, and Roger consented. How should he play this? Easygoing, or suck-up? At any rate, he wasn’t here to party. He was here… well, he would find out soon enough.
“I heard of your stint on the show ‘Against the Current,’ and I must say…” The president scratched his chin. “I’m very interested with your view on the whole thing.”
Charles tilted back in his chair. “Before I decide where to go next, I’d like to hear what you have to say. Hopefully you can help me make this decision, which I feel is too large a task to do by myself.”
If he had thought the outside of the White House was surreal, this was off the charts. The president had no secret service agents standing next to him, no beeping phone lines. Just him and Charles, chatting it up like old friends.
“With all due respect, sir,”
“Please, call me Charles.”
“Erm… Charles. I know it’s important for you to keep Americans safe, but I was hoping you’d take a different viewpoint on the matter than bombing the entire Middle East.”
The president did not reply, an indication for him to go on. “I think we can both agree that this matter needs to be resolved with as little bloodshed as possible.”
“And I do agree.”
What was there to say, besides ‘don’t go into war?’ There were no statistics or charts to be used in his argument. All he had said on the show was generalized information. Now, what else was there to do? “Thus, I ask you not to enter war… until Pakistan or another country retaliates successfully.”
A fuse suddenly blew in the head of Charles. “How can I do that? You want me to sit back and wait for them to murder Americans?”
“Did you not increase the death toll by twenty thousand to stop ten terrorists?”
“I needed to make a stand. Things were getting out of hand.”
“NO, THEY WEREN’T!” Both of them were standing up, locking eyes on each other like hungry wolves. Don’t back down, Roger, his mind told himself. Don’t back down.
The president paced around the room. “Don’t you see? Don’t you see what was happening? A missile was seconds away from destroying half of Washington. More were on the way. We were not prepared for that one, and we’re still not prepared for the next. I had to stop them.”
“You stopped nothing!” Roger shouted at Charles, who paced the room tirelessly. What have you stopped? You killed ten terrorists, along with twenty thousand civilians. You murdered all of those people just because they happened to live near those ten? Who is the terrorist now?”
“YOU ARE!” Chares pointed his finger menacingly at Roger’s chest. “You’re trying to block us from… from getting back at what they tried to do!”
“THEY WILL TRY NOTHING!” Both were shouting at the top of their lungs. “YOU WILL BRING DECADES OF BLOODSHED TO THIS COUNTRY, ALONG WITH THEIRS!”
“OUR TROOPS WILL CRUSH THEM!” He tensed his fist.
“You’re crazy! You’re crazy on revenge! There is nothing to be avenged!” Roger was shrieking.
“YOU WILL SEE! YOU WILL SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN PAKISTAN TRIES TO RETALIATE!”
“No. No.” Roger was backing away. How could this be. “No…”
“Yes.” Charles nodded his head, smiling murderously. This will be the war to end all wars.
“No.” Roger stared into the eyes of the half-mad president. “This will be the war to start all wars.”
At that moment, a secret service guard burst into the room. “Is everything okay?”
The room came back down to earth. Both looked at each other and shrugged, shocked at the escalation of the dialogue. “Nothing here a problem, but we’re done with our… discussion.” Roger tensed his eyes hearing the comment. “Could you please escort Mr. Bradson here to his limousine?”
“Yes, sir.” As the agent left, The president looked into the eyes of Roger one more time. Still not daring to believe what had happened in the room, Roger looked away and followed the man down to the limo. He started to feel faint, and clutched his stomach as they exited the building, heading into the soft, starry night.
On the other side of the globe, a second half-mad international leader looked over his master list of death and destruction. Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, along with Pakistan, were ready to bring down the arrogant United States. How dared they bomb Iran like this? Unfortunately for them, that one bomb would be the end to their snotty lifestyles. They would see, soon enough. They would see what happened when the United States dared strike the Middle East.
Razzag called his secretary on the phone. “What is it?” She answered.
“Send Document 45-409 to all countries in the United Nations. We are officially declaring war on the United States.”
PART 3- WAR
Uda scanned the article in the newspaper one more time, still not daring to believe the front page headline staring back at her from the paper. “I still can’t believe it.”
Edmund, the owner of the apartment, was busy cooking noodles. “What was there to expect? One death can change a world. Did you think Pakistan was going to sit idly while their neighbors were being destroyed?”
“I’m not saying it’s not a bad idea, it’s just… it happened so fast.”
Edmund laughed. “This is the 21st century. It all happens in a blink of an eye these days.”
Uda knew the death of Wolkig would raise some anger in the terrorist underworld, but nothing… nothing enough to make headlines, save front page articles. This was all getting out of hand. The United States was covered in filth, but still… going to war over this? Sometimes, she wasn’t too sure if anyone had common sense these days.
“Won’t Pakistan and its allies just end up getting destroyed?”
“It’s not like that, Uda.” Edmund had a drunken gleam in his eyes. “This is the time when we show this country… who’s boss, so to speak. That just because they are big and rich, does not mean they can push us around.”
“They’ll never survive.”
“What makes you say that?” He smiled back at her, stirring the noodles over a miniscule burner.
“How can you be serious?” She was worried. “How can you think that countries like… Syria, can withstand death and destruction like this? They’ll be bombed out of existence!”
“Perhaps. Then again, the middle east is different. If somebody does anything, and I mean, ANYTHING, to a friend… that person is in for a whipping. It’s hard for me to explain. But, I’ve been there a few times. The closeness, the family… all throughout every country. If you went there, I tell you, you could smell it in the air. It’s crazy.
He was out of his mind. She knew it. All of these people. What were they trying to prove? All this killing, all the bloodshed, just to get back at a country? It was idiotic, but nobody seemed to get it but her. Switzerland, for the most part, would be safe, but all of the countries she had done business with would be turned into rubble. There was no doubting it. Countries like Pakistan weren’t brave for standing up for a neighbor against the Americans. They were just stupid.
She sighed. It was all the men’s fault. Them and their treaties and alliances, doing nothing but multiplying the bloodshed and the killing. It was all a bunch of garbage, and yet, men treated these friendships like they were holy, sending their brothers to die just because… of a signature? It was grotesque.
At any rate, she was basically free. All of the news about her escape had seemed to pass, and barely anybody would recognize her name. As long as she kept a modest profile, she could walk the streets free. Then again, what was there to do? Sit back and wait for the bigoted emotions of men to pass? For the moment, that was about it. She wished for the old times, when she would trade and deal for weapons, but… when they wouldn’t actually be used. She loved making money off of weapons, but hated the actual weapons themselves. They were nothing but ways for men with too much power to relieve their anger, smashing these things into other countries… because of a car crash? She hated Roger with all her heart for killing Wolkig, but this… this issue need not be solved with warheads.
And yet, the men persisted. Suited up in finely tailored blazers, they pretended to have a clue to what was going on and what to do about it. Of course, they always broke down, always resorting to these bombs, never having the intellectual strength to actually resolve issues with something other than explosions. The worst part of it all, though, was how they were too arrogant, too obnoxious to admit their faults, always pretending their foreign relations were too complicated and complex for the ‘average’ mind to understand, when a two-year-old could understand their main points.
She sighed, but knew that nothing could be done about it- at least, in her lifetime. Men would still be the sexist bigots, like their fathers, like their grandfathers. Women would always be shunned, more like accessories to their husbands rather than a second source of advice. She still remembered the time she was working on a weapons deal. Wolkig had come along to keep her company. When they entered the building, the salesperson instantly recognized Wolkig, and asked him what he could do for him. When she interrupted, the man retorted, “Don’t you have a house to look after?” Wolkig slugged that man in the face so hard, he flew ten feet before crashing to the ground. Nevertheless, she was able to work out a deal (although Wolkig did most of the bartering,) and they were richer for it. To this day, she hoped that man’s bruise hadn’t healed yet. That was the nice thing about Wolkig- he realized that him and Uda were equals. If only the rest of the world would follow suit.
And yet, she was just as smart, or smarter, then these men leading millions of people, but she could do nothing about the war they were about to fight, for nothing. As much as she hated it, there seemed to be nothing she could do to prevent hundreds of millions dying over a car crash. Emotions ran too deep in the minds of the presidents and kings for their common sense to take over and stop such a tragedy. But, she wasn’t going to give up. Yes, she hated Americans. Yes, she hated Roger. But, at the same time, she hated war even more. If there was one thing about Uda that she was proud of, it was her will power. She was faced with an improbable- no, an impossible task, but lest she live in vain for the rest of her life, having nothing to do but sob over the death of her husband and the millions of deaths because of it, she was going to fight the system, fight the emotions, and stop at nothing for doing so.
There was only one way, she was afraid, to start such a task. It would involve a foe she hated, but it was the only way to hammer sense into these ‘superiors.’ Roger had killed her husband and involuntarily started World War Three. However, she had a hunch that he was feeling the exact same emotions as she was- that the war was unnecessary, and that it needed to be prevented. Looking in the newspaper, earlier that morning, she had overseen a story of President Charles and Roger in a rage over the situation. Just another block of surreality in her already upside-down life, but it gave her hope on finding an end to the chaos. If Roger had met with the President, he had gained the media recognition.
He would be the physical side of the team- the one making the speeches, the male body necessary to get on voter’s sides. And, without that masculine side, she would never be able to make a difference. Every day, hundreds of women appeared in newspapers denouncing the war. A man, however- that would raise eyes. The public was massively sexist, but there was nothing she could do about that. On the other hand, she could be the mental side, the one planning the efforts, the one gaining signatures. As far as she was concerned, Roger was a dim bulb- he didn’t even know which tire to shoot out on a high speed chase, and for that matter, she doubted he knew much about how to change millions of opinions. He would be the one with the glamour and fame, but would depend on her for planning their moves. It was going to be odd, joining forces with the killer of her husband, but if she knew anything these days, it was to not let emotions decide courses of action. Better to murder one then to sit idly and murder millions.
There was something she hadn’t realized, however. The newspapers and television shows may have forgotten about her escape, but the FBI still had her wanted. If she wanted to evade capture, it wasn’t exactly the best of plans to appear on national TV, being watched by millions.
And, the instant Roger picked up the phone, he, a detective, would have contact with a fugitive he had been seeking for weeks. Unless she explained things to him fast, she would be locked up in a maximum security prison for decades, while the world killed millions over a traffic accident. Roger would understand, wouldn’t he? There were some people in this world who always obeyed the rules, but Roger, she hoped, would be smart enough to understand the situation she was in. After all, he was a detective. He had a pretty good head on his shoulders.
She looked back to see Edmund adding spices to the noodles. What would it be like to live, innocently, without a care in the world? To not be burdened by being responsible for starting the third world war? She could only imagine, and jealously turned her head away. Come to think of it, what would it be like to be a man? Besides growing more hair and sweating a lot, what would be different about her? Would she still be able to pry into her deepest thoughts and feelings, or would she be like the sorts of people she despised, solving complex problems with fists and testosterone? She shuddered at the thought. Although she hated the sexism, it was good to be a woman.
Well, here she went. It was all or nothing- by making this phone call, she could either save a planet from blowing itself up, or she could earn herself a life sentence in jail. Either way, her already rather action-packed lifestyle would increase one more level. For Wolkig, she thought as she picked up the phone. For Wolkig.
The air was filled with the sound of forks clanking onto their plates, as the sun shone down into a cloudless sky. Uda and Roger were finishing up the main course of their dinner.
“Explain this to me again, will you?” Roger looked up from his salmon.
“What is there to explain?”
“I don’t see what’s so hard about this.”
A long pause commenced. The two looked at each other, their eyes locked in an odd trance that Roger couldn’t pull himself away from.
“We both know there’s a large problem at hand.”
“Let’s get past the generalized conversation. I want facts and solutions.”
“Don’t we all.” Uda looked up into the sun, breaking the staring contest of sorts.
“Well, what do you want to do about it?”
“Are all Americans like this? What’s the term… ah. Instant gratification. A snap of the fingers…” she leaned over into Roger’s eyes. “And all of your problems are solved, just like that. I’m afraid that’s not the case here.”
Roger sighed deeply and leaned back in his chair. Mist from a nearby fountain dampened his tuxedo, but at the moment, he had more things to worry about.
“When you first picked up the phone…” Roger’s eyes were closed, and he talked in a rather sleepy voice. “I didn’t know what to think. To be honest, I almost fainted.”
“I would expect that,” Uda replied, not exactly knowing what Roger was getting at. Then again, did she ever?
“All these emotions kept flowing into me… it was just-“
“THAT’S IT!” She stood up from her chair as nearby diners looked at their table curiously. Embarrassed, she slowly sat back down, her eyes fixed upon Roger’s. “If you want to play this game, I’m leaving. I’m leaving for good, and the whole world can get bombed full of it, if that’s what you want. I’m not in the mood for any more of this type of conversation. Either you can play it like this, or you can listen, we can discuss things, and eventually solve things.”
“Fine.” Roger sat back up in his chair. “I’ll listen.”
“First off. We need to get publicity.”
“We have plenty of publicity.”
“The media’s long forgotten about our…” she paused, daring to bring up the events that had gotten her arrested, and her husband killed. “incident.”
“*It’s just under the surface. We can bring it back.”
This was the hard part. Would the public be willing to
15,926 WORDS! WOO, BABAH!
18,479 Words, as of June seventh. Dang, I did a fifth of the stuff today! 2,500 words in an hour fifteen minutes- WOO! 100,819 characters, with spaces! SCHWEET!
21,000 words. Nice. (June ninth.)
Hisham and friends attack, as the plane gets shot down- Uda survives, but Jacques doesn’t.
-The missile is blocked, but the US blows up Hisham’s base.
-Other groups of terrorists, held together by alliances, declare war on the United States. Great Britain gets involved (being an ally) and many of their troops are killed.
-The war amplifies, until countries such as France and Spain are involved, as well. Eventually, there are talks of using nuclear warheads.
-Roger and Athreya ally up to try to end the war. At the very last moment, they succeed, preventing something that could literally wipe away the face of the earth.
6785 WORDS SO FAR
Nope- make that 8409 as of June 2nd
10,460! How do you like them apples! (June third)
10, 460? That’s it? How about… 12,677? (as of june fourth)